THE INAUGURAL ISSUE of Ursula magazine begins and ends with depictions of African American women by black female artists. The cover features a collage image of Linda Goode Bryant by Lorna Simpson. A painting by Amy Sherald illustrates the back cover the magazine.

Bryant is the pioneering founder of Just Above Midtown (JAM), the gallery where Simpson and other artists including David Hammons, Lorraine O’Grady, Senga Nengudi, and Fred Wilson, found a welcoming place to show their work when white-owned galleries weren’t so receptive. The issue features a conversation between Bryant and Nengudi in which the longtime friends recount how the gallery got started and reflect on its historic tenure in 1970s and 80s New York.

Baltimore-based Sherald paints imaginative portraits of ordinary people. The image that concludes the issue hones in on a detail of one of her new works, a portrait titled “She had an inside and an outside now and suddenly she knew how not to mix them” (2018), which features a woman wearing floral-print, high-waisted pants.

Ursula is a new art magazine published by Hauser & Wirth gallery. Introduced in December, the quarterly will focus on the gallery’s roster of more than 80 artists and estates and also explore the wider modern and contemporary art world. Mark Bradford, Charles Gaines, Ellen Gallagher, Rashid Johnson, Amy Sherald, Lorna Simpson, and the Estate of Jack Whitten (1939-2018), are represented by Hauser & Wirth.

Whitten (2016), Simpson (2017), and Sherald (2018) joined the gallery relatively recently and are among the artists whose work is showcased in the Winter 2018 issue. The magazine features interviews, profiles, essays, images, and even poetry.

Randy Kennedy is editor-in-chief of Ursula. After a long tenure covering the arts at the New York Times, he was appointed director of special projects at Hauser & Wirth in 2017.

The magazine strikes a winning balance. It’s a serious art publication that is accessible for those who are not art historians. The long-form articles dive deep, introducing readers to new information and insights. Although the selection of artists covered is tied largely to the gallery’s programming and exhibition schedule (which generally accounts for the confluence of African American artists in the debut issue), the articles have an evergreen quality and could be published now or next year without missing the mark in terms of relevance.

The magazine strikes a winning balance. It’s a serious art publication that is accessible for those who are not serious art historians.

There is a broad mix of visuals, from images of individual artworks and installation views to historic documentary photography. There are also full-page, full-color plates of original artwork and newly commissioned photography. Design-wise, the publication looks and feels like a hybrid art and literary magazine. Glossy pages are interspersed with matte-finish ones. The type size is relatively large and therefore highly readable. On the gallery’s website, digital content, including videos, complements the print publication.

The second edition of Ursula is due out this month with a cover story on Santa Monica, Calif.-based painter Luchita Hurtado. The 98-year-old is finally garnering recognition. Born in Venezuela, she was featured in Made in L.A. 2018 and profiled in T: The New York Times Style Magazine.

Hauser & Wirth, which represents her, has dedicated three floors at its 69th Street location to her paintings and drawings from the 1940s and 50s. The works “range stylistically from surrealist figuration and geometric patterning to biomorphic forms executed with expressive acuity.” In May, Hurtado will have a solo exhibition at Serpentine Sackler Gallery in London.

 


Robin Coste Lewis was commissioned to write a poem for the inaugural issue of Ursula inspired by the sculpture of Jack Whitten. The gallery made a video of Lewis reciting “Mother Church Number Ten: Homage to Whitten.” | Image: Screenshot from video by Hauser & Wirth

 

IN THE CURRENT EDITION of Ursula, Los Angeles poet laureate Robin Coste Lewis offers a poem inspired by Whitten’s sculpture. A painter known for his conceptual abstractions, Whitten focused on sculpture every summer in Crete for half a century and kept the work largely private. Late in life, he made a decision to show the sculptures en masse for the first time, collaborating with curators Katy Siegel and Kelly Baum on a major exhibition organized by the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “Odyssey: Jack Whitten Sculpture, 1963-2017” featured 40 sculptures and opened last April in Baltimore three months after Whitten died.

