Friday, May 29, 2015


I got turned around a few times once I alighted the subway at 14th St. to get to the Whitney Museum; it was too hot and muggy for a long walk, so I felt quite grumpy by the time I saw the industrial-designed hulk of a structure looming in the distance. At first I was confused by the many new slick gray buildings speckling the landscape with multiple balconies overlooking The High Line, along with a surfeit of elegant dress shops and expensive restaurants .... were we only 2 blocks away from the messy, sweaty circus that is Fourteenth Street? As I approached the "Castle on Gansevoort," the air became clearer and the price of admission reflected that rarified atmosphere.

I approached the Museum and walked past the outdoor dining tables of renowned chef, Danny Meyer’s newest franchise Untitled - the next generation of Gramercy Tavern - avoiding the beautiful servers snaking around the long lines with a grace befitting the chic atmosphere. I delighted in catching a glimpse through the windows of a Felix Gonzalez-Torres lightbulb sculpture ,“Untitled (America)” 1994-1995 shaped like an anthropomorphic tree, the bulbs fragile and glowing strung together with a tensile strength enticing us to come in - and I did - entering a fairly dark less inviting entrance, after a futile attempt to get my friend into the Museum on my membership card for a cheaper than $22 admission price. I always try! This being my first  visit to the “new” Whitney I was sensitive to the logistics of the building and aware that my early impressions were fleeting, knowing that they would change with each visit.

Some quick notes on the bathrooms which are situated on almost every level - some having only 3 stalls  others had more. Alas they are a tight fit so when I heard a plop, I realized that my iPhone had slid out of my back pocket into the toilet bowl - Letting out a loud shriek….I fished out my “connection to the world device”  slightly wet but amazingly unscathed…lifting my mood and freeing me to heed  and focus on the interconnected circuitry of my surroundings.

The four elevators contain commissioned murals by the late Richard Artschwager but I could not help comparing these “lifts” to the large, airy, beautifully proportioned elevator at the former Whitney on Madison Avenue with its magnificent  roominess - giving breathing latitude to native New Yorkers who are afforded a reprieve from their cramped apartments as if a patch of nearby Central Park’s capaciousness entered the location. 

The Renzo Piano designed museum takes this inside/outside idea and exquisitely transports it to the entire downtown Whitney by opening galleries to the outdoors with terraces on almost every floor, allowing for seating and breathtaking views of the city’s rooftops and  the Hudson River. From aerie vantage points - ordinary existence becomes hallucinatory, and immaterial; I found myself being replenished - the intellectual and emotional exhaustion of exploring artworks collaborated with the breadth of the open environment; intimacy morphed into the vast vistas of fancy.

The inaugural exhibition is titled AMERICA IS HARD TO SEE and I quote excerpts from the brochure:
“Drawn entirely from the Whitney Museum of American Arts collection…as an opportunity to reexamine the history of art in the United States from the beginning of the 20th century to the present…Comprising more than 600 works…The title, America Is Hard To See, comes from a poem by Robert Frost, and a political documentary by Emile de Antonio. Metaphorically, the title seeks to celebrate the ever-changing perspectives of artists and their capacity to develop visual forms that respond to the culture of the United States. It also underscores the difficulty of neatly defining the country’s ethos and inhabitants, a challenge that lies at the heart of the Museum’s commitment to and continually evolving understanding of American art…Organized chronologically, the exhibition’s narrative is divided into twenty-three thematic “chapters” installed throughout the building…Works of art across all mediums are displayed together…By simultaneously mining and questioning our past, we do not arrive at a comprehensive survey or tidy summation, but rather at a critical new beginning; the first of many stories still to tell…”

 This is an ambitious undertaking and the results are varied. Exhibition rooms differ in size - some works are hung too close together, some are too neatly color-coordinated, some are hidden, immersed in the darkness of the painted walls,  and others expand like flowers in  a light-filled  garden. Occasionally I was unable to step back blocked by sculptures sited out of scale, creating barriers to the line of vision - thereby making it literally “hard to see” the work. But most importantly a large portion of the collection is now visible including wonderfully surprising encounters with unfamiliar artists, creating a magnetic presence that pulled me closer and closer to the source of my attraction.
Alvin Loving, Rational Irrationalism, 1969

David Hammons, Untitled 1992

Detail: Lee Krasner, The Seasons, 1957

Mark Bradford 

 Vija Celmins Heater 1964

Monday, May 11, 2015


I am proud that the piece I wrote about my mother is now published in Women's Voices For Change.
 Please feel free to comment on the site. Here is the first paragraph; please go to Women's Voices for Change website to read the entire piece and would love to read your comments.

