Museum Edge Review by Irene Javors for State of the Arts NYC
Recording Date： March 24, 2019
Place: Grey Gallery, NYU
Irene Javors: 00:01 This is Irene Javors at the Museum Edge, reporting for State of the Arts, New York city edition. There is an important historical exhibit at New York university’s Gray Art gallery on the work of the German artist, Fritz Asher. This retrospective pulls together the work of this far too long overlooked and important expressionist artist.
Irene Javors: 00:24 Asher is one of the many artists who have been characterized as part of a lost generation of creatives whose lives and careers were cut short by Nazi censorship and/or persecution and death in labor and concentration camps.
Irene Javors: 00:42 In 1933, when Hitler and his Nazi minions came to power, although Asher had been baptized as Protestant, the Nazi racial laws classified him as Jewish. As a result, he could no longer make, show or sell his artwork. He went into hiding and in 1938, during the savage night known as Kristallnacht, Asher was arrested and sent to Sachenhausen concentration camp, and then he was sent to Potsdam prison.
Irene Javors: 01:16 After he was released, and then in 1942, he was warned that all Berlin Jews were to be deported to concentration camps and he went into hiding. Unable to paint, he turned to poetry and writing until the end of the war. After 1945, he continued living in Berlin, and returned to painting, but stayed clear of any social and political involvement. He stopped painting figuratively, and turned to landscape painting inspired by the Grunewald forest that was near his home. His expressionist style reasserted itself with his bold brush strokes, splashes of paint, and intensity of colors. In his heyday, pre and post World War One, his expressionist works reflected many spiritual mythic and operatic themes.
Irene Javors: 02:13 The exhibition includes many of these works, including his painting and sketches of Christ Passion. Another re-occurring theme is the Golem from Jewish folklore. A mythical creature that is constructed from mud, and brought to life by the Rabbi Judah Loew, from Prague, to protect the Jewish community from persecution.
Irene Javors: 02:37 The exhibit also has several of Asher’s paintings that depict [Bozazu 00:02:42], the clown, from the opera, Pagliachi, by Leoncovallo, as a tragic and isolated figure. During the 1920’s Asher used his bold brush and jarring colors to paint more and more violent and nightmarish scenes of hellish torture, including the painting of the temptation of Saint Anthony.
Irene Javors: 03:06 For this viewer, his self portrait of 1953, with its darkened strokes and haunted eyes, conveys to me the sufferings of this deeply sensitive and under-recognized artist who made art at a time of terrible darkness and destruction.
Irene Javors: 03:25 This exhibit is a celebration of the making of art in the midst of devastation. A tribute to creativity. The exhibit Fritz Asher, Expressionist, runs through April 6th, 2019 at New York university’s Gray Art Gallery at 100 Washington Square east, Manhattan, New York City.
Irene Javors: 03:48 This is Irene Javors at the Museum Edge, for State of the Arts, New York City edition.
Museum Edge Review by Irene Javors for State of the Arts NYC
Recording Date： February 22, 2019
Place: New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center, New York City
Artist: Jerome Robbins
Irene Javors: 00:01 This is Irene Javors at the Museum Edge, reporting for State of the Arts, New York City Edition. Our focus today is the exhibit, Voice of the City: Jerome Robbins and New York at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center, New York City, that is showing through March 30th, 2019.
Irene Javors: 00:27 This is a show for all who love dance, as well as for all who would like an introduction to the fantastic work of Jerome Robbins, dancer and choreographer. The exhibit is a celebration of the centennial of his birth in 1918. He drew inspiration from New York City and his creativity drew its energy from the ever-changing landscape of Gotham.
Irene Javors: 00:58 The exhibit follows Robbins’ evolution as a dancer and choreographer and we are shown photos, diaries, videos, poems, personal papers, original artwork that reflect his imaginable world, his interior creative landscape. Each room of the exhibit highlights Robbin’s ever-expanding artistic vision. We visit his ideas for the ballet Fancy Free in 1944 that evolved into On the Town, same year, to his choreography with the New York City Ballet wherein he worked with George Balanchine.
Irene Javors: 01:42 We learn about his early ballets, The Age of Anxiety, 1949, Afternoon of a Faun, as well as his later ballets, New York Export: Opus Jazz, 1958, Dances at a Gathering, 1969, and The Goldberg Variations, 1971, as well as Glass Pieces, 1983. And of course, there are rooms devoted to all the amazing musicals he choreographed: The King and I, Peter Pan, West Side Story, Gypsy, Fiddler on the Roof.
Irene Javors: 02:21 In other rooms, there were 24 accordion journals that are elaborately festooned with theater memorabilia, ticket stubs, drawings, photos, dried flowers, quotes, and his own introspective writings. The exhibit also delves into Robbins’ psychological conflicts involving his family, his Jewish heritage, and his sexuality. He wrestled with many demons during the course of his life, threatened with being outed as gay if he did not testify and name names in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1953.
Irene Javors: 03:03 He was given the choice of being, quote unquote, a friendly witness naming supposed communists he might have known during his brief membership in the Communist Party or being outed as gay, a factor that would have destroyed his career in the gay-baiting, gay-hating McCarthy period. Robbins was tormented by this testimony and it haunted him throughout his life, as well as his difficulty dealing with his gay identity.
Irene Javors: 03:37 At the entrance to the exhibit, there are two drawings by Robbins that have the following captions: “Why can’t people just accept you? If only they’d leave me alone.” And from his diaries, 1971 to 1984, displayed blown-up and filling almost half the length of one of the rooms, it reads, “I’m afraid I’ll be found out, but what will be found out?”
Irene Javors: 04:07 Jerome Robbins’ greatness as one of the creatives is amply celebrated in this wonderful exhibit that reflects the breadth and depth of his life and works, his love of New York City. In this quote from his personal papers that greets the viewer as we enter the exhibit, it reads, “Voice of the city. Have you heard the voice of my city? The poor voice, the lost voice, the voice of selling and swearing, cursing, and vulgar. The shrill, the tough, the wail complaint, and the defiance. You have heard the voice of my city fighting and hitting and hurt.”
Irene Javors: 04:56 Robbins died on July 29th, 1998. His legacy will live on through his work. The exhibit runs to March 30th, 2019 at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. This is Irene Javors at the Museum Edge for State of the Arts, New York City Edition.
Museum Edge Review by Irene Javors for State of the Arts NYC
Recording Date： February 7, 2019
Place: Jewish Museum New York
Artist: Martha Rosler
Irene Javors: 00:00 This is Irene Javors at the Museum Edge. There is a most provocative exhibit currently showing at The Jewish Museum in New York City of the work of the artist Martha Rosler. This retrospective titled Irrespective consists of many of her well-known works as well as some rarely shown pieces. The show spans five decades plus of Rosler ouvre. Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, her artistic statements encompass an ongoing critique of patriarchy, American Imperialism, sexism, consumerism, and fascist regimes throughout the world.
Irene Javors: 00:42 As one walks through the galleries, one becomes a witness to the major historical, political, cultural, economic events of the 20th and 21st centuries. Civil Rights, the Vietnam War, the House Un-American Activities, the Women’s Movement, consumerism, anti-war movements, and gentrification. The deconstruction of The American Dream. Her photography, photomontages, performance pieces, videos, all challenge us to wake up to the ethical issues involving justice, equality, or the lack thereof. Her, often, cutting and caustic images provoke and cause us great discomfort in order to draw us out of our complacency. Several images struck this viewer as canonic of Rosler’s concerns. The photomontage, Unknown Secrets (The Secret of the Rosenbergs) 1988, where an Ethel Rosenberg, the wife of Julius and the convicted spy who will be executed in 1953, is placed at the center of a montage of images from the 1950s, so biting and tragic a montage. And, Rosler’s Reading Hannah Arendt, politically from an artist in the 21st century whose text serves to remind us of the nature of totalitarianism and the dangers of Trumpism.
Irene Javors: 02:17 Irrespective is at The Jewish Museum at 5th Avenue and 92nd Street until March 3, 2019. This is Irene Javors at the Museum Edge for the State of the Arts New York City Edition
State of the Arts NYC interview with Donald Ellis & Emmanuel Di Donna
Recording Date： June 2018
Place: Di Donna Gallery, Upper East Side, New York
Exhibition: Moon Dancers and Yup’ik Masks
Savona McClain: 00:01 I’m here in the Di Donna gallery on the Upper East Side, and they have this fabulous exhibition and it’s called Moon Dancers, and it’s the Yup’ik Masks and the Surrealists, correct?
Donald Ellis: 00:13 Yup’ik, yes.
Savona McClain: 00:14 Yup’ik. So this is, your name?
Donald Ellis: 00:19 I’m Donald Ellis.
