In 'Who's Afraid of Red, Black and Green', Kerry James Marshall shows a new 16-part series in which he once again examines the visual representation of black people in 'western' society. Anne Hardy constructs life-size sets that are rich in detail using a variety of materials often found in the street or in second-hand shops. 'Ultimate Substance' by Anja Kirschner and David Panos departs from the hypothesis that the introduction of coinage in the ancient Greek world effected a profound cognitive shift that was key to the emergence of western philosophic, scientific and dramatic traditions.
KERRY JAMES MARSHALL
Who's Afraid of Red, Black and Green
"I am overwhelmed by White figure representations every time I go to a museum. It is
almost universally understood that these images are the foundation of art in the western world."
Kerry James Marshall
In Who's Afraid of Red, Black and Green, his first exhibition in Austria, African American artist Kerry James Marshall shows a new 16-part series in which he once again examines the visual representation of black people in "western" society and the pictorial tradition associated with it. The programmatic title points to the show's linking of the ideas and goals of the Black Power and Civil Rights movements and the abstract color field painting of Barnett Newman.
Marshall's figurative pictures are characterized by the way they combine an exploration of traditions in western painting with issues and themes related to black identity, visual perception, and their linking in art. For Raél Jero Salley, writing in the catalogue, his works thus represent a "fragile balance between formal rigor and social engagement."
In terms of form, content, and meaning, Marshall's Who's Afraid of Red, Black and Green series refers to Barnett Newman's Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue, especially the third variation (1966/67) that now hangs in Amsterdam's Stedelijk Museum. Instead of the primary colors, Marshall chooses the political tricolor of red, black, and green—the colors of the pan-African flag, also known as the Afro-American flag, the Black Liberation Flag, or the UNIA flag. This tricolor, still used as an emblem of Black Power, was designed in 1920 by Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) that was founded in 1914 and which counts as one of the first programmatic movements to emerge from the black population of the United States.
In his pictures, Marshall refers to the aesthetic achievements of color field painting, such as flatness, nuanced planes of color, and the perceptual directness of experiencing large formats. But he also questions the genre's manifestations of the absolute and the infinite, contrasting this with different forms of representation and figuration. One clear example is provided by his depictions of black people. On the one hand, he explores the materiality of paint in all its subtlety while, on the other, the color "black" refers in both concrete and symbolic terms to political and cultural experiences of "being black". Marshall: "So the challenges of inscribing notions of 'blackness' onto a form hostile to images and indifferent to political particularities was something I wanted to give a try. Throughout the entire exhibition, a Black consciousness fluctuates between overt and subtextual manifestations."
Another example of the way Marshall plays with colliding levels of meaning is Red (If They Come In The Morning). The direct experience of the red color field is marked by the gradual appearance of the eye-catching words "If They Come In The Morning." They are taken from an open letter from writer and civil rights activist James Baldwin (1924-1987) to civil rights activist Angela Davis. In the 1960s, Davis was a leading member of the Communist Party. In 1970, she was accused of murder and was only able to prove her innocence after spending 16 months on prison. "For, if they take you in the morning, they will be coming for us that night," was the closing line of Baldwin's letter. In 1971, Davis answered with her book "If They Come in the Morning: Voices of Resistance". By bringing together the strengths and ideas of his various sources, Marshall turns "the power of color into a power of real social significance," writes Salley: "In this way, the pictures open up a discourse on upholding the poetic and the sublime beyond any reduction to mere form."
In the exhibition, the three monumental paintings Red (If They Come in the Morning), Black, and Green hang in the middle of the two side walls and the apse, following the design of the flag and structuring the gallery space. Between them are a further 13 works that reflect and explore this color scheme in various nuances, as well as offering variations of the theme. Like the nude Black Star 2 and The Club, the painting School of Beauty, School of Culture appeals to the self-confidence of black women. It shows a beauty parlor coming under attack from the distorted image of a blond, white girl, Walt Disney's Sleeping Beauty. The anamorphosis quotes Hans Holbein's famous painting The Ambassadors, where it represents the ubiquity of death. The portraits of the "Stono Group," on the other hand, give faces to four 18th-century freedom fighters—people who have previously had little or no place in official historiography because no pictures of them exist.
