Hey, and if ya don’t know, now ya know, Mr. President

Eagerly anticipated by #manhattanmodernist since the announcement of the artist selections, we have waited patiently. With yesterday’s unveiling of the Obamas’ portraits, (see here) it is not just the uniqueness of the commission, but the achievement of all, both artists and subjects. This is undisputedly a momentous occasion. Respect to Barak and Michelle Obama for their selection and kudos to the artists, Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, for their original and refreshing approaches, with nods to history, heritage and legacy.

To mix a few of Lin-Manauel Miranda’s  hip hop references (from Hamilton) “And if ya don’t know, now ya know,” the Obamas selected well, even brilliantly, with artists who sourced humanity and vulnerability whilst elevating their subjects, distilling an essence and imbuing it with nobility and context. All four have rightfully secured a place in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, on our walls and in our consciousness, not just for this generation, but for generations to come. And by default, “history has its eyes on you”.

The trailblazing is not to be underestimated. Each was given a voice at the unveiling, a not insignificant detail, and Michelle Obama summed up the importance of “young people — particularly girls and girls of color — who in years ahead will come to this place and they will look up and they will see an image of someone who looks like them hanging on the wall of this great American institution. I know the kind of impact that will have on their lives, because I was one of those girls.”

Not to  mention the kind of impact this will have on the lives of the artists, who with these momentous commissions, have rightly secured not only their ideal patrons, and sold-out collections, but deservedly have achieved places for themselves in history. An unprecedented landmark moment, stunningly immortalized, for all of us to celebrate.

(Amy Sherald)


(Kehinde Wiley)


A New Look for an Old Soul

Visitors to New York’s Museum Mile may like to take a wander through the newly designed third floor of the Jewish Museum at 1109 Fifth Avenue. Following its recent Modigliani exhibit and its Pierre Chareau exhibition, last year, that was orchestrated by Diller + Scofidio, the choice of starchitect was key to decoding the presentation of their somewhat weighty permanent collection.

Enter Calvin Tsao, of Tsao & McKown, who opened up the space establishing a visual link to Central Park and Stagmeister & Walsh who did the rebranding. Entitled “Scenes From the Collection” there is no attempt to overwhelm. Instead the collection has been curated minimally, with a “less is more” rotating philosophy, so as to remain fresh, fanciful, interactive, and critically, more Instagrammable.

Stylistic tribute has been made to international galleries abroad. As in the Tate Modern and Musee d’Orsay, the beauty of the original building, in this case the 1908 built home of Felix M. Warburg, is celebrated with its period charm restored. The mix of old and new is paramount not just in the architecture but in the collection itself, which  has been divided into seven galleries.

The first, “Accumulations”  provides a welcome interactive element with stereoscopes enabling 3D type views of last century Israel depicted in hand-drawn postcard sized twin images. Mostly traditional ceremonial objects are displayed in “Taxonomies”, while images and objects referencing the Holocaust are shown in  “Masterpieces and Curiosities”. A more modern take on  “Personas” shows the work of Man Ray and Cindy Sherman, with exploration of the Star of David and its symbolism explored through the art of contemporary artists in “Signs and Symbols”.  With a viewing station “Television and Beyond” attempts to catch visitors up to the present whilst examining the portrayal and impact of Jews in the media.

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Yet it is in the “Constellations” gallery that the real dialogue between modern art and heritage takes it rightful place.  Tradition and loss, have so far been presented. Continuity and the precarious balance of living with heritage is what is examined here. Mel Bochner’s The Joys of Yiddish, (above) is a true gem, contrasting bizarrely with Camille Pissarro’s Portail L’Eglise Saint-Jacques à Dieppe.




Arlene Shechet’s emotionally packed Travel Light, (seen above with Eva Hesse’s Untitled) is a restrained gypsum and resin reference to the generational value of familial objects interlinked with identity, escape and continuity.

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Framing this travel bag are displays of 60s feminism with painting by Joan Snyder (Hard Sweetness, above) and Eva Hesse as well as the more recent “Seder” by Nicole Eisenman.

