Cultured Magazine June/July Issue 2021

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Zendaya by David Sims at the Palace Theater in Los Angeles, 16th April 2021


Zendaya by David Sims at the Palace Theater in Los Angeles, 16th April 2021


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CONTENTS June/July/August 2021

34 MOTHER DEAREST British artist Ed Atkins unpacks the heartfelt conversation with his mother that inspired his forthcoming show at the New Museum. 36 TEA TIME Frank Gehry returns to his 1980s Fish Lamp series to bring a school of oversized sculptures to his eighth show with the Gagosian. 38 FRENCH EVOLUTION “The Lalanne at Trianon” will add more whimsy to Marie Antoinette’s Versailles hamlet with the works of Claude and François-Xavier Lalanne. 40 MANGOES DON’T GROW IN MANHATTAN Pop artist Lucia Hierro takes us on an unvarnished Polaroid tour of her native New York. 46 A DANCE FOR THE GODS Elagabalus’s short stay on the Roman throne. 50 CHAMPAGNE SUPERNOVA IN THE SKY Artist Tomás Saraceno collabs with Ruinart, the world’s oldest champagne house. 54 LISTEN TO YOUR LIFE Visual artist Tiffanie Delune was propelled to

Lisbon in search of more light and creative space after the birth of her son.

58 STUDIO SOULWAX DJs David and Stephen Dewaele have built their dream studio in the medieval city of Ghent.

60 MOUNTAIN HIGHS After a chaotic year, Aspen is reopening with a bounty of exhibitions, talks, gardens and festivals.

62 OUT EAST The Hamptons are ready for a revival. Here’s our guide to the East End’s must-see art shows and events this summer.


HIGHER FIDELITY Louis Vuitton’s new Horizon Speaker connects us to an ever-expanding universe of music.

Moses Sumney cools off in pants by LV x NBA Collection and sunglasses by Oliver Peoples. Photo by Erik Carter. Styling by Karolyn Pho. 18

W t u r g a t

CONTENTS June/July/August 2021

70 SURO’S WORLD Come meet the mastermind of Mexico’s leading

ceramic studio, who is creating incredibly complicated and ornate projects across the world.


HOT BED Sex and art are entangled in Sophia Giovannitti’s Recess solo show.


THE ARTIST WITH NO NAME Pseudonymous artist 0010x0010 has teamed up with virtual gallery Xumiiro to take us deep within ourselves, and how it feels to be alive right now.

Director Janicza Bravo photographed by Clifford Prince King in her backyard wearing CO Collections twopiece suit and Esenshel hat.


76 80 DO JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER Artist Kimberly Brooks’ new guide to oil painting answers questions that get right to the heart of art. 82 MOMENTS IN TIME Count Benedikt Bolza outlines the restoration of a traditional Italian estate on the outskirts of Umbria. 88 POLISHED TO PERFECTION Elieen Gray’s dazzling 1920s villa in the South of France has been restored to its former glory — and is ready for you to come visit. 94 THE ART LEGENDS THAT STARTED IT ALL The legendary dealers who transformed Chelsea’s art scene discuss the neighborhood’s evolution. 102 YOUNG CURATORS 2021 Unafraid to ask “What if?”, a new generation is pushing the boundaries of what curation means today.

PRINTED MATTERS Artist Fiona Connor talks with documentation, social networks and the ongoing importance of books with Gracie Hadland.


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CONTENTS June/July/August 2021

114 130 FEMALE FRIENDSHIP AT THE END OF THE WORLD The infamous 148-Tweet epic of a stripping odyssey has made its way to the silver screen 138 LAMB ON LAMB: POLACHEK ON SUMNEY Moses Sumney delves into his first adventures in songwriting, his relationship to folk music, and who his icons in a chat

SIRI, PLAY SUMMERTIME To celebrate Gucci’s centennial, we dressed up the birthday party guests of our dreams in their legendary wares.

with Caroline Polachek.

Gracie Abrams takes a stroll in Los Angeles. Photo by Alex Webb. Creative direction and styling by Studio&. Clothing by Gucci.


148 WHAT CAN A PAINTING SUGGEST ABOUT A MEANINGFUL LIFE? Hans Ulrich Obrist talks with jennifer packer to find out. 156 JANICZA BRAVO’S LAUGH Devan Díaz calls up the director to discuss the nuances of comedy and chemistry in her anticipated summer blockbuster Zola. 160 NAS IS LIKE One of hip hop’s greatest story tellers is now telling the story of hip hop. 166 DEWANDA VISION Actor DeWanda Wise believes that community is the key to life, and a changed Hollywood. 170 I AM SPEAKING, ARE YOU LISTENING? Wangechi Mutu’s exhibition “I Am Speaking, Are You Listening?” explores why it’s time to let go of our old ideas about the history of art.





Sienna Fekete is a New York-based curator and producer with a background in radio, podcasting and music. She is Cultured’s podcast editor and a cofounder of Chroma, a cultural agency and creative studio that centers on the work and perspectives of women of color. For this issue, Fekete spoke with Riley Keough and Taylor Paige, the stars of upcoming film Zola, written by Janicza Bravo and Jeremy O. Harris. “What struck me most from our conversation was getting into the ethos of moving at the speed of trust, the brilliant art references used to sculpt the Zola landscape, the specificity and attention to detail from nail shapes to stripping technique, their incredible bond and love for one another as artists and friends and their honesty and openness with me throughout,” she says.

Hans Ulrich Obrist is the artistic director of the Serpentine Galleries in London. Since his first exhibition “World Soup (The Kitchen Show)” in 1991, he has curated more than 350 shows and his forthcoming publication Remember Nature is set to release this year. This issue excerpts an interview between Obrist and artist Jennifer Packer first published in Jennifer Packer: The Eye Is Not Satisfied With Seeing, a catalogue that accompanies an eponymous traveling survey of the artist’s work, now at the Serpentine Galleries and soon coming to the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Erik Carter is a Los Angeles-based photographer by way of Dallas and New York. A self-taught imagemaker focusing on the subtleties of portraiture, his approach to documenting culture and society infuses warmth and quietude. His body of work highlights the beauty and complexity of Black and queer communities. For this issue’s cover story, Carter photographed musician Moses Sumney, saying: “Simply put, Moses is an ideal subject, one that I hope to work with again. A true collaborator, it was evident even before his arrival that he’s keen to explore the artistry and drama that can go into making an image. I was immediately charmed by his overall nature and ability to lean into moments of vulnerability.”


ALEX WEBB Photographer

Alex Webb is best known for his vibrant and complex color photographs, especially those capturing the streets of Latin America and the Caribbean. He has published 17 books and exhibited in museums and galleries worldwide, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the High Museum of Art, Atlanta. His decoration of awards includes a 2007 Guggenheim Fellowship and two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, in 1990 and 2019. His next book, Waves, a pandemic logbook on Cape Cod made in a collaboration with photographer and poet Rebecca Norris Webb, will be released early 2022. In a summer special feature for this issue, Webb photographs seven Los Angelesbased creative talents in Gucci to dazzling effect.





Experience the powerful, dreamlike photographs of artist Deana Lawson. Timed tickets at The Hugo Boss Prize and the exhibition are made possible by

Deana Lawson, Barrington and Father, 2021. Pigment print, 187.3 × 147 cm © Deana Lawson. Courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York, and David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles





Devan Díaz is a writer from Queens, New York who specializes in beauty, fashion and popular culture and was an early contributor to Rookie magazine. This issue includes Díaz’s interview with director Janizca Bravo ahead of the release of her debut feature film Zola. “I loved talking to Janicza Bravo, and I love the movie,” Díaz says. “Go watch it in a theater; it’s not meant for a laptop.”

Wardrobe stylist and brand consultant Karolyn Pho’s work has been featured in publications such as Interview, V Magazine and Vogue, and for brands including Gap, Nike and SSENSE. Pho works between Los Angeles and New York, but calls the former home with the company of her two dogs, Margot and Bean. For this issue’s cover story, Pho styles musician Moses Sumney. “There are few moments in my life where I’ve felt I was in the presence of greatness—this was that moment,” she says. “Moses emanated respect, an openness and was unapologetically himself.”

Los Angeles-based writer Gracie Hadland covers art, books and movies and directs her focus specifically on queer history and culture. Her current project centers on lesbian critic, Jill Johnston. Having previously penned for Frieze, Los Angeles Review of Books, Momus and East of Borneo, among others, in this issue she covers her friend, artist Fiona Connor and her newest monograph.


Ebecho Muslimova is a New York-based artist whose drawing and painting practice centered around his alter ego, Fatebe, a bold and sexually liberated character. Muslimova’s work depicts a persona shameless and free, exploring the world in ridiculous and impossible situations that revel in the celebration of carnal processes and bodily curiosity. For this issue, Fatebe responds to writer Camille Okhio’s essay on Elagabalus, the teen emperor. “Camille’s story of Elagabalus is fascinating and I had fun trying to find a way for Fatebe to accompany this charming character,” says Muslimova. “In the end, what Fatebe identifies with most is the form of his precious hunk of rock.”








Spencer Lewis, Untitled, 2020-2021, Oil, enamel and acrylic on jute, 101 3/4 x 74 1/4 inches (258.4 x 188.6 cm); © Spencer Lewis; Photo by Ruben Diaz Courtesy the artist and Vito Schnabel Gallery





Camille Okhio is an art and design historian and writer living and working in New York. Her work has appeared in Apartamento, Architectural Digest, Art in America, T Magazine and Vogue, among others. One of Cultured’s Writers Grant winners, Okhio pens an essay on the Roman teen emperor, Elagabalus for this issue. “Ancient Roman history is so much more colorful and diverse—in terms of gender and gender identity, race and religion—than it has been made out to be by the Western historians of the last 300 years,” she explains. “Being able to delve into the character and personal history of one of the more obscure Roman emperors who also happened to be Brown and queer was such a delight for me. History is about and for everyone. This essay is proof of that.”

Gillian Laub is an artist who uses the camera to investigate how society’s biggest questions are often writ large in our most intimate relationships. In her forthcoming book and exhibition at the International Center of Photography this September, Family Matters, her own family becomes a microcosm of a fractured America when the artist and her parents find themselves on opposing sides of some of the most contentious issues in recent United States history. For this issue, Laub turned her lens to actor DeWanda Wise, whose new movie Fatherhood explores love, both familial and romantic, after heartbreak. On set at the JW Marriott Essex House in New York, “DeWanda came prepared with a speaker, a great playlist and treats for everyone,” says the photographer. “What a sweet, fun and generous person and I can’t wait to see her film when it’s out this month!”

Photographer and director Manfredi Gioacchini has a passion for the classical arts and found his favored form of expression in portraiture, interior and documentary photography. He has published two books, Portraits of Artists and Floating Islands, the first of which is in the permanent collection at LACMA in Los Angeles, MoMA in New York and at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. Manfredi shot artist Jennifer Packer for this issue at the American Academy in Rome, where she has been in residency for her Rome Prize win. “Going to the American Academy is always something special; surrounded by an ancient wall, it transports you to a different time,” says the photographer of the experience. “Meeting Jennifer and walking with her around the gardens and her studio was remarkable. I loved capturing her experience here in Italy and seeing how much she gained from it.”



Photographer Clifford Prince King documents his intimate relationships in traditional, everyday settings that speak on his experiences as a queer Black man. Within King’s images are nods to the beyond, which manifest as codes hidden in plain sight, known only to those with the shared knowledge. For this issue, “I’m grateful to have photographed Janicza Bravo at home and excited to see her new film, Zola,” he says of the debut feature film director, who is in conversation with writer Devan Díaz on page 156.




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Letter from the Editor

The intense heaviness of the last 16 months seems to finally be lifting, and a palpable sense of hope has taken over. In the last two weeks, we hosted our first in-person events: a beautiful lunch for the unstoppable Barbara Sturm and a lively discussion for Burberry with curator Casey Fremont and stylist Djuna Bel on the fashion house’s Rodeo Drive rooftop. I didn’t even realize how much I missed gathering people and connecting friends from different worlds until I was sitting between them. As you flip though our pages, I hope you can feel this crescendo of delight. For our biggest portfolio of the issue, we partnered for the first time with the legendary photographer Alex Webb. His work has long resonated with us, and watching him respond to the beautiful lights and colorful backdrops of the Venice Beach was aweinspiring. Stylists and creative directors Kate Foley and Alex Cronan helped us put together a list of talented musicians, actors and filmmakers and dressed them all in Gucci as a visual summer playlist. Traditionally our issue focused on musicians and entertainers, summer brings with it two sets of creative

Sarah G. Harrelson Founder and Editor-in-Chief @sarahgharrelson Follow us | @cultured_mag


AS WE ARE FINALIZING THE LAST PAGES OF OUR SUMMER ISSUE, I AM FUELED WITH AN OPTIMISM THAT ALMOST FEELS FOREIGN. friends in conversation: Taylour Paige and Riley Keough, who star in Janicza Bravo’s Zola movie, and solo artists Moses Sumney and Caroline Polachek. Both interviews delve into the value of friendship and keeping a sense of communal love alive. What I took away, however, was the importance of specificity when bringing those kind intentions to fruition. Bravo is described by her actors as involved in every aspect in the making of the Twitter-storm-turned-road-flick. Thoughtfulness isn’t a filter, but a painstaking practice that requires complete focus. We tried to put this idea into action for our fifth “Young Curators” list. As we were putting together the names, we wanted to hone in on our New York City base to support the city’s return and highlight the people both archiving and pushing forward its narratives. This summer, we will thrust ourselves into our next chapter with events in Aspen, Los Angeles and the Hamptons, which is perhaps just another way of saying I hope our paths come together soon. We missed you. Shoot us an email, sign up for a newsletter, follow us on Instagram and let’s all contribute to the cultural conversation. From top left: Sarah Harrelson, Barbara Sturm and Mera Rubell at the launch of Dr. Sturm’s brand-new Miami Boutique & Spa. On the cover: RILEY KEOUGH AND TAYLOUR PAIGE: Photographed by Daria Kobayashi Ritch. Styling by Tess Herbert. Keough’s makeup by Rachel Goodwin. Paige’s makeup by Cherish Brooke Hill. Keough and Paige’s hair by Chad Wood. Keough wears Barragán dress, Maison Margiela tights, with Panconesi earrings. Paige wears a Bottega Veneta dress. ALEX WOLFF: Photographed by Alex Webb. Creative direction and styling by STUDIO&. Hair by Lauren Palmer-Smith/Home Agency. Makeup by Homa Safar. Set design by Ali Gallagher. Prop assistant Zoran Radanovich. Clothing by Gucci. MOSES SUMNEY: Photographed by Erik Carter. Styling by Karolyn Pho. Grooming by Annette Chaisson. Sumney wears overcoat by Prada; jacket by Dior Men.


Mother Dearest


During lockdown, many of us spoke to our parents more than usual, and more deeply too. Britain’s Ed Atkins, who often puts himself, particularly his head, front and center in his films, tells us about motion-capturing one such conversation with his mother, and turning it into a heartfelt CGI spectacle for his forthcoming show at the New Museum, New York.

Production Still, 2021.

“I SPOKE WITH MY MUM OVER THE PHONE from a hotel suite in locked-down Berlin while wearing a full performance-capture rig in September 2020. We talked laboredly (unconvincingly, insufficiently) about her childhood, her mother and our bodies, monitored by two men in the neighboring room. The captured data was used to drive a new animated video that forms the centerpiece of my show at the New Museum, “Get Life/Love’s Work.” It comes out of a lot of different convictions, but paramount as I write this is quite how the video forges a new kind of compound realism that’s colloquially synonymic with pessimism, is visually and auditorily convincing, but is as ontologically obscure as reality. Interviewing my mum unscripted, and plotting that into CG, felt heretical in the right way.” —Ed Atkins


James Turrell, End Around: Ganzfeld, 2013. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Museum purchase funded by the estate of Isabel B. Wilson in memory of Peter C. Marzio, 2012. © James Turrell

Tea Time


Frank Gehry’s fingerprints are all over Los Angeles. The iconoclastic architect and designer dips everything he touches in his imaginative sauce, which transforms the organic into the industrial and the absurd into the functional. In his eighth show with Gagosian, Gehry returns to his 1980s Fish Lamp series to bring a school of oversized sculptures to the gallery’s Beverly Hills space. If one ventures past this ocean, they will encounter his larger than life interpretation of Lewis Carroll’s Mad Hatter’s tea party. This time, everyone is invited.

Frank Gehry, Los Angeles, 2021

“The world needs a little love right now. I hope this helps.” —FRANK GEHRY 36


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French Evolution


Often remembered for her love of the extravagant, the infamous French queen Marie Antoinette’s design habits were no exception. On the grounds of the Petit Trianon at the Palace of Versailles, she commissioned English gardens, thatched pavilions and a working farm to fulfill her escapist tendencies. From June 19 to October 10, the flora and faunathemed sculptures by late artists Claude and François-Xavier Lalanne will bring a touch more whimsy to the charming Queen’s Hamlet. Curated by gallerist Jean-Gabriel Mitterrand, “The Lalanne at Trianon” adds 50 iconic works by the creative couple to the grounds, reviving the appreciation of nature and its beauty.

Les Nouveaux moutons: Brebis, Belier and Agneau, 1994

“THE STORY OF THE EXCEPTIONAL SUCCESS of Claude and François-Xavier Lalanne’s works is born of a long French tradition that combines art and decorative art, sculpture and furniture, animals and nature, the artist and craftsman, simplicity and sophistication, humor together with rigor, fantasy with elegance. This combination of qualities, which refers to classicism, is inspired by the surrealism of the 20th century and the naturalism that Jean de La Fontaine would have loved, as did Les Lalanne.” —Jean-Gabriel Mitterrand


Mangoes Don’t Grow in Manhattan

Ahead of Lucia Hierro’s institutional debut at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut, the pop art-inspired photographer takes us on a Polaroid tour of her native New York, including spots in Washington Heights, the Bronx and Brooklyn, where she is currently based. The snaps are a departure from the otherwise carefully calibrated images the artist typically makes and tell an unvarnished story of who she is and where she’s from. ▲

▲ ABIR FASHION, W 180TH AND BROADWAY I was born in Washington Heights/ Upper-Upper Manhattan. My whole life I’ve walked by endless strips of stores just like this. The women in my life often saved $5 at a time through odd-jobs to buy the $5 to $10 items and would store them away in luggage. Once these bags were full they would be gifted or sold in the Dominican Republic. The first female entrepreneurs I ever knew.

▲ PAWN IT, WHITE PLAINS, BRONX I lived in the Parkchester area of the Bronx for a few years and would walk by this pawn shop often. I’d think about the stories that necessitated the exchange of objects displayed on the window. Pawn shops function as an alternative economy within neighborhoods.

▲ FRUIT STAND ON CORNER OF VERMILYEA AVE AND BROADWAY/DYCKMAN Dyckman (now officially Little DR) is where I lived most of my life. It’s what I think of when I think of home. I’ve moved back and forth between neighborhoods and between islands. The produce stand is a necessity in neighborhoods strewn with fast-food joints and liquor stores. I worried about them during pandemic lockdowns. The low prices offer affordable healthy choices. They remind the community of outdoor markets in the islands. The most important reminders are on the colorful displays which scream, “MANGOES DON’T GROW ON MANHATTAN TREES.”


▲ ESTILISMO BEAUTY SALON, 175TH AND BROADWAY So much can and has been said about the Dominican hair salon. I myself have opted for a natural curly do during these COVID times. When I walked in this salon in Washington Heights, I was hit with familiar sounds and smells. I spoke with the woman running the space and asked how these times were treating her and the business—she said she couldn’t complain. I asked the women if I could take a quick snapshot and was met with some resistance, understandably. She said if they published this piece she wanted a copy.



ICA MIAMI/New Exhibitions \Free Admission Every Day! Dalton Gata: The Way We’ll Be /

\ Chakaia Booker: The Observance

Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami

Left: Chakaia Booker, Never Mind, 2006. Rubber tires, wood, stainless steel. Private collection. Right: Dalton Gata, Plantas y Changos (Plants and Changos), 2021. Acrylic on linen. Courtesy the artist and Galería Agustina Ferreyra, San Juan.

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Image courtesy of the de la Cruz Collection. Pictured: "Untitled",1995 - Billboard - Dimensions vary with installation © Felix Gonzalez-Torres, courtesy of the Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation

There is Always One Direction 2021 - 2022 Exhibition

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FATEBE A STONE MIRACLE (Elagabalus rock), 2021 47

A different kind of Sun King—one Louis XIV surely wasn’t referencing in his personal brand—the ancient Roman emperor Elagabalus was 14 years old, lithe and lusty when he took the throne in 218 AD.

Ambition was perhaps the only reference point shared between him and the 17th century French monarch who called to that central star for his power as well. Ambition was in Elagabalus’s genes, inherited down the matrilineal line (of course) from his politically aggressive grandmother and mother. His legacy is disjointed—historians, both ancient and modern, have reviled him, gawked at him and, on rare occasions, admired his audacity. Elagabalus was born around 204 AD, very likely in Emesa (his ancestral home), now modern day Homs, Syria. He was born Bassianus, but the name he officially took when he rose to emperor was Caesar Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus. The name he came to be known as was derived from Elagabal, the obscure sun god he and his male ancestors worshipped as priests. To get to the meat of his story, you have to go back roughly a century to the assassination of the emperor Domitian, the last of the Flavian dynasty. The string of emperors who followed Domitian over the next 100 years were referred to as the Antonine emperors, of which Commodus was the last. Commodus’s father, Marcus Aurelius, is remembered as the philosopher king. His Meditations on life and the nature of existence are still read today, and advise a self-reflective way of living and mode of governance. Elagabalus’s senators and family hoped to project these same characteristics when they included Marcus Aurelius in his official name. The Antonine rulers were successful at maintaining peace and order, mostly because they selected their successors from outside of


their immediate families, favoring exceptional skills and intelligence over blood relation. Marcus Aurelius’s terrible choice to pass his power along to his buffoon of a son marked the beginning of an extended period of bloodshed and chaos in the ancient capital and its provinces. The year after Commodus was murdered in his own bath—193 AD—saw five different men claim the imperial throne in quick succession. Septimius Severus was finally successful in his bid, years after political unrest began. Severus hailed from Libya, then colonized by the Romans, with an Italian Roman mother and a Phoenician (Punic) father. Many years before he ascended the imperial throne, Severus fell in love with a Julia Domna, an aristocratic teenager from the town of Emesa. Julia Domna was said to be beautiful and brilliant, persistent in her endeavors and blessed with a quick wit. While Severus ruled, Julia, by then his wife, cultivated a cultured court, attracting intellectuals with less unyielding beliefs than the Stoic philosophers of the preceding centuries. Julia bore Severus two sons, Caracalla and Geta, to whom he jointly left his throne in 211 AD at the time of his death. Caracalla murdered Geta the same year, tricking their mother, Julia, into luring his hated brother into a trap. In a particularly cruel move, Caracalla further forbade his mother from mourning her dead son, though she was still in charge of the administrative side of running the state while her remaining son campaigned. Caracalla’s reign ended with his own murder in 217 AD, and Julia Domna, already weakened by breast cancer and with power slipping from her hands, committed suicide in Antioch. The engineer of Caracalla’s death, a praetorian prefect of Berber descent named Macrinus, seized the throne on the 11th of April, 217 AD. Only three adult members of Severus’s family remained: Julia Domna’s sister, Julia Maesa and her two daughters, also called Julia (Soaemias and Mamaea). The three Julias and

their two young sons (one for each daughter) were sent back to their hometown of Emesa, where they were expected to dawdle in obscurity. Macrinus ruled jointly with his own son, Diadumenianus, for a year, before whispers started to travel from the aforementioned town. Julia Maesa, proving just as brilliant and determined as her late sister, was putting the building blocks in place to elevate her grandson, Bassianus (our Elagabalus) to the imperial throne. Her methods were simple: bribe the nearest legionaries. She offered them the treasures of Elagabal’s temple, of which her grandson Bassianus was already the high priest. Macrinus was a miser. His pinched pockets, along with a new rumor—that Bassianus was actually the bastard son of Severus via a secret affair with his cousin, Julia Soaemias—was enough to flip the legionaries and senate. Battle ensued in Syria between Macrinus and the Roman soldiers now under Julia Maesa’s command. As the battle turned, Macrinus tried to flee to Antioch, but was caught mid-escape and assassinated unceremoniously by the side of the road. It took nearly a year for his successor, already being called Elagabalus in the capital, to make his way to Rome. A portrait of the new emperor was sent in his stead, gossip about his character swirling around it. The image, now hanging in the senate, was one of a fine-boned youth, decked out in a purple silk tunic embroidered all over in gold thread, with kohl-rimmed eyes and black cropped curls.

