Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Denyse Thomasos: The Divide at Lennon, Weinberg By Ilka Scobie

Denyse Thomasos: The Divide at Lennon, Weinberg
By Ilka Scobie

December 3, 2009 - January 9, 2010
514 West 25th Street, between 10th and 11th avenues
New York City, 212 941 0012

Denyse Thomasos Lollipop Nation 2009.  Acrylic on canvas, 40 x 54 inches. Courtesy Lennon, Weinberg, Inc.

The ten paintings in “The Divide” are the powerful culmination of many years research and travel. Denyse Thomasos's long interest in the architecture of confinement has taken her to Europe. Africa, Asia, and most recently, to the new super jails Maryland. Merging indigenous structures such asMali mud huts and Indian dwellings with hi tech prison catwalks and a punchy palette, Thomasos has made an opulent creative breakthrough in this new body of work. Known previously for her monochromatic elegance, the unexpected jolts of cotton candy colors replicate industrial stairwells and the quirky hues of current fashions.

While Thomasos shows widely in her native Canada (especially her monumental wall pieces) this is her first New York solo show in several years. In October, Lennon Weinberg included her more abstract 2001 painting, Inside Wyoming, in a superb group show, “Before Again”, alongside works by Joan Mitchell, Harriet Korman, Melissa Meyer, and Jill Moser.  These new works of complexity and intensity are beautiful in their pattern making and pattern breaking, allegorical architectures that present new possibilities for painting.

The artist portrays futuristic environments that reference slavery and imprisonment. There is also an element of fifties space age nostalgia in her diagonally floating crosshatched apparitions. Trinidadian by birth, raised in Canada, now a New Yorker, the artist has a sophisticated visual language in which intense dimensionality allows for a free flow of ideas and information. Her masterful hand reveals poetry in the political.

If early modernist abstraction was inspired by nature, Thomasos's vigorously contemporary abstraction is constructed upon imaginary metropolitan grids in which subterranean cages rise to skyscraper scale and architectural renderings blur into infinite space. In the receding passageways of Inca Matrix (2009) weirdly pastel swatches emblazon the skeletal blueprints while otherworldly structures are pierced by hot pink unwavering brushstrokes.

Form and content are inseparable in Lollipop Nation (2009) where a cage imprisons a vermillion-saturated block, perhaps a bloody heart. Of this particular piece, the artist has said: “We can live in luxury and the invisibility of imprisoning mostly black kids.” The methodically built textural surfaces of her imaginary infrastructures, as if corresponding to cultural codifications, intimate a nuanced view of oppression. 

Andres Serrano

Andres Serrano interview by ilka Scobie photos Luigi Cazzaniga

Self proclaimed “outsider” artist Andres Serrano has been a glamorous presence in the New York art world for over twenty years. In the midst of a bustling downtown block, he lives in a self-designed ecclesial space. Immense ceilings and Jerusalem stone walls create a dramatic serenity. The sole window looks out on a burst of urban greenery, as light floods the burnished wooden walls and Church furniture. His only bow to modernity is the 60 inch plasma TV downstairs. One of his large portraits of the Imperial Klan wizard, garbed in green, instead of the usual white hooded costume hangs on a wall. It’s the only 21st century artwork, except for a Jeff Koons piece and a Jenny Holzer work that remain stashed in a 17th century cupboard.

Perhaps best known for the controversy surrounding his infamous 1986 “Piss Christ”, Serrano became instantly famous as an unwilling soldier in the conservative cultural war of the late eighties. Senators denounced him, death threats were made, and for six months, he remembers not allowing his photo to be taken. Serrano recalls a Venetian monsignor telling La Stampa newspaper, he was “a transgressive artist, not a blasphemous one.”

The half Honduran, half Afro Cuban New Yorker has exhibited widely and internationally, creating a magnificent body of work that portrays sexuality, death, guns, homeless people, Klu Klux Klanners, and in his last critically acclaimed show, feces.

IS :  Are most of these treasures from Europe?

AS: Yeah , they are either French , English, Italian , German, Spanish.

IS: And how long did it take you to amass this?

