Who: Salamishah Tillet, Rebecca Belmore, Zena Howard, Bryan Lee Jr., Mayor Marvin Rees, Justin Garrett Moore, Paul Ramirez Jonas, Zsuzsa Szegedy-Maszák, Cecilia Alemani, Melanie Kress
What: Discussions on monumental public sculpture sponsored by the High Line and Next City
Where: Next City
When: Wednesday, January 27, pay-what-you-wish, 1:00; Friday, January 28, pay-what-you-wish, 1:00 (suggested admission $20 for both events)
Why: In June 2019, the High Line installed its inaugural plinth commission, Simone Leigh’s Brick House, a sixteen-foot-high bronze bust of a Black woman on the Spur at Thirtieth St. and Tenth Ave., overlooking traffic. The woman’s eyes are rubbed out and four cornrow braids with cowrie shells fall from her afro onto a skirt based on the Natchez, Mississippi, restaurant Mammy’s Cupboard as well as the Batammaliba (“those who are the real architects of the earth”) building style of Benin and Togo and the nearly extinct dome-shaped Mousgoum teleuk clay dwellings that can be found in Cameroon and Chad. The Chicago-born, Brooklyn-based Leigh will represent the United States at the 2022 Venice Biennale, and she recently unveiled the twenty-inch-tall limited-edition sculpture Sentinel IV, raising money for the nonprofit organization Color of Change. Brick House, which also evokes the Commodores hit (“Ow, she’s a brick house / She’s mighty-mighty, just lettin’ it all hang out / She’s a brick house / That lady’s stacked and that’s a fact / Ain’t holding nothing back”), will remain up through the spring, casting an imposing figure across the area, dominating the space around it with a powerful energy at a time when public statues and sculptures are being reevaluated and, sometimes, torn down because of their subjects’ historical connections to racism, misogyny, slavery, and other societal ills.
The High Line and Next City, a nonprofit news organization whose mission is “to inspire greater economic, environmental, and social justice in cities,” have teamed up for the Future of Monumentality Speaker Series, which kicks off this week with two events moderated by Salamishah Tillet focusing on monumental public sculpture just as Brick House prepares to start giving way to the second plinth commission, chosen from shortlisted artists Jonathan Berger, Minerva Cuevas, Jeremy Deller, Sam Durant, Charles Gaines, Lena Henke, Matthew Day Jackson, Roman Ondak, Paola Pivi, Haim Steinbach, and Cosima von Bonin. On January 27 at 1:00, Paul Ramirez Jonas, Justin Garrett Moore, and Zena Howard will discuss “What Is Monumentality?,” exploring the connections between art and architecture, the narrative of the work in relation to the audience, and who can tell which story. On January 28 at 1:00, Rebecca Belmore, Bryan Lee Jr., Mayor Marvin Rees, and Zsuzsa Szegedy-Maszák will talk about “Alternatives to Monumentality,” examining form and function, displacing and recontextualizing, and storytelling traditions. "Monuments have hurt our communities, but they can also be used to heal,” Next City executive director Lucas Grindley said in a statement. “Now is the time to learn from the many practitioners already doing the work of reimagining monuments.”
The High Line has just announced the twelve finalists for the third and fourth plinth commissions, scheduled to be installed in 2022 and 2024; the list of eighty proposals has been whittled down to submissions by Iván Argote, Nina Beier, Margarita Cabrera, Nick Cave, Banu Cennetoğlu, Rafa Esparza, Teresita Fernández, Kapwani Kiwanga, Lu Pingyuan, Pamela Rosenkranz, Mary Sibande, and Andra Ursuţa. You can see their maquettes either on the High Line at the Coach Passage at Thirtieth St. through April or online here.
Who: Garrett Bradley, Thelma Golden
What: Live Q&A about Projects: Garrett Bradley
Where: MoMA YouTube
When: Thursday, January 21, free, 8:00
Why: In November, MoMA posted “Re-Imaging America,” a conversation between artist Garrett Bradley, Studio Museum in Harlem associate curator Legacy Russell, and Studio Museum in Harlem director and chief curator Thelma Golden, discussing Bradley’s multichannel video installation America, continuing at MoMA through March 21 as part of the Elaine Dannheisser Projects Series. The work combines twelve new black-and-white short films (about Harry T. Burleigh, James Reese Europe, the Negro National League, and other historical subjects) and a score by Trevor Mathison and Udit Duseja with archival footage of the unreleased 1914 film Lime Kiln Club Field Day, which is thought to be the oldest-surviving feature-length work with an all-Black cast, a love story starring Bert Williams and Odessa Warren Grey. “I knew that Bert was required to wear blackface, and I did not, even in my initial introduction to the material, feel that it took away from his brilliance. But it became critical to prove that, and to prove it using what already existed within the original footage,” Bradley says in the talk.