Black Owned and Buy Black, on the other hand, quote the neon signs used by black shop owners during the riots to protect themselves from attack and to appeal for solidarity, thus pointing to the still inferior economic power of the black population. Finally, with the Robert Johnson Frieze, Kerry James Marshall creates a counterpart to Gustav Klimt's Beethoven Frieze, which is on permanent display at the Secession. This homage is dedicated to the legendary musician who died young and who Marshall calls "one of the greatest Blues men I've ever heard." In the frieze's two 15-meter sections, the artist translates the rhythm of blues music, with its typical breaking of symmetries, into a visual idiom. "I think of myself as working in modes," Marshall says: "Each modality is selected because of how it engages the narrative of art's history and presents an opportunity to address the nominal presence, or total absence of Black figures in a particular genre of art making."
All quotations from Kerry James Marshall from an interview with Annette Südbeck, "A move towards freedom or how to generate that sparkle," exhibition catalogue, Secession 2012.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a publication in English, richly illustrated and with a text by Raél Jero Salley and an interview with Kerry James Marshall by curator Annette Südbeck.
I want to make photographs that create something other than pure reality.”
Anne Hardy interviewed by Elisabeth Krimbacher in Parnass, Issue 3, 2012
British artist Anne Hardy constructs life-size sets that are rich in detail using a variety of materials often found in the street or in second-hand shops that hold precise position in her work. In each case, the result of this process is a single photograph, as the installations are then dismantled again. At the Secession, in her first solo show in Austria, Anne Hardy is showing twelve photographs from the past five years, including six new works.
The photographic images address issues of illusion and the spectator’s imagination as a means of relating to the world. While in older works, like Cipher (2007), the illusion of space is often represented by theatrical, self-contained spaces, spatial order is generated in a more complex manner in works such as Rift (2011) or Rehearsal (2010) by the use of mirrors. These underline a straight-on, frontal view whilst showing what is going on in parts of the set otherwise hidden to the camera lens. Drawings and painted images add a further illusion-ary layer to these images. In Script (2012) and The Method / THE DETAILS (2012), Anne Hardy takes the issue of creating an illusionary space a step further. These images show surfaces defined by their flatness but multi-layered with words, hand-written notes, which create a ‘world’ of meaning to be read and interpreted by the viewer.
The works are filled with evidence of human presence and activity, these traces are diverse: scraps of words from newspaper clippings on walls as in The Method/THE DETAILS (2012), feathers and weights in Cipher (2007), and video tapes and writing in Playback (2012). Hardy describes her working method as follows: “The process is very sculptural, and material. Each place comes into being through a kind of tussle with the materials, and the camera creates an arena for this to happen in. I bring a place into being, imaginatively and physically by using the suggestive qualities of the various materials and objects that I work with.”
The convoluted exhibition spaces in the basement of the Secession are perfect for the presentation of Hardy’s works: with no view opening onto the outside world, the real spatial situation amplifies the hermetic closure of the fictional spaces; thanks to the display layout and small interventions, lines of sight are controlled and works can be viewed individually.
Hardy refers to classification and ordering systems in her work, and the structures she builds reference informal forms of architecture, in particular the accumulative and adaptive architecture found in a densely built city. Literature is also an important reference for her, and the artist book accompanying the exhibition contains excerpts from novels by Haruki Murakami, Stanisław Lem, Raymond Carver, Bret Easton Ellis, and Tom McCarthy. The first passage quoted by Hardy in the book is from J. G. Ballard’s novel Concrete Island. Her particular fascination with this text is symptomatic for her interest in literature and her own work as an artist: “It describes the moment when the protagonist leaves his normal world and enters a parallel one, he becomes invisible. This is the kind of space I am fascinated with in my work, it is just there, next to you, and you don’t see it. It is, perhaps, the kind of space you might imagine exists.”