Savona McClain: 00:19 And this is a collaboration between you and the gallery, so why don’t you tell us a little bit about a couple of your favorite masks.
Donald Ellis: 00:28 Well, the mask we’re standing in front of right now was formerly in the collection of Enrico Donati, and I first discovered it about 30 years ago in his painting studio in the Gainsborough building on 59th Street, and was fortunate enough to develop a life long relationship with Mr. Donati. I required it after his passing at the age of 99 years old, about 10 years ago.
Savona McClain: 00:55 Wow, God bless him.
Donald Ellis: 00:58 This mask is one of 12 of what was known as The Weather Masks, they’re 12 different masks by two different artists, all collected by the same man, a man by the name of Twitchell in the late 19th and early 20th century, and were all sold to the Museum of the American Indian in around, I believe 1919. And subsequently were sold by the Museum of the American Indian, the Heye Foundation, to an antique store owner by the name of Carlebach, who sold them to Surrealists.
Savona McClain: 01:35 Wow.
Donald Ellis: 01:36 And this mask is known as the South Wind Mask, and it represents … It would have been used in the winter ceremonial to call the south wind, because when the wind shifted out of the north and to the south, that meant spring was coming. The ice is breaking up, the wales would return and by that time …
Savona McClain: 01:59 There’s food and shelter.
Donald Ellis: 02:00 There would be food, the larders would be running pretty low. This culture lived in the most barren and difficult landscape in North America, and consequently their ceremonial life all revolved around dealing with food. Calling the spirits. So this is the only one in private hands, all the other 11 are in institutions and this is generally considered to be the most important Yup’ik mask in private hands.
Savona McClain: 02:32 Wow, that is absolutely stunning. I love the feathers all around it as well. Now that portion of Northwest Alaska, was that near where the barren streaks used to be?
Donald Ellis: 02:50 This is in the more southern part of Alaska.
Savona McClain: 02:52 Okay.
Donald Ellis: 02:53 And a smaller area by the Yup’ik speaking people and up near the Bering Sea are the Inupiaq speaking people. So, this is within an area what we call Southeast Alaska.
Savona McClain: 03:03 Okay. All right then. This is great. So why don’t you show me another one that you like very much?
Savona McClain: 03:16 This is a nice piece.
Donald Ellis: 03:19 This is a mask that was in the collection of Charles and Valerie Diker, which is been gifted to the Metropolitan Museum in October. It’s already been gifted I suppose on [inaudible 00:03:30] October. This mask again, a larger scale mask, and what’s interesting about this, is that in every other Yup’ik mask known where there’s a hand or hands featured, they’re in an abstracted form, missing the thumbs and frequently with a hole in the palm. This mask is the only [inaudible 00:03:52] example that has realistically carved fingers and a thumb. This mask acted, when worn by the dancer, it activated the dancer to be a conduit between the worlds, between the spiritual world and the physical world. And the makers of the masks and the shamans believed the reason why there’re no thumbs is that they didn’t want the intermediary to be able grasp the food, the game as it was coming through. So this is … Why this one has a realistic feature like this, I do not know, nobody seems to know, it’s a one-of, but puts it in a little bit of a category on its own.
Savona McClain: 04:35 Wow, I like it though.
Donald Ellis: 04:38 I do too.
Savona McClain: 04:39 It’s excellent, and then the Mets is getting it in October, that’s very good. Now was that a part of your collection as well?
Donald Ellis: 04:45 I sold it to the Dikers, I think in 2007.
Savona McClain: 04:51 Okay. Wow, so this is worth a lot of money.
Donald Ellis: 04:56 It’s all relative.
Savona McClain: 05:03 Okay. [crosstalk 00:05:04]. All right.
Donald Ellis: 05:06 He’s the other half of … The other two third …
Savona McClain: 05:09 So now we have Emmanuel Di Donna with us, and he’s gonna share with us some paintings that were paired with some of the sculptural masks.
Emmanuel Di Donna: 05:20 So here next to this masks that has been gifted to the Metropolitan Museum, we have a 1927 mural called La Sirène, which is The Mermaid. And what you see is some sort of female form with a fish, but in a very abstracted kind of way on a white background. A very pure, very simple, goes to … There’s such an immediacy to the way it’s been executed. So that’s pure [inaudible 00:05:47] for mural, and …
Savona McClain: 05:50 And the colors are great.
Emmanuel Di Donna: 05:52 The colors are great. I think that this pairing is a very successful pairing. With the [inaudible 00:06:00] mask here, we have this wonderful work by Victor Brauner, who was a Romanian artist, and he lived in Paris, and he has this very interesting language by which he mixes amalgamates, humans and animals and creates those semi-abstract Surrealist compositions. Always very high in color, really fun, which has some sort of … Share some similarity in spirit with this mask.
Savona McClain: 06:34 The eyes are distinct.
- Di Donna: 06:37 The eyes are very distinct. When you look at all the eyes between [crosstalk 00:06:43] and the paintings, there’s something really, really fun to be seen.
Savona McClain: 06:48 So tell me about this piece, I like this piece very much, and the artist.
Emmanuel Di Donna: 06:52 This is a beautiful … It’s a beautiful André Masson. So André Masson moves to the US in 1944 because of the second World War, he comes here. He lives in Calder’s studio.
Savona McClain: 07:08 Really?
Emmanuel Di Donna: 07:09 [crosstalk 00:07:09], host him in here. And this is from the American period by Masson, which he mixes oil and sand, giving this very textural surface. And this painting is called Et Loup Garou, The Werewolf. You can see here the werewolf [crosstalk 00:07:30] see here the woman running.
Savona McClain: 07:35 Okay. [crosstalk 00:07:36]. I like the story.
Emmanuel Di Donna: 07:35 Very fiery colors, this rich language of automatism, those … He is in [inaudible 00:07:45] writing and … Which influence Pollock and all the post-war, abstract expressionist.
Savona McClain: 07:54 I love it. The fancifulness of the black and how it’s creating this language.
Emmanuel Di Donna: 08:00 It’s a really beautiful painting.
Savona McClain: 08:01 Yes. Very fanciful. Any the other works that you would like to recommend? I like this little piece too, because it’s paper … Yeah, and I wanted to know what the symbolism’s were in that.
- Di Donna: 08:15 Some sort of forms, creatures. You can see some … If you look at this mural, [crosstalk 00:08:20] share …
Savona McClain: 08:22 They do, yeah, they look very similar. Very, very good. So what made you decide to do this particular exhibition at this time?
Emmanuel Di Donna: 08:33 Well, Donald had decide we are doing this exhibition for a while, he had the masks. [inaudible 00:08:40] the mask where and came to me with a list of potential masks that he could get, belonging to … Having been in the collection of some of the great serious artists. And looking at this I got very excited by the idea and started looking for works of art that we could pair [inaudible 00:09:01] with those masks. And this is what came out.
Savona McClain: 09:05 I love how you laid this all out. This is really quite beautiful. Every time I come here, you get a different feel.
Emmanuel Di Donna: 09:14 Yes.
Savona McClain: 09:14 In this space, and this I think is quite stunning. Well, I just wanna say thank you so much.
Emmanuel Di Donna: 09:20 Thank you so much. Thank you.
Savona McClain: 09:20 Thank you.
Emmanuel Di Donna: 09:20 You’re welcome.
Savona McClain: 09:20 All right.
State of the Arts NYC interview with artist Nathaniel Mary Quinn
Recording Date： October 11，2018
Place: BRIC Arts Media, Brooklyn, New York
Artist: Nathaniel Mary Quinn
Savona McClain: 00:26 Good Morning. This is State of the Arts NYCN. This is your host Savona Bailey McClain and today we have joining us a nice young man who is a part of an exhibition at the Drawing Center that’s in SoHo and that is Nathaniel Mary Quinn. How are you Nathaniel? Can you hear me?
Nathaniel Quinn: 01:07 Yes I can hear you, yes, yes.
Savona McClain: 01:09 Great Nathaniel. So it’s such a pleasure to have you onto our show. And Nathaniel is a part of this show that’s called For Opacity.
Nathaniel Quinn: 01:23 That is correct.
Savona McClain: 01:24 Right. It’s at The Drawing Center and basically it’s three artists whose works, you have Elijah Burgher, you have Toyin Odutola, and I’ve met her before when she was a artist residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem, and Nathaniel Mary Quinn. Now Nathaniel was born in Chicago right? You’re a Chicago boy.
Nathaniel Quinn: 01:55 That is right.
Savona McClain: 01:56 Born in 1977, and you were exploring the identities through drawing. You’re a survivor of the Robert Taylor Housing Projects in Brownsville. Correct?
Nathaniel Quinn: 02:11 Yes. On the south side of Chicago, that is correct.
