Forever Young: Selections from the Joe Baio Collection of Photography steals the show at the 2018 iteration of the AIPAD photography show, the renowned annual photography event in New York City housed at Pier 94 in Manhattan and on view April 5-8. Photographic objects from the collection are suspended, salon-style, with a specific view toward the poignant moments of adolescence and childhood memories.
Among these works, on view from the collection for the first time ever, an artwork by artist Arlene Rush emerges from the cusp of the center and left-facing walls, shimmering as visitors approach. This effect, caused by shattered tempered glass carefully arranged over the surface of the photograph, beckons guests closer to examine a seemingly straightforward portrait of two young women holding hands. These teenage girls, blond and smiling, seem charming yet unsettling… until the viewer realizes they are, in fact, identical twins. Rush was born as a twin to her brother, whose bar mitzvah photo this image was derived from. The two figures stand intrinsically linked in this work, Twins: Just a Memory: the scattered glass creating a mirage of imagined histories. This piece is the first from an identically titled series of work the artist produced reflecting on adolescence and sexual identity.
Rush’s Twins: Just a Memory series revisits childhood moments in which the artist mines her personal history and growth as a woman and artist to comment on gender roles and societal norms. The artist has taken the image of her and her brother at his bar mitzvah, re-imagining instead what it would be like for her to experience adulthood from the viewpoint of both male and female. She reflects on the use of the family portrait as entry point into this conceptual rigor. “Kitschy and poignant, [the work] speaks about gender equality and expectations [which] religions and society [place] on us growing up.” These expectations find space to dissolve in these atmospheric works, in which identity is present upon close encounter yet obscured from far away. Rush finds solace in examining the elements of surprise and nuance offered by the veil of shattered glass applied atop the portrait. The forms are identifiable, the dress code clear, yet the results manage to be both surprising and surreal.
Questioning the relevance of coded gender norms today versus the artist’s experience growing up in New York City, Rush has worked as a conceptual artist questioning identity in multiple disciplines. The artist has worked across photography, installation work and sculpture, including welding with steel – a discipline prominently anchored by male artists in the 1970s and 80s when the artist was beginning to work. Starting to blossom in her practice in an era not far removed from the echoes of the male artist-dominated Cedar Tavern, perhaps the artist’s poignant re-examinations of gender expectations – both in her own life and in society as a whole – stand as a testament to the hopes we hold for women to assume prominent positions both in the arts and in the brave new world ahead.
AIPAD is on view from April 5-8 in midtown west, Manhattan, at Pier 94. More information on admission can be found on the show’s website.
With his measured words and assured demeanor, Delano Dunn’s calm presence stands in contrast with his fiercely vibrant artworks currently on display at Long Gallery. No One Can Be This Tomorrow, Dunn’s current exhibit with the gallery, displays the hope of empowerment embodied by Dunn’s portraits of black women, men, and family depicted upon layers of technicolor mixed media. Recently the artist took time to walk through his exhibit and discuss this series along with influences that have shaped Dunn’s artistic practice.
ANTE. Thanks Delano for meeting to discuss your work today. Can you start by giving us an overview on how your career as an artist has developed until now?
Delano Dunn. I’m originally from South Central LA, and lived there through the (Rodney King) riots in the early ‘90s. I came to Pratt in Brooklyn in 1997, studying to become an illustrator. Originally I was influenced by comic books (I started making comic book art when I was young) and went to Pratt with this in mind as a career. Freshman year at Pratt I switched focus to illustration, looking to make a career in editorial illustrations. I began to focus primarily on making art on a regular basis in 2007, working on new works in between other responsibilities. I recently completed my MFA from the School of Visual Arts*, making the switch to becoming a full-time artist. (*Dunn is modest: he completed his MFA with the honor of receiving two awards from SVA, the Edward Zutrau Memorial Award and the Alumni Society Thesis Award. – AP)
ANTE. So attending SVA was a point of entry into the art world full-time?
DD. Actually, I was working at the Whitney Museum of American Art prior to SVA. Working with the museum and becoming familiar with the various materials used throughout the building influenced my practice. That, and seeing my grandfather work.
ANTE. What did he do?
