Lee’s film yields a “complex and multilayered” account which she hopes will instruct her daughter, and future generations of girls, about the struggle that preceded them.
The exciting news just announced that Governor Cuomo will ban fracking in New York State is proof positive that galvanizing the public about the health dangers inherent in the fracking process can move the needle and influence public leaders.
The squeaky wheel gets the oil, and as I learned when I wrote about Lois Gibbs, mothers (and fathers) concerned about their children’s well being will not be intimidated by the powers that be.
One of the biggest takeaways from the People’s Climate March was that it was not a one-off. Individuals from all walks of life, who are concerned about the future of their children and the planet, are self-organizing within like-minded communities.
Several of the groups that represented New York City’s boroughs have moved beyond their initial mobilization for the Manhattan event. They have demonstrated the importance of grassroots activity and became involved local activists.
This month, I attended a general meeting for Bronx Climate Justice North, which has been gathering steam since its inception on October 29. The first hour of the proceedings included a presentation by Clare Donohue, founding member of the Sane Energy Project. She spoke about energy issues throughout New York State, illustrated by a continually evolving map called, “You Are Here!” The goal of the project is, “To put a human face on the places at risk or already devastated by fracking infrastructure in New York.” Donohue outlined how residents on the ground were changing the dialogue, while helping others to “connect the dots.”
I reached out to her via e-mail, to get her take on the importance of granular involvement. She responded with the following insights:
“Local action is important because it is often where citizens have the most access and chance of successfully influencing an outcome. But it is also a window to larger action.
In the same way that, ‘All politics is local,’ (but depends on and is interdependent with larger issues), all energy issues turn out to be as well. It’s the local violation and the threat closest to one’s home that gets our attention, and draws us in to fight the immediate threat. But inevitably, the local fight explains the bigger picture and eventually demonstrates how interconnected we all are.
For instance, there were relatively few people activated against fracking in Westchester before the Spectra AIM pipeline became a local threat. Now, suburbanites are much more engaged, not just on that local fight but on the larger infrastructure and energy issues as well.
Here in Marble Hill, the immediate threat is the liquefied petroleum gas trains outside our windows. With very little digging, it became apparent how connected we are to the bigger picture. That includes LPG storage at Seneca Lake, and the current trend to reverse the flow of pipelines and export domestic fuel supplies.
Local action is important both for its direct effect, and for its secondary effect of engaging people in their democracy—which is the best shot we have at creating system change. It is important because it is often where citizens have the most access and chance of successfully influencing an outcome. But it is also a window to larger action.”
This week, Donohue will be giving a primer to Bronx Community Board No. 8 about safety and neighborhood concerns resulting from propane delivery and transportation in the area.
Everybody wants quality of life for their families. On the agenda for the “Bronx Climate Justice Platform,” which is being framed to support all residents of the borough, are the concerns of environmental justice, the use of pesticides in parks, creating more opportunities for “green jobs,” supporting renewable energy, and preserving green space.
Looking back on the hard work of this year, it’s time for all those singular voices to congratulate themselves for making New York a healthier place for their children.
This article originally appeared on the website Moms Clean Air Force
Image: Courtesy of Sane Energy Project
In 1963, Dr. Alessandra Comini saw a small exhibit of Austrian Expressionists. It was her first time viewing the work of Egon Schiele. She described it as “an apocalypse that changed my life.” It put Comini on a path to becoming one of the foremost scholars on Schiele and his oeuvre. Now, at the Neue Galerie through January 2015, Comini has organized an exhibition of Schiele portraits. Roughly 125 drawings, paintings, and sculptures comprise the show.
I had the opportunity to interview Comini on-site at the Neue Galerie, and learned the back story of her journey. Comini related the impact of first seeing the artist’s work. She said of Schiele, “I never saw anybody so frank. He had a searing drawing style. In his content, there was a baring of his soul.”
Comini reached out to Schiele’s sisters by mail, and they responded to her inquires within two weeks. Traveling to Austria, empowered by her fluency in German, she visited the village of Neulengbach where Schiele had been imprisoned in April 1912. Imprinted in her mind, Comini had a visual image of the drawings Schiele had made of his cell during his days of incarceration. Comini sought out the small room with the carved initials of MH, which had belonged to a previous prisoner. She recognized the hallway from drawings of a standing mop and bucket.
Although there were efforts to deter Comini from entering the District Courthouse, which housed the former prison, she slipped in after being turned away. Following a set of stairs down into the cellar, she located Cell #2, where Schiele had been. Everything was identical to Schiele’s imagery, except for a wooden beam that had begun to sag. Comini was the first person to locate and visit Schiele’s jail cell, and she documented the moment with “an old rolleiflex camera.”