Savona McClain: 02:15 Okay. And so why don’t you tell us a little bit about what motivated you to become an artist in the first place and why you selected doing figurative works or figurative and abstract works as your practice.
Nathaniel Quinn: 02:37 Oh yeah, sure. Thank you so much for having me as a guest on your pod cast show. I’m a huge fan of pod cast and very happy to be speaking with you and your audience. Well I can’t say that there was a time when I chose to be an artist. I think it chose me. It’s one of those things where I never had the experience where I was ever confused about what drove me in line to, or what I was passionate about. I never had that issue. I’ve got many people who feel like they are in search of their calling or their purpose and sort of thing and I can’t relate to that. I always knew and felt that I wanted to make art. I mean, it’s just sort of in my DNA. I guess it’s [inaudible 00:03:38] to say that I was born with this natural ability to draw and paint and draw figures and that sort of thing. Yeah, obviously it all began during my childhood. I grew up in the Robert Taylor Homes in Chicago and my parents, once they learned that I had this talent they began to hone my skills, in particular my father. I mean, both of my parents could not read or write. They were both illiterate.
Savona McClain: 04:12 Really?
Nathaniel Quinn: 04:15 Yeah my parents were illiterate. We were poor, working class poor, but we were not unique. Every resident in the Robert Taylor Homes, this was a working class poor community, this tenement housing and, but my father knew how to draw and he was very good actually. And he would take me to the side on Saturday’s and we would sit at the little rickety kitchen table and he would take a shopping, the brown shopping bags from the nearby grocery store, it was called Super Jet and he would tear them in half to make them flat and we would draw the characters from comic books. Like Marvel comic books and DC comic books and my father would sort of train me. He was essentially my first art teacher. I was young, this must have been, I was maybe five, six years of age.
Savona McClain: 05:24 Where your family is from originally?
Nathaniel Quinn: 05:29 You know, I’m not sure where my dad may be from. I did hear a tale that my father was from New Jersey and he escaped to Chicago on the account of a murder that he committed while living in Jersey. This is the story that was told to me. That’s all I know. And my mother is from Mississippi. I’m not sure which town or city in Mississippi she was born or where she may have come from. But I do know that she is from Mississippi and was part of that great migration period, at least the later end of it and migrate to Chicago.
Nathaniel Quinn: 06:15 And during that time, the Robert Taylor Homes were very nice tenant housing. Actually, there was groomed grass and newly painted fences and stuff and I think those tenant housing were officially designed to help single mothers with families to get on their feet as they made their transition to the sorta main stream community of Chicago. But I think over time, the city government abandoned their responsibility to these housing and let it go and it became what it is now mostly known for. Which is gang infested, drug populated, really bad community. [crosstalk 00:07:13]
Savona McClain: 07:13 No, no, no. I don’t wanna cut you off but at the same time moving forward. So coming from that environment and your father teaching you how to draw at the kitchen table, a lot of us learned things at the kitchen table at home. What motivated you to focus on drawing figures? Did you draw figures of the people in your neighborhood, or did you draw people outside or what motivated you to now draw different types of, I guess, people?
Nathaniel Quinn: 07:48 Well like I said before during, as a kid, I would draw, I would copy comic book characters so I think from that point I just had this ascenity for drawing the figure. And I just liked it. Now remember growing up there, this was a place filled with all kinds of gangs. This was a gang culture where I grew up and so drawing was a means by which I was able to purchase my own protection, because I would draw the gang leaders in the community and they liked it so much and I would do drawings of them as super hero’s. And then they, in return, it got me some protection, you know what I’m sayin? That’s good Nate, you can draw and don’t mess with him. He’s the artist around here. So it gave me a lot of reverence and I liked the feeling of that. To think that there’s things that I can do with my hands, actually giving me this protection. So it turns out that drawing was a very high level currency for me and I used it my advantage because it helped to sorta keep me safe.
Nathaniel Quinn: 09:13 I mean, of course if you ran into other rival gang members who didn’t know who you were you can run into problems then, but for the most part it was great currency for me. And I liked that. There were other kids in the community who could draw as well and other kids would challenge me to drawing and stuff and have drawing competitions. I would always win and then they would become like my acalites. So I start teach them how to draw the figure and how to draw face and hands. These are some of the things as a draftsman, you probably would have difficulty rendering, were the hand or feet. But for me it came with such great ease so I had a drawing club that I began to form with many of my peers in the community here.
Savona McClain: 10:01 Wow, you took it to another level. Interesting. So now this new exhibition that you’re doing at The Drawing Center, are your figures the same figures? Are they people from your neighborhood or did you move on to different subject matters?
Nathaniel Quinn: 10:19 Oh nah, nah, nah. These days it’s very different. There is one, well in the show at The Drawing Center, it’s a survey of works over the past four years, so from 2014 to present. Some of the early works I made pretty much during the [inaudible 00:10:46] stages of my career were works about people from Chicago. From those, from the projects where I grew up. But the more current pieces are pieces of people in my neighborhood today in Crown Heights so it’s much more contemporary.
Savona McClain: 11:06 And so who do you, so when you look at Crown Heights, that’s a very diverse neighborhood, isn’t it?
Nathaniel Quinn: 11:12 Well yeah. The [inaudible 00:11:18] is pretty heavy right now throughout Brooklyn. It’s one of the most robust real estate markets in the world.
Savona McClain: 11:24 I would say so.
Nathaniel Quinn: 11:27 And two and a half years ago, my wife and I, we bought a house in Crown Heights, Brooklyn on Saint Marks Avenue. And we were very happy about it and I must say we really did got ahead of the curve here. ‘Cause two years ago to now, the prices are like very different. But when we moved here two and a half years ago, the community was at the beginning of that shift in geni fication, but it was still somewhat sketchy. It wasn’t dangerous but you could still see some of the old remnants of the old Brooklyn. And many of the renderings they-
Savona McClain: 12:12 But it’s a mix there. You have a large Caribbean Community. You have a large Hasidic community that live right next door to each other. They’re like in one sorta big community. You have, I still think, isn’t Brooklyn Museum a part of Crown Heights a little bit?
Nathaniel Quinn: 12:33 Oh yeah. It’s most certainly in Crown Heights. But see the Brooklyn Museum is sorta on the other side of Crown Heights, I think. A little bit past [inaudible 00:12:43]. Where I am is on the opposite side, which is the new frontier for geni fication. I mean you got all these new condos coming up and the houses being renovated and sold and purchased for these large sums of money. One point five million dollars sort of thing. But this is how it all began.
Nathaniel Quinn: 13:06 So my wife and I we move into the house. We move everything inside, everything’s still in boxes, we’re tired. We lay down in the bed just to rest and go to sleep. However, in front of the house were a group of guys, maybe 10 of them, and they were talking loudly and playing music and stuff. Now, my wife is from London, she’s a black British woman so she sees this kind of activity, she thinks she’s on the set of BET. And she’s thinking she’s just gonna go out there and tell them what time it is and to get from away from in front of the house. Now I know this is not a TV set. This is real life [crosstalk 00:13:46]. I say to her “Whoa, whoa, don’t you, don’t say anything. Let me talk to them. I’m from the hood. I know how to handle this. I got this.”
Nathaniel Quinn: 13:50 So I go outside, I just start talking. I introduce myself to them, I make them laugh and stuff, use my charisma, just warming up to em. ‘Cause there’s two things I knew for certain. Number one, obviously these guys grew up on this block. They grew up in the community. And number two, these guys clearly exhibit the sort of the behavior patterns that strongly suggest that the might have done some prison time, they may still be in that dark world of drug dealing and selling. Maybe some of em are carrying weapons like a gun or something of this nature. I can see this stuff, I just know this stuff. So I just warmed up to them and started talking and then after we had that discussion, one of these guys, I’ll never forget. He said to me “Hey man, I want you to know that we really appreciate the respect you showed up because we were standing in front of your house. And as a result of that we gonna move from in front of your house ’cause we know you and your wife trying to sleep. But you should also know that if you had come at us in a disrespectful way, we’ll be whooping your ass up and down the street right now.”
Savona McClain: 15:13 Wow, they made it real, didn’t they?
Nathaniel Quinn: 15:18 Oh yeah, yeah. They made, they showed no hesitation about it. But as a result of that night, over the past two years I developed a very health relationship with them. And let me tell you something, these guys, they share everything with me. They’re so generous about their lives and what it was like back in the 90s, and what their mom did and who was a crack addict, and their father died, and how much time they did in jail. Just everything. They just kinda talked to me.
Savona McClain: 15:52 They needed a friend. Yeah, they needed a friend.
