Wet Paint in the Wild: Artist Monsieur Zohore Rode Out His L.A. Gallery Opening Inside a Bespoke Coffin-Turned-Kissing Booth

Welcome to Wet Paint in the Wild, the freewheeling—and free!—spinoff of Midnight Publishing Group News Pro’s beloved Wet Paint gossip column, where we give art-world insiders a disposable camera to chronicle their lives on the circuit. To read the latest Wet Paint column, click here (members only).

Monsieur Zohore’s absurd, irreverent artwork tends to steal the show wherever it’s on view. While the artist is best known for his paintings on paper towels and his confrontational, campy performances, Zohore’s work often makes people laugh at first, then realize that these pieces are searing satires of deeply troubling racial realities in America.

His new show at M+B in Los Angeles, “My Condolences,” is a satire of the outsized trend of figurative painting by Black artists in the art market. The artist asked 93 different artists to paint, while at the opening, Zohore lied in a handmade casket and asked viewers to kiss him through a cut-out in the wood (it’s on view now through February 18th). Let’s take a look at what that process was like…

Bonjour, je m’appelle Monsieur Zohore and welcome to the installation of my most recent show “MZ.25 (My Condolences)” at M+B in Los Angeles. Putting a show together with 93 artists in it was an all-hands-on-deck kind of situation. Even my gallerist, Benjamin Triggano, was doing construction work.

A lot of people thought I had a death wish when I told them I was trying to get 93 artists to make portraits of me, to which I would respond “No, I have a death wish because my contribution to the show is a coffin that is also a kissing booth.”

If all of this wasn’t enough chaos I decided to crank out a few more of my paper towel paintings just for shits and gigs.

A long day wouldn’t be complete without a long dinner with my two favorite French clowns, Benjamin Triggano and Olivier Babin. Meals with them are always dinner and a show.

Planning meetings with Tess from the gallery all took place at a Lisa Vanderpump establishment because why not? You know you would too if you could. Here we are in front of Sur.

This was the most innovative install I have ever experienced. Benson from the gallery had a solution for every problem, like how to reheat pizza at lunch.

A show of 93 portraits meant 93 sittings. Here I am after posing for Marianne Simnet at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

Closed out this day with a bougie sushi dinner with Cameron Patricia Downey, who flew in from Minneapolis for the show.

Back at the gallery on the last day of install and it’s go big or go home, like this massive Fawn Rogers video sculpture. Pro Tip: Track suits from Target make your ass look great.

Had to move the studio outside…for my hangover after having too many bougie sushi martinis at dinner last night.

But here comes my bestie Jo Messer to the rescue. She always knows exactly what I need to get through the day.

Install is finally over and I go look for a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T with LaKela Brown.

You haven’t lived till you give a lecture in a coffin you built for yourself.

I never thought my last supper would be vegan tacos in L.A. with Sandy Williams IV, Aaron Fowler, LaKela Brown, and Claude Wampler, but I can’t say I mind.

Claude Wampler told me It’s bad luck to not buy a new outfit for your opening so we had to go shopping.

And it’s even worse luck to not have you fit cosigned by the baddest chick in the room. Thank god Chiristina Ine-Kimba Bolye waltzed in just in time.

I hope you didn’t think I was kidding when I said I built myself a coffin that is also a kissing booth.

Could have done this piece all day. My only regret is not charging for the privilege of my smooches.

Performance is over and it’s finally time to party. Nicole Nadeau and Jade Catta-Preta gas me up as I wait for my celebratory special chocolate to kick in.

My chocolate finally hits and I decided to spend the rest of my opening rolling around on the floor. Thank god Lucy Bull was down.

Who else would you want driving the getaway car than Auttriana Ward in this wig! My mind on chocolate could not be more pleased!

Not sure who took this picture but bless them for making sure I looked my best.

Nothing is better for a hangover than gossiping with Claude Wampler over lobster.

This was my first time going to the beach in L.A. and I have to say it was worth the wait… even if I had to simulate my own death to get there.

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Architects Jaqueline Lessa and Francisco Pardo on How Looking to Mexico’s Past Helps Them Design for the Future

Based in São Paulo, Brazil, Jaqueline Lessa established her architectural atelier Entre Terras (translation: “between lands”) two years ago in order to answer human questions through craft. This ethos is evident in all of Lessa’s work, from her airy, minimalist design for São Paulo’s Haight Clothing Store to her free-flowing exhibition settings for the likes of the local Bergamin & Gomide gallery.

After studying in New York, Francisco Pardo moved back to his hometown of Mexico City in the early 2000s; from here, he established himself as a leading architect on the international stage. He did this, he said, by embracing the local way of “mixing things up”—a creative freedom that is vital to his work on projects such as Casa Aguacates, where he built a house under an avocado field in Valle de Bravo, a lake town outside of Mexico City.

With Midnight Publishing Group News, Lessa and Pardo discussed how they arrived in their careers, what drives their work forward, and their mutual admiration of Mexico as an endless source of inspiration.

Francisco Pardo and Jaqueline Lessa. Courtesy of the architects.

