AT H E N A L AT O C H A
ATHENA LATOCHA CURATED BY JAUNE QUICK-TO-SEE SMITH
CUE ART FOUNDATION
NOVEMBER 7 - DECEMBER 19, 2015 1
CUE is honored to present this exhibition of work by Athena LaTocha, which has been generously curated by Jaune Quick-to-See Smith. This exhibition marks the debut of a hybrid artist selection process featuring solo exhibitions curated by established artists, alongside a series of solo and group exhibitions selected by an annual Open Call. In line with CUE’s commitment to providing substantive professional development opportunities, curators and panelists also serve as mentors to the exhibiting artists, providing support throughout the process of developing the exhibition. CUE’s exhibition program aims to present new and exceptionally strong work by under-recognized and emerging artists based in the United States, and is committed to exhibiting work of all media, genres, and styles from artists of all ages.
BOARD OF DIRECTORS Gregory Amenoff
Theodore S. Berger Sanford Biggers Thomas G. Devine Thomas K.Y. Hsu Vivian Kuan Corina Larkin Brian D. Starer
CURATORIAL ADVISORY COUNCIL Gregory Amenoff Katie Cercone Lynn Crawford Trenton Doyle Hancock Pablo Helguera Paddy Johnson Sharon Lockhart Andrea Zittel
Polly Apfelbaum Theodore S.Berger, Chair Ian Cooper
Dena Muller Executive Director
William Corbett Michelle Grabner Eleanor Heartney Deborah Kass Corina Larkin Jonathan Lethem Rossana Martinez Juan Sánchez Irving Sandler, Senior Fellow Carolyn Somers Lilly Wei
Beatrice Wolert-Weese Deputy Director Shona Masarin-Hurst Programs Manager Justin Allen Programs Assistant
CUE ART FOUNDATION IS A DYNAMIC VISUAL ARTS CENTER DEDICATED TO CREATING ESSENTIAL CAREER AND EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES FOR EMERGING ARTISTS OF ALL AGES. THROUGH EXHIBITIONS, ARTS EDUCATION, AND PUBLIC PROGRAMS, CUE PROVIDES ARTISTS AND AUDIENCES WITH SUSTAINING AND MEANINGFUL EXPERIENCES AND RESOURCES.
ATHENA LATOCHA Athena LaTocha was born in Anchorage, Alaska in 1969. She lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. LaTocha received her BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago; and MFA from Stony Brook University, NY in 2007. After completing her studies, LaTocha apprenticed in bronze finishing at the Beacon Fine Art Foundry in Beacon, New York and furthered her work in printmaking at the Art Students League of New York from 2008 to 2013. In 2013, LaTocha was the recipient of the prestigious Robert Rauschenberg Foundation Residency in Captiva, Florida. She was also awarded a fellowship and residency at the Vermont Studio Center, and is currently artist-inresidence at chashama, Inc. in Brooklyn, New York.
Her work has been collected and exhibited by the Center for American Indian Research and Native Studies, South Dakota; Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY; Alaska Native Medical Center, Anchorage, Alaska; and the Chicago Bulls, Chicago, Illinois. She has exhibited at St. Annâ€™s and the Holy Trinity, Brooklyn; Gallery SENSEI, New York; and Wilmer Jennings Gallery, New York. For the past five years LaTocha has been working exclusively with sumi ink, only recently adding new inks to her media. The artist gratefully acknowledges chashama for providing the space to create this new work.
ARTIST’S STATEMENT By reducing the palette, I center the imagery on dynamic gesture and atmosphere that recall the powerful forces of nature and the human impact upon the world. My images begin with my memory of Alaska—specifically the irony between vast magnitudes of raw nature and the impact of industrial development upon nature. I work rigorously between large and small scale. Incessant questioning and doubt play a large role in how I work in a repetitive, serial mode. Working aerially with my images on the floor, I am interested in being inside the image rather than the outside as an easel painter.
I use intuitive processes and chance operations to tear down and rebuild landscape iconographies, turning to unwieldy and unorthodox tools to assist with this approach. Tools such as cracked rocks, concrete bricks, and reclaimed automobile tire shred—which I pick up off the sides of highways—are favored over traditional painting and drawing tools. The steel radial from the tire shred literally cuts and bites through the medium and into the support, while it conceptually cuts into the metaphorical landscapes.