"...As my mother, Else Graupe, lay dying in hospice, I sat by her side creating a visual diary of the last moments of her life—drawing the wasted, thin, inert body on papers that I had selfishly garnered from the nurses’ station to distract me from the pain of losing the one person who always “had my back” despite our seemingly irreconcilable lifestyles. Pencil in hand, I scrutinized her as I had never done before; the face that I thought was so familiar to me since childhood became an abstraction of lines and forms seen afresh with the wonder of a daughter who sees her mother for the first time through the art of constructing the parts into a whole picture.
I began with the strong jaw—that very jaw that I had argued with since childhood. The jaw that, in a moment of desperate frustration, called her taunting offspring “a bad seed.” I was a disrespectful, iron-willed girl, constantly challenging my mother’s strict rules, not wanting to follow the tightrope of tradition..."

Wednesday, May 6, 2015


A documentary on the photographer, Sebastiao Salgado’s passion for exposing worlds that are hidden from our view as well as the undercurrents of man’s  greed, violence and inhumanity - all through what co-director Wim Wenders explains is the process of  “ drawing with light.” The other director is Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, the photographer’s son. For many years, I have been beguiled by Salgado’s black and white imagery, particularly as source material and inspiration for many of my own late 1980s pastels. His representations are stark and at the same time filled with an expanse of tones - from  the deep darkness of coal to the blinding whites which shine with the force of incorporeality; a range of imperceptibly varied grays sandwiched in-between -  all breathtakingly beautiful and often reduced to abstract patternings which are in danger of overtaking his subjects, but Salgado is a master at balancing form and content.

I was particularly moved by his photographs of the fierce deprivation that  droughts and famine had wreaked on Sub- Saharan Africa - particularly Ethiopia. Because Salgado exposed  situations that many people were not aware of, his photos drilled a space for perception into our consciousness. Salgado has traveled to over 100 countries - projects often lasted years and the resulting books include OTHER AMERICAS, WORKERS, SAHEL - THE END OF THE ROAD, MIGRATIONS, AFRICA, and most recently GENESIS  - the book that became his respite after years away from his native environs, witnessing the globe’s devastation, including chronicling the genocide in Rawanda and the Congo. By the late 1990’s he was heartbroken: “We humans are a terrible animal; we are extremely violent…Our history is a history of war; it's an endless story…My soul was sick…I no longer believed in anything, in any salvation for the human species.” (Quotes from Kenneth Turan's review in LA Times.) 

THE SALT OF THE EARTH  invites us to enter Salgado’s personal sphere; we meet his beloved wife Leila, the enduring relationship of his life, the editor of his photographs; the mother of Juliano and Rodrigo - the youngest born with Down syndrome; the compassion and love that unites the entire family in their own personal struggles with domesticity, and the enormous achievement of reclaiming the cattle ranch that was once Salgado’s home near the town of Aimores in Brazil’s state of Minas Gerais. Memories of the fecund greenery and waterfalls were incised into Sebastiao’s childhood recollections and when he returned in the 1990’s his homeland was an environmental disaster - dry and parched. 

Salgado, his spirit quenched by regarding the pillage, and spoliation around the universe was re-invigorated by Leila’s dream of planting a forest in Brazil starting with a few trees and “return[ing] the property to its natural state of subtropical rainforest…and in April 1998 they founded the Instituto Terra, an environmental organization…which has now been declared a Private Natural Heritage Reserve, some 17,000 acres of deforested and badly eroded land… have undergone a remarkable metamorphosis…More than four million seedlings native to Brazil’s Atlantic Forest have been raised in the institute’s own nursery…” * This resuscitation propelled Salgado to travel again focusing on the beauties of the planet, resulting in his latest book GENESIS.
( *About us -The Instituto Terra.) 

The documentary uses Salgado’s majestic photographs interspersing them with site visits to previously unrecorded locations, including old color footage; using his voice and conversations to great effect. We get a sense of the quiet strength of this man, his commitment to justice and the deep suffering that his vision extracts with the lens of a camera. The plethora of interchangeable living beings moving about silhouetted against the background of clouds billowing in the infinite skies, underscore the brevity of time and existence. We are only here for a short interval and Salgado’s output is a plea for respect, justice and accommodation among the men/women/animals and the frangible cosmos we all inhabit.