AS: I have been collecting for about fifteen years... most of the stuff here is probably about the last ten years.

IS:  Do you travel frequently?

AS: I do, sometimes. And a few of my things I have gotten on my travels, but most things I bought either at auction.. at Sotheby's or Christie's or a couple of dealers. My focus is 17th century and earlier. A lot of my things are 17th, 16th and 15th. I even have a 13th century Madonna in my bedroom. She is very Romanesque.

IS: You have been called a conceptualist with a camera rather than a photographer. How do you see yourself?

AS: I like that, as an artist with a camera, rather than a photographer because I studied sculpture and painting at the Brooklyn Museum art school. I was there in 67/ 68. I studied with Calvin Douglas, he was a black teacher. It was a great place.

IS:  Did you live in Brooklyn?

A: I was born in Manhattan but the family moved to Williamsburg when I was about 6 or 7, before it was gentrified. I think I was one of the first artists when I arrived in 1957 in Williamsburg. I grew up in Brooklyn until after art school when I was about 19 then I moved into Manhattan. I lived at 95 Havemeyer Street in a building that was owned by my grandmother. My mother and I rented from her and we lived on the 2nd floor. I once saw a receipt from that time and rent was $43 a month. Long gone.

I: Are you religious?

A: I am not a practicing Catholic, I am a Christian... I go to churches first of all in Europe and I go to churches first of all for aesthetic reasons rather than spiritual ones. They are the temples of beauty. I find churches in the US are not old enough for my tastes. So I prefer the churches of Europe.

I ask Andres about his Klan series.

A: There is a curiosity, I was scared, but mostly I was scared of coming back empty handed. First of all I asked the Klan that I met to pose for me, the ex imperial wizard at first refused to pose for me and only after his lawyer asked him several times, he finally relented and said 'yes'. Ironically his lawyer was Jewish. The clan had a Jewish lawyer defending him in the Supreme Court and it was a case where they were trying to wear their masks in public and they lost their case.

IS: How were they as people?

AS: They would talk about niggers, jews and queers, but after they realized I wasn't there to confront them, to judge or debate them, they would settle down and act normal. They realized I was Latino I am sure, they knew I was not white. They were very normal looking, in fact, James .... the ex-imperial wizard was an old man and he looked very normal.  But I found, no matter how nice they were to me, as soon as they put on their robes and masks, they assumed a different aura and it was very unsettling. I knew the men behind the masks, and yet once they had their masks on, they had another persona.

IS: The one thing I always really admired is that in going to one of your shows you really have a very in-depth and profound experience. What is the next thing you are working on?

A: It’s a new project. Unbeknownst, music is my first love. I always wanted to be a singer, a musician. I didn’t have the courage. So I have been in the recording studio. What I’m working on is rock, soul, rhythm and blues, maybe a little punky. The record’s called “Vengeance is Mine.” I chose to do some songs I have always loved.While we were in the studio, I was asked, do you have any lyrics? and I said no.. but my girlfriend Irina Movmviga she said, wait a minute, I have to go home. I'll be back. And she came back 2 hours later with lyrics and I didn't even know she wrote songs. On the spot we created a melody and we recorded the song. The next day she wrote 2 other songs which were recorded too.. so there were three originals there, written by Irina on the spot.
I really want to find a record label rather than market it myself. I developed a character, a persona, for this album as a recording artist. I won’t be recording as Andres Serrano but as Brutus Faust.

IS: What will the costume be?

AS: It is very simple.... you’ll have to see. Hopefully, if I get a label interested, I'll let you know and I'll send you a copy. I don't really want to perform at this point, I just want to record. If at some point in the future, I have to perform I'll get ready for that, but right now I just want to record the music and get ready for that. As a kid that music stuff was a dream but I never really tried it. I didn't sing as a child and I was afraid to, but I feel I know music even better than art. It is funny, art doesn't move me emotionally, even as a visual artist, I am not moved by my work, even though I enjoy doing it.
Music moves me and film moves me. More than anything, music moves me. It gives you emotion, a lot of emotion. I feel the art world is very small compared to the people that buy music, who listen to music, to people who go see a movie, to sports, even people who go to wrestling matches. Art has a relatively small space in most people lives.

