Valerie’s Long March 6/10

May 7th, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-05-07 at 11.13.07 AM

Liu Danhua’s Thumbtacks

In this “chapter” of our current series on Chinese contemporary art by Zhang “Valerie” Fang, we can observe that one step in China’s Long March is an exploratory one. The attached article is a case study of artist working sculpturally who both mimic mundane materials, and create with materials most immediately found around them.

Please enjoy this sixth of Valerie’s ten, “China’s Long March: Ten essays on Chinese contemporary art,” originally published in a Spanish lifestyle magazine, and shared with us by the permission of the author.


Leave a comment

Artist Intake

October 2nd, 2013
MARÍA ELENA ÁLVAREZ Marcalibro, 2013

Marcalibro, 2013

Over the last few months I’ve been working as a volunteer registrar alongside the incredible staff of Groundswell, a Brooklyn-based, female-directed non-profit whose work aims to bring together artists, youth, and community organizations while using art as a tool for social change.

My involvement with this organization began when two of my classmates from New York University’s Visual Arts Administration program found themselves working at the Groundswell studio. When my friends told me about the organization’s need I welcomed the opportunity to support the public art initiative. I was also excited to gain more hands-on experience working with an organization that would repay my efforts with a sense of agency along the way.

Throughout my experience with the staff I found myself feeling very fulfilled by such a well-defined role within the team. Wearing many hats is typical for creative work, so I was glad to have the unique opportunity to focus on one project, their annual benefit and the intake of artworks. I was able to dedicate a significant amount of time toward its success alongside the permanent staff, seeing the project through many stages of progress.

During this time, I have been impressed with Groundswell’s artistic merits as well as its dedication to socially impactful projects. Groundswell’s program includes public art (in the form of murals,) youth programs (under the headings of Leadership, Empowerment, and Development,) and other special initiatives within the community – including working with youth at all stages of involvement within the criminal justice continuum.

The people at Groundswell have provided me with renewed hope for the achievement of that zen-like balance required in community organizing between aesthetics and the notion of communal responsibility. Because of my positive experience working directly with their Development and Communications Director, Sharon Polli, I plan to investigate their organization further as an academic example of successful community arts organizational leadership.

As I have spent my time at the Groundswell headquarters, I felt welcomed by the entire range of staff and volunteers in a way that has moved me. Whether I was brainstorming with one of their youth interns at the studio or checking in with their director, Amy Sananman, there was a truly communal sense of shared responsibility, shared success; as well as creative and intellectual equality. I believe that this sense of dignity flows from the hearts of each supporter of the organization, from the board and committee members to the donating artists and volunteer art handlers.

I contemplated delaying the publication of this article, in order to report on concrete successes of the forthcoming benefit. However, I decided that it would be more fun to invite you readers to view a small curated selection of my favorite works donated for Groundswell’s 17th Annual Art Auction while they are still available for bidding!

Beginning with the above work by Maria Elena Alvarez, below are just a few more that I enjoy.

*To attend the benefit auction at Christie’s in New York City, this Monday October 7th

find full details here:


Tolstoy, 2012

SOFIA MALDONADO Un verano en Nueva York, 2013

Un verano en Nueva York, 2013


HANNAH COLE Tape #3, 2009

Tape #3, 2009

GROUNDSWELL YOUTH Beautifying Riverbank, 2013

Beautifying Riverbank, 2013

NICKY ENRIGHT What on Earth (Do you Mean?), 2010

What on Earth (Do you Mean?), 2010

GROUNDSWELL YOUTH You Can Take Our Homes But You Can't Take Our Hearts, 2013

You Can Take Our Homes But You Can’t Take Our Hearts, 2013


Honoree Artist, Swoon, has offered a studio visit experience…

SWOON Experience: Studio Tour and Lunch , 2013

Experience: Studio Tour and Lunch , 2013


Leave a comment


September 4th, 2013

Last night I watched a “feminist” parody of Robin Thicke’s video for Blurred Lines – a song which he performed at the VMAs with Miley Cyrus. A lot has been going around the web-o-sphere about their performances, which also included Kendrick Lamar2 Chainz, as well as a host of dancers from the Give it 2 U video. Every angle you could imagine, (and some you couldn’t,) has been spun off the VMAs – from Thicke’s mom shaming Cyrus, to a more elaborate criticism of Miley on a racial level for gesturing lewdly at another woman’s TWERK-machine.

