“My Brain is a Collage Brain:” In the Studio with Delphine Diallo

In July I went to the opening of “African Spirits,” a group show of African photography from the 1950s to today, at Yossi Milo gallery. Upon entering the space, I turned to my left to start my stroll around the room’s perimeter when I met his gaze, and was immediately drawn in.

The Herculean man had neon-green hair on his head and chin, piercings in his nose and in his hulky pectorals, and a kinky leather collar. His vintage blue shorts were buttoned up to the middle of his smooth abdomen, and a diminutive fanny pack pinched his waist. His Doc Martens were decorated with black and pink furry pompoms, and, completing his fantastic ensemble, an electric pink robe, rolled at the wrists and suggestively falling off his left shoulder. Like Manet’s Olympia, he projected so many wonderful paradoxes: at once confident and vulnerable; seductive and guarded; masculine and feminine; insistent in his queerness, but untrusting of our voyeuristic presence. Perhaps somewhere under that campy pink robe was some scar tissue—wounds from years of rejection by a bourgeois society that does not understand him. Wounds which heal themselves when he can “live the fuck out loud” at the Afropunk Festival where this picture was taken.

I was mesmerized.

Delphine Diallo - Afropunk - Pink Fur, 2016, framed (mid)
“Afropunk – Pink Fur,” 2016, image courtesy of the artist.

I proudly added the photograph to my art collection, and reached out to the French-Senegalese artist Delphine Diallo to arrange a studio visit.

Based in Brooklyn since 2008, Diallo was born in Paris to a French mother and Senegalese father. She studied at the Académie Charpentier School of Visual Art and upon graduating in 1999, started working in the music industry as a visual effects specialist, graphic designer and editor. In 2008 a friend invited her to a dinner, where she happened to sit next to the photographer Peter Beard. “It was very surprising; I was meeting someone who was 72, and I was 31, and our energy was the actually same,” she remembers. They shared the same “curiosity, and openness, and discovery—like a child.”

Beard asked to see her work—an intimidating request for any young artist, but all the more nerve-wracking because Diallo admits she had never shown her work to anyone. Beard immediately recognized her talent, and invited her to join him on his next photoshoot for Pirelli in Botswana. On location, Beard showed her everything she needed to know to be a photographer. The most important lesson? Learning to let go and let the art happen: “You set up 50, 60 precent, ensure the set or the subject is the right person. But then after you can’t just control everything, you have to let go. And the space where [I] let go…the pictures that were the best ones were the pictures where [I] let go.”

Delphine Diallo - Boy in Senegal
“Stay Strong,” 2009. “You have it,” Peter Beard told Delphine Diallo upon seeing this photograph. Image courtesy of the artist.

Yet there were other formative experiences on the Botswana shoot as well: Diallo objected to what she saw as the “oversexualization of the male gaze,” particularly of the black female body, which she felt in Peter’s work and in the fashion industry in general. She also said there was editorial friction between her and the Pirelli production staff, who dismissed her as one more of Peter Beard’s pretty models (he has a reputation…). As painful as the dismissal was, it motivated Diallo to take her life in a new direction: she would move to New York on an artist’s visa, and devote herself to empowering and celebrating female beauty and energy—simply put, the Divine Feminine.

“The patriarchy is dividing us too much,” Diallo notes. We only see three or four archetypes of women represented in our society, whereas Diallo wants to “access many dimensions”: nature, humility, transcendentalism, emotionality, childish whimsy, and anger. “The woman is a real subject, because she is changing, she is transforming, she is sensitive, she is very emotional, she might be the most emotional creature on Earth. And to be able to photograph it, to be able to see her transformation…it’s not actually being shown that much in photography.”

Diallo - Collage for New York Magazine
A large collage Diallo and a few assistants created then photographed as the splash page for the article “Everywhere & Nowhere: What It’s Really Like to be Black and Work in Fashion,” by Lindsay Peoples Wagner for New York Magazine, 2018. Image courtesy of the artist.

Diallo works across a spectrum of styles, shooting street and documentary photography, portraiture, and fine artwork. When Diallo does take on commercial projects (she has worked for such publications at Time, The New Yorker, The Washington Post, Essence and more), she prefers assignments that meet her mission, or at least endeavors to lend a more thoughtful interpretation of the female body.

