In three minutes it will be two hours that I have been sitting awake before the crack of dawn, with unused ink by my side, itching for an idea to spark. I have been sitting here, in this chair, at this time for the past five nights. I fear that inspiration will never strike again. As I sit hear restless in the dark I’m thinking about how my wife pulled the kids away when we passed by. I didn’t notice until now how today was the first time we’ve past them as a family… only two dirt roads away and we know nothing about each other… There was that incident that happened last summer when they came to our market to get food during the drought. Mr. Garrett, the markets manager, ripped them off on everything they bought… I know most of them don’t go to school and we only have one school in the town so the kids have no relations with them. Although I wonder how different can they really be from us? We both have families and our own responsibilities. We experience similar difficulties of life… It’s kind of funny living in the same place as someone and never once talking to them. I guess we are so preoccupied with other worries: food, money, figuring out what to write about. There’s not really much time to think and worry and form opinions about others, unless of course you force yourself awake at godforsaken hours… I’m not sure if I have an opinion and I definitely have no interest in sharing any thoughts I may have. I’m too ignorant to have a valid opinion, and everyone else is just as ignorant as I am, although ignorance doesn’t stop people in this town from making their voice loud and clear. How can we form opinions about people we don’t even know, who we haven’t even talked to? Sounds awfully unfair to me… I think I have an idea.
A world-renowned painting hangs on the wall of a Manhattan museum; tickets are
upward of 30 dollars. Thick paint smears the side of a brick wall in the Bronx. A classic Greek
sculpture is poised in the center of a marble hall somewhere in Brooklyn. A colorful mural in a
Queens park is scratched and chipped. When people are called upon to define “art”, all types of
art forms spring to mind, from paintings to pottery to sculptures, but these art mediums share one
major commonality. They are examples of art that is typically found in a pricey museum or a
private institution — in short, art that isn’t immediately accessible.
As a result, art has been relegated to designated outings and trips to museums and cultural
venues. Museum-commissioned and privately owned art is also stereotypically associated with
certain demographics, particularly the wealthy. The High Line is a park in New York that seeks
to integrate art into people’s surroundings and daily lives and, perhaps inadvertently, also
combats stereotypes of art being for the elite. A set of abandoned train tracks, slightly elevated
over the city, has been transformed into an art haven, filled with sometimes bizarre structures
including a cleverly disguised see-saw, a xylophone meant to be played with fists instead of
mallets, and a sculpture, Giantess, shaped like bronze witch’s shoes and surrounded by bushes.
But rather than simply featuring art, the High Line also does an outstanding job of
exposing New Yorkers to the art that exists in the city. The height provides an excellent vantage
point for viewing a painting mounted on a rooftop. A dancer, painting with bold, long
brushstrokes, is captured mid-motion, in swirls of orange and yellow with her feet flying. The
frenzy of warm shades is a stark contrast with the bright blue of the background, and the figure
herself is draped interestingly across the backdrop — arrested in movement, she mostly takes up
space at the left side of the painting and the long lines of her movement stream across to the right
and trail off. It’s a moment that captures stillness, which in itself is a stark contrast to the hustle
and bustle of the High Line and New York City itself.
What’s it called? Well, it’s likely the piece doesn’t have a name. It’s not commissioned.
It has no golden plaque bearing a description and the artist’s name. It’s not kept at a certain
temperature to ensure that it is well-preserved, and it’s not regularly taken out of its glass case
for special treatment. The closest thing it has to security guards are pigeons that occasionally
land atop it.
In fact, it’s probably, well…graffiti.
Graffiti carries a stigma with it — it’s looked down upon as a nuisance, and more
severely, as a crime: vandalism. But in cities, it is nearly omnipresent, and New York is no
exception to this rule. Critics of graffiti claim that it defaces private property and is an ugly
blemish upon the city. And while graffiti can and often does appear to be carelessly done and
contributes little, artistically, to its surroundings, it is also surprisingly often a thoughtful addition
that brightens and enhances the city, inspires passersby, and interacts with its urban environment
in fresh and novel ways.
