Artist

Frida in Brooklyn

I visited the Brooklyn Museum on the opening day of the wonderful and timely exhibition, “Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving.” I naively thought that I could beat the crowds: after all, I had arrived at admissions at 12 noon, exactly one hour after the museum opened. Instead, I was surprisingly told I would have to wait until 2:30pm to enter the exhibition (in the meantime, I was able to enter and explore the rest of the museum)! My first recommendation is to buy tickets in advance. I checked the website and noticed that weekend shows for the next several weeks are already sold out.

My second recommendation is to put away your phone! Visitors are told that photography is not allowed, but that didn’t stop quite a few rude people from taking out their phones and ruining the experience for others. If you are one of those people who just can’t help themselves, consider this for a moment: when you snap a picture of a painting, that you can probably find online via a museum website, how often do you go back and look it? How often do you study it? Why ruin a rare moment of seeing a painting in person by fumbling with your phone? And if you are snapping a picture on your phone for posting on social media, the exhibition has two interesting displays to do just that before you enter the actual exhibition.

The exhibition is presented thematically, using paintings by Kahlo and peers, photographs, and Mexican ceramics to explore Kahlo’s identity. Clothing and make-up are central to this: for example, Kahlo used native clothing to express her Mexican nationalism. It was surprising to see that she loved using perfume and Revlon products (Revlon is the major supporter of this show). Many of these items had been stored in Casa Azul, the home, Kahlo shared with her husband, muralist Diego Rivera.

One of the most absorbing, and heartbreaking, pieces of art was a lithograph depicting Kahlo’s miscarriage. It was as powerful as the “Henry Ford Hospital” painting, which explores the same subject. I absolutely adored the home movies that were shown, which I saw twice! Among my favorite pieces were the photographs, many of which I had never seen before. Standouts were those by Gisele Freund, known for her documentary photography and portraits of writers and artists.

The major problem with this exhibition is how some of the artwork is displayed, most notably the photographs. Many are presented in groups of four, with two of the four well below eye range. This means that if two people stand in front of the four pictures, others have to wait to properly study and contemplate them (as well as contend with the impolite people who insist on taking pictures). With the crowds, this simply does not work. The first two rooms were rather small with one wasted on a second ticket checkpoint. Yes, there were two checkpoints to get into the exhibition: one at the door and one in front of a wall, projecting images of Kahlo. A wall. Interesting.

It has been over sixty years since Kahlo has passed away, but she still continues to fascinate. This exhibition is worth seeing—but only if you can go during a weekday, with minimal crowds. Each piece is worth quiet contemplation. The exhibition notes how much she loved New York City—the world is here and that is what she embraced and probably why we embrace here today. She is a voice from Mexico’s past conveying the need for more bridges and less walls.

www.edwinroman.com

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Edwin Roman: The Year in Pictures 2018

2018 was actually not a productive year for me in terms of photography. I don’t often go out on photo taking trips during the winter months because working the camera and changing and adjusting lenses is difficult while wearing gloves. My first trip out wasn’t until March. I did travel to New Mexico in July and took a lot of pictures, but the following month was hit with a crushing illness that kept me home bound for the rest of the summer and much of the fall. In spite of the illness, I still managed to produce some photographs with those from the New Mexico trip being among my favorites. I hope you enjoy these photographs, I absolutely loved taking them.

Blue Entryways. Edwin Roman, 2018.
Blue Entryways. Edwin Roman, 2018. As seen at Taos Pueblo.
red-sails-in-the-brooklyn-wind2
Red Sails in the Brooklyn Wind. Edwin Roman 2018. As seen from Governors Island.
Kitchen Mesa. Edwin Roman 2018. As seen from The Ghost Ranch.
Kitchen Mesa. Edwin Roman 2018. As seen from The Ghost Ranch.
Sunset at The Triborough
Sunset Under the Triborough. Edwin Roman 2018.

adobe-red-and-blue

Adobe Americana. Edwin Roman 2018. As seen in the Taos Pueblo.
Adobe Americana. Edwin Roman 2018. As seen in the Taos Pueblo.
Speakeasy-Sal-sepia
Speakeasy Sal. Edwin Roman 2018. As seen at the Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island.
San Geronimo Chapel. Edwin Roman 2018.
San Geronimo Chapel. Edwin Roman 2018.
Wards Island Footbridge in Black and White
Wards Island Foot Bridge in Black and White. Edwin Roman 2018.
In the Distance on Route 550. Edwin Roman 2018
In the Distance on Route 550. Edwin Roman 2018
Climb into The Cave Dwelling. Edwin Roman 2018. As seen at Bandelier National Monument.
Climb into The Cave Dwelling. Edwin Roman 2018. As seen at Bandelier National Monument.
the-sunbather
The Sunbather. Edwin Roman 2018. As seen on Ward’s Island.
bands
Bands. Edwin Roman 2018. As seen at the Jazz Age Lawn Party.
The Orange Parasol
The Orange Parasol. Edwin Roman 2018. As seen at the Jazz Age Lawn Party.
Underneath with the Tides
Underneath with the Tides. Edwin Roman 2018. As seen under the boardwalk at Coney Island.
Grazers. Edwin Roman 2018. As seen in Taos Pueblo.
Grazers. Edwin Roman 2018. As seen in Taos Pueblo.
Juan black and white 2
Juan Views the Atlantic. Edwin Roman 2018. As seen at Coney Island.
Adios. Edwin Roman 2018. As seen while leaving The Ghost Ranch.
Adios. Edwin Roman 2018. As seen while leaving The Ghost Ranch.
The-Rockefeller-View
A Rockefeller View. Edwin Roman 2018. As seen from the Rockefeller Overlook in New Jersey.
I actually used the above photo as the cover for my forthcoming book, People Watching: New York City. Proceeds from this book will be donated to Humane Borders.

www.edwinroman.com



Racist Cartoon, 2015. Oil on linen. 9 5/8h x 13w in.

