Bodypainting world champion and visual artist Trina Merry returns to the Oculus for a new project that is near and dear to her heart. Under the soaring white arcs of the shopping and transportation center, the Seattle-born, New York City–based artist has previously painted people’s bodies so they blend in with their surroundings as part of her international “Urban Camouflage” series. From December 12 to 15 at the Oculus, Merry is presenting “This Is Pain,” an immersive installation that details the compelling stories of eight men and women suffering from near-crippling chronic pain. Merry has built a vertebrae-like structure with eight large-scale video monitors that face inside and eight more that face outside, showing encounters in which the subjects talk about their injuries/illnesses, describe their terrible pain, and get their bodies painted by Merry, who is inspired by their tales, making each person an artwork as unique as themselves and as specific as their stories.
Merry became interested in chronic pain after being struck by lightning, leaving her with “crippling and continuous aches and pains throughout my body as well as a heightened sensitivity to electricity,” she explains in her artist statement. “I escaped to Yosemite to seek respite, and it is there that I was led to painting as a means of recovery. . . . My hope is that this exhibit can help generate understanding and compassion and show the world what living with chronic pain is really like.” She turned to bodypainting at the suggestion of her friend Amanda Palmer.
Merry, who was influenced by Yves Klein, Yayoi Kusama, and Verushka and studied with Robert Wilson and Marina Abramovic at Watermill, modeled the white structure to evoke a spinal column — the spinal cord is a major bundle of nerve fibers where severe pain can originate due to neurological damage — and to sit alongside the Oculus, Santiago Calatrava’s massive transportation hub entrance that resembles a bird in flight or a skeletal rib cage. Of course, it is also by Ground Zero, where so much physical, psychological, and emotional pain has occurred on and after 9/11/2001. Pushed past their comfort zones by Merry, the eight brave people who discuss their health situations and, in most cases, bare their bodies as they’re painted are Patricia from Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, who was injured doing yoga and feels burning pain that feel like electric lightning bolts; Cathy from LA, who believes in mind over matter; Cindi from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, whose pain feels like cactus splinters and who works with the American Chronic Pain Association; Tom from LA, a military veteran whose pain feels to him as if he’s wrestling a tiger on fire; Shannon from Austin, a wife and mother who indulges in simple acts of kindness and compassion to combat her pain (“My pain is like a tornado. It comes in and wreaks havoc on my entire body.”); Trish from Latrobe, Pennsylvania, who has battled joint pain for more than thirty years (“My pain manifests as fire in my knees.”); Al from Littleton, Colorado, who has had nearly two dozen surgeries, including twelve spinal fusions, to fight off pain that he says feels like hot lava; and Tony and Emmy winner Kristin (Chenoweth) from LA, who suffered an accident while on-set six years ago and has experienced kaleidoscopic, disorienting pain ever since, although she refuses to let it keep her offstage or off-camera. Sponsored by a pharmaceutical company, “This Is Pain” also gives people the opportunity to post their own stories here in the hope of bringing more understanding to a very real problem.
Who: Naa Oyo A. Kwate, Lawrence Hubbard, Camilo José Vergara, Ben Katchor
What: Slideshow presentation and panel discussion about “religious visions, public memorials, political effigies, historical tableaux, and commercial signage found in the Black and Latinx neighborhoods of America”
Where: The New School, 66 West Twelfth St., Alvin Johnson/J. M. Kaplan Hall
When: Wednesday, December 11, free, 7:00
Why: “For more than four decades I have devoted myself to photographing and documenting the poorest and most segregated communities in urban America,” Chilean-born, New York-based writer and photographer Camilo José Vergara notes about his ongoing project “Tracking Time,” part of his Museum of the Street. He continues, “I feel that a people’s past, including their accomplishments, aspirations, and failures, are reflected less in the faces of those who live in these neighborhoods than in the material, built environment in which they move and modify over time. Photography for me is a tool for continuously asking questions, for understanding the spirit of a place, and, as I have discovered over time, for loving and appreciating cities.”
