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The 10 Most Important Exhibitions at London’s Tate Modern

10 hours 40 min ago

When Tate Modern opened in London in 2000, it was perceived by many as a marker of a seismic shift in the British art scene. “This is the beginning of something enormous in British art, a re-ordering, a great tempest of cultural energy which will blow apart all the old certainties, all the traditional hierarchy of law and money and God,” artist Antony Gormley told the Guardian at the time. Sentiment of the sort would go on to ring more or less true, and Tate Modern is now a major institution in the international art world. With the institution celebrating its 20th anniversary this month, ARTnews looked back on the 10 most important shows mounted at Tate Modern over the years.

Installation view of “Saloua Raouda Choucair,” 2013, at Tate Modern, London.

10. Saloua Raouda Choucair (2013)
When Tate Modern Jessica Morgan (now director of the Dia Art Foundation in New York) came across a painting by Saloua Raouda Choucair at a gallery show in Beirut, few had heard of the artist outside of Lebanon. Now, however, she’s considered a major figure in the history of Middle Eastern modernism—thanks largely to an exhibition that Morgan organized with Anna Coxon. Tate’s willingness to bet on an artist like Choucair—even still hardly a household name—was a sign that the museum had committed to its goal of offering a more globalist vision of art history.

Damien Hirst at the opening of his 2012 Tate Modern survey.

9. Damien Hirst (2012)
Few shows in Tate’s history have been as polarizing in Tate’s Damien Hirst retrospective. Critics hated it, with some saying that Hirst didn’t deserve to have his work shown at Tate. A study later found that his famed sculpture featuring a shark suspended in formaldehyde may have leaked noxious fumes. Animal rights activists decried it because it included a work crafted from dead butterflies. But none of that stopped droves of visitors from seeing the show, which broke Tate’s attendance records at the time. To toast one of the most controversial artists in British history, the museum also exhibited Hirst’s For the Love of God (2007), a cast of a skull encrusted in 8,601 diamonds.

Ai Weiwei’s Sunflower Seeds at Tate Modern in 2011.

8. “Ai Weiwei: Sunflower Seeds(2010–11)
With dramatic ambitions and visual flair, commissions for Tate Modern’s cavernous Turbine Hall tend to be events. Ai Weiwei’s was no different: Sunflower Seeds involved arraying 100 million realistic-looking porcelain replicas of the titular offerings spread across the expansive space. At first, viewers could walk on the seeds—but after Tate and Ai realized the porcelain produced dust that could be harmful, they banned people from getting too close. But even from far away, the installation was as striking as any work ever presented in the several-story-tall atrium. (And Tate wound up purchasing a bit less than one-tenth of it—some 8 million seeds—for its collection.)

Alighiero e Boetti, Mappa, 1971.

7. “Zero to Infinity: Arte Povera 1962–1972” (2001)
Beyond the confines of Italy, Arte Povera had been an art-historical whatsit to many unacquainted with its legacy going back to the 1960s. But because of this show, curated by Frances Morris and Richard Flood (of the Walker Art Center, which co-organized it), many ended up with a clearer picture of just how influential artists Mario Merz, Alighiero e Boetti, Pier Paolo Calzolari, and Giulio Paolini had been. With their emphasis on nature and the use of “poor” materials as a rejection of bourgeois aesthetics, Arte Povera artists did something radical, strange, and new—and the Tate show set out to prove as much with key loans. Since then, an Arte Povera gallery has been a fixture of Tate’s permanent collection.

Installation view of “The World Goes Pop,” 2015, at Tate Modern, London, featuring work by Henri Cueco and Claudio Tozzi.

6. “The World Goes Pop” (2015)
Signs that Pop art was undergoing a major historical revision had been felt as early as 2010, when the Rosenwald-Wolf Gallery at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia staged a survey of female Pop artists that attempted to redress the myth that the movement was dominated by men. Tate furthered that project with “The World Goes Pop,” which looked at Pop’s reach beyond New York and London starting in the 1960s. In a show with few marquee names, a refreshing number of lesser-known figures shined, such as Kiki Kogelnik, Keiichi Tanaami, Beatriz González, and Öyvind Fahlström. Some have even subsequently been canonized.

Installation view of “Mark Rothko,” 2008, at Tate Modern, London.

5. Mark Rothko (2008)
Many of Tate’s world-class blockbuster exhibitions of modern art could have ended up on this list (there’s a case to be made for its 2014 Henri Matisse cut-outs show or its 2008 Cy Twombly survey). But a Mark Rothko exhibition in 2008 stands out for the way it so significantly augmented famed paintings by the Abstract Expressionist that have formed a cornerstone of Tate’s permanent collection. The show (curated by Achim Borchardt-Hume) was the first major show devoted to Rothko in the United Kingdom in two decades, and it brought over important examples of his Seagram murals from Japan’s Kawamura Memorial Museum for the occasion. In his review at the time, Guardian critic Adrian Searle admitted to not being a Rothko fan—but called the show “great” anyway.

Tania Bruguera at Tate Modern in 2019.

4. “Tania Bruguera: Tatlin’s Whisper #5(2008)
Tania Bruguera’s Tatlin’s Whisper #5 stands as the most memorable time-based artwork ever debuted at Tate Modern. The performance derived a lot from shock value that followed—with no announcement made to unsuspecting visitors, two police officers barging in on horses and rounding people up while moving them around the Turbine Hall via techniques used to control crowds. Though photographs are all that exists now (one serves as the cover art for historian Claire Bishop’s influential 2012 book Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship), the work was ultimately acquired by Tate and is now considered one of Bruguera’s most famous pieces. It also exemplifies Tate’s commitment to time-based mediums such as performance, sound, film, and video.

Installation view of Olafur Eliasson’s The Weather Project (2003) at Tate Modern, London.

3. “Olafur Eliasson: The Weather Project(2003–04)
No other Turbine Hall commission has had as much impact as Olafur Eliasson’s The Weather Project in 2003. The work featured what appeared to be a giant sun whose light filled a darkened space, with a faint mist emitting from the glow. Eliasson’s interest was in the way that urban centers have altered experiences of meteorological conditions, and many were impressed. Guardian critic Rachel Cooke wrote in her review, “When it comes to art, the word ‘event’ is usually a pejorative term; but not, I think, in this instance.” Eliasson, perhaps today’s most influential environmentalist artist, later had a notable survey at Tate in 2019.

An “Infinity Room” at Yayoi Kusama’s 2012 Tate Modern retrospective.

2. Yayoi Kusama (2012)
Prior to Tate Modern’s retrospective, Yayoi Kusama had been a beloved figure within the art world. Since then, her notoriety has expanded exponentially, with legions of fans across the globe. Curated by Frances Morris with Rachel Taylor, the show spanned the full of Kusama’s career, placing the abstractions that first launched her alongside less-often-discussed antiwar and feminist works of the ’60s and ’70s. The show’s centerpiece was Kusama’s largest “Infinity Room” installation to date at the time. In a nod to that work’s popularity, Tate is planning to put the work back on view, along with another similar installation of its kind, later this year.

Work by Benny Andrews in “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power” at Tate Modern, London.