JAUNE QUICK-TO-SEE SMITH Jaune Quick-to-See Smith is one of most acclaimed American Indian artists of today. Smith has had over 110 solo exhibits and offered more an 225 lectures in the past 40 years and has done printmaking projects nationwide. Over that same time, she has organized and/or curated over 30 Native exhibitions, lectured at more than 200 universities, museums and conferences internationally, most recently at 5 universities in China. Smith has completed several collaborative public art works such as the floor design in the Great Hall of the new Denver Airport; an in-situ sculpture piece in Yerba Buena Park, San Francisco and a mile-long sidewalk history trail in West Seattle and recently, a new terrazzo floor design at the Denver Airport. Smith uses humor and satire to examine myths, stereotypes and the paradox of American Indian life in contrast to the consumerism of American society. Her work is philosophically centered by her strong traditional beliefs and political activism. Smith is internationally known as an artist, curator, lecturer, print-maker and professor. She was born at St. Ignatius Mission on her Reservation and is an enrolled Salish member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Nation of Montana. She holds 4 honorary doctorates from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Arts, the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, Mass
College of Art and the University of New Mexico. Her work is in collections at the Whitney Museum, the Metropolitan Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Walker, the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, Museum for World Cultures, Frankfurt, Germany and Museum for Ethnology, Berlin. Recent awards include a grant from the Joan Mitchell Foundation to archive her work; the 2011 Art Table Artist Award; Moore College Visionary Woman Award for 2011; Induction into the National Academy of Art 2011; Living Artist of Distinction, Georgia Oâ€™Keeffe Museum, NM 2012; the Switzer Award 2012; Woodson Foundation, Lifetime Achievement Award, Santa Fe 2014; National Art Education Association, Ziegfeld Lecture Award 2014. In 2015 she received an honorary degree in Native American Studies from Salish Kootanai College, Pablo, MT. In addition to her role as Curator-Mentor for this exhibition, CUE Art Foundation is proud to honor Smith and her contribution the greater contemporary art world at the CUE 2015 Gala & Benefit Auction.
CURATOR’S STATEMENT Why I chose Athena LaTocha (Hunkpapa Lakota and Ojibwe) In 2010, I walked into the Chelsea Art Museum to view an exhibit, titled IN/SIGHT 2010, of a group of Native American artists. Most of the artists I knew personally, so I was able to identify their work by sight, but Athena’s work was new to me.
the late eighteenth century that had a desire for freedom of expression and the primacy of instinct and impulse. This movement stressed inner vision and unconscious drives that possibly fuel Athena’s way of attacking this imaginary landscape.
It was because of that exhibit that I made it a point to meet Athena. Her work was not easy for me to grasp, since I am a figurative and narrative artist as many Natives are. I at first felt distance from her work, but later I was drawn to study the work in a meditative way. I think that’s where we met, I mean her work and I.
Spending time with Athena’s work over the past five years, I can honestly say she draws the viewer back again and again. Abstract art can be a closure in the mind or it can be a window, Athena’s work is the latter for me.
My personal references cause me to see the work as Turneresque, yet I might place his work more on the side of the sublime in comparison to her work. His coloration is sweet and soft in comparison to Athena’s gritty and scratchy surfaces. Her work has high drama, the earthen kind, as in arid places with volcanoes, earthquakes, high winds and spewing ash. They are like the sandstorms in the SW known as Haboobs, an Arabic word for blasting wind. The viewer has a sense of atmospheric gravity, a weather front or downbursts with flying debris. Athena’s memories of Alaska are mixed with her daily grind and stresses in the city. Her solo exhibition at Stony Brook was titled Sturm and Drang, built around the cultural movement in
Her sense of storm and stress continues to haunt me. I’ve also compared her work to Victor Hugo’s ink paintings. These have a sense of grandeur, but those of Athena are more physical, especially in scale where you sense the reach of her arm in sweeping gesture. I question whether her memory accurately displays the Alaskan landscape after the melt or it meets somewhere in the mental scape and becomes an amalgam of a gritty and stressful city life. Either way her work deserves to be seen. In a meditative viewing she may give a visitor a much-needed respite and a sense of exultation, of freedom, even euphoria. At least she does that for me. —Jaune Quick-to-See Smith (Enrolled Salish, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Nation, MT)
Sumi ink and collage on rice paper 29 5/8â€œ x 112â€?
Untitled XXIII, 2011
Sumi ink on rice paper 29 7/8” x 56 3/4”
Untitled XXVI, 2011
Sumi ink with collage on rice paper 27 1/2â€? x 54 1/4â€?
Sumi ink on photo paper 4” x 6”
Untitled, 2012 Sumi ink and salt on photo paper 13â€? x 19â€?
Sumi ink and salt on photo paper 18â€? x 36â€?
Sumi ink on photo paper 18” x 36”
Sumi ink on photo paper 36” x 108”
Sumi ink and ocean sand on photo paper 17â€? x 34â€?
