Design Takes a New Sense of Purpose.
Behind aesthetic, design will be focused on doing rather than just producing.
In occasion of The Armory Show, 25th edition, in New York, the work of the emergent artists Sadie Barnette and Genevieve Gaignard highlights vigorously how much the new sense of vitality and change is rising from the most exclusive art expression to a global social conscience.
Inclusivity, Ethics, Feminism, the growing collective demand of political and social change previously displayed by Barbara Kruger and Guerrilla Girls are strongly been echoed by this new generation of artists and their works so deeply linked to reality.
Best known for laying aggressively directive slogans over black-and-white photographs that she finds in magazines, Barbara Kruger developed a visual language that was strongly influenced by her early work as a graphic designer (at magazines including House and Garden, Mademoiselle, and Aperture). Among her most famous pieces are I shop, therefore I am (1987) and Your body is a battleground (1985). Informed by feminism, Kruger's work critiques consumerism and desire, and has appeared on billboards, bus cards, posters and in public parks, train station platforms, and other public spaces. She has also created site-specific installations comprised of video, film, audio, and projection.
The famous group has been waging “gorilla warfare” on art institutions since the mid-80s, including a notorious poster campaign from 1989: An image of a nude woman wearing a gorilla mask and reclining beneath the provocative question, “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?” The poster went on to say that fewer than 5 percent of The Metropolitan Museum of Art's artists were women at the time, while 85 percent of its nude art featured the female form.
“We went and counted the number of women artists and the number of nude female figures and paintings,” Kahlo says, “to sort of see that it’s much easier to get into the Metropolitan Museum if you’re a naked female in a painting than if you’re a female artist.”
"We wanted to be freedom fighters in the art world, and we thought that would get everyone’s attention.”
Guerrilla Girls is an anonymous collective of feminist women artists whose incisive social and economic commentary addresses systemic biases against women and people of color in the art world, often from within the institutional contexts their work critiques. Guerrilla Girls formed in New York in 1985 when the group produced a series of protest posters highlighting the stunning paucity of female artists, and near-total absence of black artists, represented in major museums and art galleries. The iconic posters employed polished graphic design and catchy slogans, inverting mainstream marketing tactics to lambast the willingness of artistic institutions to exploit the female body while excluding female narratives. Guerrilla Girls’ brazen approach to protest art proved both effective and influential, and the group continues to successfully spark dialogues about representation and diversity.
All members of that New York-based activist group wear gorilla masks and use the names of famous female artists for public appearances. That’s what gives its members - many who are women with art careers of their own - the freedom to expose sexism and racism in Hollywood and the art world.
The images in the installation, which won The Armory Show Presents Booth Prize, are accompanied by a series of sculptures and artworks. Sparkly, iridescent chairs are placed on a pink carpet, surrounded by speakers and aluminium cans coated in pink and silver glitter, adding a magical, festive mood to the installation.
Gallerist Charlie James groaned as a young woman entered the centerpiece of Sadie Barnette’s installation—a ring of retro, sparkly pink speaker sets and vinyl seats—to snap a selfie. Despite its inevitable Instagram draw (the carpet of James’s booth is also bubblegum pink), the installation as a whole suggests a narrative more complex than the typically shiny treats offered elsewhere at the fair. The Oakland-based artist, who gained attention for A 2017 series that presented the massive dossier the FBI had gathered on her Black Panther father, further investigates the trappings of black life in America. The domestic, Afrofuturist
vision constructed here includes crushed soda cans, similarly coated in glistening metallic car paint, littered across the installation; outdated technologies like an off-the-hook landline and a handheld calculator; and photographs (showing a crumpled dollar bill, hair picks, and the artist’s car) alternately overlaid with pink bows and polka dots. In this case, the glitz functions “not as bling, but deliverance,” James said, which adds “a cosmic glint to vernacular black imagery.”
“The point,” said Barnette, “just thinking about how many thousands of people were involved in the history books whose names we might not know who are part of our family histories and legacy, so a lot of this glitter work, or outer space moments in these pieces are thinking moments for celebration, survival, and a reprieve from all the more earthly problems and imagining these spaces that are beyond the lens of state surveillance, beyond police brutality, or gentrification, etcetera.
"to me this pink is more like a high fem vernacular, performative gesture that can extend to a broader range of genders”
The back wall is covered in wallpaper with a print featuring a carved wooden hair pick that Barnette picked up in South Africa. She decorated it with a bright pink bow. “I just tied a bow around it to look at this contrast of the old with the young and the dark with the light, the masculine with the feminine, but also thinking about a less binary way of thinking about—to me this pink is more like a high fem vernacular, performative gesture that can extend to a broader range of genders,” explained Barnette.
Over in the corner, a photograph of a woman sitting on her walker next to a space print invites viewers to contemplate her identity. Barnette came upon the woman in Oakland, California, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day on a street named Martin Luther King Jr. Way.
Gaignard turns our expectations about race and beauty upside down.
Teased wigs, leopard sweaters, and vintage cat paraphernalia populate the photographs of Genevieve Gaignard, who transforms herself into a wide-array of characters in her self-portraits. Gaignard melds the staged photography of Cindy Sherman with today’s social media culture, photographing herself as various archetypes of women - such as the cat lady or the pin-up girl - and then debuting these photographs on Instagram. For her show “Us Only” (2016), Gaignard designed domestic interiors for each of her characters, exhibiting her photographs, collages, and video works within the cluttered living rooms and bathrooms of her alter-egos. Gaignard describes these characters as autobiographical—a performance through which she can pose questions about gender and her biracial identity.
These personas are a way for Gaignard to explore her own identity as a mixed race woman (her mother is white and her father is black)—and her struggle to come to terms with “not fitting into just one category,” she says.
Gaignard has expanded her photographic vision into immersive environments that further chip away at close-minded stereotypes and cultural norms. From afar, her domestic-style installations look cozy, like a grandmother’s overly decorated living room. But get closer, and unexpected, unnerving details emerge.
Influenced by the soulful sounds of Billy Stewart, the kitschy aesthetic of John Waters and the provocative artifice of drag culture, Gaignard uses low-brow pop sensibilities to craft dynamic visual narratives. From the identity performance ritualized in ‘‘selfie” culture to the gender performance of femininity, Gaignard blends humor, persona and popular culture to reveal the ways in which the meeting and mixing of contrasting realities can feel much like displacement. more
The process of delving deeper into her family history has coincided with what Gaignard describes as a greater sense of clarity and confidence in “talking specifically about blackness and whiteness being in one body,” she explains.
“Being in a white body and talking about blackness is something I’ve been hesitant to do, or a little shy about doing.”
Sources and Credits: Casey Lesser, Alina Cohen, Julia Wolkoff, Ann Binlot, Alexxa Gotthardt, The Armory Show, Charlie James Gallery