The Pusillanimous Art of Lucien Smith Burns the Bronx

Artist Lucien Smith misses an opportunity and simply creates novelty art for the 1%. 

How did the Bronx become the poster child for urban decay in the 1970’s and 1980’s?

Generally speaking, individuals like Robert Moses siphoned monetary resources out of New York City to build up the surrounding suburbs while concurrently fostering the automobile and neglecting mass transit. The Cross-Bronx Expressway has NEVER benefited the Bronx and actually contributed greatly to the destruction: people once lived where this roadway now stands. And then the 3rd Avenue El, which had played a significant role in the creation of entire neighborhoods, was razed, leaving many isolated from public transportation and further devaluing real estate. Industry fled for various reasons that included moving to southern states that outlawed unions via “right to work” laws. The middle class tax base moved away and the poor and people of color moved into their former neighborhoods, which were subsequently redlined by banks and investors (Harlem, for example, had been red lined since the 1920’s). The media portrayed people of color as gun totting, drug-using savages who burn and vandalize their neighborhoods. They are bad for real estate, a stigma that has had an almost mythic impact. The fact is that the landlords of these redlined areas paid arsons so that they could collect insurance. I am fairly certain that artist Lucien Smith or his recent benefactors, Somerset Partners, are cognizant of these facts or bothered with any research.

On October 29th, in a former South Bronx piano factory, a rave took place that was hosted by real estate developers Somerset Partners. The rave was to launch the re-branding of the South Bronx as the “Piano District” in the tradition of DUMBO, Hudson Heights, iTri and East Willamsburg. The event, which was curated (or decorated, depending on your source) by Mr. Smith, included flaming garbage cans and bullet-riddled cars. From the photographs I have seen, it was essentially disaster porn.

Much has been written about the rave and perhaps the best source is Ed García Conde’s oft quoted blog Welcome2TheBronx. As a fellow artist who works in the Bronx, I found myself wondering why Mr. Smith would produce something so utterly jejune.

Earlier this year, The New York Times Style Magazine interviewed Mr. Smith where he noted:

“I reached a point when I was independent financially and I was able to take a step back. I was producing work like a madman—I wanted to be this “superartist,” and I saw artists going down that road, and I didn’t want that anymore. I wanted to find a more honest approach to making art.”

When asked about future shows he responded:

“As far as future shows, I don’t have anything on my plate. I’m being very careful about what I do now.”

This interview was published in July of 2015. If Mr. Smith was being truthful, he was not working on the rave yet — an indication that it was simply thrown together. In response to the criticism, Mr. Smith noted:

“…people are always going to have their own interpretation. Let’s just remember New York, in its entirety, is a city that has and still struggles with violence and poverty, not just the Bronx.”

Mr. Smith, of all people, should understand the mythic power that images can have and missed an opportunity to use his fame to elevate those who struggle with violence and poverty. It was also an opportunity to convey how struggle creates great art. The late, distinguished CCNY Professor of Political Science, Marshall Berman, once said:

“Grace Paley, one of the great New York writers, has a story written early-’70s South Bronx. And one of the characters, who’s like a community organizer there, says, “The buildings are burning down on one side of the street, and the kids are trying to put something together on the other.” And this could be a parable of one of the great achievements of that period from a lot of the neighborhoods that were most devastated in New York. The earliest form in which most people who weren’t part of that neighborhood saw it were the graffiti that appeared on the subways in the ’70s. And this was on a very rickety, decaying generation of gray trains, they painted enormously exuberant, colored names and reliefs and mottoes. And you can see many films now: a gray day, a gray neighborhood, an El train. And suddenly, the El train, it’s like a rainbow! And it’s thrilling. The next incarnation was rap. The earliest form that people saw would be there would be one kid rapping with small speakers and a drum track in the subway, you know, with a hat open for money. And, you know, these are parables of a city that’s being ruined, that’s being destroyed, and that’s saying, “We can rise again. We come from ruins, but we’re not ruined.” And, I mean, in 15 years, it’s become the basic form of world music. So it’s a thrill, but it’s important to understand that it came from totally burnt-out, ruined districts, and that’s where it was born. And that it was born out of this suffering and misery, and that a lot of the creativity that New York has always had has come from the cellars, from the ruins, from how the other half lives.”

Picasso’s Guernica was painted as a reaction to the Nazi bombing on the unarmed Basque town during Spanish Civil War. It has since become a symbol for peace. Columbia University Art History professor, Simon Schama, once said that Picasso with Guernica “…rescued modern art from the curse of it’s own cleverness, from the curse of novelty. Guernica has always been bigger than art, uncontainable by mere museum walls. It is one of those rare creations that gets into the blood stream of common culture.” In other words, it does what great art should: communicate to everyone regardless of education or economic status.

In August of 2014, Mr. Smith gave a TEDx talk at Columbia College where he discussed how discovering his father cheating on his mother created a fear of failing that has fostered his career. His father responded to this by calling his son a “gold digging bitch” and noting “My ex-wife, who shares his lust for superficiality and materialism, raised him.”

What Mr. Smith has done with this show in the South Bronx is to further foster gentrification by creating novelty art that is exclusively for the 1%: it is their view of the Bronx and is nothing short of pusillanimous.

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Please note that the featured image of this blog entry was not part of the South Bronx re-branding event. I discovered it on Mr. Smith’s website while doing some research and have been wondering why, as a man of color, he felt compelled to paint this.

Racist Cartoon, 2015. Oil on linen. 9 5/8h x 13w in. http://www.luciensmithstudio.com/?s=ls-581-racist-cartoon