Fred Wilson: Afro Kismet at Pace Gallery

Six framed prints from Fred Wilson's "Afro Kismet" show at Pace Gallery

Six framed prints from Fred Wilson’s “Afro Kismet” show at Pace Gallery

When we first moved to New Haven over 4 years ago, one of the recurring selling points was that it was “only an hour and a half from New York.” At the time, I didn’t think that was a very compelling reason to uproot my then 8-month old twin boys and our lives in San Diego, but over time, I’ve definitely seen it as a crucial benefit. The proximity of New York – New Haven has definitely made it possible for me to see shows at galleries and museum that I otherwise would not have been able to see. Some of my favorite memories of working at the Yale Art Gallery and the Yale Center for British Art have been the days out of the office with colleagues on day-trips to the NYC. Whether to network with new colleagues, check out British artists, hangout with our Yale-Smithsonian Bartels Intern at the NMAI, or present at conferences, I have had a ton of reasons to come to New York and great memories that I carry back with me on the Metro-North.

The summer is a great – though hot – time to come to NYC, and while most of the major exhibitions seem to have closed and galleries are on hiatus, there were two good reason to make the trek: Fred Wilson’s Afro Kismet at the Pace Gallery and John Akomfrah’s Signs of Empire at the New Museum. Am in between the two shows enjoying an Earl Grey and chocolate chip cookie at the New Museum, and haven’t had a chance to see the Akomfrah. The Fred Wilson show, however, was really, really cool. Fred Wilson has been a touchstone for me since I first learned about “Mining the Museum,” and his work has been a consistent reference point the way I think about art, institutional critique, and museums. When my boss, Linda, encouraged me to see the show, I took her up on the offer.

For me, there were two highlights:

(1) his juxtaposition between African objects and European oil paintings.This totally reminded me of both Pedro Lasch’s Black Mirror / Espejo Negro and Demian Flores’ Deconstruction of a Nation / Deconstruccion de una nacion, both of which I wrote about in a short e-misferica article, in which I actually mention Wilson. So I’m coming full circle here, 4 years later, in New York. I kept wondering why he chose to bring these specific African sculptures together with these European paintings – were they made at the same time? Did they have a similar visual register? Was there a geographic specificity to them? The exhibition text was sparse and I’m hoping the catalog will help me answer some of these questions.

(2) his overlay of parchment or wax paper so that the majority of the image was obscured except for the little ovals that highlighted the black figures in the image. I really enjoyed this subtle way of emphasizing the figure of African descent, as it emphasized the global reach and specifically Turkish context in which many Africans were visually registered. That said, they sometimes seemed very shadowy figures, and by not clearly viewing the context, it made it difficult to understand what role that figure had in the image. Were they always in a negative, downgraded position in servitude or in the shadows, or is there any counter-reading available that could see their very presence a form of acknowledgment and assertion. This is visible proof of their existence, and the very visual material that makes Wilson’s project possible.

This refocusing reminded me of Titus Kaphar’s Crumpled and Wrapped series, where he’s literally re-framing the canvas, often to emphasize the figure of African descent. As a New Haven-based artist, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him and teaching from his works of art at the Yale Art Gallery. His work is incredibly meaningful, and he couldn’t be a nicer person.

I’ve finished my tea and cookie, so I should sign-off and check out the Akomfrah show before I have to get back on the Metro-North. Trying to pace myself by only seeing a few shows during each trip to New York, and staying hydrated, caffeinated, and full has definitely become a priority. Have also learned the value of taking taxis instead of the subway and packing light. On to the next adventure!

P.S. If you’re ever in New York, come to New Haven! It’s only an hour and a half away!

needle in a haystack

I’ve spent 2 1/2 days in the Bodleian Library Special Collections room trying to find any information related to the acquisition of the Codex Selden by John Selden and its path from Jaltepec to Oxford.  I’ve had a few leads, but mostly, just a lot of straw in the form of old letters and documents.  Doing archival research is like looking for that needle, but sometimes you don’t even know if there is a needle, or even what it will look like.  In fact, it can be a really frustrating experience, so hit or miss, and the first few days or so are just spent trying to figure out how to identify and locate the documents you want to see.  In the digital age, at least some of this information is going online (shout out to Bodleian’s digitized books!) but even then, finding aids and online databases don’t always have everything you’re looking for.  So you book your dates, pay your week registration fee, call up some documents and just pray that something will be useful.  Sometimes you get lucky.  Maybe this time, not so much.

The most important thing in surviving two consecutive months of research trips is to stay physically active.  I spend the majority of my day either sitting or sleeping, so that 30 minute jog in the morning, or the 2 hours I spent at the gym in Barcelona, made all the difference.  I’m also a fan of the 2-hour lunch breaks and a strong believer in delicious European coffee.  So, alas, as I return to this 17th century account of all the books in John Selden’s collection, I am trying to stay motivated for the last 1 1/2 days of this immense – exhausting – fulfilling – exciting research-heavy summer.

research in the BnF

It’s my last full day in Paris and it started with Bon Iver on the radio.  This made me a bit homesick.  Plus it’s a Saturday, which means that my body & brain instinctively move slower.  But as it’s my final day for research and I still have three reels of microfiche to review, I’m determined to get as much done as possible.  Tomorrow I head off to Barcelona for the Decolonizing Knowledge and Power Summer School — the second part of this three part research trip.

