Sophie Amauger

Bringing Beauty to Light

Sophie Amauger’s studio in the south of France is in a converted barn with windows on all sides. Step outside the studio into the garden, and you’ll find a small pond and an old French farmhouse. Beyond the picket fence stretch rolling hills covered in ripe, ochre-colored wheat. “Next week, they’ll turn the ground, and it will be all grays and violets,” Amauger says. Since the local crops rotate, the surrounding fields offer an ever-changing palette. The previous year, the field was planted with sunflowers...
Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY

Take Me to the Moon: Alma Thomas

Alma Thomas was the first African-American woman to be featured in the White House art collection; the first African-American woman to have a solo show at the Whitney Museum of American Art; and the first person to graduate from Howard University with a degree in Fine Art. Thomas’s biography is so impressive as to beg the question: why does her work not appear in major museums more often? During her life, she never fit into a certain artistic category, and the problem still stands of whether she belongs on the ‘outside’ or ‘inside’ of twentieth century art.
Ant Rozetsky

St. Petersburg, Capital of the Nineteenth Century

The protagonist of Sisters of the Cross, Marakulin, falls on hard times and leaves his nice apartment in the Burkov House to move into a rented room three floors up. This change in circumstances gives him a new perspective on the city. Whereas before his window looked onto a neighborly courtyard, he now sees a factory and a hospital. Marakulin is exposed to the city’s noise — “that wearisome sound of iron hitting against stone as Petersburg… rebuilds itself,” to extreme heat in summer, and to black soot that accumulates between his windowpanes. Burkov House’s various faces reveal the strikingly different life-worlds contained within St. Petersburg’s dense fabric.
Cavin-Morris Gallery

Secular Mystic: M’onma Returns to New York

Cavin-Morris Gallery was founded by a couple, Shari Cavin and Randall Morris, around 1980. The project unites their differences. “We have places where we diverge,” Cavin tells me as we chat in a sunlit private room behind the Chelsea gallery. Morris admits that what sparks his interest is the archaeological and anthropological aspects of an object, whereas Cavin is “more into the aesthetics.” “She has a better eye than I do,” he says. On shelves that line two of the walls are objects ranging from birdhouses to ritual masks. Cavin remembers that one of their first fights as a couple was over a Haitian wax skull. Morris was deeply interested in it, whereas Cavin could not stand it. To her, “It was a nasty piece of wax.” Despite, or perhaps thanks to their different sensibilities, Cavin and Morris have kept things interesting...
Columbia University Press

Propaganda, the Absurd, and the Truth in Andrei Platonov’s Plays

In post-Communist Bulgaria, where I grew up, I often encountered traces of the fallen regime’s language: houses marked “Exemplary Home” with a special blue plaque; stacks of old newspapers reporting that agricultural brigades had overfulfilled their quotas; an inscription on a Soviet Army monument claiming that our republic needs friendship with the USSR just as every living being needs air and sunlight. The most ridiculous slogans, once posted on factory walls, are now circulated as internet jokes: "Communism is inevitable." "Every jar of compote: a fist in the face of imperialism!" And so on. I still can’t help but laugh out loud. It is cheap entertainment, and a bit of therapeutic release from the generational trauma. Humor creates distance from that which we dread. I laugh at the slogans, and part of me cringes in horror: someone, a reasoning human being, wrote this. People had to believe it, or live their lives as if they did.
Andrew Edlin Gallery

Imagined Spaces at the 2017 Outsider Art Fair

On a late Sunday morning, the Metropolitan Pavilion in Manhattan is busy with excitement and a mild sense of urgency. It is the last day of the 2017 Outsider Art Fair. With sixty-two exhibitors, this is the event’s biggest iteration so far. As we wander around the space, pushed along by the crowds, the exhibitors’ booths reveal their treasures: Domenico Zindato’s rhythmic patterns and Hiroyuki Doi’s circles; M’onma‘s nightmarish clown masks and Gil Batle’s carved eggshells. A brochure for the fair invites us to see our visit as a “road trip” across the United States and beyond. The idea of travel is not just a metaphor: if any single theme emerges from this year’s show, for us it is architectural and map-like images.
Columbia University Press

The Conflict between North and South Korea, on an Intimate Scale

The plot unfolds over just a few days in Yanji—in a hotel, a couple of restaurants, and on the bank of the Tumen River, which separates North Korea and China. Within this tightly delineated setting, Yi weaves multiple narratives that create a microcosm of societies torn apart by ideological conflict. In addition to the two long-lost brothers, we meet a Chinese Korean woman from Yanji who is bitter about the prejudice she experienced in the South; the overly zealous “Mr. Reunification,” who often bores his companions with his utopian pronouncements; and a cynical businessman engaged in mysterious trade with the North.