Nathaniel Quinn: 15:55 It was really cool and they were always calling me the square. So in that world a square is someone who has a job, you working and stuff. You probably went to school, this kinda thing. And I said, man why you guys calling me a square? And they said, man Quinn, we wanna be a square like you man. Like what you’re doin is what we strive to do. But we just too far along in the street life, this is all we know. So now we got to a place of where allowing themselves to be vulnerable around me now. They trust me and those experiences is what gave rise to these ideas where I began to make a body of work about the community.
Savona McClain: 16:37 Gotcha, gotcha. Now that’s a heck of a story. That’s a real story. And it’s not that different. I mean, I’m African American too and but I grew up differently. My family was working class, they came from the south too. My grandmother was a part of that black migration and but we always lived in a house. It’s not until I became an adult that I lived in an apartment building, but I always lived in a house. And yeah so, you deal with people that live in the neighborhood and so I find that sometimes setting an example makes quite a difference.
Savona McClain: 17:17 I garden. I garden every day tree pits and people stop and they have conversations with me and they talk with me and they tell me what they like about what I’m doing or they tell me about their family too. And it just, that’s how you build a community. It’s through these interactions, these conversations and you do impact each others lives. And it’ll dovetail into other things. So this is great. So you created this body of work. Now did you make your subjects super hero’s or did you just drew them as they were and let that tell the story?
Nathaniel Quinn: 17:58 Yeah, so here’s the thing. I think the reason that Clara Gilman, who is the Chief Curator at The Drawing Center, she, I’m very honored to be a part of this group exhibition with two amazingly brilliant artists who are both hugely successful and very talented. The show’s called For Opacity, which is based on an essay written by the Martinique philosopher.
Savona McClain: 18:27 Yes I do know.
Nathaniel Quinn: 18:29 Edouard Glissant and he talks about this idea of relation. And when you relate to somebody it operates on a very opaque level. Now what that means that you can’t quite put your finger on it. It’s not really concrete but there’s just a connection that you can have with someone that’s very different from you and maybe from a different walk of life from you.
Savona McClain: 18:55 But also what he’s trying to say it that he was dealing with it on a very deep level, dealing with colonialism, and oppression and slavery that, what happens is that those who were oppressed, sometimes their stories get dominated by others trying to interpret their lives. And this is about not allowing that to happen. Just allowing people to create a model and a platform for themselves outside of the dominant model so therefore, you can just exist. And so that’s what makes this also about opacity. So I didn’t want that lost as well.
Nathaniel Quinn: 19:42 Thank you for sharing that. You are absolutely right. So in relation to the work, I took that as that same approach. Not that, I take that approach in my work anyhow. Like, I don’t have a interest in painting the way that somebody looks because I don’t think that tells the truth of the spectrum of complexity of a human being. So these works that I, I have a show up now at Salon 94 Gallery. They call it The Land and it’s about my community. Right here in Saint Marks in Crown Heights and every subject I have painted are either people I actually know or spent time with or the work may be about a particular idea. But mostly about people I know. So, in spending time with these guys on the block, and a few women. Not many women, but mostly just men. I, what happens is a high level of empathy comes into the picture where you’re allowed to be vulnerable and honest and the dynamics is when your, the other person is very pure and there is a honest exchange, where judgment is removed and also where your interpretation of what you’re hearing is not involved.
Savona McClain: 21:20 You see their humanity. Yes.
Nathaniel Quinn: 21:22 Yeah, you see them for who they are. I’m not trying to describe them. I’m trying to hear what they’re saying and really feel where they’re coming from and so the works that I create are born from visions that come to me. And the vision is the blueprint. It’s my pre linear sketch and then based on that vision I do research in magazines and stuff. So I don’t take pictures of them ’cause I think that’s contrite. I think that what I’m trying to do is somehow find a way to paint and draw the complexities of Bobby or Terry or JD or D or my man B, my next door neighbor. Just based on my interactions with them. And paint the truth of, at least as much as I can, to try to muster to the surface the truth of who they are. This beautiful concontony of intersections and the complexity of their foundation and the blossoming of their being and identity. And of course you have all these different colors and shapes, shapes that don’t appear to fit but they find a way to create a harmony in such disruptive shapes because it turns out that’s the way life really is.
Savona McClain: 22:46 Isn’t that something.
Nathaniel Quinn: 22:47 You go through life and you do indeed have experiences that don’t seem to go together, but because those experiences have indeed happened to you, you must find a way to live with them. These experiences will shape your identity and there’s always a yin and a yang. I have a buddy who lives in [inaudible 00:23:09], white guy, he’s a artist. He’s a teacher and I lived with them at the time in a two bedroom, my wife and I lived in a two bedroom apartment and we would notice things, rent started going up and stuff like that. And we talked all the time. I can relate to the guy, and I said isn’t it something how racism works against you because based on the fact that you’re white you are expected to be able to pay this kinda rent. But you and I both know you can’t afford it. You can’t afford it. But in life, because of these fictional destructive belief system of race and racism. So in my community, now I was [inaudible 00:24:07] and I bought a house in Crown Heights Brooklyn so now I’m on the other side of sin and I’m talking to guys that remind me of the kind of guys I grew up with in Chicago.
Savona McClain: 24:19 Yeah, they do. They sound identical to the same guys you grew up with in the projects. Yeah.
Nathaniel Quinn: 24:25 Right but I’m on the other side of the fence. I’m in a very different social economic status and I travel, and those kind of things, but I can still relate because I’m from that backdrop. And in many respects I relate to them more seamlessly than I can relate to many of the new people I’ve been meeting in the art world. ‘Cause they’re so honest. They have no real shame. It’s amazing that they’re willing to go to be open with me.
Savona McClain: 24:59 Well they realize that you’re willing to hear them and you’re willing, you’re not going to shame them. Let me put it that way. You understand them, you’re not trying to shame them and so you built this trust and that’s what they needed in order so that they could share. And in many ways it’s almost a form of poetry because you’re allowing them to speak in a way that they are, they normally do not get a chance to speak. And this is great, what you’ve done. You almost remind me of Kehinde Wiley ’cause Kehinde, who I’ve met, and you know Kehinde, who did President Obama’s portrait?
Nathaniel Quinn: 25:44 Yeah of course.
Savona McClain: 25:45 That’s what he did. He took these, mostly men, and created these backdrops that didn’t match what you would think. Whether it would be floral or it would have other dramatic colors. It had this sort of this barouche sort of look to it. So therefore folks had to take a double take ’cause you wouldn’t imagine these men in these particular settings. And you’re kind of doing the same thing but you really going in with a lot of local guys and you’re talking to them and you’re allowing them to share and this is a great thing because now that’s what the arts should be about. It should be about that.
Nathaniel Quinn: 26:30 I would offer one difference between, let’s say, the work I create and the work created by Kehinde Wiley. Listen Kehinde Wile, I mean really. I would say this, I would tell everybody this. Years ago, I think it was 2003, 2004 when that guy started to explode in the art world and he had his face on bus stations and the subway station and he’s on the cover of R4 magazine and I was just so inspired by that. Because for me it was, man that’s a black man doing very well in the art world. The cream of the crop and he’s a quintessential black man. He’s like a brother from LA, from California. And he draws really well, it was just beautiful. And his work, what he, what I gather he did, based on what I’ve read, is this sort of reinstating the black male body inside of history where the black people were normally removed from. They didn’t have a place in that. And he’s sort of reconstructing history and placing these black bodies in that particular history which is why you have that sort of a [crosstalk 00:27:56] and there’s a guy front and center holding several poses that you would see in Barouche paintings and Renaissance paintings and things like that. So there’s a lot of history implied in his work that’s really beautiful.
Nathaniel Quinn: 28:10 Where as in my work I’m very much diving to the actual humanity of a particular person and I’m trying to bring to the surface the complexity of who they are. The world that is often time not seen. Because if you see a guy, like let’s say Naquan, he’s my next door neighbor, most people would see Naquan walking down the street and it’s presumed he’s a thug. Right? But when you talk to Naquan, as I do all the time, he’s just a beautiful young man. He’s 40 years old, he has children, he’s a great father, he’s a great husband. Good guy. He’s deep and complex and smart and thoughtful. He’s aware of the community and the war at large. He has dreams. And so I wanna bring that out because what it does, is that it confronts a viewership of the art world to not only look at Naquan but to take a look at themselves and to then see how similar you are. You’re not that far removed from Naquan. He has, you may judge him on the base of his race and how he dresses and you may [inaudible 00:29:24] person, but check this out. Naquan has dreams like you. He has pain like you. He has heavens like you. He’s complex, just like you.
Nathaniel Quinn: 29:33 I’m actually duplicating you through the lens of a brother that you wouldn’t even normally speak to but I’m gonna present it to you in this way so that it confronts you with the truth of who you are. And you’re not that far removed from him at all.