New York City contains so many examples of this — one that is easily viewable from the
High Line portrays a colorful cat painted on the side of a residential apartment building. This is
public art at its best, and perhaps vandalism at its worst. There is no fee required or ticket
necessitated to be able to view it. Yet the blue dancer painting’s lack of a designated space and
the absence of an accompanying plaque for the cat painting doesn’t detract from their artistic
merits. Whether it’s graffiti or not, it’s also a piece of art that is truly for the masses. It’s in its
natural habitat, and unexpectedly provides viewers with artistic meaning in a place where they
might not have been looking for it. It’s meant to make people stop and stare, double up, look
back — and it succeeds.
Graffiti forces us to grapple with questions of art’s definition and intended audience, as
well as issues of its availability, appeal, and message — and therein lies its value. There is
disagreement about what graffiti is — does it have to be on private property? Is it art that is in a
space intended for something else? — but the general consensus seems to be that graffiti is art
that doesn’t belong. And this is exactly what gives it its power. After all, art that belongs is
pleasant, but art that doesn’t belong is unnerving and necessary.
Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern offers a new outlook on the unconventional and
revolutionary lifestyle of one of the 20th century’s most notable artists. Through O’Keeffe’s
paintings, clothing she sewed and wore, shoes she liked to wear, and photographs taken of her, a
true profile takes form and leaves plenty of room for observers to learn more and piece together
her story. With featured works from Ansel Adams, Alfred Stieglitz, Annie Leibovitz, and several
others, different aspects of O’Keeffe’s personal and professional life come into the foreground.
As one enters, they are immediately told the story of O’Keeffe’s beginnings, from the
start of her signature flowers, as large as buildings, to her decades in New York City, to her
husband, Alfred Stieglitz, who often featured her in his photographs. Select demure clothing she
created and wore stands in the center of each section–often black and white dresses, affixed with
capes or faux collars or her favorite buttons. The plaques accompanying each artifact are
informative and engaging, making it easy for visitors to quickly become attached and involved in
the peculiar life of O’Keeffe. Towards the end of the exhibition, for example, stands an unusual
hat attributed to Zoë de Salle, a New York designer whom O’Keeffe likely purchased it from.
Called a “wool helmet,” derived from what aviators wore during World War II, O’Keeffe found
it an invaluable addition to her collection, and wore it out for decades. This hat, along with her
sneakers on display, her experimentation with blue jeans, and her handmade pieces, all tie in
together to present a unique perspective on how O’Keeffe molded her public identity through
what she wore and what she chose to be photographed in. Perhaps as best explained by Frances
O’Brien, longtime friend of O’Keeffe’s, “ Georgia O’Keeffe has never allowed her life to be one
thing and her painting another.”
Because of the mixed media presented throughout, this exhibition succeeds in developing
O’Keeffe as more than a painter who strayed away from the stiff, Victorian world she was born
in in favor of a more unorthodox style of living. Much of the information provided alongside the
pieces does not generalize O’Keeffe, or attempt to define her outright. Instead, it is the
observer’s responsibility to come to their own conclusions about who she was as the core of her
person, apart from her paintings.
In doing this, as opposed to framing O’Keeffe in less subtle ways, the exhibition stands
out as one that promotes varied interpretations of O’Keeffe’s identity, creating a more personal
experience for the observer. For example, one artifact presented is a brass pin made by sculptor
Alexander Calder for O’Keeffe, which clearly reads as OK , the first two letters of her last name.
However, it is written that instead of wearing the pin horizontally, O’Keeffe preferred to wear it
vertically to represent one of her plant-like abstractions. O’Keeffe’s personality shines through in
this tidbit, and others, and it is up to the individual to make sense of it.
Each section of the exhibition covers a different period of her life, ranging from her years
in New York in the 1920s and 1930s, to her years spent in New Mexico, where she fell in love
with the desert and made it a common subject in her later works. The location itself also pays
homage to O’Keeffe’s first public exhibition, which took place at the Brooklyn Museum.
The exhibition is part of a yearlong series celebrating the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for
Feminist Art. It was structured by guest curator Wanda M. Corn, Robert and Ruth Halperin
Professor Emerita in Art History, Stanford University, and coordinated by Lisa Small, curator of
European Painting and Sculpture at the Brooklyn Museum .
Inspired by “The Dinner Party” an exhibit made up of plates designed to represent different female individuals lost to history, “Fine Dining” takes inspiration from those plats and their yonic motifs to make a plate for the artist herself. Meaning to evoke curtains, the blue and red frame a stage in the middle.