Actor Mel Gibson rose to stardom in the 1979 film Mad Max, an action movie set in a dystopian future. In 2006, Gibson directed and cowrote Apocalypto, a dystopian fantasy set in the past. Drawing on durable colonialist tropes, Apocalypto portrays the indigenous civilizations of a pre-Colombian Central America as irredeemably brutal and doomed; the film ends with the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors. During the time that elapsed between the release of these two films, Gibson’s life took many sordid turns that land Apocalypto’s melodramatic tagline — “No One Can Outrun Their Destiny” — an ironic air. Mel Gibson Story (2010) by Jonathan Horowitz illustrates the actor’s downward spiral through a five-panel metamorphosis of the two movie posters.
In the 1980’s, Andy Warhol befriended several young artists of notoriety, including Keith Haring, with whom he also collaborated. Celebrated for his public and socially conscious art, Haring is pictured here with his then-boyfriend, DJ Juan Dubose. This portrait (1983) is rare, within Warhol’s oeuvre and in the visual culture of its time, in its depiction of intimacy between an interracial same-sex couple.
Photographed, Against a Wallpaper Comprised of Warhol’s Silkscreened Celebrity Portraits, in The Jewish Museum in Upper Manhattan
In Arlene Shechet’s sculpture, past, present, and future are subtly intertwined. For Travel Light (2017) she begins with pair of candlesticks that her grandmother brought from Belarus in 1920; the only material objects that the family possesses from their country of origin.
As she sought to learn more about them, Shechet uncovered long-forgotten family documents, from which she was able to track-down previously unknown relatives. The work is a functioning candelabrum grown from the old candlesticks; like them, it may be used for the Sabbath ceremony.
Three more iterations of the work are planned. The artist has embedded an image of the cover of her grandmother’s passport in the sculpture and will ask each subsequent owner to give her a cherished family record, which she will also embed in the piece. Thus, Travel Light will accumulate new stories, as a suitcase acquires travel labels, embracing the future as well as the past.
Amedeo Modigliani’s mother wrote that at about the age of fifteen the artist attended is first seance. His youthful spiritual and esoteric inclinations took him in the direction of the occult, reflected in this drawing, Portrait of a Medium (1906), made from memory, of a session he attended in Venice, where he studied for two years before coming to Paris.
A native of Vitebsk, Mikhail Kunin (1897 – 1972) received artist training from Yuri (Yehuda) Pen and then attended the People’s Art School from 1919 to 1921, taking classes with Marc Chagall and then Kazimir Malevich. Kunin painted this still life, with its colorful objects during Chagall’s class. Its title, Art of the Commune (1919), is inscribed on the lower left, along with the Russian words for ‘Futurists’ and ‘Leap into the future.’ Ambitious and involved, Kunin was a member of the School’s student executive committee and its Communist Counsel. Although he studied under Malevich, he continued to work in a figurative style, not hesitating to criticize Suprematism and its practitioners, notably for what he said were their nihilism and their tendency to destroy painterly culture.
El Lissitzky (1890 – 1941) created the poster Beat the Whites With the Red Wedge (1919 – 20) in Vitebsk (a city in northeast Belarus, known as the birthplace of Marc Chagall). It is an early example of agitprop (Soviet political propaganda) that uses abstraction. The work was produced during the Russian Civil War (1918 – 21) in support of the Red Army and the young Soviet government in their struggle against anti-Bolshevik White forces. In the middle of the composition, a revolutionary red triangle drives into a white circle on a black background. The symbolic significance of these forms — emphasized by the scattered Russian words for wedge, red, beat, and whites — would have been easily understood by the artist’s contemporaries.
This painting, entitled Anywhere Out of the World (1915 – 19) may be a self portrait. Mark Chagall (1887 – 1985) bisected the head of the figure because, as he explained it, it “needed a bank space right there“ to strengthen the composition. The pictorial strategy, which appears in some of his earlier paintings, could be a rendition of the “luftmensch,“ a Yiddish term used to describe a person who is concerned with intellectual pursuits rather than with the practicalities of life. The sideways cityscape adds tension to the scene. The painting’s overall geometrization is reminiscent of El Lissitzky’s Proun paintings — abstract compositions meant to be looked at from various vantage points.