Occam’s razor is a philosophical principle which suggests that the simplest solution to a problem is often the best. As our world continues to change at an increasing rate, it in turn becomes more complicated, which can be threatening and even dangerous to all creatures existing on this planet. To get through these challenging times, we need to go back to basics, and the people most adept at this are artists. Artists are great problem-solvers because they are resourceful, even in the most unimaginable circumstances. For example, what would one do if Manhattan fell victim to a flood of apocalyptic proportions, decimating the city and filling the streets with the bodies of sea animals? The answer: live inside the sea animals, of course! At least that is what Agathe Snow would do. For Snow, a disaster such as this is best faced with instinctive action. Once the basic needs of safety and shelter are met, then the opportunity to regroup, rethink, and rebuild shall arise.
Dikeou Collection is home to Sludgie the Whale, an immersive, performative installation Snow originally created for a show at James Fuentes Gallery called “No Need to Worry, the Apocalypse Has Already Happened… when it couldn’t get any worse, it just got a little better” in 2007. At the time the work was simply titled The Whale, and served as the focal point of a performance in which Snow had participants meet her under the Brooklyn Bridge after a hypothetical storm flooded the city, and from there guided them to the gallery to take refuge inside the belly of her constructed whale. Snow remained present within the whale for the duration of the exhibition where she continued to create artwork and engage with visitors/fellow survivors of the flood. The performative element of the work continues today as new visitors traverse the innards of the whale, contributing to its life story.
The Whale earned the name Sludgie as the exhibition at Fuentes neared its end, when, by happenstance, a young minke whale became separated from its pod during a storm and got trapped in the Gowanus Canal. The shallow, polluted water of the canal made the whale, well, sludgy, hence the nickname. Despite great efforts to save him, Sludgie did not survive. At the end of the exhibition, Snow gathered guests to the gallery to pay homage to the whale that stole the city’s heart, and named her whale after him. Made of foam, painted tarp, wire, rope, and mesh, Snow installed Sludgie The Whale at Dikeou Collection so that he can continue to serve as a place of safety and comfort, with one special added material. Sewn into Sludgie’s guts is a red flannel shirt that once belonged to her late husband, Dash Snow – a loving tribute to him and emblem of her statement: “I would nurture the memory I would connect with the people left behind.”
In mythic tales like Moby Dick, Jonah in the Bible, and Pinocchio, the whale is a beast to feared and conquered. Today we face much greater beasts. Ones that care not for creatures like Sludgie, nor the places they live or the ideals of harmony they symbolize. It is crucial to remember, though, to not be passive toward these destructive entities and gather strength from friends, family, and neighbors. Agathe reminds us that the key to survival is community action and utilizing local resources. With these two simple strategies, we can seamlessly collaborate and gain power in numbers to overcome the forces that try to keep us down.
- Hayley Richardson
In the 1980s and 90s fashion found new media via the art museum, inciting blockbuster exhibitions celebrating the work of great designers at major institutions. These monumental and collaborative shows have prompted a discussion which frames fashion within the history of art. Consideration of clothing as cultural artifacts that belong to larger artistic trends, and which convey complex messages about social identity, dissolves the distinction between fashion and art. Since early this year, Dikeou Collection staff have been working to archive curator Devon Dikeou and her mother Lucy’s fashion collections. In line with Dikeou Collection’s larger archiving initiative, the project has been a vast undertaking involving shipping items from three different cities, photographing each individual garment, organizing them by rack, compiling a database, producing tags, and creating a permanent space to store the collection. Perhaps because of the recent revival of 1980’s and 90’s trends in fashion, a few dark horses among this assemblage, by Claude Montana and Stephen Sprouse, have stood out from the Gucci, Armani, and Chanel, as compelling and relevant objects of material culture—vestiges of once thriving 80’s designers who briefly became stars, failed financially, and struggled personally, but left a long-felt impact on the world of fashion design.
Like many of their contemporaries in France and America, both Claude Montana and Stephen Sprouse’s careers came about in the aftermath of a runway show that took place in 1973, known today as the “Battle of Versailles.” American designers Bill Blass, Stephen Burrows, Halston, Anne Klein, and Oscar de la Renta presented collections in opposition to Pierre Cardin, Hubert de Givenchy, Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior, and Emanuel Ungaro. The American shows were studded with celebrity appearances. Broadway darling Liza Minnelli opened and closed the program. Warhol Superstar, Jane Holzer, walked for Oscar de la Renta. With minimal stage props and an emphasis on human movement, the presentation was fresh and contemporary in contrast to the over-the-top vêtements and exhaustive spectacle presented by the French. The Americans left the victors, ushering in a new era in fashion.