Very few hard truths made their way to the capital concerning the emperor. As he lingered in Nicomedia (a coastal town in Turkey), the senators were left to wonder about the true character of their new pubescent emperor. What they did know was that he was attractive, young and devoted to his god. How devoted, however, was unclear. He woke up with the sun every morning to perform the ritual dances required of Elagabal, escorted by a host of young Syrian girls. When Elagabalus finally began his procession into Rome, he was accompanied by his god in the form of a hunk of volcanic rock. The obsidian idol was set up in the most lavish of temples overlooking the many places of worship for Rome’s countless deities. Romans enjoyed and encouraged the worship of pretty much any god. There’s was a polytheistic leaning, with Jupiter, the king of the gods, taking precedence above all others. Unfortunately for the Romans, and especially for the senators, Elagabalus turned out to be a zealot. He forced the senators to pay tribute to Elagabal before each meeting and, in essence, to bow to him, Elagabalus, as the god’s representative on earth. Furthermore, he raised Elagabal, a foreign sun god, to the highest position in Roman religion. This first misstep was exacerbated by Elagabalus’s marriage to a Vestal Virgin, Aquilia Severa, in 220 AD. The emperor divorced his first wife, Julia Cornelia Paula (given the honorable title of Augusta upon her marriage in 219), for Severa, slighting Augusta’s powerful, aristocratic family in the process. Severa was the high priestess of Vesta, a cult whose primary responsibility was to ensure the safety and preservation of the Roman Empire, symbolized by an eternal flame tended to by the priestesses. Even a momentary snuffing of that flame would spell disaster. Vestal Virgins were called such as virginity was a requirement of their role. If one of them was found to have engaged in sexual acts with a man, her punishment was to be buried alive—a sentence that was carried out strictly. Elagabalus’s marriage to Severa was his first indication of sexual and religious irregularity. Even prior to the union, his agents throughout the realm kept their eyes peeled for any tasty morsel that might interest the emperor. Shortly after the marriage, a snack was sent his way in the form of a ruffian named Diocles. According to Cassius Dio (the premier gossip of ancient Rome), Elagabalus was besotted. So much so that he comfortably suffered abuse at Diocles’s hands; black eyes and bruises were boasted at more than one senate hearing. Elagabalus’s procurers went a slightly different route next time. The athlete, Zoticus, was shuttled to the capital after news of his extraordinarily large “equipment” reached the imperial palace. Elagabalus wined and dined

him in his private baths, but when it came time to perform, Zoticus proved a flaccid disgrace and was sent away tout suite. Next up in the marriage train was Annia Aurelia Faustina, another Roman noblewoman who Herodian, a civil servant turned historian, says Elagabalus married briefly in 221. She was a direct descendant of Marcus Aurelius and incredibly prominent as the widow of consul Pomponius Bassus, who Elagabalus had murdered shortly before his marriage to her. The following year, Elagabalus divorced Faustina and remarried his second wife, Severa, still shockingly above ground. To top it all off, Elagabalus saw it fit to host a fifth, public marriage, this time to another man, Hierocles, a former slave who had recently risen in status to charioteer of the emperor. Hierocles was said to be blonde and fair, with a powerful

“Imagine being thrust to the helm of the “civilized” world just as puberty hits. The access to power would have been intoxicating, even for a grown man.” form and physical prowess. Elagabalus reputedly referred to himself as the “wife” in their affair, which fell in line with Dio’s claim that the emperor responded to Zoticus upon their meeting, “Call me not lord for I am a lady.” Dio also claimed that Elagabalus dressed frequently in female garb and was willing to offer vast sums to anyone who could outfit him with working female genitalia (though this last bit is heatedly disputed). He even went so far as to renovate an interior wing of the imperial palace to look like a common brothel, with himself—entirely shaven, oiled and painted—as the primary attraction. Throughout Elagabalus’s ongoing, colorful romantic affairs, Julia Maesa was doing

everything she could to hold on to power. As it became more apparent that her grandson was unfit for political leadership, other options were considered, namely Elagabalus’s cousin, Alexander. Elagabalus was made to adopt Alexander as his son, which initially tickled the emperor, as his new son was only a few years his junior. He realized too late that implementing this Roman tradition of adoption was a move to displace him. Alexander was carefully guarded by the Praetorian Guard (who had been bought by Julia Maesa). Any attempt to access Alexander was met with indignation and uproar from the troops. At some point, the emperor felt compelled to restore order himself. He confronted the guards at their camp with his mother, Julia Soaemias. We don’t know exactly what transpired, but at some point things took a turn for the worse. Elagabalus tried to flee the situation in a chest carried by nervous slaves. His mother, frantically attempting to shield him from Praetorian advances, perished, as he did, at the point of the guards’ swords. Elagabalus was slain at age 18 on March 11, 222 AD. Both his and his mother’s bodies were decapitated and dragged naked through the streets of Rome. His mother’s corpse was thrown into an unknown ditch and his was tossed into the Tiber. Postmortem, he would come to be known via his final resting place: Tiberinus. Many of his associates were soon unseated or murdered, including Hierocles. Elagabalus’s cousin-son, Alexander Severus, was named emperor, ruling with his grandmother Julia Maesa and mother Julia Mamaea. Damnatio memoriae (a practice also found in Ancient Egypt) was activated after Elagabalus’s death, meaning that all traces of him and his life were erased or reconfigured within the capital. In the last century, study around this saucy son of Rome has taken a notably homophobic tone. Though his brief reign was looked on contemporaneously as problematic, when viewed through a modern lens, there is much to be admired. The freedom with which Elagabalus explored his sexual appetites was at times radical and at others impressive. Imagine being thrust to the helm of the “civilized” world just as puberty hits. The access to power would have been intoxicating, even for a grown man. For a boy (or a gender nonconforming person, as might be the case here) it was likely impossible to navigate. Rather than the freakish example of late Roman decline that he’s been painted as, Elagabalus should instead be viewed as a unique case study for non-binary experiences in the ancient world, as well as the victim of political machinations far beyond his youthful comprehension. His short life gives us proof of an ancient spectrum, just as it shines light on ancient prejudice, providing fodder for contemporary narratives outside of the binary. 49

Champagne Supernova in the Sky

In the French language, the word “degrè” is used for both air temperature and to measure a percentage of alcohol. So is a difference of one or two per cent of alcohol in the production of champagne as important as a few degrees difference in air temperature? It might seem like a question of the vague, or non-tangible, but a collaboration between artist Tomás Saraceno and the world’s oldest champagne house, Ruinart, founded in 1729, proves quite the opposite. BY HENRI ROBERT

TOMÁS SARACENO, THE BERLIN-BASED Argentine artist, has developed a central project in his work, the Aerocene balloon—collaboratively developed aerosolar sculptures that depend on nothing but thermodynamics to fly. Saraceno believes we are living in the Anthropocene era—a geological epoch in which some human activities leave such a significant impact that they profoundly modify terrestrial ecologies. In Reims, France, the champagne house Ruinart has invited the artist and his balloons for a collaboration. These floating sculptures depend on balance: between the air inside and the air outside, between temperatures, between the sun and the wind. They have utopian aspirations, but real working mechanics. In 2019, Ruinart inaugurated its Countdown program, launched to count down to the 300th anniversary of the house in 2029. First they invited painter and cartoonist David Shrigley, who left his mark on the eight kilometers of limestone galleries that conserve the champagne. Now, they welcome Saraceno to produce a permanent digital work, an installation in Augmented Reality. It is part of the next step in the company’s ecological program, following the “Second Skin” launched in 2020 as an eco-designed alternative to traditional champagne boxes. The movement of Saraceno’s Aerocene can be recorded with a GPS tracker, and a flight in Reims at the beginning of July will see the AR sculpture act like a “paintbrush to paint the air,” guided by both the human hand and the movements of air. At the end of May, as the artist and his team were testing the project and making preparatory flights, I had the opportunity to witness the impacts of the subtle variations of temperature: a cloud crossing the courtyard of the house making the balloon drop, before a few seconds


later resuming its flight up. In these movements, different allegories appear, with the textile structure looking momentarily like a ray, a few seconds later a triangle, a black hat, giving a form to the consequences of climatic changes, making it tangible. As Frédéric Dufour, President of Ruinart, explains, “There is an urgent need to step up actions to nurture biodiversity and mitigate climate change in the Champagne region.” As part of an ecological project to fight against the climate emergency and restore biodiversity, Ruinart is working with Reforest’Action to establish an ambitious biodiversity pilot project in its Taissy vineyard. Between 2021 and 2022, nearly 14,000 trees and shrubs will be planted across 4.4 kilometers of hedges and 800 square meters of islets. Local wood species have been selected to improve biodiversity and to provide habitats for fauna useful for growing vines, such as ladybugs, birds and bats. The idea is to “regenerate the soil and bring back the original fauna and flora to this parcel through these vitiforestry practices, which allow us to re-establish ecological corridors within the historic Taissy vineyard” adds Frédéric Panaïotis, Ruinart’s Cellar Master. Sensitive to the work of Bruno Latour and the psychoanalyst and philosopher Félix Guattari, and his concept of ecosophy (ecological philosophy), Tomás Saraceno doesn’t offer immersive art, but a process by which we might be immersed in the Earth, and humanity, in a process of sharing through art. From spiders to wine, to humans and the cosmic, if we are determined to keep all the species sharing this planetary journey alive, we’ll have to find a way to stabilize atmospheric temperatures and find new forms of balance and solidarity between all beings.

Tomás Saraceno, towards an Aerocene era Making of Movement [49.190091, 4.064507] 20.05.2021 Reims, France Augmented reality Aeroglyphic sculpture formed by a sitespecific trajectory made with the Aerocene Backpack. A Movement to free the air from fossil fuels, lifted only the air and sun and moved by the wind. For Maison Ruinart. 51

Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum FIU May 29 — September 19, 2021

10975 SW 17 th St, Miami, FL 33199 | 305.348.2890 | Roland Woods, Jr., Pitts and Lee, print, 1977, From the Permanent Art Collection of the Miami-Dade Public Library System This exhibition was made possible with generous support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Art Dealers Association of America Foundation, PNC Bank, the Office of Commissioner Ken Russell, the Coconut Grove Business Improvement District, and the members of the Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum. Additional support has been generously provided by the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs and the Cultural Affairs Council, the Miami-Dade County Mayor and Board of County Commissioners; the State of Florida, Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs and the Florida Council on Arts and Culture; and members of the Frost Art Museum.


Featured Artists & Conversations Thursdays, July 8 - August 5, 2021

Presenting Sponsor: TOBY DEVAN LEWIS Premier Sponsor:

Alexis Rockman | Simone Leigh Tyler Mitchell | Derrick Adams Scott Rothkopf

RECOGNITION WEEK July 12 - 16, 2021

A week-long celebration of our 2021 International Artist Honoree Simone Leigh, with a special appearance by The Guerrilla Girls, and featured collaborations with Aspen Film, Aspen Words, and Jazz Aspen Snowmass.

REGISTER AT ANDERSONRANCH.ORG Located 15 minutes from downtown Aspen, Colorado Anderson Ranch Arts Center 5263 Owl Creek Road Snowmass Village, CO 81615 970/923-3181

Simone Leigh Photo Credit: Shaniqwa Jarvis


Born in Paris to a white French mother and a Black Belgo-Congolese father and exposed to a variety of cultures growing up, it took Tiffanie Delune a while to appreciate the complexity of her identity. Just as it took her a while to understand that she could be the artist she dreamed of, in spite of her humble beginnings and a background of limited means. It was the birth of her son that stirred her to finally leave an unsatisfying London advertising job in order to paint. Now, a few years later, Delune has made a big move to warmer, brighter Lisbon in search of more light and more creative space. BY ENUMA OKORO SELF-PORTRAIT BY THE ARTIST





HER PAINTINGS ARE LUMINOUS and vibrant, evoking vivid dreams and eliciting joy and sheer delight. That’s the best way I know to describe the colorful, mixed-media work of French BelgoCongolese visual artist Tiffanie Delune. Her images tickle our childlike sensibilities while spontaneously inviting us to reflect on the interplay of light, shadow and the movement of our interior lives. Hardly surprising, as Delune is a woman living a life of intentional intimacy with herself, her work and her environment. In March, the self-taught 32-year-old artist took her 4-yearold son and left London, where she’d been since 2017, to move to Lisbon, Portugal. She was drawn towards a longing for the closer-knit sense of community that a smaller and more Southern city might provide. I spoke to her by Zoom, one bright spring afternoon last month, the sunlight pouring onto one of her radiant six-by-five-foot paintings hanging behind her.

“We have to acknowledge our light, but we also have to understand our shadow. Most of the time what lies in your shadow is actually what you want, outside of all the external pressures you may have received, or even your own fears. Owning my shadow self meant acknowledging that I am an artist, something I tried to deny for years.” But coming to terms with a more authentic version of herself also meant understanding her past history and heritage. “I had to understand my parents’ stories, where they came from, the collective trauma I was carrying from my family, but also on a bigger level, even the colonization by Belgium of the Congolese, understanding what they did, how it affected people.” All this self-work has had a large impact on how she creates her large-scale, spirited pieces that dance between abstraction and

comes from my past, feeling so much sorrow and sadness and lack of joy in my childhood.” Delune is self-taught, and when she started painting, she felt like she wanted to return to that childhood, but in a way that could fill it with the experiences she didn’t have. She naturally expressed this through primary colors, eventually learning to mix and blend for tones and shades to communicate nuanced feelings. And yet, her instinct towards mixed media, blending textures like feathers and flowers and thread and paper with acrylic and oil paints, comes from the brighter parts of her childhood, that she recalls with gratitude. “My father has a very cheeky, childlike energy about him. He was always drawing on random napkins and things, and that’s where I first encountered art, through him. And even though we had no means, he insisted we had a public library card, and also that, on weekends,

“WE HAVE TO ACKNOWLEDGE OUR LIGHT, BUT WE ALSO HAVE TO UNDERSTAND OUR SHADOW. MOST OF THE TIME WHAT LIES IN YOUR SHADOW IS ACTUALLY WHAT YOU WANT, OUTSIDE OF ALL “As a creative, natural light is very important to me. I struggled with that in London. Here, I find it so refreshing to wake up with the light or the sun. Very early, like 6 or 7 AM, and I’m already very energized, eager to get moving into my day,” she says. Delune guards her mornings as sacred time. She avoids all social media and the news for the first several hours of the day. Before her son wakes up, she rises to do yoga, and to sketch whatever is lingering from her dreams, or what has come to her for a work in progress after a night’s rest. Her practice is fueled by a keen focus on her internal life, what she’s intuiting and her external environment. She describes her way of making art as “navigating between her shadow self, and yet full of light, movement and energy forms.” This in turn informs her practices of self-awareness and social responsibility, because she firmly believes that to be a better person in society, and to make authentic work, you first have to have a fuller understanding of yourself.


figuration and boast themes of identity, humans’ relationships with nature and an empowering femininity that promotes self-acceptance. Delune was born in Paris, France to a white French mother and a Black Belgo-Congolese father. In her telling, her childhood was spotted with trials and traumatic experiences that often made her feel like her innocence was stolen from her. “We were poor. My mother left us when I was a toddler and I grew up with my father in low-income housing. We were expelled from houses. I slept in motels and all sort of places, even living in an abandoned house. My love of colors does come from who I am as a woman today, and all my travels to places like Egypt, Nigeria, Indonesia and the Caribbean. I see all of these bright colors everywhere, in buildings, in the food, in how people dress. And I feel that we lose this sometimes in Western cities, where everything is coded and made to look perfect and the same. But even before this, a large part of my attraction to bold colors in my work

we should take our bags and go explore and go see things. He hated the idea of us just staying in our neighborhoods.” Her father planted in her a sense of curiosity and a willingness to try things even when she didn’t think she had what it took. She laughs at the memory of how every Wednesday she would go to the library and pick DIY and art books, and try to replicate the crafts without having the necessary items. “I would come home and try to just make do with what I had, being playful and creative with cardboard and whatever materials I could find. Because my father would encourage that. He taught us to be resourceful and would say to me, ‘We don’t have the list, but that’s okay. Make something else. It’s not the same, but it is.’” He taught her very early that it’s okay when you don’t have all the supposed necessary things to still create your vision. You just stay curious and work with what you have. The lesson stayed with Delune, feeding her imagination about what was possible if she stayed open,


When she finally started painting, she had to learn to find her visual language and to trust her voice. “I was only using paint when I started but it felt so flat and not reflective of who I am. Something was missing. Then one day I said to myself, ‘You know what? Let go of rules. Let go of what you think art should be and just do what you want to do. So I basically returned to that little girl in her room as a child who used to think, ‘Oh, this is an interesting material. I could put it here and put that there.’ I started thinking about being resourceful again and not always thinking I need the best canvas or best paint, to focus on what’s inside of me. It was the playfulness that I took from my father. I remembered his encouragement to be bold and to just try things.” Within less than two years, she joined the London-based gallery Ed Cross Fine Art, and has since exhibited in London, Paris, Lagos and Los Angeles. Her work is in both private collections and the permanent collections of the Fondation Gandur pour l’Art in Geneva, Switzerland, and the New York-Presbyterian Hospital for Women and Newborns. Delune is especially proud

of her diverse collector base, because she understands that to mean that she is stirring different conversations between a wide range of people. With her own rich and diverse ethnic and racial background, she understands herself as a multifaceted being who can be at home anywhere while still having a strong sense of identity. “When I was growing up, there was no one like me around—mixed yes, but my skin looks like a white person’s and my features look like a Black person’s. And I grew up with my father who is Black, so we were always getting questions from people, like asking if my father was my father? It was difficult from both communities, white and Black. The figures in my paintings are black, white, orange, blue, green and more. Because the conversation I’m having through my work goes further than skin color. I want to touch on beauty as a whole. When I make the work it is for myself first and foremost. But I also think about how I want many different kinds of people to be touched. It’s important to me to open different kinds of conversations, and I feel that happens when my work touches different kinds of people.”

curious and creative in life. But it still took years before she gathered the courage and belief in herself to practice art professionally. “You know, even with all that, I knew we didn’t have the means for me to go to art school. Plus, I lacked confidence in myself. So I discouraged myself from pursuing art. I knew it was what I wanted to do but I went into advertising instead.” She spent ten years in advertising. Then in 2017 she gave birth to her son, and when she returned to work, she realized that she was “the most unhappy” she’d ever been in her adult life. “Having a child is like a mirror, and I thought, ‘I’m going to tell him that he can do anything and be anyone and I will support him, but I’m not doing that with my own life.’ What message would I be sending him? I had to stop making excuses for myself.” Feelings Will Come Find You, 2021 57


In the medieval city of Ghent, in their monochrome granite lair, two of the century’s most influential musicians and DJs, David and Stephen Dewaele, have built a perfect studio for the artist label of their dreams. Now they’re preparing a very special release. BY ZACH SCHLEIN PORTRAIT BY JORRE JANSSENS

DAVID AND STEPHEN DEWAELE didn’t set out to build a solitary doomsday bunker. Although the brothers—known to fans for their raveready rock, coveted remixes and ambitious live shows as Soulwax, as well as their genrebending turntable antics as 2manydjs— commissioned Studio DEEWEE with refuge in mind, collaboration was built explicitly into the floor plans. You wouldn’t know it just by looking at it: situated in the pair’s hometown of Ghent, Belgium, the building strikes an imposing figure, standing at four stories tall and decked out in an opaque, black and white granite finish. Its dissimilarity to the surrounding area’s medieval aesthetic only enhances the thought that it’d make for prime real estate as a social distancing stronghold. Studio DEEWEE’s inner workings share its exterior’s sleekness, if not its austerity. Taking cues from mid-20th century Italian and Japanese architecture, no space is wasted in its minimalist design. The building boasts a recording studio with adjustable acoustic panels, plentiful storage for the brothers’ vast collection of musical gear, a conference room doubling as a library for more than 60,000 vinyl records, and even a proper bedroom for guests. It’s as fertile a creative ground as a musician could hope for, so much so that the Dewaeles decided to create a whole record label around it. Beginning with the building as its first cataloged project, DEEWEE was founded in 2015 with very specific parameters detailed in its manifesto: “Every DEEWEE release is written, recorded or mixed in the building by David and Stephen Dewaele.”


“It always comes down to this building,” says Stephen, the older of the two. “It’s a collaborative effort on every level, between the people who sing the songs, play the songs and Dave and me who sometimes co-write, co-produce and always mix it on”—he lifts the camera to display the 1969 Cadac mixing console it’s resting on—“this mother ship. Everything that you’ve heard on DEEWEE has been mixed and produced on this desk by the two of us.” The studio’s myriad musical offspring are all highlighted on its latest release, Foundations. The record marks the label’s first compilation and 50th project, doubling as a celebration of five years of DEEWEE and a preview of what’s to come. With a title winking at the music’s shared place of origin, the album spends 27 tracks and two hours surveying the sweeping musical universe the brothers and their collaborators have created. Foundations encompasses everything from the ethereal electro-pop of Belgian-Caribbean songstress and breakout act Charlotte Adigéry to relentless synthesizer flexes by the likes of Asa Moto and Extra Credit; there’s even a sensuous spoken word contribution from Chloë Sevigny. Foundations is the culmination of an unorthodox undertaking made even more difficult by an unprecedented year. As one might expect, the pandemic has posed a challenge for DEEWEE’s collaborative ethos. The Dewaeles had just played a music festival in San Diego as 2manydjs when the situation reached critical mass in March 2020; they barely made it back to Belgium before Europe

collectively entered lockdown. No longer an international port for adventurous musicians, Studio DEEWEE became a well-furnished foxhole for the brothers. They settled into a groove very early on, channeling their creative energies into scoring an as-yet-unannounced project and prepping the release of last year’s Soulwax album recorded entirely on the storied EMS Synthi 100 synthesizer. Many days were spent working with DEEWEE artists over FaceTime and Zoom. Some acts, like Charlotte and Movulango, were able to come into the studio as Belgium’s lockdown rules ebbed and flowed. Two of the three songs debuting on Foundations—“Bear With Me (and I’ll stand bare before you)” by Charlotte and James Righton’s “Release Party”—resulted from these sessions. Hers is an affecting account of life in quarantine, while his is a sultry, Prince-channeling cut envisioning postpandemic euphoria. Foundations’s very title can be considered a double entendre, referencing both the music that’s already emerged from the building and whatever might materialize next; besides multiple forthcoming EPs and LPs at various stages of completion, there’s also DEEWEE TEEVEE, a heavily stylized online series featuring artist performances and interviews as a visual companion to the compilation. Ultimately, David and Stephen feel just as invested in empowering their peers through DEEWEE as they do in any project under the Soulwax or 2manydjs umbrellas. “A couple of years ago, we had a conversation with people who were interested in distributing DEEWEE as a label. They were like, ‘You guys are not a record label— you’re an artist label. You guys are the worst businesspeople ever.’ And they were probably right,” Stephen remembers. “It’s a very long and emotional ride sometimes, but in the end, it’s something that’s gratifying and I think beneficial for everyone.” “We are as involved as we would be on a Soulwax album or any 2manydjs project,” David says. “So for us, any manageable piece of success—whether that’s ‘Oohh, she’s getting [placed on] playlists’ or ‘She’s getting a great gig there’—we feel the same amount of accomplishment as we would from anything similar with Soulwax. So even though it might seem like, ‘Oh, we’re putting out other people’s music this year,’ we feel as involved as the artists do.”


David and Stephen Dewaele share a rare quiet moment at Studio DEEWEE. 59

Mountain Highs In recent years Aspen has emerged as one of North America’s great contemporary-art destinations. After a chaotic year, the Colorado culture haven is now reopening with a bounty of exhibitions, talks, angels, gardens and summer festivals.

▲ GARDEN ANGELS Aspen Art Museum Precious Okoyomon is building an ecosystem to last through the seasons: Every Earthly Morning the Sky’s Light touches Ur Life is Unprecedented in its Beauty. On the rooftop of the Aspen Art Museum, the artist and recipient of the 2021 Frieze Artist Award will blend sculpture and organic matter, culminating in a garden that reflects themes of both pleasure and abundance, colonization and enslavement. Okoyomon will cross-pollinate plants that are indigenous or invasive to the region as part of their ongoing exploration of the racialization and colonization of the natural world—but in a bid for hope and love, they will erect colossal “angel protector” statues to safeguard the garden and those within it. As each solstice passes, Okoyomon will celebrate Black feminism and queerness in the company of friends, who will also contribute to the installation. Dreamy and celestial, yet grounded firmly in dirt and truth, Okoyomon’s garden will be something both of this world and beyond.

Simphiwe Mbunyuza, Iselwa, 2021.

▲ EXAMINING A BLACK UTOPIA Anderson Ranch Arts Center The work of Tyler Mitchell is ethereal and commanding, capturing the nuances of Black experience through a velveteen, warm light and fairy-tale pastels. The photographer, who notably shot Beyoncé for Vogue’s 2018 September Issue, will sit down with Anderson Ranch Curator-In-Residence Helen Molesworth to discuss his momentous work, which has redefined the lens of Blackness in art and photography.

▲ Tyler Mitchell, Untitled (Group Hula Hoop), 2019. Published in I Can Make You Feel Good (Prestel, 2020). 60

▲ ROOTS UNEARTHED Marianne Boesky Gallery Aspen Sculptor Simphiwe Mbunyuza carries his Xhosa roots through to his ceramic work in “Isibaya”. In the exhibition at the renowned Marianne Boesky, Mbunyuza, who grew up in South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province, brings beauty to function. Immense pots appear to be sculpted from the Earth, punctuated by breathtaking yet understated plots of color, as “Isibaya” begins to excavate the weight of Bantu history and culture.

▲ CRUSHING IT Aspen Art Museum After a brief pandemic interlude, the Aspen Art Museum’s annual ArtCrush festival is back. Running for three glorious days in August, ArtCrush proffers the best and brightest of today’s art stars. Collectors and connoisseurs alike flock to the festivities, which have been an annual affair since 2005.


Portrait of Precious Okoyomon. Photo by Sam Penn.


Why not take a break from the city? As the world opens up, the Hamptons art scene is ready for a revival. Here’s our guide to the must-see shows and events in the East End this summer.

Out East

▲ RECKONING WITH HISTORY Parrish Art Museum The Parrish Art Museum’s 2020-21 Platform Artist, Tomashi Jackson, exhibits her multidisciplinary project “The Land Claim” starting July 10. Focusing on the historic and contemporary experiences of Indigenous, Black, and Latinx communities in the East End, “The Land Claim” investigates local history in an interdisciplinary fashion. Jackson mixes artistic mediums and methods in conjunction with historical documentation and contemporary sources. “The Land Claim” is the culmination of a 12-month phased project, postponed from 2020. It is laced with visceral reckoning and acknowledgment, as Jackson juxtaposes historical segregation with today’s systems of inequity in the East End.

Pablo Picasso, Weeping Head, 1937.


Tomashi Jackson, Peaches and Cream (The Gerrymander), 2018.

▲ POWER PLAYERS COLLIDE Guild Hall Performance artist Laurie Anderson and painter and filmmaker (and long-time Hamptons dweller) Julian Schnabel will sit down at the storied Guild Hall for an intimate conversation on their celebrated careers and friendship this summer. Both recipients of the Art Hub’s Lifetime Achievement in the Visual Arts Award, Anderson’s and Schnabel’s works are larger than life, in sound and scope. Fueled by a long interpersonal (Anderson’s late husband Lou Reed helped the friendship bloom) and artistic history, the chat is set to be poignant and perceptive.

▲ THE (NOT SO) ODD COUPLE Pollock-Krasner House Jackson Pollock likely springs thoughts of splatters and splashes. The artist’s work, however, was greatly informed by that of Pablo Picasso. “Picasso in Pollock” at the PollockKrasner House will trace notes of the former in the latter’s work, most notably in Untitled (Composition with Red Arc and Horses) (c. 1938), which was influenced by the motifs in one of Picasso’s masterworks, Guernica (1937). The pairing suggests that though separated by an ocean, a generation and technique, Pollock and Picasso may have more in common than their fame.

