Open Studio with Jared Bowen

S10 E10 | FULL EPISODE

“Frida Kahlo: POSE,” “Hair Stories,” and more

“Frida Kahlo: POSE” exhibit at the Rose Art Museum, “Hair Stories” examines hair and its role in art and culture at the Newport Art Museum, the sculpture of Mel Kendrick at the Addison Gallery of American Art, and Ohio artist Matthew Mohr creating art from everyday objects.

AIRED: September 24, 2021 | 0:26:46
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TRANSCRIPT

>> She used to give her photographs,

autograph them and give them to people, and tell them,

"Don't forget me, never forget me."

>> JARED BOWEN: I'm Jared Bowen. Coming up onOpen Studio,

Frida Kahlo.

How the Mexican painter struck a pose for all the world to see.

Then getting to the root of hair

as an artistic and political statement.

>> That kind of reclamation of Black hair,

making it an art object, showing its beauty,

showing the diversity of types of hair

is really kind of working against that discrimination.

>> BOWEN: Plus, seeing things in things--

the sculpture of Mel Kendrick.

>> If I make a "mistake," whatever a mistake is,

something I don't like, I stick it back together with glue

and then I keep on.

>> BOWEN: And the artist finding a new way into everyday objects.

>> We just hope that the art makes you laugh

and gives you joy, and that's our goal.

>> BOWEN: It's all now onOpen Studio.

♪ ♪

First up, Mexican artist Frida Kahlo has become just as famous

for how she looked as how she painted.

As a new exhibition at Brandeis University's Rose Art Museum

reveals, that look was entirely by her own design.

It was a deep and years-long cultivation:

this young girl casting the camera in her spell

before growing into one of the most recognizable figures

of the 20th century.

She is Frida Kahlo,

whose dress, hair, and eyebrows were all methodically considered

and constructed.

>> She had so many mirrors around the house--

indoors, outdoors, inside the canopy of her bed.

They were a tool for her to pose.

She was composing her identities.

>> BOWEN: Gannit Ankori is the director of the Rose Art Museum,

now presenting Frida Kahlo: POSE,

a show she co-curated tracing the path to an icon.

How mindful was she that there was an audience for most,

if not all of these photographs?

>> Well, I think that she was very mindful

and she used to give her photographs, autograph them

and give them to people, and tell them,

"Don't forget me, never forget me."

>> BOWEN: The unforgettable face was first and often captured

by Kahlo's father, Guillermo, an architectural photographer

who charted his daughter's transition

from a cheerful toddler to a young woman disabled

after a bout with polio,

then severe injuries resulting from a bus accident

that left her literally at pains to emerge as someone new.

>> What's special about her is that she took all of that

and not only survived, but thrived

and created something that's so impactful.

>> BOWEN: In her early 20s, Kahlo adopted what became

her signature style.

While others were taking their fashion cues

from Europe and Hollywood,

she began wearing the dress of Indigenous women

throughout Mexico, a nod to her pride in her Mexican heritage.

>> She established a relationship

between her wounded body and dress from a very early age.

>> BOWEN: Longtime Kahlo scholar Circe Henestrosa

says that while Kahlo's dress was inspired

by the powerful women traditionally wearing

this style, it also disguised her disabilities.

>> This dress is composed by a headpiece and a short huipil

and a long skirt.

All the adornment of this dress

is concentrated from the torso up, distracting the viewer

from her wounded legs and her broken body.

>> BOWEN: The focus on her upper body also accentuated

what would become Kahlo's hallmark monobrow and mustache.

>> It informs also her gender identity,

because her choice of dress and her construction of identity

is not only informed by her ethnicity and disability

and political outlook, but also by her queer identity.

>> BOWEN: Among Kahlo's identities: a masculine one.

>> She was posing as a man when she was 19.

This is a time when gender fluidity,

there was no name for that.

But she was performing that in front of her father's camera.

>> BOWEN: Without inhibitions,

as Kahlo would demonstrate in photographs

that document the close and sometimes sexual relationships

she had with women, in addition to men.

>> She really teaches us a lot about ourselves.

She was way ahead of her time in many ways

that relate to identity, disability, ethnic identity,

and being who you are.