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Hannah Wilke’s series Venus Pareve (above), is presented alongside the subtle relief of the Star of David in the rainbow colors of  Ross Bleckner’s expressed duality in his “Double Portrait (Gay Flag)” (below).

Ross Bleckner, Double Portrait (Gay Flag), Oil on canvas, 1993

wileyStanding proudly in its vivid lure, the ornate quality and frame of Alios Itzhak (above) by Kehinde Wiley from his World Stage:Israel exhibition at the Jewish Museum, 2012, mimics the intricate dark woodwork of the adjacent 19th century ark from Sioux City, Iowa. Both share the iconography of carved ten commandments, centrally placed at their top and both challenge ideas of memory and continuity. Wiley’s work goes further in portraying a proud, deliberate, noble element, typical to his work, yet it is the deliberate homoerotic element that is glossed over here, as is the subject of the integration and acceptance of Ethiopian Jews in modern Israeli society. The Jewish Museum could do well applying the same level of admirable critique to its curated content as it has done to its newly renovated galleries.

Still slightly disparate with unusual but exciting juxtapositions “Scenes From a Collection”  has promised a 6 month cycle which will undoubtedly keep the galleries and our appetite fresh as well as allowing for further curatorial experimentation. That is to be applauded.

Celebrating Rosa Parks

Yesterday was not just the last day of the Modigliani exhibition at the Jewish Museum, it was also the 105th anniversary of the birth of Rosa Parks (1913-2005). Additionally, it is Black History Month 2018 and artists such as Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, have received a lot of welcome attention lately. I’d like to post an image by a lesser known Nigerian-Canadian neo-pop artist, painter, sculptor, and product designer, Lanre Adefioye as a tribute to Rosa Parks and the initiation of the civil rights movement in the United States. Enjoy and celebrate.

(Rosa Parks by Lanre Adefioye)

An Englishman in New York

By Sarah Balcombe

A visitor to the David Hockney at New York City’s Met in Central Park, would be forgiven for breezing past Hockney’s early works and making a bee-line for the seductive pinks, aquas and yellows of his more familiar California pool paintings, as in A Bigger Splash, 1967 (below).

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When presented with these images of sun-drenched California it is easy to forget Hockney’s British roots. Yet his early paintings (below) tell a narrative of homophobic Britain before the Sexual Offences Act in 1967 ironically alluding to taboo practices deemed imprisonable offences at that time.

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Referencing  Andy Warhol’s celebration of everyday objects, in Cleaning Teeth, Early Evening (10pm) W11, 1962  (above right) these experiments in Abstract Expressionism are important references of a not-so disguised pre-Stonewall era.  Hockney’s Shame, 1960 (above left) depicts his post Royal College of Arts period, displaying Francis Bacon- influenced contorted raw angst.

Not so in his more confident Domestic Scene, Los Angeles, 1963 (below left)

hockney14  Man in Shower in Beverly Hills 1964 by David Hockney born 1937  and Man In Shower In Beverly Hills, 1964 (above right).

Gone is the angst, replaced by a perceived nirvana of tolerance and thriving, located in his anticipated homeland of Los Angeles, where scenes of male domesticity and casual intimacy were more acceptable. These paintings also depict the technical development of Hockney’s portrayal of water and splashes, a theme to which he later returns and refines.

However it is the unbridled optimism that triumphs and floods the remainder of this exhibition.  Even though the subjects of these initial paintings were conjured up from magazines prior to Hockney’s move to the US,  the paintings begin to be informed by the seductive pinks, aquas and yellows of his subsequent Los Angeles relocation.

And what a celebration he conveyed upon his arrival in LA in 1964. With explosions of color augmenting the modernist Neutra-like villas of art collectors and acquaintances, we have a glimpse of 1960s and 70s LA through Hockney’s exuberant lens.

Image result for american collectors (fred and marcia weisman) American Collectors (Fred and Marcia Weisman), 1968, above.

California Art Collector, 1964, below left.