The sculptures are carved from wood, marble, copper, and bone. Thoroughly modern and conceptual, the works reference Greek and African sculptural traditions. Most of the works are defined by material diversity. Whitten combined smooth wood surfaces, for example, with masses of dull, rough-hewn nails.

From the origins of the materials he used to the people and personal stories that inspired them, the works are embedded with content. Whitten made three “guardian” sculptures to protect his immediate family. Others are dedicated specifically to his wife Mary, his aunt Surlina, Malcolm X, John Lennon, and the youth of Greece. Some of the sculptures include a glass pane behind which Whitten has stored personal objects. These “memory containers” house mementos such as fish bones, sea shells, photographs, dried olive leaves, and his wife’s hair. Other works are inspired by his love of hunting, fishing, and diving.

Thoroughly modern and conceptual, Jack Whitten’s works reference Greek and African sculptural traditions. Most of the works are defined by material diversity. Whitten combined smooth wood surfaces, for example, with masses of dull, rough-hewn nails. …From the origins of the materials he used to the people and personal stories that inspired them, the sculptures are embedded with content.

In a poetic tribute titled “Mother Church Number Ten: Homage to Whitten,” Lewis speaks directly to his sculpture. She writes in part: “Once you were a saddle/made of smoothed wood—… You were an alarm clock./You were linen. You were twine—once.… I’ve placed all the bones/you will ever need inside you.”

Another exhibition organized in collaboration with the artist prior to his passing opens later this month. “Jack Whitten: Jack’s Jacks,” the artist’s first solo exhibition at a European institution, opens March 29 at the Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart in Berlin. The show will present 30 major works that span more than half a century.

 


From left, JACK WHITTEN, “Tomb of Socrates,” 2009 (Wild cypress, black mulberry, marble, brass, mixed media). | Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth; and JACK WHITTEN, “Lucy,” 2011 (Black mulberry, mixed media, Phaistos stone, mahogany, metal I-beam). | Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

 

SHERALD HAS BECOME KNOWN for her portrait of First Lady Michelle Obama, which was unveiled at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in February 2018. Obama is the only public figure Sherald has painted. The artist’s subjects are usually ordinary people. She has described her portraits as “Americans doing everyday things.”

She portrays people she encounters and is drawn to in her daily life. Her paintings are an artistic interpretation of her subjects. She paints their skin in grayscale, a nod to black-and-white photography. The choice also shifts the focus away from their race, emphasizing their humanity and individuality instead. Toward this end, she also reimagines their clothing and sometimes introduces quirky accessories.

A portfolio of three new paintings by Sherald is featured in the magazine. All of the images depict women. There are two single portraits and a double portrait, a departure for the artist. “Planes, rockets, and the spaces in between” (2018) captures two women from behind holding hands. Sherald contributes a brief essay to the issue, explaining the factors she considers when she is producing her work, how the double portrait came about, and why it includes a rocket in the distance.

“Where did the rocket come from? It’s kind of hard to figure that out myself. Part of it was that I just had to fill the space, and I had to think of something. A bird wasn’t going to work. It wouldn’t be big enough. There’s something about a rocket—it’s symbolic of the highest height of the spirit, of unlimited potential. It really captures your imagination because it’s going someplace where we can’t go. It’s almost like a dream,” Sherald writes.

“It’s just a very American thing, watching rockets go up. But I also feel like rockets are very white and very male, somehow, you know, the space program, all those white guys. The two women who served as models were women I met when I went to a meeting once at the Baltimore Renaissance Academy High School, when we were raising money to send the students there to see the movie Black Panther.”

“Where did the rocket come from? It’s kind of hard to figure that out myself. Part of it was that I just had to fill the space,… There’s something about a rocket—it’s symbolic of the highest height of the spirit, of unlimited potential. It really captures your imagination because it’s going someplace where we can’t go. It’s almost like a dream.” — Artist Amy Sherald

The trio of portraits is featured in her solo show currently on view at the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art. Sherald joined Hauser & Wirth in March 2018 and her first exhibition with the gallery is this September in New York City.

