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Alejo Musich

Working in a contemporary art gallery in New York, I have the opportunity to meet many artists. Each artist is unique, but there is no one quite like Alejo Musich.

Alejo MusichI met Alejo serendipitously at the PINTA NY art fair in November 2013 through my other artist friend, Tomas Rivas. The unassuming, slight, and Argentinian Alejo would become a great friend instantly.

A native Spanish speaker with perfect English grammar and a penchant for idioms and colloquialisms, Alejo has the desire to utilize and stretch language to the maximum. Each thought is exquisitely executed through syntax, intonation and conciseness.

When I asked him about the impending ArteBA fair in Buenos Aires in which his paintings would be shown by Miau Miau Gallery, this was his response:

right now they may be in another galaxy, setting everything up and with their minds flirting with breakdown. today’s the pre opening and it has been raining mad for two days now. anticlimatic. I live something like ten blocks away from the pavilion where all takes place, and in this rain I won’t go walking. imagine if to attend you have to leave your house in a leisure set of mind, you are a vip and you can just stay home with netflix, vogue italia, your afghan dogs, and just wait, maybe for tomorrow or next year. “We’ll always have Basel”, and ask someone for another coffee, and another someone to take de dogs about for a pipi.

In addition to the his language skills, Alejo is a very talented painter. He paints scenes from nature, some informed from Russian fairy tales, and others from his imagination. His brush strokes are textural and intentional. His color palette is deep with accents of pastel and neon integrating beautifully into the canvas. His paintings are full of mystery and tension.

Alejo Musich Sin Titulo (Zorro I)

Alejo Musich All your glory

Alejo Musich Melville, or, The Whale

Alejo Musich Sin título (Bosque 2014)

All in all, I am happy to be able to call this talented and spirited artist my friend.

Alejo Musich Maria Kucinski

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LADY GAGA artRAVE

Lady Gaga ArtraveIn a very last minute, last ditch opportunity, I found myself sailing for Lady Gaga’s artRAVE concert extravaganza to celebrate her album, ARTPOP at the Brooklyn Navy Yards.

Lady Gaga Jeff Koons Maria KucinskiArtist Jeff Koons co-hosted the event, showing off his larger-than-life sculpture of Lady Gaga – a breathtaking and hypnotizing piece of art. You can sense Lady Gaga’s aura through the work.

Lady Gaga ArtravePrior to the concert, there were extremely polished video projections of her new music video, her studies at the Marina Abramovic Insitute, and a 3-channel video projection of herself being tortured. Although difficult to watch, especially surrounded by the merriest “Little Monsters” in the world, it was very well done.

Art world royalty was also in attendance including Yoko Ono, Simon de Pury, and Klaus Biesenbach.

7 IMAG3961What I came away with from the event is that Lady Gaga is a true artist. She has surrounded herself with great artists and she has learned their craft. The most noticeable influence is that of Marina Abramovic, with whom Lady Gaga has been studying. There is a new focus, a new concentration to her. I also saw references to the Fluxus Movement and to Robert Wilson with his iconic gestures. She is wholly devoting herself to her craft, to her art, exposing her body and giving herself to the audience.

Lady Gaga ArtraveBut aside from the flawlessness of the evening, there was also an overall sense of peace and happiness and acceptance. Strangers were telling me that I was beautiful and I made friends with a few people around me.

How could you not be happy in Gaga’s world? And it is her world. She sits atop a throne, legs apart, commanding attention.

Jeff Koons Lady Gaga ArtraveAfter the concert ended, I shook Jeff Koons’ hand and told him that the sculpture was stunning.

And then I locked eyes with Darren Criss. A beautiful end to my memorable night.

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In the studio with Melissa Brown

Melissa Brown in her studio

I recently had the opportunity to visit Melissa Brown’s studio. I have known Melissa for a long time through my friend Joe Grillo. I saw her show Paper Fortune at Canada Gallery back in 2009 when everything was doom and gloom and her show reflected that attitude. The woodcuts she presented were critical of wealth and the symbols surrounding it.

Since then, Melissa has found herself painting landscapes, trying to envision a panoramic view in the gallery space – most recently with Palisades at Kansas Gallery and an upcoming show in Connecticut.