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As we peered through The Graduate‘s distorted pool in 1967, so we gaze as voyeurs into Hockney’s exquisite pools and seductive villas. Impeccably dressed characters suggest prescribed roles, some as art collectors (see above) others as fashion designers and friends in Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy, 1971 (below left) and the remainder as more-than friends, as in  Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy, 1968 (above right).

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Repetitive iconography of objets, such as the telephone, strategically placed flowers, fruit, hands, crossed knees, books, and distance between couples, portray domestic relationships, whilst inviting us into Hockney’s social circle and his world beyond the frame. His working studies of his subject are even more poignant in their intimacy. With the abandonment of every formal compositional element, as in his crayon sketch of Ossie Wearing a Fairisle Sweater, 1970 (above, right) a familiarity is suggested.

It is in this phase of portraiture that Hockney’s work revels in freedom and the anticipation of possibility whilst geometry and modernism provide a welcome element of composition and technical exactitude, see below, Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures), 1972.

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Modernism as an influence is seen in linear delights such as Medical Building, 1966 (below left) and Savings and Loan Building, 1967 (below right) whilst surrealism is suggested in Hockney’s Rubber Ring Floating in a Swimming Pool, 1971 (beneath left).

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All this changes in the latter part of the exhibition when the 80s decade heralds color  infused with a more psychedelic Fauvism as in Outpost Drive, Hollywood, 1980 (above right). As a visitor stated “This is where Hockney turns into Matisse.” Whilst Matisse was undoubtedly an influence there is no doubt that these rooms are still Hockney. Continuing with his beautifully composed domestic scenes, adding a cubist reference, Hockney also explores landscape with ferocity, possibly as a reaction to his gradual deafness, and his claims that his perception of colors intensified in their vividness.

Image result for large interior la                                          Large Interior, Los Angeles 1988

Whilst terraces and pergolas interact with the landscapes, enticing the viewer with a differing perspective, the landscapes have become his refuge. Flitting between Hollywood Hills and Yorkshire visits, they excite and inspire. Yet it is his Breakfast at Malibu, Sunday, 1989 (below) that offers perhaps the most compelling combination of heritage. Informed by his humble Bradford beginnings, the traditional teapot and cups assume a Zen-like transcendental quality against the backdrop of the all-encompassing blue Malibu waves, a perfect cross-Atlantic blend of meditative anticipation.

Breakfast at Malibu  (1989 )

The visitor continues to be guided through freer, more abstract treats of the 1990s and 2000s, culminating in a dazzling I-pad display of Hockney’s embrace of technology.

Go, enjoy and be comforted by the fleeting angst, rigor, beauty and thoroughness of his art that is gradually reducing, like a good sauce, to a Picasso-esque squiggle of a solitary line of color.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Winter Wonderland

By Sarah Balcombe

As a “bomb cyclone” barrages New York and New England with some of the coldest temperatures on record, Frank Lloyd Wright’s concept of an Arizona winter retreat seems not just sensible but positively prophetic. And so it is. Reinforcing Wright’s architectural ingenuity and his continued relevance, nothing screams “shelter” more than his iconic Taliesin West.


Still functioning as an architecture school, with daily tours for visitors, this remarkable mid-century collection of modern structures sits lightly in the landscape. Wright bought this 600 acre plot in Scottsdale, Arizona, in 1937, for $2000, with the profit from his Falling Water project, under his doctor’s recuperation advice to avoid Wisconsin winters, following a bout of pneumonia.


Unique in its concept of desert building, Taliesin West is essentially home-brewed-by-Wright. It is an an organic series of experimental structures that he and his apprentices designed and built in the hostile Arizona desert.


Surrounded by snakes, cacti and a distinct lack of water, the complex was deliberately situated in a region of petrogylyphs, ancient writing symbols by Southwest Native Americans. This petroglyph (above) has been positioned by the entrance to Taliesin West. Wright used its orthogonal spiral symbol as his motif for the estate.

Wright was fascinated by the land’s spiritual origins, as well as its water possibilities and eventually succeeded in  locating an underground river 500ft below the site. This allows for the welcoming triangular pools and alledgedly helped to appease Wright’s fear of fire, following  fire tragedies, at his original Talisein home in Wisconsin.


