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16 Contemporary Artists Respond to the Covid-19 Crisis With Poignant New Works

With the world shutting down and waiting out the deadly scourge of Covid-19 in our living rooms as if trapped in a bad sci-fi flick, Robb Report asked some of the most compelling contemporary artists working today for their take on these eerie, unprecedented times. Some poignantly expressed the existential fear and anxiety that have become a near-universal emotional state, while others found beauty in nature, joy in maintaining connection at a distance or humanity in the simple but profound act of creating.

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Courtesy the artist

Rashid Johnson, Red Crowd (2020)
“This work is an expansion of my ‘Anxious Men’ series. This is a time to be responsible and kind to one another.”

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COURTESY THE ARTIST, HAUSER & WIRTH AND KRAUPA-TUSKANY ZEIDLER

Avery Singer, Robespierre (2020)
“Prior to quarantine, I began modeling the face of Maximilien de Robespierre. Pockmarked and sickly, it unintentionally serves as a reminder of the physical traces of the history of disease spread across centuries of society.”

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Courtesy the artist

Lucia Hierro, Cleanliness Is Close To Godliness (2020)
“The work pulls from various images I’ve worked with in previous installations. The objects in my work have taken on additional meaning given the current state of things. While growing up in a predominantly Latinx/black community, I always heard this phrase being used: ‘Cleanliness is close to godliness.’ Cleanliness was a way to show that we had it together no matter the circumstances. I was thinking about this while cleaning my apartment… the way this image would’ve been read before the outbreak and how it’s read today.”

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Courtesy the artist and Sperone Westwater

Alexis Rockman, Titanic (2019–20)
“There will be whole populations that will be celebrated and remembered after this pandemic ends and a multitude that will not. The tragedy of the Titanic is one of the most well-known and celebrated events in human history, with at least 41 movies and television episodes that are dedicated to it or mention it.”

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COURTESY THE MODERN INSTITUTE AND HAUSER & WIRTH

Nicolas Party, Portrait with One Butterfly (2019)
“Is that the first butterfly of the season that I just saw through my window? Every year between mid-May and late June, a sea of millions of butterflies will arrive in New York.”

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COURTESY THE ARTIST AND SPERONE WESTWATER

Emil Lukas, One of two Worlds (2020)
“My new thread works are compressed and comparatives. They compare one world to another or tell a specific story. I currently feel the events of humanity compressing down to collective thought.”

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Courtesy Pace Gallery

Beatriz Milhazes, Março (2020)
Thank you!

Thank you to all health workers who, in this painful moment, have been bravely fighting the Covid-19 pandemic in its epicenter.

Thank you to all workers in the supermarkets, drugstores, banks, delivery services, public services, amongst others in the invisible but essential activities…

Most of us have been confined to our homes re-organizing our routines, facing a diversity of existential feelings of fear, lost, worries, hopes…

Those workers all over the world have been helping us to overcome these difficult times with more optimism, fraternity and peace.

They have not been able to be home. We need to support them, too!

Obrigada!

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Gina Beavers, Painting a Franz Kline on my lips (2020)
“An artist social-distancing at home, painting a Franz Kline work from MoMA on her lips. Staying connected to an older generation, remembering experiences in an institution now closed. Trying to stay creative, using whatever tools are available, recording the moment for the screen.”

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Courtesy the artist and Sperone Westwater

Guillermo Kuitca, Oblivion (2006)
“The object depicted here is a conveyor belt painted in a realistic way to create an ambivalent relationship of closeness and distance. The empty conveyor belt testifies to an absence; the viewer may feel that this is a lasting emptiness. It is up to the viewers to fill this conveyor belt with their own longings and ideas. For me, the baggage carousel is like a symbol of fear and anxiety, the idea of the public and performative action of waiting with anticipation for an arrival. I see them as sleepless machines that, although they do not carry luggage, just keep turning.”

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Courtesy the artist

Liu Xiaodong, Untitled (2020)
“On January 28, a few days after the outbreak of the epidemic in China, I boarded a flight to New York City, headed to the little town of Eagle Pass, Tex. Sheriff Tom was waiting for me there. One year ago, I had told him I would like to paint him with his family and his deputies, and he was not afraid that I was flying in from China. He was aware that China was the main epidemic area of the coronavirus, but he still welcomed me. In 2003, during SARS, I was in China. The air was still, and the cities were empty. I painted the ‘Three Gorges’ series. This year the novel coronavirus is sweeping across the world. It’s the same situation, and because it just so happens that I made a commitment one year ago, I left China and painted Tom, his friends and his family in America. Seventeen years later, two major epidemics still stand in front of me like twin brothers. The time in between seems to have been erased. It’s difficult to tell them apart immediately.”

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HOWIE CHEN/COURTESY THE ARTIST AND KAYNE GRIFFIN CORCORAN

Mika Tajima
“We are trying to imagine new ways of communing and being generative in a time of isolation and crisis. Notions of productivity and usefulness have drastically changed. Having shifted to a remote work environment where I spend most time working alone, I am sharpening my ideas, making new connections, widening my researching and thinking of new forms. In this photo, I’m using Are.na, an amazing web-based visual-organization tool that my studio uses to create collections of reference images and info as we brainstorm new works for an upcoming permanent commission for Dazaifu Tenmangu Shinto shrine in Japan. All studio assistants and I share this more than ever now—making notes and associations to each block, getting closer to materializing a project with each new upload. It’s a new type of brain melding.”

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Courtesy the artist

Arlene Shechet, Mandala (2020)
“Seeing images of the virus, I was struck by its menacing beauty and wanted to counter with another thing of beauty from the natural world that mimics, to me, a mandala, a sacred diagram that supports life and awareness of the highest order. Nature gives and it takes away. All things exist as part of a natural cycle, and tuning into that is our only path.”

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Courtesy Pace Gallery

Richard Tuttle, Green XVIII (2020)
When we
think of
early Dutch
New York

we do not
think of the
hardships
endured

Perhaps
some but
not all
of them

But if
we did
we could
Survive

Uncle
Phillip
wanted
me to

give up
my crazy
ideas and
have a

nice life
He want
ed me to
survive

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Courtesy the artist

Odili Donald Odita, Untitled (2020)
“The drawing represents a rupture in continuity. I want this drawing to convey what it feels like to have a stop in flow or a halt within a process. This moment is the blink that exists without time; it can last a second and, in this case, for days and months.

“Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, my exhibition has been postponed. For me, this decision respects both the unprecedented threat of our time and the time and energy that I put into making my new body of paintings.

“In the end, it is all about the audience. I understood what I would have lost without this—that special energy found in the dialogue between the artist and their audience, which becomes realized in an immediate present.”

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Elinor Carucci

Elinor Carucci, Happy to have Eden back at home, Corona days (2020)
“In times when nothing is taken for granted, the love and closeness we have for our family and loved ones means so much more. At a time when we can’t touch our friends, this kiss to my son feels so precious, so meaningful. It is a kiss to him but somehow also all the kisses I want to give to the world, the world I can’t touch now.”

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Courtesy the artist

Pat Steir

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