1. “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power” (2017)
It would be difficult to overstate the influence of “Soul of a Nation,” which showcased the essential role that art played in shaping the cultural understanding of the Black Power movement during the 1960s and ’70s. The subject has been considered at a number of smaller institutions across America, but rarely ever has it been given such a major platform at such a large international institution. Curated by Mark Godfrey and Zoé Whitley, the show is still traveling around America, and it placed on an ARTnews list of the defining exhibitions of the 2010s. With an all-star grouping of work by artists such as Frank Bowling, Melvin Edwards, David Hammons, Barbara Jones-Hogu, Wadsworth Jarrell, Betye Saar, “Soul of a Nation” effectively altered art history, bringing to the fore a number of artists who hadn’t been properly canonized until now.

Use the Best Primers for Pastels to Prepare Your Next Work on Paper

Sat, 05/23/2020 - 22:22

Pastel paper, which is specially designed to hold pastel dust, can be pricey. One way to cut costs is to make your own by coating papers in a premixed primer, which adds rough texture to their surface. The process can be relatively quick, and it gives you control over the coarseness of your surface—perfect for artists who are picky about their materials. This is also a smart way to recycle nice papers bearing unwanted or practice artworks: simply brush on a layer of primer to make them pastel-ready. Our roundup will help you find the right primer for your studio.

Make Your Own Paints with the Best Pigment Powders

Sat, 05/23/2020 - 22:22

Creating your own paint is a great way to cut costs while exerting greater control over the shades and effects you desire. Dry pigment powder can be combined with binders from oils to gum arabic to create a variety of painting media, and you usually need just a small amount of pigment. Like paint, however, the quality of powders is wide-ranging, to suit projects from slime-making to painted masterpieces. No matter what powder you favor, you should always handle these particles carefully and protect yourself from inadvertent inhalation. 

For Rainy Day Crafting, Here Are the Best Poster Paints

Sat, 05/23/2020 - 22:22

Suitable for artists of all ages, poster paint is water-based distemper paint that is a breeze to work with. Available in many colors, it’s one of the most eye-catching media you can use to create and color signs and banners. Poster paint is sold in a number of forms, including markers, which are perfect for lettering and create much thicker lines than a typical marker. As a bonus, most of these paints are easily washable so you can work with them freely without worrying about clothing stains.

Create Flowing Paintings with the Best Pouring Mediums for Acrylic Paint

Sat, 05/23/2020 - 22:21

One of the most accessible and therapeutic ways to paint, acrylic pouring can produce surfaces saturated with mesmerizing swirls and dizzying color. Key to this process is a good pouring medium, which aids the flow of acrylics. Good additives will retain the original color of paints, and some even add a beautiful sheen. Our picks will help you decide which one is best for your needs. 

How the Ecological Art Practices of Today Were Born in 1970s Feminism

Fri, 05/22/2020 - 13:56

From the perspective of 2020, the 1970s glimmer with lost opportunity. In a decade of scandal, stagflation, and political turmoil, an ecological consciousness awakened in tandem with critiques of patriarchy, militarism, and industrialization. Together, these issues prompted discussions about the limits of growth, the dangers of reckless technological development, and the potential for environmental disaster—concerns that still resonate today.

Both the environmental movement of the 1970s and the emerging feminist revolution rejected social and scientific models based on domination in favor of an approach to society and nature that emphasized interconnection. Both sounded alarms about the continuation of the status quo. Both called for a radical reordering of human priorities. The two came together in a philosophy of ecofeminism that paired the liberation of women with the restoration of the natural environment.

Ecofeminism was powerfully articulated in Carolyn Merchant’s 1980 book, The Death of Nature. A historian of science, Merchant took a skeptical view of the Scientific Revolution, which lies at the heart of the prevailing narrative of Western progress. Instead of regarding the ideas of Descartes, Hobbes, and Bacon as laudable advances in human civilization, she linked them to the triumphal subjugation of nature and a more general paradigm that extended to the treatment of women. She described how the organic, female-centered vision of nature was replaced by a mechanistic, patriarchal order organized around the exploitation of natural resources. And she advocated holistic approaches to social organization that reflected the principles of the then-new science of ecology.

Concepts such as these galvanized artists. It is striking how many pioneers of Eco art are also deeply committed feminists. They pursue a feminism that is less about breaking the glass ceiling than about reordering the systems that perpetuate inequity. Their feminism centers on the interconnections of society, nature, and the cosmos. It expresses itself in artworks that make these connections legible.

The Harrisons: The Garden of Hot Winds and Warm Rains, 1996, from the project “Future Gardens,” 1995–. This drawing compares the potential for harvesting two biodiverse botanical groupings, which are adapted to temperature rises in wet and dry climates.

Mierle Laderman Ukeles came to environmentalism through her roles as artist and mother. She suggested that the practice of “maintenance” commonly associated with domesticity and “women’s work” might serve as a constructive model for the larger social, economic, and political systems that support contemporary life. This conviction blossomed into her life’s work as the unsalaried artist-in-residence at New York City’s Department of Sanitation, where she works to dramatize the part played by waste management and recycling in sustaining a healthy city.

Agnes Denes, also a New York–based artist, was deeply involved in the activist feminist community in the 1970s. She was a member of the Ad Hoc Women Artists’ Committee, which pressured museums to show more art by women, and a founding member of A.I.R., the first women’s co-op gallery in the United States. During those years, she also developed the complex body of work recently presented in a retrospective at The Shed in New York, which featured, among other pieces, documentation of her 1982 Wheatfield, planted on two acres of soil that had been excavated to build the World Trade Center. The iconic photographs of this project, with yellow wheat swaying before Manhattan skyscrapers, served as a reminder that even the mightiest urban system could not survive without the ancient art of agriculture.

Ukeles and Denes share a systemic understanding of reality. “No element of an interlocking cycle can be removed without the collapse of the cycle,” Merchant wrote.¹ Ecofeminist artists espoused a sense of the earth as a living thing and explored Indigenous practices that predated the Scientific Revolution. Ecofeminism did not exclude men. Echoing ideas expressed as well by such visionaries as the famous naturalist John Muir and the futurist Buckminster Fuller, ecofeminism presented a vision of society that leveled hierarchies and emphasized cooperation and collaboration over individual action. In doing so, it set the stage for tendencies such as social practice art, relational aesthetics, and ecological activism that have become widespread today.


Helen and Newton Harrison worked together as a husband-and-wife team from 1970 until Helen’s death in 2018. Their collaborative process has provided one of the most influential models of Eco art practice. Drawing on Conceptual art’s use of documentation and charts, the Harrisons combined maps, sketches, and aerial photographs in blueprints that suggest system-wide approaches to specific ecological situations. Accompanying texts include factual descriptions of problems and strategies along with poetic dialogues blending diverse quotes from planners, ecologists, botanists, and foresters with the artists’ own voices. The Harrisons saw themselves as instigators rather than conventional art-makers. They used their position as informed outsiders to insert ideas into policy discussions about land and water use here and abroad. While their proposals have rarely been adopted in toto, their principles have made their way into numerous city plans and environmental projects. A series of proposals for restoration of the damage done to the watershed by the Devil’s Gate Dam in Pasadena, California, ultimately informed the 1993 design of the 1,300-acre Hahamongna Watershed Park. The plan incorporates such Harrison proposals as recreation areas, flood management, and habitat restoration.