▲ SHADES OF SUMMER Berggruen Gallery in East Hampton San Francisco’s Berggruen Gallery is coming to the beach. From May 14 to September 30, the pop-up gallery will exhibit a smorgasbord of modern and contemporary works, from post-war iconoclasts like Helen Frankenthaler and Wayne Thiebaud to today’s rising stars Odili Donald Odita and Diana al-Hadid. As the East End heats up under the summer sun, Thiebaud’s dripping, sweet seascapes and candy and Odita’s punchy colors make for a refreshing reprieve.

Photograph by Louise Kugelberg



Mask Vessel by Eric Roinestad (one of a kind)

Higher Fidelity

Louis Vuitton’s new Horizon Speaker connects us to an ever-expanding universe of music; one that reaches as far as the eye can hear, and that’s just waiting to be explored.



FOUR YEARS AGO, LOUIS VUITTON launched its first smartwatch. “We don’t know where the industry of connected objects is going, but we know it’s going to be massive,” Louis Vuitton chairman and chief executive Michael Burke told Business of Fashion in 2017. Now, in 2021, with a slew of tech accessories already released as part of the house’s “Connected Objects” series, Vuitton is cementing its presence in the industry of connected objects with a new product: the Horizon Speaker. Louis Vuitton presents the speaker as an “immersive experience” that not only wafts sound around a space, but also lights up, flashing in Technicolor to the beat of the song streaming. The Horizon Speaker is suitable for the outdoors as well as inside—it can follow the party as it makes its way from the kitchen or living room to the backyards of summer.


It’s flexible and adaptable, but remains timeless: the Horizon is wrapped in luxe monogrammed black leather, reminding us of Vuitton’s heritage and craftsmanship. Echoing the geometry of an alien spacecraft, the speaker suggests something futuristic, something on the cusp. The way we listen to and consume music is in flux, altered by a year-long absence of live performance. No festivals, no tours, no concerts. Both the music industry and the listener experience are changing. Consuming music has been irrevocably transformed by the pandemic: live concerts no longer require the physical presence of an audience, but are now streamed across cyberspace, into the ears of audiophiles everywhere. The Horizon Speaker is arriving promptly, just as the scope of music and performance as we know it reorients itself.


The Finest Italian Linens Since 1860

Suro’s World

Come meet the mastermind of Mexico’s leading ceramic studio, Cerámica Suro, who is creating incredibly complicated and ornate projects across the world from Los Angeles to Paris and for everyone from the Haas Brothers and David Adjaye to René Redzepi. BY SAMANTHA BROOKS PORTRAIT BY IZAK RAPPAPORT

WHEN DESCRIBING HIS WORK, one of the first things José Noé Suro Salceda, known as Suro, will tell you is that he’s not an artist. “I’m not a professional designer. I’m not talented in that field,” says the Guadalajarabased owner of arguably Mexico’s most recognized ceramic studio. “We’re a place that facilitates creative minds to push their imaginations.” Using his technical knowledge and comprehensive background working in the ceramic industry for nearly 30 years, Suro has turned what was once a family workshop that manufactured dinnerware and decorative objects for Mexico’s leading resorts into an incubator for global artists, working with such recognized names as the Haas Brothers, David Adjaye and Sarah Crowner. “I grew up in the studio with my father, who started the factory in Tlaquepaque [Guadalajara’s artistic hub] in the late seventies, when the resorts in Acapulco started to develop. He made decorative pieces and china for them, then he worked with Hyatt International as other regions were developing in Mexico,” Suro says. Hotel GMs eventually started to seek out the studio to create custom collections for their hotels that couldn’t be found elsewhere. “When Las Ventanas opened in Los Cabos, they came to us, and that changed everything. It was a new level of luxury that Mexico hadn’t had before, and at the same time, we were working with artists, galleries and museums, so we were really growing in a range of directions.” Although Suro grew up in his father’s studio, spending every summer vacation learning from him, he decided to try another path and go to law school. “I hated being a lawyer though, so I went to work with my father in 1993, and I brought in artists to collaborate with us. Some of the first were Jorge Pardo and Jose Dávila, who are very successful now, and we still work with today.” The studio continues to mentor emerging artists like Eduardo Sarabia, Alejandro Garcia Contreras and Renata Morales, and there is almost always an independent artist working and creating among the staff. While the range in what Cerámica Suro now creates varies quite a bit—anything from colorful custom dinnerware for interior designers and resorts like Zadún Ritz-Carlton Reserve to lamps, decorative pieces and metallic architectural tiles—the need to relentlessly evolve and push the envelope remains a constant. Currently, in Los Angeles, Suro is working to install a series of eight murals around the exterior of the Haas Brothers’ studio space in Downtown Los Angeles. “It’s a public work, comprised of hundreds of thousands of pieces that create different murals. It’s very them, with playful little


monsters, little cats. I’m positive it will be one of those places where people go to take photos for their Instagram,” says Suro. “They were very clear on what they wanted and what their vision was. They sent their design, and we sent them the color samples. It went into production and will be installed by summer.” Ceramic murals are becoming increasingly popular for Suro. Elsewhere in LA, he recently worked with Pae White to create a seven-story exterior mural at the Beverly Center. “There were 103 colors in that mural. Normally, a factory would limit production to 10 to 15 colors because it’s so complicated to produce, but we’ve figured out how to do things like this over the years and make it work.” Although many adopt liberal parameters when it comes to defining art, Suro is quick to set boundaries. “Some people will say that chefs are artists, but I disagree,” he says, despite working with two of the most acclaimed and innovative chefs in the world, Enrique Olvera and René Redzepi. “I was at Pujol many years ago and loved the experience. I asked to meet the chef [Olvera], and when he came to the table, I said I’d love to work with him.” The two have since become close friends, and Suro has created dining pieces for Olvera’s Pujol in Mexico City, Manta in Cabo and Damian in Los Angeles. He’s also currently working with Redzepi on his new space in Copenhagen, and adds that he admires and is eager to work with David Chang of Momofuku fame. “I cannot produce millions or hundreds of thousands of plates and tabletop items for restaurants. I made the decision to only work with chefs I love and have respect for their food and practice,” says Suro. “One of the great things about Enrique and René is that they’re also thinking about the way we’ll eat in the future, with less protein, and have such respect for the ingredients and how they’re sourced responsibly.” When it comes to Suro’s future, he is underway with producing a tile line with a handful of recognized artists. “It’s a selection of architects, fashion designers and artists that will create a line with us. I can’t release the names yet, but it will be a special project,” he says. Also on the horizon, Suro is creating two monumental murals with Jorge Pardo—one in Paris, comprised of 478,000 pieces across 10,000 square feet of wall space inside a private home that will include 24 different shapes and 38 different colors, and another in Geneva in a public space for a museum. In Mexico, he’s working with five emerging artists to do five murals for the Jumex juice factory in Monterrey. “The owner of the company is a big art collector,” says Suro. “Art belongs in many places, not just private collections or a museum. I like to see art in unexpected places.”

Guadalajara-based Suro (right) stands in front of the Highland Park coffee shop owned by the Haas Brothers (Simon at left, Nikolai in the center), where he is installing a custom, eightpart ceramic-tiled mural for them, comprised of hundreds of thousands of pieces. 71


Author and artist Sophia Giovannitti breaks through with her first solo show at Recess in New York, which explores the entanglements of the sex and art industries. Playwright and comic Emily Allan delves into the snarl. PORTRAIT BY JOHNNY KOMAR


“QU’EST CE QUE L’ART? Prostitution.” Perhaps put most succinctly by Charles Baudelaire in 1887, the rhetorical evocation of “the oldest profession in the world” is arguably the oldest metaphor for the contemporary art industry; artists and critics have long used the figure of the sex worker as a ready-made allegory to express a wide variety of critiques: a comparison of the formalist fetishization of the art object and the pornographic commodification of

Part of what drives the comparison between artists and sex workers, Giovannitti explains, is that each occupies a similar position under capitalism. Both sex and art are rampantly commodified, yet we are told they shouldn’t be, that sexuality and human expression should be kept sacred and protected from the tainting, consuming jaws of the market.

women’s bodies; the derogatory dismissal of the “art whore” as one who compromises their values according to the whims of the market; and, as modeled in Marina Abramović’s Role Exchange (1975), the performative equivalency of the positions of artist and prostitute as indicative of anxiety about the value and commodification of creative expression. In her inaugural solo exhibition, “Untitled (Incall),” at Recess Gallery in Brooklyn, Sophia Giovannitti attacks this kind of figurative comparison, calling for an abandonment of metaphor in favor of material analysis and a total collapse of the separation between the art and sex industries. The show’s title is a formal reference to the Andrea Fraser piece Untitled (2003), in which Fraser filmed herself having sex with an art collector to complete a contractual agreement for an art acquisition;

the collector then purchased the resulting sex tape, reportedly for $20,000. Following a barrage of dismissive criticism, Fraser took pains to distinguish her piece from sex work; in a 2016 interview with The Brooklyn Rail, she insisted that the piece was “not really about prostitution;” rather, it was an institutional critique of the extractive, fantasy-based relationship between artists and collectors, “about what it means to be an artist and sell your work—sell what may be, what should be, a very intimate part of yourself.” For Giovannitti, who transformed the gallery into an erotic reading room and incall space (narc translation: a place where sex workers meet with clients), inviting potential collectors to solicit her for the price of $20,000, the metaphorical offerings of Abramović and Fraser are “just not interesting.” What is interesting, she tells me as we perch under the space’s fluorescent lights atop a bed strewn with dried roses, is money. Specifically, the “actual, circular flow of capital,” which betrays the material overlap between the art and sex economies. Giovannitti follows the logic of Annie Sprinkle, who famously stated that the sex industry funds more artists than the National Endowment of the Arts. Giovannitti points out that the purchase of erotic labor from precarious, emerging artists funds much of the individual cultural production in New York City today. By placing herself in Fraser’s role, but directing attention to the material rather than the metaphor, Giovannitti invites a critique of her own position; as was also true for Fraser, class, race, gender and education are what allow her the institutional access to lucratively and self-protectively identify as an artist rather than a sex worker, and to frame her work as a creative provocation rather than a punishable crime. Part of what drives the comparison between artists and sex workers, Giovannitti explains, is that each occupies a similar position under capitalism. Both sex and art are rampantly commodified, yet we are told they shouldn’t be, that sexuality and human expression should be kept sacred and protected from the tainting, consuming jaws of the market. Both sex and art are sold in hypercapitalist spheres that exist on the outskirts of the formal economy, and the illicit/anxious nature around this exchange makes it possible—for some—to profit handsomely from either. For Giovannitti, liberation—and the end of the illusion of scarcity that creates wealth disparity for

sex and art workers—can only come from acknowledging that sex, like art, is “always already commodified,” and from a materialist perspective, there is no way out but through. In an email, Giovannitti tells me that “I think that only in fully embracing this reality, and abandoning all pretense that either area is somehow inherently outside of capital’s reach, can we begin to find areas that do feel wholly free, and wholly ours.” At Recess, there are photographs of Sophia in a state of post-fellatial coitus, modeled after one of Cicciolina’s poses in Jeff Koons’s infamous Made in Heaven series. (“I think some of the most beautiful art is pornographic images of people in love,” Sophia tells me, “and I think the Koons and Cicciolina photos are beautiful—I just think he then treated her like shit.”) On June 12, the gallery will host a screening of a new short film, In Heaven: An Alternate Reality Game, directed by Giovannitti and co-starring and produced by the artist Tourmaline, a cherubic hurt/comfort fantasy that will function both as a stand-alone artwork and as an advertisement for an escort service. The design of this show is seemingly prefigurative of a larger vision Giovannitti puts forth in her artist statement: I want to put on a Guggenheim show that is a glorified brothel throughout the spiraled gallery, staffed by friends who are in need of new clients, who otherwise wouldn’t have the same access to gentrified art spaces— and the wealth implicit within them—that I would. I want Andrea Fraser to admit she made Untitled just because she needed the money. When the Eros Guide advertising platform finally shutters, I want Artforum to give ad space to whores, heralding the return of previously shut down professional Adult classifieds under the guise of studio visits and one-woman shows. I want the art collector who buys oral sex to consider it a commodity that appreciates in value—if he sells its memory to the next collector for $10,000, up from $500, then the artist herself can now charge $10,000, up from $500. I want everyone to see that really, it’s blow jobs—if you will—all the way down. If anyone cares to mount a critique of Giovannitti’s vision of criminal utopia, or defend the sanctity of the art world from a proposed total union between the industries of sex and art, speak now. More provocations from Giovannitti are imminent; her first book, Working Girl: Art and Sex Under Capitalism, is forthcoming from Verso in 2023. 73

THE ARTIST WITH NO NAME Pseudonymous artist 0010x0010 has teamed up with virtual gallery Xumiiro to take us deep within ourselves, and how it feels to be alive right now.

AT ONCE UNSETTLING AND entrancing, the artist known as 0010x0010’s work seeks to simulate otherwise incommunicable experiences of psychological distress. In a recent exhibition entitled “MØDVLXXR” at the MOCA Bangkok, threechannel video projections of the artist’s hypnotizing films resemble renaissance polyptychs of scenes of sickness and decay. It seems that despite the obvious technological virtuosity with which this digitally native artist’s works appear, suppurating at the core of his practice is his fixation with existential questions about the darkness of the human mind, something that has plagued artists since the birth of civilization. While radically different in terms of material, 0010x0010 plumbs the same agonized territory as artists like Vincent van Gogh, who probably not so coincidentally hails from the same region in the Netherlands where 0010x0010 himself grew up. 0010x0010 tells me he recognizes in the modern master’s paintings the use of art to give the place, Helmond, which quite literally translates to “hell’s mouth,” “beauty, at least to survive.” A similar motivation seems to drive 0010x0010 except his landscape isn’t so much physical as it is mental. Aesthetically overwhelming installations and artworks allow 0010x0010 to externalize and countenance feelings of depression, mania, and loneliness. Trauma and mental illness are both the root and inspiration for his work and also its subjects. Paradoxically, even as his work enters the world under a pseudonym, it is deeply intertwined with his life story and personal experience. For example, the name he has chosen is the binary code for the date of his birthday: 2/2. It’s another probably not so coincidental fact that highlights his fixation with duality, which runs throughout everything he does. But the idea of a split self doesn’t just resonate for the artist numerologically; he was born to a Melanesian father and a European mother and says this gave him the distinct feeling of not belonging entirely anywhere while growing up. Indeed, 0010x0010 is just one of many monikers that he has released work under, and in just one of the fields he creates in. In addition to his work as an artist, he is an accomplished actor, a prolific musician, and was the visual supervisor on a documentary about the great Andrei Tarkovsky. While neither his life or work straightforwardly endorse or indict the fracturing of identity that the digital age has ushered in, 0010x0010 has certainly pursued many possibilities. At the time of publication, he had just sold his first NFT Glitch Bunny at SuperRare for 11 ETH, a price that placed the artist’s work as the third highest sale on the platform for the week of May 23. Right now, a powerful virtual exhibition of his work can be viewed through his gallery Xumiiro, a pioneering new space run by Nalada Taechanarong that’s looking to change the way we see digital art, and to blend the real and online worlds.


ZYQ BY 0010X0010. 75

Printed 76


Artist Fiona Connor talks with Gracie Hadland about documentation, social networks and the ongoing importance of books. PORTRAIT BY BRUCE CONNOR 77

GRACIE HADLAND: In a lot of your work, it seems like you’re interested in how things are recorded through physical objects or printed matter, how they function as a kind of object of memory or a recording of a time or experience. Can you talk about that and its relationship to documentation? FIONA CONNOR: There’s a Venn diagram: photography as documentation and then paper documents and then sculpture, and there’s this crossover between those things. We photograph sculptures and then we put them on paper and they live on files, or we make sculptures with documents stuck on them. And then they go into collections and then a file gets made of them. They are very unfixed operations. I’m quite interested in things coming in

bulletin boards for me were a useful body of work, because they’re still about a decentralized way of production and representation, but they can also travel as an image of themselves. HADLAND: Could you talk about your work with publications in the past and why the artist publication is interesting to you? What does that form mean? Why do you return to that medium of publication in your work? CONNOR: Growing up as an artist in New Zealand—I was born in ’81 and I didn’t get a smartphone until I went to grad school—art books were a really important way of coming into contact with artists’ work. And especially artists’ books or books that were dedicated to artists were a great way to enter into a practice that you couldn’t see in person. Then, I became really

“I feel books are so low buzz at the moment. They were so important in telling the story of art for so long and they’re just not as important because we are getting the story of art told to us for free. The question, then, is, why make books?” and out of focus in terms of their thing-ness. Sometimes they’re unrecognizable and you don’t see it and then sometimes you see it. HADLAND: You often recreate bulletin boards that you find in various communal settings, which function as a kind of point of connection between people, a mode of communication and community but via this outdated medium. CONNOR: There’s something about a decentralization of messaging and content that I’m super interested in, something that I felt when I went to installations as a young person. It was like, ‘I can move in any direction and it’s mine, but it’s also this.’ And that’s why those


interested in the legacy of conceptual art and the practices of Michael Asher and early catalogs of shows like “Information” at the Museum of Modern Art and “documenta 5,” with the binder and the ants on the cover. There were these shows that were based in a place, that were site-specific, that you could never experience again, but books became a great way to tell their story or try to understand the artist’s approach. Then, as I worked in that way, I just got frustrated with the violent cropping that happened through professional installation photography. I guess a lot of my work, the spaces in between the objects are just as important, the framing of the work in

the space is really important for how it functions. The objects are behaving socially and they’re being communed with. I found the photography really objectified them to make them about the objects, not so much the installation. So, artists’ books were a way to kind of extend the show past the floor plan and a way to think about how your work can travel. I think the context has changed quite a lot now: artists’ books are seen as quite precious and old-school, I guess. And that wasn’t the way they were seen when I went into them. I still have a love affair with them. It’s sort of constantly being challenged by the way communication is sped up or slowed down in concealed or accelerated visibility. HADLAND: It’s interesting then to think about the book as an artifact of all these things or an amalgamation of these different records, but then also as a literal artifact, since print media is continually threatened to be subsumed by digital. You published a monograph of your own work this past year, +1 310 951 9459, with June 20th, an imprint you founded with collaborators. What was the impulse to publish the book this way? CONNOR: I feel books are so low buzz at the moment. They were so important in telling the story of art for so long and they’re just not as important because we are getting the story of art told to us for free. The question, then, is, why make books? I guess, for me it’s a way of working through ideas, and it’s a way of taking all this content that’s circulating around your practice. In the case of this book, it’s these central conversation partners that I have in LA who have had repeated involvement with my work. And then also these documents that are being produced by galleries, by all these different collaborators, whether institutional or other artists and practitioners. And it’s a chance to gather it all, bringing it together with the designer and then pressing print at that particular moment. And I could have worked on that book for ages more. But what’s amazing is it’s frozen, and the book that you’re going to get is identical to the book that’s going to be in the archives that somebody else will get. I think there is something valuable

about not relying on the Internet, which is a fairly unstable medium in the long run. And I’m not that interested in making sure that the legacy of my work is going to last forever. That’s not that interesting. But working on a project that has an end date in terms of storytelling is. HADLAND: Can you talk a little bit about the distribution for the book? You’re not working with a distributor. What informed that decision? CONNOR: One of the things is that it’s going to be in the margins anyway, and people that want it are going to find it. Warren Olds is really interested in art shifting and artists being more in control of the distribution of their work. And he’s really interested in artists having their own websites and selling their own work. He’s been a big music consumer for a long time and he regularly buys records and music on Bandcamp or Bleep or just online shops that are run by distributors. When we met in LA, on one of his trips, we said let’s start a distro. I’m interested in it because I think I’m interested in artists representing themselves in the way that they want to and then getting money, but it’s actually kind of a farce because even if we’re doing our own distro, I still haven’t seen any money. And I’m not actually into retail. HADLAND: What are the origins of your space, Laurel Doody, and how did that turn into Laurel Doody Library Supply?

CONNOR: Making shows and being involved with artist-run spaces was a really big part of my experience of being a young artist. A couple of years after leaving CalArts, I wanted to start an artist-run gallery out of my apartment. I think there were five shows over a year, and then there was programming and publishing at the same time. That was 2015–16. And it just attracted so much support and it was so positive, so at the end I was like, I want to keep this loose network of people and conversations going. But I also don’t want to live in the artwork anymore. I don’t want to sleep in the shows. One of the shows ended up literally incorporating my bed with tape over it. So, I’d crawl into the artwork at night. So then I started this project which was a way to take books that artists were making but they weren’t going the extra mile of giving them to libraries. So, this idea was an artist-run space but in the form of a collection of books that gets donated to libraries every year. Now there’s five years of books, which is quite a substantial archive, based on this loose network of friends and movement between places. And the books are based on attraction—something I’m into or it’s a friend’s work that I support or ephemera from a show that was keeping me up at night because I liked it so much. So, it was really just effortless. I went to the Lutz Bacher show at UC Irvine and I

was like, “this is a fucking important show.” And I just picked up seven of the exhibition leaflets that Monica Majoli made. And then reached out to her eight months later and, “Hey, I love your show. I want to include you in this collection.” She’s like, “I’d love to be included.” It’s pretty effortless in a way. And then other times we commission pieces that we want to see made. An artist might be going through a swampy stagnation zone. And you’re like, “OK, here’s a bit of money to make a small artist edition that’s going to push through an idea that you are sitting on.” It just means that I stay in touch with people; it’s very sustainable. It’s been really awesome during the pandemic when we can’t meet face-to-face. But I’m craving more than anything making big shows and playing with space.

Cover (top) and excerpt (left) from Connor’s 2019 book, Fiona Connor, +1 310 951 9459. 79

Do Judge a Book By Its Cover

Putting together her new guide to oil painting, Kimberly Brooks faced a difficult quandary: what should she put on the cover? How might the essence of painting be distilled into one image? It’s a question that gets right to the heart of art. BY DANIEL MODLIN PORTRAIT BY CAITY KRONE

IN SETTING OUT TO CREATE the cover for her new book, The New Oil Painting, a definitive guide to materials and techniques for oil painters, Kimberly Brooks found herself pirouetting amidst the void of the abstract. “I was looking at all of these old oil painting guides and the covers are just hideous,” the artist tells me one warm day in her naturally lit Venice studio. She’s surrounded by her works, each one depicting the beginnings of a landscape, at least in my mind, but even more acutely, a swirl of a brush. “For oil painters, it’s shocking how little design sense they had.” Her goal in her explorations was first and foremost to create an inspiring cover; one, she says, that she hopes will “embolden the viewer with the power of the blank canvas.” In order to do so, she found she had to move away from narrative structure and into the abstract, something she hadn’t previously done. “I’ve always wanted to paint abstractly,” she tells me, mellifluously crafting a story of the first time she was pushed towards the arts. It was none other than Kazimir Malevich’s White on White (1918), a painting she describes as “too difficult to explain,”


yet one that elicited an emotion in her that “all bets were off.” Brooks’s previous works are as elegant as they are multi-dimensional—one can easily surmise that she is both writer and painter, as narrative structure exudes from each brushstroke. We can hear the finest details of the well-crafted story she is telling us, as she illuminates the past, present and future of her subjects. “Most artists of any kind, when they start off, begin by coughing up autobiography before they can really speak, because they are using the medium to explore themselves. So one of my early shows was called ‘Mom’s Friends’—which was my way of understanding the medium, through myself.” From there, Brooks eventually began subtracting from the canvas. First, people vanished from her works. Yet despite this, the narrative magnetically sought its way out through forms. She found that “an interior space, in many ways, is still a portrait. No matter how I took away the people, there was still a story in there.” As the pandemic isolated all of us, Brooks found herself both invigorated through the arts, and more invested in

them. With her book completed, she zeroed in on the cover, and began exploring ways in which to get at the very essence of a stroke. “It makes sense,” she tells me, standing in front of her works, “the more I can separate my mind in painting, the closer it comes to being really pure.” She laughs, “I suppose the abstraction became a result of subtraction, where every aspect of my life was simplified during the pandemic. And so I could finally quiet all of those other narratives and focus on the task at hand.” Upon closer inspection, the cover of her book swirls to life—it’s a wave, no, it’s a stroke of blue in the sky, gone within a moment. Brooks relinquishes the storytelling to the viewer, and in doing so, creates a work that is a mirror for our desires: in many ways, it is what we want it to be. This is her hope: “To achieve a certain singularity with paint.” It’s a goal she recognizes as Sisyphean, yet it motivates her nonetheless. It does as well for me, and with her book in hand, I feel ready, inspired, invigorated to create, even if the goal remains, always, just out of reach. 81


The 3,750-acre Castello di Reschio property includes a collection of private homes and the newly opened, 36-room boutique hotel housed within an 11thcentury castle. Just beyond the castle’s walls rests the oval-shaped swimming pool, designed to sit within the grass as if it were floating. 82

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All the rooms and suites at the Hotel Castello di Reschio look out into the internal courtyard or to the stunning views across the Reschio hills.



