Mammy and Myths, Oh Andy!

mammy -andy warhol

The Spectre that is Mammy

I had a friend in college. She loved big hooped earrings, watermelons and fried chicken. But for the four years I knew her, she insisted she hated them all. Her public persona when at school would not allow her to “let Whites see her as a mammy or an aunt Jemima.” Years after leaving college, I went to a barbecue at her house. There she was in the backyard eating watermelon and fried chicken. In her ears she sported a pair of over-sized gypsy hoops. What do you think of that?

Finally Meeting Mammy

I met my friend’s mammy in a Greenwich Village art gallery. There she sat in all her glory, staring at me from her perch. All done up in silkscreen and diamond dust, she and nine other “myth prints” sat next to their respective Polaroids. She wore a head scarf that was knotted into a bow atop her forehead, large hoop earrings, and had large, full lips. She sported a jet black face. Here was my friend’s bugaboo, minus the watermelons and fried chicken.

Until the Mammy print, I hadn’t paid much attention to the artist. He seemed to me an excellent print maker whose real goal was fame. In other words, he didn’t seem to be making art for the sake of making art. Instead, his creations were tied up in being famous in a kind of “Look at me! Look at what I can do!” type of art. How seriously could an under-twenty year old searching for meaning in life and in art, take such an artist? Was it even the artist’s business to seriously engage with me or anyone else? And then it happened: I started to hear little whispers, small talk about “Aunt Jemima” from the gallery crowd. Whatever his reason for including her in his repertoire of ten myths, he had begun a conversation, one that my friend was unwilling to have with me, a Caribbean immigrant. I was an outsider, times two.

Some 30 Years Later, Mammy at Stanford

mammy3
Polaroid print of the real life model for the 1981 mammy print screen

Last weekend I went in search of the Warhol exhibition at Stanford’s Cantor Museum. It has been running since mid-February and closes at month’s end (on June 30th). Held as it is within the Freidenrich Family Gallery – where Stanford’s larger contemporary art holdings are showcased – it is easy to miss. The pieces that usually draw me to this gallery are the Isamu Noguchi sculpture, “Victim“, and paintings by Bay Area artists like Nathan Olivera. For this visit I went specifically to see the Warhols but of course, stopped to look at the Noguchi and Olivera as well.

The Warhol exhibition is entitled, “More Than Fifteen Minutes: Andy Warhol and Celebrity”. Had the curators been more creative in titling the show (instead of following the same old trajectory about Warhol), and had they mentioned the presence of the Mammy piece, I would have gone to see this show sooner. As it is, I almost missed it and that would have been a shame. Mammy thirty years ago and mammy today is still relevant. I had a lovely conversation with an elderly black guard who wanted to know, “Who is this Andy guy?” and “Doesn’t this mammy thing get your hackles up?”

Why hadn’t Stanford written a more stimulating advertisement than the one below?

As a Pop artist trained in advertising, Andy Warhol was obsessed with fame and the media. This exhibition features prints, drawings, and Polaroid photographs of Marilyn Monroe, Mao Tse Tung, Mick Jagger, and other contemporary icons, exploring ideas about fame, ephemerality, and the legacy of Andy Warhol. Approximately 24 works on display.

Does Stanford not believe in some of its own contemporary art shows? It does a better job advertising its Rodins and the feature exhibitions that it puts on in the Pigott Family Gallery on the main floor. This mammy print could have attracted a wider cross-section of viewers and maybe opened up a different kind of conversation about perceptions in America in the year two-thousand-and-thirteen. But the curators failed to mention the print in their announcements, choosing instead to focus on Monroe, Tse Tung and Jagger. Therein lies a huge part of the trouble with museums, art magazines and art critics: They don’t understand or try hard enough to attract a wide range of viewers and readers. Too often, they fail to engage in meaningful ways with the public and so, art remains a rarefied entity accessible only to certain types of people. It oughtn’t to be that way.

Although no mention was made of Mammy in any of the write-ups, she is the one that I spent most of my time with and she is the reason the guard and I had that conversation. Sure I was attracted to the Tse Tung and Jagger pieces, but it was she who held my attention. That guard recognized as did I, that in mammy, there is a bit of talk about us. That, for me, is the beauty of Warhol’s mammy. She exists.