IS: Is there any artistic group you feel a part of? Mapplethorpe?

AS: All of my life I had a sense of passing through. I always had the sense that I am here now, for the time, but I am not really one of you. And that goes way back to the days of art school, when I became a drug addict, and for about eight years I did a lot of heavy drugs in the lower east side. And even then I felt, yes, I am a part of this but I am not really one of you.
And that feeling has even persisted in my years as an artist. So I always got the sense of passing through.  And that allows me to do as many things as I have done in my life, meaning that I am not attached to any one thing.

IS: What's the next thing besides the music that you are interested in, like after doing the whole Shit show?

AS: For me shit was sort of like an end game, meaning that if I don't do anything from here, I am okay with that. I don't produce a show unless there is a reason for it, unless I have been asked by a gallery to do a show, unless there is a venue.
Right now, there are no plans for me to do anything. The ideas are sort of on the back burner. I felt that "shit" was sort of a conclusion to a phase of my life and if I wouldn't do any more as an artist, I wouldn't miss it.
 I feel that Marcel Duchamp had a similar attitude when he stopped doing any art work in the last 25 years of his life and just played chess. He knew that he had nothing more to say and rather than repeating himself ad nauseum he decided to leave it alone.

IS: I hope you don't. And all your admirers certainly hope you don't.

AS: If I am invited to do something, maybe I will.

IS: How long did it take to shoot the shit show?

AS: The shit show took me 2 months and most of the shit work was taken in Ecuador in about a two week period.
One of them was my shit, one of them was Luther, my dog's shit, but all the other shits were animal shits. Actually, there were two other human shits, 'Freudian Shit'; which came from my therapist and "Holy Shit" which came from a priest.

IS: You did it in a studio in Ecuador? The light was so amazing.

AS: Most of it was done in a zoo in Ecuador, we just found a room and made it into a studio.

LC: Did you ever do work with sperm?

AS: I did ejaculations in 1989.

IS: Were you influenced by Piero Manzoni who put his shit in a can?

AS: Not at all, because Manzoni put shit in a can. No one has ever taken pictures close up of shit and called it "shit". I feel it is two birds of a different color.

I: Where do you usually work?

AS: I work here. The assistant puts up the equipment, I shoot the picture and then we put it away. I use a Mamiya rb 67. I don't use digital. I like film, I use ciba chrome, I print from scans, the originals are transparencies. 6x7 film. I use a tripod. I studied painting and sculpture, not photography. After two years of painting I felt I couldn't paint really and so after I left art school I lived with a woman called Milly Erwick and she owned a Konica camera. So I started using her camera, but always thinking of myself as an artist using a camera, rather than a photographer.
I would like to write my memoirs one day, but again, I need a reason to write for example if a publisher came to me, I would write. I don't like to waste my time and I like to do my projects when I know where they are going. I work better with a deadline as well.
I was 40 when success really started to happen. I am 59. I was already an older artist, I was surprised since I never thought I would make money from my work. I always wanted to show it and I always thought success would come for me after my death. So I was happily surprised that I'd come to a point where I could make a living off my work.

I: Do you envision staying in New York?

A: I am a hardcore New Yorker, I have been here all of my life. I have lived for four months in Budapest, three months in Rome but I never gave up my apartment in New York. It's home. I remember a few days after Sept. 11 a lot of people were leaving the city and I asked a friend of mine from the Bronx, “Where are you gonna go?” and he said: “Where am I gonna go, I will stay here and defend the city”. And that was the attitude: we are going to stay here to the end.

I: And how do you think your art will be remembered?

A: My artistic legacy is a lot of passion. My legacy as an artist is that I made an impression and that’s the best thing anyone could do.