Evolving over a twenty year period with simple modern shelters subsequently added by students, Taliesin West demonstrates an innovative use of space and materials within the desert landscape, exuding a therapeutic and tranquil serenity.


Wright’s office and studio (above), modest sleeping quarters and a long, low living room (below), with built-in-sofas and custom-made chairs, all have controlled views out with carefully designed slotted openings, that were only reluctantly glazed five years after completion. With low overhangs and canvas roofs, the intention had been to keep these sheltered slots open, contributing to the tent-like relaxed feel of the place and its sense of genius loci.



Using local and natural materials, Wright invented a compound cement slurry to set the flat-edged natural boulders into the walls and floors (see above), making them easier to manoeuvre into position before setting. His environmentally responsive, green architecture also uses reflective aluminium surfaces in the bathrooms to reduce lighting requirements (below).


It also employs simple acoustic principles of plywood under the stage of the cabaret/ lecture theatre, complete with piano niche (see below)  and utilizes pre-stressing, strengthening techniques for the store-room ceiling.



Frank Lloyd Wright had a separate sleeping and napping area (above) adjacent to his wife, Olgivanna Lloyd Wright. Her sleeping quarters, with writing bureau, are shown below.


These experiments in controlled views through level changes (below), is a technique later employed by modernist architects such as Sir Leslie Martin in his Royal Festival Hall, London and his Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon, Portugal.


Similar aspects of Taliesin West’s design and construction were used by Wright in his subsequent projects. The same low stair configuration, prairie style overhangs, vast ceilings and angled openings (glazed in this case) can be seen in the Olfelt home in Minnesota. Currently on sale for $1.3m, it is being sold by the original owners, the couple who originally commissioned Wright to design their home (images below).

(Olfelt home, Minnesota images by Coldwell Banker)

Whilst brick was used instead of desert boulders, the angled roof and canopies, Wright’s characteristic Cherokee Red floors and stone fireplaces echo those at Taliesin West. They also give this midwest property its mid-century flair. As one of Wright’s final works, it is interesting to see how some of his desert experiments are adapted and applied here, once again demonstrating his design genius.

All original furniture is included. For the full effect, just add snow.

Modigliani: Melancholy, Mystery and Magnificence

By Sarah Balcombe

Perhaps the most compelling image at the Jewish Museum’s Modigliani Unmasked is a photograph of the artist himself: jet black hair with knowing eyes and an arrogance that belied his youth. “How beautiful he was, my God, how beautiful!” exclaimed his model, Aicha  (Kenneth E Silver, ‘Too Many Last Words!’).
 700h_tjm_672-modi_f002-modigliani                                Amedeo Modigliani, c. 1912
His looks were legendary. “Modigliani was handsome, virile, with his wavy locks, his large forehead and his diamond-black eye,” stated his friend and writer, André Salmon. When asked if Modigliani was handsome, Jean Cocteau stated “No. He was something better….I was fascinated by his…handsome appearance….. He looked aristocratic even in his worn-out corduroys.” (K Silver)


Modigliani, Picasso and André Salmon in front the Café de la Rotonde, Paris. Image taken by Jean Cocteau in Montparnasse, Paris in 1916

It was reported that  “Before the war Modigliani had magnificent beauty but that now he had lost it through debauchery and alcohol.” With fragile health, a wish to conceal his  tuberculosis was apparently the main cause of his addictions and alleged self destructive behaviour. In  her autobiography of the artist, Meryle Secrest claims that he drank to avoid the stigma of tuberculosis, which, was the leading cause of death in France at the time. It was highly contagious and incurable. Secrest writes: “Drunks were tolerated; carriers of infectious diseases were not.””


Rue du Delta- Dr Paul Alexandre invited artists to stay here but it was demolished in 1913.