On the brink of opening a 36-room hotel housed within a medieval castle that has been 20 years in the making, its owner, Count Benedikt Bolza, shares what is has been like to restore and redevelop a traditional Italian estate on the outskirts of Umbria and the secret to building a perfect swimming pool. By SAMANTHA BROOKS


The boot room is not only the point of arrival at the hotel—a place where you can leave your boots and wellies and miraculously they will be returned to you perfectly cleaned—but also where the flowers cut from the meadows are brought and turned into arrangements for use throughout the property. In the winter, a roaring fire burns almost incessantly. 85

THROW A DART AT A MAP of Tuscany and you’re bound to land on an idyllic landscape, complete with storied past and everlasting allure. And while the numerous stone farmhouses, vineyards, and forested oases are never short on inherent charm, they can tend to seamlessly flow together, not necessarily standing out for their individuality. But just a few steps across the Tuscan border, in Umbria, lies Castello di Reschio, an 11th-century compound that’s remained clandestine, and was only recently—and cautiously—revived by its current owners, who over the years have transformed the 3,750-acre property into a design-driven haven. The secluded community contains 30 restored farmhouses and a 36-room hotel, which has just opened for its debut season and will for the first time allow visitors to experience an unparalleled mecca of authentic Italian history, culture and contemporary comforts. “The Castello dates back to 1,000 years and was a typical medieval fortified structure. When we bought the property in 1994, it was in good livable condition, but definitely not luxury. [My wife, Nencia, and I] moved into it in 2000 when we got married and lived there for 11 years, along with our five children,” says Reschio’s owner, Count Benedikt Bolza. “It was always our dream to convert it into a hotel, but the timing wasn’t right to do that 25 years ago, when we first started developing here.” Indeed, the hotel is the last major piece of the Reschio estate, which includes an equestrian center, lake, gardens, tennis courts, a farm and the potential for 50 individually owned farmhouses. “We essentially created Reschio without a core. The idea was to work with individual buyers to develop houses and then create a core later,” says Bolza, who has restored 26 of the site’s original farmhouses. “But it’s not a club, not a development, and there’s no golf course or anything like that. It’s an organic restoration project of a medieval estate.” In the years since Bolza purchased the compound, restored farmhouses have sprung up around the acreage for buyers hailing from everywhere from across Europe to the United States, all compelled by the location’s serene surrounds and proximity to the Italian gateways of Florence (less than two hours) and Rome (less than three hours). Each current farmhouse was created from varying piles of rubble. For some, the only remains to start with were a few decrepit columns, while others may have started with as much as four walls and a section of a roof. But the properties all had one thing in common: when a buyer purchases one, they agree to Bolza being the only one to restore, build, design and furnish each residence himself. At first, the edict might seem extreme, but view any of the restored homes, and it’s impossible to imagine anyone who could possibly have done them better. Sensational sitting rooms swathed in cream de Gournay wallpaper, contemporary wroughtiron-framed glass walls that connect gaps between original stone structures, swimming pools that rival sculpture—Bolza knows what he’s doing. “Style comes from time,” shares Bolza,


who received his degree in architecture from the University of Westminster, London. “The beauty of what we do here is like slow cooking, slow food. It’s all evolved from year to year and client to client. For most architects, if you had the chance to live and work in a place for 25 years, you’d see a natural evolution too, especially in the way that materials change and have their moments—even something as simple as brass, which I’m using now, but hated 25 years ago.” When talking about his aesthetic for Reschio, Bolza points more to what he wouldn’t do (anything baroque) rather than call out specific materials and styles he’s drawn to. “Most architects live in towns or cities and then find the idea and have to find the people to realize it for them, but here, we have very good builders and artisans on site, and I work with them to source materials that already exist here, which help tell the story of the place.” And the materials can truly come from anywhere. For instance, at the property’s former tobacco factory (now the design office), Bolza repurposed old radiator coils as the bases for floor lamps, one of 50 designs in his furniture collection, which he had been creating for the custom homes and started to make available to the public in 2014. But the development of the private homes at Reschio was just part of the buildup to what might be the property’s masterpiece. “I first started designing the hotel about 20 years ago, and it hasn’t changed much since, but the last five years have been incredibly intense to build and work on it,” says Bolza. “I wanted all of the rooms to be super organic and not at all machine-like. When you walk in, it feels like it was furnished over centuries, not from today.” No two rooms are alike, and Bolza feels strongly that any of the furnishings need to last for decades. “One thing that drives me crazy in even expensive hotels is the cheap furniture that’s only meant to last five years. Yes, change the mattresses and linens, but not the tables, not the paintings. Those need to last.” Another thing he was insistent on was that every bathroom have natural light. “It’s a sin not to,” he says. Also on his list of don’ts? “I have an allergy to big rectangular pools with paving. What an eyesore,” he says. “When you do something kidney-shaped or free-form, it looks like a bunker on a golf course. It’s so foreign to the landscape, it’s alien. But an oval is very elegant. It really simulates a natural point and is a shape we’re inherently attracted to.” Near the hotel, a perfectly oval swimming pool seems to lie flush with the surrounding grass, a complicated achievement that required laser cutting the overflow into volcanic stone and topping it with smooth stainless steel. “I like things to fit in with the landscape. It’s just as important as the architecture,” says Bolza. “The good thing about Reschio is that I’m not only doing the best projects for each client, but the best things for the property as a whole. My thinking is always about the long-term.”


The Palm Court of the hotel features a glass-and-steel structure created within an internal courtyard with an aesthetic that hints to the 1920s and old-world glamour. 87


Polished to Perfection In the 1920s, Eileen Gray built a stunning house by the sea in the South of France. Now, almost a century later, and with a few of Le Corbusier’s unauthorized murals on display, her dazzling modernist gem has been restored to its former glory. One of the world’s most inspiring spaces, it’s ready for you to come visit this summer. BY LANIE GOODMAN PHOTOGRAPHY BY MANUEL BOUGOT 89

GLIMPSED FROM THE SEA, you might mistake the minimalist white-washed concrete rectangle on stilts for a design by a contemporary starchitect. Yet anyone familiar with Villa E-1027—Irish designer Eileen Gray’s visionary 1929 holiday home off the French Riviera in RoquebruneCap-Martin—would notice a dramatic change in the façade. Call it the final touch: added to the terrace, which juts out over the rocky shore like an elegant ocean liner, is a swathe of deep blue canvas adorned with a life buoy, plus awnings in the same striking shade. This was no random decision. Every detail—from the fabrication of one-off perfect replicas of Gray’s iconic furniture to replacing the diamond point glass in the entrance windows—was painstakingly researched by a team of expert architects and artisans during the challenging five-million-euro restoration of E-1027, which has taken 12 years to complete. No small feat, considering the decades of neglect, vandalism and bureaucratic battles attached to this long-abandoned shell of a house, fraught with a torturous history of passion, betrayal and even murder. Gray, who by the mid-1920s had become a major figure of the Parisian Art Deco scene, designed the house without any architectural training for her lover Jean Badovici, a Paris-based Romanian architect and editor of the seminal journal L’Architecture vivante. Villa E-1027, a

fusion of their names—E for Eileen, 10 for the letter “I”, the 10th letter of the alphabet, 2 for the B in Badovici, and 7 for the G in Gray—was dreamed up as a versatile, romantic seaside hideaway. Built between 1926 and 1929 on a lush strip of terraced land wedged between the railway line and the shimmering Mediterranean—and only accessible by a coastal footpath, even now—the house was also a prototype of practical modern living. Described by Gray as a “living organism” that was both “harmonious and logical,” the designer invented new constructs: a transformable open-plan living space, a flat roof and an isolated indoor-outdoor kitchen. These unconventional ways of organizing space with no break between the interior and exterior had a dual purpose—to ensure the privacy and independence of its inhabitants and also capture the poetry of everyday life through changing light and shadow. Today, visitors are finally able to see the house as Eileen Gray imagined it. “E-1027 feels nothing like a museum,” says Michael Likierman, president of the Cap Moderne Association. “You experience Gray’s astonishing attention to natural elements—the little cutout in the window by the divan, where the sun rises over the hill in the winter, or the two-part ceiling over the bar, cut diagonally to light up the bottles. Everything is about wind, sun, sea, angles, all calculated to be living in the moment.”

Previous spread: Architect Eileen Gray’s Villa E-1027 in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin has just completed a 12-year restoration. This page: The interiors have been restaged with furniture by Gray. Opposite page: Ocean-blue canvas awnings adorn the terrace.


“E-1027 feels nothing like a museum. Everything is about wind, sun, sea, angles, all calculated to be living in the moment.” —MICHAEL LIKIERMAN

But nothing prepares you for the sheer beauty of E-1027 in all its purposeful simplicity. You descend the stone steps into the garden, flanked by wisteria, into a lemon grove that leads to the double kitchen. The woodburning stove, crockery, taps, exposed electrical wires and the innovative dish rack are all replicas of those used by Gray in 1929. At the entrance hall hangs a brilliantly-hued mural painted by Swiss architect Le Corbusier, who was Badovici’s frequent guest and a major player in the ensuing dramas of E-1027. When the couple separated in 1932, Badovici remained as the legal owner of the villa, purchased in his name; in 1938, Le Corbusier cavalierly appropriated the pristine walls with seven frescoes. By then, Gray had moved to Castellar, near Menton, where she’d built another white house, Tempe à Pailla. After endless hot debates about what to do with the murals, the restoration team came up with a compromise—three of Corbu’s colorful interlopers will stay. “The ones least disturbing to the interiors,” Likierman says with a smile. The villa contains the restaging of Gray’s emblematic furniture, crafted with the same 1920s materials—everything from the white Michelin-tire inspired Bibendum chair to the

adjustable E-1027 Telescopic Table—yet that is only part of the discovery. The designer’s ingenuity abounds: marine-patterned deeppile woven rugs; walls, cupboards and drawers stenciled with whimsical instructions (“Enter Slowly,” “Do Not Laugh”), or pointers on where to store your pillows, pajamas or toothbrush; a modular tea table topped with cork to avoid the clatter of cutlery. There’s also plenty of movement, from swiveling window shutters (creating an astute cross-ventilation system) to pivoting drawers. Equally compelling is Gray’s experimentation with industrial materials (a mosquito net made with celluloid steel cables, a gleaming zinc-encased bathtub) or with color, like the brilliant sea-green walls in the guest room, excavated under layers of white paint. The dreamscape continues in the garden, where in lieu of a swimming pool, there’s a sunken black-tiled basin with a sand floor for sunbathing and a mirrored cocktail table with benches on each side. “Nowhere did we attempt to create a line or a form for its own sake,” Gray once wrote. And you’re inclined to believe her. 91


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All great artists have a perspective. Now we have a podcast to share them. Listen to Points of View with Sienna Fekete on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.



LSEA It’s status quo that neighborhoods in New York City evolve at a rapid rate. What makes the evolution of Chelsea unique, however, is that its development is directly tied to a very small group of people; more specifically, a group of art dealers. Beginning in the mid-1990s, these stalwarts shifted the area from industrial no man’s land into an arts destination, and are now witnessing it change once again with the gradual addition of developments like the High Line, the new Whitney Museum, and most recently, Hudson Yards. While the gallery scene continues to migrate and evolve, Chelsea unshakably endures as the art capital of the world. We talked with a few of those legendary dealers who transformed the district from a taxi-cab graveyard into the chief arts destination, where billions of dollars worth of art moves every year.



ON ONE OF THE FIRST days in May that truly felt like summer, Larry Gagosian left his Upper East Side townhouse for a walk in Central Park. There, he clocked Leon Black, the former MoMA board chair, who was disgraced after his involvement with the Jeffrey Epstein scandal was revealed, and who seemed to have had the same idea as Gagosian on that warm day. “The times sure are changing,” Gagosian remarked, eyebrows raised, after returning home. The larger-than-life gallerist sits beneath one of Andy Warhol’s Double Elvis silkscreens from 1963. “I was Warhol’s last dealer,” Gagosian, who is now known as “the man who makes the art world go-go,” says proudly of a time when he was just getting started in New York in the early 1980s. In fact, Gagosian hosted Warhol’s last show at his seminal Chelsea space on 23rd street between 10th and 11th Avenues, which he rented from the artist Sandro Chia for $3,500 a month. Gagosian remarks that the current recession of New York real estate presents a good opportunity for young gallerists. “If you’ve got a good idea and some artists—it might be a good idea to go into the business now. You could probably cut some pretty big deals now, I imagine,” he says. When Gagosian


cut his first set of good deals in Chelsea back in 1988, he says, the area had no other galleries. “There were a lot of hookers, and crack vials on the sidewalk. It was fantastic. I loved it. It was really rough.” “I knew it was an oddball location, and I was new to the art business in New York. So I made it a point to do the best shows possible.” Among those, he hosted a show of Willem de Kooning, the Warhol show, and a pop art show of work from the collection of Emily and Burton Tremaine. Though he left that original space for what is now his Upper East Side flagship, he returned to Chelsea in 1999 to a space on 24th that he purchased for $5 million in 1999. In 2006, he snatched another space just a few blocks away on 21st Street. All the while, Gagosian was creating the veritable global empire we know today of 17 total spaces, and a shark-like reputation for eating up promising artists from smaller galleries. “People see me as a hard-charging, aggressive, businessoriented, money-oriented person. And it’s all true,” Gagosian confesses. “But I really love art. I really love working with artists. My favorite day is going to artist studios. Maybe people don’t see that, but that’s okay.”



“I DON’T REALLY THINK OF myself as successful,” Lisa Spellman, founder of 303 Gallery, confesses. Though the gallerist has been an art-world stronghold for the past 37 years, she feels a certain level of envy for the generation of gallerists that preceded her, particularly those in the 1970s that got to work with the Pictures Generation, and the new vanguard of galleries, particularly 47 Canal, 56 Henry, Essex Street and Fortnight Institute. “I’m stuck in the middle!” In 1984, Spellman’s first gallery opened in what was then known as the Photo District (but is now called Flatiron) before migrating to the East Village and eventually SoHo. Then, two friends of hers, the Armory Show’s founder Paul Morris and art dealer Pat Hearn, called Spellman to let her know of a ground-floor space in a brick storage warehouse building on 22nd Street. The call came to her in “this really weird, personal moment.” Her mother had just passed away, and on the day she got the call, her landlord let her know that other tenants wanted to expand into her space. “It literally all happened within 24 hours,” she says.

Since that day, Spellman has used the space to build one of the most robust rosters of artists in the neighborhood, nurturing the careers of artists such as Doug Aitken, Alicja Kwade and Karen Kilimnik, and more recently, Tala Madani and Sam Falls. Despite Spellman’s reservations about her own success, she’s maintained her space in Chelsea—which sits directly across from Gagosian’s—for a remarkable 26-year run. “I’ve been really blessed to start galleries so early, and during such an incredibly important period for young artists in New York,” she says. Spellman frequently bikes from the Battery up to George Washington Bridge, delighting in seeing all the ways the city has evolved each time she does so. She expresses her appreciation for being able to see the additions of the Whitney and the High Line to her neighborhood, and, contrary to popular opinion, doesn’t mind the addition of Hudson Yards. “I mean, you can really hate Hudson Yards for sure. I do! But they’re going to do incredible programming at The Shed,” she explains. “The way the city keeps developing into the piers, into green spaces, is really critical.” 97

CAROL SITTING DIRECTLY ACROSS FROM Carol Greene in her office within Greene Naftali on 26th Street is Rachel Harrison’s sculpture Studio 54 (1996). “Pick one or two artists that you would do anything for, because you believe in their vision and they’re great,” Greene says of her advice to young gallerists. “And everything else will follow.” For Greene, those artists were Rachel Harrison and Julie Becker. Her eyes light up when speaking about it. “That’s from my first show with her in 1996. Isn’t it amazing?” Slats of cobalt plywood pile on top of each other to create a floor sculpture that evokes the piles of governmentsanctioned barrier posts that often accumulate on street corners in the city—particularly in the very industrial Chelsea. “When I started looking [for a gallery space in Chelsea], the Dia was open, and Matthew Marks was open. I loved the character of the neighborhood. It was so edgy and industrial. I wanted it to be an experimental gallery, and I wanted artists to be able to do whatever they wanted.” The building she found, she’s stayed in since 1995. At that time, it was also occupied by the artist studios of Glenn Ligon, Gary Simmons and Peter Halley. “I knew that if the gallery was in the building with that kind of activity, we’d immediately get recognition. I felt confident here immediately,” Greene says of coming into the space, though she didn’t quite yet know what to do with all of the square footage. “For years, I had this ginormous party space. I would have these art shows and then these crazy parties in the back. And that’s what it was like back then. It was really fun.” At those parties, bands like Sonic Youth and The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion would play, or PhD candidates in art-related fields would come to do readings. “It was a very cross-disciplinary feeling.” Though the raucous parties may have slowed down, that mixed-use feeling still permeates the gallery, as it’s currently hosting artist Aria Dean’s inaugural show with Greene Naftali. “Did you come to the opening?” Greene asks. “It was a great time.”






ROCKEFELLER PLAZA CURRENTLY HOSTS Oracle, a new public art project by Sanford Biggers. “After 25 years,” Biggers’s gallerist Marianne Boesky says, “This felt like a true high point for me in my career.” Weighing in at a whopping 15,000 pounds and standing over 25 feet tall, the bronze sculpture is the latest in his Chimeras series, which collages traditional African masks with the conventional European sculpture style seen all around the US, and more recently, seen toppled over in the US. “It comes from such an authentic place, and the idea that it was unveiled in New York City at this time in that location, it just felt like we did something right,” Boesky, who began working with Biggers in 2017, continues. “It wasn’t contrived. It wasn’t a reaction to Black Lives Matter. It was something that was in us already. And to make a commitment and see it through during COVID was completely stressful for everyone, emotionally and financially. It felt like it was meant to be. It was my first moment where I was like, I should be proud of that.” Boesky opened her gallery in 1996, and by the early 2000s, she was representing artists who would go on to become

international powerhouses like Takashi Murakami, Yoshitomo Nara, Barnaby Furnas and Lisa Yuskavage, and planning for an expansion into the ground floor. Still though, she confessed that she felt like “the little sister” in a way. “It turned out I was right to be nervous,” she says looking back. “When we finally were ready to open, Murakami announced that he was leaving the gallery, and basically gave my show to Gagosian. Then, Lisa Yuskavage also announced that she was leaving the gallery out of nowhere, and gave David Zwirner my show. So it was a very scary time.” Boesky endured, however, by selling some of the works from the artists who left the gallery and proceeded with the expansion. “I was able to complete the building and keep going, and add new artists, and transform the program in a new direction.” Things began to click for her, and she’s since had spaces in the Lower East Side, the Upper East Side, and even opened Boesky West in Aspen, Colorado, as well as expanding her Chelsea space even further. “There is no defeat,” she says. “I have to go down on my own terms.”


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Established in 2019, the Jorge M. Pérez Award funded by The Jorge M. Pérez Family Foundation is an unrestricted granting program for emerging and mid-career artists who are YoungArts award winners. Application to YoungArts is now open through October 15, 2021. Artists must be 15-18 years, or in grades 10-12, to be eligible and go on to receive creative and professional development opportunities throughout their careers. Learn more at

Ntozake's Lady in Yellow, 2018 Malaika Temba (2014 Visual Arts) 2021 Jorge M. Pérez Award Recipient

YOUNG CURAT The age of the super-curator, who makes themselves the main attraction, is over. A new generation of curators, who are often more interested in social practices, in overlooked histories, in the unglamorous side of exhibition-making, in asking, “What if?” are now coming into their own. Across the country, they’re pushing the boundaries of what curating means today. BY EMMANUEL OLUNKWA







after he cold-emailed someone who was helping establish Claudia Rankine’s Racial Imaginary Institute (TRII). He studied studio art and art history at Princeton before moving to New York, working in the education department at the Brooklyn Museum and then attending the Whitney’s Independent Study Program in Curatorial Studies (ISP). His work primarily concerns identity and class, specifically by presenting engaging material that reflects the alienation of class and how we reinforce these cycles of oppression. Wu helped organize Rankine’s institutional show “On Whiteness,” which they presented at The Kitchen, the arts organization in Chelsea. When asked about how he sees his work and the role that the TRII plays in culture as a practicing institution of art he says, “The Racial Imaginary Institute doesn’t have a physical space, it’s a just a group of people working together with one common goal. The idea is that we’ll go to existing institutional spaces and approach them through their own processes. So I like to think of TRII as a virus, an institution as virus, something to mitigate.” In the next few months he’s leaving his post at MoMA as Michelle Kuo’s assistant in the Media and Performance department to work on a show about nationalism with Rankine, then curating a show at David Zwirner in the fall. His work is enmeshed in thinking about subcultures and practice, and refers to the catalogue his program produced during his time at ISP, which they wanted to function as a gift bag and which they called “Always, Already, Haunting, “disssco,” Haunt;” its ecology recalled Douglas Crimp’s 1970s Harper’s essay “Disco Inferno,” about the social and political implications of the body inhabiting physical space. Wu is thinking about the practice of art extending beyond the campus of any institution or gallery, and focusing on the social contributions of art and how it can come to shape a city.






DANIEL MERRITT WENT FROM being a “corny 19-year-old wearing suits and going to work at Rockefeller Center for an auction” as an intern, to working for Andrea Rosen (while the gallery was fully operating) during his senior year of Columbia University, where he studied art history and American studies and developed his thesis on Felix Gonzalez-Torres, whose estate Rosen represents. He started working at Swiss Institute, which he thinks of as one of the few cultural institutions with a sense of humor, as an intern in 2014, and is now an associate curator. “There’s a self-reflective quality about the programming that they were doing, and they were working with artists who were doing a lot of new things and leading conversations and taking the biggest risks, which was really appealing to me at the time,” he recalls. While talking about the mores of curatorial work Merritt declares his understanding of and relationship to caring for artists, explaining that, “It may sound glamorous in one sense, right? But to provide support, there’s an aspect to the job that’s manual, where you’re building something together.” He’s dedicated to the details when it comes to engaging with the artists he works with; from late-night airport arrivals to scaling the city in search of the perfect ephemera or objects to match and contribute to the artist’s vision, he’s decided in how he engages their desires and prioritizes their immediate needs. “What I think builds interesting curatorial work,” he explains, “is not entrenching yourself too much in a certain discipline. You have to remain flexible to current events. The exhibitions at the Swiss Institute are meant to highlight experimental emerging and overlooked artists, young and old, whose work hasn’t been given the proper contextualization.” When asked about his role both shepherding culture and working for a nonprofit, he says, “I think it’s exciting and fun to make things that speak to or come out of things that are happening in the world that are not related to art. I don’t consider myself an art historian; when I think about making shows art history plays a role, but it’s not the driving force behind the decisions that I make.” To which I asked, “What’s the driving force?” He answered, “It’s timing; knowing when to present the work and having the audience want to hear from or engage with the subject at hand. I’ve come to learn that it becomes a really intuitive process.”




LOLA KRAMER WAS BORN in Los Angeles, grew up between Southern California and Kent, England, and now lives in New York. She was first introduced to art by her father, who was the bassist in the rock band Iron Butterfly and also doubled as an aerospace engineer. He worked on projects for the Department of Defense and on projects in the early computer industry with fractal compression, facial-recognition systems and communications, which is why she’s fascinated with art’s relationship to technology. When asked about her priorities as a curator, Kramer doesn’t flinch before launching into her expectations of art: “It isn’t about telling, it’s about showing. My priority is to put art in relation to the flow of life and to pose a question, ‘What if?’ When you do this, there is quite a bit there for people to use, to be able to find their place in the world.” She continues, “Art reconciles or contains ambiguity and contradictions that aren’t always possible in other modes of production. People often want answers and to have a clear moral position. I think it’s possible to talk about complicated or unpleasant things in art without offering a solution or a position of authority. Art counters the way capitalism shears off uniqueness. Uncertainty is part of what makes it beautiful. Art is about freedom.”

Kramer first moved to New York to study at Parsons School of Design, where she studied with artists like Karin Schneider while interning for the Swiss Institute, back when it was on Broadway and Gianni Jetzer was the director. She has worked for Lawrence Weiner, running his studio and archive, before moving to Zurich and then returning to New York to work as a director at C L E A R I N G gallery. When asked to describe what she does, she says, “Every day, an artist takes the chance of going mad because they find themselves past the point of the logic they understand. They have to readapt their logic just to be able to communicate with somebody else. If I had to describe what I do, I would say that I adapt my logic to the artist’s, to contextualize the work, to help them communicate to a larger public. Art is an objectification of something that you’re trying to communicate with culture. Communication is the point of the operation, and whether it is accepted or not, they have succeeded.” She concludes, “As Lawrence Weiner says, ‘You do not want to fuck up somebody’s day on their way to work, but the purpose, as you’re doing your work, is to fuck up their whole life.’ That’s the point of what art is.” 105





thinking and a curator in practice. When speaking to him about his journey to becoming a curator at the Brooklyn Museum, he speaks through the process of thinking by listing the duties of curator, which is to provide care and facilitate meaning-making. His pastime hobby became his career mid-college, when he had accumulated too many credits in economics and was encouraged to take extracurriculars, bringing him to art history, which he never left. He’s keen on research and exhibitions, and how to reposition someone who has fallen to the wayside in history by rethinking how to center their narratives and tell their stories. When asked about his practice, he tells me his priority of refocusing the museum’s audience by showcasing overlooked talent. He also talks about the solo exhibition of Liz Johnson Artur’s work that he organized at the Brooklyn Museum in 2019. Artur had never had a solo exhibition in the United States, though she has been making work for well over 30 years, first starting to take photographs while staying with a Russian family friend somewhere in Brooklyn. Another exhibition he organized concurrently was “Garry Winogrand: Color,” which gestures to a catastrophe of 1967, when Winogrand installed a projector in the “New Documents” show at MoMA with Diane Arbus and Lee Friedlander and it malfunctioned and ruined the slides loaded in the machine. Sawyer is quick to note, “Presenting an installation of slideshows maybe goes against a lot of the ways that photographs are traditionally presented at museums, which fetishize photographic prints usually made around the same time as the negative, which people refer to in the field as vintage prints. For me it was a way to push against how museums usually present a medium that is infinitely reproducible, that takes so many formats on in the world in which we live, because not everyone experiences photographs as framed prints. They are these things that people pass through that aren’t necessarily a destination.” Sawyer is a collaborator through and through. When asked about his relationship to photography he immediately lists off shows, collaborators and institutions that he’s worked with, in all kinds of ways. Photography is about the relationship and process of meaning-making. Throughout our conversation he talks about history and our relationship to it and how it reproduces us as both agents and storytellers. He’s searching for meaning in the archive. But his practice isn’t explicitly based in the past; he’s focused on representing work in a contemporary context, that maybe wasn’t given enough attention, and putting those objects and works in conversation with people who we’ve given too much attention to.