Koh Baby

Koh Baby: Terence Koh by Ilka Scobie photos by Luigi Cazzaniga

Elfin, elegant and enigmatic, Terence Koh represents an epitome of the twenty first century artist. Poet, pornographer, filmmaker, he also works in traditional mediums like sculpture and painting. His work is madly popular, selling gold plated feces at the Basel Art Fair, exhibiting in the Venice Biennale, designing clothes for one of NYC’s hippest boutiques, and peddling objects both erotic and witty on his personal website. He’s a fashion darling, friend of the famous, with a reputation as both party boy and provacatuer. Exhibited in Paris, London, and soon, Rome, Terence is a new breed of artist who maintains his own gallery, sells work through venerable New York galleries, as well as upstart ones, and has exhibited in New York’s Whitney Museum, London’s Tate Gallery, and museums in Germany, Switzerland and Spain.
We met at the end of Chinatown, in an old brick building that serves as both home and studio. An artfully arranged bunch of dying flowers, black scribbles of graffiti and an old fashioned bell announced his presence.
Terrence’s domicile is all white, from the narrow painted stairs, to his office, living space, and studio. Iconic themes abound both in d├ęcor and his work – rabbits, or bunnies, as he prefers, skulls, reworked sculptures, and everywhere, an expanse of white.
Born in Beijing, raised in British Vancouver, Canada, Terence seems the quintessential New Yorker.
T. I have lived on the lower east side for twelve to fifteen years. I am a downtown New Yorker to the core. Anything above Houston Street is a different planet. My primary gallery in Galerie Thaddeus Ropac in Paris, France, where I will be showing a solo show on October 6th. I also show at Peres Projects in Los Angeles. Other artists that show at Ropac are Alex Katz, Francesco Clemente. The name of my upcoming show is “Magic Bunny Trees.” John Lennon said it well; “There is so much pain in the world that drugs are just a gateway to a normalized state.” I think that there are so many unhappy people in the world.
You are not unhappy?
Terence smiles beautifully, and gestures with his elegant and expressive hands, as he replies.
“No, I am not unhappy because I try to make the world more beautiful.”
But how are you going to make the world better?
“I just have to do it by myself. I have to talk to myself more, it’s all in the brain.”
I ask him about his mercurial success.
“I’ve lived here in this space for two and a half years, and I would love to buy the building but I’ve been cash strapped. I’ve really only had success for the past six years and now I have to learn how to save.”
“My partner Garrick will come to visit me in Paris for the Ropac show. You know when you have been in a relationship long as Garrick and I have been, alone time is really important. I find that I think better when I am alone.”
You’re lucky to have a partner in NY….
“Yes, because in New York you are on the verge of complete independence, which can be really freeing, at the same time excruciatingly lonely. I have been in Ny for ten years but the first two years I spent alone and it was painful. I came from Toronto but was born in Beijing and left when I was three. Last time I was in China was a year ago.”
Would they show your work in China?
“I would think so, because a lot of my pornographic work ahs been sensationalized. A lot of my work is not controversial. I had an idea for a show but it was very apolitical.”
Last spring Terence was supposed to participate in an outdoor poetry reading, called “Pax Americana.” My friend Stefan Bondell curated the event, in which I also read. Like Andy Warhol did many years ago, Terence sent a proxy, a teenage kid with a wig, who performed Terence’s piece. I ask him about poetry.
“I write poetry everyday. On my website asian punk boy there is a new poem everyday. A poem is again a way to make things more beautiful or clearer. Poetry can be a sentence or a narration. I have been reading haikus by Basho and Tu Fu and I am reading Flowers of Evil by Baudelaire. I have it by my bed so I read it the first thing when I get up and I am blind.”
You have also shown with Vito Schnabel.
“He is one of my best friends. He is on a plane right now to Miami. IN the near future, we ‘re working on something for a public space. Then I am doing something for “New York Minute” in Rome. It will be a great show of NYC artists curated by Cathy Grayson from Deitch. There will be at least 60 artists, including the late Dash Snow.”
In August, Dash Snow, grandson of the illustrious art family the de Menils, died of a heroin overdose. He left behind a child, Secret, and companion, Jade. Much loved in the downtown scene, Deitch Gallery mounted a tribute show of work by Dash’s many artist friends. Terence was a great friend of Dash’s and we speak about his sudden death. “It’s a tragedy, Dash was so beautiful.”
“Art has no limits. If I decide it’s for art itself, then I become brave. It’s almost like a switch is put on. Because when I was doing my performance in Manchester, England with Marina Abramovic, I exposed myself. When my friend Dash died, I was still performing a four hour piece – you expose yourself to an audience. I was crying and everything, and I was so embarrassed. And Marina said, “It’s the best thing when you’re vulnerable . People understand that.”
I admire Terence’s self-designed pearl encrusted T shirt and ask him about the intersection between art and fashion.
“I love fashion like I love film and poetry, because fashion is outward, it is easier defined. Fashion is easily understood. I am working with Opening Ceremony. 
I did their windows.”
And the particuliars of his T-shirt?
“My assistant crushed pearls in a coffee grinder and used fabric glue. It is $500 because everyone is different.”
I congratulate Terence and Garrick on their recent marriage. They pose wrapped in white bridal netting, and tell me the ceremony took place in the Hamptons.
I question Terence about two of his trademarks, the bunny and the pervasive wearing and use of the color white.
Why is the bunny your thing?
“I am genetically disposed.”
Do you always wear white?
“Yes, most of the time because I like the way life shows on the clothes. Just like on this T shirt, you can see all the dirt, form life itself. My parents are very proud and happy of my career, and they come to see my exhibitions. They love coming to my openings. I always dress them up for my openings, and if it is a white opening, I dress them all in white. I just like the color itself. In utero, everything is white.”
Do you work in photography?
“I do, and I have made a film of six hours called ‘God’. 
I showed it in Miami Basel and it was different scenes of me jumping round cemeteries, eating salad, having sex with two different people. Dash did some photographing. I made it in Berlin and it is for imagery itself.”
Having listened to Terence’s haunting music on the computer, I ask him about it.
“I do make music and it is in my own language.”
What’s your relationship with the neighborhood? What do your neighbors think?
“I love living with the Chinese in Chinatown. Not because I love the food, especially here in New York. I like Chinese food cooked by my mom or in San Francisco. My favorite food is spaghetti and spaghetti sauce, it is comfort food.”
Do you consider your work homoerotic?
“You have the rights to your opinion. I would like to be universal as opposed to homoerotic. It is best to be the universe.”
Are you going to become an American citizen”
“Undecided. I have a Canadian passport.”
Were you happy about Obama.
“Yes, “If kings could be philosophers.” I am not sure who said that.
Obama is secretly a philosopher.”
Are you hopeful?
“Yes, we all should be.”


