Weekly Update 1 – Holiday the global way

This week’s Weekly is the Holiday Guide issue including my holiday art round-up. Below is the copy with extra pictures.

Holiday Diversity
Art with a global sauce.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving with ritual turkey and pumpkin pie feasting, there are a few exhibitions like the salsas, chutneys and rice dishes that also grace some American tables this time of year.

henry bermudez cross
Henry Bermudez. Catalog cover. This is Projects Gallery’s second show this year with a catalog. It’s a great idea for the show, for the gallery and for the artist.

Henry Bermudez’s “Fragmented Dream” at Projects Gallery and Xiang Yang’s “Beyond the Duplicated Voice” at Painted Bride are exhibitions by nonnative-born Philadelphia artists. The duo — Bermudez is Venezuelan and Yang is Chinese — make works that are cultural hybrids. They don’t feel local; they don’t feel exotically nonlocal. They’re works reflecting a kind of 21st-century nomadism in which artists live where they will and make works with a quality that’s not denuded of its roots but reflects those roots in translation.

Xiang Yang
Xiang Yang, work from last summer’s Outside/Inside exhibit at Philadelphia Art Alliance. Yang has been working with thread and frames for several years now.

While Yang’s sculptures include references to Buddha and Chairman Mao, and Bermudez’s mixed-media paintings use hybrid animal shapes evoking indigenous cultures, you can’t really pigeonhole these artists as Chinese or Venezuelan. The beautiful works, made by accomplished, trained artists, have a universal contemporary aesthetic that’s aware of the artist’s past yet engaged with the contemporary art world. The works are personal, yet because they’re geographically and narratively suggestive without being specific, they’re also globally reverberant.

Xiang Yang
Xiang Yang’s temporal-spatial embroidery shape-shifters at Painted Bride.

Yang uses thread and embroidery, and his imagery involves politics, pornography and Buddhist thinking. In the home of one of America’s most famous inventors, Benjamin Franklin, Yang has invented something new—a double-sided embroidery frame that’s a storytelling device spelling out the connection over time and space of two persons or objects. Yang’s device elongates the embroidered stitch into lines that stretch improbably—2, 3, 4 feet­—between two frames. The colorful river of thread reverberates with both the Buddhist idea of samara (an ever transmigrating being) and the Western cartoon notion of speed lines (think Road Runner).

Xiang Yang
Xiang Yang, The other side of chairman Mao, Korea’s Kim Jong-Il. In the background is a viewer looking at the piece pairing Saddam Hussein and George Bush.

In his large works Yang embroiders the opposing political figures of George Bush and Saddam Hussein, taking the Buddhist idea of oneness to a level of left-wing discourse. Yang’s small-scale embroideries in clear plastic deli containers use images from pornography to suggest no matter how far point A is from point B, transgressive imagery is universal and served up as a cheap, daily commodity.

Henry Bermudez’s ornamental riots of animals

Henry Bermudez
Henry Bermudez, detail, entwined snakes.

Bermudez’s mixed-media works evoke ornate gilded ornamentation in ancient religious devotional works. While no particular country is referenced, the baroque imagery—with repeated curlicue patterns of snakes, lizards, frogs, celestial dots and tentacle-like plant fronds—to convey an aboriginal aesthetic crossed with a sophisticated sense of decor. According to the show’s catalog, Bermudez, who once represented his country at the prestigious Venice Biennale, is on a journey to experience the world and get to the authentic core of art-making. This new work, which feels connected to the spiritual practices of the Western and non-Western worlds, may have hit the mark.

Henry Bermudez
Henry Bermudez, detail. Looks like the frog king.

In its playful and slightly threatening animal imagery and its gorgeous decorative patterns, Bermudez’s art embodies an aesthetic that transcends national borders, feels authentically spiritual and can be admired for its pure beauty. Here’s Libby’s post on Bermudez.

Word at the PMA

St. Jerome.jpg
St. Jerome, polychromed wood statue in the Tesoros exhibit at the PMA.

The Art Museum’s “Tesoros/Treasures/Tesouros” shows the beauty of art made in Latin American countries during the Spanish colonial period. The countries in Latin America and elsewhere eventually drove out the conquerers, and yet these nations’ stories and the story of their art has largely been relegated to the footnotes of art history. PMA curator of contemporary art Carlos Basualdo conceived his “Notations” series as a retelling of the story of modern and contemporary art in a way that includes works from these Second and Third World countries.
Energy and energy, Grippo's potatoes
Victor Grippo’s potato piece in front of Thomas Hirschhorn’s globes in “Energy Yes!” in the first Notations installation.

Basualdo’s first “Notations” installation “Energy, Yes!” featured a work by Argentine artist Victor Grippo that included a banquet table piled with raw Idaho potatoes attached to wires that were connected to a machine reading the spuds’ energy emissions. The piece was unlike anything inside the museum’s contemporary galleries, and it enhanced the understanding of how much we Western art viewers had been missing while we focused on our Paris/London/Berlin/Rome/New York-centric art.

Georges Adeagbo in Phila
Georges Adeagbo in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

“Notations: Out of Words” opens Nov. 22, and will showcase a new PMA acquisition Abraham—Friend of God, by Benin artist Georges Adéagbo. The accumulation piece is made from hundreds of papers, carvings, books, records and handwritten letters from Benin and Philadelphia that tell the story of the struggle for freedom here and in the artist’s African country.

The global diversity on display in the 21st century was largely missing from our city’s galleries and museums in the 20th century. It’s great to see it now.

Where to See It

Henry Bermudez: “Fragmented Dream”
Through Dec. 22. Free. Projects Gallery, 629 N. Second St. 267.303.9652.

“Notations: Out of Words”
Nov. 22-May. $8-$12. Philadelphia Museum of Art, 26th St. and the Pkwy. 215.763.8100.

Xiang Yang: “Beyond the Duplicated Voice”
Through Jan. 13. Free. Painted Bride Art Center, 230 Vine St. 215.925.9914.