Almost as transfixing and infinitely more curious is the photograph next to Modigliani’s portrait. It shows the other artists with whom he lived, unloading from a horse and cart into an artist commune on Rue du Delta (above), funded by his patron and friend, Dr Alexandre. Every poor artist needs a patron and every patron needs a productive artist. It seems the two were well matched, and only three years apart in age, although due to Dr Alexandre’s modest means, Modigliani actually received very little actual remuneration. Despite Dr Alexandre’s attempts to further Modigliani’s career (many of Modigliani’s portrait sitter’s were family members of this patron) Modigliani’s work was often often exchanged for food and lodging or the price of a cup of coffee in a Montparanasse cafe.

His prolific output should not be underestimated and “from 1913-early 1920 Modigliani produced over 250 oil paintings”, a remarkable quantity especially considering that “this period included the four years of the First World War, when materials and portrait commissions were scarce.” (Simonetta Fraquelli, A Personal Universe: Modigliani’s Portraits and Figure Paintings)

Final Known Study for L’Amazone 1909. Black crayon 30.8 x 23.2 cms (12 1/8 x 9 1/8 inches)    (Paul Alexandre Collection)       

Accumulation of his work was valuable. Dr Alexandre amassed a staggering cache of approximately 400 drawings  during M’s most prolific period of 1906-14, many of which are displayed at Modigliani Unmasked. They capture an energy well-suited to the performance artists he sketched, such as Columbine Wearing Culottes and Studies for The Amazon (above), which reveal an expressive suggestive quality.

Amedeo Modigliani, Portrait of Roger Dutilleul, 1919. Oil on canvas. 39½ x 25½ in. (100.4 x 64.7 cm). Collection of Bruce and Robbi Toll (The Jewish Museum)

Whilst in his male portraits (above) this translated into an arabesque slightly comical quality, Modigliani became a master of capturing nuance, featuring exaggerate stance, and limbs. When painting the female form this abstraction added a sensual element to his work.

Despite Modigliani socialising with Pablo Picasso and Brancusi, his palette was very much his own. Echoing the frescoed walls of Italian palaces and the damp plaster of crumbling buildings, it is possible that M’s use of a delicate patina, mixing dove greys with sage greens and light- infused yellows, was inspired by his visually rich Italian heritage. By gradually replacing his subjects’ eyes with slots of iridescent color,  he imbued faces with mask -like visages. This abstraction combined with elongating necks and tilting heads, added to the commanding, beguiling aura of his work.

Amedeo Modigliani, Lunia Czechowska, 1919. Oil on canvas. 31½ x 20½ in. Museu de Arte de São Paulo. Photograph by João Musa (The Jewish Museum)

His method of elongation is also a derivation of his profound interest in sculpture at the time. The sculptures Modigliani created in 1909-14, of which twenty-five carvings and one woodcut survive, were highly influential on his work as a painter, helping him arrive at the abstracted and linear vocabulary of his painting. The similarity between his sculptures, and those of Brancusi is remarkable. Indeed the curator makes this point by displaying a letter affirming Modigliani’s admiration for this similarly displaced artist (Brancusi was Romanian) also living in the artist colony at Rue d’Delta. The sculptures that followed are elegant and long necked, alluding to the Primitivism movement that was sweeping Paris at that time. Modigliani claimed that he was a sculptor first, but his ill health and financial limitations restricted his development in the medium of stone.

Amedeo Modigliani, Head of a Woman, 1910-11. Limestone, 25⅝ x 7½ x 9¾ in. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. Chester Dale Collection (The Jewish Museum)

Many of these sculptures are displayed at Modigliani Unmasked, at The Jewish Museum. Also shown is a prolific collection of Greek caryatids, Rose Caryatid and Caryatid 1914. Nevertheless it is the iridescent reclining nudes and enigmatic elongated female portraits, such as that of his lover, Jeanne Hébuterne with Yellow Sweater (1918-1919) (below), which will be forever synonymous with the artist, Modigliani.