 


From left, AMY SHERALD, “Planes, rockets, and the spaces in between,” 2018 (oil on canvas, 100 x 67 inches). | © Amy Sherald, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth; and AMY SHERALD, “She always believed the good about those she loved,” 2018 (oil on canvas, 54 x 43 inches). | © Amy Sherald, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

 

KENNEDY CONDUCTED a conversation with Bryant and Senga Nengudi. A pioneering artist whose work centers around soft, abstract sculpture, performance, and dance, Nengudi is based in Colorado. Friends for more than 40 years, the artist and the founder of Just Above Midtown gallery met in New York City around 1976.

The conversation occurred in Bryant’s Upper West Side apartment, with Kennedy drawing out further insights from the women as they recalled the culture of the New York City art world at the time, how Bryant secured the gallery on 57th Street, and the creative space JAM provided for black artists. Sixteen pages are devoted to the revelatory conversation, which is illustrated with documentary images and vintage exhibition announcements.

Born in Columbus, Ohio, Bryant earned an undergraduate degree in studio art from Spelman College in 1972, and moved to New York City for graduate school. A single mother with a three-year-old and a newborn in tow, she interviewed for a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was a few years after the Met presented the controversial exhibition “Harlem on My Mind” (1969). Bryant said she told them she wanted to burn the museum down. When the interviewer brought the director Thomas Hoving in to meet her, she said she didn’t back down. “It’s a racist institution,” she said. “It’s living on public money but not representing the full public. Fuck you.” Hoving thought she was crazy, but was intrigued and gave her the fellowship, Bryant said.

Linda Goode Bryant said she told them she wanted to burn The Met down. When the interviewer brought the director Thomas Hoving in to meet her, she didn’t back down. “It’s a racist institution,” she said. “It’s living on public money but not representing the full public.”

Bryant left The Met and was working at the Studio Museum in Harlem as director of education when she decided to establish JAM. She wrote about her path to opening the gallery in the catalog for “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power.”

In the essay, Bryant recalled being obsessed with David Hammons, who at the time was living and working in Los Angeles. When she finally met him, she asked when she’d be able to see his work in New York. He told her he didn’t show in white galleries. At the same time, Bryant was frustrated that African American artists had to protest New York galleries who wouldn’t show their work. Why beg to be included, she thought. She was determined to start a gallery black artists could call their own. “I think David was the final push,” she wrote.

In the conversation with Ursula, Bryant said she initially planned to open the gallery at 86th and Broadway, near where she lived. But Henry Geldzahler, the contemporary art curator at The Met, told her she wouldn’t be taken seriously unless she was on 57th Street, assuming she could never get a space there. Against all odds, she did. Bryant said she has no idea why the collector Bill Judson rented her the space. She said she was able to secure it because Andi Owens, who founded the Genesis II Museum of International Black Culture in Harlem, loaned her $1,000 for the deposit and first and last month’s rent. She was 23.

“Even Romare Bearden didn’t believe what I’d done. When I got the space, I ran down to Canal Street and ran up those five floors to his studio. He was like, ‘How did you get a lease?'” Bryant said. “It was 724 square feet, fifth floor, at the back of the building, no windows. I had no insurance. I could never pay the rent. My debts to my printers are still in the archives: ‘Please pay us, Linda. Please. Please.'”

 


Linda Goode Bryant founded Just Above Midtown (JAM) gallery in New York City, providing a platform for artists of color from 1974-1986. Bryant spoke at length about JAM in a conversation published by Ursula and made a video about her views and experiences with art and current work seeding sustainable urban farms in the city. | Image: Screenshot from video by Hauser & Wirth

 

ONCE BRYANT STARTED the gallery, she said the opportunity it presented engendered conflicting opinions. Some New York artists thought she was showing too many West Coast artists, such as Nengudi and Hammons, who moved to New York in 1974, the same year JAM opened.

“That was the first time I ever thought about galleries as real estate,” Bryant said. “And then also the abstractionists versus the figurative artists. And the figurative artists, some of them black nationalists, were like ‘You gotta show us. You cant show them.’ And I said, ‘I’m gonna show what I want.'”

Bryant was aligned politically with the black nationalists among the figurative artists, but said she “wasn’t drawn to the aesthetic that emerged from nationalism.”