WHEN ASKED ABOUT exhibition-making, Jackson is quick to express that “My view on exhibitions is that there are a few exhibition forms, right? I don’t privilege one over the other really. The gallery is one form, the book, the online space, is another; they all do different things and they’re all in conversation with one another.” Her journey with art started with architecture, which she studied for three years before making the departure from SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) after becoming frustrated at having to orient her practice around building and structuring things based on a client’s expectations. She was a practicing artist herself, and went on to finish school closer to home at Illinois State University, where she studied sculpture and history. She is a very directed person, and went from Georgia to Illinois (college) to California (graduate school) to New York (MoMA) to Minneapolis (Walker Center) before returning to New York, where she was recently appointed curator at Artists Space. Jackson’s career really began when she first decided to engage with and study performance. She was working on the final leg of her master’s degree in visual and critical studies at the California College of the Arts when she came across Ralph Lemon’s dance performance Come home Charley Patton, which she was so moved by that she took it on as her thesis project and dove into learning about performance. It’s a memoir based on a dynamic understanding of dance as something that is performed (rehearsed) movement paired with the physical reality of migrating (the Great Migration). It highlights the insidious labor that defines so many lost lives, in a living document that doesn’t ask how to reconcile with the past but instead forges a future by working through the present moment of thinking about the implications of the (undocumented) historical events that occurred and how to make space for them now, as an ongoing problem of the archive that has changed in form but not in story. While she was still in school, Thomas J. Lax, curator of Media and Performance at MoMA, heard about her writing on Lemon and reached out. Lax was working as the editor of Lemon’s first monograph, which MoMA was publishing, and which Jackson ended up working on, before later becoming a fellow herself in the Media and Performance department. “It’s hard to write about performance and dance, which is why I think people don’t do it,” she says. “It’s expensive to produce, and to witness and experience the work requires a lot of dedication. Ralph’s work was really hard to write about because it’s so layered, but it was fruitful and changed my thinking around not just dance but movement at large.” Toward the end of her time at SCAD, when she was deciding to leave architecture, her professors inquired if that was the best move to make, especially since she was four semesters away from graduating. “I told them that I had to do something else because I got what I needed from architecture. I needed to carve out space for myself,” she says. “I’m an energy person and act intuitively. I woke up one day after having a dream about moving to Savannah for college, so that’s what I did, I moved on a whim. It was a feeling that led me from architecture to art and now curating. It’s all led by feeling. I just want to work with and through different forms.”








the Bronx (Museum), Newark (Project for Empty Space), Chelsea (School of Visual Arts) and Brooklyn (home). Her introduction to the art world was through an internship at Christie’s during her senior year of college, and she’s one of a few of her peers to stick with making a living working as an arts advisor and curator. She graduated from college right before the recession, and when the gallery she had been working for as an associate director downsized and then folded, she found herself consistently curating and collaborating on projects with friends. After working extensively on freelance projects and teaching, she decided to co-found Project for Empty Space, a large exhibition, studio and residency space in Newark, New Jersey, which focuses on “creating safe and equitable spaces for audiences and artists alike.” She and her friends involved in setting up the project were living off of unemployment at the time and decided they wanted to engage in something more meaningful, so they implemented programming that could engage the community, which grew into Project for Empty Space. “I consider myself to be a visual activist more than any other title that I have, because I see socially oriented art as a form of activism, in the sense that it’s an act pushed for systemic change,” she says. “But with all nonprofits, it’s a constant negotiation of how to continue to make money and stay sustainable. At some point these institutions die, right? Everything is terminal and there’s the reality of that fact, paired with the idea that people who have been historically and systemically kept out can’t bear it anymore. So we’re here. Other people don’t always allow us to occupy that space, so we take it for ourselves.” Wahi is a warrior for and of the arts. She’s invested in disseminating ideas and information that can aid in and inform an engaged democracy. She makes clear that starting an institution isn’t a destination but a threshold one passes through, the better to understand or remember why we wake up every day and do the work that we do.



CHAN FINISHED YALE UNIVERSITY and wanted to become a musician, then an artist, but ended up starting as an editor at Artforum and staying on for 11 years. Since then she’s organized a few shows, and is currently writing and editing as well as working as a professor at Bard’s Center for Curatorial Studies. Lauren Cornell, who’s the director of the graduate program, was putting a team together to curate a cyberpunk-inspired show at Tai Kwun museum in Hong Kong and tapped Chan because of her experience writing on Asia-futurism: the space where the culture of the Asian diaspora overlaps with futuristic technology and aesthetics. Chan’s work primarily engages concerns of Asian-Americans. Her focus is on how Asians are erased from depictions of the present, and how that goes hand in hand with being cast and propelled into a future. “The show for me was about including artists who were in their own way pushing back against stereotypical notions of what it means to be classified as Asian-American, or subverting or

reflecting it. All of it was trying to relate that to the thorny position the art world has put Asian-Americans in, because I like to challenge people to think, myself included. If you were to ask someone to list the last five exhibitions they’ve seen that included an AsianAmerican artist, most people can’t do it. My interest in cultural politics is unavoidable but it’s also not something that I seek out. I almost feel like I stumbled into something that people were waiting to talk about and felt was urgent when I started writing about Asiafuturism,” she says. “A huge reason why anyone who’s interested in Asia-futurism must look towards Afrofuturism has to do with the fact that so much of the thinking around Afrofuturism has to do with finding ways to restore agency, power and self-determination. I think right now so many of the Asia-futurist tropes that we encounter, at least in America, as Asian-Americans, is tainted by the imaginings of Western cultural creators who aren’t aware that there is something harmful about how they’re depicting Asian people of the future.” 109




“IT’S NICE TO PASS THROUGH AND WITNESS SOMETHING THAT OCCURRED, THAT WE KNOW AS TRUTH OR HISTORY, AND WITNESS THE PRESENT MOMENT OF MAKING AND ACTIVE OR IDLE THINKING.” “I STARTED AT NEW YORK University, where I studied art history, but the primary focus of the program was object-oriented. Then I went to get my master’s at Columbia in art history and hadn’t read any theory before and was just like, “Whaaaat?’” Nam begins our call. After graduating Columbia, she stayed and worked closely with Carol Becker, Dean of the School of Art, on seven seasons of programming that spanned the visual arts, film, theater and writing departments, in addition to organizing workshops. Nam is also quick to praise the influence of Kellie Jones, saying, “She’s an art historian that does, and it was great attribute to experience in a person. She’s working on exhibitions, while writing catalogues, books, all while remaining engaged in the general temperature of things, and will still send you an email saying, ‘I just read this piece on Heidegger, and I think you would like it.’” Before her recent appointment as Curator at Ballroom Marfa, Nam worked at Harvard’s Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts. “The Carpenter

Building is the most beautiful building ever. It’s the only Le Corbusier building in North America,” she says. “The building is only concrete and glass so it’s cold in the winter—something Corbusier wasn’t concerned with was thinking about New England winters. The architecture of the building is confusing on purpose; he wanted people to walk around and through the building, it’s very experiential and presents challenges for people looking for the front door. It presents a fun challenge, but then there are those people who it intimidates so they just walk away.” Nam’s speech is that of someone who has studied, who is paying attention, engaged and question-ready. She walks me through the social dynamics of the building, talking about how the making spaces meet the exhibiting spaces and how that gives a nice flow to produce conversation, and thinking: “It’s nice to pass through and witness something that occurred, that we know as truth or history, and witness the present moment of making and active or idle thinking.” 111

Made in L.A.

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a version Presented by:


06.22 .2021 Siri, Play Summertime Female Friendship at the End of the World Lamb on Lamb: Polachek on Sumney What Can A Painting Suggest About A Meaningful Life? Janicza Bravo’s Laugh Nas Is Like DeWanda Vision I Am Speaking, Are You Listening? 113


After more than a year of collective loss, the world is cautiously renewing and healing itself— which is another way of saying there is a lot to celebrate. We all spent months dreaming not only of our safety but of the day when we could party again, move in the crowd—feel the physicality of our codependent reality. This firstnight-back narrative has evolved over time into a call to action, to look outward and reconnect those precious ties. In that spirit we decided to create a portfolio dedicated to dreams of that inaugural night back out with the ones we love.

Our first party guest was Gucci, which has more to celebrate than most: this year marks the house’s 100th anniversary year, and its biopic House of Gucci, starring Lady Gaga and Adam Driver, will be out in time for Christmas. Gucci helped us dress up for the part and set the mood for a summer of starry nights with the party guests of our fantasies: Gracie Abrams, Rohan Blair-Mangat, Gia Coppola, Joel Courtney, Thuso Mbedu, Alex Wolff and Zsela. PHOTOG�APHY BY A L E X


Hair by Lauren Palmer-Smith/Home Agency. Makeup by Homa Safar. Set design by Ali Gallagher. Prop assistant Zoran Radanovich.


What is your current state of mind? My current state of mind is always a bit spacey and distracted by thinking about stuff that I want to and should be doing, like sitting down and reading a book or watching a movie. Or making a movie? Watching a movie or making a movie. Though the latter is a little bit of a rougher experience. My film out now is called Mainstream. It’s a satirical fairytale about my fascination for what our culture values, and how technology is shifting storytelling to social media and the Internet, for the better and the worse. What’s the greatest thrill of directing? And then I’m going to ask, what’s the greatest challenge? Well, they feel hand-in-hand. I love it, but it’s so extremely torturous at the same time. Someone once said it’s like getting punched in the face over and over again and smiling and saying, “I love it, do it again.” But it’s just the way I get to know myself and know the world and learn. And it’s a collaborative medium, which I really like as well.

What do you think has been your biggest challenge or obstacle so far? Fear and insecurity. Trusting myself and learning to make things from myself, as opposed to worrying about other people. You tell yourself you’re doing that, but it’s still hard to quiet the voices. Do you have any rituals before you get into the right mood for directing? I like to get up early to have time, decompress. A family tradition is, before the first day of your shoot, you gather hands with every department and you say, “Puwaba,” three times. I don’t know what that word means, but it’s supposed to grant safety and good luck for your project. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received from a family member? Everyone thinks they can do your job better than you, but they can’t. Trust your own instincts. 117


What can you reveal about your new movie project? I’m making a sci-fi adventure movie with Paramount Players. The executive producer is Kenya Barris. It’s a story that I created and then developed with writer Stanley Kalu. It’s inspired by movies I grew up with, but it’s a different perspective because it’s set in Compton. What was your greatest challenge during the pandemic? I think as a creative person, I was lucky to be quite busy. I was finishing this show called Centerpiece with Maurice Harris. I was working on the film and some other ideas with collaborators. But it was hard to be creative with people when you’re not in the room together. I think a lot of inspiration comes from the energy of being around each other. I was also living on my own and, being from London, I haven’t seen my family in two and a half years. I think we all need be kind to ourselves in this period. That’s a big achievement in itself. What is the last thing you watched that inspired you? I really loved the film Minari. The way it takes a very specific experience, but also shows you how universal it is, is very beautiful. I always gravitate to films where storytelling and the characters are key. I think it’s executed to a really high level, but it’s so effortless and subtle and it reels you in. What’s your favorite quality in a human? Honesty. I think it’s really hard to be honest, especially if you’ve made a mistake or are being vulnerable. It’s a privilege when someone is honest with you in that way. What’s the last picture on your iPhone? A still from a commercial that I directed that just came out for Procter & Gamble and Uninterrupted, LeBron James and Maverick Carter’s company. It’s about a Black father telling his son about all the things he can be in life. Oprah Winfrey personally premiered it, which was crazy. It’s really nice to see something with a message like that touch people. 119

Hair by Marcia Hamilton at Forward Artists.


What was your first acting job? A South African show called Saints and Sinners in 2014. What was your hardest audition? All my auditions have been hard in the sense that they’ve come at different points in my life. I did one in 2016 for a show called Is’thunzi (2016-), after months of not working, and so going into it I told myself that I’m going to audition as if it’s the very last audition that I do. I gave everything to the point where when I got a call back, I was like, “I don’t have anything left.” I hadn’t told my agent back home that I was just not going to go to the callback, but then she called me and she told me that I’d got the role, which I then got the two International Emmy nominations for. Has acting helped you express your feelings more off-screen? All the different characters that I’ve played have afforded me the opportunity to express myself, but in order for me to authentically realize those characters without judging them, I’ve had to confront those parts of me that I was most afraid to express. What’s your favorite quality in a human? Transparency. I need transparency. Speaking of age, you’re about to enter new decade right? I really am. Tell us about turning 30. Most of my friends are older than me, so I feel like I’ve turned 30 a couple of times, but I’m more excited now because I’m in the process of preparing for The Woman King, where I’ll be playing a warrior type, and I’ve always wanted to push myself physically. If you live to be 100 like Gucci, how would you celebrate your birthday? Oh my gosh. I would probably find 100 different cities to visit. 121


What was your first acting job? Super 8 (2011). And you were the lead! It was actually my first audition. I was 14 years old. My end-all, be-all goal for the summer was that I would get a commercial and make 100 dollars. And then I auditioned for Super 8 and they basically asked me not to audition for anything else because they didn’t want me on the market for other work. I ended up doing something like 13 callbacks over the span of three months. It was hysterical. I remember that when I finally booked the job I was already a week into eighth grade and was like, “No, you guys are too late!” Even though you were very young, were you at any point nervous about getting it? Did you understand how big a role that was? I knew that J.J. Abrams had done Alias (2001-2006) and Lost (2004-2010) and I was a huge fan of his work. I was 14 so I was watching all those shows with my brothers and my dad. When I auditioned, J.J. actually walked in from like a side office and came over to see

me. My dad’s jaw hit the floor. It was a secret that J.J. was the director for the project. I still didn’t really appreciate the gravitas of the situation that I had stumbled into, and that was an extremely good thing. And is there anything that you learned on that set that you still implement? There was so much that I learned on set that it’s hard to lock down one thing, but maybe the notion that curiosity is king. Gucci is celebrating its 100-year anniversary. If you live that long, how would you celebrate your 100th birthday? Surrounded by family. I’d probably want to do some sort of costume party from 100 years ago and really just appreciate the people who have been around me. Also, Gucci, 100 years! Let’s go! 123

Tell us a little bit about your songwriting process. Where do you do this writing? In my bedroom and in my journal entirely. It’s definitely the safest space that I’ve ever found in my life, so it’s always been the one constant for me. I write all the time, in the middle of the night and early in the morning, whenever I can, to be honest. I have my journal in my car right now. I take it with me everywhere. It’s my prized possession. What’s the shortest time frame it’s ever taken you to write one of your songs? Straight through, in like two and a half minutes. Which song? It’s called “minor.” I wrote it when I was 17 and it all kind of happened at once. During the pandemic, writing was really difficult for me at some point because I felt trapped in my head a lot, but I’m now just very on the other side of it, so I’m super relieved. And grateful for the challenge honestly.

Have any of your priorities shifted through the pandemic? Yes, I think I’m actively more grateful for everything in my life. My family, primarily, and their health. And staying connected to friends. I used to think I was good at being alone and now I’m finding that the ability to be around other people is the biggest blessing. Gucci is celebrating its 100-year anniversary. How would you celebrate your 100th birthday? The biggest party of all time. I want everyone else to have the best time and I’ll just fade into the background. Who is your style icon? Can I say a friend of mine? I would raid Benny Blanco’s closet. I know very few people in the fashion world and the more that I’ve gotten the opportunity to lean into it, the more fascinating it is to me, even just the way it changes your mindset to put a piece on and feel like a different person for five seconds.

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What was your biggest challenge of the pandemic? I really did miss being around people. I’m a social person and I think it really took more of a toll on me than I realized. Not even just the staying inside, because I can do that. I’m such a film lover. I’m an obsessive cinephile. I watched two movies a day or something and even as great as that was, I did feel a huge piece missing from my life. Now I have to ask what’s your favorite film? It might be like be a tie between Taxi Driver (1976), Through a Glass Darkly (1961), 8½ (1963), Ordinary People (1980) and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975). What’s the last thing that you watched that inspired you? I always was a Bergman fan and I’ve now pretty much polished off the list. I’ve also recently got into Éric Rohmer, who everybody else had watched a lot of. I hadn’t, and now I’ve watched every single one. His movie My Night at Maud’s (1969) really hit me. You have a movie coming out soon, Old. What was the greatest lesson you learned from working with M. Night Shyamalan? When you bring a lot of enthusiasm to your work, it inspires other people to as well. There is a trend among everybody, especially young directors, that it’s cool to be apathetic. I liked how Night was just unabashedly enthusiastic about his own writing and about his shots. He would get so excited if you did a good job. He’d get really upset if you did a bad job. For me, that’s how I like to work. What else can you tell us about the movie? I wear a Gucci dress in the movie. This is my second Gucci dress... Favorite quality in a human? Good nails. He says with a wink. I’m going to hide mine. Then I think I’m going amend my answer to say vulnerability. Gucci is celebrating its 100-year anniversary. How would you celebrate your 100th birthday? A game of Russian roulette.

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What’s the best advice you’ve ever received from a family member? Breathe. Who or what is your greatest musical influence? Time. Tell us a little bit about your songwriting process? Where do you do this writing? I write them mostly in my head. Right now, my process involves not being afraid to start over and not being too precious about something or too fixed in any idea that could limit its growth. When are you most creative? When I take the best advice from my family. What is your favorite quality in a human? Heart, compassion, humor, patience, honesty, when the mind slaps. Where would you take your dream first trip, postpandemic? If I could get dropped off on an island somewhere beautiful without my phone, that would be an absolute delight. Name your three dream dinner party guests, dead or alive. André 3000, Dolly Parton, Jesus. What’s the last picture on your iPhone? It’s a screenshot of the definition of the Olde English word “grubble,” meaning, “to feel around for something you can’t see.” What are a few songs on your summer playlist? “Love… Thy Will Be Done” by Prince. “Love Is a Hurtin’ Thing” by Gloria Ann Taylor. “Man On the Side” by Love Apple. “Two Face” by L’Rain. “Earlier Days (Sunship Remix)” by Zsela. What’s your current state of mind? Curious. Gucci is celebrating its 100-year anniversary. How would you celebrate your 100th birthday? Avoid mirrors and chain-smoke.

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A THOTYSSEY. FEKETE: How would you describe Zola (2020) to someone with no context? KEOUGH: A wild and crazy trip to hell. PAIGE: A modern Odyssey. KEOUGH: A Thotyssey. PAIGE: Yes, a Thotyssey. It’s a stripping trip gone sour. You think you’re going up on the pole but you’re not coming down. KEOUGH: You’re stripping and tripping. FEKETE: I love that. So y’all didn’t know each other before the film? You’d never be able to tell. PAIGE: We knew each other but not physically. We met on set. FEKETE: So how did you guys build that chemistry so seamlessly? KEOUGH: Well, we became friends very fast. We really hit off in a way that I’ve never experienced in my adult life. I’ve made friends before but not best friends. And of course that helps the performance too because you’re more comfortable with each other. PAIGE: Yeah. We did a lot of trust falls in our hotel. I’d be like, “Come on, just fall. I got you.” And she was like, “Are you sure?” “I’m sure.” And then we’d weep. But that’s what we’d do. We had a meeting of souls and minds. I’m probably the more outgoing one and she’s more of the observer. We do think and go through the world extremely similarly. And I never had someone articulate my thoughts as clearly as she does, and then, as that relationship was expanding, it just made the chemistry of these enemies feel even more intense. I just felt really safe to go there because we were able to go there in our personal lives. KEOUGH: Yeah. And the more comfortable you are with somebody, the more you’re able to go to both dark and light places because you’re in a space where you’re being supported. PAIGE: It was refreshing on set to be like, “Whoa, you’re really honest.” All we were trying to do with Zola is tell the truth as much as we could knowing the story existed as hyperbole. We’re lying in service of the truth. FEKETE: Moving at the speed of trust is what that sounds like. How did you both go about getting into character? What were you listening to? What were you watching? What were you wearing to bring them out and honor them? KEOUGH: Well, for me, a lot of Stefani’s character was already on the page. Janicza and Jeremy had written a very solid character. The groundwork was laid in a really great way. We had to make choices, and one of the choices was how far to go with it. Janicza and I both wanted to go as far we could, and Janicza really wanted to go far. She wanted to go full demon, and so we did. Stefani is a character that is based on Aziah’s tweets. So that’s what was most important to me, to play the girl that Zola experienced as opposed to basing it off a person. Sometimes it’s harder for me to play real people. Because when you meet them, there is that pause of, “Wait, I wasn’t going to do it like that.” PAIGE: That’s how I felt. KEOUGH: It’s a little mindfuck because you have to honor their mannerisms 132

and their personality, but you also want to be free to create this character. It’s less stressful for me not having a blueprint. PAIGE: Back in 2018, when I knew I was doing the role of Zola, there were only a couple interviews that I could find. She was a social-media presence but she didn’t have a lot of videos out yet. So my best prep was just talking to her and asking her how she felt and trying to get into the spirit of things and having to surrender to not having video. I remember I reached out to Aziah to say, “I’m auditioning to play you tomorrow.” It was a way to ask for her blessing. When she finally saw the film, and said, “Bitch, I cried. You did that. You’ve had a fan in me since day one, you’re so me it hurts,” I felt we got there. FEKETE: It must have been such a relief to get her stamp of approval. PAIGE: It was such a relief. I was scared because she’s obviously such a force. We’re all here because of her brain. The way she processes, she’s just brilliant. A really big soul, you know? FEKETE: It definitely translates. Taylour, I know you are already a dancer and you come from that world so that transition into the strip-club world must have been seamless. What was that experience like, to totally embody that physicality and confidence? PAIGE: It was liberating because you’re undoing shit from childhood and different relationships that suck out your sense of security. I’ve gone through the world very self-conscious about my body, and being a dancer doesn’t help. It actually doesn’t help at all. It makes you a perfectionist. And for this, I just wanted to throw that shit out, so that’s why I did work at the strip club, because I was not trying to look like a ballerina. The women that I talked to, the ones I gravitated to, were women who commanded the stage and were in their bodies. And it’s not even on some poetic shit. They just get your attention the way they clap their heels, the way they walk, and it was just a relaxed nature like, “I’m that bitch. I do what I gotta do, and I go home.” It’s a job. It’s strategy. And then there were girls in there that were doing crazy tricks, gymnastics and all that, like FKA twigs and that’s not what I wanted. No shade to her. I just mean like— KEOUGH: You didn’t want to look as trained as you are. FEKETE: Did you do the same, Riley? KEOUGH: I didn’t, but this is my third time playing a stripper. So I’ve been in the strip clubs many times and I’ve taken pole-dancing many times and, um, I had done it before a few times. I’ve done it a few times, but also in the script there was like a note that, I don’t know if it translates to the film, but about Stefani not being necessarily a great dancer. I’ve leaned into that. They wanted her to kind of move more lazy, and Janicza said the same thing. The focus was on how great Zola is and not how lazy Stefani is. FEKETE: I love the contrast. What was it like working with Janicza and Jeremy? What was it like having their guidance on set? PAIGE: [Sarcastically] It was just disgusting, we hated it. It was great. They’re both genius minds that work really fast and pay attention to detail. And like Riley said earlier, it was already on the page. KEOUGH: There’s like the tiniest amount of improv but Janicza had done all the work. So really, we had to just step in. PAIGE: We just had to show up. KEOUGH: But you know what? I’ll also say that a great director makes you feel that way. All the vision is there. Janicza knows what she wants. She’s a genius. And when you’re working with a genius like that, there’s a kind of ease that you get that you don’t always get with other filmmakers. PAIGE: So true. She has an intense attention to detail. For instance, she wanted our nails to embody our characters. She wanted for me to have little black hearts on my rounded nails, and for Riley, they were pointy so if she touched someone they would hurt them. She pays attention to the baby hairs. For instance I spent most of the movie wearing blue and it’s supposed to be like Dorothy going to Emerald City without being bullshit. She showed me like Deana Lawson photos of images that she specifically wanted to try to reenact, or this painting—I always forget the name. But just the way that she even went about

Keough wears a vintage shirt from Replika Vintage, Hermès skirt and boots. Paige wears a Schiaparelli coat, vintage bodysuit from Replika Vintage and Saint Laurent boots. Previous spread: Keough wears Barragán dress, Maison Margiela tights and shoes, with Panconesi earrings. Paige wears a Bottega Veneta dress and vintage shoes from Palace Costume. 133


Paige wears a vintage top from Palace Costume, Loewe skirt, Bottega Veneta shoes and Schiaparelli bracelet. Keough wears a Bottega Veneta top, pants and shoes with Panconesi earrings and a vintage belt from Replika Vintage. 135

Paige wears a Gucci blazer and pants with a vintage bodysuit from Palace Costume and Bottega Veneta shoes. Keough wears a Gucci dress with a Christian Dior bra and underwear, Balenciaga shoes and stylist’s stockings. Keough’s makeup by Rachel Goodwin. Paige’s makeup by Cherish Brooke Hill. Keough and Paige’s hair by Chad Wood. Nails by Juan Alvear. Set design by Lauren Machen. Photo assistance by Kaleb Marshall. Style assistance by Taylor Olsen.

explaining was like watching a Pablo Picasso at work. Wait, what is it called? I want to find it. KEOUGH: The Garden of Delights? PAIGE: The Garden of Earthly Delights (c. 1490-1510). And it exists in three panels. The first is Heaven, the second is Purgatory and the third is Hell. It looks chaotic and also fun and also like “What the fuck is going on?” I just want readers to know the amount of detail that went into crafting this film. KEOUGH: Yeah. The only other director I’ve worked with that does that was George Miller for Mad Max: Fury Road (2015). And it was a similar thing where it’s like there’s not one thing in the frame that doesn’t have a reason to be there. It’s not like “I guess just make the wall yellow. Or “Wear whatever color socks you want.” There’s none of that. Everything was specific, including our bikinis when we’re doing the first strip scene together and we were barely wearing anything, pretty much like pasties with straps, but it’s actually yellow plaid and white. It’s Cher and Dionne, an homage to Clueless (1995). FEKETE: Oh my God. KEOUGH: It’s like the plaid that Cher and Dionne wear but like in these tiny nipple pasties. FEKETE: Oh my God. Yeah. PAIGE: Our movie could be broken down. There could be a class on it. FEKETE: When this was actually happening in 2015, were y’all following that Twitter thread? What was your relationship to Twitter prior to this role?