In her more artistic pursuits, Diallo captures the Divine Feminine in photographs of women in quiet repose; other times, she explores the Divine Feminine through the lens of religious iconography, mythology, or symbols of energy that are ancient and universal: she’ll paint her models with spirals, yin yangs or “the third eye.” Surveying the work, I thought, some of these portraits of feminine energy were quite literal. But then I asked myself: how does one capture something as elusive yet ever-present as the Divine Feminine—especially in photography? Abstraction seems an obvious choice for capturing “energy” (think the Action painters), but then how does one differentiate feminine and masculine energy on a canvas, without falling right into gendered language that reinforces sexist divisions and stereotypes? Whereas abstraction would deny the female body, Diallo and her models reify the female body as the vessel of our unique feminine energy; Female Empowerment occurs in the performance of the Divine Feminine.

Diallo - Photo Collage
“Decolonized,” 2018, featuring a photograph by Diallo at center, framed by collaged antique and vintage photos and clippings. Image courtesy of the artist.

In more coded imagery and language, Diallo’s collages were some of the best work I saw in her studio: richly layered works that do beg comparison to Peter Beard, although with a decidedly more feminist tone. Unlike Beard, Diallo maintains, she “treats collage in a transformative way…[my] use of ink and narrative is totally different.” Many works also address the racial legacy of African colonialism, a topic of which Americans are too ignorant, Diallo laments. But addressing racism, she says, is not her primary concern, because the Divine Feminine transcends all: “I am a woman,” she declares. “That’s the first struggle.”

Diallo - Photo Collage2
“Decolonized,” 2018. At center is an antique colonial photograph, in which white siblings pose with their instruments, while their parents hold up the backdrop. Diallo has framed the photo with images of African masks and statuary. Image courtesy of the artist.

Diallo and I talked for over two hours—well, I should say she talked, and I listened. She covered quite a lot in those two hours, and admittedly not always in a comprehensible way; it is not always easy to translate a visual message into a verbal one, especially for artists discussing their own work. “My brain is a collage brain,” she said at one point. It wasn’t until I was walking back to the subway from her studio that I realized what a self-actualized statement that was: Diallo had laid out snippets of her life and worldview—a shuffled deck of scraps that did not make perfect sense at first. But as we spoke, she tested, contrasted, and rearranged the pieces. By the time I left her studio, I had a clear vision of the collage: she had artfully composed a portrait of herself, quite without my noticing.

Diallo - Surrealist Collage
“Killing the Minotaur,” 2018. Image courtesy of the artist.

Spring Art Fair Highlights: Scope Art Fair

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! The spring art fairs are like Christmas for the art world—a belated and much-needed Christmas in March to pull us out of our winter blues. “Armory Week,” as it has come to be called, is a cultural smorgasbord of art fairs, parties, openings, panel talks, lectures, and performances that happen around the city. As you can imagine, there’s so much to pack in a few days that I do not have the time to write reviews in real-time (I can’t even get to all of the fairs and events I want to go to!), but I have, in a series of posts, covered some highlights and personal favorites that I saw at the venues I was able to cover. Check out my other posts for highlights from the ADAA Art Show, the Armory Show, and Spring/Break.

Scope Art Fair

I can be a nerd for art theory. The most common of these philosophical head-scratchers is the question of whether there is good art or bad art. Who are the arbiters of taste? That is, who decides what art is good, and what is bad? Isn’t beauty in the eyes of the beholder, one might ask?

Here are my short answers: yes, there’s good art and bad art. The people who decide what’s good and bad are the experts. What makes them experts? They spend a lot of time studying that thing. This goes for a variety of fields: I can’t tell the difference between a real 1961 250 GT California Ferrari and the fiberglass prop they used in the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, but I bet Jerry Seinfeld can. Ergo, those with limited exposure to art may not appreciate the difference between a splashy abstract giclée painting sold at Ikea, vs. a genuine mid-century abstract painting from an avant-gardist of the New York School.

