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Artist’s Mobilize: With Liberty and Justice for Some . . . An Exhibition Honoring Immigrants

 01/19/2017 10:16 am ET | Updated Jan 20, 2017

IMAGE COURTESY OF WALTER MACIEL GALLERY

IMAGE COURTESY OF WALTER MACIEL GALLERY

Since the election, social media has been flooded with angst about the new political reality of a Trump administration. In light of this new climate, many artists are grappling with the same question artists have answered through the ages. What is their duty? Literally, the definition of art history is the study of objects within their historical context. History is calling, and the question is how best to engage their art with the world in a meaningful way.

Artist, Monica Lundy introduced this very conversation to her peers. Many artists, their families or friends were feeling a part of an increasingly disenfranchised community. A desire to lend their voices, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation was the sentiment that bound them together. Monica noticed there was a great deal of talk among artists about mobilizing, but no definite plans. In listening to her own calling she set out to give life to this vague notion of doing something to make a difference. Monica recalls,

My head began swimming with ideas, and while I wasn’t sure what the final vision would be I knew I wanted to do a project and rally as many artists as possible to participate. All my colleagues and peers felt the same urgency, and discussions began with fellow artists about what this collaborative project could potentially look like. After many conversations, I arrived at the idea that I wanted the project to celebrate and honor one of the communities under attack by this incoming administration. The notion that our country would threaten mass deportation of immigrants is absurd to me, and hypocritical. After all, this country is a nation of immigrants.

Monica found a kindred spirit in Los Angeles gallerist and friend, Walter Maciel. In his own words, I feel it is my obligation to use my public space and voice to bring attention to the issues that threaten our basic human rights. After the election wore off a bit, I realized I was having the same conversations with friends, family, colleagues and random visitors to my gallery, about our fears and concerns and what could be done to help make a difference. Monica approached me with her idea for the show and I immediately knew I wanted to collaborate.

Together, Monica and Walter co-curated, With Liberty and Justice for Some, an exhibition honoring individual immigrants and their important contributions to American society. The exhibition opened January 7th at Walter Maciel Gallery in Los Angeles. Mounting an exhibition of this scope is usually takes several months of work and planning. The invited artists from San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Philadelphia, New York and beyond responded overwhelmingly with artwork and within six weeks, over 100 artists sent their work for installation. Each artist contributed an 8”x 8” portrait of an immigrant. This exhibition became a very personal issue for many, reflected in the portraits of family members and friends, each with a narrative of the hard working and generous spirits found in the immigrant community. Some artists chose to feature well known immigrants who have made some significant contribution to American culture.

Continued on huffingtonpost.com


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Portraits of an Immigrant-Filled Nation at Walter Maciel Gallery
 

By Sarah Hotchkiss and Kelly WhalenFEBRUARY 8, 2017

When Bay Area artist Monica Lundy and Los Angeles gallery-owner Walter Maciel organized the massive group exhibition With Liberty and Justice for Some, they had no idea how prescient it was. The show of 113 artists, which opened on Jan. 7 with the highest attendance Maciel has seen in his 11 years of operation, centers around a group of 82 8-by-8-inch portraits of immigrants, arranged to resemble an American flag. The symbolism is unavoidable.

Back when Donald Trump was still the President-elect, long before his Jan. 27 executive order became a flashpoint for pro-immigrant rallies at airports across the nation, Lundy, like many in her artistic community, felt both helpless and determined to do something, anything, in response to Trump’s presidency.

“We wanted the project to be supportive of some of the communities under attack by this incoming administration,” Lundy told KQED Arts. “That Mexicans are being threatened with deportation, and Muslims, of being shut out, it reminds me of the history of bigotry in this country.”

She found a willing partner for the project in Maciel, and the call for portraits of immigrants took shape quickly. Bay Area artists involved in the show include longtime Mills College professor and Chinese-born painter Hung Liu, Phillip Hua, Yulia Pinkusevich, Rodney Ewing, Dave Kim and Soad Kader. Each chose to represent either a close friend or family member, or in the case of Ewing, personal hero and pan-Africanist Marcus Garvey.

Immigrants represented in the 158 portraits on view at Walter Maciel Gallery include well-known figures more regularly defined by their contributions to American society than their foreign birthplaces: former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, Albert Einstein, Stokely Carmichael, Bela Lugosi, and naturalist John Muir.

