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Diverse Works: Director’s Choice, 1997–2015

April 15–August 2, 2015

Grey Area (Brown version), 1993. Fred Wilson (American, b. 1954). Paint, plaster, and wood; five busts, each: 1834 x 9 × 13 in. (47.6 × 22.9 × 33 cm); overall: 20 × 84 in. (50.8 × 213.4 cm). Brooklyn Museum; Bequest of William K. Jacobs, Jr., and bequest of Richard J. Kempe, by exchange, 2008.6a–j. (Photo: Sarah DeSantis and Jonathan Dorado, Brooklyn Museum) 

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How did the artist make this?
The artist Dustin Yellin calls these pieces "Psychogeographies." Some of them can weigh up to 3,000-pounds and all resemble human forms suspended in glass encasements. Yellin makes them in his Red Hook studio (Shout out to Brooklyn Artists!) he layers glass with paint and various objects to create the 3-D forms and then seals them with a secret process. 
There is this great quote from him: Each large-scale sculpture is individually embellished with bizarre found objects—cut-up books, magazines and trash found on the street—which are then sealed within layers of glass. “Imagine if you were to make a drawing on a window,” said Yellin, explaining his process. “And then you were to take another window and glue it to that window… until you had a window sandwich. I make window sandwiches.”
What were the criteria determining these four figures?
Bruce High Quality Foundation is a collective of artists who are into radical pedagogy and removing the "Sacred" from high-art and art history. Cigarette-smoking porcelain figures with running paint have shown up in several of their works.
I think that this piece in particular is taking the wholesome knick-knack, and the teacher's chalk board, and reclaiming them as a space to "act out," almost like bad students.
Did Rietveld design any other toys in his career?
Yes, he did, we have in our collections a dollhouse that he also designed. Rietveld himself had six children, and many of his friends had kids, for whom he created toys. The dollhouse in particular was designed for the children of his friends, the Jesse family.
How did Mounir Fatmi come up with this piece, and how did the process of fabrication work (i.e. did he design the prayer rugs and affix them to the skateboard himself)?
Fatmi says that his work deals with the desecration of religious objects and the end of dogmas and ideologies...putting prayer rugs on skateboards definitely fits in this theme. (the fact that skateboarding culture is a counter-culture not normally associated with religious iconography and/or the fact that you would have to place your dirty shoe on the rug to properly "use" the board).
The prayer rugs are also a commodity, sold at the market. So an object normally associated with the 'sacred' comes at a price. By putting them slap-dab on top of another commodity (the skateboard), the sacred and commercial lose their differentiation from each other.
I am not quite sure if Fatmi designs the rug designs himself or if he himself affixes the rugs to the skate deck, but we do know they are commercially purchased. I'll leave you with a quote from a review of this installation by Blaire Dessent for Vitrine Projects: "In the case of Maximum Sensation, it’s a reminder that cultural codes have shifted. Identity cannot be defined by only one construct. Stereotypes need to be checked and assumptions reconsidered."
I read the summary of this but I'm interested to hear more about the artist's relationship with the crown.
The artist was born in Britain but raised in Guyana and in these monumental portraits explores the British crown's relationship with colonialism. Guyana was a British colony from the 18th century, not gaining independence until 1966, and remains a part of the Commonwealth. This statement comes from the artist's website: "Locke has adopted, questioned and subverted the visual display of those in power and those who aspire to power. "
What is the description of this artwork?
This installation is by a Moroccan born artist named Mounir Fatmi and it is called, "Maximum Sensation." The textiles you see are contemporary copies of traditional prayer rugs that you can buy at Moroccan markets. The combination of skateboarding culture and prayer rugs made as commodity makes a certain point important to all of Fatmi's work. As he writes in his artist statement: My work "deals with the desecration of religious object, deconstruction and the end of dogmas and ideologies."
Has Judy Chicago ever considered ending her discrimination against transgender women and women of color via their inclusion at The Dinner Party?
