Hank Willis Thomas (b. 1976) is an American conceptual artist and photographer who addresses themes of identity, history, and popular culture as they relate to African Americans. His work shows the stereotypes used to portray African Americans as well as the uniqueness and humanity of the individual beneath the stereotype.
Bernd Becher (b. 1931) and Hilla Becher (b. 1934) were German conceptual artists and photographers who worked as a team to photograph buildings and industrial structures. As internationally recognized artists the couple met Sol LeWitt and Carl Andre and engaged each other in an artistic dialogue, supporting each other’s creativity.
Cyprien Gaillard (b. 1980) is a prominent young French artist who makes films, sculptures, and paintings. His work focuses on the artistic expression of concepts of entropy, destruction and humankind’s impact on nature.
Sherrie Levine emerged as an important artist in the early 80's. She is famous for her Appropriation Art where she would take photographs of widely distributed photos made by famous male artists and present the work as her own, examining the concept of originality.
I created a short 10 minute presentation on Sherrie Levine to share with the class. It is available here.
Xu Zhen (b. 1977) is a Chinese multimedia artist living and working in Shanghai, China. He is a prominent young Chinese artist who primarily works with photography, installation art, and video to address social and cultural issues.
Zhen’s pivotal work is the short film Rainbow (1998). This piece shows the impact of Zhen’s bare back being beaten until it turns bright red. The hand striking his back is edited out of the film but the audio of the slapping noise persists. He created this at age 21 and presented it at the Venice Biennale in 2001, making him the youngest Chinese artist to participate in the event. Another important early work is Shouting (1998). In this work he films pedestrians reacting to the noise of him shouting on a busy street. In both pieces Zhen is challenging and shocking the viewer with his behavior.
Adrian Piper (b. 1948) is an American conceptual artist and philosopher whose art career has spanned 5 decades. Her work addresses racism and the marginalization of minorities in western society by challenging us to face our racist views and attitudes. The artistic message is more than simply being critical of racism; it is about facing the illusions we tell ourselves about the reality of how appropriately we treat minorities and people of color.
Piper was born in New York City and attended a private school with mostly wealthy white students. She earned an associate’s degree from the School of Visual Arts in 1969 and a bachelor’s degree in Philosophy from the City College of New York in 1974. She went on to study Philosophy at Harvard where she received her master’s and PhD in 1977 and 1981. While studying in these programs she was also involved in New York’s art community, working at the Siegelaub Gallery and meeting other prominent artists of the time.
Charles Atlas (b. 1949) is an American video artist and filmmaker who was and is a pioneer in his field. He has collaborated extensively with other artists throughout his career and made innovative video installations and art.
Anri Sala (b. 1974) is an Albanian-born artist who uses video and sound to create complex works of art that emanate from the painful history of his home country and its Communist past. His work demonstrates careful attention to detail and a sophistication of thought and subtlety.
Sala studied painting at the Albanian National Academy of Arts from 1992 to 1996 and later studied video in Paris, France at the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs from 1996 to 1998. His pivotal work, Intervista—Finding the Words (1998), was made when he was still a film student in Paris. To produce this work he found 25-year old video footage featuring his own mother at a Communist rally in Albania. The found footage had no audio so neither he nor his mother had any idea what was being said. He then was able to get a deaf person skilled at lip reading to watch the video and recreate the transcript. Using the transcript he could tell his mother what she said. Her reaction to her own words was one of shock and disbelief. Anri said of his mother’s words, “if you hear it 25 years later you are surprised and saddened by the stiffness of the language.” The work confronts Albania’s painful history in a powerful way.
Nick Mauss (b. 1980) is a multidisciplinary artist who makes performance art, drawings, and paintings. His career pursues a hybrid role of artist, curator, and scholar. His exhibition at The Whitney, Transmissions, demonstrates this as he explores the relationship between ballet and avant-garde visual artists from the 1930’s to the 1950’s.
Mauss graduated from Cooper Union in 2003 and now lives and works in New York and Berlin. He has taught art at Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Germany and Bard College in New York.
Bill Viola (b. 1951) is an NY-born video artist whose work addresses fundamental human experiences such as birth, death, and consciousness. His work frequently uses water to explore these themes.
The pivotal moment in Viola’s life is when he was 6 years old and fell to the bottom of a lake. His uncle saved him from drowning, but while in the lake Viola experienced what he later described as “the most beautiful world he’s ever seen.” His work, which often involves water, is influenced by this experience. In his words, “I see it [the bottom of the lake] constantly almost in my mind in my mind's eye. It was a kind of paradise…”