Sumi ink on photo paper mounted on Dibond 16” x 22” x 1/8”
Sumi ink on photo paper
mounted on birch plywood 16” x 22” x 1/4”
Sumi ink on photo paper 36” x 54”
Untitled (detail), 2014
Sumi ink on photo paper 36â€? x 54â€?
UNSETTLED Anna Tsouhlarakis
“This is where I come from. This is where my family’s from. This is part of my history. But living in New York, and living in general, you are surrounded by so many other things. I am aware of [growing up in Alaska] and conscious of it from a more social justice perspective. When you’re looking at the greater situation that humanity itself is in [I ask]: What are we doing as a human race? What are we doing to the planet? What are we doing to each other? How do we find our way through?”1 Athena LaTocha speaks about growing up in Alaska and her relationships with the land, the people and her family. While many artists may downplay their beginnings, it became clear this was an important primer for the language LaTocha would come to use in her creative process. As new Alaskans, LaTocha’s father bought a plot of land, cleared it and built their family house on it. They spent much of their time exploring the wilderness around them. While this is the artist’s home, her
familial roots stem from the Standing Rock Sioux and Ojibwe tribes, as well as from her Polish-Austrian family in rural Michigan. Growing up, she was a young woman who was Alaskan, but not Native Alaskan, and white, but not fully white. She witnessed mistreatment of the Native Alaskan population including what she would come to know as the “history of shaming.” She was acutely aware of and sensitive to these types of incidences and would later realize how they reflected “the psychology of colonization and the post-colonial destructive legacy issues.” LaTocha’s relationship with her “home” led to a lot of internal conflict, or psychological “churning” as she describes it. Returning to nature in her time of need helped ease those moments, or at least gave her hope of an answer. When LaTocha left Alaska, it became apparent that the internal “churning” and awareness of inequity she observed as a youth was only a microcosm of the larger human condition. She began asking herself questions: “How do we find our way through that? How do we work through the various experiences we
have?” When she found herself needing to return to nature, she discovered a pathway through her artwork. “I go back to nature a lot. I go back to the feelings of being in those spaces,” explains LaTocha. Feelings that encompass restlessness, tumult and the struggle to find more. LaTocha did not shy away from the visceral feelings brought on by these larger quandaries of societal and cultural issues. Researching the work of painter Francis Bacon during her undergraduate studies confirmed her instinct of rethinking her approach to artmaking. Bacon’s work echoed the “psychological churning, the layering and obfuscation” that she felt. A 1963 Guggenheim exhibition catalogue describes how Bacon’s “painting, including conspicuous signs of improvisation, become images of the movements of his figures or of their suffering.”2 While the formal attributes of Bacon’s work differ from LaTocha’s, both depict an internalized struggle dealing with and questioning the human condition. Bacon reinterpreted painting in order to meet his needs. Fourteen years ago, LaTocha began getting frustrated with the process of painting and working on an easel and decided to challenge the experiences she felt she was supposed to have with her work. In order to gauge her progression more thoroughly she began painting exclusively on the floor, or aerially, a process that has grown to be critical to her practice and methodology. In the following years, LaTocha began to explore new ways of approaching her artistic process. She transitioned from oil painting to drawing, which led to working with ink. She began using rice paper with the ink but it was not giving her the surface she needed
to flush out ideas or sustain the physicality her work was calling for. As her process started to involve more of the actual pushing and moving of the media, the delicate nature of the rice paper could not handle a more sustained force. In the September 2010 issue of Art in America, she read about Roland Flexner, a French artist who was using sumi ink on paper at the time. While LaTocha speaks to the material connection of her work to Flexner’s, it is easy to see the ethereal, yet dark and determined qualities, that both artists’ work possesses. Flexner’s interview speaks directly about his bubble ink drawings; “It is an event, in the full sense of the word…the fleeting moment is in the eye of the viewer.”3 His thoughts could effortlessly describe LaTocha’s work as well. Soon after, LaTocha began experimenting with sumi ink on photographic paper, a process that became the foundation of her current body of work. For her exhibition at CUE Art Foundation, LaTocha continues to explore the process she developed with sumi ink and photographic paper, pushing new color and hues into the piece using walnut ink. The introduction of the walnut ink adds an atmosphere of lightness and warmth to the work, without shifting the tension LaTocha creates between the familiar and abstract. The references to landscape in this large drawing are not new, but a reexamination used in previous pieces. Possible horizon lines, valleys and trees emerge and fade. LaTocha has been revisiting landscape iconography for roughly eleven years and finds value in the serial, or repetitive, nature of her process because it allows her to access the image from multiple perspectives.