As a physical installation, The Dinner Party is a static piece, changes have never been made to it. Judy Chicago has said that the biographies she found for inclusion here were limited by language barriers and fragmented histories. Her intention was not to give us a definitive women's history but to begin the process of putting women back into the narrative.
Also, it’s important to remember that this work was completed in 1979, well before more nuanced conversations about topics like intersecting identities and transgender visibility took place.
But you bring up an important conversation that should be happening, and thankfully the Sackler Center's special exhibitions continually try to fill that gap and engage in contemporary discussions about gender and identity. The curators strive for a wider definition of feminist art and also regularly bring living artists into conversation with the Dinner Party as a way to bring LBGTQI artists to the table (pun intended).
What can you tell me about this work?
Elger Esser's photo of landscapes are made with long exposure times. Many of his compositions have long, expansive horizons and bodies of water with reflections. This particular work, titled "Nil I, Ägypten," was a great addition to our collection because it was taken on the Nile River in Egypt, and as you may know the Brooklyn Museum has the third largest Egyptian collection in the United States. 
What is the connection between large orange cats and the words "fear" and "denial" on pendants hanging from a gold chain that is connected?
In the work of Pepon Osorio, the cats comes from the domestic aesthetic of his mother's house, as she would have kitsch objects like these stuffed cats as decoration. And the words "fear" and "denial" play as visual metaphors for the power of that which is not acknowledged. Feelings that often are present in households, or even in the Latino community of New York, but are often never addressed.
Is this influenced by Surrealism?
This bicycle actually falls under the category of, "Biomorphic Design." Its curving lines and amoeba-like voids represent the mutation of the prewar streamlined style into a new expression based on organic, rather than machine-made, forms. The use of organic shapes by artists and designers began in the 1930s and continued through the 1950s (probably a reason why this design was not popular by the time it was manufactured in the 1960s). These irregular, organic shapesconveyed one of two things for people: either the "primitive and archaic" or "progressive modernism"(modernism articulated by the use of nature as a model). Prewar Surrealism provided the stepping-stones for postwar biomorphism to come about as an art and design motif. 
A fun fact, the Museum actually made the addition of the foxtails to the handles! It didn't come that way when we acquired it and the addition was inspired by the tradition of kids in the 1950s putting raccoon tails on their bike handles, inspired by Davy Crocket's hat.
What do you think the key is alluding to?
The significance of the key is definitely open to interpretation, but it seems to suggest that she has gotten access to the chicken coop. Kara Walker often plays with provocative or problematic imagery.
In the label the curator also provides an additional interpretation of this scene when she writes: "Walker portrays a self-empowered anti-heroine who possesses the key to her own salvation, in stark black-and-white. This image also provocatively alludes to food, gender, and racial mythologies, subjects that Walker often foregrounds in her work."
Are the pieces suspended in resin?
Interestingly, the artist keeps his exact process secret, but we do know he layers the cut paper, objects, and paint between many panes of glass and then seals them with a specially developed compound. This is a miniature version of his regular pieces, which are life-size and weigh thousands and thousands of pounds!
What does the name mean?
The title "Koh-i-noor" refers to a diamond that has been treasured since the 14th century in India.
And what this work refers to is the basically the colonization of India by the British, where the diamond and other "jewels" are then taken away from India. More abstractly the work also represents a portrait of Queen Elizabeth.
The artist created this portrait from hundreds of cheap and banal plastic toys, which in a sense points to the disposable quality of our new global economy, which in turn also highlights the tension between a contemporary society and its colonial past.
Do you have more info on this work?
Yes, we do. I am not sure if that piece is still installed with the full label, but that is an 'nkpa' or emblem associated with a particular level of the Ngbe, a major men’s society that regulates social behavior among the Ejagham and Banyang people of the Cross Rivers area (the Cross Rivers Region is in Nigeria). The center used to contain a drum (the drum head is now missing) which represents legislative authority...other items included are a ceremonial broom (to sweep away hostile medicine), loops of cordage that are signs barring entry to the sacred house, a baton-like staff, and the skulls and horns of animals consumed at the feast held at the society’s founding.