Drawing Circles: Hiroyuki Doi Wants You to Know That You Can Make Art

Hiroyuki Doi’s first drawing workshop in the United States is held in the Folk Art Museum’s Collections and Education Center, on a narrow industrial street in Long Island City, Queens. On my way, I realize why Suzanne de Vegh, the museum’s Director of Public Programs, insisted on giving me directions. The street is lined with still-functioning factories; I sense the hum of machinery and the faint chemical smell of acetone. I find the number and ring a bell. I am led into a dimly lit space, sparsely furnished but cozy, as the walls are hung with quilts by American folk artists. Doi is sitting at the far end of the room in semi-darkness, with his sunglasses on.
Columbia University Press

Existentialism, the Russian Soul, and the Modern Metropolis

It is hard to imagine a Parisian flaneur in St. Petersburg. This figure of the nineteenth-century urban explorer, popularized by the likes of Charles Baudelaire and Walter Benjamin, embodied a new, detached way of being. The flaneur would drift through the crowds, keeping a low profile, and record small dramas of urban life such as a prostitute negotiating with a client, flirtations in private boxes at the opera, or the bodies of wretched folk pulled daily out of the Seine. Like a detective without a case, the flaneur would stroll down the tree-lined boulevards or sit in cafes, cool and alert, observing the new social relations and the overall waning of affect. Not so in Russia, judging by Alexei Remizov’s 1910 tale, Sisters of the Cross. In Remizov’s novel, Marakulin, an unemployed clerk, finds a reason for living in being present for those around him and witnessing their suffering.

Hardboiled: Gil Batle’s Debut in New York

West 20th Street between 8th Avenue and the Chelsea piers hosts one of the highest concentrations of art galleries in Manhattan. On a cool, misty November evening, most galleries on the ground level were brightly lit. The street’s only dark spot was the former Bayview Correctional Facility on the corner of 11th Avenue, whose solid brick walls preserved its hidden past. That evening, the divide was bridged when artist Gil Batle’s debut show, "Hatched in Prison," opened at the Ricco Maresca Gallery across the street from Bayview. Nineteen ostrich eggs, rendered skeletal by Batle’s intricate carvings, are displayed in soft lighting that makes it seem as if they are glowing inside. The works depict scenes of abuse, violence, and regret.
Christian Berst Art Brut / Ampersand Gallery

Joyful Voyeur: John Kayser's Playfully Intimate Photography

After John Kayser’s death in 2007, stacks of home-developed black and white photographs and cheap drugstore prints surfaced among his personal effects. Kayser’s oeuvre could easily have ended up as pornographic curios in a California garage sale. Yet something differentiates his work from mere smut or clichéd amateur erotica. Partly it is his vision of femininity. It is also the fact that Kayser works with an awareness of his medium. His compositions include inside jokes about the nature of representation or the entanglement of high and low genres.
Columbia University Press

Low-Brow Culture and the Art of Deception in Ming China

This book reveals the seedy, funny, cruel and absurd aspects of a culture dominated by a complex government bureaucracy, on the one hand, and rampant commerce, on the other. While in its thoroughness it stands on par with, say, canonical Chinese writings on warfare, this is a classic of a different kind. It is a treatise on a less dignified aspect of human nature: the art of deception.
Peabody Essex Mus./ Kathy Tarantola/ Folk Art Mus.

Securing the Shadow: The Folk Art Museum Chronicles Death in Early America

Some artists, following their patrons’ wishes, began to specialize in the miracle of re-animating a corpse and depicting the dead as they once were. In the exhibition, painting after painting shows deceased children playing with toys and pets, smiling serenely; reunited with their brothers and sisters, or else dwelling in idealized Arcadian landscapes. Most of the works are large-format, with two- to five-year old children nearly life-size. The artworks’ subjects are eternally present to their families, suspended in a realm between that of the living and the dead. These attempts to both acknowledge and defy death could lead to difficult emotions. One observer noted in 1824 that looking at such pictures was a “pleasure & a pain.”
Maris Hutchinson / EPW Studio

Collecting a Human Experience at The Keeper

Discarded pieces of gum and cellophane wrappers are placed side-by-side with photographs documenting the structure of snowflakes. Among the artifacts on show are Holocaust memorabilia, rock crystals, antique vessels, Alabama quilts, and architectural models of an imaginary European city. What brings these objects together is a meta-exhibition dedicated to the act of collecting itself. The project is so ambitious and vast in scope that it threatens to unravel into disorder.
Marie Finaz Gallery

Finding Warmth and Feeling at the Outsider Art Fair

This Thursday’s vernissage saw the fair at its peak even before the official opening. When we met Ariel Willmott, the director of the Fountain House Gallery, she was busy selling a piece of art to an enthusiastic client, greeting passersby, and helping her colleague unhang a painting from the wall of their booth. She offered a blunt assessment: “People are sick of cold and detached artwork. They want to feel something.” A phenomenon that started on the margins...
Domenico Zindato

Vision Quest: The Art of Domenico Zindato

In 1988, twenty-year-old Domenico Zindato was nearly finished with his studies at a Rome university and in the midst of a crisis. Fellow Italians did not welcome his extravagant hairstyles, golden shoes, or the beard that covered only half of his face. “Because I was so eccentric,” he recalls, “I was looking for a place where I could fit in.” Berlin in the late eighties offered such a place. The walled-in city was the global capital of drifters, dropouts, and avant-garde visionaries; a haven where “with very little, you could find what you were looking for and do whatever you liked.” Zindato felt “immediately accepted.” He got involved in the city’s nightlife, making sets and decorations for parties. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, semi-legal raves took over vacated buildings...
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