Claude Montana Black and Racing Car Green Wool Jacket
Just two years after the 1973 runway show at Versailles, Claude Montana, then twenty-eight, entered the scene among the ranks of Thierry Mugler, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Kenzo Takada. Together they responded to the need for something new in French fashion. In line with this revolutionary moment, Montana’s ready-to-wear looks were marked by the re-emergence of materials like wool and raw leather, and an insistence on geometric volume. The sturdy fabrics and distinct lines of his clothing presented a stark contrast to the frilly and feminine norm. One of many theatrical runway shows, Montana’s 1988 Bicentennial in Sydney demonstrated the extent of his innovation. Electric blue spotlights pressed down on the stage, pyramidal structures of light in otherwise complete darkness. Puncturing the stillness, loud and startling sounds of Australian birdcalls—an apparent inspiration for Claude’s collection—reverberated through the space as androgynous and lithe female figures jauntily cut across the catwalk, moving with the same sumptuous angularity as the structured jackets they wore. Breaking the blue-black reverie of parading pale-faced models, one commentator muttered, “these women are wearing sculptures.” The observation is quite precise. The geometric emphasis, and saturated hues in his runway and prêt-à-porter characterizes the gabardine jacket by Montana in Devon Dikeou’s collection. Racing-car-green, cropped short, and embroidered with a black zig-zagging pattern that extends from the collar, it looks like something that could appear on the pages of Vogue today.
While Montana was reviving French Fashion from the wreckage of the infamous 1973 Versailles show, afore-mentioned American designers Bill Blass and Halston were already working with the young innovator and artist Stephen Sprouse, who started his career in fashion at the age of fourteen. After his first trip to New York, Sprouse was deemed “boy genius” by influential fashion columnist Eugenia Sheppard, given a summer internship with Bill Blass, and then a position as Halston’s assistant in 1971. It was during his time at Halston that he met his artistic champion Andy Warhol, and started dressing his neighbor Debbie Harry. When Sprouse left Halston to work independently he created looks for Blondie, fraternized with artist Chuck Price, created large scale Xerox collage compositions depicting Edie Sedgwick, and painted chartreuse, violet, and vermillion portraits of deceased rock idol, Jim Morrison as Jesus. In 1983, Stephen presented a small collection at Kezia Keeble’s show of up-and-coming designers, in promotion of the launch of the new Polaroid SX-70 camera. The collection of bright Day-Glo clothing had 60’s-inspired shapes and featured the designer’s own hand printed across the fabric like graffiti.
Stephen Sprouse Neon Warhol Cotton Skirt
By the time Sprouse released his third collection in 1984, Andy Warhol was trading him paintings for clothing. Sprouse later moved his studio to the location of the old Warhol Factory. The move is partly to blame for his company going bankrupt that same year. When Sprouse opened a new store on Wooster Street in 1987, his artistic idol Andy Warhol was dead. Sprouse apparently walked around the opening of his SoHo store clutching a self-portrait of Warhol that the artist had given him years before. At this time, Sprouse started producing clothing printed with Warhol’s paintings. As is exemplified by Devon Dikeou’s Andy Warhol skirt, these brightly colored pieces recalled Sprouse’s early Day-Glo aesthetic. The 1988 pieces that Sprouse produced are now some of the most coveted by collector’s; however, they did not receive immediate success. Again, Sprouse was forced to close his stores.
Montana and Sprouse had distinctly different styles, and stories, but both grappled with the same struggle: to succeed as a business. They failed financially almost as abruptly as they rose to stardom. While Claude Montana experienced unprecedented fame in the Parisian fashion world in the 1980’s and early 90’s, he is best known today for his personal and financial tragedies. Montana’s fashion house filed for bankruptcy in 1997, just one year after his wife and muse, Wallis Franken, committed suicide by jumping out of their kitchen window. Over the course of his career, Stephen Sprouse relaunched his company five times, and struggled to establish himself as a fine artist. These hardships seem to define the legacy of a young man who caught the eye of the New York fashion world as a fourteen-year-old, and earned the admiration of Andy Warhol. Because of his artistic influences, Sprouse brought the street styles of pop, punk, and grunge to the fashion houses. Montana’s shows blurred the boundary between runway and performance art, and his garments became sculptural expressions of the contemporary woman.
2 of the 21 garment racks that occupied Devon Dikeou’s loft this summer during the archival initative, with one of Warhol’s Mick Jagger prints above
While placing items from Devon Dikeou’s collection by Montana and Sprouse on the same rack may at first seem like arbitrary categorization, based on the decade they belong too, consideration of both designers’ distinct styles and stories in juxtaposition prompts a broader discussion of the artistic context they came out of. It all started at Versailles, and even in France, it seems that Warhol’s influence was everywhere.