Alongside the easily recognized faces are the immigrants known only to those who lovingly rendered their portraits: artists’ parents, neighbors, teachers and loved ones. Immigrants are ubiquitous, the portraits emphasize; to delegitimize their presence in the United States would rip apart the very fabric of our democracy.

Putting, as Maciel says, their money where their mouths are, the gallery is donating 30 percent of all artwork sales to the ACLU, The Trevor Project, the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood, the Los Angeles LGBT Center and the San Francisco LGBT Center. Twenty portraits have already sold. “We are using our strength and capabilities to make a statement, but also directly supporting those organizations on the front line of taking on this administration,” says Maciel.


“With Liberty and Justice for Some”
Recommendation by Simone Kussatz 

“With Liberty and Justice for Some,” a mega-group show co-curated by artist Monica Lundy and gallery owner Walter Maciel, is a response to the feared and certain upcoming changes under the new President. It consists of about one hundred 8 x 8 inch portraits of immigrants, including prominent individuals such as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Albert Einstein, Melania and Frederick Trump, William Penn, and others. It draws attention to the new President’s planned immigration policy, which on the surface only affects illegal and criminal immigrants, but may well have unforeseen consequences for many other immigrants and American citizens. Of course, America has been a land of immigrants from its earliest history, when St. Augustine was founded by the Spanish settlers in 1565, to the English separatists who came here on the Mayflower, to the European and Asian immigrants who arrived during the Gold Rush, to the waves of immigrants who came through Ellis Island prior to the first World War, up to the immigrants arriving from various regions of the world in the present day. 

Even though this show doesn’t go deep into immigration history, it succeeds by getting rid of labeling and effectively humanizing immigrants. For who is the immigrant? First, he or she is a human being. Second, they could be persons Americans have now or once had relationships with, whether it is the British and deceased friend of American artist Susan Feldman Tucker, the Italian mother of American artist Virginia Katz, or the German artist Nike Schroeder on her path to receiving dual citizenship. This message is fortified through an installment made up of selected immigrant portraits that take the shape of the American flag. Hence, it says clearly and empathically, "united we stand up for immigrants".


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MONICA LUNDY Toomey Tourell Fine Art San Francisco
By Richard Speer, January 2014

Bay Area artist Monica Lundy beckoned viewers back in time with this haunting exhibition of mixed-media works on paper, “House of the Strange Women”.  The show’s enigmatic title was taken from a book Lundy found at the San Francisco Public Library that contained hundreds of mug shots of men and women arrested for prostitution and pimping between 1918 and 1938.

After photographing many of the book’s pages, images of people whose scars and bruises reveal the violence of their difficult lives, Lundy translated them into drawings and paintings on large pieces of heavy paper.  Her materials – gouache, pulverized charcoal, coffee grounds, and ink – impart a rough, sooty quality to her artworks that echoes the darkness of their content, but she brightens certain passages with the sparkle of mica flakes.  In the nearly seven-foot-tall Vio. Sec 12 (2013), the model’s black eye and facial abrasions are rendered in luxuriantly swelling waves of impasto.

Lundy’s rather visceral method of working also reflects her violent source content.  She hurls, smears, and tramples her materials, lending a distressed appearance to the finished products.  In 0-3586 (2012), a woman with a handkerchief tied around her hair projects a sultry intelligence that, complemented by the work’s sepia palette, evokes the heavily-lidded vamps of silent films.  Smaller pieces such as 0-724 (2013) are not as textural, but their sitters fill the picture planes with a quieter, more ghostly presence.

In previous suites, Lundy has riffed on photographs of late 19th- and early 20th- century prison inmates and mental-hospital patients.  This series continued her tack of the esthetic historical excavation, reviving and immortalizing marginalized communities that might otherwise remain invisible.


 

Monica Lundy @ Toomey Tourell
Posted on 26 October 2013.

Few painters I can think of these days make work that is truly riveting.  Monica Lundy, whose specialty is portraiture, joins that select group.  Winner, in 2010, of the Jay De Feo MFA Prize at Mills College, Lundy, 39, demonstrates that bravura painting, despite its near-fossilized status in contemporary art, still has the power to stop you in your tracks.