Can you tell me something about this Pollock-like painting?
That's by Mike Bidlo. He intentionally copies the styles of famous modern/contemporary artists who came before him in order to make us question the idea of originality. In the early 1980s, he did a whole solo show of paintings appropriating Pollock's style. It helped to make him famous.
I don't see any information for this piece, could you tell me about it?
That work is called "Convergence" by the American artist Mike Bidlo.
I thought it was a Pollock.
You have a sharp eye! Bidlo is actually known for copying the works and styles of other artists. He  had a whole solo show in the 1980s appropriating Pollock's style. It  helped make him famous.
Why does this have baby dolls in it?
They're all the kinds of items you'd buy somewhere like a dollar store: very inexpensive, made very cheaply and in large quantities. I don't know whether the dolls have any particular significance...however, their meaning is entirely up for interpretation.               
For an interesting comparison to this work, check out the African "power figures" in the 1st-floor African galleries. They are made of wood and are pierced with nails the way this work is pierced with metal rods.
I don't get this's disturbing, grotesque, but hard to articulate what it represents
The significance of the piece is definitely open to interpretation, but it seems to suggest that she has gotten access to the chicken coop as she holds a key in the one hand and the head of a chicken in the other.             
Kara Walker often plays with provocative or problematic imagery. In the label, the curator also provides an additional interpretation of this scene when she writes: "Walker portrays a self-empowered anti-heroine who possesses the key to her own salvation, in stark black-and-white."
In general, the visual vocabulary of Walker alludes to the slave plantation world evoking stereotypical images and situations from black memorabilia, folklore, historical novels, movies, cartoons, and the 19th century slave autobiography. 
In general, Walker includes in her work stereotypical characters featuring the master, the mistress, the Negress/slave mistress, and other characters that reference Civil War imagery from the South such as plantation mansions, shackled slaves, Confederate soldiers, and Southern belles. This linocut representation of the girl with the keys is part of the artist's signature wall installations that Walker designs conveying distressing and provocative narratives of plantation life and slavery in the united states.
How does this relate to the gallery? It reminds me of Pollock.
That's a really interesting piece, and like everything else in this "Diverse Works" show, it was acquired sometime during the past 18 years, under the outgoing director.
Bidlo purposely copies the styles of famous artists who came before him in order to make us question the idea of originality. In the early 1980s, he did a whole solo show of paintings appropriating Pollock's style. It helped to make him famous.
It was probably chosen for the Museum's collection because it's a good example of the "appropriation art" movement of the 1980s -- when many artists were sampling from art or other imagery that had come before them, and putting whatever they borrowed into new contexts.
I loved the combination of the very American skateboards with the (Eastern?) rugs.
This installation is from a Moroccan-born artist Mounir Fatmi, who resides in Paris. The fabrics used here to cover the skateboards are actually contemporary copies of prayer rugs that you can buy at the market. It speaks to the globalization of skateboard culture. Interestingly, this is part of a  larger installation, and there are more skateboards that are part of this piece that are not on view.
My question is about "Maximum Sensation."  Why did the artist use 50 skateboards?
The meaning behind the amount of skateboards is up to interpretation. Interestingly the skateboards you see in the gallery are actually not the entire work. The artist actually did use a total of 50 but I believe there are fewer than 50 shown in "Diverse Works," to fit the available space. The curators may have chosen them for a variety of colors and patterns.
It seems like most of these women are already pretty well known and already part of the historical record. Can you clarify how a celebration of these women "pays tribute to all women who have been lost to history"?
That is a good point. Although we thankfully now know much about these women now,  the same couldn't be said in the 1970s, when the piece was created. Most of these women were unknown, or their biographies and contributions were lesser known. The process for  discovering these women and their contributions required years of intensive research to flesh out their biographies.