KEOUGH: I didn’t necessarily have a crazy relationship with Twitter, but I had read the Twitter thread in real time when it was happening. I’m not somebody that would normally like spend a lot of time on social media but I couldn’t stop, I found it totally compelling. I read the whole thing in, you know, a short amount of time like everybody else, which is why it went viral. You can’t stop once you start. Her voice and storytelling is so compelling that you’re there with her. PAIGE: I mean I am in Florida. KEOUGH: But I don’t think you read it in real time? PAIGE: No, I didn’t. I’d been on Twitter for a while but I didn’t even understand it at first. I remember I had some friends who were like, “Just get on it, it’s fun.” But I would always, not to be cheesy, but I just used to post like positive shit and log out. I just never been like a scroller. But then once I found out I was auditioning, I wanted to obviously do more research, so I did and I was like, “Holy fuck. This is iconic.” FEKETE: Yeah, Twitter’s kind of wild. PAIGE: It’s chaotic. It’s too much. It’s a lot of thoughts. KEOUGH: It’s a lot when you’re a very sensitive person like we are. Twitter is risky. So I dip in and out too. I don’t really spend a lot of time on Twitter. PAIGE: Twitter will have you spiraling. And you know it can be really funny and entertaining, but we all have our own relationships with social media, but I do find that because it’s such a natural thing to do when you’re bored I’m always asking, “What else could I be doing if I wasn’t bored?” We get so caught up in

the loop, so I’m always trying to remember to be mindful. FEKETE: I feel the same exact way. I’m curious. What is your favorite type of role to play? KEOUGH: My thing always is— PAIGE: You like to be a ho. KEOUGH: Oh my God. PAIGE: But you are. KEOUGH: I just love doing something I’ve never done before. PAIGE: Yes. KEOUGH: So, for me, it’s like, “Okay, I haven’t done this and I haven’t done this.” I’ve played sex workers a few times but they’re so— PAIGE: Different. KEOUGH: Vastly different. PAIGE: She always understands the assignment. We all know this. KEOUGH: Thank you. PAIGE: Yeah, I took that from Twitter. KEOUGH: Maybe that was a tweet. PAIGE: But she does. KEOUGH: I think it’s just that I don’t want to do the same thing over and over again. PAIGE: Mm-hmm. KEOUGH: And, it’s funny, I’ve played Southern characters a few times but from totally different regions, totally different accents, different people. I like things that feel challenging. I want to do something that’s— PAIGE: A stretch. KEOUGH: Yes, I want to grow and try new things. PAIGE: My whole thing is keeping my life colorful. Even with this role I felt like “Okay, I don’t know if I can do this.” But I felt like something in me, even on a subconscious level, was ready to let go of that self-conscious nature. There was a certain amount of: What’s meant for you, doesn’t miss you. I’m always just like “What’s the next thing that will expand me and deepen my capacity for empathy and understanding of the human.” Because when you break it down and you’re like “Oh, that’s why this person’s evil” or “What happened to them when they—” I just feel like more connected to it all. KEOUGH: I think that that’s such an amazing thing about film, that there’s always empathy. You’re finding empathy for these characters that you in your everyday life would never find empathy for. PAIGE: Totally agree. KEOUGH: And as an actor, it’s also your job when you’re playing a character to find empathy and to make it human. There’s a real practice in “Okay, I’m playing this demon but I need to find empathy for her.” PAIGE: And when have I been a demon, maybe? KEOUGH: Totally, and just finding love for the characters you’re playing and then applying that to life. I think that’s what film is amazing at. And if it’s really wellwritten, the villains are complicated and they’re not just good or bad. They’re new, they’re human; they have hearts and children. You know what I mean? PAIGE: It’s infinite empathy. FEKETE: I love that. Who are currently your dream collaborators or biggest sources of inspiration? KEOUGH: My biggest sources of inspiration are my loved ones, like my sisters, my family, my husband, Taylour, my best friends. I’m so lucky that I’m in a group of people that are constantly trying to grow and be kinder. I feel so grateful that I’m in a circle of people who are really trying their best to be love. As far as collaborators I have realized I love working with people that I love and like being around, so my dream collaborations are spaces like Zola. It was a dream just being around good people. Honestly it’s a priority for me at this point in my life. Of course we want to make good art as well, but when it’s coming from love, like

Taylour always says, it’s going to be good. PAIGE: Honestly, I can’t really top that. I agree. We both try to live in a way that we can have the opportunity to be in environments of freedom for everybody. Even in our work, we ask, “How can I get more free?” And also, “How can I be a part of like freeing consciousness?” And also I am going to put her on the spot and say she’s one of my biggest expanders and inspirations. This woman has been through hell and has experienced extreme grief and sadness and still radiates such compassion and love and understanding and is always doing the work. It makes me want to cry. She’s experienced the hardest year of her life and still smiles and hugs and wants to sit with you. And it’s immeasurable. Those are the kind of people I really want to collaborate with in life because shit is fucked up sometimes. KEOUGH: Yeah, I think Taylour also— PAIGE: You don’t have to do that. KEOUGH: No, I was just going to say, you’re spot on and that life is hard enough. In life and in work, I want to be surrounded by people who are a relief from the pain and struggles. FEKETE: We’re all just trying to hold each other close, and feel that love and support absolutely. What projects are y’all excited about for the future? Anything creatively you’re not under contract to not be able to talk about? PAIGE: I’m headed to Bulgaria on June 13 to go work with Peter Dinklage and some other people. I’m terrified, but I’m also like, “Okay, this is the next part of my soul’s journey.” And I did a movie with Lena Dunham in December that was super secretive. And she is just a dream and has also become a very close friend of mine now. She’s in London, but we talk all the time about life, love, this whole thing. It’s just been really nice to feel seen by people that you look up to, and when they see something in you that you don’t even see in yourself. I’m kind of just rolling with it. We’ll see what happens. And you’re going to do Daisy. KEOUGH: Yeah, I’m doing an Amazon show. We start really soon. It’s called Daisy Jones & The Six and it’s like a ’70s rock and roll band, which is going to be super fun. I just read the book, and it just makes you feel happy. And that’s what I want to contribute to the world right now. You know, like, I want people to feel like this is an escape. FEKETE: What’s a secret or something fun about yourself that you think your fans or the public wouldn’t necessarily know? PAIGE: Well, it wouldn’t be a secret if I told you. FEKETE: True! Yeah, maybe just something people wouldn’t know about you, or even like something about each other that you feel like is really special that doesn’t publicly translate. PAIGE: Well, I can speak for her. Everyone might have their own presumptions of someone who’s like the granddaughter of whoever—What’s his name again? And who also is like the stepchild of—Who’s the other guy? But she is the most grounded, down to earth, truth seeker. Most people just go, “Oh, Elvis Presley. What are your issues?” But in fact they get exacerbated because you’re growing and healing and dealing with shit in front of the entire world. And that’s bizarre. KEOUGH: Now onto Taylour, I think that what’s amazing about Taylour is actually that she is so authentically herself in every situation. It’s what you see is what you get in a really beautiful way. I’ve had interviews where I’m in a weird mood, that are not totally reflective of who I am. Taylour, no matter the weather, no matter the day, no matter the time, is a light shining. PAIGE: That is not true. I can be a fucking dark-ass clown. KEOUGH: Of course, we can all have different moods, but she’s just one of those people who when she walks in the room and she starts talking, everyone feels better. PAIGE: Aw, sis. KEOUGH: It’s true. She leaves the space with love. And that’s what we should all strive to do. 137

Lamb on Lamb: POLACHEK ON SUMNEY MOSES SUMNEY’s second album, græ, came out in a year without touring or fanfare, and yet it still made it into our bloodstream. As a first name, last name singer and songwriter, Sumney embraces the vulnerability that comes with wide recognition both cautiously and joyfully. In a discussion with friend and musical peer CAROLINE POLACHEK, he delves into his first adventures in songwriting, his relationship to folk music and who his mystery icons are. Photography by ERIK CARTER. Styling by KAROLYN PHO. 138 139

Previous page: overcoat by Prada; jacket by Dior Men; trousers by Giorgio Armani; boots by Bottega Veneta; circle ring is talent’s own; corkscrew ring by Leigh Miller. This page: vest by Giorgio Armani; trousers by Giorgio Armani; circle ring is talent’s own; corkscrew ring by Leigh Miller.


CAROLINE POLACHEK: You look so fresh with the short blond. Is it blond? Yes. MOSES SUMNEY: It is blond. It’s platinum blond-ish. I feel like a new person. I had to change it up. It was time to refresh and just start new. New era, as the kids say.

POLACHEK: It’s a good time to. Where are you right now? SUMNEY: I’m in Asheville, North Carolina, in my house, in my office-slash-studio, which is a mess. My view out of the studio window is really beautiful. I wish I could show you in person. POLACHEK: I’m seeing terraced steps, beautiful greenery behind it. SUMNEY: Yes, I live in a forest essentially. After living in LA for so long, living somewhere where the seasons change blows my mind. I’m like, “Whoa, there are leaves coming in!” POLACHEK: It’s almost like when you get the flu or any sort of bad sickness, you suddenly have new access to the memories of all the other times you’ve been sick. Do you know what I mean? When it is spring, suddenly those smells give you like a renewed access to all your other spring memories. Do you find that? SUMNEY: Yes. It’s as if there are chambers of memory and different points in time access different chambers. POLACHEK: Fully. I think music can do that for people too, which is why people get so sentimental about music that reminds them of certain phases in their past. SUMNEY: I’ve never actually actively thought about it, but it is interesting to think that you would have to be in a really specific

environment in order to experience a memory in a more visceral way, because of course you can remember anything at any point, but there’s also all the little things that you forget. I wonder where those go in your brain. For me, how certain plants smell or look or how many bugs there are in the spring, which I never remember. POLACHEK: Maybe we can’t remember everything then. Maybe that’s a lie that we tell ourselves. SUMNEY: Definitely, there’s so much that I just blank out on. I’m always surprised when I forget something, I feel like it’s gone forever. When it comes back, it feels really magical to me. I’m very forgetful. Then suddenly I’ll be like, “Hey, this thing.” I wish I knew more about science. POLACHEK: How does it affect you when you’re writing? If you’re sketching the melody in the studio and someone you’re with starts playing something else, does it overwrite what you’re working on? SUMNEY: Yes, and I hate it. There is nothing worse than forgetting the melody. I only have capacity for one or two things at a time, one or two ideas. POLACHEK: It’s so sad. SUMNEY: It’s so sad because [when you’re writing] it’s like you accessed some magical channel. When you forget it, it’s like the channel has been sealed off. It actually kills me.

POLACHEK: It’s like you’ve pulled a little fish out of the ocean and then dropped it back and you’ll never see it again. It’s so sad. SUMNEY: Absolutely. That’s not something I love. POLACHEK: I was wondering if maybe this idea that we have access to all of our memories all the time is informed by our relationship with computers. This idea that everything can be backed up, that everything exists on the cloud, that everything exists in this logical, objective way. We start thinking about our own brains and memories that way when they really couldn’t be any more different. SUMNEY: It’s like we lie to ourselves more? POLACHEK: Well, it’s almost like we think about information the way computers do. We imagine that our own relationship with information is similar to computers, but it’s just not. SUMNEY: The irony of that for me is without computers, I feel like my memory would be much stronger. If I wasn’t relying on the crutch of, “Oh, I’ll just be able to access that at any point,” I’d work harder. It’s the simple thing of memorizing phone numbers. Back in the day, I used to know everybody’s phone number. Now the idea of knowing someone’s number seems psychotic. How creepy would it be if I was like, “Oh, your number is 823 472.” POLACHEK: I’d feel touched, but maybe a little worried. SUMNEY: Yes, exactly. I would be like, “Oh, that’s sweet, but why?” I think about this with writing too. The idea of losing a notebook to me is the worst thing that could happen because it’s where I write lyrics or just ideas. But of course there are people who used to just write up here, which is, maybe it’s a bygone era. POLACHEK: They must still exist. That takes me to something I wanted to ask you about. I was having a conversation last night with a sculptor friend of mine and was saying that I really envied her relationship with her work, where her relationship with what she’s doing is contained in this object. As a musician, I feel like what we make is so ephemeral and exists in this digital space ultimately, but yet there’s this irony where what we do for a living, we can’t outsource to an assistant or to a fabricator, it has to come from us in our bodies. I feel like you’re maybe the artist who represents that embodiment for me more than anyone else I know, with how much care you put into presenting yourself and the physicality of your singing. Does that dissonance ring true for you at all, or do you feel harmonized with it? SUMNEY: Wow. I’ve never thought about that before, which is really quite a striking thing to sit with. I think that I was always really disturbed as a 141

child by ephemerality, of course, without knowing what that was. I was always really, really shaken by the temporal nature of time and I would almost obsessively try to perform tasks or movements just over and over, just to be like, “What if I did it again? What if I did it again? What if I did it again? Now, it’s gone.” POLACHEK: I can do it again. I can rewind, I can replay. SUMNEY: Yes, absolutely. Can I recapture time or an idea? I would think about this a lot as a kid and be really annoyed by the fact that I couldn’t. Really it’s all about death for me. All things, all paths lead there, which is inevitable and scary, but also there’s something comforting about knowing that it’s going to happen regardless. I think the way that that manifested for me vocally was just trying to create a rift in time, learning to hold a note for as long as possible, or trying to do things that were really disruptive and felt like they were tearing through a plane, which they’re not and they can’t, but really putting everything into it and giving it everything made me feel better about the ephemeral nature of what I do. POLACHEK: It’s amazing that you think about sustaining notes as a form of playing with time. I love that. It gives me chills. I took your entire discography for a walk today and it definitely stuck out at me how the more you work, the more of these obviously pronounced long notes are appearing. It’s cool to hear that’s the philosophy behind that. SUMNEY: How long can we make a moment last? POLACHEK: Speaking of long notes, this is very special that we’re two vocalists who get to speak about singing, so I’m going to really get into that. SUMNEY: I don’t know that much about singing. POLACHEK: No one gets to know anything about singing. That’s how it works. We’re just driving the car. For me, I have all these visual devices that I use when singing. For me, it feels very aerial, it feels like a bird in space, or I very often think about it in terms of drawing, even harmony as being like, “Oh, that’s a paintbrush instead of a pencil.” You’re moving parallel fibers in space. I’m really curious if you have any visual devices conscious or unconscious that you find coming up as you’re singing or as you’re writing. SUMNEY: I almost don’t. It feels more in my body than in my mind’s eye. Obviously, I have visual things that I go to a lot when I’m writing. I think about color sometimes when singing. I think about temperature, warmth or what’s warm, what’s cool. What feels soft and what feels rough? What feels porous? I think about that a lot because I have a


really raspy voice and it often feels like someone just poked a bunch of holes in it. You said you think of drawing lines sometimes? POLACHEK: Yes, but I also went to art school for drawing. I think the way a point moves through space feels very vocal, but also what you do with your voice feels so environmental. SUMNEY: Yes, that’s really important to me, to feel more like an architect or a director, and to be able to feel like every piece of the music is a reflection of me, whether or not I am the one playing it, and whether or not I am present as a vocalist or a storyteller in the explicit sense. I think about this all the time as a soloist. As a first name or last name artist, so much of your music becomes about your image, the idea of you is ever-present in the music. No one’s ever like, “Oh, and the bassist is—” Whereas when I think of a band... we love Cocteau Twins, and as much as I’m thinking of Liz Fraser, I’m thinking about the environment and I’m thinking about the atmosphere that’s created and I’m thinking about the different people and what they’re all bringing, or I’m not thinking at all. As a result, I often feel the need to step away from my image and ego. I get sick of myself, especially because I sing so much on the record and in the live shows, I’m like, “All right, that’s enough of me. Really, we’ve had enough of that.” How can we tell stories with just music? How can we tell stories with images? How can we tell stories with instrumental pieces? Because that is just as much a part of it as me doing a few riffs or something. How can I bring in other people’s voices and stitch and patch them together? As soon as I started making films I’ve been thinking

“With my first album, I FELT SO DOMINATED BY THE CULTURE OF ROMANCE and obsessed with it, even as someone who felt like I was on the periphery of it...

more about that, being a conductor, patching in different voices, and saying, “This is who I am as well.” It’s definitely something I want to do more. I’m always like, “Sing less.” Then I can’t. POLACHEK: Maybe just the definition of singing is just shifting. SUMNEY: Yes, I think it needs to, because space is such an important part of singing, just in the same way that you have to take a breath. The moments you choose not to sing are just as impactful, if not more impactful. POLACHEK: I think that’s the deep lesson of entering one’s 30s in general. Philosophically, just having that wherewithal, having that presence of mind to be like, “I don’t need to be speaking right now. Is it awful if I don’t?” SUMNEY: Yes, totally. Often silence is also a mystery. Come on. POLACHEK: Who’s one of your mystery icons? Who do you think is completely getting it right in terms of staying mysterious in 2021? SUMNEY: In 2021? POLACHEK: In 2021, who’s mysterious? SUMNEY: Damn. POLACHEK: Can mystery survive this year? SUMNEY: That’s also a great question for last year. It was a moment where everyone was like, “Here’s me in my house.” And it’s like, “Do we care? I’m not sure we do.” Honestly, I have to say Beyoncé is the queen of mystery, the queen of candor and giving. I would call it generous mystery. She gives you so much and at the end of the day, you don’t know shit about her. You don’t know shit about her life. I think that’s fucking cool because it’s still so generous. Who else? I’m going to think about it because I want to say more names. I want to put that question back to you actually. POLACHEK: I think Yves Tumor walks that tightrope. Who else? SUMNEY: I agree wholeheartedly. POLACHEK: We’ll do a mystery round two at the end, but then round two has to be non-musicians as well, if you can think of any. SUMNEY: I’m jealous you said Yves Tumor and that I didn’t say it, to be really honest. POLACHEK: Maybe we just leave it as Beyoncé and Yves Tumor because that’s a hot duo of mystery masters. SUMNEY: Great range. POLACHEK: I want to jump topics for a second. You talk about plurality in græ (2020) and you also embody it so deeply in that album. I’ve been thinking a lot about archetypes and how these archetypes that we’re raised with inform us again and again and again, both as things that we don’t

want to be perceived as and things that we deeply cherish and are constantly seeking to arrive at in our own way. I’m curious about any archetypes that you encountered as a young person, younger than 12, and not necessarily people that you wanted to become, not role models, but ways of being that you found in the world that you were deeply attracted to and still engage with. Are there any archetypes that are very meaningful to you right now? SUMNEY: Yes. I’m obsessed with the introvert archetype, the bookish introvert, which I am, but not fully. I’m not nearly as bookish as I wish I was, but as a child, I was extremely bookish. I would go to the library every Saturday and check out 15 to 20 books. My goal was to read them all before the next Saturday. Actually, I was quite lonely as a child, but that was maybe actually another archetype that I was attracted to, the loner. The you-don’t-get-me kind of mysterious loser was one I absolutely loved as a kid. I would say those are the two that I’m still very attracted to. Then I get really envious when other people say, “No, I don’t leave my house.” Or people are like, “Oh no, I read two books this week.” I’m like, “How?” POLACHEK: I have memorized your phone number suddenly. SUMNEY: Yes, exactly. “I’m calling you from my rotary phone.” POLACHEK: Oh, that’s so beautiful. Those archetypes do come up so much in the idea of outsider and experimental music in general as well. I wonder sometimes if those archetypes are what drew us to that music in the first place. We’re like, “Oh, that’s what those people listen to.” SUMNEY: Exactly. That’s the coolest type of person, the kind of person that goes off and does their own thing and then makes whatever they make unaffected by the mainstream ideal of what they should be doing. It’s like, “That’s who I want to be following. The person who’s creating outside of culture.” Because those are often the people who end up making cultural shifts honestly. POLACHEK: Yes, totally. The loner is always going to be someone who has the confidence to be alone and also has some skepticism about what else is going on or has nothing better to do and that’s just an intoxicating combo. SUMNEY: It is because you should be skeptical. POLACHEK: I have an assignment for you. Do you have your phone around? SUMNEY: It’s sadly right here. POLACHEK: I want you to find your last selfie and describe it really poetically. SUMNEY: Oh, my God. This is a great assignment. POLACHEK: You can also lie. You can blatantly

...Standing OUTSIDE THE CLUB, listening to the music and the bass but NOT ACTUALLY BEING IN THE CLUB.” MOSES Sumney

lie, but we’re here for the poetic description of your last selfie. SUMNEY: Off-the-cuff poetry. I don’t know. I’m a little rusty. Let’s see. Luxuriating on lambskin. A rug, a bag made of calfskin, sheepskin sits on its calves next to me, also on top of the lambskin. It’s lamb on lamb and I am laying down next to it gazing quite forlornly into the mirror. Phone next to my head, sunglasses on, though it is nighttime. You can’t see my eyes, but I’m gazing, gazing, gazing. POLACHEK: “Lamb on lamb?” If that’s not the title of this interview, I don’t know what is. SUMNEY: I’ll send it to you. POLACHEK: Thank you for that. Yes, please. If you don’t mind me asking, who was the photo taken for? SUMNEY: The photo was to my friends, Matt and Kelly, who worked for Thom Browne. They sent me this gorgeous bag for my birthday, which was a lamb. My birthday was yesterday. POLACHEK: Happy birthday SUMNEY: Thank you. Although I say I wasn’t born, I landed. POLACHEK: Whilst this is a beautiful photo, your description of it painted, I imagined, a fireplace. SUMNEY: Oh my God. POLACHEK: No, I imagined stacks of dusty books. I don’t know why. SUMNEY: No, I love that. Your imagination will always be better than the real thing. POLACHEK: Well, I’m going to fill in some of the blanks. This wooden mirror is propped up on a wooden floor next to a dark-gray floor-to-ceiling velveteen curtain that matches the exact shade of muted gray of the wall behind Moses. It’s modern. This is a modern room. SUMNEY: Very true. I love that exercise. Thank you.

POLACHEK: I’m going to switch once again and bring us back to your past a bit. I’m curious about your first ever memorable experience writing songs. How old were you? Did anyone hear these songs? Where were you? SUMNEY: I have two distinct memories. Actually stories I haven’t really told, but the first one was when I was seven and I knew I wanted to be a singer. I had watched a movie. I don’t remember exactly what it was called. It was called One-Night John or something like that. I wrote a song called “One-Night Stand”—where I learned the phrase, I don’t really know, because I was seven years old. I’d written it and the lyrics were like, “The one-night stand for a one-night man. Something I could never do.” Did not know what a one-night stand was. “One night stand for one man. What and who.” I had written it as a whole thing and I took it to school and I just held it very close because I was like, “Wow, I wrote a song,” so special, and then I lost the paper at lunchtime. I grew up going to a Christian private school. I lost the paper and some older kids found it. Kids who obviously knew what a one-night stand was. I could see them at a lunch table laughing and just being like, “What the fuck?” Then they gave it to the teacher and told on me and the teacher came to me, took me aside and was like, “Moses, you’re a really good kid and this is not what I expect from you. I could really tell your parents, but I’m just not. Just don’t do that again.” POLACHEK: Because of the expression of homosexuality? SUMNEY: I don’t know. I haven’t thought about that actually, but I figured because it had to do with a one-night stand that was the thing. POLACHEK: So sexuality, in general, was not accepted at that age? SUMNEY: Yes. It was the sexuality and that age and the fact that it was a Christian school. I didn’t know that it was sexual. I was just like, I don’t really know what I did wrong but clearly I pushed a button, so there’s something here. POLACHEK: Wow. I think that would have really traumatized me, actually, as a kid. That’s cool that you leaned into being provocative. SUMNEY: Well, I think I’d had both experiences but I leaned into wanting to provoke, but I also wanting to be even more private because I hadn’t told anyone. Remember I didn’t really have friends. I wasn’t like, “Hey, I wrote a song.” I was more just like, “This is a thing I did by myself, for myself.” The second memory I want to tell you is years and years later. I didn’t write another song until five or six years later. It was five or six years 143

Pants by LV x NBA Collection.


until I picked up the pen again. I was now living in Ghana. That first story was in California. This second story is in Ghana. I had a friend, like a best friend, and he knew I wanted to be a singer. We had a weird relationship, I would say we weren’t real friends, it was one of those school relationships where you’re super-competitive and you’re like, “I love you but I also want to destroy you.” He one day was like, “I wrote a song.” I was just like, “Oh.” And then he was like, “Yes. I don’t know, I was just chilling last night and I wrote a whole song. Want to see it?” He showed me this whole song that he had written and I was just so jealous. I was just like, “That’s my thing, I’m the songwriter. Have I been writing songs? No. But I am the songwriter amongst the two of us, and I’m the singer. I’m going to start writing songs.” I went home and I started writing songs. I wrote my first one and I came back. I remember this song was called “Mesmerizing Eyes,” it was a love song. Who was I singing to? No idea. I came back and I was like, “I wrote a song. Blah, blah, blah.” He had completely forgotten about it. He was like, “Oh. I was kidding, I didn’t write that song. That was a Westlife song.” Do you know the band Westlife? POLACHEK: Yes. SUMNEY: He was like, “Oh, I’d forgot—Oh, that? That was a Westlife song. I don’t write songs.” I was like, “Oh,” but then it just actually triggered this thing in me where I just never stopped writing songs after that. I was always writing songs after that. POLACHEK: How did you write that song? Was there accompaniment or was it just a cappella? SUMNEY: There was no accompaniment, and the first, I would say seven or eight years that I wrote songs, I primarily wrote them a cappella. I did not know how to play any instruments, and I came from a family that discouraged music-making. I, in a really insular way, would just write songs alone in my room. I had a notebook that I would write all the lyrics in and I would just remember all of the melodies. At the peak of this, I had 100 songs in this notebook. This is actually what I was saying about pre-digital songwriting. I had 100 songs and I could sing you verbatim verse, chorus, bridge, verse, chorus, bridge, every single melody, without ever recording them and without ever having a reference pitch. POLACHEK: That is so beautiful. Would you ever consider going back into them? Do you still have that writing anywhere? SUMNEY: I hope I do. I think it’s in a storage unit somewhere. I remember some of the songs still. I