It is important to note LaTocha’s tools in creating artwork are not ordinary for painting and drawing, but include unusual objects that she gathers from her surroundings such as rocks, sticks and old car tires. She is interested in “finding other ways to work the material, in a way that isn’t so predictable.” The use of unexpected objects forces a physicality that is unanticipated, considering ink is the primary medium. The desire to combine such solid and rough tools with a fluid and elegant medium create many narrative possibilities. Is this a metaphor for LaTocha’s internal turmoil, or is this a reference to her Alaskan roots? Or, are her tools a literal touchstone to her remaining connections with the nature of her Alaskan origins? After visiting a Jack Whitten exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, things became clearer for LaTocha. In the exhibition she was drawn to how the artist was removing himself, removing his hand and considering the material. He focused on the manipulation of the material and how his movements determined the outcome. He was, as she put it, “creating an environment for the unexpected.” The exhibition at CUE features a vast wall installation that is much larger than LaTocha’s usual work, roughly 11 feet high by 37 feet long. It is an ink wash drawing responding to the contours of the gallery and the intimacy of the space. With the enlarged proportions of the installation, the depth and space she creates in her work is heightened, offering more elegant, yet aggressive, movement. The continuous landscape stretches around the viewer as it extends and recedes through space, withholding a solid translation of itself preventing the viewer from seeing the forest for the trees, thus giving a glimpse into LaTocha’s 30
understanding of the continual conversation between an artist and her surroundings, whether in the present or remembered: “It’s kind of like walking blindly, or walking with limited vision. There’s a sense of hope or faith to find your way through it…working to trust that intuitive response and letting yourself get caught up in the material and the process itself.” 1 All quotes attributed to the artist are from a conversation with the writer on September 4, 2015. 2 Alloway, Lawrence and Messer, Thomas, Francis Bacon, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York, 1963, p. 13. 3 Flexner, Roland, “In the Studio: Roland Flexner with Faye Hirsch,” Art in America, September 2010, p. 83.
This essay was written as part of the Young Art Critics Mentoring Program, a partnership between AICA-USA (US section of International Association of Art Critics) and CUE, which pairs emerging writers with AICA mentors to produce original essays on a specific exhibiting artist. Please visit aicausa.org for more information on AICA USA, or cueartfoundation.org to learn how to participate in this program. Any quotes are from interviews with the author unless otherwise specified. No part of this essay may be reproduced without prior consent from the author. Lilly Wei is AICA’s Coordinator for the program this season. For additional arts-related writing, please visit on-verge.org. Writer Anna Tsouhlarakis (Navajo/Creek/Greek) was born in Lawrence, Kansas. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Dartmouth College in Native American Studies and Studio Art and received her Masters of Fine Arts degree from Yale University. She has participated in various art residencies including Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture and Yaddo. She has been part of exhibitions at Rush Arts in New York, Dreamspace Gallery in London, the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. In 2011, she received the Eiteljorg Fellowship for Native American Fine Art and is a current recipient of the Native Arts & Cultures Foundation Artist Fellowship. Her work consists of various media including sculpture, installation, video and performance art. She is currently living in Washington, DC with her partner and three children. Mentor Sara Reisman is the Artistic Director of the Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation, whose mission is focused on art and social justice in New York City. Recently curated exhibitions for the foundation include Mobility and Its Discontents, Between History and the Body, and When Artists Speak Truth, all three presented on The 8th Floor. From 2008 until 2014, Reisman was the director of New York City’s Percent for Art program where she managed more than 100 permanent public art commissions for city funded architectural projects, including artworks by Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Mary Mattingly, Tattfoo Tan, and Ohad Meromi, among others for civic sites like libraries, public schools, correctional facilities, streetscapes and parks. She was the 2011 critic-in-residence at Art Omi, and a 2013 Marica Vilcek Curatorial Fellow, awarded by the Foundation for a Civil Society.
CUE Art Foundation’s operations and programs are made possible with the generous support of foundations, corporations, government agencies, individuals, and its members. MAJOR PROGRAMMATIC SUPPORT PROVIDED BY ANHOLT SERVICES (USA) INC. // THE GREENWICH COLLECTION, LTD. // CAF AMERICAN DONOR FUND // THE JOAN MITCHELL FOUNDATION // AGNES GUND // NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF CULTURAL AFFAIRS, IN PARTNERSHIP WITH THE CITY COUNCIL // NEW YORK STATE COUNCIL ON THE ARTS WITH THE SUPPORT OF GOVERNOR ANDREW CUOMO AND THE NEW YORK STATE LEGISLATURE
SPECIAL THANKS TO ACCOLA GRIEFEN GALLERY
CUE 137WEST 25TH STREET NEW YORK, NY 10001 CUEARTFOUNDATION.ORG
All artwork © Athena LaTocha.
Catalogue design by Shona Masarin-Hurst