Francisco Pardo and Jaqueline Lessa. Courtesy of the architects.

What is the story behind each of your decisions to pursue a career in architecture?

Jaqueline Lessa (J.L.): I’ve thought a lot about this. I was born in the countryside, in a small city called São Lourenço do Sul, in the southernmost state of Brazil. My childhood was very related to nature and [the] earth. I’ve tried to remember all of the moments that I had and that probably made me aware that I wanted to have a creative practice.

I was very close to my grandmother and spent my childhood watching her growing vegetables and cooking them for our family. I think this simple gesture of changing something and then creating intimacy between people through her work, or something she was passionate about, was something that awakened my sense to the possibility that some activities [bring] a new perspective to an ordinary condition.

But I didn’t know I would be an architect until the moment I had to choose it.

Francisco Pardo (F.P.): I was [planning] to be an industrial designer, but got caught up in architecture—it was the only career [choice related to] design at my university. I fell in love the first day; I thought it was fantastic.

I had a similar experience to what [you] described, Jacqueline. My grandmother was a painter, and I was very close to her. She was also an interior designer at some point in her life. I never really saw her work, but she talked about it.

So there was a connection with family, but [for me,] the decision [of what to pursue] was random. It was a lucky thing that I ended up here.

Inside Pardo's Casa Aguacates. Photo: Diego Padilla.

Inside Pardo’s Casa Aguacates. Photo: Diego Padilla.

What do you believe is the most imperative factor in maintaining a creative career?

F.P.: That’s a very complicated question because there’s a lot of factors [in] the commitment to do something. I’ve given [it] a lot of thought lately, especially as an architect—you get involved in this profession and then end up thinking that everything revolves around architecture.

I think the pandemic helped me to understand that’s not true—that your profession doesn’t define your life. So, I’ve been trying to get out of the field in my free time and do [other] things that I like. I like to watch cinema, I like to go to art festivals, and I like to just walk on the street in different cities and see [what’s around me]. That’s the way that I learn [about] architecture.

J.L.: I agree with [you,] Francisco. I think it’s being able to perceive lots of aspects of life aside from architecture; it’s coming back to the things that will feel true.

I’ve thought a lot about Paulo Mendes da Rocha this year. I think he was a very good architect, not because he knew how to draw, but because he understood life.

Can you explain what drew you to Mexico as a fruitful setting for artistic production?

F.P.: I lived in New York for five years. It was a very complicated city, with [a lot of] competition. I realized that to make it in New York would be very hard. You’ll probably be 40, 50 [years old] before you even get a good chance to do architecture.

I come from Mexico. It’s a country that is hands-on. I arrived [in] Mexico, I opened a studio, and I was building five, six-story buildings by the time I was 28. My friends from New York were doing probably an interior [project] at the most, and they were trained as architects.

I think I was lucky because I entered into a new era of Mexican design. A lot of things—from artists, architects, chefs, and all [of] the creative scenes—have been booming for the last 15 years.

Lessa's ceramic sculptures from her residency at Pocoapoco in Oaxaca. Photo: Luvia Lazo.

Lessa’s ceramic sculptures from her residency at Pocoapoco in Oaxaca. Photo: Luvia Lazo.

J.L.: The last time I was in Mexico, I was a resident at Pocoapoco, in Oaxaca. It’s a very special city, very much rooted in the presence of traditions. [In] Mexico, people are a little bit more aware of [their] past. In Brazil, we are still discovering things.

I feel [like] Brazil is an island in Latin America [due to its language and distinct culture]. Going to Mexico was a way to understand Mexico, but I was able to come back to Brazil with more understanding about who I am as a Brazilian and who we are as a country. I also wanted to come back with questions about things that I don’t know about, that we are trying to understand.

Can you talk about your creative processes?

F.P.: For me and my team, it’s very important to look at every project as a different entity, a different prototype. I try to open the discussion formally and programmatically. Every project has its own conditions, so the result [is always] different.

I focus [on] what the site has to say. Each site gives you information—the elements, the local materials. [After] research, the design process is very simple. Lots of the planning, very little with the execution—that’s the main idea.

The creative process for me has to do with the simple stuff—what is [on] site, the sun, the wind, any natural elements. For example, in Casa Aguacates we wanted to keep an avocado field intact, so we decided to bury the house; by [building below ground] we did not affect the view.

Looking down not the avocado fields where Pardo built Casa Aguacates. Photo: Sandra Pereznieto.

Looking down not the avocado field where Pardo built Casa Aguacates. Photo: Sandra Pereznieto.

J.L.: I agree with you that when we’re building something in the countryside, the context gives you information, more strategies maybe. In the beginning of our practice, we [Entre Terras] had more commercial projects. With those, I didn’t feel that we had much information.

Now, we are developing residential projects in a rural area of Juquitiba, which is known for having the largest green areas in the state of São Paulo. We are very much considering the context in a way that we weren’t when we were building commercial projects.

