Interdisciplinary artist Fabiola Jean-Louis weaves a narrative that blends past and future, fact and fantasy, afro-futurism and Black girl magic in her photographs and paper sculptures. We sit down with her to discuss her Re-Writing History series.
In 2015, the Jenn Singer Gallery opened in one of New York’s most picturesque neighborhoods – Gramercy Park. Upon opening her doors, Singer, a gallery owner and curator brought a unique approach to the art world. Trained as a dancer, Singer’s exhibitions are thoughtfully choreographed, inviting, and provocative. We had the opportunity to talk with Jenn and discuss her work as a gallerist, her passion for curation, and the Jenn Singer Gallery’s latest exhibition – Emily Weiskopf: Pixan Paths // Higher Roads.
How did you grow into art curation and eventually into directing your own gallery?
I’ve always been surrounded by art in one way or another – first as a performing artist, and then about ten years ago I transitioned into art consulting with several different galleries, first on the West Coast and then back in New York. During the depths of the recession I was lucky to find a job at a gallery on Madison Ave, as no one seemed to be hiring. It was there that I had my first chance to curate a pop-up gallery in Bloomingdales. I was given a lot of freedom and responsibility to direct the pop-up and loved it. After a couple of years with that gallery, I was hired by a contemporary gallery in Chelsea and worked closely with the owner. He taught me a lot about the business of art and we installed shows together. I learned so much of what to do and what not to do from him – and he valued my feedback and input into the process of curation and exhibition planning.
As a result, he instilled a lot of confidence in me, though I never thought having my own gallery was attainable given the realities of New York real estate and the intimidating overhead. However, in November 2014, I was getting my hair cut next door to what is now Jenn Singer Gallery and asked my hair stylist about the tiny vacant space next door. It all bloomed from that moment in his chair, as I visualized the gallery – it actually seemed possible. The space is less that 200 square feet and presents its own challenges as I curate shows. It’s been fun playing with those limitations. I try to get a sense of the narrative and energy of each artist’s collection of work and let it flow from there. As I install, I try to let it breathe and want the space to feel expansive even though it’s so small in size.
Your website mentions your passion for and commitment to dance. Does your experience with dance inform how you curate?
I’ve been dancing since I was five years old and studied with incredible instructors including Paul Mejia and Suzanne Farrell at the School of American Ballet and at NYU Tisch School of the Arts where I graduated with a B.F.A. Dance will always be a part of me and it’s my home base when I need to center myself – ballet class is more therapeutic for me now than it was when I was performing, though (confession!) I haven’t taken a ballet class since opening the gallery.
During a brief stint of living on the West Coast (a much needed a break from New York at the time), I was offered a part-time job at a wonderful gallery representing California artists in Laguna Beach. I’d studied art history for fun, and always had a secret fantasy about working in a gallery surrounded by art all day. My first day there, I sold an oil painting and fell in love with the process – watching people fall in love with art; knowing that an artist was going to get paid because of people’s desire to live with their art – it was a beautiful thing given that my background was dance (an expensive art form to train in and one of the least supported).
It was an incredibly natural transition into the visual art world. Opening receptions feel like performances to me – I have to be on and I want the audience to have an experience and leave wanting more. I believe the discipline and commitment it took to become a dancer helps me every day in the business of art and keeping the gallery running. And, the exposure to classical music, artistic scenery, beautiful choreography, costuming, etc. from such a young age helps to inform and guide me as I choreograph my exhibitions and put all the pieces together.
From Miriam Cabessa’s evocative paintings to Delphine Diallo’s photo collages, your current contemporary artist exhibition is largely populated by an incredibly diverse group of women. As a woman in the arts yourself, do you receive any pushback from the decision to feature mostly female artists?
No pushback at all! In fact, I’ve only received positive feedback about my female-centric program. I am not anti-male and will not leave wonderful artists that I want to work with off the list just because of their gender, but I do love that I represent so many fantastic, talented female artists. It’s important to me because there is still so much discrimination and misogyny in our society. When I was looking at artists for the gallery, I couldn’t believe how many amazing female artists I’d happened upon that were not represented. It’s personal because when I look at the list of the top-selling artists, biggest galleries, most successful working choreographers, etc, I see a lot of men. I just want to see things a bit more balanced out. A little more yin and a little less yang, if you will.
Pixan Paths // Higher Roads, Emily Weiskopf’s solo exhibition, opens April 30th in your exhibition space. What initially drew you to Weiskopf’s colorful abstractions?
When I initially met Emily in her studio, I was immediately drawn to her use of unconventional, industrial materials – abstract works on aluminum incorporating roofing paint, gravel, tar, enamel, and plaster. She was about to undergo major spinal surgery, as months earlier she was involved in a nearly fatal car accident. Her story, strength, passion and obvious talent sold me on working with her – and her work sold itself.
Why is curation so important to both the artist and the collector?
I see the curator as one who helps interpret and convey the artist’s message to the world. Artists put so much passion and energy into their work – it can get very cerebral and can be very personal. To help decode that for the viewer, allowing room for their own interpretation of the work, is my job. I can speak about the work in a different way than the artist, revealing tidbits, secrets, insights and glimpses into the soul of the artist that the collector wouldn’t otherwise have access to.