“I love the idea that the only WAY TO CAPTURE A MEMORY is to write it.” MOSES Sumney

am interested in revisiting some of them lyrically. I know I have to change some lyrics. I don’t know what the lyricism was doing. Melodically I am interested in revisiting them because I was very much writing pop songs. I was very much pop, R&B and rock, but I would put them all under the umbrella of pop. I think about it sometimes and those are my roots as a songwriter. Then I went into this place of wanting to be more experimental and abstract and obscure, of course. I wanted to be an artist. I am interested in revisiting them but also I’m curious to know what I would do instrumentally now that I have the skill and the knowledge that I have. POLACHEK: That would be such a wild experiment. It’s funny because my first interest and I mean addictive, obsessive interest in music came from pop music as well, probably at the age of eight or nine. Then, of course, once we entered our early teens we started finding out about Radiohead and then: Mind equals blown. Then we go down that hole. It’s funny that you describe these a capella pieces of music as pop tunes, when I think, for me, the music that gets described as pop music now is music that’s incredibly produced and especially very electronically produced. It makes me think that maybe pop tunes, the tunes that are singable in the schoolyard, in the back of the car without any accompaniment, are folk music and that’s what folk music has always been. I’m curious about your own relationship with that term and that idea. SUMNEY: I think that what we think of as folk music, from a modern cultural perspective is not as expansive as folk music actually is and was going through the ages. I love the idea that the

only way to capture a memory is to write it. I think that idea in some ways is at the foundation of pop music because in order to pass on that oral history it has to be memorable. It’s got to be catchy. POLACHEK: That’s so interesting to use a narrative form as a definition of folk music. The way I’ve always thought about it has to do with the economy of what’s available, like using instruments that are easily accessible. Whether it was a lute or a bottle, or a guitar or a computer. By that standard of defining folk music then, would you include love songs in that? They’re not talking about the times as much as they are about a personal feeling. SUMNEY: Yes, absolutely. I would. Traditionally, those are also passed down. We are talking about how something felt and how it looked and how it smelled and tasted and needing to share that with someone else. We have an idea of the love song before we have an idea of what love itself is. I know that was the case for me. I was writing love songs before I even had tried to imagine myself being in love. POLACHEK: I guess “Greensleeves” is probably the oldest folk song I can place. That’s a love song, isn’t it? I can’t recall the lyrics. SUMNEY: Yes: “Alas, my love, you do me wrong.” POLACHEK: Right there, line one. SUMNEY: It says traditional English folk. Henry VIII of England, 1500s. POLACHEK: We’re including heartbreak in oral history. That seems right. SUMNEY: Also, what could be more universal? There’s both capturing a moment, but there’s also an implied universality to the folk song, the pop song, and those are the most universal timeless tropes. POLACHEK: The love song too. I had this switch flip inside me a few years ago when I started listening to love songs as spiritual instead. If you think about the you in any love song as being life itself, it just changes everything. It’s pretty amazing. SUMNEY: I need to sit with that because that is really deep. I had the inclination as a child, but even now, sometimes an inclination to listen for a “you,” when there isn’t one. Where does that come from? It’s true that there is some kind of inherent spirituality to the romance of being. Often that’s what you’re tapping into. It’s about the actual romance of just being alive and listening and taking things in and feeling. Are there any specific songs that made you start thinking about that, or was that more in the songwriting process? POLACHEK: I can’t remember what actually 145

triggered it, but I got very critical of my own use of the word “you” in songs—that I was leaning on it too much as a device. I was starting to question if there was any kind of implied femininity in making so many songs dedicated to or about people. There’s this whole history especially within 1960s protest songs of talking about ontology. What exists in the world, what’s going on in this shared space? The politics, the facts of living, what’s going on in the neighborhood. I was just thinking about that legacy belonging more to men in the last century than to female songwriters. Then I started getting really critical of my own use of the direct subject in music and trying to push myself out of that, into writing in a more ontological or abstract or socially conscious way, and ultimately failing at it. I’m a romantic, I’m a hopeless romantic, and I decided to detach that from any idea of gender and put all those critical thoughts away and redefine “you” as living itself. SUMNEY: Honestly, I’m glad you just touched on that because I feel similar in some ways because, especially with my first album, I felt so dominated by the culture of romance and obsessed with it, even as someone who felt like I was on the periphery of it. Standing outside the club, listening to the music and the bass but not actually being in the club. POLACHEK: Have you gotten to the rabbit hole of this YouTube genre of people rerecording albums from outside of the club? SUMNEY: I fucking love those rerecords. I felt similar to you in that I felt like so much of my writing was about romance or love or the lack of love or infatuation. I was like, Damn bitch, can we come up with something else? Is there more to life? Then I’ve written a bunch of songs that aren’t, but it honestly just doesn’t hit the same, it doesn’t hit the same as writing to “you.” There’s something about it. POLACHEK: I think we’ve peaked, but I still have a couple of questions. In this digital age of music release, which you’ve experienced so personally because you’ve put out a record during a time you couldn’t tour it, where we’re left feeling very on our own in this monocultural digital soup that is the Internet, it seems to make the need for mentorship much greater. I was curious if you have or had any mentors in your career, or if you’ve ever considered mentoring younger artists yourself? SUMNEY: Yes and no. I was actually thinking about this a few days ago. I don’t feel like I have any mentors and it bothers me. Maybe it’s me. I’ve never really been the type of person to, let’s say, seek out apprenticeship. However, I can point to certain people who have been there at different


“That’s who I want to be following. THE PERSON WHO’S CREATING OUTSIDE OF CULTURE.” MOSES Sumney

points in my life, who gave me advice and I could learn from. I would say that Dave Sitek, the producer from TV on the Radio, was a big one. Early in my career he gave me great advice about navigating labels and navigating producers. It was a big thing to produce my first record. I was meeting all these white male bros. He gave me really excellent advice about going my own path and doing my own thing and I never forgot it. I also toured with Sufjan Stevens before my first album came out and he was really great. Again, really generous and kind, and a great ear. POLACHEK: That’s interesting to think about support gigs as a form of apprenticeship. SUMNEY: They could be but they usually end up being traumatizing. POLACHEK: I had so many of those, going out on the road, opening, I will not name any names, but opening for lots for artists who just barely wanted to speak to me. Then the opposite also happens too, where you’re opening for someone every night and you just watch and learn. SUMNEY: A lot of it does end up being you just watch and learn, as opposed to, “Hey, can I ask you a question?” It’s rare that established artists will take the time. Most of the time you get bullied as a support act. You get tossed around. I hated those days, but, yes, Sufjan was very much like, “Hey, what are you doing? How’s it going?” I would say Solange was another person who’s been really generous and open. I’ve had people along the way who have given me wonderful advice but I wish that maybe I had sought out someone to be like, “Hey, can I just really sit and learn from you? I don’t know shit. Can I come to you and just ask you stuff? Can I

just sit behind you and watch you as you produce? Can I just sit there and maybe ask a question here and there, but I won’t be annoying.” POLACHEK: I wonder if, as you were saying, you’re attracted to this archetype of the loner which actually predisposes us to be musicians in the first place, so as much as we’re the kind of people to not ask for help maybe we don’t need it either. SUMNEY: I think it’s both. Everyone needs help, but I think that you don’t need help all the time. Let’s say that. We’re sitting in our rooms teaching ourselves how to do things and exploring our own curiosities and not knowing the right way to do this is part of what makes it more interesting anyway. I agree to taking advice on the business side of things, because it’s so mysterious. POLACHEK: Speaking of mystery, do you have a final mystery icon? SUMNEY: I’m thinking of this French actress actually. Isabelle Huppert. POLACHEK: The ultimate. I just thought of mine, but it’s really contentious. Have you seen Barron Trump’s artwork? SUMNEY: Wait, what? POLACHEK: I think he’s like 12 years old, but he makes these really horny anime drawings that are actually kind of good— SUMNEY: Wait, I’m looking this up immediately. POLACHEK: But also that classic photo of him in the back seat of a limousine, that should’ve been an Evian Christ album cover. That should’ve been the cover of the darkest album of the year. It’s an open goal. Anyone reading this who needs album art, just snatch that image because it’s timeless. SUMNEY: It’s so good. POLACHEK: That’s not crafted mystery, that’s a mystery for a very different set of reasons but equally potent. SUMNEY: I’m just blown away. You know what I mean? I’m almost just like, “What’s going on in there?” I would love— POLACHEK: There’s probably some really good fan fiction. SUMNEY: Actually, to that end, this is a little bit less supportive but just because now it feels fun: Ella Emhoff. POLACHEK: Oh crazy. It’s so hard to know if she’s actually compelling or if the situation is just so wild and loaded, but it doesn’t matter anymore, does it? It’s all one thing. SUMNEY: It’s all one. That’s what is great about it. It’s all just mashed together and we’re just outside the club listening to culture audio. POLACHEK: We’re eating the culture sandwich. SUMNEY: We really are.

Vest by Thom Browne; bracelet by Leigh Miller; pinkie rings by Leigh Miller; circle ring is talent’s own. Grooming by Annette Chaisson for Exclusive Artists using Koh Gen Do. Photo assistant Amanda Yanez. Styling assistant Kailee Takashima. 147


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Jennifer Packer in her temporary studio in Rome, where she spent the year after winning the American Academy’s coveted Rome Prize. 150

HANS ULRICH OBRIST: How did you come to art? Did you have an epiphany or a sudden awakening? JENNIFER PACKER: It was seeing Caravaggio’s Saint Matthew series (1599– 1602) in the Contarelli Chapel at San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome that I recognize as the moment I became a painter. Caravaggio made me understand what a painting could do. I felt connected to his deep, dark representation that seemed almost blasphemous and also seemed to contradict all the other optimistic images that were in the church and in the city. There’s this break between the entropy you feel in the city and the beauty of the images presented. If you go from church to church you see incessant glorification. Suffering isn’t depicted as painful, like in works by Ribera or Mexican religious painting. It’s more superficial or circumstantial. Even if you go to the Sistine Chapel and see Michelangelo’s Last Judgment (1536–41), people are literally going to hell and it doesn’t look so bad. Caravaggio’s work was so much truer than any other images that I’d seen; it felt human. He was able to synthesize all the information and images from artists who seemed to be real believers. He’s able to use Giotto. He’s able to use Michelangelo and make it nasty. Sometimes when you look at these paintings in churches you forget that electricity hadn’t been discovered and wouldn’t be understood for another 200 years, so there’s this fabrication of lighting conditions in paintings that you see everywhere in Rome, as if everywhere is flushed with an ever-present light. In Caravaggio’s painting The Calling of Saint Matthew (1600), Christ is completely in shadow. He’s walked into this tavern and he’s pointing


to Saint Matthew, but you can barely see him. I feel this is closer to what you’d read in the New Testament, where Christ isn’t purely radiant and flowing. There’s pain and he suffers in darkness. There’s also something of this pain in Caravaggio’s paintings The Conversion of Saint Paul and The Crucifixion of Saint Peter (both 1601) in the Cerasi Chapel in Santa Maria del Popolo. You only see it from someone who’s endeavoring to capture humanness, which I don’t think a lot of Italian painters of this time were trying to do. They were capturing a fantasy, a world of people who are larger than life, where religion and its stories were a myth, whereas Caravaggio is treating it like this could be happening today. There’s something so deeply sad about those works, and I felt recognized in them.

HANS ULRICH OBRIST: I’m interested in how you begin a painting. Lynette Yiadom-Boakye has said that within your work there are “infinite possibilities of color, space, composition and, ultimately, life” and that you are “a painter who always makes you want to keep looking and learning. A painter who makes you feel excited about the act of painting.” How do you start, given these infinite possibilities? Is it with a sketch or a photograph or with a dream? JENNIFER PACKER: I think I approach painting through questions of hierarchy, beginning with what’s of the deepest significance. Historically, light is value, so something that’s given value is blessed with radiance. That’s a function of how color operates. I usually want light to be in, through and with everything, for everything to be abundant with light. I’m interested in responsibility or accountability in a picture, but


one thing in relation to the next, so that nothing is more or less important than another. Matisse wrote about this, how essentially expression and harmony, or expression and wholeness, were inextricably tied, so that anything that doesn’t belong in the painting is not there. So I usually approach a painting that way, thinking about what’s essential to the image and to the feeling within my own expression. For observational portraiture, I ask someone if they’d like to sit, or if they just happen to be in the studio I might ask them if they’d mind if I paint them. So things tend to seem a little more obvious when producing an image like that. Everything is there, and everything is true, so it’s irrefutable in the painting. Drawings are made from memory, from something I’ve seen in the world, or occasionally they’re based on photography. The interiors and the bouquets have become composites of observation. I don’t usually use the word “intuitive,” but I feel like I flow between moments of observation and imagination. OBRIST: In some sense, your work is autobiographical? PACKER: Of course. What else can we do? I like the idea that I’m the only one who can make a certain painting, and I tend to want to push that, whether it’s technically, conceptually or emotionally. What I also like about painting is, if I say a word, I can make an image that pertains to that word, and that’s my ideal version. I can paint anything and see anything I’d like to see, even things that I’m not sure I want to see. I saw Titian’s The Flaying of Marsyas (c. 1570-1576) when I was in Rome, where he’s strung upside down, and I was thinking about Titian painting this body and deciding how much care to give to Marsyas. I feel the same way: the idea of painting as an exercise in tenderness. OBRIST: You’ve said that the subjects of your work aren’t bodies but humans. PACKER: I feel a resistance to the use of the word “bodies” to describe the figures in my work. There’s an important difference between having a body and being a body. Bodies can be almost anything and are often subject to mindless objectification or a loss of humanity. I’m usually thinking about the significance of that distinction as I work.

HANS ULRICH OBRIST: Very often, there’s a dominant color in your paintings. Yellow, for instance, reoccurs in your work, which is then rendered in many different tones and ways. Can you talk about how you approach color? JENNIFER PACKER: Many of my questions when working have to do with “What’s the climate? Where’s the heat in the painting?” or, “Is there heat, or is there just color after color after color?” I’m trying to create this environment in which the figure exists, so the climate is really important, as much as a mood, or as much as a sense of newness, which is how people often utilize color. I think a lot about Milton Avery, who made paintings that sometimes feel so timeless just because of the way that the colors sit and radiate. A lot of my paintings around 2015, such as Vision Impaired, were monochromatic because I was giving equal importance to negative space and the adornment of the environment. I thought, “What’s the significance of the difference between a person and a chair, in terms of social or cultural value?” Manet got a lot of crap for painting a person the same way as a parrot or a guitar. There’s no hierarchy. I started to use the monochrome as a way to force any distinctions that were necessary to happen through tactility, through the amount of color on the surface, rather than these other arbitrary shifts. I could then eliminate things that were inessential pretty quickly. You could feel

Jess, 2018 153




something was there because it was dense, but what difference does a light casting a shadow do for some of the paintings I’ve made? The monochrome became a severe editing process. It was a way of being critical about making very tight pictures with considered surfaces. Can you make a good painting with one color? OBRIST: What role does drawing play in that? When I was in your Bronx studio last year, what really struck me were your large-scale charcoal drawings. PACKER: There was a time when it felt like drawing was in the way. I couldn’t paint to save my life. So, I would draw an image and the drawing would feel so complete that the idea was already realized. It would prevent the painting from ever occurring. So I stopped drawing so that I could actually focus on painting. It’s still true that the drawing removes possibility, but it makes the paintings more pointed. Drawing doesn’t just translate into painting effortlessly. For me, drawing is almost like a primary language: you can start scribbling before you put sentences together. It’s really direct; it’s easier to approach an image through drawing. When I began making small paintings, it was to spite people who said that small paintings were studies, even though there are many examples of stunning small works, by van Eyck for instance, that are not. But then I started to think of drawing as this thing that could do something unique and immediate that painting would have to work so hard to achieve. I wanted to challenge myself to approach drawing in such a way that it could argue with a painting. Typically, my drawings aren’t images that become paintings. They’re like this counter-practice. Even if it’s the same image, I see them as being completely different. Our exhibition is going to be one of the first times where I’m really emphasizing that relationship.

HANS ULRICH OBRIST: I was wondering to what extent you feel politics enter your painting?

JENNIFER PACKER: I feel a kind of responsibility. Painting can go where photography cannot. I think my task as an artist is to be more attentive. Everyone should be attentive, but I ask myself to look and reap the benefits and witness pain with that consciousness. I think it’s impossible not to talk about politics, even in the most casual way. I’m thinking about Black representation in portraiture. I’m thinking about walking through the Met and looking at the Rubens, or any other large paintings of that nature, which are about a decadence that was funded through procuring riches from other parts of the world in questionable ways. OBRIST: You mean the painting of the colonial age? PACKER: Yes, of course. I feel a responsibility for things that I haven’t even fully named yet. I was thinking about the exhibition “Posing Modernity: The Black Model from Manet and Matisse to Today.” Maybe 50 to 60 percent of works in it I’d never seen before and it was contextualized through the politics of the day. The fact that Black women were relevant and had meaningful social status is otherwise completely unclear within the context of French painting without shows like that. You are highly unlikely to learn this fact from any major museum collection. In 1794, France abolished slavery, then reestablished it six years later. French institutions changed the names of painting titles so you wouldn’t have known that the models were actually Black, or that their titles read as offensive today. Institutions, through their insistence on master narratives, neglect or intentionally withhold essential representations or counternarratives that would help us better understand history and the impact of BIPOC folks. These gestures seem to benefit those who are invested in ideas of their own innocence or who suffer under scrutiny or transparency. Institutions also tend to distinguish, hierarchically, artifacts from art in ways that are extremely problematic, especially when many of those “artifacts” have been acquired through colonization or other culturally destructive or transformative acts. The artifact becomes a shadow to the more significant

narrative of art history. The fact that there are so few representations of Black women in the Met at all proves this resistance or fear of acknowledging the importance or centrality of Black women to the success of the colonies and European interests in general. OBRIST: Some of your earlier paintings, especially the monochromes of figures in an interior, verge on the abstract. There are many different forms of abstraction—formalist, political, social. What’s your relationship to this, and how does this figuration-abstraction oscillation occur? PACKER: People think representation is more believable or real than abstraction. But van Gogh’s paintings don’t look real. I’ve never seen a painting that looked real, but I’ve seen paintings that felt real. I’m interested in something that runs through the work despite what the image is. Morandi, Cézanne and FantinLatour do this for me. It’s something happening that builds the picture into what it is, but it isn’t reliant on the picture itself. I think de Kooning is one of those artists too. In my second year of painting, I was heavily invested in abstraction. I was really into Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still and Barnett Newman. I was completely blown away when I saw Newman’s Stations of the Cross in DC. It impacted the way that I thought about space and being enveloped in a painting. At Tate Modern, the Rothko room is insanely intense. Early on, I made some faux abstract paintings. They’re mostly representational derivations that were over-reductions. I’m really interested in Greenberg and modernism, and this idea that all that matters, all that’s true, is the material. You have the surface and everything emerges from it, as if everything is just a low-relief sculpture. In the past, artists were trying to get all the brush marks out of their representational paintings. But it’s still a low-relief sculpture that happens to be a picture. So I usually use the word “dissolution” to describe what others might call abstraction. I’m interested in the breakdown of something that pretends to be something else: the representation of the simulation.

This extract is taken from an interview first published in Jennifer Packer: The Eye Is Not Satisfied With Seeing, (Eds. Melissa Blanchflower and Natalia Grabowska) to accompany the artist’s exhibition at Serpentine, London (19 May - 22 August 2021) which tours to Whitney Museum of American Art (29 October 2021 - 17 April 2022). 155

DAYS PRIOR TO OUR INTERVIEW, director Janicza Bravo fell asleep behind the wheel of her car. Shaken up by the accident, she took some time off to recalibrate. “Today is the day,” she tells me over Zoom, “that I’ve decided to keep on living.” She laughs while saying this. Her office in Los Angeles, from what I can see, explodes with light. Behind her, a mirrored storage wall reveals what is afoot: foliage dappled with sunshine, rows of neatly labeled bins, Bravo folded into herself at a desk. She wears a boatneck striped shirt and lights a cigarette mid-sentence. Breathe in, breathe out. Looking at me, not her digital reflection, she asks: “How are you?” I’m fine, living in the dregs of quarantine. I skip ahead to ask what she’s watching. “I’ve been leaving the TV on the Turner Classic Movies channel.” Is that available on streaming? “I don’t know, but I love the live element. Something about having the option to select will send me down a hole of not arriving at a selection. With cable I can check the schedule. I can be like, ‘Okay, so this is what’s on tonight. I’ll be back at 7:45.’” Isn’t it exciting to be surprised? “It’s like going to a museum while traveling. It doesn’t matter what’s on view while I’m there, I’m just going to experience

AFTER A YEAR’S DELAY, THE DIRECTOR DEBUTS HER MUCH ANTICIPATED FILM, ZOLA. DEVAN DÍAZ CALLS HER UP TO DISCUSS THE NUANCES OF THE TRAGEDY, COMEDY AND CHEMISTRY THAT THE FILM TAKES ON WITH GUSTO. PHOTOGRAPHY BY CLIFFORD PRINCE KING something, because it’s what is available to me. There’s pleasure in that.” There’s also pleasure— and a little pain—in a true belly laugh, something Bravo’s films are known to induce. She tells me a story: “I’m in LA so I went to a juice place the other day—I know, crazy. The woman at the counter was like ‘I saw your short films on Criterion. I only watched two of the four, because they really made me uncomfortable. I had to take a break.’” Bravo doesn’t blame her for this. “That’s such a funny thing, right? I make work about the discomfort I feel being in my body. Not to say that I am uncomfortable in my body—it’s how people treat me because of the skin I am in. So, the work is naturally imbued with my distress. I feel that laughter is the only way I’m able to exercise these feelings.” I wonder if the juice-place clerk watched Gregory Go Boom (2013). The 18-minute-long short follows Michael Cera as disabled little brother Greg-

ory, who blows himself up after a failed attempt at losing his virginity. Hilarity clashes with the grim realities of living in a world laid out for (often cruel) able-bodied people. He’s the sidekick in his own movie. The initial responses were mixed; strangers filled her inbox with rage. “Most of the protagonists I’ve worked with in my shorts had some access to oppression, which made them othered. I was studying how whiteness moves through otherness, but, by being in a white body, you can also manifest it.” Many of Bravo’s films feature mostly white casts. This is partly by chance, as she came to know many of her actors as friends first, like Cera, or once-partner Brett Gelman, who co-wrote and starred in her debut feature Lemon (2017). Gelman plays Isaac, a bitter acting coach who imposes his slimy behavior onto everyone, especially the cute make-up artist Cleopatra—a patient Nia Long. She’s the only one who has any empathy for him, but is forced to cut things off after he tries to kidnap her grandmother at a family barbecue. These are not white movies, despite the white faces. Whiteness could not have this perspective on itself. It can’t know how suffocating its presence can be. The drama of Douglas Sirk or the absurdity of David Lynch come close, but it’s Bravo’s laughter that is most convincing. “I wanted to engage

Laugh Janicza Bravo’s

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with white visibility moving through the world. Like, yeah, how do you violently move through the world in a white body without abandon?” The first time Jeremy O. Harris heard Janicza Bravo’s laugh was at a Hollywood party in 2015. Phoning in from Paris, Harris tells me: “I was out with a guy, and he took me to a party at this famous actress’s house. While I was downstairs, all the white people at this party started rapping along to a song and everyone was saying the N word. I was like, ‘I need to use the bathroom!’ The date was horrible. I went upstairs, and I heard an unmistakable Black laugh.” He followed the sound and found Bravo in the kitchen. Sharing the same sense of humor, they joked about what they’d just witnessed. He quickly realized she’d directed Gregory Go Boom, which he had loved and written about. Harris was entering his second year at Yale when the Zola job came around. Zola (2020) re-tells 2015’s Twitter epic by Aziah Wells, the story that made her viral. Inventing the long-form Twitter read, the thread is a tale of two strippers going down to Florida to work. Like Homer’s Odyssey, or Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, Zola wants to go home. Entangled in an obsessive friendship with a white girl, she allows herself to be seduced. The plan should have been simple: drive down, strip, make money, go to the beach. Even her roommate and boyfriend would join! What follows is a chaotic sequence of uncovering truths, leading Zola to being nearly sex trafficked, humiliated and held at gun-point. Her roommate turns out to be her pimp, and her boyfriend a cuck. What?! “I came here to dance” is a phrase she repeats throughout the film. Harris had to get involved with the adaptation. He was working on Slave Play (2017), which later earned him twelve Tony Award nominations, when the chance to co-write Zola with Bravo came up. Aziah’s story resonated with them individually, but the movie they saw in their minds was identical. “Adapting something is so hard, because everyone has their own personal visualization of it. With us we saw the same thing.” Bravo had one condition: “She told me that she wasn’t going to let me apply to do this if I wasn’t showing up for my education. She knew how hard I’d worked. She was like, ‘If you want to do this, you have to finish your second year project before we start.’” He finished the first draft of Slave Play faster because he wanted to ensure she could read it and apply to be her co-writer in time. Slave Play follows three interracial couples attempting to exorcise the demons of sex, race


and history from their relationships. The production disrupted the hashtag #slaveplay, a thread first used for sexual race play online. Harris refers to his time working with Bravo as “artistic and intellectual boot camp,” something that helped him develop the rigor needed to later take his play to Broadway. What were the stakes? “We wanted to say that, no matter what you feel or don’t feel is true about Aziah’s story, at the end of the day, this was a young woman who was lied to.” Janicza Bravo makes Black movies, because she is a Black filmmaker. Her work may not satisfy representational appetites of the moment, but who cares? Enough has been written onto the Black bodies we see on screen, Ryan Murphy. “I knew I had to be the one to direct this. Who else was going to protect this woman?” Harris tells me she’d already directed it before getting the job. “She had a Dropbox folder for every gesture she thought each character would make, lighting references, costume references, interior references. It was like the film was complete.” Seeing is not listening, and Bravo must be heard. Her voice is in the writing, shooting, editing and styling. Black authorship is often discredited, especially online. Unsurprisingly, Wells’s story came under question when it was first published. Bravo remembers, “I’d read a handful of articles in 2015, and every article questioned the validity of her story rather than speaking to what happened, the horror of what happened. So for me, the Twitter thread was gospel. That is what it is. I’m going to tell the story as she put it.” Bravo succeeds in this, the film reading as a copy and paste of the original text. The editing takes its cues from swiping around online, and the problem of text-onscreen is solved through the use of soliloquy. Like scrolling your feed, the film entertains, concerns and wonders—all at once. Stefani—originally called “white bitch” in the thread—is played by Riley Keough as the pink, final-form bimbo meme. Evil incarnate, with hilariously sticky and sweet tactics for manipulation,

she infantilizes herself to evade any responsibility and cares for no one’s safety—not even her own. Sure, she lied, but she’s lying to herself too. Her over-use of AAVE (African-American Vernacular English) is funny because it’s humiliating, causing what people online would call “cringe.” It backs the viewer, and Zola, into a corner. At certain points in the film, I can’t tell if they’re going to kiss or hit each other. Is there something gay about female friendship? Bravo thinks so. “This was really something that went on in my 20s. I would meet certain women and I would fall in love with them. It was somewhere between platonic and romantic. I wanted to share a bed with them, eat every meal together, even bathe with them. I wanted them to know every story that I had to tell. Then, at a certain point, we’d never want to speak again.” In the world of Zola, a dimension just next to ours, we get a look at the recent past through a fun-house mirror. This film is about watching Taylour Paige’s face. As Zola, she’s a watcher, a visitor who doesn’t plan on staying long. She reminds me of Johnny in Gus Van Sant’s Mala Noche (1986), the loner Mexican traveller who doesn’t speak the language but manages to be the object of a white clerk’s obsession. Like a performer from the silent era, Paige’s face communicates it all, whether she’s afraid, listening or calculating her next move. In the film, she asks: “Who’s looking out for me?” Both she and the audience know it’s just her. And though we see Zola’s trauma, we also see her make it through the night. We watch her outearn the pimp, relax in the Florida sun and, in the film’s most beautiful moment, we see what she came to do: Dance. Bearing witness to trauma is something we’ve gotten used to as viewers, in the name of representation. Complexity is often conflated with seeing how much someone can endure. Bravo treats her characters fairly. Did Zola know what she was getting into when she met Stefani at Hooters? Maybe. “There was something chemical between them,” she says. “That is what pulls her to the adventure. Unlike Dorothy, she makes three enemies, not friends. What’s put on trial is her agency, which is why I call what we did a retelling. In the adaptation, she claims agency on this experience.” Zola’s a narrator in the Shakespearean sense, the character next to the chaos. But, why does she stay? Janicza Bravo can only speak for herself: “I have been on some questionable adventures, and I’ve always had faith I was going to make it out. Doesn’t a sick part of you want to see how it ends?”