In one of [Italian-born Brazilian architect] Lina Bo Bardi’s fantastic teachings, she said that she always starts a project by a function of aspect, imagining the future of the space—not in a formal way, but in a very humanistic way: how dinner will happen, how people will coexist. We always discuss a project imagining this moment of use, the life that the space could hold. What kind of moments are we creating? What levels of intimacy are we generating?

Oftentimes, art-making is rooted in research around a specific interest or inquiry, with the work reflecting a unique perspective from which to consider the world we live in. What points of concern do you consider to be most urgent today, and do you tackle those issues in your personal practice?

J.L.: I think probably the most urgent issue [we] have right now is climate change. This is an issue that we have considered a lot in the houses we are developing. [And as an atelier], we try to build less.

I believe architecture is an area where the idea that the future is ancestral applies: We look at the past to understand things from the present and to imagine a future. So, [the past] is something that we are researching in the office.

We try to incorporate traditional solutions that take advantage of and consider the environment, while at the same time we look to technology by doing research on materials and incorporating energy solutions that are more environmentally responsible.

A view from Haight Clothing, designed by Jaqueline Lessa in São Paulo. Photo: Ruy Teixeira.

A view from Haight Clothing, designed by Jaqueline Lessa in São Paulo. Photo: Ruy Teixeira.

F.P.: Mexico City is probably the oldest active city on the whole continent; there are other cities that are now ruins, but Mexico City is the only city that is pre-Colombian and active. It has layers, which is not a metaphor.

I tend to not take down or demolish buildings because I think that’s a bad idea for a city. It is more sustainable to reuse an existing structure than to build the most “sustainable” building from scratch. I’ve convinced clients not to demolish and instead to do restorations of buildings.

Like [you] said, the best architecture is the one that imagines a possible future. I always ask two questions: Is this thing that we’re doing beneficial to people and society? And are we making an effort to have the least impact? Because we always have an impact.

If [either answer is no], then we’re doing it wrong.

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The Guggenheim’s Chief Curator Naomi Beckwith on Why She Still Has Faith in Museums—and How They Can Change

Last February, about a month after Naomi Beckwith was officially named chief curator and deputy director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, she sat down for a television interview with local news station NY1

Invited for a segment addressing “the push to make the [art] industry more inclusive as the fight for racial justice continues,” Beckwith spoke at length about her role as one of the advisors for “Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America,” an exhibition first conceived by the late curator Okwui Enwezor. The show was organized as an articulation of how societal injustices can often lead to grief; a grief that Beckwith has no doubt felt at times during her life; a grief that almost all Black people can easily find and name. The “Grievance” part of the exhibition’s title referred to how that grief is co-opted by white America. 

When we talk about Beckwith’s historic arrival at the Guggenheim, many have been conditioned to interrogate the reasons behind the museum’s decision to hire her when they did. But maybe we should focus instead on asking why Beckwith, understanding the industry as well as she does, believes that the Guggenheim is the right place for her to be.

Within the old paradigm of elite institutions as bastions of unadulterated power and prestige, the answer might be obvious. But within this new one, where we’re chipping away at how privilege and agency are distributed at nearly every level of the industry, starting from even the fundamentals of how museums engage with their audiences, the answer is much more expansive. The story becomes about how the Guggenheim will benefit from someone who is as uniquely equipped as she is to usher in this very necessary realignment of its institutional priorities—along with preserving all that we love about the institution in the process.

A general view of the exterior facade of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City. Photo by Ben Hider/Getty Images.

A view of the exterior facade of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City. Photo by Ben Hider/Getty Images.

In describing her attitude toward museum work, Beckwith often resorts to an anecdote. The painter “Frank Bowling writes very intentionally about how it is so important to be committed to change from the inside,” she says, before offering a metaphor the late artist Melvin Edwards once shared with her. Referring to a barbed-wire installation of his, he said: “You’re going to get nicked, you’re going to get cut sometimes, you’re going to bleed sometimes,” she paraphrases. “But you’ve got to be prepared for that. Because the reward of having walked through that barbed wire should be far greater not just for yourself, but for the entire field and for history, than just insisting that there’s a better way. You’ve got to demonstrate a better way. And you have got to put in that work at the place where it needs to be done.”

In her first extensive interview since she began at the Guggenheim, Midnight Publishing Group News spoke with Beckwith about how she identifies artists who matter, how trustees shape the culture of an institution, and why we need to change the way we think about art. 


You’ve come on board at a pretty tough time for art institutions, given the pandemic. We know the Guggenheim has made its name doing really ambitious geographical deep dives, so I wanted to start a question about that: Will these kinds of projects be possible going forward? 

The pandemic is a logistical challenge for everybody. There’s a way in which these kinds of limits on travel have been a boon to the environment, and one of the things that the Guggenheim was really focused on is sustainability. 

That said, it doesn’t mean it’s not possible, these deep dives into a global art practice. Here in New York, we have incredible public and private collections that represent a spectrum of global conversations, and we can pull those works from across the country and from people within their own communities. I’m deeply interested not only in our previous commitments to Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America, but looking toward southern Saharan Africa. 