A nice touch and a nod to the Cantor, is the covering up of the Polaroid that couldn’t withstand exposure to the light. If I wasn’t so taken up with the Mammy print, I would’ve remembered what was under the cloth. If I get back to the campus before the show closes, I’ll look again and let you know.

More Myth-Making: Andy and Jean-Michel, Provocateurs?

The following photographs are ©Andy Warhol Foundation. Make what you will of the last two. I see more historical baggage, perhaps meant to startle or simply to continue a conversation long begun in a Greenwich Village art studio. Long before there was ever a Black President named Barack Obama, there was this image of Africa and Africans and monkeys all tied together into one single entity. Here stands Jean-Michel Basquiat in a Warhol Polaroid, posing as a caricature, as a monkey. Over thirty years later comes a Black/African American president and both he and his wife are referred to as monkeys. Time marches on not at all.

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Degenerate Art Exhibition Revisited

This show runs from October 2012-February 24, 2013

The Nazis’ Entartete Kunst Show Revisited

The title of this current exhibition at The Cantor Museum is rather disconcerting: a war on modern art1

A better title for the show would have been, “A War on Modern Art: The Notorious Hitler/Nazi Purge of 1937,” or quite simply, “The Entartete Kunst Show.”

The infamous Nazi art exhibition of 1937, Entartete Kunst, sought to stamp out certain art forms, including abstraction. It had the opposite effect. By drawing attention to modern art, the Nazis helped to make it unforgettable.

Kandinsky

Wassily Kandinsky, the Russian painter and theorist, has been credited with creating the first purely abstract Western artworks. He taught at the Bauhaus until the Nazis closed it in 1933. His use of colors, shapes and lines so offended their sense of beauty that in the Entartete Kunst exhibition, they declared his art to be “crazy at any price.” Included in the current Cantor exhibition are several Kandinsky pieces that are representative of the ones featured in the 1937 show.

Germany 1929-1938

In 1929, The Great Depression hit Germany hard. Over five-million Germans and Austrians were out of work. The “unacceptable” were blamed for infecting the society. Anything and anyone violating the Nazis’ sense of classical German beauty (Aryan) were deemed degenerate and therefore, to be destroyed. In defense of this destruction, Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda, is heard declaring on archival film, “Der Fuhrer liebt die Kunst, weil er selbst ist ein Kunstler” (The Feurer loves art. He himself is an artist).* Unfortunately, this love extended neither to abstract/modern art nor its creators.

Book Burnings

Book burnings began in Berlin in 1933: German and Austrian books were burned alongside books by “corrupting foreign influences.” This included books by Ernest Hemingway, H.G. Wells and the German playwright, Heinriche Heine. Heine, in his 1821 play, Almansor had written the following line:

“Das war ein Vorspiel nur, dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen.” (“That was but a prelude; where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people also.”)

Dubious Distinction

The 1937 Degenerate Art show featured many of Kandinsky’s works, including an edition of the book, Klange (Sounds), and the portfolio of twelve prints entitled, “Kleine Welten” (Small Worlds). None of the works in The Cantor’s exhibition were actually in the Nazi sponsored art exhibition but both shows feature(d) a copy of Klange and several prints from Kleine Welten.

wassily k photo book
Klange (Sounds), 1913 –illustrated book of poems and woodcuts by Wassily Kandinsky
wassily k photo
Kleine Welten, III (Small Worlds, III), 1922 — lithograph from a portfolio of twelve prints, by Wassily Kandinsky

Also on view at The Cantor is a reproduction of the 1937 Nazi exhibition catalog (in both German and English). This too, was disturbing and did what it was meant to: It shocks the visitor by its immediacy and also by its accessibility to the English-speaker.

Over one-hundred artists and six-hundred pieces of art (including illustrated books like Kandinsky’s) encompassed the Nazis’ 1937 art exhibition. When the Degenerate Art Law was passed a year later in 1938, the Nazis had confiscated more than 16,000 objects of art.

Julien Bryan’s Archival Films

Chilling and voyeuristic are apt descriptions of Julien Bryan’s 1937 short films. The documentary of the museum goers viewing the show is numbing, disturbing, evocative and sad. You wonder which attendees will become murderers  and who will be murdered. What are visitors thinking as they view the show? Is each visitor thinking for himself or has he allowed his thinking to be sanctioned by the State? Who, at that show, will help those in need and who will turn on “the other?” You wish you didn’t know how it ultimately ends.