But in the end, that is OK. Because art should be accessible—both intellectually and financially. A broad range from the decorative copyists up to the museum-quality masterpieces means there is always something for everyone. And art experts should do well to remember that, because we have a reputation for being—what’s the word?—ah yes, pretentious and elitist assholes. As an art advisor, I love educating clients, and getting them excited about good art (so yes, I think taste can be learned through exposure). But ultimately, if they’re unconvinced, I’d rather see a Thomas Kinkade on their wall than nothing at all.

That’s all to say that, in this expert’s opinion, much of the offerings at Scope Art Fair this year were schlock. A fair amount of work struck me as ornamental, without much to say. In our era of social media, there has been a rise in Instagram art—works that reproduce well on your 2 x 4-inch screen, but don’t have much substance behind them. But hey, if that’s what works for you, that’s OK. To borrow from the lexicon of addiction, Scope is like a “gateway” art fair; it’s a novice’s dosage of art to which you will eventually develop an immunity. And that’s when you’ll be ready to pack your bowl with a Spring/Break or an Armory show. And if we continue with the extended metaphor, as an art advisor, I want to get everyone high! So I’d rather the Scope audience get excited about this art than be bewildered by the more experimental fare at Spring/Break and write off the arts altogether.

That said, there were some diamonds in the rough (or buds in the oregano? Nope, I’m done with drug metaphors). Below is a tasting. Bon appétit!

Serwan Baran‘s solo presentation at XOL Gallery’s booth was the cream of the crop at Scope. Baran will be representing Iraq at the 2019 Venice Biennale.

Serwan Baran Hounds of War
Serwan Baran, Hounds of War, 2017, acrylic on canvas. XOL Gallery, Baltimore and Amman. Photo by Emily Casden.
Serwan Baran Fifth Column
Serwan Baran, Fifth Column, 2019, acrylic on canvas. XOL Gallery, Baltimore and Amman. Photo by Emily Casden.

Fifth generation quilter Phyllis Stephens updates the African-American tradition of quilt-making with fresh but nostalgic urban subject matter.

Phyllis Stephens Back in the Days
Phyllis Stephens, Back in the Days, 2019, quilt with sustainable fabric, Richard Beavers Gallery, Brooklyn. Photo by Emily Casden.

Dutch artist Hans van Bentem revives glass and porcelain traditions from around the world, merging pop and antique imagery into imaginative new creations. The pieces are interchangeable, allowing for an ever-interactive and evolving sculpture.

Hans van Bentem sculptures
Hans van Bentem, Group of sculptures with interchangeable pieces, 2019, porcelain. NL=US Gallery, Rotterdam. Photo by Emily Casden.
Hans van Bentem Rocket 2019
Hans van Bentem, Rocket, 2019, in the style of Chinese celadon porcelain NL=US Gallery, Rotterdam. Photo by Emily Casden.

Mike Stilkey‘s clever repurposing of unwanted books creates artworks that interact dynamically with our lived space. According to his gallerist, Stilkey has become a favorite commissioned artist for libraries.

Mike Stilkey Suds in Your Eyes
Mike Stilkey, Suds in Your Eyes, 2019, acrylic on repurposed books. bG Gallery, Santa Monica. Photo by Emily Casden.

Trevor Guthrie‘s beautiful charcoal drawings hint at eerie and unsettling narratives.

Trevor-Guthrie-Wald-Taxi.-Drawing-95x65cm.-a-space-gallery
Trevor Guthrie, Wald Taxi, 2017, charcoal on paper. a-space gallery, Basel. Photo courtesy of the artist/a-space gallery.
Trevor Guthrie Crash III
Trevor Guthrie, Crash III, 2017, charcoal on paper. a-space gallery, Basel. Photo by Emily Casden.

For me, the thing that saves Laurence de Valmy‘s Impressionist Instagram works from being gimmicky is the real art historical dialogue happening in the comments.

Laurence de Valmy instagram paintings
Laurence de Valmy, Marys Joins the Impressionists, and Edgar’s Resting Dancer, 2019, acrylics on canvas. Kahn Gallery, London. Photo by Emily Casden.

Very impressive photorealistic snapshots of New York life by Yigal Ozeri. Hard to believe it’s painted.