It’s also been a great moment to look across the United States. You’ll see exhibitions on the calendar with artists like [Beirut-born, Syrian American artist] Etel Adnan, who’s on the West Coast. We are still able to have global conversations even if we can’t grab everything from across borders.

Joe Fig, Hilma af Klint: The Ten Largest, Adulthood #6, 7 & 8/Guggenheim (2019). Photo courtesy of Cristin Tierney.

Joe Fig, Hilma af Klint: The Ten Largest, Adulthood #6, 7 & 8/Guggenheim (2019). Photo courtesy of Cristin Tierney.

A lot of times, the global can overshadow what’s happening within the continental United States. Will there be a bit of a shift, with more of a focus put on some of the communities in this country?

It’s easy to say that the short answer is yes, but, you know, I’m less interested in, let’s say, “We’re going to focus on x, y, and z across the Americas” and more in how we can tell stories about new understandings of abstraction. Like Hilma af Klimt [who was the subject of a major 2018 Guggenheim exhibition], right? How can we rethink some of the prescribed narratives that we’ve inherited in the world? For me, there’s a trajectory from someone like Klimt all the way up to [contemporary American artist] Howardena Pindell. To really put women at the center of abstraction, or even rethink some of the stories that we’ve heard around abstraction being about form, when in fact we can talk about all sorts of things. 

I’m also really interested in those histories, especially across the ‘60s and ‘70s, that allow us to think afresh about how our art came to be. I worked on the exhibition “The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now” while I was in Chicago [at the city’s Museum of Contemporary Art]. I was really interested in the way I could bring these alternative histories, these lesser-known histories—at least outside Chicago—to a broader world. But I was also really interested in how this show gives us another way of thinking about collaborative practice, rather than the usual story of the lone genius in the studio cutting off their ear. 

How can we possibly imagine how art is deeply embedded in the social? And has a responsibility to community? One thing that really excites me about the Guggenheim is that those were the core stories of the founding.

Will the Guggenheim be willing to take any chances on lesser-known names? 

We are always interested in who you would call the lesser-known names. And that isn’t necessarily even about the big show, right? The grand rotunda. Because oftentimes, younger artists or more emerging artists don’t have the oeuvre behind them for some of these grand spaces. So this comes by the way of performance, of programs, of collecting.

But what’s more important for me is not to overly valorize the new, or giving an audience the first look. It’s really important to set up exhibitions and books and programs that are about the opening salvo in an artist’s ongoing career. 

"Lynette Yiadom-Boakye: Fly In League With The Night" at Tate Britain 2020. Photo: Tate. (Seraphina Neville).

“Lynette Yiadom-Boakye: Fly In League With The Night” at Tate Britain 2020. Photo: Tate. (Seraphina Neville).

I know you have a long history dating back to the Studio Museum of doing this, but could you get into the nitty gritty of how you make sure emerging and underrepresented voices get the scholarship they need to have that long-lasting support within institutions?

First, by asking not only if an artist makes something interesting to look at, but what proposition is this artist putting into the world? And how can it change the way we think about our history? When I did a show of [British painter] Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, I remember specifically thinking that this is an artist who is giving us figuration, and inside that figuration, she’s absorbing both the history of abstraction and the history of representational art together—let alone the brilliant things she was doing around the presence of Black bodies. So we can start breaking down some of these perceived wisdoms: the way pieces are received and how we think about our categories altogether. That’s how you know you’re dealing with an artist who has some kind of staying power. 

It seems as though museums collaborating together could advance that mission. Are there any concrete opportunities that you’re looking at right now to collaborate across New York or across the country? 

It’s easy to overstate the competitiveness. This is a field full of colleagues that I deeply, deeply respect, no matter what institution they’re in. So we’re constantly sharing ideas and information. 

This is a moment in the pandemic when we realize that institutions in general have to work together, a little bit more tightly, whether it be about sharing shipping costs, being flexible on calendars, or being judicious and generous about shows. 

You’ll also see these ongoing conversations with museum directors that are really about lobbying for this field and for the art industry in a moment when we’ve lost so much revenue and need to do the work of appealing to state and national governments to support the arts.

MCA Chicago front steps. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago

The front steps of the MCA Chicago, where Beckwith worked as senior curator. Photo by Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago

You had mentioned that you want a reinterpretation of the collection to be in alignment with DEAI goals. Is there anything you can share right now about how you plan to do that? 

Without a doubt, we are committed as an institution to our very specifically-stated DEI goals, putting BIPOC artists front and center, with an emphasis on Black Indigenous work. These are areas where we realize we as an institution can dive much deeper and build out the collection. 

But as I’ve said before, it’s important to me to not just have what’s called representational diversity. I do want a number shift, but that is a very long-term game. What I’d also like to see shift is the way we talk about each individual artist, not in relation to a majority art form, but regarding their importance in and of themselves—to think again about how their contribution individually has changed the way that we think about art. 

I had a very interesting conversation with former Studio Museum in Harlem director Lowery Stokes Sims about deconstructing art histories in our canon. She said something like, “You know what they say, the art canon is like a rubber band—you can only stretch it so far before eventually it snaps back.”