Three links to various Bryan documentaries are embedded below. These are silent, black and white films. Because they are soundless, they are all the more harrowing. They have a certain magnetic pull, drawing the viewer in in a way that modern films do not. In their silence they force you to pay attention, to listen with your eyes.

About Julien

Who was Julien Bryan? He was an American photographer, filmmaker and documentarian who traveled throughout Europe in the 1930s. He tried to warn America of the dangers of Nazism and Fascism based on what he saw in his travels abroad, in Russia, Poland, Germany and Austria. His documentary films of the era are now part of the public domain. Access them here:

  • Munich Exhibition of Degenerate Art — Filmed by Bryan when he visited the 1937 Nazi exhibition.

http://www.ushmm.org/research/collections/highlights/bryan/video/detail.php?content=germany_art

  • Pupils at Goldschmidt Jewish Private School in Nazi Germany — Bryan filmed the Goldschmidt Jewish private school shortly after Jews were no longer allowed to enroll in public schools in Germany. Again, you wish you didn’t know how this all turns out.

http://www.ushmm.org/research/collections/highlights/bryan/video/detail.php?content=germany_pupils

  • Hitler Youth Girls –Here Bryan documents the indoctrination of German/Aryan school children, even during playtime.

http://www.ushmm.org/research/collections/highlights/bryan/video/detail.php?content=germany_youth

———–

*”PBS Film Chronicles Nazi Art Suppression”, The Daily Gazette, (Tuesday, April 6, 1993) <http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1957&dat=19930406&id=XWlGAAAAIBAJ&sjid=LukMAAAAIBAJ&pg=1166,1427669>

Stupid NASA, Earth and Nature

Capture
credit: NASA

A friend sent me NASA’s earth art book and immediately, I started scribbling down place names for no other reasons than these: They are arresting names; and I wonder what goes on there. What do these places look like up close? Who lives there and how do they live in and treat these places and spaces? Are there open spaces for me to go wandering about in and exploring?

Ever since I arrived in the Bay Area, I have a renewed appreciation for open spaces that I have not felt since my childhood and my later adult sojurn in Jamaica. Just as importantly, this appreciation informs and colors my art. When I looked at the NASA pictures I thought once again, how cheeky, trying to create something, anything, when nature has already done it and done it so well. Here I am, getting ready to re-work my “the vees in picasso” sketches that I did last spring. I know not where the inspiration came from nor why it came from those particular sketches. All I know is I have a clear vision and I am going to move it from inside my head and out onto my canvas. But damned if one of the NASA shots isn’t an almost exact replica of what is in my mind’s eye!  Even the coloration and texture (hence the use of modeling clay on the canvas) are the same as what I envisioned.

I just got through experimenting with a light modeling clay and a golden bronze acrylic paint that I have been reluctant to use. The experiment was tedious and it took me a long time to master that paint. I tried working with this bronze before and it hadn’t been tactile. In fact, the wretched thing was and still is, a very heavy paint. It does not rest easily on the canvas. This is the same paint that I worked with in the “David at Yosemite” painting. Turns out this paint is truly a bitch to work with and not simply because the David painting was a difficult subject.

I finally finished this new experiment in bronze painting. It has turned into a painting called, Little Fairy Castles in the Cow Pasture (or Childhood at Belvedere Estate). When I finished it I thought, “That was really difficult but I’m ready to work on my “vee” painting. Now along comes NASA with its “Earth-observing environmental satellites in orbit around the planet”, to show me that it has already been done! They have all conspired to outdo me, NASA, Earth, Nature and those dim-witted satellites that never did anything except spin about in the skies. They never lifted paintbrushes nor tried to coax heavy bronze paint onto canvas! Adding to my chagrin, the NASA picture, shown at the top of this post, is of the desert outside of the United States that I have my eyes on. Yes, it is of the Namib area that I wrote about in an earlier article, the same Namib desert that I invited my Yosemite painting man to visit with me so we could photograph, paint and sand-board there. Sand-boarding and sand-sledding in Swakopmund, Namibia, was another of our Urban Daddy Magazine discoveries. But that is another story.