Savona McClain: 29:49 You know, we have to wrap this up but I wanna tell you that I am so glad that I got a chance to talk with you and I wanna thank The Drawing Room and their communications team ’cause they really impressed upon me to meet you, to talk with you and I am just really thrilled about it ’cause this was a fabulous, fabulous conversation. I really enjoyed this so much and I am looking forward to going to the exhibition so I can see it, take pictures and hopefully get to meet you and your wife because this was quite enjoyable and you’ve made me really look at what we’re dealing with in our country today very differently. And I just wanna thank you so very, very much.
Nathaniel Quinn: 30:39 Oh you’re very welcome and thank you for having me. I really enjoyed the conversation as well. Hope I meet you.
Savona McClain: 30:45 Yes but I just have to wrap up our show right now but I just wanna say thank you so much Nathaniel. I had a cousin named Nathaniel. I did. I had a cousin named Nathaniel. And my grandmother tried to help him too. He had some troubles of his own and she tried to help him as well. So thank you so much. It was such a pleasure and tell everyone where your exhibition is at The Drawing Room. At The Drawing Center, excuse me.
Nathaniel Quinn: 31:14 It’s at The Drawing Center. The Drawing Center is on Wooster Street in Soho. I don’t know the exact address but the drawings at the museum and the show opens on October the seventh.
Savona McClain: 31:28 Perfect. Well thank you so much and we’re wrapping up our show right now and look forward to meeting you.
State of the Arts NYC interview with Sasha Water Freyers on her documentary Garry Winogrand; All Things Are Photographable
Recording Date： September 18，2018
Place: BRIC Arts Media, Brooklyn, New York
Artist: Sasha Waters Freyer
Interviewer: Savona Bailey-McClain
Savona McClain: Good morning. This is State of the Arts NYC and this is your host Savona Bailey-McClain. Today, we have with you a very special guest. We have Sasha Waters Freyers who’s a filmmaker and producer. Sasha, I just want to thank you for coming onto our show.
Sasha Freyers: Oh, thank you so much for having me. It’s a pleasure.
Savona McClain: Great. Now, Sasha is not only a filmmaker, but she is also the Chair for Photography and Films at Virginia Commonwealth University. We are here to talk with her about her new documentary on Gary Winogrand. The documentary is called All Things are Photographable. Sasha, tell us a little bit about your film.
Sasha Freyers: Sure. Gary Winogrand is a photographer who was very active. He’s passed away in the mid 1980s. He was born a first generation Hungarian American Jewish, to a Jewish family in the Bronx in 1928. He was very active as a photographer from the mid ’50s to about the mid ’80s, with the peak of his work coming in the 1960s and 1970s. The film really spends a lot of time with that era and looks at both his life and his work, and sort of reflects back on why that work was valuable, why it was sort of pushed aside for a little bit of time after his death, but now why it’s returning to and considering again.
Savona McClain: Well, I wanted to share with you one important little fact that I know you didn’t know. I’m a Bronx girl too.
Sasha Freyers: Yes, I did know this.
Savona McClain: Oh, you did. I’m a Bronx girl too.
Sasha Freyers: Yes, I looked it up, yeah.
Savona McClain: And so, therefore, I was very intrigued with Gary Winogrand because it reminded me of my childhood. When I was a kid, we had all of these different kids from Eastern Europe and we had kids who were from Puerto Rico. You had kids like me whose family came during the Black migration from the south, and we all ended up playing together in the streets, and we all learned to be friends, and to be supportive of each other, so we were all like, you know, that new group of kids who were a part of the education movement during the civil rights, and how’s this going to work, and we all, we just had fun. We were just friends and so when I saw that, I just reminisced on the times when I was a kid in the Bronx, still feel that I’m a Bronx girl, the old Bronx that I remember. But this was quite fascinating. So you are born in Brooklyn, so you’re a Brooklyn gal.
Sasha Freyers: I am and it’s funny because what you’re describing is so familiar to me too. I grew up on the Upper West Side, which now has completely different connotations. At that time we called it Spanish Harlem. This was in the late ’60s and early ’70s. I grew up in a very similar neighborhood to what you described. It was Black families, and Dominican, and a lot of Jewish American. It was just a whole one big mix. All of us in public school together. And I think it’s part of the initial appeal for Gary Winogrand’s work to me was that way he captured that New York that I remember from the, not so much I remember it so much from the ’60s, but certainly from the ’70s.
Savona McClain: Yes, and I think a lot of reviewers, because I believe The New York Times also did a nice review on his photography work, and they were mentioning in the film that old New York that was a little gritty and had a lot of chutzpah to it. And so, a lot of us I think were drawn to that. I did take a lot of time to look at quite a few of his photographs. I just wanted to mention to people that they can look at his photographs online. The film that you have done, the documentary, which is considered a feminist documentary, which I want you to explain later, will start showing at the Film Forum on September 19th, so folks have a chance to just look at the photographs, which I think they’re beautiful and you tend to smile. Then, you have a chance to see a lot more in your documentary. So, tell us, how did the documentary begin for you? I know why you like him, but how did you decide to go about doing this film?
Sasha Freyers: Sure. Well, he passed away in the ’80s and there was an early retrospective at The Museum of Modern Art in 1988. But then there was a more recent retrospective in 2013 that opened at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, traveled to the National Gallery and was at the Metropolitan in New York. It was at that time that I revisited that work. I went to two of those shows and I was reading articles and reviews, and I just started thinking, wow, this work is so terrific. I wonder why there isn’t a documentary film about him. There had been so many wonderful documentaries about photography and it just seemed kind of crazy that no one had made a film about him. So in some ways, I think I made this film in order to make something that I just wanted to see exist in the world.
Savona McClain: Okay.
Sasha Freyers: I got in touch with the family, and the estate, and the gallery, and asked about it. They were incredibly open, and supportive, and trusting, and it started there.
Savona McClain: Okay. That’s really cool. I think that’s a lot of documentaries get started. It starts with that interest, you’re interested in that subject matter. But then, in your film you get to showcase somebody who kind of started something that we all deal with today with our Smartphones. Everyone now is taking photographs of everything, not just family photographs, but events in the streets, disasters that go on, just different sort of quirky sort of events or moments, I should say. He kind of started that, but he stylized it. It got to the point where he didn’t just take photographs anymore. He was able to stylize these every day moments so that we could take that pause and appreciate the people that he was capturing. Wouldn’t you say?
Sasha Freyers: Oh, absolutely. And I think it’s true. I mean, even if you’ve never had a photograph in a magazine or on the wall of a museum, all of us with our Smartphones, if we’re taking pictures at parties, or on the street, or just of the world around us, we’re all sort of unconsciously or not working in that tradition that he really elevated into an art form.
Savona McClain: And then he broke into categories. I don’t think a lot of people realize how meticulous he was. He actually had photographs just of women, and then he had photographs of animals, which I thought was quite intriguing. Then, he had different types of photographs, I think, dealt with scenes. He meticulously, as I mentioned, just gathered these various subject matters so that you could also observe them too. What do you think he wanted folks to feel when he was collecting all of these images per categories as well? Was he trying to say, let’s archive our lifestyle? Should we archive style? Should we pay attention to what’s going on in the world? That there’s symmetry? What do you believe he was trying to convey?
Sasha Freyers: I mean, I think it’s so funny that you say that. It’s so interesting because it’s true, but there are so many photographs of so much. One could, if one had the patience to do so, go through all of the context and probably put together a really wonderful exhibition based on photographs of phone booths, or taxi stands, or subway entrances. There is this sort of this huge taxonomy. Based on what I learned and from interviewing people, and from what remains of interviews that he gave, and things that he said, he was thinking less about audience, and what the pictures would do, or mean, or convey for other people, and was really more interested in exploring photography for himself, so it’s thinking about what the picture could do from a formal perspective, sort of what would make an interesting picture. What would something look like when it was made into a photograph. He says that a lot about it. He famously said, “I photograph to find out what a thing looks photographed.” So he was really coming from a place of challenging himself, pushing himself, always trying to look at ways to make the photograph more interesting.
Savona McClain: Okay.
Sasha Freyers: And in the process created this huge compendium.
Savona McClain: All right. I mean, that’s fair that he was interested in his own discovery of photography. But what he ended up doing by photographing so many subjects as well as objects, he was able to really archive our life in the city and showcase what made New York City so special. Because it’s not just that he took photographs, and I know he went to other place around the world, but when he took those photographs of New York City, he showed what made New York City special at that time.
Sasha Freyers: Absolutely.
