Larger than Life

Visiting contemporary art galleries and museums nowadays is a Lilliputian experience. By that I mean that the scale of many of the artworks on exhibit dwarf the viewer. This was unequivocally the case on my recent visit to the newly opened Rubell Museum in Washington DC. If you’re scratching your head wondering why the name Rubell sounds familiar, you may be thinking of Steve Rubell, co-founder of Studio 54. Steve’s brother, Don Rubell, and his wife, Mera, have been collecting art since the 60’s. The Rubell collection in Miami and the new Rubell museum in Washington DC house a mere fraction of their collection.

My favorite piece was probably Kehinde Wiley’s Sleep (2008), above. It is an epic painting in the artist’s signature theme – posing people of color in majestic or heroic poses from famous works in art history. Wiley’s Sleep is based on Jean Bernard Restout’s 1771 painting of the same name. I can’t imagine undertaking a painting of this size!!!! I am in awe of the execution.

Here is another enormous work by Christopher Myers (2020) made of appliqued cloth, entitled Earth:

Detail of Earth

The artist’s tapestries typically explore narratives of hardship, protest and racial violence. Myers sees his obligation as an artist to pull mythologies apart and record unwritten histories. These works have their foundation in the longstanding quilting traditions. Another artist who creates Klimt-like, undulating tapestries is the renowned Ghanaian artist El Anatsui. However his large hanging tapestry forms are made of recycled aluminum liquor bottle caps and copper wire. He creates pure magic with these humble materials (see below).

Detail from Another Man’s Cloth (2006)

There was only one ceramic work on exhibit – three oversized glazed vessels by the late Huang Yong Ping playfully entitled Well, Well, Well. A step was positioned beside each vessel, inviting visitors to step up and peer into the dark interiors…

And guess what one discovers? Taxidermized animals – bats, snakes and goats staring back at you!!

There were several paintings by well-known female artists verging on the erotic. Take for example Lisa Yuskavage’s Northview.

Yuskavage’s highly original approach to figurative painting is immediately recognizable. To quote Artsy magazine, the artist ‘makes color-saturated paintings of brazen, doll-like women who shift freely between playful sexuality and sullen contemplation.’

I was pleased to see a painting by another female artist whose work defies classification and whose paintings both appeal and repel: Marlene Dumas. Her solo show at this year’s Venice Biennale has been touted as the single best show at the Biennale. Her washed-out, haunting and often sexually explicit paintings filled the palazzo Grassi on Venice’s Grand Canal. What an achievement! Here is her painting currently exhibited in the Rubell collection:

But the room filled with twenty drawings created by Keith Haring in 1989 had the most powerful effect on me. The twenty framed works, all created in the space of a day, retain their creative power and Haring’s disturbing message seems more relevant than ever.

These drawings on linen paper distressed me and brought home how little progress we have made in protecting our beautiful planet. As we approach the New Year, I want to wish my readers and supporters a meaningful, fulfilling and joyful year ahead with the humble request that we all try to tread evermore lightly upon this earth. Seasons greetings to one and all. Take care, Lilianne.