Some white dealers were nice to her. Others were hostile and said, “You’re not showing 57th Street work.” Bryant explained what they were insinuating. “It wasn’t just about being black,” she said. “It was the idea of it being so out there, so experimental, very little painting. It was the thought that if you’re going to show David Hammons or you’re going to show Senga Nengudi, that’s SoHo shit; that’s not 57th Street shit. ‘What are you doing showing this on 57th Street?'”

Some white dealers were nice to her. Others were hostile. “It wasn’t just about being black,” Linda Good Bryant said. “It was the idea of it being so out there, so experimental, very little painting. It was the thought that if you’re going to show David Hammons or you’re going to show Senga Nengudi, that’s SoHo shit; that’s not 57th Street shit. ‘What are you doing showing this on 57th Street?'”

Kennedy asked if one of Bryant’s goals was to educate black collectors, a generation of middle- and upper-income patrons.

    Bryant said: “It was not about educating in a professional way, but connecting—that would be the language I’d use now. Connecting people to our innate ability to use what we have to create what we need. People were saying, ‘They won’t let us.’ I was frustrated by us not letting ourselves. Not understanding the we, in fact, can create what we need. If the doors aren’t being opened for you, then go out and make your own doors. Artists need opportunities for their work to be experienced by others. So let’s create that.”

    Nengudi said: I think that’s important to emphasize because that’s always been Linda’s mantra.

JAM provided a platform and gathering space for artists of color from 1974-1986. When a new owner took over the lease, the gallery relocated to a larger space in Tribeca in 1977. Then it moved again in 1984 to SoHo, transitioning from a commercial gallery to a nonprofit studio space. Along the way, Bryant earned an MBA from Columbia University. Eventually, Bryant said she decided to close JAM altogether, lamenting “the whole culture of art had shifted toward the artist as commodity, to a degree that continues to amaze me.”

 


The cover of the inaugural Winter 2018 edition of Ursula magazine features a collage image of Linda Goode Bryant, founder of Just Above Midtown gallery, by Lorna Simpson.

 

SIMPSON’S COLLAGE of Bryant graces the cover. A conceptual photographer for most of her career, Simpson has transformed her practice in recent years and she concentrates primarily on painting now, as well as sculpture. Her first exhibition with Hauser & Wirth in New York City opens next month and will feature new work.

Inspired by black-and-white images sourced from old Jet and Ebony magazines, her collages, have formed a distinct aspect of her practice. Simpson embellishes the images with colorful swoops and cascades of watercolor giving her subjects elaborate hairstyles and crown-like formations that dramatize their appearance, introduce an element of mystery to their identity, and convey a sense of unlimited possibility in terms of their ideas and aspirations.

The collage Simpson made of Bryant is unique given her subjects are ordinarily anonymous women clipped from vintage publications. Based on an undated photograph by Dwight Carter, her image of Bryant is a double portrait, perhaps referencing her reinvention.

The collage Lorna Simpson made of Linda Goode Bryant is unique given her subjects are ordinarily anonymous women clipped from vintage publications. Her image of Bryant is a double portrait, perhaps referencing her reinvention.

A serial entrepreneur and problem solver, after letting JAM go, Bryant focused on documentary filmmaking. Then she worked with youth, combining her background in art and media as a vehicle for social change. Currently, Bryant is focused on Project EATS, a nonprofit she founded that blends art, agriculture, and social enterprise. Over the past decade, the organization has developed a series of urban farms providing sustainable food production in economically challenged New York City neighborhoods.

In May, Bryant is collaborating on a Frieze New York project with Franklin Sirmans, director of the Pérez Art Museum Miami. Sirmans has been tapped to organize a themed section at the art fair paying tribute to Just Above Midtown. Working with Bryant, he is reviving the energy and mission of the institution, inviting contemporary galleries to present solo artist exhibitions. Frieze is donating 10 percent of the fees generated from the galleries to Project EATS.