DD. He’s a jack–of-all trades. He always had old tools and equipment lying around, so I got to play with spare parts and electronics.
ANTE.Definitely sounds like a source of inspiration – I had a similar experience with my family having a shop of old equipment, where my folks would weld.
DD. It just opens up a whole new world of possibilities.
ANTE.Can you walk through this series and your recent body of work, In Our Time? What has shifted as you moved into working on No One Can Be This Tomorrow?
DD. Sure – for this series, I started focusing on research at New York Public Libraries, particularly the Schomburg Center, last Summer with production beginning in the Fall. The images included in this series span from drawings from the abolition period on to photographs from the 20th century, including portraits and caricatures. A large focus for this series was making women and girls visible in the work. This is probably a reaction to having a daughter now; that, and I feel I’ve focused substantially on the black male experience in previous work. In the work (need name of superhero work/Genesis) the androgynous figure is a female Tron, subverting expectations placed on the superhero genre.
ANTE. Your works seem to have shifted from the previous series that emphasize autobiographical elements, such as Everyone Digs Delano Dunn, to research-based methods. Was this a conscious shift as a result of your MFA studies, perhaps?
DD. There is some overlap (of these two themes) through my work over time, and in many ways, my older work is in dialogue with autobiographical themes, like growing up in LA and not being black enough, liquor store ads in the community, etc. There has always been research in my work, however; this is something I was already doing when I started pursuing my MFA. These studies allowed me to further broaden this part of my practice, making me willing to go headfirst into the research with renewed vigor.
ANTE.Speaking of influences from your earlier years, you mentioned comic book art. Do you have any notable influences from this genre along with contemporary artists that have informed your practice?
DD. I definitely draw from both worlds. On the comic book side two icons are Greg Capulo, the artist for the Spawn and Batman comics, was an early influence along with Rick Leonardi of Spiderman 2099. Contemporary artists – there are so many it’s hard to name them all… Mickalene Thomas, Theaster Gates, Glenn Ligon, Robert Rauschenberg and Richard Diebenkorn, to name a few. Also writers are a major influence on my practice, especially Toni Morrison and James Baldwin.
ANTE. Writers, interesting! That speaks to the profound sense of humanism emanating from your work.
DD. Thanks, as much as I enjoy abstract work I feel compelled to be able to relate to the work itself, and feel compassion. This arises in the form of human interaction. Writing has a lot to do with that…I really do want to communicate that to people. Some of that illustration practice still lingers, I guess.
ANTE.The content of your works makes an impact, and the textures and tones of the materials are equally fascinating. Can you talk about the source of your materials for this series of work, how you select them and their significance?
DD. There’s a real layering of histories and eras inherent to these works. For the wallpaper included in these pieces, this is sourced from a church that historically welcomed refugees in Grand Rapids, MI. This material thus has a loaded history that responds directly to the election. The colors included in many of these works span the rainbow, which is intentional: when you examine a rainbow, it’s meant to stand for acceptance, for hope and diversity, and yet the rainbow itself is an optical illusion. You can’t touch a rainbow. This election, so much positivity, hope for a diverse presidential legacy – potentially going from the first black president in the white house to
the first female president – was stifled. I see this as a real blow to women. We now have an oppressor who’s wiping out the identities and importance of female figureheads, and by depicting these women throughout this series of works I’m hoping to reclaim these identities in a sense.
ANTE. This idea of legacy is interesting to me – do you feel like through history, things haven’t really changed or progressed as much as we believe they have?
DD. I think things haven’t changed, but they have been re-branded, from emancipation through Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Era…it’s always seemed like things have changed, but they really haven’t. There’s not any less of a problem, just different problems. It’s sad in a way; there’s a feeling that in this time period when we could’ve had real advancement we really haven’t. It’s ridiculously that there hasn’t been a female president. When you look at the space program the USSR helmed they included women and black astronauts before the US did – we don’t live in a post-black or post-gender era, not in the slightest. -ANTE.
Delano Dunn will be in conversation with Khalil Gibran Muhammad at Long Gallery from 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm on Monday, March 27th produced by Sanaa Contemporary. To attend, please RSVP to: email@example.com