Comini views Schiele’s imprisonment as a turning point in both his art and his development as a person. He had been arrested on charges of kidnapping and raping a minor. Schiele was cleared of those allegations, but found guilt of “immorality for public display of indecent imagery.”
During those days of imprisonment, Schiele did his first self-portraits without a mirror. Comini stated that he went from “agony to empathy—maturing.”
Central to Comini’s conception of the exhibition is a room devoted to recreating Schiele’s prison experience. Presented is documentation of the physical space where Schiele was locked up, works on paper, and a small sculpture of a head he made out of bread. Comini specifically chose a composition by Arnold Schöenberg to be the auditory component of the room’s experience. Schöenberg was part of Schiele’s circle of creatives and intellectuals in Vienna, and would be a subject of a portrait in 1917.
Rather than present the works chronologically, Comini chose to hang the show delineating them by categories. The six groups are: Family and Academy; Fellow Artists; Sitters and Patrons; Lovers; Eros; Self-Portraits and Allegorical Self-Portraits.
Upon entering the exhibit, there is a large photo of Schiele. To the right, a long hallway with Schiele’s personal and artistic timeline leads directly to an open view of his painting, Portrait of the Artist’s Wife, Standing.
Schiele was born in 1890, in a suburb of Vienna. At the age of sixteen, he was accepted at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, where he was the youngest student enrolled. In 1907, he began a lifetime friendship with Gustav Klimt, who would mentor and influence him. The following year Schiele was included in his first group show, where his images were seen by the collector Heinrich Benesch, who became a patron and friend.
Klimt invited Schiele to exhibit four paintings at the 1909 “Internationale Kunstschau.” A dissatisfaction with the old guard led Schiele and other artists to form what they termed Neukunstaruppe—the “New Art Group.” At this time, Schiele met the art critic Arthur Roessler, who evolved into a friend, subject, patron, and biographer. Roessler would publish an article on Schiele’s first solo exhibit in Vienna.
By the age of twenty, Schiele had found his voice and personal style. He largely concentrated on self-portraits, which he posed for in front of his mother’s full-length mirror.
The first ten works in the “Family and Academy” room testify to Schiele’s ability as a classical draftsman. Comini suggested that three of the works in this grouping “encapsulated” Schiele’s career. Portrait of Gerti Schiele is clearly indebted to the impact of Klimt, specifically in the richly patterned areas of the subject’s dress.
His 1916 watercolor, gouache, and pencil on paper portrait of his father-in-law, Johann Harms, bear the signature markings and iconography that would become identified with Schiele. Specifically, the focus on the hands, knuckles accentuated with sienna and touches of blue—motifs that are repeated in the face.
It is in the oil painting of Harms that a post-prison darkened palette is reflected, with what Comini called “a milder environment.”
The oil, gouache, and charcoal on canvas from 1910, Portrait of the Painter Karl Zakovšek, fits Comini’s description of Schiele’s quintessential placement of his subject in “an existential state.” She related, “There is no environment. There is no chair or room. Schiele has stripped away all surrounding. The figure is centralized on a diagonal lean.” As Comini explained, “With Schiele, there is a constant search for identity and authenticity.” She added, “Hostile critics called it ‘pathological portraiture.’” Rather, as Comini pointed out, it was a contrast between “façade and psyche; rational versus irrational; schein to sein (appearance to being).”
In “Sitters and Patrons,” the portrait of Dr. Erwin von Graff stands out due to qualities that render the physician in an eerie and almost sinister way. Von Graff was a gynecologist who provided Schiele with the favor of an abortion for one of the artist’s companions.The face, hands, and left arm of the doctor are mottled and dark brown in places, giving them the quality of burnt flesh. The right arm is stretched across the chest in what Comini calls “a language of gestures.” The bony fingers with prominent knuckles get an additional point of reference, with the accent of a small bandage on the ring finger of the right hand.
As Schiele picked up more commissions, he had to please his patron’s whims and desires. An example is Portrait of Carl Reininghaus (1910), where the sitter is portrayed wearing his lederhosen. Additionally, Comini noted that Schiele “obliged certain collectors with his erotic pictures—which found no lack of clients.” It was an opportunity for Schiele to mine additional income.
In “Lovers” we see studies of Wally, Schiele’s longtime companion, and his wife Edith. Wally in Red Blouse with Raised Knees captures the essence of what comes to mind for many when they think of Schiele. That of a woman in a pose where legs are accented by colored stockings accompanied by an air of openness and availability.