Melissa BrownBut what Melissa is most excited about now is a group of paintings that explore the technique of printmaking through painting. With this work, she is also looking at an object and shifting the plane to abstraction. Rocks are her figures that become abstraction and then figure again through the idea of pareidolia – the perception that there is some sort of pattern or meaning where there is none (i.e. seeing a face in the clouds).

Melissa Brown Mirrored RocksShe uses stencils to create the dominant figure in each series of paintings. Melissa blends colors beautifully and creates depth by juxtaposing sharp lines and soft textures, highlighting the paintings with vibrant streaks. It all adds up to a visual image that is interesting and smart and engaging.

Melissa BrownMelissa is also working on a series of stop-motion animations that tie in nicely with the paintings – layered and captivating throughout.

I really enjoyed the way Melissa spoke about her work. She was very much aware of her creative arc. She has certain goals and the mindset and the talent to achieve them.

All in all, I was happy to spend an evening in her studio learning more about her work and I look forward to seeing it progress.

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Welcome to Pine Hill by Keith Miller

Welcome to Pine Hill

After a year of touring and winning countless prizes, including the Grand Jury Prize at the Slamdance Film Festival, I saw Welcome to Pine Hill, written, directed and edited by my former professor, Keith Miller.

If there was one thing I learned from Miller, it was to go with what challenges arose and work through them, to explore new territory. This film, in its creation and its narrative, does exactly that. Miller first met the star of the film, Shanon Harper, through a chance encounter, a scene that opens the film. We then follow Harper through his reformed life as an insurance claims adjuster and his diagnosis of cancer.

Throughout the film there is a beauty in the silence, in what is unsaid, much akin to a Kelly Reichardt film. Miller’s outlook, however, is that of empathy and understanding. He sees Harper as someone dealing with the circumstances, navigating heightened realities, and confronting his death. Harper eventually finds peace and the viewer is left to stew in his mortality.

All in all, from a chance encounter to a full-length film, Miller explores the many paths in life and how we should set aside our differences.

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Post-Sandy Reopening of the South Street Seaport Museum and Bowne & Co.

Bowne and Co Custom Print ShopLast night, I attended the reopening of the South Street Seaport Museum and the print shop, Bowne & Co. Founded in 1775, Bowne & Co. is New York’s oldest existing business under the same name and thankfully, it survived Sandy.

Bowne and Co Sandy Recovery

As I mentioned in my post about Sandy, my friend Ali Osborn is the Resident Printer at Bowne & Co. located in the South Street Seaport. The print shop filled with antique equipment was inundated with two feet of salt water. This would have been enough to damage any business, but with the thousands of historic wooden and metal type and the wooden drawers housing prints, it was a disaster.

Bowne and Co Sandy Recovery

So Ali, with the help of Assistant Printer Gideon Finck and other members of the museum staff, and volunteers, worked to recover and restore as much as they could. They had to go through more than 100 drawers, washing and drying off each individual piece of type. Then, they had to hope that the wood wouldn’t bow – otherwise, the type would be useless for printing.

Unknown Roman

Almost three months after the storm, the print shop has reopened. Returning to its normal business of custom letterpress printing orders and creating original, hand-printed cards, posters, and coasters for sale in their shop and at the South Street Seaport Museum.

Bowne and Co

It was wonderful to see the shop restored with new prints lining the walls. Many people came out to show their support of the historic company and even Mayor Mike Bloomberg stopped by, reiterating the importance of this institution in New York City.

Ali Osborn at Bowne and Co

Among the various prints on display, there were posters that said “New York,” a postcard of an art deco the New York City skyline, and a note card with a ship in a bottle. Bias aside, my favorite piece was Ali’s There, There. With delicate humor and smart sensibility, the large text sits atop various maps in this edition.

All in all, it is great to see an organization dedicated to preserving the history of this technology and furthering it as an art form.

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Pink Happens: A Conversation with Joan Snyder

Joan Snyder in her studio with unfinished Proserpina 2012

Joan Snyder in her studio with unfinished Proserpina. 2012.

I am going to preface this post by saying – you just never know. You never really know what’s next and you never know what kinds of people you will encounter in your life.