Amedeo Modigliani, Jeanne Hébuterne with Yellow Sweater, 1918-19. Oil on canvas. 39⅜ x 25½ in. (100 x 64.7 cm). Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, By gift 37.533. Image provided by Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation / Art Resource, New York (The Jewish Museum)

With his genius rewarded too late, he died destitute and ill. Hébuterne, pregnant with Modigliani’s child, threw herself to her death two days later. In contrast to this catalogue of death and destruction, his cache of work survived. It seems that his artistry had been recognized, but Modigliani had not been compensated for its value. “An hour after (his death) dealers and collectors, wallets in  hand, desperately grabbed every painting and drawing by Modigliani they could find,” reported Gustave Coquiot.

With no living descendants, “the work was suddenly worth a great deal”  (Kenneth E Silver)  and one painting reportedly fetched one million francs three decades later in 1952. In 2015 the increasing value of his work, was dramatically inflated by the sale of  his “Nu Couché,” (Reclining Nude) 1917-18 which achieved $170 million at Christies auction. A remarkable achievement, especially when considering that Modigliani’s first and only solo show of  paintings  during his lifetime, had been shut down by the chief of Paris police upon its opening night in December 3rd 1917, due to its display of nudity. History has a way of repeating itself and recent controversy surrounding the Doge’s Palace in Genoa resulted in the closure of its Modigliani exhibition, this year, when a significant number of paintings were considered fakes (Hyperallergic).

Try to catch a glimpse of this maverick’s muses in Modigliani Unmasked at the Jewish Museum until Feb 4th and  if you can get to London you can also see Modigliani, at the Tate Modern, London until April 2018. Whilst The London show claims “Modigliani’s nudes are a highlight of the exhibition – with 12 nudes on display, this is the largest group ever reunited in the UK” it is the intimacy of Modigliani’s drawings, sculptures and paintings that has been successfully conveyed in Manhattan. With his artwork beautifully curated and displayed, make sure you visit. You will not be disappointed.

Obama’s Choice of Kehinde Wiley Just got Political


Kehinde Wiley Fishermen Upon a Lee-shore, in Squally Weather (Zakary Antoine), 2017 (above) Courtesy Kehinde Wiley and STEPHEN FRIEDMAN GALLERY, London

Barack Obama’s choice, last month, to appoint Kehinde Wiley to paint his portrait to be displayed at Washington’s National Portrait Gallery could hardly be more timely. As in Michelle Obama’s selection of  Amy Sherald as her artist,  Barack’s choice is current, progressive and as of last week, political.


Emma Amos Eva the Babysitter, 1973 (above) Courtesy Emma Amos, The Amos Family and  RYAN LEE GALLERY (Tate Modern)
Barkley L. Hendricks Icon for My Man Superman (Superman never saved any black people — Bobby Seale), 1969. Courtesy JACK SHAINMAN GALLERY


Kehinde Wiley is no Wadsworth Jarrell, Emma Amos (top), or Barkley L. Hendricks (above) whose Civil Rights Movement inspired artwork, mostly from the late 1960s and 1970s, was exhibited recently at London’s Tate Modern’s Soul of a Nation Art in the Age of Black Power. Yet Wiley is influenced by these predecessors and his work remains relevant in a similar way.  Less militant and of a different time, Wiley’s art not only addresses local issues, it also tackles global  tensions relating to predomnantly male identity and acceptance, across China, Brazil, India & Sri Lanka, Lagos & Dakar, and more recently, Israel. This was seen in Kehinde Wiley/The World Stage: Israel in New York’s Jewish Museum in 2012.

Kehinde Wiley Abed Al Ashe and Chaled El Awari (The World Stage: Israel), 2011(© Kehinde Wiley; Courtesy Roberts & Tilton, CA) (above)
Detail from Kehinde Wiley Kalkidan Mashasha (The World Stage: Israel), 2011               (All images courtesy the Jewish Museum.) (above)

Wiley’s portraits, often focusing on the male skin and body as art, are softened by textiles, pattern and a certain vulnerability. Wiley is best known for substituting the elite and often religious subjects of traditional old master paintings with contemporary African-Americans, emphasizing their absence in these historic paintings.  By challenging accepted historic norms, Wiley comments on “the signifiers of power, the implications of the traditional portrait, which are about privilege, power, elitism…..that he was not included in.” (New York Times)

Kehinde Wiley  Leviathan Zodiac, 2011. Courtesy of Roberts & Tilton, California. © Kehinde Wiley.