Yes, it snaps back, but it’s a malleable thing. I don’t think it will go back to that same shape. I don’t think it can anymore. I truly feel optimistic at this moment in time. There’s too many of us—however you define us: those who are progressive, those who consider ourselves socially engaged art historians, those who consider ourselves concerned with BIPOC artists, those who consider ourselves feminists. There’s too much information out in the world to have it go back to the way it was.

You’ve said before that you’ve thought deeply about how institutions are run—by whom and for whom. That’s probably aligned with a lot of things you are discussing here. 

I am reminded of something that I love by the late, great Okwui, who would always say that he was interested in the mistakes that institutions have made. Because I think it’s very easy to locate a problem inside an institution and condemn it based on that. But what if, like Okwui, and especially like myself, you are actually committed to institutions? If you think they have a place in our society and you want them around in the future, then you take what’s been termed as a mistake as actually a site of agency. 

Ellen Gallagher, Dew Breaker, 2015. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth.

Ellen Gallagher, Dew Breaker (2015), included in the New Museum’s “Grief and Grievance” show. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth.

That’s contingent on the institution, because you need to be in a supportive environment in order to do that. And you’ve noted that your relationship with the Guggenheim is more of a partnership with respect to making these changes. Maybe you want to elaborate on that?

Look, it starts at the top, and top doesn’t mean the director—it’s trustees. It’s about finding an alignment with these goals throughout the institution, from our funders to the custodians.

If we have a vision for shaping the future and we want to be relevant to that future, we have to bring a more equitable world into being. What’s wonderful is that I feel like I’m in an institution that understands that that needs to happen. 

A source once told me that the late art historian David Driskell’s seminal exhibition spawned a whole generation of African American curators, and we need to realize that they’re not necessarily trying to change the conversation within these institutions—what they’re actually trying to impact is history.

I mean a lot of critique and criticism of institutions has been that they are mired in the past, that they are inflexible and it’s a constant looking back. I don’t think that’s the case at all. I think every institution is not only concerned with its individual legacy, but also concerned for the far-reaching legacy of the artists that they show. 

I believe in cultural heritage and I believe in the fact that there needs to be a place not only where these objects are held, but where we tell those stories, and we continue to recast those stories over and over and over again.

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Barbara Kruger on Why She’s Remaking Some of Her Old Critiques of Power for Her New Museum Survey

Barbara Kruger likely needs no introduction. Her work is taught in art history classes and is instantly recognizable to the uninitiated as well (think of the ubiquity of Kruger’s November 2016 New York Magazine cover with ”Loser” printed across Donald Trump’s sneering face.) She’s also very publicly tangled with the streetwear brand Supreme, whose logo and entire branding seems to have pirated Kruger’s visual vernacular, causing a circus of copyright infringements that ultimately prompted Kruger to laugh it off: “What a ridiculous clusterfuck of totally uncool jokers.” 

Despite these outbursts in mainstream culture, Kruger has been rather inconspicuous in the art world in recent years. Her last gallery showing was in 2018 with Mary Boone, and while her slogans-as-statements have been spotted at art fair booths since, there really hasn’t been an important exhibition–until now. This past weekend, the Art Institute of Chicago unveiled the largest comprehensive exhibition of Kruger’s work in more than 20 years. It will be on view until March 2022 before heading to the L.A. County Museum of Art, through July 2022, followed by a stop at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Kruger, a powerful critic of contemporary culture, isn’t approaching the exhibition in a standard format. She’s taking over non-gallery spaces in the museums, as well as intervening into the public domain, alway seeking to offer her art in the most accessible modes. 

We spoke with Kruger about how she’ll be remixing some of her most famous works, the thousand-year persistence of power struggles, and her major new traveling museum survey.

Barbara Kruger, Thinking of You. I Mean Me. I Mean You. (2019). Digital image courtesy of the artist.

I was told you were calling this an “anti-retrospective,” but then I read that’s not true. What is the deal? 

To me, this exhibition is called “Thinking of You. I Mean Me. I Mean You.” There we have the title of the show about our own ego constructions, our narratives, our ability to speak and listen, our investment in our voice, or others—all those shifting positions. So I would not call it a retrospective, it’s a conflation of new works and renovations of older works and changing them. 

This is just an open field, this isn’t a pushback, like “Wow, I have this terrific opportunity because these large-scale shows came a little later in my life.” I don’t have a MFA or an undergraduate degree. I loitered around for a few years before people knew my name. So I am appreciative not only to get to do a show like this, but of the great teams of people behind it. I take none of this for granted. I spent so many years doing all of this on my own before you knew my name, or anybody did, it’s a gift to me. I know how much labor has gone into this, and as someone whose parents traded their labor for wages, I have a great deal of respect for that. 

Tell me about the new works that are in dialogue with or a reevaluation of your previous works? 

