Marcel Sternberger photographed the likes of Sigmund Freud, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Albert Einstein, and George Bernard Shaw. His portrait of Franklin Delano Roosevelt is the basis for the president’s likeness on the dime. And yet, his name was forgotten, until a young photography and antiquarian book dealer named Jacob Loewentheil discovered his photographs, abandoned in storage.
Sternberger was born in 1899. He fled his native Hungary due to antisemitism, only to wind up in Nazi Germany. He and his wife, Ilse, were detained by the Gestapo, but made it out of the country in 1933. They moved to Antwerp, where he became the Belgian Royal Family’s official photographer. As war engulfed Europe, Sternberger moved to London, before emigrating to the US, where he was enlisted to take FDR’s official portrait.
“In his heyday, world leaders and preeminent persons recognized him as the leading portrait photographer of his generation,” Loewentheil told American Photo.The artist traveled the US and Mexico, photographing numerous luminaries, his work appearing in international newspapers, on book covers, and postage stamps. In his travels, he became close friends with Rivera and Kahlo, returning time and time again to the couple’s Mexico City home, la Casa Azul.
Sternberger’s method for producing emotive portraits that captured his sitter’s personality involved what he called “The Psychology of Portrait Photography.” Described by the New York Times as “a unique blend of psychological and photographic techniques,” the methodology involved conversing with his subjects before immortalizing them with a handheld Leica 35mm camera.
By George Tibbett, curator
Perhaps even more exciting than the opening of the anxiously anticipated extension of the Q subway line along 2nd Avenue in Manhattan was the mosaic art in each new station. Many NYC subway stations have some mosaics but these new stations bring it to a new artistic level with artwork by Sarah Sze, Chuck Close and Vik Muniz all translated into large mosaics.
So will this push the art of mosaics into greater acceptance in the established art world? Mosaics as with ceramics, has long been relegated to crafts rather than fine art. But this may be changing. Established ceramicists, such as Betty Woodman, have had solo shows at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Emerging ceramicists like Lulu Yee have been the toast of Bushwick Open Studios. So as go ceramics, so go mosaics?
Mosaics should mean more than just a jigsaw puzzle of pieces that form an image. Great mosaic art should expand the range of the medium. Here is a list of the top five ground-breaking mosaic artists working today:
Jorge Campos aka Pixel
Pixel, is a Santiago street artist whose mosaic work pixelates cultural heroes such as Nicanor Parra, artists such as Van Gogh, and iconic artwork like from Roy Lichtenstein. Pixel brings his mosaics to the streets where his work blends with other forms of street art for people to enjoy on the streets of Santiago. According to MosaicArtNow, Pixel explains the relationship of his art with the public. He says, “At first, people think they are facing a painting. Approaching and touching, they realize they are in fact facing a mosaic. Then, they wonder if it was really hand made. They also play with distance to appreciate the work in detail, take photos, and when the image is revealed perfect and detailed on the small screens of their smartphones, they fall for it!”
Using a range of different materials, King’s mosaics are complex compilations that, as her website states, stimulate the imagination. Some of her work is described as coded messages. She asserts, “These mosaics explore the dynamic tension created when familiar organic shapes can be seen as both macro and micro visions of our landscape. Shapes that are simultaneously at rest and moving, pulling the tesserae together into a complex composition while exploring the interaction of each element and the mystery of the spaces between.”
Weisler describes herself as an urban artist with an interest in decaying and discarded objects. First starting in photography, Weisler was captivated by decaying, peeling and eroding street art. From there, she gravitated to collecting and assembling discarded and broken objects to not only capture their inherent beauty and mystery but also to create new mosaic images. She explains, “My mosaics are often unplanned and are created organically as the pieces come together to tell their story. A broken mug, a piece of shattered plate or a discarded misshapen object are all important elements in my work.”
Isaiah Zagar might be best known for one of his greatest achievements – The Magic Garden in Philadelphia, which is essentially a full house and side yard of compiled mosaic art. As described by Lonely Planet, “Think of all the things you have thrown away this week – an old shoe, a broken mirror, a loose button, an empty bottle of wine. Then picture all of it broken apart, artfully cobbled together with quirky objects like antique tiles and hand-carved Mexican dolls, and applied to a wall with cement, clay, paint and glue to form a gloriously colorful mural. This is the work of septuagenarian Philadelphia-born Isaiah Zagar: mosaic artist, world traveler, visionary, dumpster diver.”
Better known as a painter, Zapata had a chance encounter when he walked into Koko Mosaico in Ravenna, Italy. It was there that he saw the potential of mosaics to translate his paintings into formative artwork. “With these pieces, I wanted to create great contrast and pay tribute to the history of art. I find taking a painting done in graffiti and recreating it using these ancient techniques helps me to understand the contemporary moment. These works represent to me where we have been and where we are going – they derive their strength from this duality,” he states on MosaicArtNow.
