It was their big debut. Then a pandemic hit.

The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Tuesday, June 25, 2024

It was their big debut. Then a pandemic hit.
Ruben Natal-San Miguel, with her artwork in New York on March 14, 2020. From left, “Carlos (Very Bad Husband),” “Iron Clad Look,” “Beauty Make Up Check” and “Jennifer (Unlock The Vixen),” all from 2019. Artists, actors, dancers and authors search for a silver lining as openings are disrupted by the coronavirus outbreak. Michael George/The New York Times.

by Max Lakin

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- The mood was muted late Saturday afternoon at Ulterior Gallery, a narrow storefront space on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. It was meant to be the opening of Mamie Tinkler’s first solo show in New York, a joyous occasion that was canceled Friday morning. Instead, Tinkler and Takako Tanabe, the gallery’s director, decided on a lower key, staggered event, with friends drifting in throughout the afternoon. (The gallery is now open by appointment and remotely.)

Most of New York’s culture system — and indeed the country’s — shut down all at once last week. The impact of indefinite closures to the public or by-appointment hours won’t be fully understood for a while, nor will it be uniform. Certainly there’s less at stake in the Donald Judd show at David Zwirner being put on ice, but for young and emerging artists whose openings were scheduled this week, some of which represented large scale debuts in their field, the personal disruption can feel profound.

“I’ve done a lot of processing,” Tinkler said. “It’s been a combination of mourning the culmination of months of work and also reeling over the scope and unknowability of this problem. In a moment like this you’re like, how do I think about the collective good and still say I really want this work to matter and be seen and have a life in the world?”

She’s not the only one asking those questions. Across the country, artists, playwrights, dancers and authors are grappling with seeing their projects waylaid. Many of which took months or years to realize. Preparing for celebration, they told culture reporters for The New York Times that they are instead reconciling the accomplishment of their work with the demands of a public health crisis.

Tinkler, who is 42 and has worked as an associate producer on Matthew Barney’s film “Redoubt,” among his other projects, began assembling five small watercolor and gouache paintings on paper last July. They’re intricate and surreal, nominally still lifes but removed from a material plane. She paints from aggressively lit photographs, so her compositions of melted candles and roses and Christmas string lights become warped. Saturated washes whorl into psychedelic compositions, as if seen through a fugue state. Tinkler finished the paintings in January, before concerns about coronavirus had really touched the United States, but they feel appropriate to the moment, shot through with a kind of ungraspable dislocation that resonates with the collective mood.

Tinkler was somber in reflecting upon the intense days leading up to the decision to abbreviate her opening. “I think two days ago if you would have asked me I would have said I was completely devastated,” she said. “It felt like a loss. The art world has changed and people look at art much more on their phones, but it’s still so meaningful for artists that people come and stand in front of the work, and gather and celebrate.”

Still, she said, she’s come to a kind of peace. “When I unwrapped the work yesterday I was still happy I made it, and that it existed,” she said. “I’m not happy to be putting out a show in this environment, but I’m happy to have this in this moment.”

For a photographer, ‘Blessings to it, too.’
Across town, the photographer Ruben Natal-San Miguel sat alone inside Postmasters gallery in Tribeca on Saturday, before it closed. He had just finished installing his solo show, “Women R Beautiful,” 50 lushly colored portraits of New Yorkers, the bulk of which were made last year. It’s his response to Gary Winogrand’s “Women Are Beautiful” series, expanding its narrow view of race and sexuality. By contrast, Natal-San Miguel’s portraits comprise an ebullient spectrum of race, age and gender identification. His humanistic approach extends to presentation; the images are dye sublimation prints on aluminum hung without glass, expressly, he said, so viewers could feel closer to his subjects, a choice that now most people won’t experience.

Natal-San Miguel said he plans to find creative ways of presenting his exhibition virtually, suggesting video tours and discussions via social media. “Most galleries and artists are processing all this now. Everyone is looking for that connection.”

The show was conceived after the death of Natal-San Miguel’s mother, and assembling it was an act of catharsis. “I had to recover emotionally,” he said. “All my energy went into it. And I just finished the show and this happens and I’m like, damn. Friday I was really sad. I allowed myself a couple hours. OK, I’m allowed to feel sorry, yes I worked very hard on this for four months and this happened, but there’s blessings to it too. Talking about this right now is a blessing.”

A dancer’s homecoming is stalled.
Jamaris Mitchell, a member of Ailey II, the junior division of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, has danced with the company across the country and around the world since September. But the company’s cancellation of its New York season is keeping her from finally performing for her family and friends. “So far no one from home has seen me perform with Ailey II,” she said. “The New York City season is so important because that’s our ‘this is who we are’ moment.”

