Curated by Glenn Ligon
March 15 – April 21, 2007
Opening Reception: Thursday, March 15, 6-8pm
Karen Azoulay was born in Toronto, Canada in 1977. She received her BFA from York University in 2000. Recent exhibitions include the solo show The Evening Canopy and the Sunset Hour at Mercer Union in Toronto. Her installations and performances include commissions for institutions such as The Art Gallery of Ontario, Canadian Art Magazine and The Power Plant. Her work has been included in group shows including: Landescapism, Islip Art Museum, East Islip, NY; Menselijke Analyse, Stichting, Eindhoven, Netherlands; Delicate Kinship, Hanna Gallery, Tokyo; You & Me & Art & Idea, Art & Idea, Mexico City; and The Cave and the Island, which showed at both Galerie Kunstbuero, Vienna and White Columns, New York. This is her first solo show in the United States. She is currently based in New York City.
Glenn Ligon was born in the Bronx, New York. He received a BA from Wesleyan University in 1982. In 1985, he participated in the Whitney Museum of American Art's Independent Study Program. Combining painting, photography, and conceptual practices, Ligon has addressed issues of racial and sexual identity in his work. He has had solo shows at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. (1993); Brooklyn Museum of Art (1996); Saint Louis Art Museum (2000); the Studio Museum in Harlem (2001); and the Power Plant, Toronto (2005). He has participated in group shows including the Whitney Biennial (1991 and 1993), Biennale of Sydney (1996), Venice Biennale (1997), Kwangju Biennale (2000), Dokumenta (Kassel, Germany, 2002), Moving Pictures at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (2002 and 2003), and Drawing from the Modern, 1975 - 2005, Museum of Modern Art, New York (2005). He has received grants and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (1982, 1989, and 1991); Art Matters (1990); the Joan Mitchell Foundation (1997); and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation (2003). He lives and works in New York.
Fleetingness and fluidity are two aspects of nature that lure me to the subject matter in my landscape installations. A winter flurry can suddenly transport me to the interior of a snow globe, but such a moment can never be captured…it melts and disappears.
Although sunsets and windy vistas enchant me, I build landscapes in direct contradiction to the natural phenomena that inspire them. By restaging transitory atmospheric events in a heavily theatrical, static, and almost flat way, I am attempting to seize the unseizable. In my earlier performance piece Windy Forest, I represent the wind with small props that are hand held. Such simplifications bring us away from the physical properties that we experience in the world, and closer to the realm of icons and symbols that we read about or imagine.
I have always envisioned parallels between weather and gestures of human emotion. As spectacles of joy and celebration, fireworks are the perfect hybrid of precipitation and confetti. Particles of colored fire fill the sky and shower us from above. Reflecting our own moods on to the landscape that we inhabit in a moment of great pride and excitement, we play Mother Nature and make the skies rain down on us with explosions of our own emotion.
The body of work included in the CUE Art Foundation exhibition features sculpture and installation as well as photography that incorporates these three dimensional objects. These staged scenarios are reminiscent of the tradition of tableaux vivant. The photograph Catching the Star explores another kind of fire that moves through the night. What can be seen as an abstraction of a shooting star is something I created using the fabric of a battered umbrella. What once was used as protection from blustering storms now has a new destiny: to fly through the skies without limitation. The character performing as a swimmer in the image is reaching for those qualities and perhaps is going to grasp on to them and be pulled up from her familiar waters into the expectant unknown.
by Glenn Ligon
In a passage on Ovid in the book Six Memos for the Next Millennium Italo Calvino writes:
Ovid's world is made up of the qualities, attributes and forms
that define the variety of things, whether plants, animals, or
persons. But these are only the outward appearances of a
single common substance that-if stirred by profound emotion-
may be changed into what most differs from it.1
The mutability of substances is a subject to which Ovid's Metamorphoses returns again and again. When pursued by an ardent suitor Daphne transforms into a tree. The weaver Arachne is turned into a spider by a jealous god. Placed by Perseus on the edge of the sea, the Gorgon's head turns plants into coral. The belief that runs through Metamorphoses-that all things are connected because all things can be transformed-is at the heart of Karen Azoulay's project. In sculptural tableaus, performance pieces and digital images, she creates worlds in which the line between body and object; material fact and representation; and the perceptible and the imperceptible is blurred. For instance, she has created a photo of a woman being dragged from sea to sky by a comet-like form, fireworks frozen at the moment of their explosion, and an image of a breath blown into a sculpture of a gust of wind. Suffused with humor and melancholy her work reveals an interest in mythology, literature and alchemy as well as Las Vegas spectacles, the work of Yayoi Kusama, opera, and Renaissance painting.
The largest piece in the exhibition has images of fireworks in the night sky with yards and yards of fabric representing the sea in front of it. Like a 19th century panorama, it fills up the visual field and suggests the occurrence of multiple narratives and points-of-entry. Digital images record performers reacting to the fireworks and immersed in the turbulent blue-green water represented in the piece. But for all its darkness-literal and metaphoric-Azoulay's work retains a sense of play, wonder, abandon and, ultimately, lightness. It is this lightness, in all its various manifestations, that brings Azoulay's work in line with this notion from Calvino:
Whenever humanity seems condemned to heaviness, I think I
should fly like Perseus into a different space. I don't mean
escaping into dreams or into the irrational. I mean that I have to
change my approach, look at the world from a different
perspective, with a different logic and with fresh methods of
cognition and verification. 2
Azoulay also proposes that in the face of the heaviness of the world we retain our ability to imagine alternative ways of seeing. If art has any task it is to keep this potential in us to transform our vision and ourselves alive.
1. Italo Calvino, trans. Patrick Creagh, Six Memos for the Next Millennium: the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures 1985-86 (Vintage International, Vintage Books, A Division of Random House, Inc., New York, NY), p. 9
2. Ibid, p.
YOUNG ART CRITICS: Florencia Malbran on Karen Azoulay