>> BOWEN: Which was an artist who never received fame

in her lifetime.

Not that it deterred Kahlo.

The pose she maintained in pictures--

often with a direct gaze toward the viewer

and a slight turn of the head--

was the same she carried into her paintings,

which Ankori says were expansions of the photographs.

>> Paintings allow her to add symbolism.

She shows herself to think about herself within the cosmos,

within broader contexts.

So this is also, I think, a unique aspect

of her contribution in art.

>> BOWEN: Kahlo was 47 when she died in 1954.

Bedridden and with one leg amputated, she had become,

as she described it, "the disintegration,"

although neither her work nor her look wavered.

Even on her deathbed, where she painted

this final self-portrait.

>> She's almost disintegrating into becoming a flower.

And she's still wearing a Tehuana dress.

You can see the deterioration, both of her body

and her capacity to hold the paintbrush.

This shows her resilience.

Yes, it was the waning of her life,

but she continued to paint, to insist on posing.

>> BOWEN: All to leave a legacy that now makes her a legend.

♪ ♪

Next, hair.

With DNA, it holds our stories,

and by design, it can tell our stories.

That's the heart of a new exhibition

at the Newport Art Museum, which examines hair

as a cultural and political force.

Francine Weiss, you're the curator ofHair Stories

at the Newport Art Museum, thank you so much for being with us.

>> Oh, thanks for having me, Jared, I appreciate it.

>> BOWEN: Well, where did your interest

in, in this topic come from?

>> I have training as a photo historian,

and there's a little area of photo collections,

and also 19th-century collections, that often has

these objects made from hair called hair jewelry.

And these objects were made in the 19th century in America

and Europe as tokens of friendship and love,

as well as ways to mourn people who had passed.

And so I began with that idea of that object made

from hair that really preserves a person and has to do

with emotions and attachment and a story related to a person,

and began to see a lot of contemporary artists

dealing with hair, such as Nafis M. White and Sonya Clark.

And somehow, those ideas started to kind of coalesce for me

of artists engaging with hair, working with hair,

representing hair, as well as these earlier objects

that interested me, some of which are in the exhibition.

>> BOWEN: I want to ask a lot more about

the contemporary artists in a moment.

But first, I'm really struck by Queen Victoria.

>> Yes. >> BOWEN: Who popularized

some of our notions of hair and, and how we would remember it,

as we know it today. >> Correct, yes.

So, as the story goes, when Prince Albert passed away,

she actually kept some locks of his hair and had those made

into a small selection of hair jewelry objects--

lockets and woven objects, which she wore to remember him by.

And so the Victorian era is really known for proliferation

of these hair jewelry objects.

There are many of them in different collections

in the U.S. and in Europe, as well.

>> BOWEN: Well, flash forward to the contemporary artists.

And, and you have thought about this show, as I understand it,

for about the last ten years, and over the last ten years,

we've seen a lot of conversation about hair.

We've seen how it's become politicized.

We've seen lawsuits around hair, especially as African American,

African Americans and African American students wear it.

>> Correct.

>> BOWEN: So how much is that dealt with in your show?

>> So we have a number of artists engaging with that

directly, incorporating either actual Black hair

from family members or friends into their artworks,

as well as artists using synthetic hair

to weave sculptures and kind of bring Black beauty supplies

and Black hair, are used by many Black women, into art objects

to kind of give them a place of fine art.

So I think that that kind of reclamation of Black hair,

making it art object, showing its beauty,

showing the diversity of types of hair,

is really kind of working against that discrimination

through the exhibition.

>> BOWEN: I actually had Sonya Clark on the show

a few months ago about her exhibition

at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum.

And she really struck me by talking about

how our own stories are embedded,

literally embedded in our hair through DNA.

>> Correct, yeah.

>> BOWEN: How is that explored in the show

and how, how deeply us our hair is?

>> In Sonya Clark's case, we have a couple of objects by her

in the exhibition, including a necklace from RISD Museum,

in which she's woven in a literal chain

her friend's hair and her family member's hair.

And that actually belonged to people

who had stories of their own.