 


From left, AMY SHERALD, “She had an inside and an outside now and suddenly she knew how not to mix them,” 2018 (oil on canvas, 54 x 43 inches); Ursula magazine, Winter 2018, back cover featuring detail of “She had an inside and an outside now and suddenly she knew how not to mix them” (2018) by Amy Sherald

 

NAMED FOR URUSLA HAUSER, a co-founder of Hauser & Wirth, the magazine was introduced at the end of 2018, capping an active year at the gallery. In addition to a full schedule of exhibitions at eight locations around the world, including two in New York and one each in Los Angeles, London, Hong Kong, and Zurich, the gallery debuted a ninth outpost in St. Moritz, Switzerland. Hauser & Wirth Institute was established as a nonprofit, independent from the commercial gallery, dedicated to art historical scholarship and preserving and providing access to artist archives. In addition, a wave of new artists joined to roster, including Sherald and Los Angeles-based Gaines. The Wirths even got into the hotel business last year, opening Fife Arms in Braemar, Scotland, also in December.

Hauser & Wirth’s foray into magazine publishing follows the decision by another so-called mega gallery to launch a publication. Gagosian Quarterly debuted in Spring 2017 and entire editions are now available online via issuu.

Hauser & Wirth’s foray into magazine publishing follows the decision by another so-called mega gallery to launch a publication. Gagosian Quarterly debuted in Spring 2017.

Gagosian has 17 locations around the world and represents nearly 90 artists. Two of them are black—Ellen Gallagher and Theaster Gates, who joined the gallery in December. Since its founding, the magazine has published a handful of articles focused on artists of African descent. The latest edition is an exception with three features of particular interest.

The Spring 2019 issue includes a conversation with Thelma Golden and architect David Adjaye about the Studio Museum in Harlem’s new building, an exploration of the lives and works of artists Jean-Michel Basquiat and Egon Schiele in the wake of their dueling exhibitions at the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris, and a visit to Nina Simone’s childhood home in Tryon, N.C. Gallagher and fellow artists Rashid Johnson, Julie Mehretu, and Adam Pendleton purchased the neglected house in 2017 and last year it was declared a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

 

Ursula: Issue 1 from Hauser & Wirth on Vimeo.

 

IN ADDITION TO SHOWCASING work by multiple African American artists, the 128-page inaugural issue of Ursula features an exploration of Belgian surrealism by Luc Sante, a conversation with artist Ida Applebroog conducted by Kennedy, and a portfolio of 1969-70 silkscreens Takesada Matsutani made in Paris. Applebroog and Matsutani are represented by Hauser & Wirth.

The Letters section of a magazine traditionally features correspondence from readers. Ursula adopts a more clever approach, publishing a 1941 letter from the archive of German photographer August Sander (1876-1964). The handwritten letter is from his eldest son, Erich, a political prisoner.

Accompanying text explains German officials jailed Erich, who was also a photographer and a student member of the Socialist Workers Party, an anti-Nazi group. Between 1935 and 1944, Erich wrote dozens of letters to his mother and father. He died in custody when his appendix burst and he didn’t receive proper medical care.

There is a remembrance of ceramicist Betty Woodman (1930-2018) and the issue concludes with a brief pitch about Whitten’s book “Notes From the Woodshed” explaining its rich content—nearly 60 years of serious and witty writings, including near-daily studio logs, candid monologues, to-do lists, and philosophical musings.

Whitten was known as a “great wordsmith—a magnetic talker and a deeply sensitive writer.” Ursula would have provided a suitable outlet. CT

 

BOOKSHELF
In “Lorna Simpson Collages,” the artist’s layered portraits inspired by black-and-white images from Jet and Ebony magazines fill nearly every page with scholar Elizabeth Alexander providing a poetic introduction. Two volumes about Jack Whitten’s work were published in 2018. “Jack Whitten: Odyssey: Sculpture 1963–2017” coincides with the first presentation of Whitten’s sculptural works and “Jack Whitten: Notes from the Woodshed” explores the artist’s studio practice through his notes, lists, musings, interviews and other documentation. “Jack Whitten: Five Decades of Painting” documents the artist’s first-ever career spanning survey. Finally, “Jack Whitten,” a forthcoming monograph from Prestel will explore the artist’s work, focusing on “the themes of history, politics, science, and music,” in particular. “Amy Sherald,” the artist’s first monograph, coincides with her first solo museum exhibition and features an essay by curator Erin Christovale.

 

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