Connect with the Jenn Singer Gallery and see their latest exhibitions:
Sitting down with an artist is always an enlightening experience. It’s a wonderful opportunity to learn about their process, the inspiration for their work, and how they see themselves within the larger art culture. This is what we discovered when sitting down with Miriam Cabessa at her first solo exhibit at the Jenn Singer Gallery in Gramercy Park titled, Anthropometry. The cornerstone of our conversation: her evocative paintings, and her unique method for bringing them into the world.
Cabessa has global roots. Living in New York for more than a decade, her heritage spans both Morocco and Israel. Art is in her DNA. Her father was a jazz trumpet player, who, when he could no longer find places to play in Israel, worked as an artist, creating reproductions of Picassos to make ends meet. Cabessa’s work is about her own need for self-expression, both sensual and feminine, her paintings give voice to women whose experiences have long been overlooked in art and the world beyond.
“When you look at art history I can’t base my own [work] on women painters. [I asked] how do I bring something that is not the [male] tradition to painting? I started using tools that you use to clean the house – squeegies, rugs, an iron. I used black paint, garbage cans, plates, cups. It was a comment about women and the arts. Instead of cleaning, I’m making it dirty.”
With Cabessa’s work, there is an interaction with each piece. A conversation between the artist and her canvas that the viewer can experience. Books, letters and personal objects make up the work that is in Anthropometry, and it’s as if each piece is an x-ray or impression from her life. “I wanted something real. I’m not creating an illusion. I’m creating an action and that action becomes the image,” says Cabessa.
Having left behind the paint brush years ago, her paintings are made literally by hand. “Yves Klein used models to paint and actually used them to create the painting. He was standing there with a suit and telling the women what to do. I took it another step using my own body and objects that I put on the surface. So I’m having a little discussion with Yves Klein. I’m doing something that is much more feminine. For me it’s translating a feeling, emotion and even an understanding.” Cabessa loves the challenge in creating each piece. “In my work I want to be challenged,” she says. “I’m challenging myself to create a different image.”
The works themselves are deeply personal and transformative – changing our perception of the materials as we take in the larger work. A nondescript book spine becomes an erotic allusion. Love letters take on the shape of landscapes. Open pages are formed into a sunset. “I like the transformation in art. Something you take and you touch it and it becomes something else,” says Cabessa. “Every image here has a different energy to it and I am the tool.”
Anthropometry is showing at the Jenn Singer Gallery until December 22nd.
Images furnished by the Jenn Singer Gallery:
Sunset 3, 2014
Oil on canvas
40 × 40 in (101.6 × 101.6 cm)
VB 97, 2015
Oil and spray paint on canvas
40 × 40 in (101.6 × 101.6 cm)
Full Trash Can, 2015
Oil and spray paint on canvas
40 × 40 in (101.6 × 101.6 cm)
A Letter from My Mother, 2015
Oil on panel
12 × 12 in (30.5 × 30.5 cm)
A Love Letter 2, 2015
Oil on panel
12 × 12 in (30.5 × 30.5 cm)
Gallery walls have become interactive environments, where a mix of paintings, photography, and decorative objects can all be displayed in impeccable fashion.
From Black Curl to Cleopatra, Brooklyn-based artist Lorna Simpson creates thought-provoking works that explore African American women and Black hair. With original images and photos that she collects from flea markets and special Ebay finds, Simpson mixes the imagery with ink on paper to craft unique narratives that only we, the viewer, can truly fill in. Her collages integrate beautiful color relationships as well, with pieces featuring indigo and persimmon “hair”.
Floral portraiture is taking hold in the world of interior design. Beautiful blooms make an artistic impression against moody navy blue and black backdrops, in these photos by Maine photographer Kari Herer. While they look delicate, each piece can be printed up to 16″ x 20″, make these imposing photographs for a gallery wall. Here are a few of our favorites from Herer’s etsy shop.
A home isn’t complete without art. It’s what adds soul and personality to a space. There are so many ways to curate a stunning collection. One way is to keep things monochromatic. A collection of black and white paintings, photography or illustrations can add a dramatic touch to a modern space. Something as simple as lining a few oversized black and white pieces on the floor can make quite an impact.
Think about using alcoves and unused space to style your art collection. Place large pieces in simple black and white frames. Think about matting the smaller pieces for a special gallery feel.
The great thing about black and white art is that you can mix different mediums and styles, unifying them with a sophisticated color palette. Here, modern photography and vintage images come together seamlessly through a unified palette and simple birch frames.
A black and white art collection is classic, and the pieces of art stand out as such. On that note, everything does not have to be framed and formal. Here, a few pieces are hung using clips and tape, adding an organic, collected feel.
With black and white collections don’t be afraid to think outside of the box. Mix photos, illustrations, even typographic prints. The color palette will marry all the pieces, and the more distinct the pieces are, the more interesting the collection becomes.
We’re in New York this week! It’s always wonderful to visit this city. There is so much energy, beautiful architecture, and so many exciting events. We’ll be visiting a few galleries while we’re here and taking in the sites in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Be sure to follow AphroChic on Instagram, to follow along with us on our trip.
Since we’re in the Big Apple, I thought it would be great to share with you some art inspired by New York. These pieces by Netherlands artist Remko Heemskerk are some of my favorites, depicting a modern and colorful vision of the city.