- Rebecca Manning
Christmas is a time of year when a sense of childlike wonder and enchantment can brighten even the surliest of souls. It is also a time when the most spirited of folk can descend into nihilism. The members of the Royal Art Lodge – specifically Neil Farber, Michael Dumontier, Drue Langlois, and Hollie and Marcel Dzama – wrote a letter trying to articulate these sentiments that reads, “Dear zingmagazine, we have tried to understand Christmas.” And to accompany this letter are the collective’s Christmas Drawings, which consists of 41 small works on paper that synthesize this magical mixture of mayhem and merriment to poignantly encapsulate the spirit of the season. While they may appear cute and childlike on the surface, the Christmas Drawings possess a level of dark humor that only comes with the jadedness of adulthood.
The Royal Art Lodge was an artist collective formed in 1996 that later dissolved in 2008. Its founding members, Michael Dumontier, Marcel Dzama, Neil Farber, Drue Langlois, Jon Pylypchuk, and Adrian Williams, were all students at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada who would meet on a weekly basis to create art using the Surrealist methods of collaboration and spontaneous response. A completed work highlights yet blends each artist’s distinct style from/with one another. The Christmas Drawings, of which there are 41, are chock full of Santas, candy canes, reindeer, and snowmen, but there are also ghosts, monsters, prostitutes, and other dangerous figures who wield guns and other weaponry. For every picture-perfect postcard vision of Christmas, the Royal Art Lodge finds a way to subvert it simply by adding a decapitated elf or termite-infested tree.
The drawings at Dikeou Collection appear in issue 18 of zingmagazine , but it’s not the first time the Lodge clan dug their claws into the yule log. They also created “Christmas Story” for issue 11 . The focus on one specific subject is key to the group’s conceptual underpinnings. Flick Harrison wrote an in-depth article on the RAL, and in it he states, “The drawings themselves pretend at pointlessness, isolated moments, useless knowledge, but the critical mass of a dozen or so of the images viewed in any sequence begins to create something entirely other, an Eisenstein montage which maps itself onto your subconscious.” The amount of jokes, characters, and scenarios presented on the walls of Dikeou Collection and pages of zingmagazine are but a speck in the RAL universe. And, if that weren’t enough, each of the artists work independently as well in various media. Marcel Dzama has worked in film, sculpture, design, and theater. Drue Langlois does animation and creates dolls and larger soft sculpture, like his Polio with Palsy which is also part of Dikeou Collection. Neil Farber and Michael Dumontier still do weekly art sessions in Winnipeg and create music together as Eyeball Hurt and The Medicine. They even made a tape of Christmas songs, some of which refer specifically to drawings found at Dikeou Collection. So if you get tired of hearing the same old Elvis or Mannheim Steamroller Christmas albums, just click here to rock out to some “Christmas Deity” and “Sugarplum Fairy from the Soviet Union.”
- Hayley Richardson
Biology, decay, feminism, narrative, systems, exchange - these are a few of the themes analyzed by Anicka Yi in her art practice. Though these topics are not uncharted territory in artistic exploration, her approach is exceptionally unusual and stimulating. With the art experience so dependent on the visual, Yi carves out a unique space where smell, taste, and touch become the primary vehicles of expression and consumption. Her philosophical interests in space, materiality, time, and relationships manifest as bacterial paintings, ground Teva sandals, and dried shrimp flakes, or some combination thereof, creating an orchestra of the senses. On October 20, Yi was lauded for her innovative work by receiving the Guggenheim’s prestigious Hugo Boss Prize. In a statement from the jury, “we wish to highlight the singularity of her vision and the generative new possibilities for artistic production offered by her practice.” Yi’s installation, L’Haine, at Dikeou Pop-Up: Colfax encapsulates the core elements of her work – smell, erosion, femininity – all of which create an ecosystem that calls into question the language and understanding of art.
L’Haine is comprised of five turtleneck sweaters mounted on the wall with bouquets of deep fried tempura battered flowers placed in the neck. The earthy, muted tones of the sweaters and flowers contrast with the neon graffiti covered walls of the pop-up basement, but the deteriorated brick serves as a nice backdrop for the dredged and droopy blossoms. Ask any art preparator in a museum or gallery if they have ever had to fry flowers for an artwork, and you can be guaranteed that they would say no, unless, of course, they have engaged with Yi’s work. Frying the flowers in the parking lot of the Dikeou pop-up was surreal, exciting, and memorable. The activity attracted much attention and questions from those witnessing the act, creating a unique opportunity to engage with the public and discuss the work. Her installation instructions are meticulous and urgent. She writes, “Please be aware that the entire process of the installation is not easy. It’s actually downright difficult because the process is reliant on skilled instinct and timing all while requiring the right instinct of texture, color composition, and ‘cooking’ … It’s an all encompassing hyper focused process from beginning to end.” And indeed it is, and so worth the effort.