There are different images of my work that have been altered through a very large scale of L.E.D. videos, in which I used motion graphics and animated a few of the works. Change meanings to make stillness move. There’s a large installation, Untitled (That’s the way we do it), which is basically a collection of images I’ve collected online over the last four or five years, and are folks’ renditions of my styles of work that I’ve incorporated into the installation. There are maybe 600 images? Things I’ve caught on Tumblr or Redbubble or Google Images and Instagram.  

In this exhibition there is the appearance of works that seem familiar to people, and the altering of the works (perhaps ruining them for some people) puts them in motion. Taking stillness and putting it into motion. There’s ambient audio throughout this exhibition, there are voices speaking to you in the halls and galleries, in the elevators and entries to the museum.

Barbara Kruger, Untitled (Truth) (2013). Collection of Margaret and Daniel S. Loeb. Digital image courtesy of the artist.

You’ve played a significant role in designing the exhibition. Tell me about that.  Similarly, why was bringing work out in the streets crucial? 

Architecture has long been an engagement of mine, and it was only mid or later in my work that I was able to specialize. In the beginning it was very small, I was paying for everything myself and carrying it up five flights of stairs from the E train from the photo lab. As I started working with installations it was a great opportunity to engage the various spaces that the work was trying to make its meaning in. That’s so integral to my work, whether it was wallpaper or floors or surfaces, or even multi-channel videos which can change in scale so easily. 

Aside from billboards and posters on the elevated trains, bus kiosks, windows along main streets, large billboards along the highway, and the Merchandise Mart there’s a very huge video that will run every night for the next two months on the walls outside the museum and along windows on Michigan Avenue. That was really gratifying. It’s really wow, it’s really a great opportunity for me, and I never take for granted being offered that opportunity. 

I’ve always worked outside the museum space, from early on whether it was Art Angel in London or the Public Art Fund in New York, or out in L.A. That’s been an important space in my practice. Early on it was my only mode, I would snipe posters before people really knew my name or my work. I’ve said this before, but it’s still a surprise to me that things have rolled out the way they have. 

I think it’s amazing that the works have entered public space and discourse, and I think it’s part and parcel of the times we’re living in. The flow of images has changed so much because of social media and our online lives, and our lives on screens and through screens. In many ways my early work as a magazine designer really did prepare me for the kinds of readings that would be accessible online.

Barbara Kruger, still from Untitled (No Comment) (2020). Courtesy of the artist, Sprüth Magers, and David Zwirner, New York. Digital image courtesy of the artist.

In an age where your works are shared so widely online, and consumed by internet culture to the point of appropriation, why do you keep your personal internet presence discreet?  

Well, I am online. I certainly read and look at everything. Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, and every right-wing website you can imagine. I certainly keep up on that. It’s important for so many people to use Instagram and Twitter as a means of self-definition, and making themselves public by really communicating their loves, their hates, their projects, and I really have chosen not to. I don’t think it’s something that’s productive for me. It’s certainly part of my life. It’s not like I’m sealed off. 

I get input on my work a lot. I think it’s best for me to do my work and be as productive as possible. You can’t be everyone’s image of perfection, so what the hell?

This exhibition could be called, perhaps, “a moment of reflection.” What’s your take on your work’s prescience? Whether about consumerism, feminism, or the attention economy, you’ve been rather spot on when it comes to understanding the politics and crises of today.  

I am not clairvoyant! Absolutely not. I just think that the long shot, the big picture allows you to understand how history has worked. And I’m no historian. I certainly don’t know as much as I should, but I am vigilant about the machinations of power and trolling, fear, grievance and how they’ve played out over centuries. Of course, the difference is now that we’re more aware of it, because of the interconnection of a lot of the world. Certainly fears based on genders, race, and class are stalking us as never before. 

Barbara Kruger. Artist’s rendering of exhibition entryway at the Art Institute of Chicago (2011/2020). Digital image courtesy of the artist, source photo courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago.

You’re known for your bold stances. Do you think that society’s modes of outspokenness have changed in the last few years as politics has heated up, and has that affected your practice? 

It’s not really affected my work. I really think that my work has been concerned with a scrutiny of how we are to one another. How we love one another, adore one another, detest one another, damage one another, how we caress one another on both an intimate and global scale. The history of the past thousand years is fraught with power and its abuses. 

I did an installation I originally did in 1994, and re-did in 2004 in Zurich, and somebody thought it was my reaction to 9/11. Of course it was done years before. The conditions exist for punishment and damage globally are not hot news. It is just a perpetual slaughter. It’s really horrifying! 

Barbara Kruger, Untitled (Forever) (2017). Installation view, Sprüth Magers, Berlin, 2017–18. Amorepacific Museum of Art (APMA), Seoul. Photo by Timo Ohler and courtesy of Sprüth Magers.

Your work has always been about the underlying systems and structures of society—power, capitalism, control, bodies, and identities. Has your view of contemporary culture become more or less critical in these times where the stakes are so high vis a vis your practice?

I wouldn’t say critical. I’m just trying, like most art or music or movies, to create a commentary—not literal—of how it feels to live another day, to watch the world turn itself inside out or try to turn us inside out. The sort of commentary of what I see and read. The resolute grievance, ignorance, and race we are seeing right now. 

