Avant Garde vs. New Art Hustle: Painter Monica Kim Garza

‘i smoke when i drank’, 2017 | © Monica Kim Garza

Avant Garde vs Post Modern Artists

There will always be truth or the search for it in art. This desire will cause artists to be heard and seen in their art making and museums to make the decisions to be inclusive or experience the antagonistic nature of artists deciding to forge their own paths and bring art to the masses. 

According to Tate Modern the term Avant Garde applies, “to all art that pushes the boundaries of ideas and creativity” and is more or less synonymous with modern.[i] In that sense, there will always be a truth reflected in modern art whether it is soulful, spiritual or tangible. Outside of the shocking the displays that took place during the Brooklyn Museum’s opening of “Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection, contemporary art has seemed to come in alignment with the current social issues, but in a more subdued form. 

As a culture, the Biennales in the past have always been filled with political references and feminist statements, yet in 2005, MOMA’s art director Glenn D. Lowry noted that the quieter Biennale made you “look you look at art in a new way.”[ii] Many collectors felt that all of it was something they had seen before.  What new is being done? What more can we see?

This is dissent between collectors, institutions and artists alike can be attributed expected with the onslaught of voices that currently fill the world. As contemporary art shifts more and more from an elite culture to a more democratized and accessible platform, artists the pendulum in art bound to swing both ways. In his book Visual Shock: A History of Art Controversies in American Culture, Scholar Michael Kammen states the willingness of museum directors to incorporate provocative art because of the crowds that they draw.[iii] In essence, art still shocks, but maybe not so much in the way that it needed to.

Most art patrons have seen the nude form. The current social issues of the day allow call for gender equity, racial justice, sexual freedoms and these are reflected in today’s art scene. Yet with all of these things coming forth in society it still is not fully represented in elite art circles. 

As a result, artists are drawing crowds to their Instagram and social media platforms to be heard. 

For example, Korean and Mexican painter Monica Kim Garz uses her medium to showcase  nude body positive women of color experiencing everyday life. 

If Lisa Yuskavage’s work is rife with nude prepubescent girls in positions that call forth an American Apparel ad, Garza’s images are decidedly opposite. They are curvy, cute, smoking and eating Chipotle. 

There is a whimsical and chill vibe to her work. For many people, seeing nude women cooking and talking in the kitchen may seem crass. However, in Garza’s paintings, it looks like an everyday occurrence. As more images like the paintings Garza creates travels the globe art will continue to become more inclusive and less shocking.  Perhaps what has been seen as extraordinary will become more ordinary as more of society and the personal reflections and representations of different communities become more evident.

Garza’s work can be seen at the New Image Art Gallery Online. 

http://www.newimageartgallery.com/monica-kim-garza

[1] Vogel, Carol, “Subdued Biennale Forgoes Shock Factor.” The New York Times. 13 June 2005. Accessed 16 May 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/13/arts/design/subdued-biennale-forgoes-shock-factor.html

Kay Hassan South African Mixed Media Artist

Kay Hassan, Passage of Time, 2014, vintage record and radio installation. 

Contemporary Artists used art to stimulate audiences in unconventional ways. Rather than creating art intended for business, they focused on pleasure art and were interested in entertaining and provoking their audiences. Many of them used their art to prompt the public into rethinking culture. Some artists created art that provoked to stimulate or motivate, some provoked to delight their audiences, while others created to provoke interest or investigation.

For South African Contemporary Artist Kay Hassan music serves as both a time capsule and a soulful companion. In his work “Passage of Time,” Hassan uses over 160 album covers from various artists accompanied by stacks of radios placed carefully on top of each other, playing a range of music designed to stimulate emotion in the viewer as well as entertain them. Of his musical choice Hassan says:

“Music plays an integral part in our lives. Music brings happiness when there is a kind of sadness. It will fill a space when a space is empty,” Hassan says in a gallery video. “These are past dreams. If you look at those covers, they tell so much stories. There are beautiful sweet memories in these records. I guide these memories. Even if I am not related to these people, I can relate to the music and the beauty of music and the beauty of sound.”[1]

As a result of Hassan’s juxtaposition of the album covers to the sounds of the music, he nor to only entertains he evokes pleasure by providing both a visual and auditory reference to inspire memories.  


[1] Victoria L. Valentine, “Kay Hassan Uses Everyday Materials to Tell Compelling Stories,” Culture Type 13 November 2014. Accessed 12 May 2020 https://www.culturetype.com/2014/11/13/kay-hassan-uses-everyday-materials-to-tell-compelling-stories/

Lorna Simpson: The Absence of Color

Portrait, 1988

The 1980s will go down in history as a time that American’s were finding their true voice. Women, LGBTQ, communities of color, and women across the nation were demanding to be heard amidst the bullhorns of Reaganomics and conservative politics. The now-famous -pop art style of the ’80s that was signature to artists like Keith Haring, Andy Warhol, and Jean-Michel Basquiat depicted the various social issues of the time visually captivating images that utilized repetition as a technique or drew viewers in with their bold color palettes. These artworks and the artists themselves were making bold statements about the world we live in and made us ask questions. Somewhat on the outskirts of the (pop)-ular Pop Art movement were many African-American photographers making art that dealt with the obstacles of navigating race, gender, and sexuality in America.