“That is one of the exciting challenges in working with archives — the prospect of revealing a new dimension of something that appears fixed. How could I make it clear that Bert’s power and creative genius were not confined to his performance alone? His vision extended far beyond our immediate gaze as audience members, and could be seen in-between the scenes themselves. It could be seen in a simple portrait, unmasked and still. I wanted to open America with these moments that made clear who he was, separate from the character in the film and outside of the narrative. It was important we saw him giving direction and in negotiation with the surrounding power structures. It became all the more critical that we had a moment to sit with certain frames — certain truths — that are less discernible at seventeen frames per second.” On January 21 at 8:00, Golden, who curated the exhibition with Russell, will host a live “Virtual Views” Q&A with Bradley on MoMA’s YouTube channel; museum members can send in questions beforehand here. The discussion will also be archived for later on-demand viewing, and you can check out three audio clips of Bradley delving into her work here.
Who: Lynn Hershman Leeson
What: Special screening and conversation
Where: The New Museum online
When: Tuesday, January 12, free with RSVP, 8:00
Why: In advance of her upcoming “Twisted” exhibition at the New Museum, which opens June 30, Cleveland-born, San Francisco–based artist Lynn Hershman Leeson will present a free screening of her video The Electronic Diaries, which she has been compiling since 1984, examining her life in such segments as “Confessions of a Chameleon,” “Binge,” “First Person Plural,” and “Shadow’s Song.” Part of Rhizome and C-Lab Taiwan’s “First Look: Forking PiraGene,” the screening will be followed by a conversation with the artist.
Jersey City–born, Brooklyn-based artist KAWS, aka Brian Donnelly, says goodbye to 2020 with the installation of CHUM, a large-scale sculpture on the plaza in front of the Seagram Building on Park Ave. in Midtown. Kicking off the “What Party” iteration of his “Larger than Life: Companion” series, featuring emotional, empathetic giant figures inspired by Mickey Mouse, Bib the Michelin Man, and astronauts, with KAWS’s trademark double x’s on their eyes or face and other parts of their bodies, the all-black CHUM looks down dejectedly, slouching, arms at his side, with x’s on his hands and boots as well as his face.
KAWS, who was previously an animator, a graffiti artist, and an interventionist, has occasionally brought together two characters at a time to comfort each other. CHUM could use a hug and a smile from a pal, but unfortunately his nearest companion is a few blocks southwest, where the lonely bubblegum pink giant known as BFF stands by himself, trapped permanently inside a glassed-in space, his white eyes staring straight ahead with emptiness. It’s a shame these two sad, lonely creatures can’t meet up as we all look forward to a 2021 in which real, physical contact might return again.
I’ve never owned a cell phone. For twenty-plus years, I’ve traveled around the city with quarters in my pockets in case I needed to suddenly call someone, ready to slide the change into the slot of one of the thousands of telephone booths on street corners everywhere, booths once more numerous than drugstores and coffee chains are now. However, slowly but surely, phone booths have been going the way of the dinosaur, their population shrinking not only because of the preponderance of the smart phone but also with the installation of free digital phone kiosks that also connect users to the internet. And now total extinction awaits, as the city announced in February that the more than three thousand booths that are still on the streets are being taken down, including the last four in working operation.
As a memorial to the end of another era that even Superman will lament, curators Damián Ortega and Bree Zucker, in collaboration with the Kurimanzutto gallery located on East Sixty-Fifth St. and Mexico City, have put together “Titan,” a public project spanning West Fifty-First to West Fifty-Sixth St. on Sixth Ave. in which a dozen artists have added text and/or images to the outsides of the Titan-run phone booths, where advertisements usually appear. In fact, several of the works could easily be mistaken for ads.
You have until January 3 to see the outdoor exhibition, which has a lot to say about the state of the country. Anne Collier’s 2011 “Questions” consists of photos of three open file folders that she found on the street that ask questions related to “Evidence,” “Supposition,” and “Viewpoint,” including “How do we know what we know?” Glenn Ligon’s “Aftermath” and “Synecdoche (For Byron Kim)” involve neon that are lit at specific times revolving around the November 3 election. “At the beginning of the Trump regime I began to think about whether our democracy would survive and what it means to be a citizen,” he explains in his artist statement. Meanwhile, his “Red Hands #2” is a photo of hands being raised at the 1995 Million Man March in Washington, DC. Yvonne Rainer presents “Excerpts from Apollo’s Diary, Written During His Last Visit to Earth From Mount Olympus,” in which she excoriates the current president, referring to him as “Shameless Schmuck Number One.”