>> BOWEN: There's a piece that you have that can be interpreted

so many different ways.

I'll ask you to tell me about it. >> Okay.

>> BOWEN: But it depicts a picket fence. >> Yes.

>> BOWEN: That's one of the first things that you see.

>> Yeah, so that work is by Nneka Kai,

who's a wonderful artist in Atlanta.

That particular work, I feel, really tries to demythologize

the American dream, to suggest that the white picket fence,

which might symbolize the American dream

or something unattainable, is really elusive

for a lot of Black Americans, and has been for some time.

And there's a way in which she's woven the hair

to almost look like hands clutching at the bottom

of that fence, like, you know, trying to pull at it

or have it in some way.

It's a really dramatic and stunning piece,

and I'm just so thrilled that we were able to get it

for the exhibition.

>> BOWEN: With hair as an artistic medium,

does it just completely change the tenor,

as opposed to walking in and seeing

just a group of paintings-- not just a group,

but a group of paintings-- but knowing they were done

with paint or sculpture, but knowing that you're looking at

another human being there?

>> I think, sometimes when people see hair in art--

depends on what the work is--

but initial reaction might even be disgust in some objects.

Like, just not used to seeing part of a body

in something in a museum, like a relic, almost.

And then other times, seeing it as really beautiful

and being surprised that that's actually hair

making that sculpture or that, you know, print or painting,

or as the subject of a video, whatever it is.

>> BOWEN: Where does grief come into this,

in the tradition of hair?

>> There are a number of artists in this exhibition

who are using hair to express loss and grief,

either of a specific person or of a concept.

For instance, we have one artist, D.M. Witman,

who is doing a two-channel video work in the exhibition,

where she is showing herself in a video shaving her own hair

with, you know, clippers and scissors.

The two-channel video installation shows

different phases of the haircut,

but in her case, she is a former environmental scientist

turned artist, and she has been doing a lot of work

dealing with this idea of climate grief

or ecological grief.

>> BOWEN: It's interesting, I think maybe in society,

we do this in general, anyway,

but associate hair more with women,

and we see a lot of women featured in your show,

but also some men. >> Yes.

>> BOWEN: And how do we find them?

>> Well, I noticed that I was incorporating or including

a lot of women artists and a lot of objects

that connected to the 19th century and the Victorian era.

And I really, I thought, where are the men?

And one really fabulous artist I found is Sean M. Johnson,

who is dealing with the kind of significance of beards

and hair for men, and specifically for men

in the LGBTQIA community,

but he is also trying very hard to show...

Kind of undermine that stereotype of men with beards

or with a lot of hair being macho or tough,

and not tender and loving and soft.

>> BOWEN: And finally, I know that curators such as yourself

often want to just put the art out there

and let people have their experiences.

But is there something you want people to leave the exhibition

having an understanding of or feeling in some way?

>> What I really wanted was that people come away

with a greater sense of understanding of other people,

and I really wanted it to be a welcoming exhibition

and to impact people and really make them think

about people who are different,

about how they treat other people.

And hair is really a conduit

for getting to that understanding, I think.

>> BOWEN: Well, Francine Weiss,

it's such an interesting exhibition.

Thank you so much for being here with hair.

>> Thank you very much.

♪ ♪

>> BOWEN: Life is a mystery,

especially with Alfred Hitchcock,

as we find in Arts this Week.

♪ ♪

Join the Revels Saturday for Revels RiverSing,

a musical celebration of the autumnal equinox

hosted along the Charles River.

The event welcomes families and musicians of all ages

to participate in a night of song as the Revels deliver

a lyrical farewell to summer.

♪ ♪

Sunday, dancer Ayodele Casel brings the newly devised show

Chasing Magic to the A.R.T.

It features tap routines centered around themes

of friendship, trust, and ancestry.

The first episode ofThe Judy Garland Show

aired 58 years ago Wednesday.

It featured many of the era's foremost entertainers,

not to mention the triple threat talent herself.

>> ♪ I feel a song coming on ♪

>> BOWEN: The Greater Boston Stage Company is the site

of the city's latest espionage affair.