Newton was a sculptor and Helen an English teacher in the New York City school system when they married in 1953. Before they were Eco artists, the Harrisons were political activists. Helen was the New York coordinator for the 1961 Women’s Strike for Peace, which targeted nuclear weapons testing. Later, as part of the protests against American intervention in Vietnam, the duo helped form the Tompkins Square Peace Center. By 1972, they were gaining renown for their environmental work. That year they exhibited at the Woman’s Building in Los Angeles, the legendary art center cofounded by Judy Chicago, after Arlene Raven overruled other members who resisted participation by a team that included a man. Then, as now, it was difficult to disentangle the Harrisons’ individual contributions to their collaborative work.

The Harrisons: San Diego as the Center of a World, 1974, a drawing comparing possible outcomes of global cooling and warming due to human intervention.

The Harrisons’ language is relational. Asked in a 2010 interview about her overall perspective on the planet, Helen replied: “As we destroy the earth, the ocean, the air we are inevitably destroying all that makes life possible for ourselves.”² To counter this destructive ethos, the Harrisons proposed a gestalt shift: instead of seeing the field of ecology as a small area of human activity, they proposed that humans be viewed as small figures within a larger system of natural forces. From the late 1990s onward, they rethought the scale of their projects, drawing up sweeping plans that regard national borders as artificial boundaries, and piece together formerly separated watersheds, mountains, and land masses to form coherent ecological wholes. Each such work provides a feasible map for the ecological reclamation, restoration, and reinvention of specific watersheds or environmental systems.

For instance, a 2001–04 project titled Peninsula Europe redrew the map of the continent, eliminating political borders so that the natural system of drain basins and forests can be seen as a whole. This chart forms a backdrop for the artists’ suggestions of transnational strategies to establish green farming, restore biodiversity, and redirect irrigation systems. The Harrisons invoke metaphors to dramatize their ideas. Casting a Green Net: Can It Be We Are Seeing a Dragon? (1996–98) imposes the visual image of a dragon over a map of Northern England to present its estuaries as an interconnected whole.

As the devastation created by climate change escalated, the Harrisons’ warnings became sharper. Their last big initiative, an ongoing project begun in 2007 and continued by Newton after Helen’s death, is named The Force Majeure, after the term for extraordinary circumstances that can nullify a legal agreement. Sometimes described as “acts of God,” such conditions are considered beyond the control of the parties involved. The Harrisons use the term to express the forces unleashed by climate change to which we must learn to adapt.

This project introduces a planetwide approach. The Harrisons’ ideas have a utopian tinge that they argued is necessary, given the scale of the dangers. Newton characterizes recent proposals made for Sweden, Scotland, and the Mediterranean under the aegis of Force Majeure as “counter-extinction work.” They involve relocating whole ecosystems, adapting those that remain to the new conditions, creating fully self-sustaining “green cities,” establishing cooperatively owned agricultural commons, enhancing the landscape’s ability to hold water in drought-prone areas, and fostering systems that reverse the entropic loss of carbon dioxide from soil. To implement such plans on the scale necessary, the Harrisons concede, would require radical limits on growth, development, and population.


Aviva Rahmani: Blued Tress Symphony, 2015. The painted trees form the opening bass chords, with the rest of the performable score superimposed on a photo of a forest in Oneida County, New York, where Dominion Transmission has planned to expand its natural gas pipeline.

Artist Aviva Rahmani also makes use of legal ideas. Her Blued Trees Symphony (2015–) is a performance work made with a forest by painting a musical score on the trees. The project poses the question: can the copyright law that protects art be used to protect land in danger of seizure under the rule of eminent domain? Like the Harrisons, Rahmani has deep roots in both feminism and environmentalism. In 1968 she founded the American Ritual Theater to present performances about rape and domestic violence. Then, in the 1970s, she undertook her first works with nature, photographing sunsets and making exchanges between the water from the taps at CalArts in Valencia, California, and the Pacific Ocean. She used plastic bags to transport tap water to the ocean, and replaced it with salt water that she flushed down the toilets at the school.

The various iterations of Blued Trees Symphony are designed to slow the construction of oil and natural gas pipelines across the country. In recent years, there have been numerous demonstrations against such projects, the most prominent being the Dakota Access Pipeline protests staged by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Rahmani decided to take a different tack, inspired by Canadian sculptor Peter von Tiesenhausen, who copyrighted his entire ranch as art in 1996 to forestall the intrusion of a pipeline. The company withdrew its claim before the artist’s gambit could be tested in court.

Maquette of an installation inspired by a court transcript of Aviva Rahmani’s mock trial, featuring suspended translucent panels and painted branches.

Rahmani went a step further. Instead of copyrighting a single plot of land, she conceived of Blued Trees Symphony as an infinitely expandable artwork. She pits the principle of eminent domain, whereby private land can be claimed in the name of public good, against the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990. That piece of legislation protects the moral rights of artists, notably by preventing an owner of a work from altering or destroying it while continuing to display it under the artist’s name. With this in mind, Rahmani has composed a “symphony” whose score is literally written on trees growing on property in danger of being appropriated for a pipeline. She works with landowners and teams of volunteers to mark trees with sine waves in nontoxic blue paint. Each tree represents a note and each cluster of trees a chord. Each third of a mile constitutes a musical measure.

Visitors to the woods can imagine the symphony as the whisper of wind and twittering of birds among the painted trees. Or the symphony can be played on-site by musicians and singers who perform the painted score as they move through the forest. The work can also be realized digitally by feeding aerial GPS images from Google Earth into MuseScore software. Rahmani sees the project as giving trees a kind of agency. Linked together through the symphony, they communicate with each other and with humans.

A Blade of Grass, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit that supports activist art and social practice, organized a mock trial to test the legal standing of Rahmani’s work at the Cardozo School of Law in 2018. The judge ordered an injunction against a hypothetical corporation. Earlier, in 2015, the Spectra Energy Corporation had defied a cease-and-desist notice from Rahmani and cut down the painted trees in Peekskill, New York. Undeterred, she has continued to create iterations of the symphony in Upstate New York, Virginia, West Virginia, and Saskatchewan. “All combined, any such litigation slows the corporations from cutting down the trees while other litigation by activists compounds to make it an expensive legal process for them,” Rahmani says. “At the very least, we contributed to drawing attention to the problems.”³

Rahmani is currently working with Native American activist Winona LaDuke to combat a major new oil pipeline designed to transport oil from Canada’s tar sands across Lake Superior. She has plans to add a new one-third-mile-long measure to her project in Minnesota.


Betsy Damon’s art practice embodies a stark philosophy, as she explains: “Nothing is worth saying unless it acknowledges interconnectivity.”4 This principle has guided her work since the 1970s, when she put on interactive street performances in New York, handing out pouches of flour as the 7,000 Year Old Woman (an age chosen because it supposedly predates patriarchy) and, as the Blind Beggarwoman, crouching over a begging bowl and asking passersby to share stories. In 1985, when she cast in handmade paper 250 feet of a dry riverbed in Castle Valley, Utah, Damon realized she wanted to create work with a more direct impact on the ecosystem. Since then, she has focused on water, celebrating it as a living thing, a source of life, and a foundation of health.