Bravo wears CO Collections two-piece suit and Esenshel hat in her backyard. Makeup by Toby Fleischman. 159



Sweater and hat by Laneus; necklace by Pristine Jewelers.




Jacket by Nahmias. 161

Nas photographed at artist Ferrari Sheppard’s “Positions of Power” exhibition at UTA in Los Angeles. Blue set by Lanvin; watch and necklace by Pristine Jewelers.



cover art for King’s Disease (2020) invites study. Crafted by neoclassicist Harmonia Rosales, the artwork of Nasir Jones’s Grammy-winning album is steeped in allegory. Red-fleshed cherubs swarm a wooden throne. Gimlet-eyed snakes peek through dewy flowers. There is a stately table filled with rich foods. Slain fish are pressed beneath a boar’s skull. A bloodied papaya is flanked by pearls and grapes and a dagger. Skulls sit beside pears and gold coins rest underneath rotten apples. It’s the kind of image that assaults the senses. In a rational world, excellence is embraced. Greeted by smiles, praised with honest compliments and accolades, exceptional art has the ability to elevate life. For nearly three decades, Nas has made a habit of composing high-quality music. From his 1994 debut, Illmatic, to 2018’s Nasir, each of his 12 albums feels like a crash course in the American curriculum. In March, Jones received his first Grammy, for King’s Disease. The same week the Library of Congress announced Illmatic had been selected for preservation. “Both of those wins were a surprise. They made my year lighter, especially when the world had me feeling down. Sometimes things come at you to make you feel like you don’t belong, to make you feel unworthy, and that’s a trick,” Jones tells me. It’s a Thursday afternoon in late April, and we’re seated inside UTA’s Artist Space. On display is artist Ferrari Sheppard’s exhibition “Positions of Power.” With portraits of Jimi Hendrix and a shrine dedicated to Tupac, the space has the effect of a hallowed hall teeming with the spirits of cultural icons. Jones is dressed comfortably, in sumptuous sweatpants and a fitted hat, and speaks with the measured clarity of an orator. “It feels good to put out more music,” says Nas. “It feels nice to be celebrated, but it’s strange when you look at everything else going on and see the state of our world.” 163

Two days before our meeting Jones flew to New York for the celebration of the life of close friend and collaborator DMX. After a year marked by streams of deaths, the loss of yet another luminary was crushing. “It’s tragic, but his life is full of accomplishments. He taught me to stay dangerous, to never forget where you’re from, and he put a positive light on spirituality within hip hop. He’s one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met. One of the greatest artists I’ve ever witnessed.” Spirituality has long been an enduring force in Jones’s life. He is reticent to dwell on tragedy, preferring instead to focus on the living legacy of creativity. “One thing I’ve learned is that the spirit is bigger than the flesh. When you realize that you’re able to look at things from a wider view. There’s a bigger purpose for our lives. Our spirits are eternal and the work of the spirit is eternal.” Last year, during global pause, he learned how to finally “sit down.” After years of constant touring and feeding a “lion that was



already full,” he shifted gears and allowed himself to flow. This flow helped him finalize King’s Disease, a lyrically deft record that examines a culture more focused on excessive materialism and hedonism than coherence. On songs like “Til the War Is Won” he depicts the systemic violence that continues to fracture modern Black families. An avid writer, Jones shifted his recording process for the first time in years: “I used to feel like I needed to commit things to paper. These days, that’s not the case, it’s more about allowing myself to be open to inspiration, to let the music move through me. In the beginning of my career I was a younger guy with the world in my hands for the very first time. You go crazy, you don’t stop, especially when it comes to music. When I look back, I was able to grow with the times, I was able to learn with the times. Each project is such a different period, but the way I do it today is different. I’m still attached to my roots, but at the same time, I’m here. I’m present.” At 47, Jones is one of the artistic progenitors of modern hip hop. His lifeworlds have sowed the seeds for many of today’s artists. To some he is regarded with totemic status, with classic hits evoking memories of rap’s Golden Age. To others his work is an avenue for remembering, a portal towards higher imaginings less available in today’s mainstream records. But throughout his career he has remained future-oriented. Quietly, he’s established himself as an entrepreneurial titan. In 2014, he co-founded QueensBridge Venture Partners, a firm focused on expanding the cultural equity of technology. With investments in brands like Casper, Dropbox and Lyft, Jones is one of the legacy artists most successfully navigating the digital-streaming era. These days, he’s also expanded storytelling into films. Earlier this year Netflix purchased Monster (2018), a film adaptation of the bestselling book that Jones executive-produced. Next up is a new documentary for cross-platform programming series Hip Hop 50. Focusing on DJ Kool Herc’s infamous 1973 back-to-school party, where it all began, it’s a film that contextualizes the genre’s origins. “Personally, I think hip hop’s been around since the beginning of time. But for a new generation it’s important to put a timetable on it. Out of respect for what happened in the Bronx in ’73, we wanted to pinpoint a moment in time that should be honored. With hip hop being so in-demand, so culturally viable, everyone needs to understand its rich history and learn who the original pioneers were.” Surrounding us are the eyeless faces of Ferrari Sheppard’s lush portraits. Dripping in Black elegance, they seem to mirror the possibilities of a brand new world. Before Jones leaves, I ask how his definition of success has changed. Smiling wide and ageless, he chuckles. “Success to me has never changed. It’s still a peace of mind. It’s knowing that what you’re doing is right. Are you a great friend to your friends? A great father to your children? Those are things that fuel me. I try to be the best I can be and not to stray from the path I’ve been on for as long as I can remember. It doesn’t matter how big you get in the world’s eyes, how rich or poor, it all comes down to respect. Do you treat people with dignity? Do you respect others? Because ultimately that reflects outward. And in this era, there’s no room for ego.”

Pants by Dsquared²; jacket by Nahmias; watch and necklace by Pristine Jewelers. 165




WHEN ACTOR DEWANDA WISE reads a script, she considers weeping a good response. For her forthcoming film Fatherhood, out on June 18 on Netflix, that was certainly the case, she admits. Based on the 2011 memoir Two Kisses for Maddy, the movie follows a touching story of a widowed father and his daughter navigating parenting, grief and family. Wise costars as Swan, the cool-girl love interest of newly single father Matt, played by Kevin Hart. But her character is also so much more than that. She’s witty, playful and perfectly satisfied being alone—she’s whole. That truly resonated with Wise, a talent known for her roles as lead women of conviction. Recently, she starred in Spike Lee’s 2017 to 2019 television series She’s Gotta Have It and Jennifer Kaytin Robinson’s 2019 film Someone Great, and will make her dinosaur debut next year in Jurassic World: Dominion. Unlike many films about love, the female characters in Paul Weitz’s Fatherhood are fully developed. “It is really refreshing,” she says of the screenplay by Weitz and Dana Stevens. “I read it in the spring of 2019 when I had already been on this personal trajectory where I was in a real joy practice—beyond just wanting to be happy, but really learning about a scientific exploration of joy and what actually builds a more consistent sensation of dopamine. To see someone like Swan on screen is radical and impactful; it’s huge.” This past year and a half, so many more of us have come face-toface with the indelible emotion that is grief, and certainly death is one of its most tangible causes. But, as Wise points out, we also often grieve change generally, despite eventual positive effects: growth, maturity or evolution into wiser versions of ourselves. There is relief found in the collective, and beautiful moments of togetherness as well. When Hart’s Matt feels low, an incredible cast of Black women (relatives played by Deborah Ayorinde, Alfre Woodard and child star-to-watch Melody Hurd) raise him up. It’s a feeling that Wise has had her whole life, even in the entertainment industry. “It just feels true,” says the Maryland-born talent, laughing. “My father is one of eight: he has one brother and six sisters. Every time I go home, they lift me up. It’s the most affirming, supportive, honest and active love. I feel that way in Hollywood with a lot of my peers as well. I love them; I root for them; I love to see them thrive. We check in; we compare notes. It’s a really strong, full and beautiful community.” She acknowledges, however, that her experiences are often atypical for actors of color. She reveals that even discussing auditions with her own husband, fellow actor Alano Miller, “It’s night and day.” Though the racial reckoning initiated across the United States by the murder of George Floyd, a tragedy now more than a year past, has seen promises of change from industry leaders, Wise desires true diversity: a seat at the table, a true sense of collaboration and the ability to help creatively construct a new, equitable vision of Hollywood. Even Fatherhood, she says, with its cast of “four chocolate leading ladies” feels like “a small miracle, especially because it’s not a movie where the drama is surrounding their Blackness.” Those are the stories that Wise wants to tell: deliberate and intentional, complex and truthful. As she sums: “It feels like a world that I know.”


Previous spread: DeWanda Wise wearing Devon Windsor. This page: Wise wearing Vera Wang, photographed at the JW Marriott Essex House. Makeup by Billie Gene for Exclusive Artists using MAC Cosmetics. Hair by Ben Skervin. Style assistant Kellye Henton. 169

I AM SPEAKING, Wangechi Mutu’s exhibition “I Am Speaking, Are You Listening?” opened at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco this May after a yearlong hiatus due to the pandemic. The museum’s new programming takes a historic collection and encyclopedic museum into the future, thanks to Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s inaugural Curator-in-Charge of Contemporary Art and Programming, Claudia Schmuckli. We spoke to Mutu and Schmuckli about putting together this ambitious exhibition, and why it’s time to let go of our old ideas about the history of art and civilization and open ourselves up to a great multiplicity of thrilling alternative histories. By Storm Ascher Portrait by Randy Dodson



INTERVIEW ONE: WANGECHI MUTU STORM ASCHER: Your work is known to question reality. The title of your show alone is such a strong question. I love when the concept of a show demands an answer. To whom are you asking this question, “I Am Speaking, Are You Listening?” Who is speaking and who are they trying to be heard by? WANGECHI MUTU: I honestly believe all art questions reality; some better than others and some more intentionally than others. I think anyone who is attentive to the state of the world, anyone who cares about human life, anyone who is infuriated by injustice and tired of the perpetual violence targeted against the disempowered and anyone who is listening, is asking if anyone in power is paying attention. The question is asked of you; the question is asked to the reader, the audience, it’s asked of myself as I work, as I sit with my family, as I collect my thoughts… I hear the question asked of me from my artwork, from within, from my conscience. ASCHER: What was the process like of working with Claudia Schmuckli for this exhibition? MUTU: It was a very rewarding, but sometimes nerve-racking process. Claudia was extremely keen and always committed from the get-go. She and I were very attentive and communicated a lot. Even in the worst times during the pandemic, when it was most difficult, we kept the conversation, the planning and the ideas flowing. So, it was exhilarating throughout, a real group engagement. I’m so glad that the art and the ideas are doing their

Installation view of Crocodylus (2020) at Gladstone Gallery, New York, 2021. Previous spread: the artist poses with Rodin’s The Thinker (1880) and her sculptural installation in the outdoor courtyard of San Francisco’s Legion of Honor Museum.


“I Am Speaking, Are You Listening?” is set within the outdoor Court of Honor, most notably home to Auguste Rodin’s bronze cast of The Thinker (1880), and the inner galleries, which house a multitude of European historical artifacts from antiquity to impressionism. Monuments and figures from old mythologies such as Dante’s Inferno, represented in Rodin’s The Gates of Hell (1917), are engaged in a conversation with Mutu’s new hybrid mythologies of Afrofuturism, posthumanism and feminism. They are visually represented and brought to life by way of busts, full-body sculptures, films and collages which challenge the received art-historical narrative. Mutu’s sensibilities not only live up to, but elevate the grandeur of the Legion of Honor. Her personal history, being from both Nairobi and New York, allows for a meeting of materiality and historical ideologies instead of separating them. The museum’s audience is challenged to answer her question: “I am speaking, are you listening?” Her explorations of materials from her native Kenya, combined with some traditional sensibilities due to her Western art education, have birthed these hybrid female figures who are all at once deities, omens, machines, flora and fauna. The works themselves stand alone as hypnotizing, visually pleasing and prompting introspection, but they are activated in a certain context of all art explorations that have come before them, by breaking down binaries and reminding us that we as humans have continued to embark on our own demise, but we can try and change it with the help of a new approach that Wangechi Mutu has presented.


work, and that the public gets to see both inside and outside of the Museum. ASCHER: In your work, I’ve found that the tropes of femininity and beauty are both elevated and turned on their head at the same time. What makes this possible? MUTU: I’m not sure how it’s not possible, only that I think that is exactly how it works. “Tropes” of femininity can cause you to seem elevated, and tropes of femininity can also make one undervalued. ASCHER: What is the significance of the use of birds and feathers in your work? MUTU: I love birds and I’m so inspired by their plumage and their songs. But I also enjoy how birds themselves love the way they sing and that they love how they dress. They are totally aware of their own beauty. ASCHER: You’ve stated in the past that you see water, specifically the ocean, as a canvas. Why is that? MUTU: I think the Sea is the portal from which all living beings first arrived. It is the book from which we were all written; the origination story prior to all others. ASCHER: Are you employing these mythological beings as guardians of the Black experience and our histories? Are they deities? Omens? I can imagine them as protectors our ancestors could have engaged with while being unwillingly transported across the sea. MUTU: Yes, I am. Yes, they are. ASCHER: Why do you believe it is important to create mythological worlds? MUTU: I love stories and I think we all believe in stories as a source of inspiration and empowerment. ASCHER: Are you performing as yourself in your work, or are you also taking on a desired persona? MUTU: I’m making a heartfelt prayer, through motion and calling upon the Earth. I’m acting out a hope that the Earth will pardon us all for our foolishness, our lack of wisdom and our cruelty. ASCHER: How do you see your work in the context of the collection at Legion of Honor? MUTU: All of us humans come from people who originated in Africa, that’s where all of this began.

STORM ASCHER: Having been at the Blaffer, Guggenheim and MoMA previously, what is different about your experience and your role in San Francisco? CLAUDIA SCHMUCKLI: When I came to the Fine Arts Museums they didn’t have a dedicated department for contemporary art and programming, and so, having worked at major modern art museums and, you know, a contemporary kunsthalle before, it was really an interesting challenge for me to think about how to curate and how to think about a contemporary program in the context of what is generally referred to as an encyclopedic museum, although that’s of course an imperfect term. So from the outset I took a very contextual approach. I felt it was important to think about the program in relationship to both sites, since there are two museums, which are radically different in terms of their location within the city, their architecture, as well as the collections that they house. And to think strategically about how to insert contemporary voices into these different contexts. So thinking about it in relationship to the buildings and collections and also the surroundings, in particular Golden Gate Park. When you start from nothing you have to embrace a start-up mentality of sorts, to envision what you could accomplish within a setting like that. It’s not that I walked in and there was a huge collection of contemporary art or an established mode of working with living artists. We had to create the infrastructure for that, which was initially quite challenging. And also build trust and support for these kinds of interventions and exhibitions to take place. ASCHER: What sensibilities do you look out for when considering an artist for a show of this scale? SCHMUCKLI: It has to be an artist with a certain gravitas to take on the Legion of Honor, because it’s an endeavor. I mean, you have a lot of aspects to deal with. You’re not entering a blank canvas. You have to contend with certain circumstances that are given—the neoclassical architecture, the collections of European art from antiquity to impressionism—the chapel-like atmosphere of one of the main galleries at the Legion of Honor, which is our dedicated Rodin gallery that showcases all the work related to The Gates of Hell. So it’s a very particular environment that one has to consider when inserting your voice into that context, and so it takes a certain maturity and experience to work in such a context. ASCHER: When was the first time you met Wangechi Mutu? Can you give us an inside look at the relationship and how it developed? SCHMUCKLI: I met her the first time in the summer of 2018, when she came for a site visit. But of course I’ve been following her work since the early 2000s so I was more familiar with her art than with her. But it is that knowledge that made me want to work with her in this particular context. I put feelers out to see if she would be interested and luckily she was, so she came for a site visit in 2018 with the intention, of course, to come again in 2020; ambitions that were crushed by the pandemic. But we’ve been working remotely this entire time via phone calls and emails; we had our respective exhibition designers work very closely together on drawing maps and elevations, so that we could envision the work in space, even though neither of us were allowed to go on site. I mean, obviously she was in Nairobi, but I was here in San Francisco and wasn’t allowed to go on site, so it was definitely a bonding experience to work through all the challenges of this past year, while trying to create an exhibition that would open shortly after. It was quite the experience and there were moments where we weren’t sure whether it would happen. Once we were in the building together looking at the work, it was a deeply moving and quite emotional moment. ASCHER: So could you go over a few works that you think represent this theme, “I Am Speaking, Are You Listening?” 173


Installation view of Mama Ray (2020), at Gladstone Gallery, New York, 2021.





its power and its divinity, as she likes to say, from these elements, and I do feel that in the work, when you’re present with them, you can sense this, this incredible depth and presence of these things. ASCHER: Would you say this visceral response is why you placed the works based off her Kenyan heritage in the context of these European archives? Why the Legion of Honor and not de Young Museum, which already has African art within the collection? SCHMUCKLI: Well, it was a very specific decision that was very much prompted by a joint desire to deconstruct art history as we’ve been told it for many centuries, and to integrate her work, which now draws so heavily from her Kenyan heritage, but also other pan-African traditions, to present that on an equal footing with what for the longest time has been exclusively considered fine art. So from the outset that that was very clear. She was not interested to see her work in the African galleries. ASCHER: Can you touch on another work that you think brings up Wangechi’s sensibilities from Nairobi, and how she’s merged that with also being from New York? SCHMUCKLI: Oh, absolutely. All the work does that to a certain extent, because she has this incredible cultural fluency with which she negotiates both her Western training and education with all the traditions, heritage, materiality and the art histories of her native Kenya. But I would say that becomes particularly apparent inside the museum due to the shift in materiality. The work outside in the courtyard is bronze, obviously drawing on a very long tradition of casting monuments, even though she subverts the idea of what a monument is and how it operates within the space. But at the moment you enter the galleries, where you leave the public spaces, there’s a change in texture that is due to her working with soil, with paper pulp, with hair—she uses beads and gourds and feathers and all kinds of materials that she gathers pretty much right outside her studio in Nairobi, literally plucking it from the earth to integrate it into her sculpture. So, those really feel much more grounded. And I don’t mean in a cheeky way, but they’re literally grounded in the Kenyan soil. ASCHER: That’s beautiful. Did you feel like there was a flow that you both wanted to say the same types of things to your audiences? How did you come to that alignment of intention?

Installation view of Mama Ray (2020), at Gladstone Gallery, New York, 2021.


SCHMUCKLI: The title of the exhibition was inspired by a work that has a very similar title. It’s called I Am Speaking, Can You Hear Me? (2020). And it was one of the works that we had picked for the exhibition and that to me embodied the whole purpose of the endeavor. And so I proposed the title of the sculpture to Wangechi as the title of the show, and she chose very wisely to tweak it a little bit, because listening is a much more active proposition than just hearing. And, at the end of the day, what we wanted people to do as they encounter her work in this context was to actively listen to what she has to bring to the table. You know, to open up and think about other histories and other art histories in relationship to the European canon and its history, to be able to contemplate a multiplicity of existences at the same time. ASCHER: What do these mythologies that Wangechi has created bring out in your own imagination? SCHMUCKLI: Well first of all, I’m just inspired by the power of her figures because at the end of the day we’re talking mostly about figures. They’re all female figures. They’re hybrid figures that merge different forms of existence, be it human and animal or human and machine or everything at the same time, or even, you know, human and plants. And so I’m really drawn to the way that she breaks down these binaries that we are used to thinking with to create new mythologies that are based in a more symbiotic understanding of the world, and also a different, more generative or generous coexistence of these different states of being. She proposes a different version of what the world could look like and how we as humans could exist in it. It’s truly a voracious and somewhat ferocious matriarchy that she’s proposing but a matriarchy that is deeply connected to both fauna and flora and the Earth itself and that draws

SCHMUCKLI: I don’t think we ever had to negotiate it. It manifested itself through the selection and the placement of the work quite naturally. Starting with a thorough survey on my part of her existing work and trying to wrap my head around what I might want to see in the exhibition, given my knowledge of the buildings and the collections, and then her bringing her ideas to the table and also, very importantly in this process, sharing ideas about new work that she was thinking about, or that were already in the works, so that we could consider everything together before making any final decisions. There was a lot of back and forth about where to draw the line in terms of using existing work but it just seemed to fall in place quite easily given the specificities of the space. If you look at the images of the busts, for example, Dream Catcher and Rose Quartz (both 2016), you will see that they are placed into galleries dedicated to Rodin’s early work and his work in marble and plaster, which predominantly is dedicated to the portrait bust, with a few exceptions of full figures in there too. So turning upside-down certain tropes of art history and how they have resonated through the ages was also one of the goals and so it was always clear that we wanted portraits for these galleries. Wangechi’s Sentinels, you know, seem tailor made for the other Rodin gallery which is dedicated to The Gates of Hell, and while we don’t have the actual gates, we have sculptures that relate to them, most prominently The Three Shades (1886), which are sentinels of their own, as they were originally conceived to sit on top of the gates, looking down on humanity’s descent into hell. And “sentinels” is a term that exists in both nature and culture, designating a protective guard, if you will, whether that’s trees or a range of bushes or actually human beings who are assuming a role of protection. What’s wonderful about her Sentinel

is that it merges the two worlds, the natural and the cultural, in the figures of the three women that embody both and are set sort of victoriously and optimistically against The Three Shades—fighting for the survival and victory of humanity rather than its demise. ASCHER: Why do you feel it’s important that artists create these mythologies? SCHMUCKLI: We’re hungry for mythologies. We need new mythologies to envision better worlds, and Wangechi is a very powerful mythmaker in that sense. Not only drawing on the mimetic qualities of art history to turn them inside out, but to offer a different vision of coexistence of being in the world. ASCHER: What would you say is your personal curatorial approach to this show? What are you contributing to the museum ecosystem by doing this? SCHMUCKLI: Connecting the historical work to a contemporary perspective. Creating dialogues between historical and contemporary positions that are dynamic and that have the ability to change and also to reveal the discursive potential of historical works of art to actually speak to realities of the now, and activate those, if possible. And it’s wonderful to see an artist’s work in this context because it’s a two-way relationship as well. The historical work also makes you or a visitor look at the contemporary work in very different ways, and oftentimes people don’t know much about contemporary art, don’t understand or don’t think about how most contemporary artists’ work is deeply grounded in a careful thinking through these types of histories. I mean, Wangechi is a prime example of somebody who decodes on the one hand, and recodes these traditions into new mythologies, and for visitors to recognize that these aren’t gratuitous decisions but that they’re grounded in a deep sensibility for both the European and the Kenyan traditions which filter through and metabolize through her unique sensibility for her subjectivity and her time, that’s something I feel these kinds of positions can convey. That’s where the richness lies in working in this particular way. ASCHER: Personally I connected with how her Shavasana [Corpse Pose] bronzes (2019), juxtaposed with The Thinker, bring to mind ideas of meditation, thinking and being introspective. I was wondering if you’re imagining us looking at them communicate, either telepathically or through time, because of the titles of both of these works. SCHMUCKLI: Yes, absolutely. I mean, their presence is of course meant to force, metaphorically, The Thinker’s contemplation or consideration of their presence. And their presence is in a wounded state. They’re female figures lying on their back, covered with blankets. They’re definitely not alive, in the sense that they can actively communicate or physically interact with The Thinker. But the title, as you say, sort of points toward that hopefully being a transitionary state. I like your idea of them communicating telepathically, I really do. Because the corpse pose in yoga is a small death, right? It’s a temporary death that should bring you towards restoration. And the impetus here was to force a recognition on behalf of The Thinker, who of course is representative of the ideological underpinnings of society. ASCHER: So now that it’s officially open again, is San Francisco coming through the museum in droves? SCHMUCKLI: I’m doing a lot of tours at the moment and I envision doing more in the future, but will also do online programming in our virtual Wednesday series. We broadcasted a lecture that Wangechi gave in conjunction with the opening. She was our featured speaker for the annual Bransten Lecture, so that was definitely an important part of the mediation around the exhibition. We’re also in the process of wrapping up the production of a film that we commissioned about Wangechi and the exhibition, which should be available mid- to end of June. ASCHER: So what is Legion of Honor telling or teaching its audience with this presentation? SCHMUCKLI: That it’s time to let go of old ideas about art and its histories. To understand that we live in a wide world with a multiplicity of histories and traditions that are all equal, beautiful, powerful and rewarding to know about. 177