Minerva Cuevas’s “Capitalism,” “Climate Change,” and “Apocalypse” pair photos of animals with mottos in front of angled, colorful shapes, like social media memes; for example, a picture of a grumpy cat is joined by the declaration “Another end of the world is possible.” Renee Green’s “TITAN Billboards,” from her 2015 “Space Poem #5 (Years & Afters),” is a trio of statements that, put together, read, “After You Finish Your Work,” “After the Crisis,” “Begin Again, Begin Again.” Rirkrit Tiravanija’s “Ohhh... untitled 2020 (remember in november)” comprises three text-only messages in bold fonts, advising us to “Remember in November” and to “Febreze for Fascism” as well as pointing out there are “Impostors of Patriotism.” Patti Smith tells us to “Let your peace flag fly” and that “It’s in our hands,” while Hans Haacke reminds us that “We (all) are the people” in a dozen languages, a phrase that was adopted by East Germans against the oppressive GDR but was later coopted by “right-wing, xenophobic groups in Germany with a very different meaning.”
Cildo Meireles’s “Sermon on the Mount: Fiat Lux (1974–1979)” is part of a bigger performance piece created during Brazil’s military dictatorship; here, a mirrored space features beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount (“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”). Hal Fischer’s “Handkerchiefs,” “Signifiers for a Male Response,” and “Street Fashion: Jock,” from his 1977 Gay Semiotics series, look like clothing ads but actually describe specific gay signifiers that helped identify who was gay and what kind of sex act they were interested in. “As the gay community is polarized on some issues and cohesive around others, the semiotic process which helps locate it in the larger culture will flourish with the interesting and undoubtedly provocative results,” Fischer notes. No text or artist statement accompanies Zoe Leonard’s “Crossing the Gateway International Bridge from Matamoros to Brownsville,” three photos of the border crossing between Brownsville, Texas, and Matamoros, Tamaulipas.
Perhaps no other work gets right to the point as does Jimmie Durham’s “You Are Here,” a spare drawing, inspired by Saul Steinberg’s classic 1976 New Yorker cover map, “How New Yorkers See the World: View of the World from 9th Avenue.” In Durham’s version, a large red circle tells visitors where they are, at the crossroads of “wilderness” and “incognito,” with an asterisk proclaiming, “Lucky you! . . . Most people had to be some place else today.” Amid a surging health crisis, during which so many of us are sheltering at home, not seeing friends, family, colleagues, or even strangers, it’s important to know where we are, both literally and figuratively, as well as who we are, as individuals and part of a whole that can make change happen, even when there are no phone booths left for Superman to save the day in our grand city.
“What is sanctuary? Is it a place? Is it a feeling? A state of being?” a narrator asks near the start of Sanctuary, an immersive audio soundwalk about the historic Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. Working Theater’s Five Boroughs/One City Initiative began with Adam Kraar’s Alternating Currents in Queens and includes Liba Vaynberg and Dina Vovsi’s The Only Ones and Ed Cardona Jr.’s Bamboo in Bushwick in Brooklyn, Dan Hoyle’s The Block in the Bronx, and Chisa Hutchinson’s Breaking Bread in Staten Island. It returns to Manhattan with Sanctuary, a forty-eight-minute
piece that has been in progress since 2015 and is now available for free download through December 31. It is not a guided tour of the cathedral but instead is a spiritual (and secular) journey that you can experience at home. (In 2013, Working Theater staged La Ruta, an immersive play about illegal immigration, set in a truck outside the cathedral.)
Sanctuary was created by Michael Premo and Rachel Falcone of Storyline and developed with and directed by Working Theater associate artistic director Rebecca Martinez, with original devotional music by Broken Chord, recorded in the cathedral’s nave on the Duke Ellington grand piano. The soundwalk welcomes listeners into the diverse cathedral community, consisting of people who work there, visit regularly, have celebrated special occasions there, or turned to the cathedral at times of hardship or joy. Participants discuss immigration, a blue heron, 9/11, gay marriage, gardening, depression, letting go, healing, and rebuilding, accompanied by the sounds of footsteps, nature, a helicopter, sirens, and a door opening.
“We are unfinished,” one person says. A man adds, “The amount of grief that we have seems to be insurmountable. We mourn partly because so much of what we called normal is gone, and yet, we persevere.” The narrator asks, “Do we ever get where we’re going? If we arrive, are we here?”
The cathedral has been providing sanctuary since the late nineteenth century; construction by architects George Heins and Christopher Grant LaFarge began in 1892, and the first services were held there in a chapel of the crypt in 1899. The cathedral is an Episcopal church that doesn’t discriminate on any basis; in fact, it falls right in line with New York’s decision to become a sanctuary city in 2020, as delineated by Manhattan Community Board 10 here.
Sanctuary expounds on the cathedral being a revered safe space, both physically and psychologically, not only during the pandemic, but at all times. It is currently open for free to visitors; timed tickets are strongly encouraged. “What is the path you’re on?” the narrator asks. Any path leading to the historic Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine is one that is worth taking.