In honor my time spent at the BnF (Bibliothèque nationale de France), I thought I’d share a few things that I learned about the library for my own reference and for anyone who’s thinking of heading there:

1) Fill out an online application to get pre-approved (Formulaire de pré-accréditation).  It takes a day or two to get approved (though online it says 10 days…)

2) Go to the EAST wing of the library at Mitterand to get your ID card.  Make sure to bring money, since a 3 day pass will cost you about 8 Euros or so.

3) Check your oversize Longchamp bag, but make sure to remove your MacBook Air, moleskine notebook, water, apple, and pen before heading in.  If you’re working in the manuscript section of the Richelieu, leave the latter three items in your bag and take a pencil.  Take some money (coins and small bills) if you’re even thinking of possibly photocopying or printing something b/c you’ll need to buy a card for that from a machine that doesn’t give change.

4) Note that because you’re using a MacBook Air, you won’t be able to plug into their internet system since they don’t have wifi (!).  Then bemoan the fact that your virtual connection to the outside world will rely solely upon computer kiosks with those really funny French keyboards.

5) At Mitterand, scan your pass and head down the two extremely long escalators and straight to the librarian’s desk.  Hopefully a friendly English-speaking Brazilian PhD student will be patient enough to walk you though the process of reserving a seat in one of the reading rooms online as well as explain how to reserve books online.  Definitely use this online catalogue.  You’ll also be able to create an online account with your library card which will allow you to reserve space, books, etc. in your next visits.  If you’re looking for manuscripts, it’s a totally different website to view their collections (of course).

6) Eventually you’ll realize that what you actually need is at the Richelieu branch, which has more limited hours, so you’ll hop on the Metro 14 and take the 15 minute ride over there.

7) You’ll have to make really good friends with each of the rotating librarians (they change every 2 hours or so, it seems) because you’ll need to request extremely valuable manuscripts and lots of microfiche.  The nice thing about the manuscript dept. is that you can make requests on the spot for most of their collections, though I think you can also use this online formulaire.

And you’re off!  Until your lunch break, which if you’re at Richelieu will definitely consist of some yummy Japanese food from the dozens of delicious looking Japanese restaurants nearby.

traveling

The month-long, 3-city European research trip has begun — albeit slowly and plagued by flight delays and one very expensive taxi ride.  I had a fantastic 12-hour layover in London thanks to my old roommate Jen, who has lived there for a while and gave me a personalized walking tour of a city about to be completely overrun with a million visitors.  The streets of London are already so crazy and packed that I’m very afraid for those citizens who are staying in the city.  At least, according to advertisements plastered around town, they can work from home.  Welcome to the grad student lifestyle, 9-5ers.

2 of my favorite things (other than Jen) in London: this Siamese taxidermy cat and a total butchering of the spelling of Oaxaca on the Mexican food stand.

After traveling for 48 hours from SD – London – Paris, I arrived at CDG too late to catch the last metro into town and resorted to the aforementioned overpriced, but extremely delightful, taxi ride.   Probably the best 60 Euros I’ve ever been forced to spend.  When I checked in at my hostel (a steal, by the way, $20 per night & that includes breakfast and homemade Korean dinner), they had informed me that I couldn’t take a shower.  That wasn’t about to happen.  I pretty much forced / pleaded my way into hot water and that was also well worth it.

Today I headed off to the Bibliothèque nationale de France, which is amazing.  There are two locations — one for manuscripts and the other for books — both of which I managed to visit.  The research was a bit slow, but I’m hoping that things will pick up tomorrow.

 

chic & light european trip

I’m usually pretty good about packing light for trips (proof: backpacking or a month through Peru with 4 shirts & 2 pairs of pants), but when it came to spending a month in Oaxaca, I went a little overboard.  And I’ll literally be paying for that at the airport in luggage fees on Friday.  I’m not about to make the same mistakes with the 3 inter-Europe flights on discount airlines (London-Paris; Paris-Barcelona; Barcelona-London), so I spent last night looking at blogs for inspiration.  So far, I love:

I’ll let you know how it goes!

 

 

murals

 

There’s kind of this mandatory Diego-Frida obsession that I think everyone goes through at some point or another when hanging out in D.F.  Despite the fact that there are a ton of talented artists to come out of Mexico, they are the quintessential pair that epitomizes the idea of “Mexico” for most foreigners.  Though always hesitant to buy into that kind of popular hype, I’ve got to admit that there is something really compelling about their work and their story.

I’ve already seen the murals in the Palacio Nacional, so I thought I’d head off to the Secretaría de Educación Publica to check out the murals there.  Though less relevant to my research topic, they were still quite powerful — especially the Wall Street Banquet, a personal favorite.  Today’s Diego-Friday in D.F. excursion is to the Museo Frida Kahlo in her old house on Londres 247 in Coyoacán.

anahuacalli

I made a last-minute trip to Mexico City to meet up with Demián Flores before I head back to San Diego on Friday and I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical at first.  I had only spent a week in D.F. and that was over 3 years ago.  I love my Oaxacan life, friends, and food, and I didn’t want to leave all that behind for the big city.  Despite my initial hesitations, I’ve had a really amazing time here and my time with Demián was fantastic.

After flying in and dropping off some things at the Hotel Marlowe (good budget option close to Bellas Artes), I headed off to visit the museum that Diego Rivera designed to house his Pre-Columbian artifacts — the Anahuacalli.  After a metro, train ride, and 10-minute walk, I arrived at this imposing monumental structure (a modern temple of sorts).  Not only is the building impressive, but the collection is quite amazing and every detail from the mosaic ceilings to the contemporary art installation really resonated with the research that I’ve been doing.  The small craft fair was a bonus, as was actually understanding 90% of the Spanish-language tour, proving that I’ve finally gotten to a good level with the language.