On a recent visit to New York, I saw three art exhibits that I highly recommend: Faith Ringgold: American Peopleon view at the New Museum until June 5, 2022; The hare with amber eyes at the Jewish Museum, on view until May 15, 2022; and Hilary Pecis: Warm regards at the Rachel Uffner Gallery until May 14.
Faith Ringgold: American People is a must see show. Ringgold is a 91-year-old black artist known for her children’s books such as Tar Beach (which she adapted from her works).
The New Museum exhibit occupies three floors, each of which would have made for an amazing exhibit; all three together are stunning. Any of Ringgold’s quilts remaking art history would have been a revelation, but an entire piece of them is jaw-dropping.
In a series of quilt-based narrative works, Ringgold tells the story of a black woman in Paris in the early 20and Century, which is at the center of art history – she is one of the models for Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon (themselves inspired by an exhibition of African art). In another, she subsumes Matisse’s work into her own.
The exhibition also showcases Ringgold’s graphic design and posters, many of which are political, in which she experiments with creating a graphic language rooted in black identity.
And then there is American People Series #20: Dying, Ringgold’s 1967 masterpiece that is his own take on Picasso’s Guernica – applied to civil rights, race riots and racially motivated killings. Unfortunately, the painting speaks as much of today as when it was first painted.
What is most striking is how contemporary Ringgold’s work from thirty years ago feels. His works speak to the present moment in his depiction of the black experience. Ringgold’s use of fabric and quilts (traditionally women’s craft rather than art) is also modern, and the way her work often features written narrative content – all of which feel very contemporary and very current.
At that time, I was once in a gift shop at the Perez Museum in Miami, and there was a bag there for sale on the side of which was printed the Guerrilla Girls manifesto “Perks of Being a Female Artist — which are almost all appropriate regarding Ringgold, including: “Not having to attend shows with men/knowing that your career could pick up again after eighty/being reassured that whatever kind of art you you do, it will be labeled female…” These are all only funny because they are true.
Ringgold has finally received an exposure commensurate with the importance of his work.
The hare with amber eyes at the Jewish Museum is an exhibit that serves as a companion to British ceramist Edmund de Waal’s memoir of the same name (if you haven’t read it, stop here and do so immediately!). The memoirs and art exhibit tell the story of a collection of Japanese netsuke (small carved objects that were originally used as kimono decorations) assembled by wealthy 19and Jewish art critic and collector of the century Charles Ephrussi and transmitted from generation to generation to de Waal.
The Ephrussi family saga begins with Charles Ephrussi, Odessa’s largest grain merchant and oil merchant, who became extremely wealthy. His son Ignatz Ephrussi, settled in Vienna where he opened a bank, and where he participated in the financing of the construction of the Ringstrasse until Austrian anti-Semitism made life there untenable; and in Paris, where the Ephrussis lived in opulence and where Charles Ephrussi, grandson of the original patriarch, was a renowned art critic, collector, editor of a renowned art journal, a supporter of impressionist painters and model of Charles Swann by Marcel Proust. It is this Ephrussi who brought together the collection of netsuke.
However, the long history and generosity of the Ephrussi family was of no help in 1940s France, when the remaining members of the family were arrested for the crime of being Jewish (even those who were converted to Catholicism long before) and deported to Auschwitz where they were murdered. . Miraculously, the netsuke collection survived and was passed on to de Waal’s uncle, Iggy, who lived in Tokyo; and who, on his death, left the collection to de Waal.
De Waal’s great-grandfather and grandmother were Ephrussis. The de Waals were Dutch (non-Jewish) businessmen who moved to England. His father, Victor de Waal was Dean of Canterbury Cathedral and de Waal himself was raised an Episcopalian.
De Waal’s memoir carries the shock of claiming the tragic rise and fall of his Jewish family members.
The Jewish Museum exhibit, designed by architectural film Diller Scofidio + Renfro, used family and loan artifacts to tell the story of the Ephrussies, recreating a sense of their distinguished homes at the Jewish Museum (which itself is the old mansion of Warburg).
On display are works by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Berthe Morisot, Claude Monet, Gustave Moreau and Auguste Renoir, testifying to the social importance and wealth of the family; as well as decorative objects and family photos and ephemera from their lives through time, including the netsuke collection itself, featuring the famous hare whose eyes are indeed amber.
What makes the exhibition and experience truly memorable is the audio tour led by Edmund de Waal himself, adding intimacy to this personal saga of a missing family and a lasting legacy.
Hilary Pecis: Warm regards at the Rachel Uffner Gallery. Hilary Pecis is an artist from Los Angeles that I discovered online during the pandemic. In Warmly, her third exhibition at the Rachel Uffner Gallery on the Lower East Side, she collected recent paintings of still lifes, landscapes and domestic interiors. Pecis’ work echoes David Hockney, as well as Paul Cézanne and Henri Matisse.
Hockney’s influence can be seen in Pecis’ subject matter, which is mostly personal and domestic, and in his approach to landscapes (particularly in his Mount Whitney on the 395reminiscent of Hockney Poiriers Highway), as well as Pecis’ use of vibrant colors that highlight design elements in our way of life; Cézanne is present through his use of perspective and the dimensionality of the exhibits; and, finally, Matisse, in terms of Pecis’ cheerful use of color and how she plays with flatness and depth.
If Pecis’ works were detective novels, they might be categorized as “cozies.” There is something reassuring, even comforting, about its vibrant landscapes and cluttered domestic tables and rooms. At the same time, each work presents countless artistic challenges as well as personal and artistic allusions. So, for example, in Pecis Workshop table from 2021, we have to assume that the placement of books on Cézanne and Nell Blaine is reminiscent of Cézanne’s paintings of his own studio tables, and the profusion of flowers is like a Blaine painting highlighted.
Pecis’ work may register as decorative, but when seen in person, the precision of the compositions and his obsessive attention to detail make a compelling argument for his artistry.
Taken together, these three performances reflect artistic inquiries into identity and self, and disrupt our notions of art history and contemporary art today.