0-3640, 2012, coffee, mica, charcoal, gouache, ink, ash, acrylic, acrylic gel medium, 80 x 59"
0-3640, 2012, coffee, mica, charcoal, gouache, ink, ash, acrylic, acrylic gel medium, 80 x 59"

The Oakland artist focuses her attentions on tough characters and tough places: prisoners, mental hospitals, and, in her most recent series, House of the Strange Women, on male and female prostitutes, painted from SFPD photos taken in the ‘20s and ’30s that she discovered in a book of the same title in a public library.  Her works, all on paper, do for painting what Dashiell Hammett did for detective fiction.  They bring hard-boiled characters to life without judgment and at a scale that borders on cinematic. Her paintings show the accused staring into police cameras looking sad, angry, dejected, defiant or nonchalant.  Lundy depicts them with flamboyant neo-expressionist gestures, none of which have the effect of romanticizing, moralizing or even sympathizing. Admittedly, expressivity and objectivity don’t often appear in the same sentence.  Yet Lundy’s paintings deliver both, evincing a just-the-facts-ma’am approach in a realm where facts are scare. In the absence of biographical details, her subjects are titled only by booking numbers (and in some cases by day jobs), both of which appeared on the original mug shots and are carried over into the paintings.  Working with that information, Lundy makes the unwritten stories of their lives explode in a rose-tinged monochromatic palette that seems to fit our collective notion of what the underbelly of Jazz Age San Francisco looked like.

The works on view appear at various sizes, ranging from small- and medium-sized drawings to works that dominate the room.  The largest and most powerful stand 80 inches tall, and by that measure alone they command a certain force.  Their real power comes from Lundy’s paint handling.  Reproductions can’t describe it, so imagine this scenario: Robert Smithson in a pickup spinning donuts in a mud pit with Anselm Kiefer flinging cinders at the resulting splatter and Ralph Steadman applying, beneath these actions, his trademark red-pink washes.  This is, admittedly, a hyperbolic mash-up, but it gets at Lundy’s method.


 

Oakland painter Monica Lundy, 39, was born in Portland, Ore., but her father's employment meant that she was raised in Saudi Arabia and traveled extensively.

The early experience of feeling captive of an unwelcoming society has informed her artwork, including her current show of unframed mixed-media portraits, "House of the Strange Women" at Toomey Tourell in San Francisco. We spoke in the exhibition.

Q:What's the origin of this series?

A: My work is based on research into obscure histories. The San Francisco Public Library has an amazing historical photo collection, and they presented me a book of SFPD mug shots from 1918 to 1938. These are all people who were arrested for prostitution. And on the outside of the book was handwritten the phrase "House of the Strange Women."

I get really excited when I find these old images that most people don't see, that are fascinating and dark. ... I don't think I would have that same sort of curiosity about a fabricated image.

Photo: Randy Dodson Monica Lundy's mug shot-inspired "0-639" (2013), diluted powdered charcoal, gouache, mica flake and PVA glue on paper.
Photo: Randy Dodson Monica Lundy's mug shot-inspired "0-639" (2013), diluted powdered charcoal, gouache, mica flake and PVA glue on paper.

Q:Why mug shots of women?

A: First of all, growing up in Saudi Arabia, women were second-class citizens. ... And secondly, I was raised under the influence of my grandfather, who ran his family with an iron fist. He was a former master interrogator in Czechoslovakia in World War II. ... He had a file on us grandkids. We'd have to have talks with him and he'd pull out the file and ask us questions - it was a kind of interrogation. So that really influences how I identify with these subjects.

Q:Do you think of these as portraits or more as conceptual art?

A: People often say to me "you've really captured their personalities," but I know nothing about their personalities. ... It's a painting.

People want to be able to understand what they think these personalities were. It's a Rorschach test. ... Some of them resemble the source images and some look quite different but, you know, that's the nature of painting.

If you go

Monica Lundy: House of the Strange Women: Through Nov. 2. 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, until 5 p.m. Saturday. Toomey Tourell Fine Art, 49 Geary St., S.F. (415) 989-6444.