Yigal Ozeri New York Story
Yigal Ozeri, Untitled: A New York Story, 2019, oil on paper mounted on wood. Rutger Brandt Gallery, Amsterdam. Photo by Emily Casden.

Fair-goers had a great time trying on Sarah Sitkin‘s highly realistic body suits. It was remarkable how transformative it was to those who tried on a suit, but the pieces also remind us that our sense of self is not defined by our skin.

Sarah Sitkin Body Suits
Sarah Sitkin, Body Suits, 2018. Superchief Gallery, Los Angeles. Photo by Emily Casden.

According to Laura Jane Petelko‘s website, her series “Soft Stories” was inspired by retreats in the Canadian wilderness for the “furries” subculture. With artist and designer Sara Wood providing the costumes, Petelko’s images convey a longing for connection and intimacy in a bleak and indifferent landscape.

Laura Jane Petelko Soft Series
Laura Jane Petelko, The First Time You Were in My Dream, from the Soft Series, 2018. Contemporary Art Projects, USA, Miami. Photo by Emily Casden

Spring Art Fair Highlights: The ADAA Art Show

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! The spring art fairs are like Christmas for the art world—a belated and much-needed Christmas in March to pull us out of our winter blues. “Armory Week,” as it has come to be called, is a cultural smorgasbord of art fairs, parties, openings, panel talks, lectures, and performances that happen around the city. As you can imagine, there’s so much to pack in a few days that I do not have the time to write reviews in real-time (I can’t even get to all of the fairs and events I want to go to!), but I have, in a series of posts, covered some highlights and personal favorites that I saw at the venues I was able to cover. Check out my other posts for highlights from the Armory Show, Spring/Break and Scope.

The ADAA Art Show

This year the annual Art Show, hosted by the Art Dealers Association of America, kicked things off a week before “Armory week,” so as not to conflict with the grand art fair at Pier 92/94. At the Art Show you tend to find more modern art than the other fairs of Amory Week, as well as contemporary offerings. Many galleries continued their “correction” of representation, curating their booths to highlight works by women and artists of color. Overall the Art Show was, in my opinion, very strong: I enjoyed some singularly great works by established modernists, and discovered new contemporary artists. Below I share a sampling of both. Enjoy!

Dario Robleto Curious Confront Eternity
Dario Robleto, The Curious Confront Eternity, 2019. Cut paper, various cut and polished seashells, urchin spines, squilla claws, butterflies, colored powder pigments, plastic domes, prints on wood and paper, foam core, glue and frame. Photo by Emily Casden, courtesy of Inman Gallery, Houston, Texas

One of the great joys of the art fairs is to be exposed to galleries from around the country and world (it is also a tragedy—to discover a great gallery that isn’t a subway ride away!). In this case, I must find a good reason to go to Houston to see Inman Gallery and the work of Dario Robleto. I was drawn into Inman Gallery’s booth by Robleto’s intricate collages and large, ecological installation. I had a fascinating conversation with the gallery owner, Kerry Inman, about Robleto’s interest in Victorian traditions of collection and display, but my mind was truly blown when Kerry told me about Robleto’s artist residency with the SETI Institute. That’s right: the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence Institute has an artist-in-residence program, in case we must communicate aesthetically with alien life. I loved this work so much I wrote a spotlight blog post on it—learn more about Dario’s work here.

Dario Robleto installation

Robleto_Inman_Sisyphean_detail_1

shell_install
Dario Robleto, Small Crafts on Sisyphean Seas, 2017-2018, detail. Image courtesy of Inman Gallery, Houston.

Other delightful contemporary work at the exhibition included a fantastic series of illustrations for a forthcoming edition of Gertrude Stein’s The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, by multi-disciplinary artist Maira Kalman at Julie Saul Gallery. Kalman doggedly went through archival material to base her gouaches on real photographs and people. The suite of thirty-five drawings lends a contemporary warmth and intimacy to the book, which should be coming out in 2020.

