By ANTHONY HADEN-GUEST May, 2021
A new art gallery necessarily opens with a program. Often this will be to show new artists or a perceived tendency in art, but sometimes to give the work of established artists a fresh look and frequently a gallery will have a a specific focus, Street art, say, or art that uses cutting edge tech. The opening show at Filo Sofi Arts in Cranford, New Jersey, strikes me as unusual, having been put together from wholly disparate sources but presenting a coherent aesthetic. A disclaimer: Gabrielle Aruta, the gallerist, and Kourosh Mahboubian, the curator, also represent my cartoonery but that is another story. The title of their opening show, Shrine to Beauty, tells the story of this one.
Beauty is a touchy word in the Contemporary art world and has long been so. I have a horror of people who speak about the beautiful, grumped Picasso. What is the beautiful? One must speak of problems in painting. Duchamp was equally dismissive. I threw the bottlerack and the urinal in their faces, he complained, and now they admire them for their aesthetic beauty.
This is the hot spot upon this timely show has been built. Why timely? Well, today’s art world has swollen, become an industry, populated by artists, threading their way through familiar practices – Minimalism, Conceptualism, Gestural Abstraction – trying to avoid being seen as picking each other’s pockets. Unsurprisingly certain artists and dealers have been delving further back to the grand originals, and references to Manet and Monet have become a new normal. So to Shrine to Beauty. The show features six artists who have made careers in very different art-making zones but who share such characteristics as intense coloration and implications of enigmatic story. What Shrine to Beauty brings to mind, this mind anyway, is another Pre-Modernist Ism, but one much less ransacked: Symbolism.
Of the six, Iris Scott has been with Aruta and Mahboubian longest, and she has had a singularly Post-Post-Modernist career. A wholly self-taught artist, she grew up outside Seattle, moved to Taiwan when she was 26, and soon began selling art on Facebook. Cleaning brushes was a time waster though. “I knew enough about art history that nobody was well-known for just fingerpainting. So I figured why not?” Scott says. A famous fingerpainter now, Scott makes figurative canvases which are well executed and ambitious, such as the two eight footers she is showing at Filo Sofi, one of which depicts a drag queen in flower. “The model is veterinarian by day. He looks like a man by day,” Scott says. “At night she is Mango Lassi, drag queen extraordinaire ... the beard is real … so it’s a both male and female kind of feeling … the gallery and I found him on Instagram, he’s a social force, he’s setting an example of freedom and fearlessness.”
The work of Indie 184, whose five pieces in the show include a collages of Grace Jones and of Hedy Lamarr, the movie star and co-inventor of radar, was spotted by Mahboubian at an auction. He did some research. “She had a relationship with a famous subway artist, Cope2 and cut her teeth making graffiti with him on the streets”, he says.
Ford Crull has had a more recognizably art worldly career, including art school and a first show in 1984, which embedded him in the vibrant goings on of the Lower East Side. Crull’s four strong canvases here deploy elements of his pictorial vocabulary, such as quatrefoils, through a shallow luminous space, and it’s to the point that Crull defines his work as Neo-Symbolist.
The figurines, mostly female, some horned, some clothed in husks, standing thing-high on the floor throughout the gallery are the work of Kimberly Camp who entered the show by a whole other route: The museum culture. “She’s a matriarch of the Black Arts movement,” Mahboubian says. “She found her way into the museums and eventually became executive director of the Barnes Foundation. And she was director of the Experimental Gallery at the Smithsonian. So she’s been a very serious museum director for most of her career.” Camp now devotes herself to making her feisty models full-time.
TM Glass is differently feisty, making photographic images of bouquets of flowers arranged into Fibonacci sequences and then separately photoshoped into important antique vases, giving the images the disciplined lushness of a Dutch or Flemish still-life. “The artist has intentionally chosen to do this in the face of opposition from the art world,” Mahboubian says. “The art world says we need to be conceptual, minimal and abstract. The artist says I want my work to be beautiful.”
The work of the sixth artist, Ana Garces Kiley, has a heightened degree of otherness. There is ripe coloration in certain pieces, others are black and white, just lines and dots, wrought upon a fabric that seems at once delicate and necessary as breath. These hang, stationed in corner, or are flat and rippling on the floor, apparently in the luxuriant throes of self abuse. She was the last artist Mahboubian chose for the show. “You see this figure made out if red dots?” he said. “It looks like a body made out of lace. These are all flies. Life and death and sex and decay, and she’s put them in a life and death context. And she has made them beautiful”. WM
Anthony Haden-Guest (born 2 February 1937) is a British writer, reporter, cartoonist, art critic, poet, and socialite who lives in New York City and London. He is a frequent contributor to major magazines and has had several books published including TRUE COLORS: The Real Life of the Art World and The Last Party, Studio 54, Disco and the Culture of the Night.
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