To take the tantalizing and uplifting scent of a flower and mask it with the smell of oil, as well as hide its beautiful color and soft petals with the rough texture, heavy weight, and bland color of fried Panko crumbs is to destroy all identifying properties of the flower itself. All that is left a grossly preserved shell of what it once was. There is also a sense of violence associated with the piece, where the delicate, lilting flower is essentially tarred and feathered and then tossed into a boiling vat. The title, L’Haine, is French for “the hatred,” and in Romanian the word translates to “clothes.” The play on words and paradoxical treatment of the materials is indicative of the artist’s desires to question and potentially reorder the language of art, as well as develop a new vocabulary.
In a 2014 interview with the Taipei Fine Arts Museum , Anicka says that the tempura fried flowers are her most deliberate scent works. Her interest in olfaction stems from the fact that so little is known about it and it is a hugely powerful sense that doesn’t have any real lexicon to describe it. In a recent interview with W Magazine , Yi states, “If there was more information or more objective truths around [smell], I wouldn’t have to be so vigilant. Because it’s hard to agree, and the language just isn’t there. We don’t have a way of talking about all things olfactive… It’s always analogy based. Like, ‘Oh, that smells citrusy.’ But if you’ve never smelled citrus, how would you know what that is?” Scent is also interesting because it is typically something that exists temporarily, yet is the sense most closely ties to memory. While perishability is inherent within Yi’s art, it is impossible to forget.
Statistics show that people tend to look at a work of art at a gallery or museum for 15 to 20 seconds. Johannes Vanderbeek’s Newspaper Ruined at Dikeou Collection is a highly complex sculpture that draws viewers in to look closer, and longer, than the average 15 to 20 seconds, and rewards those with an attention to detail with its trove of hidden metaphor. Originally exhibited at MoMA PS1 as Newspaper Ruins in 2005 and subsequently recreated as Newspaper Ruined in 2008, the sculpture functions like a time capsule from the year it was created. Each structure within the expansive newspaper city is made with a single sheet of The New York Times, highlighting the headlines, trends, and events of that particular day. The array of articles, photos, letters, and advertisements makes each edition of The New York Times a fascinating object to behold. With Newspaper Ruined Vanderbeek brings these disparate clippings together to create a unified vision of a fantastical world where global political leaders, fashion models, top athletes, movie stars and small town folk coexist.
Newspaper Ruined is full of visual metaphorical relationships that are clever, poignant, and delightful. On January 5, 2008 , Roberta Smith reviewed Dia Art Foundation’s presentation of artist Francis Alÿs’ collection of St. Fabiola portraits at the Hispanic Society of America. Vanderbeek incorporated the image from the article into one of the structures of the newspaper city, utilizing the dramatic one-point perspective shot of Alÿs’ installation as the crown of an art temple of sorts with Neoclassical sculptures and historical paintings below.
Antonio Canova’s marble statue of Napoleon’s sister Paolina Borghese Bonaparte as Venus Victorious, which appeared in a January 8, 2008 article by Roderick Conway Morris, reclines with Jeff Koons’ Michael and Bubbles and filmmaker Lizzie Gottlieb. These once unrelated subjects now lounge as a lifelong trio.
There have been numerous instances where I have encountered visitors ruminating over Newspaper Ruined and are so eager to share their thoughts and discoveries. There is much I have learned about this work through the eyes of others, especially children. When I give tours to elementary school students I like to initiate a game of “I spy with my little eye…”. Given that they are much smaller and see the work from a lower eye level, they are able to notice things that adults tend to overlook, thus adding to the story of the piece.
Vanderbeek’s generation of meaning between seemingly unrelated subjects is like a contemporary version of Aby Warburg’s Mnemosyne Atlas constructed into three-dimensional form. “Begun in 1924 and left unfinished at the time of his death in 1929, the Mnemosyne Atlas is Aby Warburg’s attempt to map the ‘afterlife of antiquity,’ or how images of great symbolic, intellectual, and emotional power emerge in Western antiquity and then reappear and are reanimated in the art and cosmology of later times and places, from Alexandrian Greece to Weimar Germany… Warburg hoped that the Mnemosyne Atlas would allow its spectators to experience for themselves the ‘polarities’ that riddle culture and thought.”
Warburg’s atlas existed as black-clothed wooden panels pinned with images from newspapers, books, magazines, and other ephemera and were arranged thematically. Some of the structures in Newspaper Ruined have strong themes related to culture, politics, and nature, but most are left open to interpretation. It is as if the work is a hyper-condensed version of our real global society, where there is a balance between the objective and the subjective. And, as in the real world, the sculpture is fragile and prone to decay but can always rebuild.
- Hayley Richardson