On ViewConcept Art Gallery
January 11 – February 17, 2018
The Incredibly True, Sometimes Humorous, Often Horrific Adventures of a Wacky Black Girl. Or, A Visual Ritual into the Power of The Black Imagination.
A self-taught Pittsburgh-based artist and community activist, Vanessa German presents four different kinds of work in this smart exhibition. There are a number of freestanding, tall, mixed media assemblages as well as a range of two dimensional assemblages—frontal images roughly the same height as the sculptures, set on glittering brightly colored flat backgrounds—then, third, there are some small mixed media images on magazines or newspapers; and, finally, painted museum paddles. Nearly all of these works depict black female figures, many wearing headgear (frequently there are small birds attached at the top) and lavishly colored dresses or golden costumes. Many of her figures are precariously balanced, as if they were negotiating risks. And attached to the backs of the hats of some of these sculptures are small cast figures, mass-produced religious works. There is a lot to see in each individual work, and there are many large works in this crowded exhibition. You need to take your time here. But ultimately the display works very nicely for German because she is an artist who deals in the stimulating pleasures of visual overload.
In German’s art of metamorphosis, transformed artifacts enter the art world. Her mixed-media sculptures include doll parts, antique tins, cowrie shells, household objects, African beads, and all sorts of bric-a-brac artifacts like those found in thrift shops. “I surrender myself to the objects that call up to me,” she has said, sounding very much like Joseph Cornell, but how different are the results! For while Cornell reveals an American autodidact’s love of precious relics originating in French literature and theater, German, employing debris from a racially marginalized culture, creates glittering artworks.
In pre-modern European visual culture plenitude defined luxury. Within Baroque churches, for example, one hardly knows where to look—it’s difficult to focus on individual works because of the overwhelming visual abundance of the displays. German’s work corresponds to this art of excess in an interesting way, for it’s through over-abundance that she expresses joy and good feeling. Consider one of her two-dimensional pieces, After All of That, I Did Not Die, When You Wanted Me to Die (2017); it contains photographs, a large button with the slogan “I’m in the prime of my life” and a smaller one that reads, “stop,” many roses, blue and gold glitter, a star shape, an African mask, shells and lots of small buttons—an array of materials, all gathered here in an essentially optimistic, life-affirming image.
German’s titles matter; one sculpture is The Great American Roller Coaster Ride (2017), and another, Southern Belle: For The Louisiana Cane Workers; For the Pricked Fingers & The Pricked Soul—May You Be Healed (Sugar Sister #6) (2017). She lovingly celebrates populist institutions and marginal people. Often her two-dimensional images are reminiscent of sacred artworks. And her visually raucous sculptures affirm the value of her subjects.
German’s artworks—bright, shiny, almost always iridescent—are as effusive as her titles, which give broad hints about these intentions. In Defiant Show of Unity (2015) German painted copious blue tears and a halo on a New York Times newspaper coverage of a scene of an American church shooting, turning one mourner into a saint, making this secular photograph into a religious image, exalting the suffering figure shown in the photograph.
Only one feature of her exhibition puzzled me. Why call it “A Visual Ritual”? But I do see how out of seemingly impoverished resources, in an ominous, frequently threatening world, she conjures up an art of hopefulness, thus demonstrating the “Power of The Black Imagination.” And that is a singularly impressive achievement as well as, of course, a much needed political statement.
David Carrier is writing a book about the historic center of Naples.
Lisa Slominski’s Nonconformers: A New History of Self-Taught ArtistsBy Jo Lawson-Tancred
JUNE 2022 | Art Books
Building on the history of Outsider art dating back to the 1970s, this book dives into the implications, limits, and paradoxes of the popular and problematic label. Placing the emphasis on the artists themselves and the formal properties of their work, the book foregrounds their practices over excessive biographic detail.
Turba Tol Hol-Hol Tol: The Chilean Pavilion at the 59th Venice BiennaleBy Monika Fabijanska
JUNE 2022 | ArtSeen
The 59th Venice Biennale's main exhibition is groundbreaking. Not only the majority of artists identify as women, many are queer, non-white, and self-taught artists, but curator Cecilia Alemani also studied the Venice Biennials historical omissions, filling in the works by women which could and should have been shown since the early 20th centuryexposing roots of feminist art, the arteries and veins connecting the past and the present.
Grant Wallace: Over the Psychic RadioBy Alex A. Jones
NOV 2022 | ArtSeen
Of all the forms of fine art found in Chelsea today, the art of communicating with spirits remains little-represented. Ricco/Maresca is one of the few galleries known for bolstering self-taught artists. The current show unveils a practice which has been mostly hidden in Grant Wallaces family archive since his death. However, it would be a mistake to label his work outsider art.
Singing in Unison:
Artists Need to Create On the Same Scale That Society Has the Capacity to Destroy
JUNE 2022 | Art
Rail Curatorial Projects is proud to present Singing in Unison: Artists Need to Create on the Same Scale that Society Has the Capacity to Destroy, a multi-venue series of exhibitions that aims to foster social unity in light of the recent political climate and the COVID-19 pandemic. The works shown in these exhibitions exemplify the breadth of the creative world, with artists who are taught and self-taught, young and old, and hailing from every corner of the globe. Singing in Unison is a timely endeavor that celebrates the power of art as a public site to stage programming, including poetry readings, music and dance performances, panel discussions on the subject of democracy, and cooking performances by Rirkrit Tiravanija. All of this is done with the aim of enhancing the art of joining in our various communities and to bring people together.