You once said, “People will need to think very hard about how they are to one another.” And I’m curious after the almost two years we’ve had, what your thoughts are on that now?

I am certainly not cynical, but I feel that it’s tragic. It’s watching a slow-motion car crash of the destruction of so many lives and the economy (and I’m not talking about big corporations). I’m talking about people’s everyday lives and their livelihoods. And the ironies. I could see there’s a place for productive critique of the hierarchies of governmental structure but that’s not this. This is fueled by race and rage, and grievance. 

You could tell people anything now, and they would say “it’s just a lie, the truth is this or that.” It’s interesting because social media and the digital universe have enabled so many things and made connection so much easier, but then also allowed for a great deal of damage and distress and punishment, and everything in between. Both the pleasures and the punishment. 

How you feeling about Supreme these days? 

It’s not anything I think a hell of a lot about. 

It’s funny, in the first room of the exhibition, where you see all these internet images, there’s a huge L.E.D. of “I Shop Therefore I Am,” and there’s a collection of images I got from RedBubble with all these garments with quotes or tees with sayings with them. It’s a meditation for me on the difference between the figure and the body. Who’s become visible and who doesn’t is such a complicated conflation of arbitrariness, of social conditions and all that, and yet you become a name, this person, this figure. I find it thrilling, amusing and a little scary.  

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Artist Anna Weyant Paints the Indignities of Being a Young Woman—and Collectors of All Ages Can’t Get Enough

If you have ever been a young woman, Anna Weyant’s works will feel eerily familiar.

The 26-year-old paints her baby-faced subjects as they roll through the motions of daily life—enduring heartbreak, doing pilates, stuffing bras, and finding strangeness in their own faces while passing a mirror. Like so many in that stage of not-yet-womanhood, her figures put great energy into outward appearances while keeping their interior lives at bay.

Everything is fine, projects a posturing, grinning girl—who looks remarkably like Weyant, though the artist has said it isn’t her—in one work. She chats over a glass of wine with a friend, coolly resting her head on a bent wrist encircled by a pearl bracelet. 

It is this brand of, as Weyant calls it, “low-stakes trauma” of girlhood that interests the artist. Her sometimes-frightening ability to capture these experiences in ways that resonate with fully grown women has made her one of the most sought-after young artists working today.

Anna Weyant, Loose Screw (2020). © Anna Weyant, Courtesy of the artist and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo.

Anna Weyant, Loose Screw (2020). © Anna Weyant, Courtesy of the artist and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo.

Weyant’s work “doesn’t rely on knowledge of insider references, but it kind of has a language that can be widely understood, widely legible,” said George Newall, cofounder of Winter Street Gallery in Edgartown, Massachusetts, which is presenting a sold-out show of Weyant’s drawings (through September 26). “We’ve witnessed that in peoples’ reactions and in the spread of where people are writing from, which is really global—every continent that I can think of.”

Weyant’s admirable technique is inextricable from her subjects: her luminous compositions recall Dutch Golden Age masters and 20th century painters of the corporeal and surreal like Balthus and John Currin. Through Weyant’s eyes, these subjects are unsettling—but not in a voyeuristic way as much as a knowing one. 

“I didn’t have the tools to process these sorts of experiences when I was living them, at those ages,” Weyant said last week from her apartment on the Upper West Side. As she reflected on her adolescence, “I started going back and saying to myself, ‘That was really weird,’ or ‘That was really funny.’ It became therapeutic.”

Anna Weyant, Drawing for “Dinner III,” (2019-21). Courtesy Winter Street Gallery.

Anna Weyant, Drawing for “Dinner III,” (2019–21). Courtesy Winter Street Gallery.

From Being a Girl to Painting Them

Weyant grew up in Calgary, Alberta, in Canada. She describes her childhood as “idyllic in a lot of ways,” spent with her parents, her brother, and their dog. She did not have much exposure to art, although her early years inspire much of her work now. “It’s something I’ve been going back to through art over the last few years,” she says, “my childhood and teen years and getting to where I am now.”

Where she is now is a fast-rising artist who landed in New York after studying painting at the Rhode Island School of Design. Following graduation, she spent the summer as an event planner for Lincoln Center (“It was great, but I just could not do the 9 a.m. mornings,” she says).

After that, she took a sharp turn back to art, studying traditional painting at the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou for seven months. “I really loved being there,” she recalls. “I just could not get a grasp on Mandarin, so I had to finally call it.”

After China, Weyant moved back to New York, where, with the help of a former professor, she secured a job as a studio assistant. It was a time that she describes as “fresh and glittery” but also discombobulating, marked by foggy subway rides and long hours.

She would return home every evening to paint in the Upper West Side apartment she still lives in, despite the light having gone out and the better work hours spent. “I remember it being fun, but just kind of a little depressing,” she says.

Anna Weyant, Buffet (2020). © Anna Weyant, Courtesy of the artist and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo.