Betsy Damon: 7,000 Year Old Woman, 1977, performance, New York.

In 1991 Damon founded Keepers of the Waters, a nonprofit organization that serves as the umbrella for her diverse activities. Though she also creates water-
related drawings and paintings, Damon’s primary aim has been to educate the public about the nature of living water systems and their potential restoration, defining those systems as water deriving from natural sources and flowing exclusively through streams and rivers fashioned by nature. One recurring theme in her projects is water’s ability to cleanse itself when unimpeded by development and industry. Her work has taken her across the United States and to China and Tibet, where she collaborates with local artists, residents, and government officials.

Much of Damon’s current work evolved from a project in China. In 1995, when the country was still sensitive to public assemblies after the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, she found herself in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province in southwestern China. Overcoming official suspicion by avoiding explicit political messages, she organized a two-week series in which a group of artists produced temporary public artworks and performances that dramatized both the history and consequences of the industrialization of the Funan River. The success of this venture led to a return invitation, this time to create a city park that she dubbed the Living Water Garden. The six-acre site, which opened in 1998, includes a natural wetland that acts as a water cleaning system, an environmental education center, an amphitheater, and interactive water sculptures, including a giant fish that symbolizes regeneration. The Garden’s purpose is to demonstrate the use of natural processes to cleanse water. As with the earlier festival, it was the product of extensive community meetings and discussions about local water conditions.

Damon has taken this model to other locations. She characterizes Keepers of the Waters as a catalyst: while letting control remain in local hands, her organization brings together community leaders and experts, and helps them brainstorm solutions. The point is to facilitate change rather than author a specific solution. Sometimes the process is frustrated by local politics. This was the case in a similarly motivated project in the disadvantaged Larimer neighborhood of Pittsburgh in 2012–16. There, Damon worked with a community group to hammer out creative plans to address local water problems. Among the ideas proffered were redirecting rainwater to mitigate flooding and creating a cistern as a centerpiece for an urban park.Despite the enthusiastic input of local artists and residents, Damon said, the project came to naught when it was abruptly canceled by funders seeking a more top-down approach.

One of Damon’s current efforts involves a cleanup of the Mississippi River. Again, the project involves bringing affected parties together—this time with a focus on taking down dams, restoring water flow, and reconnecting small creeks and rivers. Damon’s work routinely involves a wide-ranging educational effort. Her website, blog, and newsletter detail the latest news from scientists, artists, and other activists on issues ranging from the toxicity of tap water throughout the United States to green solutions like reforestation and eco-friendly lawns. She is currently completing a memoir-cum-tool-kit titled A Memory of Living Water that chronicles her journey, lays out her philosophy, and evaluates the activist approaches she has explored.


Like Damon, Bonnie Ora Sherk came to Eco art through performance. In the 1970s she undertook a series of works in San Francisco that questioned human dominance over the natural world: she sat in an evening gown in a flooded highway interchange; she turned derelict public spaces into temporary Portable Parks, creating the astonishing sight of farm and zoo animals communing on concrete islands adjacent to a freeway offramp; accompanied by a caged rat, she ate lunch in a cell at the zoo while the tiger next door looked on. She created an entire ecosystem in a museum gallery, complete with trees and various animals, and allowed the constituents to interact. These works culminated in a seven-year project titled The Farm (1974–80), located at the intersection of freeway overpasses in San Francisco—a more expansive, longer-term correlate to the Portable Parks. The Farm comprised organic gardens, an animal sanctuary, art exhibitions, and performance spaces for musicians and actors.

Bonnie Ora Sherk: A Living Library & Think Park, Bryant Park, New York, 1981–83. International Banners surrounding the park to be presented in three different languages.

This led Sherk to her current work, a series of projects under the title “A Living Library.” In 1981 she envisioned the first one next to the New York Public Library in Bryant Park, which at the time was a drug haven nicknamed Needle Park. Her idea was to create a series of Gardens of Knowledge analogous to the information shelter provided by the nearby library. Gardens around the periphery and in the center featuring different kinds of flora and fauna were to have been the basis for a variety of interactive educational and cultural programming. There were to have been gardens with themes like Mathematics, highlighting patterns in nature, or Religion, exploring the symbolism of various plants. Though the project was never realized, it provided the spark for her current work.

“A Living Library” (Sherk notes that the acronym A.L.L. sums up her ambition to address all living systems) is now a loose set of initiatives in various locations that Sherk hopes will develop into a global network. Supported by grants, the Libraries transform blighted areas by engaging schoolchildren and community members in nature walks, gardening, restoring native plants, and implementing rainwater harvesting systems. These activities are incorporated into educational programs for the local schools’ curricula.

One Living Library is located next to a branch of the public library on Roosevelt Island in New York City. Begun in 2002, the work creates community-run gardens and learning zones in a thirteen-acre park on this island in the East River not far from the United Nations. Programming includes workshops on everything from worms and seed-saving to food security and food sustainability. In San Francisco, A Living Library in Bernal Heights is the beginning of a park that will span the eleven neighborhoods that are part of the Islais Creek Watershed. The project includes the first leg of a nature walk that will link schools, parks, streets, housing development campuses, and other open spaces. Already, the project has transformed a previously barren hill, whose runoff once exacerbated local flooding and sewage overflow, into a lush garden full of native trees and plants.

Bonnie Ora Sherk: A Living Library & Think Park, Bryant Park, New York, 1981–83. Entrance to the Bryant Park Living Library.

Today, a burgeoning Eco art movement owes many of its assumptions and approaches to the ecofeminist orientation of pioneers like these. Recent MacArthur fellow Mel Chin’s Revival Field (1991–) uses targeted plantings to cleanse soil of heavy metals—an iconic example of “green remediation.” Nils Norman has created communal urban farming parks. Amy Balkin seeks out legal ways to make parcels of land and air part of the public domain. All these artists rely on a critique of the instrumentalist ideology of modern capitalism and technology that harks back to Merchant’s analysis of our problematic fixation on progress. Yet recent museum shows by Denes and Ukeles notwithstanding, this kind of art often fails to register in the mainstream art world. Eco art projects typically engage large groups of collaborators from outside the art world, meld art with other forms of cultural expression, blur aesthetic and practical considerations, and generally defy existing commercial and critical frameworks. But as the climate crisis deepens and we look for answers, this may be the art that matters most.

1 Carolyn Merchant, The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology and the Scientific Revolution, New York, Harper Collins, 1980, p. 293.
2 Newton and Helen Mayer Harrison, interview by Elizabeth Stephens and Annie Sprinkle, “The Harrisons,” SexEcology, July 4, 2010,
3 Aviva Rahmani, quoted  in G. Roger Denson, “Earth Day EcoArt by Aviva Rahmani Confronts Deforestation, Fracking, Nuclear Hazards in Eastern US Woodlands,” Huffington Post, Apr. 21, 2016,
4 Betsy Damon, “Public Art Visions and Possibilities: From the View of a Practicing Artist,” A Memory of Living Water, forthcoming.