Savona McClain: And I think, that took my breath away because it really made you smile, and a lot of that old New York is disappearing, or has disappeared already, like kids playing stick ball in the streets, or 42nd Street, which was kind of scruffy, and you accepted that as New York. Now, it looks very Disney like. I mean, it’s nothing wrong with that, but you also miss that scruffiness that you also knew was a part of 42nd Street and you accepted that, a different slice of life. He really captured all of that element of New York City. What do you think his photographs will do for us when we review them again and look at your documentary? How do you think people will feel?
Sasha Freyers: Well, I think you’re right. I mean, one of the things that’s about New York today is that so many of the neighborhoods just look like other neighborhoods, right?
Savona McClain: Yes.
Sasha Freyers: I mean, there is a certain kind of flattening of distinction. There aren’t as many enclaves. There isn’t what I would think of as being sort of the theater of the streets where people are just out, and there’s these sort of every day dramas and interactions just unfolding. I mean, New York remains very crowded, but you don’t have people kind of living their lives out on the street, or sitting on their stoop the same way that you can witness in his photographs. I think it is a really wonderful document and testament to that vitality and that energy. I also think even though his book Women are Beautiful, it was the most controversial, among the most controversial of his books. It was a book of photographs of women on the streets in New York City in the 1960s and 1970s. And even though I’m not in love with some of those pictures, I think the title is problematic, I still really value those photographs.
Savona McClain: Right.
Sasha Freyers: They document this moment. As we look at pictures of women on the street in 1955 compared to 1965, it’s just a radical transformation.
Savona McClain: It sure was.
Sasha Freyers: With what they’re wearing, that their ability to be out in public, and be energized. Women are entering the workforce in this way for the first time. It’s a really exiting testament to that kind of visual change in the city and in American culture as well.
Savona McClain: I like that, how you talked about the vitality of the street because that is missing nowadays, where neighbors got to know each other. Like I said, when I was a kid you played with each other and you went inside different homes. I had a friend, I’ll never forget, she was Japanese, and so he invited me over so I could try octopus. I had never had no octopus before in my life. It was like, okay, I’m going to try this rubbery thing. It was the sharing of each other’s lives, every day lives. So you’re sharing with me seaweed and octopus at 12 years old, and then I get to share with you some games that I’ve learned by playing them on the sidewalk. There was this constant exchange, and for me it wasn’t just games on the sidewalk. I was a handball kid. You give me a ball and a wall, and I was playing handball. It was playing handball, or other kids playing stick ball, and other kids just running around, red light green light, one, two three. I remember all of those games that made the block so important and lively.
Savona McClain: And you’re correct, women, especially, they were going through a lot. You had the Black Power Movement, the Civil Right Movement going on, the Women’s Movement was just bubbling up. You had a lot of people dealing with expression and how do you harness it, or how do you go about showcasing it. That’s what I felt when I looked at a lot of those photographs, this enormous energy that you wish you could see today. I think there’s a lot of energy, but it’s about being busy, but not so much living. Everyone is caught up on these phones that they’re not having conversation. When you see that, you remember the conversations that people used to have, and the dinner parties people used to go to. Because when I was kid, people went to dinner parties. Now, when you talk about that, nobody knows what you’re talking about. Do you feel the same way?
Sasha Freyers: Yeah, that’s funny. I hadn’t thought about that, but that is true. I mean, I certainly remember, I certainly remember my parents driving me to dinner parties, and having dinner parties. I remember a lot more people out, just out on the street just living their lives, not doing anything, not being busy, sitting on the stoop or in front of the building, I mean, even not just kids, adults too.
Savona McClain: Oh yeah. Then, you had the women who would sit in the windows and they would watch you, and if you didn’t say good morning, good afternoon, and good evening, your mother would get a phone call to say how disrespectful you were. That happened to me once. I forgot to say hello to somebody, and before I got in the door my mother was already questioning me, why didn’t you say good afternoon to such a such and so and so? And you forgot, but they were there, and they watched you, and they kind of looked out for you. Those were the eyes your parents needed when they were taking care of their errands too.
Savona McClain: So with your documentary, how long is this documentary? Is it about, what? Two hours long?
Sasha Freyers: No, it’s not. It’s 90 minutes.
Savona McClain: 90 minutes.
Sasha Freyers: A quick 90 minutes.
Savona McClain: Okay. Great.
Sasha Freyers: It takes you through, really from his early life really through his entire career and then after he died suddenly the retrospective considerations of the work because he left a great deal of work behind. When he died he left over 6,000 rolls of film behind.
Savona McClain: Wow.
Sasha Freyers: Some also looks at that aspect of it as well. It’s a very, kind of unusual, legacy to leave behind that much work.
Savona McClain: That is unusual because he died at 56, correct? Around 56?
Sasha Freyers: Yes, he did. He had cancer of the gall bladder, and so he was diagnosed and he died quite suddenly. He died a month after he received the diagnosis.
Savona McClain: Wow, that’s very tragic.
Sasha Freyers: It really was.
Savona McClain: But he left quite a legacy. I mean, it makes you think about it because as we all age, you start to think, 56 is not really that old. That’s still kind of young.
Sasha Freyers: I know.
Savona McClain: And he left so much material behind. Did most of that material get developed?
Sasha Freyers: It did. There is this wonderful place call The Center for Creative Photography. It is at the University of Arizona at Tucson. It’s just incredible. It holds many, many different artists’ archives. His entire archive is there. All of the rolls of film were developed and contact sheets were made. The curators of different retrospective have all had access to that. I had access to those contact sheets as well. In the film there are about 35 images that have never before seen that weren’t in any of the other retrospectives or considerations of that posthumous work. So that was kind of exciting as well, to be able to go into the archive and make new discoveries.
Savona McClain: So that’s another reason why people need to go and see this film because they’ll get to see images that have never been shown before. Now, they will have this opportunity to do this. Now, this film starts showing at the Film Forum on September 19th. How long will it run?
Sasha Freyers: It’s a two week run. It opens tomorrow and it will be there for two weeks.
Savona McClain: Okay. So folks to need hurry up and get their tickets and see this fabulous documentary of a real New Yorker, someone who appreciated New York as well as other parts of the world. You’ve already received some acknowledgements already for this film, correct?
Sasha Freyers: Yes. The film premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival in March. It was in the documentary competition and it won a special jury prize, so that was a really nice confirmation of the launch into the world.
Savona McClain: Okay. This is good. Are there any other visual exhibitions going on that you know of, of Gary Winogrand, so that folks can also, if they can’t physically, get there they can at least get some information online?
Sasha Freyers: Right now, I don’t know of any in New York. I know that, I believe that the Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco is planning an exhibition, but not until early 2019, but there’s certainly tons and tons of his photographs, the Winogrand photographs available online, particularly with the websites for the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. There’s really a lot out there to look at.
Savona McClain: Okay, so folks also know that they can delve into his other photographs via MoMA, the Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco, so that they can learn more about him. I do encourage people to do so. We sometimes rush through life these days and we don’t take the time to just really explore. With him, you could, because I enjoyed looking at his photographs, you could spend a couple of hours just going through these various photographs and you learn so much. It’s not just that he took photographs, it was his use of lighting and creating shadows in the right places, so therefore, the subject could pop. Talking about the fact that he was interested in photography and making it as good as possible, all those various elements are very important. I always think of Alfred Hitchcock because Alfred Hitchcock was such a great filmmaker himself, and it was all about detail, it was all of his storyboarding first. Then, it was about how do you incorporate architecture, so that you can continuously tell the story, like stairwells, the moldings in certain buildings, so that all of these little details added to the storytelling.
Savona McClain: Well, I just wanted to say, thank you so much, Sasha, that you were spending some time with us. I know that you are still traveling and you made the time for us before you have to go to Italy. Is that correct?
Sasha Freyers: Oh, no. I’m actually in upstate New York right now and I will be in New York City at Film Forum tomorrow and Friday for the screening.
Savona McClain: Oh, that’s great.
Sasha Freyers: I go to Vancouver at the end of the month for the Canadian premier there.
Savona McClain: Okay. Great. So maybe, because I’m trying see if I can watch the film tomorrow evening. Maybe I might see you there. I love going to Film Forum because they really go out of their way to showcase Americana that we should not forget. This is a person that should not be forgotten, and you too. Are you doing any other projects that we should be aware of before we end our conversation?
Sasha Freyers: I’ve got a few things, little irons in the fire, pots on the stove, but nothing bubbled up yet. Right now, I’m really just focusing on this film and getting it out there into the world, and hopefully getting audiences excited about it.
Savona McClain: All right. Well, I just want to thank you so very, very much for joining us.
Sasha Freyers: Thank you.
Savona McClain: Hopefully, I’ll get to-
Sasha Freyers: And come say hi tomorrow it you come to the screening. I’ll be at the 7:00 P.M. screening.