I found myself on the brink of my birthday feeling sentimental, reflecting on what had happened in the past year and what I was to look forward to in the upcoming year. After my amazing road trip through the Midwest in my Chevy Camaro, I was itching for the next adventure, the next challenge. I found myself thinking, what’s next?

And that’s when I got to know Joan Snyder – a talented artist but also a woman that I could admire and respect. And so, in my never-ending search for life advice, I asked her to answer a few questions for this blog.

At first, I was excited about this interview with Joan. Then, I was nervous that I would sound stupid. Then, when I had thought of questions to ask her, my research answered all those questions. Then, with some advice from a good friend, I decided to look inward and see if there might be an angle of Joan Snyder that had not been covered by the multitude of interviews she has done during her lifetime. I thought I had the answer by asking more reflective questions, but she was way ahead of me. Turns out, Joan has all the answers and all the right questions to see what it is that drives you. And she has the compassion to look after every one. Even me.

From a woman who has it all – what does someone like me do? Here is the conversation that I had with Joan Snyder in her studio in Brooklyn on December 10, 2012.

Pink Happens: A Conversation with Joan Snyder

Maria Kucinski: What did you envision your life to be like?

Joan Snyder: I remember at one point when I was really young, thinking that I wanted to have it all. What “all” meant to me, I don’t know – but I think I wanted to try everything.
I never, as a young woman, thought of myself as being gay, that’s for sure. But that interested me because I did feel a certain attraction to women.
And I didn’t know that I wanted to have a kid. In fact, I aborted my first pregnancy. And then, I really suffered after that and regretted it. So I got pregnant again and then had a miscarriage, it was a late miscarriage and that was very difficult. And then I got pregnant with Molly – so I was basically pregnant for three years in a row. During that time, I never stopped painting.
As far as my art and career, I knew that when I started painting – and I was not a good painter at all in the beginning – I always say it took me 8 years before I made a good painting (Lines And Strokes, 1969)… but I knew that it was something that I was going to be really good at. I just knew that instinctively and it’s not as if I was really good at anything before that.
I’m still very anxious, but I was a really anxious kid and teenager. When I started painting I realized that this could be a language that I would be able to develop and speak. Then something clicked miraculously. And I took it seriously and my work developed over many years. I wasn’t looking for fame or fortune, or anything…but it happened – I have been very lucky. Of course, it came with a lot of very hard work.

MK: How did you get through those tough moments in your life?

JS: Suffering…living with a lot of anxiety…therapy…which oftentimes was not useful. That’s an understatement. I ended up having an affair with my therapist when I was in my 40’s. Crazy. Really crazy. But my therapists often kind of fell for me in ways that were not healthy for me. Over and over…

MK: You say that approaching a painting is like approaching an altar, can you say something about that?

JS: Well, I know that when I was in graduate school, my final thesis stated that my work was my religion. I have made a lot of altar paintings but I can’t say that the metaphor really works today that easily – although every painting is exciting and serious and I feel very devoted to each work. They are more reflections, personal expressions than anything religious.
It’s a language that I am speaking. That is what young artists sometimes don’t understand. It takes many years to develop the language. It is like a baby learning to speak. You have to be able to make mistakes and sound stupid and do ridiculous things but you really are developing a language that hopefully doesn’t exist yet. It’s something new and different. So, for me, that’s what I have been up to over the years, developing and speaking this language.

MK: So with this language, do you know what it is that you ultimately want to say?

JS: Ah, well, it always starts from somewhere and then goes to other places because what I might be thinking in my head as a topic for a painting doesn’t always stick. Because once you put one mark down, or one step, or one note, it’s going to have its own mind and go somewhere else. That doesn’t answer your question. Who knows what they ultimately want to say?
Specifically, with Proserpina, the painting is based on a song that Kate McGarrigle wrote at the end of her life. The song is based on a Roman myth about a daughter who is kidnapped and brought to the underworld with her mother searching for her and threatening all sorts of awful things if Proserpina doesn’t “come home to mama.” I heard this song a few years ago, at a time when my own family was in the midst of a major drama. That song just so spoke to me. I made some sketches at the concert. The lyrics have so much great imagery of fields, the earth, of stones, heat, of mother and mama and come home, you know, it has everything. Then, what further inspired me was meeting Martha Wainwright after I painted Tell My Sister, 2012 – her telling me about her mother, Kate McGarrigle, and hearing stories that related to Tell My Sister and Proserpina.
It’s easy to say what inspires the beginning of the painting, but what happens with the painting is ultimately its own journey. At a certain point, I go on automatic pilot when I am painting because I totally trust myself and my process. That is not to say that I don’t step back, that I’m not cautious. The marks might look haphazard but I am monitoring every drip, every mark.