Inspired by 18th C. porcelain figurines, Chris Antemann’s work employs a unity of design and concept to simultaneously examine and parody male and female relationship roles. Characters, themes and incidents build upon each other, effectively forming their own language that speaks about domestic rites, social etiquette, and taboos. Themes from the classics and the romantics are given a contemporary edge; elaborate dinner parties, picnic luncheons and ornamental gardens set the stage for her twisted tales to unfold.
The pieces Chris is making in the Meissen Art Campus use the literary technique of a frame narrative, a story within a story, to build relationships and create layers of information between the sculptural aspects and the painted surfaces. The main story is presented in the guise of the 18th century porcelain figurine as a context, which frames a parody or second narrative between the sculpted characters. Other stories and in many cases, the sources of inspiration for the piece are painted into the scene in elaborate detail.
Chris earned her M.F.A. in ceramics from the University of Minnesota and her B.F.A. in ceramics & painting from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. She has exhibited extensively in the United States and China. Her work can be found in many private and public collections, including the Museum of Arts and Design, The 21 C. Hotel Museum, The KAMM Teapot Foundation, The Archie Bray Foundation, and the Foshan Ceramic Museum in China. Her artist residencies include The Archie Bray Foundation and The John Michael Kohler Arts Center, where she was the NEA funded resident. In 2010 she was the First Place Winner of the Virginia A. Groot Grant, a prestigious grant awarded to artists working in 3D to allow them time to further their work.
For over fifty years, Coille Hooven has been working in porcelain and creating psychologically charged sculpture that explores domestic-centered narratives from the kitchen to the bedroom. One of the first ceramists to bring feminist content to clay, Hooven uses porcelain to honor the history of women’s work, confront gendered inequality, and depict the pleasures, fears, and failures of partnering and parenting.
Hooven’s sculptures range from teapots and vessels to figurative busts and dioramas, and they mine the domestic psyche to produce vignettes that resonate with familiarity despite an undisguised use of the fantastical. Developing her own vocabulary of archetypes, she regularly revisits certain creatures and forms: a domestic palette of aprons, pillows, shoes, and pies, as well as a cast of characters that includes mermaids, fish, snakes, and anthropomorphic beasts that appear part-dog, part-horse, and part-human. While these creatures may appear familiar and amiable at first, tension lurks underneath. Recalling fairy tales, fables, and myths, Hooven’s sculptures conjure a vision of the unconscious—both the joy and buoyancy of dreams, as well as the discomfort and despair of anxiety and doubt.
At a recent exhibition at NYC's Museum of Design, Coille Hooven: Tell It By Heart assembles more than thirty years of Hooven’s work. Hooven studied with David Shaner at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and later relocated to Berkeley, California, with her two children. Citing Peter Voulkos and Robert Arneson as influential in her decision to move west, Hooven became part of the Bay Area clay community, where she worked independently from academia and forged a career making both functional pottery and ceramic sculpture. In 1979 she became only the second woman to be in residence at the Kohler Co.’s plant in Kohler, Wisconsin, as part of their renowned Arts/Industry residency program. Coille Hooven: Tell It By Heart is curated by Shannon R. Stratton, William and Mildred Lasdon Chief Curator, with the support of Curatorial Assistant and Project Manager Angelik Vizcarrondo-Laboy.
In the more than fifty years since Jack Whitten’s work was first included in a four-person show at Allan Stone in 1965, the year after he graduated from Cooper Union, he has proven impossible to characterize. While this is very much to Whitten’s credit, I also think that the radical stylistic and material transformations his work has undergone partly contributed to why — for many decades — he remained an underappreciated artist. Another reason was because he began exhibiting his unaffiliated paintings in the 1960s, when painting was considered dead or dying, and critics and institutions began championing artists who didn’t paint. Adding to this neglect is the fact that it is easy to miss the achievements of a black abstract painter if you are a white critic busy celebrating Conceptual Art. Because of a variety of so-called color-blind prejudices such as these, the art world did not begin to seriously deal with Whitten’s merger of formal inventiveness and emotional content until the past decade, when he entered his seventies. And, if you ask me, he still hasn’t gotten the attention he deserves.
The Sixties in America, in contrast to the optimism of the immediate postwar era, was frightening for everyone, full of fear, death, anger, resistance, and mourning — a daily consciousness of terror that never quite abated. During that time many of the most celebrated artists were the ones who were disengaged from this reality. They were content to fill the white box with their historically important works. This was the dilemma that Whitten, who was born in 1939 in Bessemer, Alabama, deep in the heart of the legally segregated South, faced. In an interview with Robert Storr that appeared in the Brooklyn Rail (September 2007), this is how he talked about the Sixties:
At that time, I was doing the best I could to contain the kind of imagery I was seeing. It wasn’t an intellectual situation, but rather, it was an emotional necessity. As a matter of fact, they’re my autobiographical paintings. I mean, I was going through a serious crisis in my life. But then everybody was. The whole race issue forced me to pick myself apart subconsciously until I met people like LeRoi Jones, Romare Bearden, and Jacob Lawrence who had found other solutions for their creative lives.