Anna Weyant, Buffet (2020). © Anna Weyant, Courtesy of the artist and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo.

The artist she was assisting (whom she doesn’t name) introduced her to what would become her gallery, the hip downtown star-maker 56 Henry. Her first solo show opened there in fall 2019.

Entitled “Welcome to the Dollhouse”—a reference to Todd Solondz’s 1995 tragicomic film about a teen who suffers a series of humiliating misfortunes while trying to fit in at school—the show centered on depictions of a literal dollhouse occupied by a group of young girls. The dollhouse in the paintings is modeled after one that Weyant had as a child. 

“I just recently found this old diary that I had written when I was like 13,” Weyant tells me, reflecting on the little injustices of youth she loves exploring. “And like every other 13-year-old, I was a monster in so many ways. One of the entries said something to the effect of, ‘I had just been asked out by some boy, and then the next day he dumped me, and he was the love of my life and I was so heartbroken.’ And then I signed it by saying this girl—we’ll call her Stacey—’looked so fat today.’ Then, ‘Xo, Anna.’ Woe is me, I have this horrible breakup and then I burn someone down in the same breath.”

Anna Weyant, Put Yourself in My Shoes (2019). Courtesy of 56 HENRY.

Rising Profile

Weyant’s outing at 56 Henry earned her invitations to show at other high-profile galleries. This spring, an exhibition of paintings at her new Los Angeles gallery Blum & Poe, titled “Loose Screw,” sold out. In an interview with the dealer Bill Powers, Weyant notes that her mother chided her for the title, saying, “Honey, don’t ruin your show with such an ugly name.”

But the knife edge between sweet and sour, beautiful and foreboding, is where Weyant’s art lives. Her latest body of work, informed by the malaise that tints many memories of spring 2020, reflects lives lived with a little less color. Her figures are rendered with claustrophobic yellows, inky blacks, and army greens.

Weyant has cited influences as wide-ranging as painter Ellen Berkenblit’s screaming woman series, Frans Hals’ Two Boys Laughingcartoons from the New Yorker and the Grinch, as well as a particularly gruesome book by Edward Gorey. (“It’s an ABC book, but for different ways that children die,” she says matter-of-factly.)

Her unique perspective has found an eager audience—and driven considerable demand. Like many young artists, Weyant feels ambivalent about her fast-rising prices at a moment when she’s still finding her feet artistically.

“I’m starting to see a lot of resale,” she says. “Things that I sold 10 months ago for $2,000 being sold for much, much, much more than that. It’s hard not to feel in some ways betrayed because I feel like I’ve given up this thing that was very intimate. But it was in exchange for money so… I don’t know.” 

Anna Weyant, Cloud Hill (2020). © Anna Weyant, Courtesy of the artist and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo.

Anna Weyant, Cloud Hill (2020). © Anna Weyant, Courtesy of the artist and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo.

Weyant’s gallerists at Blum & Poe and Winter Street Gallery declined to share price information at the request of the artist. A crayon-on-paper portrait she donated to New York’s Drawing Center this year lists its retail value as $10,000, though her work has already brought more than twice that at auction. Her first and only work to hit the block fetched $27,720 at a Phillips day sale in June, almost four times its high estimate.

“There’s this element of selling myself or selling something that is very important to me that then becomes a stock or currency of sorts, and I don’t have any control over it,” Weyant says. “That’s a new anxiety for me.”

This trend, Weyant knows, will likely only continue. At the same time, she and her team are doing what they can; George Newall of Winter Street said that putting the work in “thoughtful places” is an “important part of the mission,” especially since they could have sold each work in the current show “many times over.”

Blum & Poe declined to share the size of the wait list for Weyant’s work, but did not deny its existence. “Her practice is just getting started, with an exciting career unfolding ahead,” the gallery said diplomatically in a statement. “Given her talents, there are many great collectors worldwide seeking out her work.”   

Anna Weyant, Unconditional Love (2021). © Anna Weyant, Courtesy of the artist and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo.

Anna Weyant, Unconditional Love (2021). © Anna Weyant, Courtesy of the artist and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo.

What’s Next

When I ask what’s feeding her artistically at the moment—what’s breaking through the interminable blur of the last year—Weyant tells me about Lifetime movies.

“They’re incredibly problematic, but I’m fascinated by them, the strangeness of white America,” she says. “They’re always set up the same way. There’s always an opening with a woman sitting with a glass of wine, and then there’s some murder.” She considers the “fear of a foreigner coming to town” that drives these films to be “very American.” It’s something she is turning over in her head as she plots new work.

As a white woman, Weyant says she has spent the past year thinking about her privilege, the “frivolity” of her paintings, and the act of being a painter in general. These concerns, she suspects, just might push her work around a corner. She is considering leaving behind the indignities of early adulthood to explore the more adult problems that plague white America. (One of her newest paintings reworks a scene from the film American Psycho.)

“I feel like I’ve dipped my toe in there, in these newer themes, and the water’s been too hot and I just want to figure out the best way to approach it,” she says. “So I’ve been walking around the edge of it. And I hope to get there.”

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