At the forefront of that effort was Brooklyn based artist Lorna Simpson. Her work, similar to Baltimore based artist, Zoe Charlton ‘s work deals with debunking stereotypes concerning black men and women. Where Charlton is masterful with her pencil art, Simpson uses black and white photography to deconstruct the images of black women in order to show their many layers. In the absence of flash or color, the viewer focuses on the moment in which the subject exists with pretense.

In doing so, Simpson concludes there is nothing more “magical” about a black woman than in any other woman. Yet by honing in her in this way with out overly pronounced bosoms and backsides, she was able to draw attention to the sensuality in the mundane that is her body. She too, like every other woman is that—a woman in her many facets.

The intimate image the artist captures is a sharp contrast to other artist that seek to explore the black woman in another way. For example, Kerry James Marshall’s untitled work Beach Towel displays a very vulnerable and seductive black woman on a beach towel in a backyard. Of course, we are also this representation as well. Or a revelation if you will. 

All of these images challenge the ongoing conversation of how black women and their image show up in the world. 
For more information on work by Lorna Simpson visit: lsimpsonstudio.com

The Liberation of Aunt Jemima Revisited

Being a black woman in the world is a multi-dimensional experience. However, the variance and diversity is what is so enticing. There are many contributing factors that shape our experiences and we come to embrace the notion that we are not a monolith. However, it is the color of our skin that can determine how we are viewed in the world. That is the unifying experience.

When Betye Saar was assembling this piece, she mentioned that it was a quiet protest. When you look at this piece does it speak loudly or softly to you?

The Liberation of Aunt Jemima, 1972. Wood, Mixed-media assemblage, 11.75 x 8 x 2.75 in.

Betye Saar

African American assemblage artist Betye Saar often used stereotypical and derogatory images such as the black female image of the “Mammy” to invoke symbols of empowerment and positivity. Many people see the image of mammy and it stirs up the ugly and uncomfortable parts of American History, black female sexuality, and its pervasive depictions in art, media and culture.  The conversation surrounding black female sexuality often presents the black woman in an oversexualized state such as the Venus Hotentot, or in an asexual one, like the contented Mammy image. However, in the “The Liberation of Aunt Jemima,” one of Saar’s most famous works; mammy is juxtaposed against a smiling Aunt Jemima in a way that feels eerily co-conspiratorial between the two generational versions of the same woman. These images are uncomfortable to look at.

The Image of Mammy

Mammy is known to be the kind, loving and devoted mother figure who is happy in all of her roles of suffering. However, Saar’s work shows us a deeper laugh this is ultimately on an American society that has strived to strip black women of their agency and turn them into hidden figures. The mammy is a caretaker, a domestic, but the gun yells for your attention. Listen up! Look at us! The rising of the black fist up from the balls of cotton, can be seen as a call to action for mobilization and empowerment. The compelling visual of the discontented white baby captured in the womb of the ultimate mother, mammy, speaks volumes to the constructs that make up the foundation of our society. From the womb relationships are formed and mammy is the birth mother of the nation in the traditional American south.

In an interview with the Visionary Project regarding the Liberation of Aunt Jemima Saar states,” I wanted to do a work about a woman to make my protest feelings heard through this piece.”[1]

            I believe that Saars achieves her goal of protest for women of color, and of women that seek to be free of the hegemony that has suppressed their womanhood for centuries. Her work was very important in challenging images that define black culture and womanhood. Visiting Lecturer to the Savannah College of Art and Design, Catherine Morris, also felt that Saars’ work was an important part of feminist art history, and included her work in the Brooklyn Museum’s exhibition: “We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women 1965-85.”  In answering the important questions facing black female artists at the time Morris states “The question was, do you align yourselves with the black power movement and deal with sexism in that context? Do you align yourself with feminism and deal with racism in that context? There is always a battle to be fought.”[2]

True to the battle being fought, we can look at the image of both Mammy and Aunt Jemima to know that not much has changed.

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[2] Miranda, Carolina. “How the black radical female artists of the ‘60s and ‘70s made art that speaks to today’s politics,” Los Angeles Times, 2017. Accessed 28 April 2020 https://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/miranda/la-et-cam-black-radical-women-caam-20171228-htmlstory.html

[1] VisionaryProject “Betye Saar: The Liberation of Aunt Jemima.” Filmed March 2010. Youtube video 5:30. Posted March 2010. Accessed 28 April 2020. https://youtu.be/MvJvyFBcvD4

[2] Miranda, Carolina.How the black radical female artists of the ‘60s and ‘70s made art that speaks to today’s politics,” Los Angeles Times, 2017. Accessed 28 April 2020 https://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/miranda/la-et-cam-black-radical-women-caam-20171228-htmlstory.html