Joan Snyder Still, 2011 oil, acrylic, paper mache, twigs, glass beads, cheesecloth, silk, burlap, rosebuds on linen 48 x 63 inches

Joan Snyder, Still, 2011. Oil, acrylic, paper mache, twigs, glass beads, cheesecloth, silk, burlap, rosebuds on linen. 48 x 63 inches. Courtesy of the Artist and the Cristin Tierney Gallery.

MK: Looking at your work over the years, and at the new paintings in your studio, can you talk about the color pink in your work?

JS: The color? No. Why?

MK: [Sheepishly] Because I love the color pink…

JS: I think it’s variations on red that I like. I wouldn’t necessarily say I love pink although what happens when I mix certain reds with certain blues and add white then it gets to be pink. But it’s not like I go after pink…pink happens. I guess that’s what you can call the interview.

MK: Well, now I’m heartbroken…but when I look at your work, I often see the limitations of the female body – that physically we are limited by our bodies.

JS: Really? How do you see that in my paintings?

MK: In the recent paintings, I see the struggle of women through the abstract forms. In Still, 2011 for example, I feel that painting. It has the female form. The blood. And the drips.

JS: Well that painting really is about fragility in a lot of ways, that is true. That one went out to the limits in some ways in terms of fragility. It’s funny because I don’t necessarily think of it as the fragility of a woman or a woman’s body. But then I’m mincing words because it is about how delicate it all is. I don’t ever think of dripping reds as blood. I don’t think I have ever thought of blood per se. It’s not where I go in my head. I mean there are forms that are vaginal and sexual and vulnerable and things like that. I just absolutely love the color red, but I don’t say to myself, “I’m gonna drip some blood here.” Never.
So what’s interesting is that what people see and relate to, and identify with when looking at a painting, is often very different than what I might have been thinking or relating to or identifying with when I painted it. That’s why I have often told young artists that you can put anything into a painting, tell any secret, no one will get what you’re putting in anyway. Everyone is going to read it differently. And so my paintings have often been confessional and upfront and diaristic. I have always been quite confessional…
But it is interesting to me that you’re feeling this kind of fragility…

MK: Outside of your art, what are you interested in? What motivates you?

JS: I have been writing a play for seven years.

MK: What is the play about? Why did you want to write a play?

JS: The play is about the exploitation of younger people by older people, about power. It moves between two different time periods. It’s about Carl Jung and his patient, Sabina Spielrein. And it’s about me as a young person and about my psychiatrist, who happened to have been a woman. The cast includes Sabina and Jung and Sabina’s parents and then of course Freud and me and my psychiatrist. It’s about Jung’s behavior, his genius and his anti-Semitic ways, about my doctor who was a holocaust survivor. And finally about Sabina, who became a renowned child psychiatrist herself. She and her two daughters died at the hands of the Nazi’s. It’s filled with subject matter that very much interests me.
Gardening used to be a great passion of mine. But a couple of years ago, we had a family drama which took place in my garden. The Garden of Eden. And nothing has been the same in the garden since. I’m hoping to get back to my garden next year.
One thing I am not ambitious about is my career. The New York art world is not interesting to me. I only go to openings of close friends. I don’t hang out. When I started seeing Maggie, 25 years ago, one of the first things I said to her was how I regretted that I didn’t go to more openings. And Maggie said, “I seriously doubt that on your deathbed, you’re going to say that you regret not having gone to more Leo Castelli openings. She’s right. I am not going to say that.
One day, many, many years ago, Pat Steir was in my studio on Mulberry Street. And I remember saying to her that she was so lucky to be showing in Amsterdam. And she said, “Yes, but you have Molly.” And Molly was my priority. I was a single mother and she was my priority. I met Maggie when Molly was eight years old and Maggie became a serious part of our lives a few years later. Not to say that I haven’t paid attention to my career but my work and my family have always been my priority.
I am really lucky. I mean, really, really lucky to have accomplished all that I have accomplished. I started with nothing. My parents had nothing – they were working class. Everything I earned, I earned on my own.
I have lots of interests but I also spend a lot of time alone quietly. I think that for me, that’s very important because that is when I work – without working.