Savona McClain: Okay. I’m going to try to make that one. Thank you so very much, Sasha, and enjoy the rest of your day.
Sasha Freyers: You too. Take care.
Savona McClain: All right.
Sasha Freyers: Thanks a lot.
Savona McClain: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Sasha Freyers: Bye-bye.
Savona McClain: Bye-bye.
Savona McClain: And, for our guests, we had another impactful conversation with a creative professional that we should all get to know and appreciate. Again, Film Forum will be showing, starting tomorrow, the documentary Gary Winogrand All Things are Photographable. You can go online to read more about him. We did a post on our site, on WordPress State of the Arts NYC. You can also see some additional photographs and his bio, and we hope that you will join us back next week as we have more interesting guests for you. That’s our hope to show you the behind the scene side of the arts in New York City and beyond. Look out for other information on our Twitter and our Facebook page. Our handle is SOTArts NYC. That’s the acronym for State of the Arts NYC. This is your host, Savona Bailey-McClain wishing you a wonderful art-filled week, and we will be back with you again. All right, then. Thank you so much.
Chow Chun Fai on His Exhibition at Eli Klein Gallery, Contemporary Art and Beyond (English)
Date： September 10，2018
Place： BRIC Arts Media, Brooklyn, New York
Artist： Chow Chun Fai
Savona Bailey-McClain: Good Morning. This is state of the arts NYC, and this is your host, Savona Beiley-McClain. We are so happy because today we are at our brand new studio at BRIC Media in Downtown Brooklyn. And we have with us, a wonderful wonderful guest, who will talk to us about his artistic practice. This is Chow Chun Fai.
Chow Chun Fai: Hello Everyone.
Savona: And we are so happy to have him because in addition to his exhibition, which has just opened at the Eli Klein Gallery in the West Village, the exhibition is also a part of ACAW, the Asian Contemporary Art Week. So thank you so much Chow for joining us.
Fai: It’s my pleasure.
Savona: Great! So, for the benefit of our audience, let me just give you a little bit background information about Chow. He was born in 1980 in the city of HONG KONG. He is a visual artist, also an inter-disciplinary artist in where he mixes up painting, photography, and on occasion performance art. He teaches painting, and he is also a political activist. So I just want to kick off our conversation with Chow about his current exhibition at the Eli Klein Gallery. So why don’t you start us off, Chow, by telling us about your exhibition.
Fai: I was on the program; it’s a residency program. So I was in New York since June. I have been in New York for 3 month already. So in this show there are now 19 paintings on the wall. And most of the painting I made it here. So for the whole summer I was staying in the studio, which is the gallery actually. And most of the painting I finished it here. They are some images from movies. So I captured some still and caption, the subtitle from different kinds of movie, try to have Hollywood movie. And some Hong Kong local movies, and I also tried to have movie from different ages. And as you can see from the show, there will be images and subtitles from this movie that I transformed into paint. (Savona: OK.) And I tried to have different meanings rather than just the caption or the capture from the movie. Even though I didn’t change the wording because if I change the wording, I think it’s too easy to create my own meanings. But when the wording, the caption is out of the context, some of the movies you may know, but I bet, audience form here they may not know my hometown’s movie. (Savona: Right. ) But when they see the wording and still they will have different layers of interpretations. So that was my intention.
Savona: OK. And I did go to the opening, and I saw your several of the paintings, all of the paintings, in fact. So yes, you are right, you had a lot of iconic American film scenes, The Godfather, Forrest Gump, you even had the film with Natalie Portman with the killer. And so yes there were a lot of iconic films that many of us could recognize. But what I also thought I was interested in were some of the phrases those captions that you had at the bottom of each of these paintings, and to me they were almost philosophic. They weren’t just from the film themselves, you were trying to convey these various messages with these mixtures of American and Hong Kong films. And what were you hoping that people would walk away from when they saw these combinations of paintings and philosophical captions?
Fai: Yeah, what I was concerned was about the interpretation on my work of course, but also on different artwork (Savona: OK. ). Like everyone knows the last supper, (Savona: Yes.) But I would say we would not be able to use the traditional mind to read The Last Supper anymore. We know many different stories like if you saw the movie Da Vinci Code, then when you go back to The last Supper, then maybe you would say that young guy next to Jesus is not a guy,
Savona: It’s a possibility that it’s a woman.
Fai: Yes, but of course the church would be upset by this kind of interpretation. But I would say it is impossible to keep your mind clear or pure to that traditional interpretation even for this kind of masterpieces. So I would say I try to have a very open dialogue on my own work. (Savona: OK. ) So, let me take some of the paintings that is showing in the gallery as an example that I have two paintings about paintings. (Savona: Yes. ) There were paintings inside the still or I mean there are actual paintings in the movies. One is Mr.Bean, that if you remember that there is a film about Mr. Bean being invited to a museum in the State .to present about a painting we all called The Whisterler’s mother. And of course Mr. Bean made a mess but what he was trying to say is that it’s not just a painting ，but it is more than a painting. So I have this sub tile “It is not just a painting” was the face of Mr.Bean looking at the whistler’s mother. So you can see, in my painting there is a painting, and the painting is actual real work from the real world, but is was a fake one in the movie. So you may have different interpretation if you know the movie, or, you don’t even watch it before, and next to it I have another work which is also a painting inside a painting, was from the movie Palling.(8’44”) is about abstract expressionist painter everyone knows which is Jackson Pollock. And when Pollock started his new painting about the abstract expressionist images, everyone said that it was not a painting.(Savona: Right. ) It was not considered to be a painting.
Savona: Because of his style.
Fai: So I also have this subtitle, it is not a painting, on this image. So it is lying form the movie, at the same time I was making joke of my own works.
Savona: Alright, so basically what you are trying to do is that you are trying to get viewers to kind of take a step back, and look at these iconic still images, but then open your mind to different kinds of possibilities, so that’s your main goal. And with that said I want to delve into the fact that over your artistic practices have been pushing for throughout your career. Let’s talk a little bit about that in Hong Kong. You are in Hong Kong. Hong Kong, as it was taken over by China in 1997, and so now, the life in China and Hong Kong is merging. And there is concern about you know, artist sharing different types of views and opinions, so sometimes when artists are working on different art it’s not so much about this literal translation but the subtext, and getting people to understand the layer of other messages that are being conveyed. So tell us a little bit about that because I know we talked a little about it before the show about how you were working just to help other artist gain access to old factories that are no longer in use but wish to be used as working spaces and studios, correct?
Fai: Yes, well, like what I have done on my work, that I try to have different layers of meanings behind the surface. And I think this is one of the reaction of an artist who is under pressure. I didn’t understand before because I thought we were in a quite liberal environment before.(Savona: Right. ) But now I would say I am trying to express something that I cannot tell directly, so that’s why I’m trying to hide some of the meaning behind the surface. And I was a bit involved in politics that was because the studio I’m using.
Fai: At the very beginning, I was trying to negotiate with Hong Kong government about the factory land use, like many cities, also in New York, many artists use factory space as their studios. But, at the same time, in Hong Kong, we are considered to be illegal. Or we are considered violating the regulation. But I would say, if we are violating the regulation, either to say we are wrong, or there are mistakes on the regulation. So, I spend over ten years to open dialogues with the government and try to change the regulation as long as we are doing well and doing something good to the community. Then I was more involved because I find it is not about what we did in the factories, but it is more about the absence of cultural voice in the discussion. No matter it is about the factory use of different kinds of policy-making in arts or even on the general public. The absence of the cultural voice is made because of the legislative council.
Savona: Just to interrupt briefly, this is like an issue that is happening all of the world where artists are trying to convey that they are cultural workers and they deserve certain rights so that they can engage and they are profession. I find this quite fascinating how this is such an international issue.
Fai: Yes. I think it happens in every city and every country. But of course the law and political background is different in different places. So I was facing my own experience and my difficulties in my hometown.
Savona: So, were you able to at least, in your efforts, to negotiate within the Chinese bureaucracy to convey that artists need spaces. And they need to come together and share. Their needs just might be outside the factory so that they can engage, contribute, and be a part of the society.
Fai: That was a sad story. I would say. As a painter, I will still be fine. Because I will close my door and then we made our own painting inside of the studio. But there are many different kinds of artists. There are performers. When they have their performance in the space, they attract many audiences. So there were stories of the police and the firemen try to check the space while there were performances in the factory. They could be captured. At the end of the day, I ran an election in the Legislative Council because of this issue. Because I think even though we have so-called representative in the council, but the voice is absent. I spend the whole year ran the election to raise this question to the public.