This article appears under the title “All or Nothing in the May 2020 issue, pp. 40–49.

Celebrated Egyptian Sculptor Adam Henein Has Died at 91

Fri, 05/22/2020 - 13:53

Egyptian artist Adam Henein, whose acclaimed sculptures and paintings united modernist abstraction with pharaonic iconography, died on Friday at 91. Essam Darwish, the deputy director of Henein’s foundation, told the Associated Press that the artist died of “age-related complications” at a hospital in Cairo. 

Henein counts among the most influential Arab artists of his generation, with a practice that centered Egypt’s working-class citizens and their natural surroundings and utilized traditional Egyptian materials such as bronze, granite, and papyrus. Birds in flight were a recurring motif, appearing in geometric sculptures whose scale spanned the intimate to the monumental. 

“I used to wake up and run to the windows and watch for a long time the birds,” Henein said in a documentary produced by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt. “It transports you to another place, another language, another world.”

Henein was born in Cairo in 1929 to a family of metalworkers from Asyut. As he recalled, a childhood trip to Cairo’s Egyptian Antiquities Museum proved formative. “Suddenly I had this weird feeling that I was discovering another world, away from the textbooks, physics, and chemistry classes and breakfast with the family,” Henein said in an interview in 2011.

In the mid-’50s Henein earned degrees from the School of Fine Arts in Cairo and Munich’s Academy of Fine Arts, and by the ’60s he had established himself as one of his home country’s preeminent sculptors. Work was punctuated by long studies of Egypt’s heritage sites and, in 1972, he had his wife, anthropologist Afaf el-Deeb, departed Egypt for further education in Paris. After 25 year they returned to Cairo, where Henein produced some of his most lauded commissions, such as the restoration of the Sphinx of Giza in 1998. 

In 1996, Henein established the annual Aswan International Sculpture Symposium in the city of Aswan. In 2014, he converted his home in Giza into an eponymous museum. Among his many accolades are Egypt’s State Medal, the Mubarak Award, and the State Merit Award.

Ask a Curator: Francesco Bonami on Marina Abramović, the Venice Biennale’s Postponement, and More

Fri, 05/22/2020 - 11:44

Francesco Bonami, whose curatorial credits include the 2003 Venice Biennale and the 2010 Whitney Biennial, has returned for the seventh edition of his column, “Ask a Curator,” in which he addresses the allegations that Marina Abramović is a Satanist and the Venice Biennale’s postponement. He can be found on Instagram at @thebonamist. If you have queries for him for a future column, please write to —The Editors of ARTnews

The jet-setting curator has become an art-world archetype—but with fewer biennials to see and fewer flights to take right now, most curators are staying put for the time being. Do you think air travel will still be so important to curators when the coronavirus pandemic ends?

We discovered how many useless things we were doing, how many useless trips we took, and, finally, how many useless people we met. That also works the other way, too—how many people will discover how useless we were? I don’t know that the art world is any better during the pandemic, because it’s still here. Afterward, it’s not going to be this new arcadia where we’ll rediscover the true values of art. What the art world loves most—good art and good money—will basically remain the same.

But we will definitely ponder why, in the past, major players like dealers Leo Castelli or Ileana Sonnabend employed maybe 10 or 15 people, even at the peak of their success. Why would a medium-size gallery need to have 40, 50 people working there? Sure, it is great for employment, but now we are realizing that it is not sustainable. It could have been anything that made us realize that, though—be it an earthquake or a terrorist attack.

But the question was about air travel, and I digressed. Well, I feel we will start digging more in our backyard. Back to locality? Maybe. Or maybe it’s better to say we’ll go back to looking closer than further. One of the main complaints of any organizer of any of the hundreds biennials around the world has always been: Why did the curators choose so few local artists? Now, curators will be forced to choose local artists because the international artists will be harder to move around the globe.

Hans Ulrich Obrist made headlines in March for proposing a major public art project to help stimulate the arts. What do you think of his proposal?

A vast program, Charles de Gaulle would have commented. Still a very noble program. Why not? But I am not so keen on riding the crisis so shamelessly. Art should be supported no matter what—it’s the most useful activity among all the useless ones performed by the humankind. Society has often dismissed art and culture, considering them children of a lesser god in the vast scale of the world’s economy. So, we need to stimulate the arts and prove that notion wrong. In any case, it’s a no brainer that at this point we need to be much less like socialites and a little more like socialists.

In April, Marina Abramović was accused of being a Satanist by right-wing publications. Abramović responded by asking the alt-right to leave her alone and denying their allegations. What are your thoughts on the whole controversy? What would you have done if you were her?

It’s hard to imagine myself in the body of Marina Abramović—her red dress doesn’t work well with my complexion. But in front of utter stupidity, I would have done more or less the same: ignore it completely or argue that it’s not written anywhere that being a Satanist is a bad thing. And in fact, the right-wing publications missed the target, because you know who is closer to Satan? Maurizio Cattelan. His works are truly diabolical. I see more the evil inside a banana than inside Abramović’s performances.

It’s unclear right now when most museums across the world will reopen. What art do you plan on seeing first when you get out of quarantine?

I am on lockdown in Milan, but today, strolling around a still deserted city, I crossed the courtyard of the Castello Sforzesco, where in a space nearby Michelangelo’s Rondanini Pietà is shown. I think I will go and see that. It has all you need from a work of art—the present the past and the future.

Earlier this week, the 2021 Venice Biennale got pushed to 2022. Having curated the Biennale yourself, do you think it would be possible for it to be “virtual”?

Oh, no! What is the point? The Biennale is built out of physical and spatial adrenaline, in part provoked by the sadistic urban structure of Venice. It cannot be substitute by VR or AR or anything like that. In fact, they made the best decision in postponing it to 2022, when I’m sure we will go and see a beautiful biennial in the flesh. When I did the Biennale in 2003, even today people remember just one thing: the unbearable heat wave at the opening. If it were to have been virtual, they would not remember even that— forget the 400-plus artists invited. You can’t suffer online, and visiting the Biennale is mostly about suffering—you are tired, you are starving, you are thirsty, you desperately need to go to the bathroom, you have been ripped off at the restaurant, you have been not invited to the British Pavilion’s party. All this will never be possible in VR.

New York’s Iconic ‘Charging Bull’ Sculpture Becomes Subject of Fierce Debate Among Politicians

Fri, 05/22/2020 - 11:04

Faced with a volatile stock market and plummeting economic prospects owing to the coronavirus pandemic, Wall Street could use a mascot to burnish its once bullish reputation. But a planned symbol of the sort is not coming anytime soon, after a meeting that was supposed to launch a privately financed initiative to relocate Charging Bulla famous 1989 sculpture by artist Arturo Di Modica—a few blocks from its current site in Lower Manhattan to the steps of the New York Stock Exchange imploded on Tuesday evening. In a tense standoff, city officials and local residents called the proposal “bizarre,” “outrageous,” and “potentially illegal.”

The video conference ended with Community Board 1, which oversees the Financial District and other parts of Lower Manhattan, sending the city back to the drawing board in a near-unanimous downvote, along with a request for alternative proposals that would keep the bronze bull at or near its current location. The vote marked a loss for mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, which has been trying to move the sculpture for six months. But the arguments presented for moving Charging Bull have also laid the groundwork for future challenges to the artist’s ownership of the popular monument.