Kenneth Baker is The San Francisco Chronicle's art critic


 

They had day jobs in San Francisco. One was a waitress, another a painter, and another a hotel porter. They wanted to earn more money, so they began selling their bodies for sex. But San Francisco police cracked down on prostitution. That's why these working men and women were forced to face a police camera. And that's why — almost 100 years later — their mug shots were still part of a public record that came to the attention of Oakland artist Monica Lundy. In "House of the Strange Women," on view at Toomey Tourell Fine Art, Lundy brings the mugshots back to life through oversized paintings that reframe the faces of those accused of being whores or pimps.

The people who stare back from Lundy's artwork were in the prime of their lives. Some could pass for movie stars. But Lundy isn't trying to glamorize the alleged sex workers. Even the materials she employs — things like coffee, acrylic gel, and pulverized charcoal — smother her canvases with a viscous density, suggesting that those portrayed had it rough.

"These people were prosecuted in their time for reasons that, in this day and age, may not be reasons to prosecute anyone," says Lundy. "Who do we identify as criminals now? How will that change in the future? We learn a lot about our own culture by looking at how we've marginalized people in the past."

Mugshots, which first emerged in the late 1800s, are now an endemic part of the culture, with hundreds of Internet sites trafficking in arrest photos and paparazzi shots of people under the glare of scandal. It's only the medium that's changed. In far earlier centuries, paintings allowed people to contemplate those accused of criminal behavior, as with Goya's The Third of May 1808, which depicts the French army's imminent execution of an alleged Spanish revolutionary, and Caravaggio's Christ at the Column, which depicts Roman soldiers about to whip Jesus. Whether in oils or in screenshots, these scenes of accused wrongdoers are so often wrenching because we know the legal system can err so badly.

The men and women who Lundy portrays in "House of the Strange Women" were reduced to prison numbers. She found the photos that inspired the work in the San Francisco Public Library. In previous projects, Lundy, 39, has drawn series of women from other eras who were imprisoned at San Quentin and who were committed to a Stockton asylum. The series at Toomey Tourell is her most physical art yet — done Jackson Pollock-style, with Lundy applying material and hovering over the giant canvases as they lay flat on the ground. "I'm literally on the piece — kneeling on it, sitting on it, stepping on it," she says. "It's very messy, and it's very crude, but I feel like that's appropriate to the subject matter. Some of the people in my images were physically beaten up. I used that same kind of energy on the paintings themselves."


 

Monica Lundy at Ogle Gallery, Portland, Oregon
Review by Richard Speer  September 2010

Last autumn, Bay Area artist Monica Lundy began poring through the California State Archives in Sacramento, searching for source material for her impending M.F.A. show at Mills College. Lundy, the recipient of this year’s Jay De Feo Award, came upon a treasure trove of antique books that dovetailed with her fascination for the history of incarceration, particularly the incarceration of women. In volume after brittle, yellowing volume, thousands of mug shots from the late 1800s through the 1930s showed female inmates at the Stockton, California State Mental Hospital and the infamous San Quentin State Prison, where women were interned until 1932. The reasons for the women’s imprisonment ranged from the anachronistic and spurious (“hysteria”) to the sinister (aggravated murder). Haunted by these images, the artist went on to use them as the starting point for several exhibitions, including the current “Obscure Histories.”

Monica Lundy, ''272'.
Monica Lundy, ''272'.

Lundy’s gouache-on-paper portraits of the inmates, based on the women’s mug shots and titled after their identification numbers, are laid out in two grids. One of them runs two paintings high by two across, the other three by three, much like prisoners crowded into lineups or cells. While the color palette ranges from drab gunmetal blue to a more harrowing dried-blood sienna, Lundy avoids bleakness by finding the resilience and, yes, the beauty, in each troubled countenance. In works such as “2437,” she exhibits a virtuosity with surface effects, leaving strategic slivers of paper unpainted, such that searing flashes of white blaze up out of the somber eddies of gouache. The technique manages to look both spontaneous and meticulously planned. With her fluid brushstrokes, intuitive compositions, and knack for conveying sumptuousness and sensuality even in the midst of abject sadness, Lundy lets us imagine what a turn-of-the-century portraitist such as John Singer Sargent might have uncovered had he trained his eye on society’s disenfranchised echelons rather than its privileged.

