"If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere." What applied to Frank Sinatra still applies today for many artists who year after year try to get a foothold in New York. It is a tall order. "For an artist, New York is a fantastic opportunity with its high energy and cultural variety. However at the same time it is also intimidating for a new comer. It is a hard trip to go through If someone is not already integrated through a school or close friends," explains Anna Pasztor. Or if they have a mentor. Pasztor, a Hungarian multi-media artist, trained dancer and choreographer, has benefited from an innovative program offered by the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA). As mentors, NYFA Fellowship winners help non-American artist mentees to get connected in the New York art scene. And they support these practicing artists in concrete ways. For example, they help them write applications for grants in English, prepare their portfolios or statements, and give tips about where to procure materials for their work. Together with NYFA, Deutsche Bank Americas Foundation piloted the Mentoring Program for Immigrant Artists and funded it from the very beginning.
For the exhibition, Making It, curator Liz Christensen from Deutsche Bank New York's art department invited all of last year's participants from the visual arts category. The works on view by artists from eleven countries demonstrate the enormous vitality and range of talent living within the five boroughs of New York, a city which continues to beckon foreign born artists and is continually being enriched by their diverse influences.
The Brazilian artist Priscila de Carvalho deals with urban landscapes in a globalized world. She is inspired by rampantly growing shantytowns and favelas and makes hybrid collages in which abstract passages or pictures of streets and architecture overlay photos she has taken herself or appropriated. On view is her large-scale collage 482 Approaching Mermaid Parade (2008), which focuses on the current conflict around Coney Island. Between stylized silhouettes of roller coaster and carousel, passers-by encounter imaginatively costumed people taking part in the annual Mermaid Parade, which is held every year on Coney Island to celebrate the beginning of summer. However, the artist has a military helicopter circle above the merry scene, a symbol of the threat posed by property speculation to the old-established amusement park. Urban landscapes and architectural structures also feature prominently in the work of Carvalho's mentor Carleen Sheehan. A look at Bungalow (2006) shows that there are not only similarities between the subject matter of the two artists' work. Carvalho and Sheehan are also united by their method of sampling diverse pictorial material.
Common approaches can also be found in the positions of the Japanese Hanae Sasaoka and her mentor Eleanor White. The work of both artists is based on patterns and ornaments. White uses a razorblade to remove pictures on playing cards: All that remains of the king of diamonds or queen or hearts are geometric patterns. She combines the cards to create grids or mandala-like structures, and suddenly the industrial produced cards recall folk art or African materials. In Hanae Sasaoka's paintings and fragile wall works, which are influenced by traditional Japanese aesthetics, shimmering beetles, moths, or flies form into clusters or "urban groups" so that, according to the artist, they can cope better in the big city. "The imaginary world I create is inspired by and a reflection of my time in NY. I've come to be influenced by the power from its diversity and mixture of people."
The work of Regula Ruegg also conveys transcultural experiences. The Swiss artist takes photographs from moving cars, and the result is poetic, mysterious impressions of a landscape in movement. These snapshots capture a state of "being in between," of being between, as Ruegg says, two worlds, cultures, and lifestyles. "References to displacement and physical disruption are frequently present in the work of the expatriated artists," explains curator Liz Christensen. While Yoon Jeong Han longingly adorns pizza boxes with pictures of his favorite Korean fruit, Lishan Chang from Taiwan covers notes, directions and bills of lading he saved from his day job as a professional mover of goods and furniture with abstract drawings reminiscent of Chinese calligraphy. Co-existence (2007), a video made by the Dominican artist Hatuey Ramos-Fermin, shows a strange phenomenon brought about by globalization and migration: Since 2000, a Latin American Pentecostal church and a table tennis club have shared a room. While white ping pong balls fly back and forth there during the week, ecstatic masses take place there on weekends. The video conveys an at once absurd and hopeful vision that completely different cultures can coexist peacefully.
Selections from the 2008 NYFA Mentorship Program for Immigrant Artists
60 Wall Street Gallery, New York
April 2 - July 31, 2009