An artist book is published on the occasion of the exhibition. It is based on a concept by Anne Hardy and was designed in close collaboration with the London graphics team åbäke. It brings together extracts from several works of literature — texts that have accompanied the artist for a significant part of her life and have influenced her thinking — with numerous illustrations, including sketches, samples of work, and visual sources of inspiration. This varied collection allows readers to delve into Anne Hardy’s world of ideas and serves as a kind of guidebook to her visual language.
ANJA KIRSCHNER & DAVID PANOS
Anja Kirschner and David Panos filmed their new video installation for the Secession during a one-year stay in Greece. With associative references to archaeology, philosophy, mathematics, and ritual, Ultimate Substance departs from the hypothesis that the introduction of coinage in the ancient Greek world effected a profound cognitive shift that was key to the emergence of western philosophic, scientific and dramatic traditions.
The video projection is complemented by rocks and a model of a Platonic solid. Taken together, the three elements point to the separation of physical and mental activity that took place in ancient Greece with the dawn of a money economy. In Ultimate Substance—as in previous works like The Last Days of Jack Sheppard (2009) and The Empty Plan (2010)—Kirschner and Panos deal critically with historical material. But as Kirschner explains, rather than reconstructing it, their aim is to “actualize” it in the sense of Walter Benjamin: “We don’t want to represent the events of the time directly, but to open up a longer historical perspective.”
Ultimate Substance was filmed in and around the Numismatic Museum in Athens and in Lavreotiki, a nearby mining district, which provided the silver from which the Athenian coins were struck, constituting the material base on which the classical Athenian city-state was founded. In contradistinction to the popular image of the Acropolis, the vast mining galleries propose an inverse image of antiquity. Abandoned in Roman times, the mines were re-discovered in the nineteenth century, making Laurion the first factory town of the modern Greek state. In the 1970s the local mining industry was again dismantled. Today the factory ruins house an educational museum on mining history.
As Richard Seaford, Professor of Ancient Greek, shows in his catalogue essay, the advent of the money economy not only rendered the individual dependent, but also promoted the development of abstract thought. “Moreover, with the unprecedented pervasiveness of (coined) money, social power could seem to belong not so much to people as to money. For the first time in history, systematic power could seem to be impersonal […],” writes Seaford, describing the processes set in motion by the introduction of coinage. The step into “monetary abstraction” was followed by further “modes of abstract thought,” he continues, such as “pure arithmetic, pure geometry and the abstract rules of thinking (logic).”
These historical processes that reach into the present, as well as the fact that tens of thousands of slaves had to work in the silver mines, are reflected in Ultimate Substance by a number of heterogeneous elements. The work forgoes explanatory dialogues or overly bold statements, relying on powerful presentation and stylization, formal elements that also symbolize the development of philosophy, mathematics, and drama in Ancient Greece. Kirschner describes their working process as follows: “In this work, we wanted to let the pictures, the editing, and the bodies speak. So, for example, we decided to work with dancers as a way of deliberately stylizing the scenes in the mines.” According to the artists, the continual presence of historical and modern-day everyday objects also has a clear function, pointing to the question of how far one can “deduce historical developments from material objects.”
Ultimate Substance was commissioned by the Secession (AT), Extra City Kunsthal Antwerpen (BE), Liverpool Biennial and FACT (UK) with support from the Neuer Berliner Kunstverein (DE), CentrePasquArt Biel (CH), DEMERGON Daskalopoulos Foundation for Culture and Development (GR) and Arts Council England
The exhibition will be accompanied by a publication in English, German and Greek, richly illustrated and with texts by Richard Seaford and Anja Kirschner.
The Secession is supported by:
Erste Bank – Partner of the Secession
Bundesministerium für Unterricht, Kunst und Kultur
Friends of the Secession
Cooperation-, Mediapartners, Non-Cash Benefit:
hs art service austria GmbH.
Schremser – Das Waldviertler Bier
Image: Anja Kirschner & David Panos, Greenscan_hand, Filmstill: Ultimate-Substance, 2012
For further information and photographic material please contact:
Secession, Association of Visual Artists Vienna Secession
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Press conference: Tuesday, September 18, 2012, 10 a.m.
Opening: Thursday, September 20, 2012, 7 p.m.
SECESSION, Association of Visual Artists
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