The centerpiece of the exhibition, “Department of Mental Hygiene, 1934,” stretches across the gallery’s expansive south wall. A striking hybrid of painting and sculpture, it is comprised of clay slathered over an armature of nails. Viewed close up, the work is a messy, abstracted topography reminiscent of Anselm Kiefer’s mutant surfaces. At mid-distance, the smears and glops coalesce into human features and garments: a beard, a pair of bushy eyebrows, a nurse’s cap, a doctor’s bow tie. From far remove, the piece’s full impact registers, and the viewer beholds a sepia-tinted group portrait of the doctors and nurses at the Stockton asylum. The cold formality and dread-inducing, proto-Nurse-Ratched efficaciousness of this convocation affords a chilling counterbalance to the vulnerability implied in the prisoner portraits. As the clay dries and cracks over the course of the exhibition’s two-month run, chunks of imagery will flake off the armature, collecting on the floor and leaving ghostly stains on the wall. It all evokes the impermanence of memory and the capacity of photography not so much to capture the fleeting moment, but to embalm it. Across the body of work, Lundy gives voice to generations of women whose voices were silenced first by the penal system, then by death. This is a historically rigorous and emotionally affecting show.

 


 

This Week's Top Exhibitions in the Western U.S. (August 17-21, 2010)
Posted: 08/17/2010 8:18 pm EDT Updated: 05/25/2011 5:25 pm EDT

Continuing through September 30, 2010 Ogle Gallery, Portland, Oregon

Last autumn, Bay Area artist Monica Lundy began poring through the California State Archives in Sacramento, searching for source material for her impending M.F.A. show at Mills College. Lundy, the recipient of this year's Jay De Feo Award, came upon a treasure trove of antique books that dovetailed with her fascination for the history of incarceration, particularly the incarceration of women. In volume after brittle, yellowing volume, thousands of mug shots from the late 1800s through the 1930s showed female inmates at the Stockton, California State Mental Hospital and the infamous San Quentin State Prison, where women were interned until 1932. The reasons for the women's imprisonment ranged from the anachronistic and spurious ("hysteria") to the sinister (aggravated murder). Haunted by these images, the artist went on to use them as the starting point for several exhibitions, including the current "Obscure Histories."

Monica Lundy, "2437," 2010, gouache on paper, at Ogle Gallery.
Monica Lundy, "2437," 2010, gouache on paper, at Ogle Gallery.

Lundy's gouache-on-paper portraits of the inmates, based on the women's mug shots and titled after their identification numbers, are laid out in two grids. One of them runs two paintings high by two across, the other three by three, much like prisoners crowded into lineups or cells. While the color palette ranges from drab gunmetal blue to a more harrowing dried-blood sienna, Lundy avoids bleakness by finding the resilience and, yes, the beauty, in each troubled countenance. In works such as "2437," she exhibits a virtuosity with surface effects, leaving strategic slivers of paper unpainted, such that searing flashes of white blaze up out of the somber eddies of gouache. The technique manages to look both spontaneous and meticulously planned. With her fluid brushstrokes, intuitive compositions, and knack for conveying sumptuousness and sensuality even in the midst of abject sadness, Lundy lets us imagine what a turn-of-the-century portraitist such as John Singer Sargent might have uncovered had he trained his eye on society's disenfranchised echelons rather than its privileged.

The centerpiece of the exhibition, "Department of Mental Hygiene, 1934," stretches across the gallery's expansive south wall. A striking hybrid of painting and sculpture, it is comprised of clay slathered over an armature of nails. Viewed close up, the work is a messy, abstracted topography reminiscent of Anselm Kiefer's mutant surfaces. At mid-distance, the smears and glops coalesce into human features and garments: a beard, a pair of bushy eyebrows, a nurse's cap, a doctor's bow tie. From far remove, the piece's full impact registers, and the viewer beholds a sepia-tinted group portrait of the doctors and nurses at the Stockton asylum. The cold formality and dread-inducing, proto-Nurse-Ratched efficaciousness of this convocation affords a chilling counterbalance to the vulnerability implied in the prisoner portraits. As the clay dries and cracks over the course of the exhibition's two-month run, chunks of imagery will flake off the armature, collecting on the floor and leaving ghostly stains on the wall. It all evokes the impermanence of memory and the capacity of photography not so much to capture the fleeting moment, but to embalm it. Across the body of work, Lundy gives voice to generations of women whose voices were silenced first by the penal system, then by death. This is a historically rigorous and emotionally affecting show.

- Richard Speer