A symbol of the rising market, the artist initially deposited Charging Bull in front of the New York Stock Exchange in 1989. It was quickly impounded by the city but later installed two blocks south of its original site at Bowling Green. The sculpture remains an anomaly in the city’s collection of nearly 800 artworks. Unlike other monuments and memorials, the city has no contract or formal agreement granting it ownership of Charging Bull; the bronze has never gone through the Public Design Commission’s approval process for permanent works as required by the City Charter; and the city neither implements nor funds repairs on the statue. In fact, New York’s recent decision to move the 31-year-old statue came last September after a man attacked the bull with an imitation metal banjo, leaving the beast with a gash under its right horn. Di Modica returned to New York from Sicily to administer the repairs himself.

But now, the city is claiming that the bull’s relocation is necessary to prevent future violent acts and possible terror attacks. Opponents of the relocation plan have dismissed such concerns, claiming that the iconic bull would become an even stronger draw for violence if placed directly next to the New York Stock Exchange—which plans to finance the move—in an area normally congested with thousands of tourists. City representatives also failed to demonstrate that anyone has ever been personally injured at the statue’s current location, despite millions of tourists congregating around the bull each year.

“I don’t have to be a security expert to know that the New York Stock Exchange is surrounded with barriers because of terrorist attacks. There could not be a worse place to put Charging Bull,” said Arthur Piccolo, president of the Bowling Green Association and a representative for the artist, during the community board meeting.

“No great city in the world would eliminate or alter one of its most successful symbols,” said art historian Todd Fine during his testimony. “This would probably become a big disaster scandal for the city, another farce in the middle of a pandemic, and an embarrassment to the mayor.”

Another rebuttal came from Laura Starr, who served as the Central Park Conservancy’s chief landscape architect in the 1990s. “I work on Broad Street. It’s a complete no man’s land. Total chaos,” she said. “I think the bull belongs where it is, with its leafy background behind it.”

Despite resistance from local leaders and art historians, the city has neither admitted defeat nor conceded that it lacks authority over the bull. “City law established procedures wherein city agencies can apply to the Public Design Commission in order to relocate pieces of art on property that the agency controls,” explained Edward Pincar, the Department of Transportation’s Manhattan borough commissioner. “We have worked closely with the administration and the law department to ensure that this is within our rights to do, and we believe it is.”

Until the meeting, public officials had declined requests to release details of their proposal. But yesterday’s presentation included renderings of Charging Bull on a corner of Broad Street just a couple feet away from a fire hydrant and down the road from the Fearless Girl statue. Officials were also unclear if the bull should face north or south, offering versions where the statue directly faced the New York Stock Exchange, or turned its backside toward the building. And several residents of a nearby building argued that this consolidation of public artworks would clog the narrow streets with tourists, leaving Exchange Place—a road used for trash pickup—as their only escape from the crowds.

“This is going to destroy our quality of life,” said one resident. “Our property values are going to tank because of the bull.”

“The fact that you don’t know which way to face the bull shows there is no context. It’s really ugly,” said Starr, who served as Central Park Conservancy’s chief landscape architecture in the 1990s. “I think the bull belongs where it is with its leafy background.”

And there is little reason to expect that Di Modica will allow the bull’s move without a fight. The proximity between Fearless Girl and Charging Bull has already been a source of legal conflict. In 2017, Di Modica’s lawyers accused the investment firm behind the aforementioned bronze of violating the artist’s copyright, which resulted in her own relocation from Bowling Green to the New York Stock Exchange.

“There is no such legal right to move the artwork,” added Piccolo, the artist’s surrogate at the meeting. “The city does not own Charging Bull.”

Gallerist Adam Lindemann Is Suing Real Estate Mogul Aby Rosen, and More: Morning Links from May 22, 2020

Fri, 05/22/2020 - 09:48

To receive Morning Links in your inbox every weekday, sign up for our Breakfast with ARTnews newsletter.


Adam Lindemann, owner of New York’s Venus over Manhattan gallery, is withholding rent paymentsand suing real estate mogul Aby Rosen to break his lease. [The Art Newspaper]

In April, a flood damaged Boston’s SoWa gallery district. Now, just as the city attempts to reopen, the district faces millions in repair costs. [Boston Globe]


Phillips will be offering Joan Mitchell’s painting Noël (1961–62) this July, and the work is estimated to fetch $9.5–$12.5 million. [Art Market Monitor]

According to a new market study, confidence in the market for postwar and contemporary art has dropped 85% since last fall—the lowest it’s been since the 2008 financial crisis. [Barron’s]

In Conversation

In an exclusive interview, Anthony Hopkins talks about his painting practice and being a recent TikTok sensation. [ARTnews]

Patricio Pron and his translator Mara Faye Lethem consider the conflation of morality, politics, and art in his new novel on the Italian Futurists. [Literary Hub]

The Venice Biennale recently joined the long list of exhibitions to be postponed due to the coronavirus. The Biennial’s artistic director, curator Cecilia Alemani, talked with ARTnews about the tough decision to reschedule. [ARTnews]

On Artists & Critics

What does “back to normal” look like for the post-COVID art world? How do we create a new, more humane “normal”? The Times has rounded up five art books that offer some illumination on that subject.  [The New York Times]

Cree artist Kent Monkman has hit something like mainstream success—is that going to be a problem?  [The New Republic]

Foster’s writing is energized by his oppositional engagement with the sociopolitical trends of the time, but it’s not clear what scope this leaves him to understand the art he writes about as anything more than symptomatic.” The Nation’s art critic takes on Hal Foster’s latest book. [The Nation]

Susan Rothenberg’s Rugged Paintings Made Her One of Today’s Most Fearless Artists

Fri, 05/22/2020 - 09:15

In an interview a few years ago, the artist Susan Rothenberg said she had just read that a group of ravens is called an unkindness. She thought it an unfair characterization because ravens, to her mind, were “great. They do somersaults in the air. They play. They chase hawks away. They do so many things.” She and her husband, the artist Bruce Nauman, regularly saw those famously fickle creatures at their ranch in Galisteo, New Mexico, and they’d earned enough of the birds’ trust to be able to walk up to them, though not to touch them. “It’s like having an unpettable pet around,” she said.

Rothenberg, who died earlier this week at 75, spent her life making raven-like paintings: rugged and raw, they beguile but never let you cozy up. She channeled animals (a category that includes humans) with a gimlet eye and without judgment, transmuting them into psychic and symbolic forces.

The horses came first. It was the mid-1970s, and she was an abstract artist in the downtown Manhattan art world, but she found herself doodling them on the back of scraps of paper. That year, she made the first of what would be many paintings of horses. She showed three at a scrappy SoHo alternative space. To her surprise, they would come to define her practice, and they would set her on a quicksilver course to become one of the shrewdest and most fearless painters of our time. (A lesson artists can take from her: Trust your weird ideas. Trust yourself.)

Susan Rothenberg, Cabin Fever, 1976.