Alfred Hitchcock'sThe 39 Steps hits the stage Friday

with a twisting tale of romance, tragedy, and hijinks.

Saturday, see a performance ofBe Here Now

at Lyric Stage Company.

The romantic comedy centers on a woman suffering from a bout

of life-threatening headaches that cause her to develop

a drastically different worldview.

The Addison Gallery of American Art

has filled an entire floor of galleries

with the sculpture of Mel Kendrick.

As we see in nearly 40 years of work on view,

he's an outlier who's never taken to lying down.

This is one of the final weekends to see the show,

so here again, a piece we first brought you in April.

The name of this show is Seeing Things in Things,

which is essentially what artist Mel Kendrick

has been doing since the 1970s.

Where we might see a plain old birch tree,

he sees it from the inside out.

>> The only way I could

do this was cutting it into many small pieces

and then removing the core.

And reassembled it exactly the way it grew in the tree.

The wood grain is matched up all the way through.

>> BOWEN: For most of his career,

Kendrick has always gone out on a limb.

Dismantling them, actually, along with trees and logs,

so that they can be reassembled.

>> On all these pieces, you can match up the holes

and see what's going on.

But it always brings up the whole question, it's, like,

what am I making?

(laughing)

What am I making?

Why is this interesting to me?

>> BOWEN: They're questions that have sustained Kendrick

through a 40-some-odd-year career,

charted out here in his first-ever retrospective

at the Addison Gallery of American Art.

Kendrick came of age as a New York artist

when Minimalism reigned.

Where artists like Frank Stella

stripped art down to its barest forms,

Kendrick was building it back up.

In other words, going against the grain.

>> I was heavily influenced

by the artists I was meeting-- the older artists.

And I kept trying to break through to find something

that was my own.

>> BOWEN: So he stayed with sculpture,

something the art world had written off by the time

he had a significant early-career show

of his small works in 1983.

>> I literally went into that show and I thought, "Okay..."

I can get emotional about it. (laughs)

"Okay, I've done all that I can do, and if they don't sell,

if no one likes them, I'll give them all to my friends."

(chuckles)

Didn't turn out that way. (laughs)

>> I really can't think of anyone I would compare him to,

which is what makes, for me, this show so exciting...

>> BOWEN: Allison Kemmerer is the curator of the show--

really a show of shows,

where each gallery offers a different body of work.

>> As you wander through,

you will participate in this show.

These works demand physical engagement.

They suck you in.

You're asking yourself, "What is this?"

You need to walk around them to fully understand them

and process them.

>> BOWEN: Often the answer, despite Kendrick's best efforts,

is that these are beings of some sort,

with their craggy legs and humanistic forms.

>> Mel is adamant about avoiding any link

to the representational world-- but of course!

We all see that-- I imagine

Nemo, the insect-like, full-room-sized sculpture,

when we turn off the lights at night,

as making his rounds around the museum.

I mean, it's all about motion.

>> BOWEN: And made in motion.

Kendrick never sketches, draws,

or designs his sculptures beforehand.

>> He sees wielding the chainsaw much like wielding a pencil,

in that the shapes that he enforces onto wood-- curves

and arabesques and holes--

are not things naturally, um, akin to the material.

It's more a painterly, drawing process.

>> If I make a "mistake," whatever a mistake is,

something I don't like, uh, I stick it back together

with glue and then I keep on.

So I'm incorporating all those elements.

And that, to me, is drawing.

>> BOWEN: The clues to Kendrick's

how-did-he-do-that process

are everywhere.

The traces of paint,

the ties,

the armature-- all locked

into these single blocks of wood.

Well, what about your relationship with wood?

Is it a relationship?

Have you mastered it at this point?

>> I like to say I'm a very bad carpenter.

(laughs)

But I started in construction.

When I arrived in New York,

I knew nothing about wood, so it's really, the whole thing

built up from, literally, building-- building walls,

building kitchen cabinets.

>> BOWEN: Wood does have the starring,

and frequently towering, role here, and with appearances

in his woodblock prints

and photography.

But occasionally we find cameos

by concrete and rubber.

>> This is sort of an architectural rubber.

And I love the color, the amber.

And it satisfied something in me to see the inside.