In conjunction with “The Other Street Art,” architecture editor and writer Cynthia Davidson’s recent interview with Vergara, the New School is hosting an illustrated discussion on December 11 at 7:00 with Vergara, Rutgers associate professor Naa Oyo A. Kwate, PhD, South LA comics artist Lawrence “Raw Dog” Hubbard, and Parsons associate professor and Julius Knipl creator Ben Katchor. “When my friend, the cartoonist Ben Katchor, saw my photos, he said, these institutions only want diversity that fits their narrow definitions of art,” Vergara says in the interview, which can be read in full here. “If the nature of the work challenges the economic basis of their institutions, they won’t recognize it, including street muralists, who work for little money in poor neighborhoods. Their work is meant to be ephemeral and would undermine the economic existence of major art institutions. Unlike the artists selected by the Getty, the largely unrecognized street artists have not enjoyed a privileged upbringing, nor have they had any training beyond high school art classes.” Be prepared for a lively and eye-opening evening.
11 Cortlandt Alley
Sunday, December 8, free, 2:00
Fukushima-born, LA–based performance artist Ei Arakawa will lead a parade of a different kind on Sunday, December 8, inaugurating the new home of Artists Space. The former New Yorker is presenting WeWork Babies (11 Cortlandt Alley), beginning at 2:00 outside Artists Space at 11 Cortlandt Alley with a march of plastic infants that will then go into the lobby and down into the cellar gallery, which serves as an art baby nursery. The piece, complete with Q&A, will be performed by Arakawa, Malik Gaines, Tony Jackson, Sohee Kim, Erika Landström, Shuang Liang, George Liu, Yuri Manabe, Molly McFadden, Gela Patashuri, Jamie Stevens, and Tinatin Tsiklauri, with music by Boston-born, Brooklyn-based composer and installation artist Stefan Tcherepnin and his seven-month-old son, Igor Törnudd-Tcherepnin. Founded in 1972, Artists Space “strives for exemplary conditions in which to produce, experience, and understand art, to be a locus of critical discourse and education, and to advocate for the capacity of artistic work to significantly define and reflect our understanding of ourselves.” The opening-month celebration continues with such other free programs as the album launch “Speaker Music: drape over another” on December 13 and the book launch “Alexander Zevin: Liberalism at Large” on December 16.
200 Eastern Parkway at Washington St.
Saturday, December 7, free (some events require advance tickets), 5:00 - 11:00
The Brooklyn Museum shows off the best of the borough in the December edition of its free First Saturday program. There will be live performances by Los Hacheros, Gemma, DJ Laylo, Adrian Daniel, and drag collective Switch n’ Play (featuring Divina GranSparkle, K.James, Miss Malice, Nyx Nocturne, Pearl Harbor, and Vigor Mortis with special guest Heart Crimson); Visual AIDS screenings of short films commemorating the annual Day With(out) Art, followed by a conversation between filmmakers Iman Shervington and Derrick Woods-Morrow, moderated by writer Mathew Rodriguez; a book talk on Elia Alba’s The Supper Club with Sur Rodney (Sur) and Jack Waters, focusing on the conversation from the book that asks “What Would an HIV Doula Do?”; a curator tour of the Arts of Japan galleries with Joan Cummins; teen apprentice pop-up gallery talks in “Nobody Promised You Tomorrow: Art 50 Years After Stonewall”; a night market with handmade artisanal products; and a poetry reading and book signing by Brooklyn poet laureate Tina Chang from her latest book, Hybrida. In addition, the galleries will be open late so you can check out “Garry Winogrand: Color,” “Nobody Promised You Tomorrow: Art 50 Years After Stonewall,” “yasiin bey: Negus,” “One: Xu Bing,” “Pierre Cardin: Future Fashion,” “JR: Chronicles,” and more.
Morgan Library & Museum
225 Madison Ave. at 36th St.
Thursday, December 5, $20, 7:00
The ongoing series “Le Conversazioni: Films of My Life” continues December 5 at the Morgan Library with Laurie Anderson and Nicole Krauss sitting down for a discussion with moderator Antonio Monda, the artistic director and cofounder of Le Conversazioni, an Italian festival started in 2006 dedicated to literature but which has since spread to include other disciplines. Anderson is an Illinois-born, New York-based, Grammy-winning musician, filmmaker, composer, and multimedia performance and spoken-word artist who has released such records as Big Science and Mister Heartbreak, made such films as Home of the Brave and Heart of a Dog, and staged such cutting-edge shows as United States Live, Moby-Dick, and The End of the Moon. Krauss is the Manhattan-born award-winning author of Man Walks into a Room, The History of Love, Great House, and Forest Dark. They will be discussing films that influenced their work. The 7:00 event is being held in conjunction with the Morgan exhibition “Verdi: Creating Otello and Falstaff — Highlights from the Ricordi Archive,” which will be open at 6:00 for ticket holders.