Kalman installation view
Maira Kalman, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, by Gertrude Stein, 2019, installation view at the ADAA Art Show. Thirty-five gouaches on paper. Image courtesy of Julie Saul Gallery, New York.
Maira Kalman - Alice & Gertrude
Maira Kalman, Alice and Gertrude in living room with Cezanne painting, 2019
gouache on paper. Image courtesy of Julie Saul Gallery, New York.

I would be remiss to not mention Susan Inglett Gallery, and the impressive cut-outs of artist William Villalongo. I have really enjoyed Susan’s recent shows, including her current Wilmer Wilson IV show, “Slim…you don’t got the juice” (catch it before it closes March 16). Villalongo’s large, velvety cut-outs are not only technically and graphically masterful, their message of the struggle and resilience of the black male body is palpable.

William Villalongo Zero Gravity 1 2018
William Villalongo, Zero Gravity 1, 2018, paper collage and cut velour paper. Image courtesy of William Villalongo.

Amid the modern art highlights at the fair, David Nolan Gallery had an exquisite exhibition of works by German artist George Grosz (1893-1959), focusing on his work during his New York years, 1933-1958. Grosz was one of the foremost German artists of the twentieth century; his modern, socio-politically charged works were among those singled out by Hitler as “degenerate,” and he fled to exile in the United States in 1933. A particularly fascinating contrast in the Art Show display are two watercolors that bookend his time in America: the first, a somber 1934 drawing called Wanderer, sympathetically depicting a cast-out Jew crossing a pond-like body of water; the second, a fiery 1956 composition, also called Wanderer, showing a blazing blue figure wading through a sun-soaked swamp. Who is the 1956 Wanderer? Is it an allegory, or perhaps Grosz himself, raging against the injustice of history?

Grosz The Wanderer 1934
George Grosz, The Wanderer, 1934, watercolor on paper. Image by Emily Casden, courtesy of David Nolan Gallery, New York.
Grosz The Wanderer 1956
George Grosz, The Wanderer, 1956, watercolor on paper. Image by Emily Casden, courtesy of David Nolan Gallery, New York.

I could go on and on about the great art I enjoyed at the fair, but alas, time does not allow for full discourse on each piece. Below are other great highlights of modern and contemporary works from the fair. If you have any interest, contact Avant-Garde and we can assist you with a purchase.

Lovely, playful collage by Jean Arp.

Jean Arp Head 1925
Jean Arp (1886-1966), Head; Object to Milk, 1925, painted collage, gold leaf and fabric on board. Image by Emily Casden, courtesy of James Goodman Gallery, Inc.

Classic Joan Semmel nude.

Joan Semmel Beachbody 1985
Joan Semmel, Beachbody, 1985, oil on canvas. Image by Emily Casden, courtesy of Alexander Gray & Associates, New York.

Part of an installation by Leslie Dill.

Lesley Dill Emily Dickinson 2017
Leslie Dill, Emily Dickinson and the Voices of Her Time, 2017. Oil on paper, thread on fabric-backed paper. The image depicts Emily Dickinson, Sojourner Truth, Walt Whitman and Thomas Wentworth Higginson. Image by Emily Casden, courtesy of Nohra Haime Gallery, New York.

Toby Mug by Judy Chicago. I would love to see this on the table at The Dinner Party!

Judy Chicago Toby Mug 2010
Judy Chicago, Two-Faced Toby Mug, 2010, multi-fired china paint on porcelain. Image by Emily Casden, courtesy of Salon 94, New York.

Check out this badass mama by Gaston Lachaise! I love the matting job, as if the figure is interacting with the mat. Really brings the work to life.

Gaston Lachaise Draped Figure
Gaston Lachaise (1882-1935), Draped Standing Figure, 1931-32, pencil on paper. Image by Emily Casden, courtesy of Debra Force Fine Art, New York.

Joan Bankemper’s whimsical and intricate porcelain constructions at Nancy Hoffman Gallery, New York.

Joan Bankemper Belmont Ceramic
Joan Bankemper, Belmont, 2018, ceramic. Image by Emily Casden, courtesy of Nancy Hoffman Gallery, New York.

Another Grosz. Man he’s good.

Grosz They Found Something
George Grosz (1893-1959), They Found Something, 1946, watercolor on paper. Image courtesy of David Nolan Gallery, New York.