Juan Miro, Leonardo Nierman, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Yigal Tumarkin, Jacques Villon

Curator: Rotem Rozental

The Project Room,  January 15, 2019-April 22, 2019

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The artists shown in this exhibition merge revolutionary impulses with re-considerations of the powers and functions of the work of art. They re-envision society as they re-define the use of canvases, wreckage, and urbanscapes. Seen together, their works might reveal a lineage of subversion of modes of representation, of firm belief in the connections between social strife and artistic expression. Free Radicals aims to highlight some of those possible connections, and account for their presence within the work.

In 1936, four years before he would participate in an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Leon Trotsky, David Alfaro Siqueiros was the guest of honor at the “Contemporary Arts” exhibition shown at the St. Regis Gallery. Already a well-known Mexican artist, Siqueiros advocated for disseminating political messages in the public domain, in an effort to reunify the country under the post-Mexican revolution government. Along with Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco, he propelled a renaissance of what came to be known as “Mexican Muralism.” In New York, Siqueiros facilitated a political art workshop in preparation for the 1936 General Strike for Peace and May Day parade. Allegedly, a young artist named Jackson Pollock attended the workshop and helped build floats for the parade. Some say Siqueiros taught Pollock drip and pour techniques that later inspired his “allover” paintings.

In the following decades, Siqueiros, believing art should be public, educational and ideological, continued depicting the story of human struggle over authoritarian forces, creating an overarching portrait of the Revolution, its past, its goals, and the continuing oppression of the working class. In 1968, Siqueiros created The Mexican Suite, a folio of ten lithographs which depict social conditions during the revolution. As is also seen here, Siqueiros created contorted and emotional figures, reflecting the social and polemical issues of his time. Throughout the folio, he made use of montage, photographs and airbrush to create an illusion of movement.

When Siqueiros was inadvertently transforming the course of art history in New York of the 1930s, a Basque artist named Joan Miró had also shifted his creative focus, to relate directly to political themes. Increasingly, his work expressed contempt toward and a rejection of traditional methods of painting, which he understood as a reflection of bourgeoisie society. He famously declared an “assassination of painting,” undermining traditional elements of his craft. Pulling away from painting as an affirmation of societal ailments, Miró reflected the space of the painting as an immersive domain for the sub-conscious mind, offering childlike qualities as a negation of traditional modes of representation. In this new pictorial space, inspired by surrealism and magical realism, objects emerging in the artist’ imagination were juxtaposed with basic, recognizable forms.

Influenced by Miró, as well as Paul Klee and Vaily Kandinsky, Mexican artist Leonardo Nierman is interested in the bold forces of nature, in physical elements, and the relationships between abstraction and the cosmos. He studied physics and math at the University of Mexico, before moving on to focus on psychology of color and harmony of space. In Genesis, a theme he explored in various media, the vibrant colors, and the powerful gestures contrast with the tranquility in the background. At times referred to as the Pollock of Latin American art, he created “Magical Expressionism,” thinking of painting as me the aperture through which it is possible to enter a certain world; in it the viewer may find an endless number of magic images, objects, remembrances, associations, fears, joys, hopes and dreams.”

A lineage of subversion of the pictorial space also needs to account for Jacques Villon, or, to use his given name, Gaston Duchamp. His chosen pseudonym was a tribute to the French medieval poet François Villon, meant to distinguish him from his siblings—perhaps most notably from Marcel, who came to be known as a possible ancestor of contemporary art. Although Gaston was sent to Montmartre to study law and stay away from the uncharted roots of bohemian lifestyles, he was drawn to the local expanding art community, and lost interest in a legal career. He spent the next decade working in graphic media, contributing cartoons and illustrations to Parisian newspapers and drawing color posters.

Femme a la Cruche reveal his interest in cubism, which rejected the perception of art as an imitator of nature, as well as any pre-conceived notions of perspective. Although familiar modes of representation were rejected, the interest in scenes of the everyday still emerges, as is evident in his Cubist Landscape. This depiction of landscape, much like his portrait of Marcel, demonstrate his interest in drypoint, a method which involves the use of a needle to create dark, velvety lines, contrasting the white of the paper, which he began experimenting with around 1906, when he moved to the quiet outskirts of Paris.

With his brothers, Marcel and Raymond, Gaston had a key role in exposing the works of artists that went on to become influential, noted figures. At his home, in 1911, they organized a regular discussion group with artists and critics such as Jean Metzinger, Albert Gleizes, Francis Picabia, Robert Delaunay, Fernand Léger and others, which was soon dubbed the Puteaux Group. Villon was instrumental in having the group exhibit. Their first show, Salon de la Section d’Or, held in October 1912, involved more than 200 works by 31 artists. Also, in 1913, he exhibited at the Armory Show in New York City, helping introduce European modern art to the United States.

It is tempting to observe Yigal Tumarkin’s groundbreaking work as a possible offspring of such earlier ideas concerning art in the public domain, and the rupture of realist representation. A noted Israeli sculpture, whose work redefined central public spaces throughout the country, Tumarkin, who was born in 1933, broke away from the Israeli mainstream of the 1950s and 1960s–living in Europe and focusing on avant-garde, protest, pop art and assemblage.

During the 1960s, he began working with wreckage, debris, and discarded objects, including defective weapons he received from the IDF. He then continued to navigate the national ethos with personal, intimate visual vocabularies, pulling away from the abstract into cultural symbols, and, later, conceptual explorations such as land art. “When I use a broken weapon to create a sculpture,” he noted, perhaps sarcastically, “there is a deterring element to it. We say we come in piece, and cling on to ‘they shall beat their swords into plowshares,’ well, I am guided by that logic.” The Gate conveys some of these explorations, in its amalgamation of elements, in its crude presence, in its quasi-monumental appearance. A similar larger version of this gate can be found in Ramat Gan, in Israel, where the assemblage of wreckage, steel and weapons stand before a staircase, forcing a bodily experience upon its viewers. In the gallery space, The Gate pierces through the white cube, redefining everything that might lie beyond.

Text by: Rotem Rozental