MK: What piece of advice would you give to someone like me?

JS: I’d have to interview you first to know more about you because I don’t know anything about you, really, Maria. So it would be hard for me to give you advice.
How old are you?

MK: 25.

JS: 25…So, your problem – knowing nothing about you – I know what your problem is, your problem is probably that you’re good at a lot of things, exceptionally good at a lot of things. So it’s hard to figure out where to land. That’s hard. I think I was good at one thing, which was painting. I promise you. That was the lucky thing that happened to me. I wasn’t good at a zillion things or at least I didn’t recognize that I was. I was just anxious more than anything else. Then I started painting. [Pauses, glances at Proserpina] I am happiest when I am in my studio.

_________________________

And I was happy to have the opportunity to speak with Joan Snyder in her studio. The conversation continued about painting, Iyengar yoga, my stupid hip, music, Twitter, smoothies, and life in general. So aside from the disappointing fact that Joan believes pink is really a variation on red, I learned a lot from her and I learned a lot about myself. I look forward to working hard and approaching the next exciting challenge.

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Dancing Around the Bride: Cage, Cunningham, Johns, Rauschenberg and Duchamp at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Walkaround TimeA day trip to Philadelphia to see Dancing Around the Bride: Cage, Cunningham, Johns, Rauschenberg and Duchamp was filled with subversions, underminings, deconstructions, and sincerity.

The exhibition brings together masterworks, collaborations, and homages by these important and influential artists who wanted to challenge the notion of art. They experimented with what is defined as art, how art is created, and how it is experienced.

Throughout the exhibition of over 100 pieces, it is evident the star is Marcel Duchamp. He is the genius who wished to debunk “preexisting ideas about art, which he believed should appeal to the intellect rather than the senses.” He turned the art world on its head with his notion of “readymades” – objects that he found to be art, the most famous being Fountain, 1917. These pieces, as well as other work including drawings, paintings, photographs, scores, and installations tested originality, concept, and taste.

Marcel Duchamp Door 11. Rue Larrey, 1927

Marcel Duchamp, Door 11. Rue Larrey, 1927

The remaining four artists were very much influenced by Duchamp, but also – not knowing all of his entire oeuvre – their thought process in making art in ran parallel in some regards.

In one example, John Cage and Merce Cunningham did not realize that Duchamp had used the idea of “chance” in his artwork. The concept of “chance,” made famous by Cage and Cunningham explored how the outcome of the an artwork was dictated by the unknown. Certain parameters were put in place and the rest was up to chance – whether it was musical notes or silence, or movement or stillness and so on. And so, when Cage found out about Duchamp’s use of chance, realizing that it occurred in the year of his birth – he did not find that to be a coincidence.

In another example, Duchamp’s concept as key, exploring the distinctions between original and replica, object and idea is examined by Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. Rauschenberg created “combines” – sculptures made from nontraditional materials while Johns made paintings that explored what you were looking at as a physical representation.

One of the most interesting aspects of this exhibition is the interplay between the artists. They all influenced or collaborated or co-opted certain aspects of each other’s work. The portraits by Rauschenberg were so interesting and so spot-on in my opinion. I also enjoyed how Johns used the mold from Duchamp’s Étant donnés: 1° la chute d’eau / 2° le gaz d’éclairage in his paintings.

And maybe the most meaningful thing I took away from the exhibition is how sincere these artists were about art. They were dedicated to exploring, experimenting, and pushing the bounds. They did not hold back, they learned from each other and challenged each other. I believe that because of that, their influence is pervasive today.

All in all, I thought the exhibition was a unique opportunity to see spectacular works – shown in conversation with each other – by Cage, Cunningham, Johns, Rauschenberg, and of course, Duchamp.

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