İnci Eviner is a gatherer: she collects the memory of crowds, unearths folk narratives, and retells their stories in her own language. She is a hunter: she traces misogyny, detects hierarchy, and targets it with the tools of a unique feminist visual lexicon. Although she doesn’t specifically identify her work as feminist, Eviner dissolves dichotomies and prescribed identities using the female body—but just as often, ungendered bodies—as an agent through which womanhood, gender, and the politics of identity are performed.
To understand Eviner’s art, which spans nearly every conceivable medium, one needs to break the mindset of a western linear understanding. The tales in her works mushroom in different terrains, hatching into a rhizome. As in Deleuze and Guattari’s model of the rhizome, which opposes a hierarchical, tree-like model of culture and thought, Eviner’s work rejects a continuous, unbroken, orthodox perception of the world. Unlike the tree that sprouts from a single seed, branching out from a stable trunk, the rhizome is a root-like organism that spreads and grows horizontally, making diverse, but not necessarily continuous connections and appearances.
Lulu Yee is a ceramic artist who has created a colorful, imaginative and almost mystical world of fantastic and playful creatures. No two are alike but all embody a colorful and creative verve.
As Benjamin Sutton writes for the Bushwick Open studio event, "Lulu Yee's studio at 1717 Troutman, in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, its walls painted bold colors and every available surface inhabited by her sweet, strange, and ornate ceramic sculptures of crowns and humanoid figures, felt like an enticing test run for a much more ambitious and elaborate installation. I sincerely hope a gallery gives her a chance to create a total environment for her intricately painted ceramic objects."
Derek Weisberg creates works which are emotional and psychological self-portraits. "Through my art I aim to make sense of my life, my experiences, and the times I live. I do not wish to represent like a photo, instead achieve a guttural, visceral, heartfelt sensibilities. Accessibility is key as I attempt to express basic human qualities, which are universal and timeless. At its core my work reflect humanist ideology; searching for truth and universal morality based on the commonality of the human condition. Much of my work focuses on conditions of longing, loss, dysfunction, fragility, vulnerability and melancholy. In 2006, when my mother passed away I began to include themes of death, afterlife, spirituality and the metaphysical. A traditional Jewish concept and practice, which I exercise through my work, is that “The voyage of the soul is dependent upon the actions of the ones who are living”. Themes of death are explored through expressing life. To experience death is to experience the most unique situation in life; it is simultaneously completely familiar and alien, definitive and confusing, guaranteed and mysterious. My work is a combination and slow digestion of all these dualities and subtleties."
He was born in 1983 and began sculpting at a very early age starting with the medium of mashed potatoes as soon as he could hold a fork and knife, moving onto action figure assemblage when he could load a hot glue gun, and at age 7 he transitioned into the medium of ceramics, which was the beginning of his lifelong love and ultimate passion. He unwaveringly pursued ceramics sculpture throughout his childhood and teens, in Benicia, CA, where he was raised. At age 18 he moved to Oakland, CA, to pursue his love for ceramics and art in general and attended California College of Arts and Crafts. At CCAC he received several awards and graduated with high honors in 2005 with a BFA. Since then Weisberg has co-owned his own gallery, Boontling Gallery, as well as curated numerous other shows. He has also worked with highly esteemed artists such as Stephen De Staebler, Ursula von Rydingsvard, Manuel Neri, and many others. In addition Weisberg has maintained a strong and demanding studio practice, exhibiting regionally, nationally, and internationally. Weisberg has participated in over 90 shows in the last 8 years, and there are no signs of slowing down in the future. Weisberg currently lives and works in NY and is faculty at Greenwich House Pottery.
Heidi Elbers gets close to her subject. Her work is both intimate and open with subjects often staring back at the viewer.It is both representational and intuitively abstract. Just what is the subject thinking?
She writes: My work addresses the balance between grace and awkwardness, strength and vulnerability, deception and honesty. Growing up in New Orleans, I developed a strong nostalgia for extravagant costumes and a culture that puts emphasis on physical beauty. As my sweet southern grandma would say, “You can't possibly feel bad when you look so pretty.” After an accident in 2011, I had a difficult time embracing reality and truth in my work. I transformed or concealed ailments and imperfections into something beautiful. The decorative outfits define the girls in my works and cover up any `flaws’ both physical and implied.