Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Times Goes On...

Funny thing: about two years ago, I offered a story to the NY Times' Arts & Leisure section on the importance of the art coming out of the Middle East, and of exhibiting contemporary Middle Eastern art in the West while Western art was appearing in the Middle East. Apparently, I was too soon. Now, Jori Finkel, a fantastic writer/reporter and my former editor at Art & Auction, takes on the subject in the Times' latest coverage on "The American Qur'an."

With my own book on Islam in the West due for publication in a few months, I found the following particularly interesting:

>>The first exhibitions of Mr. Birk’s “American Qur’an,” a work-on-paper series that is roughly a third complete, is about to open: 30 hand-painted pages at Catharine Clark Gallery in San Francisco starting on Thursday and another 30 at Koplin Del Rio gallery in Culver City starting Friday. (A New York exhibition slated for this fall at the P.P.O.W. Gallery was rescheduled for winter 2010 after a gallery fire.)

“We’re very concerned about repercussions from the Muslim community,” said the Culver City gallery owner, Eleana Del Rio. “But it’s important to know that Sandow did this with the best intentions, no irony or satire intended.”<<

 Ms. Del Rio is clearly aware of something many Americans are not: the dangers associated with presenting the Koran in anything but the most reverential context, even here in the West. Other artists, after all, have taken on similar risks -- like Sooreh Hera, for instance, whose photographs of gay men dressed as Mohammed and his son-in-law Ali led to death threats against her and warnings to the museum where they were scheduled to be shown (until a certain lily-livered museum director gave in). I commend Del Rio and the other gallery owners for their courage and their principles.

I am also, if I may say so frankly, rather proud to have been at the forefront of this - and look forward to more exciting events and projects (my own among them) ahead. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

LTMH Gallery

The Times story is here. Meantime my colleague and I visited the space today, which proved a pleasant excursion, though not quite the magnificent experience I'd hoped for - many of the works on view are less than the artists' best, and some of the best artists were tucked away into corners and hard to find - perhaps because their prices don't quite meet the level of some of the others. What also struck me was how haphazard the installation seemed to be; I found no rhyme nor reason for the works' placement, no relationships to speak of among adjacent pieces, with the exception, perhaps, of the multi-media works which, for expedience sake, were placed together in one room. (But then, why were so many other works also in that room - works that had no relationship to the multi-media ones beyond the national origin of their makers?)

Nonetheless, I'd encourage New Yorkers interested in art of the region to visit the space at 39 East 78th Street, where they will in any case receive a quick overview of contemporary Iranian art and the major stars, if not the major works.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Quick on the bandwagon, Carol Kino profiles Leila Taghinia-Milani Heller, one of the contributors to the "Iran Inside Out" show at the Chelsea Art Museum, in tomorrow's New York Times (link to follow when the article is posted at the Times). Coincidentally, I've had an appointment to visit the gallery this coming week since about a month ago - part of the curatorial research for the exhibition I'm currently organizing with another New York gallery. The piece mentions the obvious stars - Neshat, Moshiri, et al -- and includes images of some of the pieces in the Chelsea show, though none of the more powerful ones, like Abbas Kowsari's breathtaking photographs of women police recruits, their dark uniforms partially obscured by black chadors. I suspect that's a decision made by the ever-tentative editors of the Times, who are likely to follow the path of those like Yale University Press - and an unfortunate path, indeed. Much better work is out there for the viewing - but that's the stuff I've written about already...and will soon again, now my other book is done!