>> BOWEN: How often does beauty matter in your work?

>> Beauty as a concept

is not something I go through,

but I think it's one of those intangible things,

because how do you know what's beautiful

if you've never seen it before?

But the amber is beautiful, the light coming through it,

I mean, these pieces near a window-- it's fantastic.

But in no way did I think this

could be deemed a beautiful object.

(laughs): I think it's a very

disturbing object-- or a very funny thing.

>> BOWEN: And therein lies the beauty of Mel Kendrick:

seeing the other side of things.

♪ ♪

We move to Ohio now, where artist Matthew Mohr has emerged

from the pandemic bringing everyday objects to life

in creations he calls lightning sprites.

♪ ♪

>> For a while there, I couldn't produce anything

when the pandemic hit.

The art just went away.

And so, I was looking around for inspiration

and it just...

One morning, looking at the kitchen with my cup of tea,

looking out my window, I was, like,

"I love these things."

I've had these solar-powered toys for, you know, years now.

They keep going.

There's something just simple and lovely about the platform.

But what if we combined that

with a more open-ended approach to art?

What if we make it a little more open for interpretation?

And sculpture, and solar power, and kinetic, and boom,

it was just there.

♪ ♪

And so, then the journey became about,

how can I make something that expresses the way I'm feeling

about the pandemic?

Here I'm drawing different possible heads

for these creatures.

Again, thinking about how we're...

You know, we interact with these forms daily--

the prescription pill bottle,

or this is a top for a tube that you twist and you can open.

But then, the pandemic sort of put us right back in that moment

where these very mundane tasks become

much larger actions in our daily lives.

And I just thought, you know, this is a moment

that's worth considering.

I worked with Susan Van Pelt Petry

to work on a series of gestures.

Susan created a gesture that switches from recoil,

which is what the pandemic made us all do,

to reaching, reaching forward and grasping something new.

When you see this, I essentially translated it into sketches.

So, here we are at reaching,

and it's going to go back to recoil.

♪ ♪

And so, now they're being modeled by Todd Perkins,

who's doing the engineering behind them

and, you know, we're working together on these

and it'll be, they're gonna be great.

♪ ♪

>> Just need to remove the support material now.

That's the part you see here.

>> So, I continued to work on them,

and then I got a call from David and Janet

at the Dublin Arts Council,

saying, "We'd like you to do an installation

for theArt and Wellness show."

♪ ♪

>> They're whimsical.

They're fun.

You're curious about them when you see them.

They look like common objects, some parts of it.

So, there's a familiarity there,

but there's also a strangeness about them,

like an otherworldly...

And I think that's where Matthew came up

with the sprites idea.

>> Lightning sprite is essentially a moment,

a flash of lightning above the clouds.

It looks unearthly.

It has a reddish glow to it.

It's only there for milliseconds, but it's,

you know, it's like something you've never seen before.

And I thought about a lightning storm coming through Dublin

and depositing these lightning sprites around,

around the forests of Dublin,

as if the lightning struck a tree and left

one of these little sculptures there.

(thunder rumbles)

♪ ♪

>> If we come out together and experience art,

it's a way to move through

what we've been through the past year.

And so, we just hope that the art makes you laugh,

and gives you joy, and that's our goal.

♪ ♪

>> We're at the beginning stages of technology

that will enable us to explore many, many different ways

of expression.

And I see these sculptures as being part of that dialogue.

♪ ♪

♪ ♪

>> BOWEN: And that is all for this edition ofOpen Studio.

Next week, moreWicked this way comes.

Author Gregory Maguire joins us about his return to Oz.

>> It reminds me that citizens are pawns, as well as agents.

And that's how I feel in my own life

and that's how my characters feel, too.

>> BOWEN: Plus, we tour the work of Cuban painter

Mariano Rodríguez.

>> He went off on his own and created his own unique

radical style, and I think that is the definition

of a true Modernist.

>> BOWEN: Until then, I'm Jared Bowen.

Thanks for joining us.

As always, you can visit us online at GBH.org/OpenStudio.

And you can follow us on Instagram and Twitter,

@OpenStudioGBH.

♪ ♪

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