Savona: So, the Chinese government is still very sensitive to the works by Chinese artists. Do they really have such a need to be afraid. Cause this sounds like they are concerned, but they might not be such concerned with what you are trying to do. Cause it seems as though if some of the artists they just want to do their thing, they just want to paint, or they just want to do photography, they are not trying to say anything more than that. So is there the real concern, that the government should have? Or is it just imagined?
Fai: Well, I would raise two points. One is that culture is always a very important agenda for Communists, no matter is China or the form of Russian government. This is the first point, the other one is so-called undercover police is the big business in China. Of course, if could be very ironic that, I heard not in Hong Kong, but in Mainland China. I heard of a story that there is an artist, he tried to escape the city that he used to live, because he knows that there are so many undercover police around his house. So, before he left, when he was packing his luggage, and someone lock the door. And then there was an undercover police who banned him to leave. If he leaves, they will lose their jobs. That is what I meant, it is a big business in China.
Savona: Wow. That I didn’t know. So they pleaded him he couldn’t leave, so they keep their jobs and kind of keep this structure going. So therefore artists do play a role, a very important role in the culture there because it might be a way of pushing forward social issues or social concerns.
Fai: Yes. When you check some of the famous artists like Ai Weiwei on their Weibo or Twitter, sometimes Ai Weiwei play with these undercover police, right?
Savona: Yes, he does.
Fai: He put the camera in front of the police. Well, he would have much more fantastic stories to tell.
Savona: Yes, he does. But he does share some very important issues. I saw the exhibition he did in NYC over a year ago. And he was talking about refugee crisis. It was just shoes everywhere of different sizes of different people. I actually brought groups of people so that they could see that exhibition and it was something to be held and made you pause. You realize that there is real problem going around and it’s not just about immigration, it’s about people trying to flee their life. And he is doing that. And I just have to continue with that conversation with Ai Wei wei and Chinese artists in general. You are sharing with us how you might be able to push certain agenda forward. You were talking to me briefly about artists who were trying to leave. Tell us about that again.
Fai: Ok. So I heard some stories about them, too. It was not in Hong Kong but in mainland China that there is a guy who is trying to escape from the undercover police. He packed his luggage. He tried to escape silently. Suddenly someone knock on the door and when open the door, he found out they are undercover police. And the police begged him not to leave because if he leaves, all the police will lost their jobs. So that is what I meant by saying it is a big business that the undercover police is a big business in checking the artists and the public in general.
Savona: So you guys really could help the country in many ways. Move forward with your art to see that there is more to life than just managing people. There are so many areas where innovation, design, and photography could actually help people so that you could solve a lot of problems and challenges that people are dealing with day-to-day that doesn’t have to be this sort of battle over concepts and ideas and that’s what I am seeing from these new contemporary art that you are trying to push. You know, life, in a manner that could embrace more people and embrace solutions. Is that one thing you feel you are trying to do?
Fai: Or I should put it in other words that, I used to be more common artist. I thought I don’t have to be political. You just trying to be an artist, to be liberal and do whatever you want. But in the end I realized why the Chinese artists or the Mainland Chinese artists were so political. It is simply a reaction. When you are hit, you don’t have to fight back, but at least you are trying to block the fists. So, to block the fists, just a very simple reaction, an artist uses their works to react to the actual environment. This is a very simple way to give expression.
Savona: So do you see Chinese contemporary art involving more and more where people are expressing not just their craftsmanship but also the environment like you said or ideas that they feel might need to be explored even further to benefit the whole society?
Fai: Hmm, I would say that in different medias it could be different; so in visual art, we have more freedom, because we are not in the structure, we are in the system. But if say something about the film industry, because in my works, i have works (paintings) with films, so I try to know a bit about film industry; if you are talking about the films, then it is much more under control. As written in Chinese law, what to write and not to written in Chinese films.
Fai: Yes, some of them could be funny, like you cannot have ghost stories in the film if it is in the contemporary China,
Fai: Yes it is written in law. If you making stories of modern china, then it must have to be no ghost; if you are making the ghosts, then you must be daydreaming in the film. But of course, it could be something I am making fun; but it is about power, it is about political concern, because under communist rule, there should be no ghost.
Savona: (laugh), really? I was just trying to understand, but how could this relate, but ok, alright, there is a fear there.
Fai: Well, yeah, of course, I am trying to tell the funny part of the story but something like that, no police could die in Chinese film.
Fai: Yes, it is written in law. What I meant is, if you in film industry, there are thousands of rules that you have to follow, in modern China.
Savona: Wow, that is a lot. It takes a lot for creative people in China to share a story because you have so many hurdles to overcome in order to share, whatever message it is you want to convey, for you, you are finding this freedom, because you stick with visual arts, so therefor you can play with a little more, even though you have to be careful with, you know, how you state, what you doing.
Fai: Yes, and I also witnessed some kind of censorship in China. For example, the police in China will go to shows, exhibitions to check that if all the works are okay. If they find anything with is not appropriate they will tell you to take the painting off from the wall; so as in Hong Kong , we trying to not have this happen in Hong Kong,
Savona: Like sort of being experiment, you know, a labtorial, so therefore if you can show, that there is no reason for them to fear, it could actually grow.
Savona: Alright, that is fair, and not only fair, that is a possibility. Because you are sort of not in the mainland, and there is a little bit distance so you influenced by a lot of other people in culture. If they can see, there is no harm of what you doing, then hopefully that will also afford other artists in the mainland more freedom as well.
Fai: Exactly, in the 80s, Hong Kong is a pioneer of China. We were still under the British colonial government, but we were decided to return to the china in the 80s. And for the Chinese government, even for the Deng Xiaoping (chairs of communist party), he saw that Hong Kong should be the pioneer of China in different ways, in economic development, which is draw until today, you can see the economic so strong in China. Also Hong Kong as the pioneers of political reform to but I would say it did not happen after the economic reform in China, because it could threaten the rules of the government , if the politic or even culture from the start, and so at the end of the day, Hong Kong can not be the pioneer of political or culture development for the whole China; but on the other hand, they try to make HK into one of the Chinese cities rather than the pioneers for the culture and political side.
Savona: But you are more pushing to be that even though now it is not, they are afraid, you are still pushing that possibility so in that way, the whole Chinese culture can involve, can grow.
Fai: Yes, but for many people from Hong Kong, we try to be or realistic to this: we are not to pull whole China into one direction, we are trying to protect Hong Kong from being one of this big giant monster.
Savona: Ok, alright, alright, so but still by doing that, you still trying to pull away kind of being allowed to experiment. It can’t be sort of like that model that could involve mainland because I see a lot positive things happening, your contemporary scene, the talents is definitely there you can see from the brushstroke that in your painting, the details of the imagery that in your painting, the talent is definitely there. Now you blend that talent with a kind of thoughtful movement, so I can see something really positive happening if you are allowed to experiment, in effect, I can see that cross the globe, there is a lot of hubs in the world where artists are trying to break through they trying to be innovative, they trying to shake up things a little bit to say here are some possibilities, if there not being given that chance, that space, that voice, we are stuck, we are where we are and I think people are ready now, for that break through, wouldn’t you say?
Fai: Yes, image if you are a scriptwriter, and you are not allowed to write something about the ghosts or a fallen policeman, like what I just said, then that is the limitation of your creativity,
Savona: Yes, so this is a real possibility, you know I really enjoy our talk because I have learnt so much about the screen, and so many of us in new york, in us, we never have a chance to really have a conversation with artists from china or maybe even central Asia to here. This is so important for us to learn and hear your voice, your perspective, and your understanding, and helps us to get along because politically (laugh) we not doing well with China right now, there is so many fighting going on. But if we talk to people directly, that could possibly help improve the relationship because it not only somebody dictates. but it is from those personal context, where we get to learn appreciate, respect, and even support. So I just want to thank you very much coming on and showing in our new studio.
Fai: I am very much happy to be here.
Savona: Thank you so very much, I just want let our audience know that your show will be up at Eli Klein gallery which is located at 398 west street in the west village until mid of October. Thank you again for join in us.
Fai: Thank you so much.
Savona: We will be up on radio as well as other platform iTunes, Radiopublic, Pocastbox, Soundcloud, and others. We will come back to you next week with another great speaker.
地点： BRIC 艺术传媒，布鲁克林，纽约
萨沃纳：所以，中国政府对中国艺术家的作品仍然非常敏感。但他们真的有这种需要害怕吗？ 因为这听起来像是他们会担心的事，但他们可能并不关心你想要做什么。因为似乎有些艺术家他们只是做事，他们只是想画画，或者他们只是想做摄影，他们并不想说更多的东西。政府应该的担忧事真正存在的吗？ 还是这只存在于艺术家们的想象中？
萨沃纳: (笑），真的吗？ 让我想想，但这怎么可能有关系，但好吧，可能是一种恐惧。