Rothenberg’s horses are often mid-gallop, frozen for a solitary moment at the center of a canvas. Because their bodies are merely outlined, frequently sharing the color of their earthen backgrounds (sienna, ochre, rose), they take on potent totemic weight. They portend primal, frightening events and moods: confinement, escape, the constant war between inner instinct and outside pressures. One clay-colored equine, with a fearsome black shadow, called Cabin Fever (1976), is “about being ready to go out and then going nowhere,” Rothenberg once said.

The white horse in For the Light (1978–79)—a spectral steed charging straight ahead—looks like it would trample you without a moment’s hesitation. In an especially spare untitled 1978 piece, which is just black lines on white, hands cradle a human head as it spews a thick, ashen-colored stream.

This is violent art, yes, but only as violent as anything that regularly happens in nature. The brutality that Rothenberg depicted was that born of survival mechanisms, rather than malevolence. In Dogs Killing Rabbit (1991–92)—a nearly 12-foot-long masterpiece owned by the Museum of Modern Art in New York—the former dismantle the latter in a flurry of reds, oranges, and browns. Rothenberg said that the scene came from life. She and Nauman were riding on horseback, and they tried to stop the carnage by shouting at the dogs. You can just make out two faces hovering at the painting’s upper-right edge, seeming faintly ridiculous as they try to bring order to chaos.

Susan Rothenberg, Mondrian Dancing, 1984–85.

Perspective, in Rothenberg’s paintings, is a topsy-turvy business. As in late Philip Guston, her paintings can offer multiple angles in one frame, or suggest an absence of gravity. (“I think certain experiences, most experiences probably, can’t be presented from one viewpoint,” she once said.)

As easily as she conveyed nature’s cruelty, Rothenberg could conjure boozy nights, freewheeling joy, and conviviality, as she did in the hands that manipulate dominoes in With Martini (2002), and the jumbled figures in Blue Funk (2001–02). Her improbable 1985 portrait of Piet Mondrian dancing in woozy, golden light is pure romance.

She never let up. This was an artist who once admitted that “I can’t understand those people who tell you they stopped working because they weren’t good enough. I feel, ‘How can you judge that you’re not good enough when you haven’t done the next one?’”

The next one. And then the next one after that. Rothenberg returned to subjects like dogs and ravens repeatedly. Sometimes they looked menacing, other times tender, provoking one to wonder whether such words anthropomorphize what is essentially inscrutable. One of Rothenberg’s goals, she said recently, was “being true to what I choose to paint.” Decades earlier, she made a remark that sounds like a corollary: “My art is about not taking anything for granted in this world.”

Sotheby’s to Auction Storied Ginny Williams Collection in June, Featuring Leading Women Artists Mitchell, Krasner

Fri, 05/22/2020 - 08:00

The top offerings for the upcoming marquee auctions are beginning to be unveiled. Sotheby’s has announced it will bring selections from the collection of dealer Ginny Williams to the auction block on June 29 in New York.

Sotheby’s plans to offer the collection of more than 450 lots across a series of sales that will take place over the course of the year. The first selection of which will be scheduled to go on the auction block in a dedicated sale just before the contemporary evening art auction. Leading the Ginny Williams evening sale will be a host of top works by postwar women artists, including Joan Mitchell’s 1976 canvas Straw, carrying an estimate of $5 million–$7 million; Lee Krasner’s Re-Echo, from 1957, valued at $4 million–$6 million; five works by Louise Bourgeois, the most expensive of which is a bronze sculpture Observer with an estimate of $1.5 million–$2 million. Also among the highest valued pieces are Agnes Martin’s Mountain Flowers I, slated to make $2 million–$3 million, and Helen Frankenthaler’s orange abstract canvas Royal Fireworks, expected to fetch $2 million–$3 million.

The blockbuster roster of works by pioneering female modernists comes at a time when the market is finally giving attention to the group historically undervalued in comparison to their male counterparts. Recent institutional focus is also bringing new context around the formative artists, with Krasner having been the subject of a major solo survey at London’s Barbican Centre in 2019 and Joan Mitchell to be the subject of a retrospective at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Already a leading figure in the postwar and contemporary market, Mitchell has an auction record of $16.6 million set in 2018, and the painter’s legacy is now seeing a spike as the market for works by female artists surges.

The works coming up for sale, some from pivotal moments in the artists’ careers, are set to establish new highs. Re-echo, Krasner’s canvas from 1957, is part of the coveted “Earth Green” series, completed at a contentious time in the artist’s life just after the tragic death of her husband, Jackson Pollock, in 1956. If the work meets its low estimate of $4 million, it will be among the top prices for Krasner to date.

Lee Krasner, Re-Echo, 1957.

Trained as a photojournalist, Williams also built a major collection of photographs. The single-owner sale series will also include two auctions of photographs, featuring works by female photo icons Diane Arbus and Dorothea Lange, among other mainstays of 20th-century photography. The first sale will up take place between July 9 and 16. Some 100 of those prints will be up for sale and featured in a curated exhibition in July. More than 50 works from the collection will also be offered in Sotheby’s June contemporary art day sale. William’s massive photography collection reached a staggering 16,000 works by the time of the gallerist’s death, and was featured in a 1993 exhibition at the Denver Art Museum, where Williams was a member of the board of trustees.

“Decisive and impassioned, Ginny was a collector that stood apart from others,” says chairman of Sotheby’s Fine Art division, Amy Cappellazzo. “She understood artists, and lived and breathed their work into her collection and her life. She was among the last of a rarefied tribe of old school collectors and dealers, a true artist at heart.”

Williams, who died in 2019, spent her time between the East Coast and Colorado, where she was a leading figure in the Denver art community, and amassed one the most significant holdings of works dedicated to modern female artists in the country. Both a friend and avid backer to several of the artist’s she collected, Williams also served as a trustee on the board of the Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C.

Amid the current restrictions surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, auction houses are still working out details of how the live auctions will be staged. Sotheby’s confirmed the sale dates remain in place pending local government regulations. Sotheby’s plans to make the works available for collectors to view through in-person and virtual meetings.

Emma Amos, Imaginative Painter Who Attacked Racism Through Figuration, Is Dead at 83

Thu, 05/21/2020 - 22:58

Emma Amos, a figurative painter whose visually seductive art stared down racism and privilege, has died at 83. Her gallery, Ryan Lee, said in an email announcement that Amos died in Bedford, New Hampshire, on May 20 of Alzheimer’s disease.

Throughout her career, Amos displayed a knack for crafting imaginative tableaux that blended together aspects of art history, her personal life, and current events, in the process offering up pictures for the ages. Her striking images dove into knotty topics that unfurled ugly histories of racism, sexism, and class struggle—subjects that Amos engaged even when she knew they might be a liability. “Yes,” she wrote in her artist statement, “race, sex, class, and power privileges exist in the world of art.”

That line of thinking extended to the way Amos viewed painting itself. Color, one of the basic formal aspects of painting, took on political undertones, in Amos’s view. “Every time I think about color, it’s a political statement,” she once told art historian Lucy Lippard. “It would be a luxury to be white and never have to think about it.”

