VISIONAIRE RECOMMENDS

1. Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic is open at Brooklyn Museum until May 24, 2015.

The works presented in Visionaire 50 ARTIST TOYS contributor Kehinde Wiley’s A New Republic raise questions about race, gender, and the politics of representation by portraying contemporary African American men and women using the conventions of traditional European portraiture. The exhibition includes an overview of the artist’s prolific fourteen-year career and features sixty paintings and sculptures. Wiley’s signature portraits of everyday men and women riff on specific paintings by Old Masters, replacing the European aristocrats depicted in those paintings with contemporary black subjects, drawing attention to the absence of African Americans from historical and cultural narratives. The subjects in Wiley’s paintings often wear sneakers, hoodies, and baseball caps, gear associated with hip-hop culture, and are set against contrasting ornate decorative backgrounds that evoke earlier eras and a range of cultures. Through the process of “street casting,” Wiley invites individuals, often strangers he encounters on the street, to sit for portraits. In this collaborative process, the model chooses a reproduction of a painting from a book and reenacts the pose of the painting’s figure. By inviting the subjects to select a work of art, Wiley gives them a measure of control over the way they’re portrayed.

2. Keith Lemley: Arboreal is open at Mixed Greens until March 21, 2015.

Always interested in scientific research connecting disparate parts of the universe through underlying geometry, Keith Lemley has become known for large-scale, angular neon installations that unify spaces through light, color, and line. More captivating than the actual geometric theories is the process of experimentation and discovery shared by scientists and artists alike. Lemley is intrigued by the next set of questions each installation poses and the challenge of uniting materials, light, and architecture within each exhibition. Approximately six years ago, a large Chestnut Oak tree fell on a ridge near Lemley’s studio in rural Appalachia. The trees in that area can be traced back to the early 19th century in spite of scarce nutrients and strong winds on the cliff. Lemley walked past this fallen tree nearly every day. Eventually, he began to carve the wood, exposing nearly two centuries of history. The shapes of the sculptures come from the knots, limbs, defects, and idiosyncrasies in the tree’s growth. Lemley works to reveal the underlying geometry in this natural material; he sees the cuts as a collaboration with the tree, uncovering an order and a narrative that was already there. Neon tubes act as extensions of the wooden, gem-like forms. The lines of light become drawings in three-dimensional space, exaggerating shapes, drawing attention to characteristics of the wood, and imagining what could have been if the tree continued to grow and expand.

3. Davana Wilkins: Revival is open at AC Institute until March 21, 2015.

Taking inspiration from sci-fi novels and pseudo-science, Davana Wilkins uses her artwork to explore the nature of consciousness among both sentient beings and physical objects. Through the trasference of spirit, energy and essence, her forms comment on the notion that life is more than just an interaction of physical material, but an amalgamation of conscious thought. This solo-exhibition uses breath as a way to talk about the conversion of energy. In Revival, Wilkins’ brother’s breathing patterns as he speaks in tongues are used to animate an organic form. While this piece demonstrates the vigorous movement of the body, breath and spirit, Anaerobic instead explores the slow exhale. In an effort to capture her grandmother’s fading essence, the artist collected her breath into tanks, then slowly released the air into clear seedpod forms. Eventually the air will leak from these forms, dissipating her grandmother’s essence into its surroundings.

4. Duane Michael: The Portraitist is open at DC Moore until March 21, 2015.

Duane Michals: The Portraitist is a selection of new work in which Michals reinvigorates the possibilities of portraiture through the innovative use of sequencing, reflections, multiple exposures, overpainting, and handwritten annotations. The black-and-white photographs on view were developed from never-before-printed negatives that Michals exposed in the course of his career. His subjects include artist Jasper Johns, photographer Art Kane, actress Hildegard Knef, and singer Barbra Streisand. A selection of earlier portraits, including those of Balthus, Bertha and Charles Burchfield, Joseph Cornell, and René Magritte, provides context for the recent work. As the variety of poses, settings, viewpoints, and formats in these images demonstrates, Michals adapts the style of each portrait to the individual, thereby eschewing any formula that speaks more to photographer than sitter. Wary of the commonplaces of portraiture, Michals rejects the notion of “looking at people with the pretentions of looking into them.” He has developed an alternative approach, which he terms “prose portraiture.” Rather than recording a physical likeness, he works to “suggest the atmosphere of the sitter’s identity, which is the sum total of who they are … A prose portrait might require three or four photographs to reveal something about what the sitter does in life that defines him or her. A face does not necessarily need to be seen; most people’s significance won’t be found there.” Michals further disrupts expectations by intervening on the surface with annotations often conveying his impressions of a person via witty or poetic commentary scrawled onto the print.

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