Although in 1917, Edith would be painted with garters and stockings in, Portrait of the Artist’s Wife Seated, Holding Her Right Leg, the flesh of her left thigh exposed, his 1915 full-length portrait revealed a very different story. Comini conveyed that Edith “hated the portrait” as it showed her as “fragile and unsophisticated.” Although the material and folds of the dress are meticulously rendered, the facial expression is blank. Edith’s hands resemble rigid claws. Part of Schiele’s motivation in marrying Edith was the hope that it would delay his army service. Although he saw Edith as a “petite bourgeoisie coquette,” she was of a suitable background for marriage—unlike Wally. Schiele harbored hopes of maintaining relationships with both women, post-nuptials, a concept that was tersely nixed by Wally and Edith.
In the “Eros” section, there are nude girls and women partially clothed, sometimes with lifted skirts or just wearing stockings. Genitals are pronounced. Observed in a Dream (1911) presents a woman, face partially covered, lying on her back while spreading open the labia of her vagina. The Red Host (1911) situates Schiele with a paramour, seated beneath him. A huge, erect phallus extends up from her hand to his mid-chest area, blending in with the alizarin crimson of his shirt. Reclining Woman with Green Stockings (1917) uses black crayon and gouache to ground his figure, giving it a more concrete feeling than his watercolor and pencils works.
Comini construes Schiele’s “obsessive preoccupation” with sex as directly correlated to his father’s deterioration and death from syphilis. The disease, which can be contracted through birth, affected two of his siblings, who died as well. Comini interprets Schiele’s immersion in sexuality as a form of warding of the “specter of syphilis,” akin to a form of “white magic.”
In the “Self-Portraits and Allegorical Self-Portraits,” after the early academic portraits of 1906-1907, the works evolve to the edgy, angular imagery characteristic of Schiele’s approach and technique. Tufts of armpit or pubic hair take on the appearance of electrified wire. Free-floating heads are haloed by white gouache. Hands are highlighted and elongated. A utilization of the brown hues that were apparent in the von Graff portrait is seen. One painted head shows Schiele with a shirt, bow tie, and jacket that melts into a simple line drawing. Triple Self–Portrait combines three facial expressions, while another 1914 piece renders Schiele as the martyred St. Sebastian.
In April of 1918, Edith became pregnant. That same year, Schiele completed The Family (Squatting Couple). Edith would die six months later from the influenza epidemic. Schiele would fall ill as well. He died on the day of Edith’s burial. He was 28 years old.
In The Family, Schiele continued to include visual language from his previous work in his own self-portrayal. He looks directly out at the viewer. His shoulders are tilted, his left arm is exaggerated in length, and his right arm crosses his chest. The result is contorted. Yet, Edith’s body is portrayed more realistically. Her expression is one of sadness, as she looks off into space. The child, who was never born, has a doll-like quality. The face is predominately white, as opposed to the flesh tone of the ear, giving the appearance of a mask.
Schiele’s work had an unmatched intensity. It’s impossible to gauge what path he would have taken if he had lived, or how he would have navigated Nazi rule. By the time of the Anschluss, Schiele would have been middle-aged. Comini noted that even in his youth, Schiele was was “apolitical, unlike Oskar Kokoschka.” The responsibility of fatherhood was about to impact him, and he had ambitious plans to convince Viennese luminaries to join together to create a new unity of the arts.
Just as Sigmund Freud upended and challenged the way society viewed the psyche and sexuality in fin-de-siècle Vienna—Schiele reached the same results with emotionally charged works that reflected his inner turmoil, desires, and fantasies. One hundred years later, they continue to resonate just as vividly in the 21st century.
On October 1, I had the opportunity to preview Crossing Brooklyn: Art from Bushwick, Bed-Stuy, and Beyond, with a press walk-through led by the curators, Eugenie Tsai and Rujeko Hockley. In addition, several of the artists were in the galleries to give brief talks and insights into their work.
The Brooklyn Museum prides itself on being in touch with the borough’s wide-ranging neighborhoods. Beyond offering its permanent collection, the museum has shown a commitment to being an active part of the community.
When Tsai and Hockley gave an overview of their process in organizing the exhibit, Tsai noted that the museum has “a history of supporting local artists,” and that Crossing Brooklyn was the “latest iteration of the pursuit.” Over one hundred studio visits were made during the summer of 2013, with an eye to representing artists from diverse backgrounds, ages, career points, and locations. Hockley said, “We were literally everywhere.” Not surprisingly, artist enclaves have sprung up in tandem with affordable real estate. Hockley remarked that there are “now more artists in Bed-Stuy than in Williamsburg.”