2010 is the start of a new decade, and for me, a new project.
I'm a New York writer who works with my photographer husband.
Recent stories for an Italian womens magazine have been on Chuck Close, Alex Katz, Kiki Smith, Eric Fischl .. My last piece for artnet was on the wondrous Dorothy Iannone, and that was months ago.
My poetry teaching residencies have dwindled down to one Special Ed. School in Brooklyn's bowels. Goodbye So. Bronx and East Harlem elementary schools.
Blessings to Brooklyn for keeping me demi-employed.
Thus, Artocracia.
December whizzed by with highlights; Deitch gallery director Nicola Vassell opened her Soho loft for a reading'Shamnen and Showmen” where I read, along with Vincent Katz, Jeff Wright, Anthony Hayden Guest, Jane LeCroy, Tavi Field and Samson Courhy all the way from Montreal) Art by Francesco Clemente, Ella Etrog, Pola Sieverding, Rashaad Newsome, Raqib Shaw, Zilvinas Kempinas, and more, curated by Nicola and Karline Moeller.
Going to the New York City Ballet “Nutcracker” with a thousand third and fourth graders.
The Man Ray Show at the Jewish Museum, magnificently curated by Mason Klein.
The Denyse Thomasos show at Lennon Weinberg.
Panettone brought back from Brescia, and devoured Christmas Day.
Two artists I've recently interviewed are Andres Serrano and Terence Koh.
Both the photographer and multimedia wunderkind are charismatic and articulate downtowners.
Two glimpses of two important artists.

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