Mitchell’s New York debut was deferred on Friday when the company announced that its engagement at the Ailey Citigroup Theater scheduled to begin March 25 will no longer take place. The company said performances may be rescheduled to later this spring, but for the moment, a journey that began for Mitchell almost a year ago has been disrupted just before its culmination.

The company’s annual engagement in its native city is, Mitchell, 23, explained, more than just a homecoming. It’s also the capstone of a creative process. “We perform these pieces all year so it evolves,” she said. “By the time we get to the New York season it’s a completely different thing.”

For dancers, whose art form is as physical as it is spiritual, artistic development requires long hours in the studio. Mitchell was working hard to get back to full fitness when the cancellation was announced.

It’s not clear when Mitchell will be able to perform “Saa Magni,” a duet choreographed by the Ailey dancer Yannick Lebrun, but she said she remains hopeful. “I’m very grateful for the position that I’m in,” she said. “It could definitely be worse.” — PETER LIBBEY

For a Los Angeles author and an illustrator, April is now a mystery.
Katie Orphan moved to Los Angeles 11 years ago, struggled to find work, and became the first employee of The Last Bookstore, a downtown independent bookstore. As the store’s head buyer, she spent years promoting other people’s books, entrenching herself in the city’s literary scene.

Last year, Orphan quit her day job to focus on her own debut, “Read Me Los Angeles,” a guide to the city’s book culture. She spent years writing at night and on weekends after long retail shifts, finding a publisher last year in Prospect Park Books. It was standing room only at her reading at Skylight Books in Los Feliz on March 10, the day her book was published. It was her first, and for the foreseeable future, last promotional event.

“It’s really a strange time to ask people to be interested in your creative work,” she said. “I went from having the greatest accomplishment of my life to everything I have planned is gone. I’m fortunate I have a book that should be evergreen, but so many need those boosts before being buried by the next wave of books. It’s terrifying. Who knows what April will be like?”

Across the city, and across mediums, Lorenzo Diggins Jr., a self-taught illustrator and zine publisher, finds himself at a similar crossroads. “Everything seems to be transitioning,” said Diggins Jr., who was preparing for his debut exhibition at the Los Angeles edition of The Other Art Fair before it, too, was canceled.

Diggins, 31, was banking on the power of the preeminent online gallery Saatchi Art, which produces the event. The pandemic has wiped all that away.

“It’s scary,” said Diggins, who has also potentially lost out on launching a publication at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, postponed until October. “April was supposed to be a huge month. It seems like it was in vain. What do I do? If we go into quarantine, I’ll use this time to create. I’ll have no choice.” — ADAM POPESCU

One off-Broadway debut canceled, another postponed.
Noah Diaz was in the middle of rewrites for his play “Richard & Jane & Dick & Sally” when the theater company The Playwrights Realm canceled the show’s New York run. Set to open April 3, it would have been Diaz’s off-Broadway debut.

From New Haven, where he is an MFA candidate at the Yale School of Drama, Diaz, 26, said he had anticipated the news. The day before, he had watched in surprise as Yale Repertory Theater scrapped the final two shows in its season because of the pandemic — an action that came Wednesday, before the cascade of shutdowns that followed the closure of Broadway on Thursday.

“If the powers that be are urging us to stay home, I’m glad to do it,” he said. “I’m far more concerned with the public good than any sort of ‘I got a play in New York,’ you know?”

Still, he spoke of the “shared grief” of artists like him “who have experienced such a massive shift in their income, their artistry, their personhood.” Diaz’s play, which imagines the classic children’s book characters Dick and Jane as estranged adult siblings in a moment of family crisis, is a coproduction with Baltimore Center Stage, where it was already seen this season. The New York run was meant to be his introduction to the wider industry, something he said he will have to seek elsewhere.

Sandra Okuboyejo, 23, sounded optimistic as she discussed the delay of her New York stage debut in Jocelyn Bioh’s romantic comedy “Nollywood Dreams,” which was set to start previews this week at MCC Theater on West 52nd Street in Manhattan. The company has vowed to reschedule it later this season.

“It’s a scary, scary time,” Okuboyejo said from her family’s home in southern New Jersey, where she has been using the unexpected limbo to indulge in her composer-lyricist side and to count her blessings, including that her production wasn’t one cut short by the pandemic.

“We still get to tell the story,” she said. “A lot of people didn’t know they were walking into their final shows.” — LAURA COLLINS-HUGHES

© 2020 The New York Times Company

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