The curators related their goal of focusing on artists who were “engaged with the world in a particular kind of way.” As a result, a majority of the artists shown examine questions within a format that expands their work outside typical boundaries. Numerous presentations reveal the artist as an amalgam of creative, cultural observer, and social scientist. In many instances, contemporary digital and Internet tools are engaged. On the other hand, a “traditional” sculpture of a horse is turned into an interactive object, when the viewer pins a “contribution” of their choosing to the statue’s base.
Tsai spoke about concentrating on artists who were working “out of the studio,” and the “variable concept of exploring where art can be made and located.” As a result, several threads ran through the show. One was a consciousness of the environment—our place in it, and how we use it or exploit it.
Mary Mattingly looks at patterns of consumption. Wrapped into a massive object held together by twine, Mattingly combined elements that include personal items, books, electronics, and a sly insertion of an Art in America magazine. The obsession with constantly updating electronics, without regard to the origins of the resources or those tasked with producing them, is alluded to. The extent to which we imbue our belongings with significance is captured in her totemic models.
Mixed Media (Twine, Personal Objects)
Matthew Jensin, who has been termed “a conceptual landscape artist,” was in New Hampshire when he formulated his series Winter Walks. On daily outings, he collected twigs, leaves, branches and related ecological materials in order to chart events, the weather, and his emotional state.
On the urban front, Yuji Agematsu gathered detritus that he found on the streets of the lower East Side, Soho, and Crown Heights. He explained his process as selecting pieces that “spoke to him.” Agematsu then archived, “cured,” and transformed his findings into a record of artifacts reflecting contemporary society. They were pinned to a foamcore sheet, and then laid on a table. Like Jensin, he reacts to seeing “elements of art” that occur in everyday life.
Zachary Fabri engages in what he calls “walking as art action.” A residency in Brazil brought him to an iron mine site. The ubiquitous presence of the mineral, red hematite, became the portal through which he examined the interaction between man and natural resources.
The reflection upon personal and cultural identity, and questions arising from that construct, are central to an installation by Brendan Fernandes. He talked about his background as an ethnic Indian, who was born in Kenya and moved to Canada in 1989. He used the jumping off point of both African masks found in a museum setting, and “replica” masks sold by street vendors, to delve into the perceived “exoticism” of Africa. Part of that investigation including a look at “migration and movement, cultural economy, hierarchy and language.” Top on his list was the initial question of what do the masks embody, once they are “emptied of their context and content.”
The Obama Skirt Project, envisioned by Aisha Cousins, is an investigation into how African-American women were impacted by the election of Barrack Obama. Employing the African tradition of using textiles to “commemorate” a specific event or person, Cousins started her project by wearing dresses incorporating Obama’s visage for a twelve-month period. She sought out African tailors located in Brooklyn to sew the articles of clothing. Cousins then expanded the scope of the undertaking by inviting women to have their own garments made.
The Story Skirt Project, 2010
Yoko Inoue also engaged in community collaboration. In Brazil, she began with the the Portuguese word corrente, which means “chain.” Inoue constructed fabric chains through an interaction with residents. They were encouraged to give her a scrap of fabric from their clothing, in exchange for a cup of free ice cream that she purchased from a local vendor. Inoue set up a workstation in front of the shop, where the swap took place several times per week.
Fabric Chains (Detail)
Reaching into the heart of the Brooklyn equation was the tableau by Pablo Helguera. It enshrined the personal history of East New York resident Susannah Mushatt Jones, daughter of Alabama sharecroppers, who is 115 years old. Viewable through a window are objects chosen by Helguera from the museum’s collection, which are dated 1899, the year of Jones’s birth. Along with these items are personal mementos that belong to Jones, such as her high school photograph.
For those seeking painting, Cynthia Daignault provides 365 oil on linen canvases, each 10 inches by 15 inches. They are set up on three walls which form an enveloping U-shape. Initiated on a July day in 2012, when a person close to Daignault began a prison sentence, the endeavor became a meditation on the passage of time. The paintings are placed in chronological order. Daignault captures specific moments in the particulars of the sky, which mirror the subtle gradations that take place in one’s daily life, often overlooked or taken for granted.
I love you more than one more day, 2013
Oil on Linen (Detail)
Each Canvas: 10″ x 15″
The press release for the show qualified the work in Crossing Brooklyn as “nontraditional.” The exhibit may not be everyone’s cup of tea, and the use of the term “Major Survey” may have precipitated some pushback. Regardless, there is plenty to contemplate.
Crossing Brooklyn: Art From Bushwick, Bed-Stuy, and Beyond
Through January 4 at the Brooklyn Museum
Check calendar for performances and public programs
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