His work has a contemplative and reflective quality with his current solo show at the Stephen Friedman Gallery in London  (see London’s Evening Standard) depicting everyday real Haitians (with their names in the titles) painted in heroic, maritime poses, as in Fishermen Upon a Lee-shore, in Squally Weather (Zakary Antoine), 2017 (image at top). Lacking the technical complexity of his earlier works, these portraits of migrants or seafarers, fisherman or villagers,  have acquired heightened political status, due to the Department of Homeland Security’s termination, last week, of the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) granted by Barack Obama, to Haitians in the US.

With irony as the main ingredient of Wiley’s art, the timing of the exhibition of his Haitian portraits is not to be underestimated. Due to the secrecy shrouding Barack Obama’s anticipated portrait, it will be interesting to see to what extent Kehinde Wiley will reflect this relevant humanitarian TPS issue.

Value in art or salesmanship?

By Sarah Balcombe

Never before has the art world succeeded in igniting the imagination of so many in such a short time.  In Star Wars terms Christie’s has entered another galaxy,  gone where no auction house, living or dead has ever gone before and it has certainly pushed the art world into a new frontier. Records have been shattered, reputations have been made, and dismayed, and the art world will never be the same again.


In case you haven’t heard, Christie’s Rockefeller Center has cause for celebration. Triggering cover stories such as “Dough Vinci!” (NY Post)  their sale of this reputed 500 year old artwork, entitled Salvator Mundi (below) achieved a staggering $450.3 Million (including fees).


Its sale surpassed the highest price paid for an artwork by over $150m, smashing the  $300m reportedly achieved in 2015 by the private sale of Willem de Kooning’s “Interchange” (below).


Whether the restored Salvator  Mundi, will trigger prices of other old masters remains to be seen. It has certainly commanded a list of firsts. It has achieved the highest price ever of any artwork, surpassing any previous record by 150% and earning Christie’s allegedly $50million, according to their 12.5% recently revised fee structure (Artnet).

It is also the first time Christie’s has enlisted an outside agency to advertise their work, reportedly the first time that a $100m bid had been secured  by an unidentified third party, prior to auction and the first time Christie’s have used  an exclusive “specially- designated paddle” . The newly devised red paddles used to make bids was also a clever marketing tool, standing out amongst the furore of raised mobile phones, all clamouring to capture the escalating illuminated price figure at the auction house.

Whether the secret buyer should be applauded or berated, he/she has the  somewhat dubious accolade of having bought the most expensive painting ever. Nevertheless it is Christie’s who must be considered the Old Master of this stroke. Meticulously marketed, with a campaign “unprecedented in the art world” and boasting a celebratory audience at the auction itself, Christie’s investment paid off. According to Todd Levin, a New York art advisor, “There was a thumping epic triumph of branding and desire over connoisseurship and reality”.

London’s Evening Standard states that there is speculation that the recently opened new Louvre in Abu Dhabi could well be the purchaser. There would be a certain easy symmetry to this equation if that turns out to be the case. The new Louvre is already excited about its current star attraction, Da Vinci’s lesser known, La Belle Ferronnière,


on loan from its counterpart in Paris. The director of the museum, Manuel Rabaté has openly stated that his mission is to open a dialogue between the East and the West. This could be significantly addressed by such an acquistion.

Regardless of who the new owner is, speculation is rife as to the real value of the painting, with its quality and authenticity still in question. Critics claim that a contemporary sale was used by Christie’s as a device to circumvent the scrutiny of old masters experts. Charles Hope, a professor emeritus at the Warburg Institute at the University of London states “Even making allowances for its extremely poor state of preservation, it is a curiously unimpressive composition and it is hard to believe that Leonardo himself was responsible for anything so dull”.