Here now are some of the place names from NASA’s earth as art book that stirred my imagination:

  • Painted Desert, USA
  • Desolation Canyon, USA
  • Lake Disappointment, Australia (childhood fairy tales and river myths come to mind)
  • Parana River Delta, Argentina (this conjures up images of piranha fish)
  • Anti-Atlas Mountains, Morocco (what does it even mean to be “anti” in a place name?)
  • Carbonate Sand Dunes, Atlantic Ocean (how do you even have dunes in the ocean??)
  • Ribbon Lakes, Russia

The following are not place names but oh, the conjuring up my mind does just thinking of these titles: gravity waves, ice waves, phytoplankton bloom, and Wadi Branches, Jordan (is this a geographical feature or a place-name?).

Oh, stupid NASA Earth as Art book can be accessed here: http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/703154main_earth_art-ebook.pdf and the artworks mentioned in this article are shown below.

Happy New Year and see you in 2013!

At Yosemite (mixed media, 2011)
At Yosemite (mixed media, 2011)
2012-12-29 12.44.20
early version of Belvedere painting
2012-12-30 10.05.33
final Belvedere painting
Remembering the "Vs" i (at the de Young)
Remembering the “Vs”, i (at the de Young)

My Very Trippy List

photo 1 (2)
Young elephant seal, photo by Coastside State Parks Assn., 2012

I will be out working with the seals all this weekend so I’m getting this week’s post in early. Sorry to throw you off with my early schedule.

So, back in May I stumbled across those crazy lost and found emails, remember? Thanks to them, I started thinking about my creative side and how that part of my life was being lost or shelved. In those emails I found I had done all this writing and photography and paintings – I created much more than I realized! What’s more, if I could do all that while having fun, how much more could I do if I set goals and got serious about my writing and my art?

So, here then, is the list of goals I set to help me focus on my creative side/work. If you are wondering about the inclusion of trips to national and state parks, don’t! Some (okay, maybe all) of my earlier posts relate in one way or another to nature and the outdoors. They feed my creative side and make me happy too. No wonder I’m so creative here in the Bay Area. It turns out that I have a new old muse. Hello Nature girl.

Creative writing

*Write a short play (done)

Submit said play to x competition (done and done)

*Work on poetry (done)

Submit poems to program xx (done)

Submit poems to program y (still working on it!)

Await outcome (I won’t have the results until April; am crossing my fingers and my toes!)

*Start a blog (done)

Maintain said blog and complete one post each week (done and done!)

Visual Arts: paint, paint paint!

*Painting/drawing/collages

Take a painting class or workshop (done!)

Create at least three pieces I am totally happy with (done!)

spectre
my best and favorite painting for the year

*Photography

Buy a good digital camera (done)

Learn to use and master said camera (still working on it!)

Blend writing and visual arts into creative pieces (done and done!)

Visit and overnight at one state or national park (done and done)

*Yosemite (done)

*Sequoia (done and done)

AND in 2013:

*Enter at least one art piece (a painting) into a local and a national competition

*Try to stop destroying writing and artwork that I’m not totally satisfied with (this is a work in progress)

*Enroll in a workshop at the Crucible or take a drawing class (hope I have enough money for this!)

*Visit and overnight at a state or national park outside of California (Yellowstone or Grand Canyon) and/or visit Picasso’s, Guernica, in Madrid museum (hope I have enough money for this too!)

Thank you for hanging with me. Next week I’ll give you my Jamaican Christmas cake recipe. I’ve been busy these past few nights making cakes for family, friends and co-workers. Let the festivities begin!

Woman Flying A Kite

Art Seen

Point Reyes Woman Flying a Kite (2012)

A little painting, the size of a postcard, caught my eye at the Asian Museum’s, Maharaja exhibition (April 2012). The opaque watercolor, dominated by an eggplant colored background, is of a woman flying a kite. Perhaps the string has cut her hands as both palms seem to exude a red substance. Blood? Perhaps. Or maybe it is simply the color of the kite’s string. I’d like to think it is blood. That makes the painting more profound and poetic. The woman is in profile. The plaque accompanying the painting tells you that this is a nazar painting, a gift for the Maharaja. Kite flying is symbolic of the woman’s feeling for a loved one who is far away. She misses him.

A Ride Fit For A Maharaja (2012)

Below is the nazar painting and my response to it. My painting is a mixed media collage on Japanese rice paper. The opposite sketches are from my notebooks. All are in response to the exhibition.

Woman Flying A Kite (2012)
Woman Flying A Kite, c1700-1800 (property of AGO Art Gallery)

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