In one of her most famous works, Flower Sniffer (1966), Amos paints herself inside a large white circle with blue at its edges. The orange of her shirt and the yellow of her flowers may be warm, but nothing else about the picture counts as the same. Deliberately somewhat lopsided, the painting is meant as a critique of the tradition of self-portraiture, with Amos coming off as significantly less passive than many white female artists who have depicted themselves over the course of art history.

Amos’s canvases had a playful side to them, too. A call-back of Flower Sniffer appears in the background of Sandy and Her Husband (1973), a tender image of a husband-and-wife duo dancing in a living room. And in some of her most dazzling paintings, circus performers, animals, and musical instruments appear to be tumbling through a void, as though the rules of perspective need not apply.

Like many black female artists working during the ’60s and ’70s, Amos was only been recognized by large museums in the later stages of her career, thanks in part to the critical success of exhibitions like “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power” (organized by Tate Modern in London) and “We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85” (organized by the Brooklyn Museum in New York). Yet Amos holds an unusual position among her colleagues because she had been involved in a key group of black artists who had received press even during its day.

That collective was the short-lived though massively influential group known as Spiral. With Norman Lewis, Romare Bearden, and Hale Woodruff among its members, Amos was the only woman invited to join, having been brought in by Woodruff, her former professor. (Amos also tried to lure Vivian Brown into the group, but she claimed the idea was shot down by the men around her.) There was disagreement among Spiral’s artists, all of whom worked in vastly different modes, about what the notion of “black art” might mean. “I don’t believe there is such a things as a Negro artists,” Amos told ARTnews in a 1966 article about Spiral. “Why don’t we let white folks in?”

Spiral was formed in 1963 and dissolved soon after. In 1965, the group staged “First Group Showing: Works in Black and White” at a rented gallery space in New York—a first showing that wound up being its last. But Spiral’s influence now looms large. “Spiral tweaked and exploded the European-American lineage from within,” critic Martha Schwendener wrote in the Village Voice when a survey traveled from Alabama’s Birmingham Museum of Art to New York’s Studio Museum in Harlem.

Spiral was not the only radical collective in which Amos became involved. For a brief period during the ’70s, Amos was an editor at Heresies, a key feminist journal that published texts by artists such as Howardena Pindell, Ana Mendieta, Adrian Piper, and Martha Rosler. “They thought that I was going to, you know, make peanut butter sandwiches and run out and get tea, and I just sat there,” Amos said in a 2011 oral history. “You know, I wasn’t going to do that.”

According to Ryan Lee gallery’s announcement, Amos was also involved with the Guerrilla Girls, a legendary feminist collective that has torn into the art world’s misogyny through protests, writings, and activist artworks. Because the Guerrilla Girls make public appearances in gorilla masks, the identities of its members have long been kept a secret. Amos left her involvement vague, once saying, “I was a member of a very famous clandestine women’s group that worked at night and did not ever go out without masks on our faces.”

Emma Amos was born in 1937 in Atlanta, Georgia. From a young age, she showed a propensity for art and took classes at local institutions. At age 16, she enrolled in a B.A. program at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, where she continued an art education that later included studying abroad in London for a year. By 1960, she had moved to New York.

After having worked as a teacher at a prep s school, Amos found employment in the studio of Dorothy Liebes, a textile designer who helped elevate the practice of weaving. Amos’s experiences with Liebes, for whom she worked for a decade, instilled an interest in craft that stayed with her for much of her career. In interviews, Amos likened painting to craft. “Even the canvas, to me, is a textile,” she once said. From 1977 to 1978, Amos co-hosted the craft-oriented TV series Show of Hands.

During the ’80s, Amos began creating paintings for a series known as “Falling” that features figures plummeting through vast spaces. “I liked the idea that if you were falling through the air, that there would be somebody who was trying to catch you or there was somebody holding onto you, so there was two of you together,” Amos said. In one memorable work from the series, Amos falls through a bluish sky holding onto a picture of her mother.

After that series, Amos produced works that combined all her interests with her experiences with textiles and printmaking. (She had been involved with artist Robert Blackburn’s print workshop during the ’70s.) Implicit in many of them was a sense that Amos was dissatisfied with the whiteness of art history. For Muse Picasso (1997), she shaped a canvas like a painter’s smock, putting at its center an image of Pablo Picasso and ringing it with roundels featuring pictures of African masks and her own image. Surrounding both are African fabrics and words such as “master”—an explicit acknowledgement of the histories of racism, colonialism, and slavery in Africa that Picasso did not see when he drew inspiration from masks of the continent.

Even into the last decade, Amos had received less recognition than she deserved. The Studio Museum in Harlem mounted a survey in the ’90s, and Art in General in New York presented a show that traveled. But few major institutions had shown interest in her work. “I wake up in the morning and say, ‘I have one piece at the Museum of Modern Art. I wonder, is it still there?’ You know, I wonder if I’ve been deaccessioned,” she said. “And I wonder how come there’s nobody who knows who I am.”

That work at MoMA has not been deaccessioned, however, and now the museum holds five other pieces by Amos. Other institutions that hold important work by her include the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum, and the Brooklyn Museum, and an Amos retrospective is slated to open at the Georgia Museum of Art in Athens in 2021.

Texturize Your Paint with the Best Gel Mediums

Thu, 05/21/2020 - 22:03

A good acrylic gel medium is a studio essential. These substances have a feel similar to heavy-weight acrylic paint but lack the colorful pigments. You can simply mix them with your paints to extend their use without losing color; alternatively, you can use them to add volume, dimension, and thickness to your paint, which makes it easier to create exceptional textures. Our picks will help you decide which brand is best for your projects.


Keep Your Materials Fresh with the Best Paint Holders for Liquid Tempera

Thu, 05/21/2020 - 22:02

There are many uses for a good paint container, from storing paint to transporting it to distributing paint to a group. Available in a variety of sizes and designs, these small holders will help you reduce waste and keep usable paints fresh, saving you money in the long run. They also double as paint pots you can use to mix colors; when you’re done using your blend, just snap a lid on and cleanup is complete. Our picks will help you choose which brand is best for your creative process. 

Add Some Luxury to Your Creative Process with the Best Porcelain Palettes for Watercolors

Thu, 05/21/2020 - 22:01

Many watercolor painters start out with plastic palettes, which can be flimsy and are bad for the environment. A porcelain palette can upgrade your painting process. Not only does porcelain look and feel more attractive, but it can also improve the performance of your paints. Spread on plastic, watercolors tend to bead, separating into annoying pools. On smooth porcelain, pigments stick together for easier mixing. Cleaning a porcelain palette is also much easier—all you need is warm water and a sponge—and the surface won’t stain as plastic does. Once you try painting with a porcelain palette, you’ll probably leave plastic behind for good. 

For Easy Storage and Application, Here are the Best Plastic Squeeze Bottles for Liquid Tempera Paint

Thu, 05/21/2020 - 22:00

To store premade tempera paints—whether store-bought or homemade—you’ll need a sturdy, reliable container. Plastic squeeze bottles are especially convenient as they double as applicators, allowing you to easily dispense just what you need, whether for straightforward painting or for pouring to create beautiful marbleized effects. If their lids are secure, they can also be used as mixing vessels. These plastic bottles may be unassuming, but a good-quality product can prove to be more useful than you might think.