But as the media avalanche has kept on going, I gave the whole thing some thought. Thicke was certainly less criticized – blown off as an obvious male chauvinist, or defended as a “married man,” while Miley got the brunt of the critique from those who still want to see her as a little girl, or were offended by her using another strand of culture to break into adulthood. But I tend to think of performers as merely that – performing reflections of our culture, whether it is really them, or whether we like it, or not.

After running through each of the artists’ videos again, I realized that both Thicke and Cyrus’ had been directed by the same person, and a woman at that. Diane Martel has directed a host of music videos dating all the way back to Mariah Carey’s Dreamlover

Martel commented on the chauvanist interpretation of Blurred Lines, “I respect women who are watching out for negative images in pop culture and who find the nudity offensive, but I find [the video] meta and playful.” She cites her main inspiration as coming from Helmut Newton who, she claims, depicted women as taking the sexual power from men, for themselves. Martel directed the female performers to look directly into the camera as an assertion of that power.

ml_helmut-newton_02_1100After brushing up on Newton, a lauded fashion photographer and artist, I realized that he does often push men to the periphery in exchange for a strong female subject. However, Newton’s photography tends toward the surreal and abstract – something also evident in Miley’s We Can’t Stop video – with illusions to contemporary art such as Maurizio Cattelan’s severed fingers, (featured in his Toiletpaper Magazine and on a billboard in the NYC Chelsea art district.)


Although, I might be able to “get” what Diane is going for here, I have to say that I do not think it trumps the concern over Miley’s approach to race, and it also doesn’t mean that Miley or Robin are truly party to her creative high-ground.

Here is what Thicke had to say about Blurred Lines, “People say, “Hey, do you think this is degrading to women?” I’m like, “Of course it is. What a pleasure it is to degrade a woman. I’ve never gotten to do that before. I’ve always respected women.” So we just wanted to turn it over on its head and make people go, “Women and their bodies are beautiful. Men are always gonna want to follow them around.” What a nice “break” he is getting from being such a nice guy!

And Cyrus’ response to the criticism of her VMA performance, “What’s amazing is I think now, we’re three days later and people are still talking about it. They’re over thinking it,” she says. “You’re thinking about it more than I thought about it when I did it. Like, I didn’t even think about it ’cause that’s just me.” So, because she hasn’t considered her actions – she gets more famous… that sounds about right.



In conclusion, in popular culture we’ve constructed these complex systems around celebrities – they employ dancers, costumers, directors, and PR agents. Not all of those people supporting a “star” will be represented in the end result. Not all of the collaborators will be on the same page, have the same goals, or views. The end result might be a great work of art, it might be a scandal, or it might be totally forgettable.

Both Thicke and Cyrus used props in their performance from videos directed by Martel, but I do not think it was a true artistic extension of those projects. That is because they are not the artists – they have employed artists, and were not able to maintain the artistic vision through a live performance.

The VMA’s this year did nothing for me in terms of “making history,” (as Miley claims,) but I am willing to let that go. I am also willing to let Miley’s childhood go, to let Thicke’s immaturity go, and just hope that we can stop reacting with equal and opposite judgement for those who get it wrong. Instead, let’s appreciate the ones who get it right.  For example, the winner of the VMA award for Best Art Direction, Janelle Monae, for Q.U.E.E.N. ft. Erykah Badu.

Please comment if you can think of a pop star who has real artistic vision.



Leave a comment

Pretty Power: an up-Hil’ battle

March 8th, 2013

Screen shot 2013-03-07 at 12.49.06 PM

So, for my day job I work at a reception desk at a high powered capital investment company.  I sit in the lobby across from a large screen television airing CNN all day long.  As I sit at my desk throughout the day, with the television on, my various co-workers pass through the lobby for this meeting or that trip to the kitchen. They glance at the headlines or the image on screen and then send an innocuous comment in my direction: “All these shootings have to stop,” “Looks cold out East,” “My kids won’t stop doing that Harlem Shake.” But the day Hillary Clinton had her hearing in front of the Senate for the Benghazi attacks, the comments I heard as people passed by, from men and women, were: “She’s getting old,” “She’s gained weight,” “She’s looks tired.”


Leave a comment