Jacques Franck, a Leonardo expert claims  “The composition doesn’t come from Leonardo. He preferred twisted movement. It’s a good studio work with a little Leonardo at best, and it’s very damaged. It’s been called the male Mona Lisa, but it doesn’t look like it at all. “(NYTimes)

On Tuesday gallerist Richard Feigen stated “There’s so little of Leonardo there. From a commercial standpoint, I don’t think it has any value. I wouldn’t buy it at any price,” adding when pressed: “Well, $10 I could do.”

Whether this was a serious gaffe, reminiscent of the BBC weatherman Michael Fish, in October 1987,  denying the possibility of a hurricane, hours before it caused death and devastation across England and France, or whether Feigen will ultimately prove to be correct, remains to be seen. What is probable however, is that as Fish’s gaffe remains prevalent in the UK’s consciousness, 30 year later, so too will this sale, albeit on a more global scale, regardless of its authenticity.




Much Ado about Harlem…


In an effort to challenge the status quo, to continue this revolution of sorts and give voice to those silenced by administrations such as the current one, Michelle Obama is forging ahead with her own set of rules. It is only fitting that she has chosen Amy Sherald, an emerging artist and heart transplant survivor, to paint her official portrait for the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.


It is hard not to be impressed by the boldness, color and use of pattern in Amy Sherald’s work. Having been awarded this somewhat formidable task, Ms Sherald has been cast into the orbit of celebratory artist. Whether that is something she is comfortable with remains to be seen, and yet one can understand the complete confidence that Michelle Obama had in her selection. Obama’s choice is a significant one. She is saluting this emerging artist, for all of those reasons and another very important one: Relevance.

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Sherald is an expert at calmly depicting the struggle and identity of where we are now. In her works The Make Believer (Monet’s Garden), 2016, top, and The Boy With No Past, 2014, above, these images prove irresistible in their vividness. Sherald has captured a spirit that is bold and unapologetic, non-confrontational yet defiant. Her depiction of street smart fashion, of obvious interest to Obama, is deliberate, playful and accessible, far removed from the echelons of exclusivity. Sherald’s choices are original and controlled without being contrived. She  depicts the inner spirit of ordinary people in technicolor honesty, regardless of status. This in itself is simultaneously a humbling and empowering message and this is the message that Michelle Obama wishes to convey. It is up to us now to embrace it.

Whilst checking out Sherald’s work currently displayed in Fictions, at Harlem’s Studio Museum, don’t miss the artistry of her peers. Flanked by the striking graphics of Deborah Roberts’, The Sleepwalkers, 2017, below


and Devan  Shimoyama’s bejeweled Shape Up and a Trim, 2017, below,

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whose works challenge racial and gender stereotypes, a fabulous celebration of restrained flamboyancy is on display. In the chromogenic color prints of Kings and Queens (2017)and Colorblinds (2017) within  Genevieve Gaignard’s installation, a Cindy Sherman style voyeurism is established, with photographic images inserted into vintage styled sets. Gaignard’s  Nevertheless, She Persisted, 2017, with a porcelain figure trapped within a gold birdcage, below, references racial injustices, and possibly Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.


Simultaneously nostalgic and critical, these works are powerful in highlighting taboo subjects such as restrictions of liberties and incarceration.  jumpsuit.jpg

Similarly, in the work of Sherrill Roland, The Jumpsuit Projects, 2016-2017, above, a powerful autobiographical commentary is presented on wrongful imprisonment. Finally in the adjacent gallery, the exhibition Their Own Harlems features the timeless message of migration, depicted by Jacob Lawrence (The Architect, 1959, below), and others, providing historical context and poignant relevance.


If the appointment of Amy Sherald merely increases the exposure of these artists, Michelle Obama has done well. But by introducing this work to a much wider audience, Obama has  not only secured Sherald’s future, but is keeping alive the consciousness of The Studio  Museum in Harlem, as it leads up to the start of its three year construction project, led by David Adjaye. With curator Thelma Golden at its helm, there was never any danger of it “Going Gentle Into That Night” (Dylan Thomas) during its temporary closure, but now there is significantly more reason for it to be defiantly screaming Hamilton’s “Stay Alive” (Lin- Manuel Miranda) with all the backing of this Harlem Renaissance boost.