Judy Chicago wanted to restore women to the historical narrative, and she employed a team of research assistants to help her learn more about these women's lives in the pre-digital and pre-internet world. But it is a good point that now some of the women at the Dinner Party are known. It doesn't mean the work is over, however! I think the work also encourages us to move beyond this list and continue to include more women who are overlooked by history. The 999 women's names on the Heritage Floor are intended to signify that there are multitudes of women who have yet to be acknowledged.
Why are there so many sheets of glass?
It's certainly up for interpretation (like all art is)!. This quote from the artist might help contextualize the work a bit: “Imagine if you were to make a drawing on a window. And then you were to take another window and glue it to that window… until you had a window sandwich. I make window sandwiches.”
Why are the skateboards placed in this particular order?
This was actually just a choice by the curator and artist based on how they looked best in this particular space. It has been installed differently when it was shown elsewhere.
(We have some images of the piece being shown in galleries where they are clustered much more closely together in a circle with them all touching.)
What's the price estimate of this work?
Unfortunately, for insurance and ethical reasons, museums cannot share how much our works were priced at when we acquired them or how much they are currently worth.
Why did the artist use cat figurines in this work?
The artist explains that these figures remind him of the sort of kitschy knick-knacks he would see around his mother's house when he would leave art school to visit.
For him, these figurines were the opposite of the "high art" that he was studying in school. So, he created a "high art" version of the tchotchkes.
Is this a series of works by the artist?
Yes, that artist, Nina Katchadourian, has used herself as a model in a whole series of works made on airplanes while she travels. She took a series of still photos of herself in an airplane bathroom, wearing hats and costumes made of paper towels. This video piece was also made in an airplane bathroom! She calls the series "Seat Assignment."
What is this?
The whole thing is actually a suit that replicates the sounds of the performer when he or she moves.
The artist, Nick Cave, is very famous for this kind of work, which he calls "SoundSuits." His works are hybrid creations that combine elements of sound, performance, color, and costume.
Nick Cave has been inspired by ceremonial African body-masks, which you can see examples of in the first floor in our African Art galleries.
Hello, can you provide me more information about this piece?
You have probably read the label already about how this work is made by a collective called the Bruce High Quality Foundation they experiment with different forms of communal, public pedagogy. Interestingly these pieces are completed by the public -- that is, they are left in a public space with chalk and no directives, and people do whatever they are inclined to do when faced with a blackboard and chalk. 
The chalkboard and the knick-knacks both are associated with perhaps teacherly or paternal figures. (for example the teacher writes on the chalkboard/dictates what is taught, knick-knacks usually stay behind glass cases and are not touched). By using these items for their own, playful purposes, and de-facing or modifying the items, the group is perhaps reclaiming them for creative use.
What are these Egyptian heads about? Why is it controversial? Is it because the heads are different colors?
That piece is by a contemporary artist named Fred Wilson who deals with issues of race and representations of race within museum collections. You may have read this on the label, but it is a commentary on how Ancient Egyptians are often conceived of/represented as White, when the population was actually very metropolitan made up of many races/ethnicities.
History often whitewashed the fact that Egypt is in Africa, so there were Nubian people living there, and it was close to the Ancient Middle East, so there were populations of Persian people, Jewish people, travelers from Rome and more.
In fact one of the very first historians to write "history books," Herodotus talked about the African aspects of Egyptian civilization when he visited the Nile Valley in the fifth century B.C.E. It wasn't until the 1840s that a group of American authors, writing to justify the Atlantic slave trade, argued that the Egyptians were a separate population with no relation to other Africans. Historians today are now trying to undo that racism.
Why did she want us to enter this way?
She intended the entrance to be very stately and processional, as if you are entering a space set aside for contemplation or celebration. Woven into the banners are a series of phrases intended to convey Chicago's vision for "an equalized world, one in which women's history and perspectives are fully recognized and integrated into all aspects of human civilization."