UNSTOPPABLE: SEAN SCULLY AND THE ART OF EVERYTHING (Nick Willing, 2019)
260 West 23rd St. at Eighth Ave.
Thursday, November 14, 7:15
Festival runs November 6-15
“When I first met Sean, he told me, ‘I want to be the greatest abstract artist of my generation,’ and I thought, this is a lot of hubris. I didn’t know him then, and I believe him now,” says Sukanya Rajaratnam of the Mnuchin Gallery in New York about painter and sculptor Sean Scully in Unstoppable: Sean Scully and the Art of Everything. Don’t be surprised if you feel exactly the same way after you see Nick Willing’s bewitching film, making its North American premiere at DOC NYC on November 14. Born in Dublin in June 1945 and raised on the tough streets of South London where his family lived in squalor and he was in a gang, Scully was determined from early on to be more than just a successful artist, and he’s achieved his goal. “People want to see Scully like they want to see or Warhol or van Gogh, and that’s quite unique for an abstract painter to have risen above the fray and become an icon,” Hirshhorn chief curator Stéphane Aquin says.
Willing follows Scully through a whirlwind 2018 as the artist travels around the world, from his studios in Berlin, Bavaria, and Manhattan to gallery and museum shows in Washington DC, the National Gallery in London, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, De Pont Museum in the Netherlands, the Hugh Lane in Dublin, the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg, San Cristobal in Mexico City, a church in Montserrat, the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, the Mnuchin Gallery on the Upper East Side, and Newcastle University, where he went to art school, as well as key places from his youth. It’s exhausting and electric watching the driven, dedicated Scully make these rounds while also creating new work, forcefully slashing at the canvas with his bold brushstrokes. Willing traces Scully’s evolving style, from his initial figuration to his use of grids and geometric patterns and his famous stripe paintings. “The presence of the vertical and horizontal grid in his work, for me, is indicative of a person who knows he has a volatile temperament and is seeking to control it,” explains his Newcastle tutor Bill Varley. Meanwhile, fellow Newcastle student Moira Kelly proclaims, “The stripes are delicious. The stripes are about experiences. The stripes are like poems.”
Scully carefully manages his career, monitoring the market, giving generously to museums, participating in retrospectives and new shows, and delivering animated talks and lectures, but it’s about his legacy, not the money, and he doesn’t care one iota for trends or critics. “It’s not possible to discourage somebody like Martin Luther King or Bobby Kennedy; they believe so much in what they believe that they don’t mind if they get shot. I don’t mind either ’cause I’m doing what I believe, and that’s all there is to it,” he says, a tough, bald imposing figure of a man who looks like someone you would not want to get into a bar fight with. Writer and art critic Kelly Grovier notes, “Sean very much believes in the supernatural power of his paintings, that the works not only communicate a kind of truth but they actually have the power to affect change in this world . . . for the better.”
Willing also explores intimate details of Scully’s personal life, delving into his hardscrabble childhood; his relationship with his two ex-wives, Catherine Lee and Rosemary Henderson; the tragic loss of his first son, Paul; his distaste for Donald Trump and the American fascination with guns; and his life now with his third wife, Liliane Tomasko, and their son, Oisín. Scully usually works from instinct, attacking the canvas with his brush in ways that mimic the martial arts that he practices, but his deep love for Oisín has brought him back to figuration. He not only creates paintings of his son on the beach based on photos he has taken with his iPhone, he has also worked on a series depicting the US flag that replaces the stars in the upper left corner with a gun. I’ve seen several Scully shows over the last decade, including “Wall of Light” at Mnuchin in 2018, consisting of his magnificently meditative stripe paintings, and “Eleuthera” at the Albertina in Vienna, colorful, large-format oils of his son playing in the Bahamas. Unstoppable sheds new light on the artist, his work, his process, and his inspiration. “He’s a bit like the Ancient Mariner,” Grovier says. “He goes around the world, gallery to gallery, person to person, stopping almost anyone who will listen to tell them the great truth that his paintings portray.” It’s a gospel that Willing now spreads to an even wider audience.