Greetings from New York

Diamond Stingily

Kaas at Queer Thoughts

I love the gallery name Queer Thoughts. Sam Lipp and Luis Miguel Bendaña brought this entity with them from Chicago (where it was founded in 2012) when they moved to New York in 2014. Their New York gallery space is located on the lower reaches of Broadway, on the edge of TriBeCa close to Soho. On the third floor and down the corridor of a dense studio building, it is a tiny foothold in the unfriendly world of Manhattan real estate. This windowless white box with a walk in cupboard that serves the dual purpose of office and storage space, is a concise, though somewhat claustrophobic, arena for their curatorial endeavors.

My curiosity about the program of Queer Thoughts had been piqued by their esoteric presentations at the NADA art fair in Miami in December 2014 and again at NADA in New York in May 2015. Early one evening in September 2015, on something of a whim, I walked from my office in Chinatown to a reading at the gallery by the artist Diamond Stingily. Standing at the back of a small crowd that easily filled the tiny space, I listened as Stingily read excerpts from her childhood diary. This was my first introduction to Stingily’s practice and her approach to creative writing now seems quite indicative of her work as a whole—disarmingly straight forward and by no means simple. When I asked in an email about her background in writing, she said matter of factly, “I’ve been writing since I was a small child.” As I thought about this response in relation to her reading at Queer Thoughts, it seemed very much that for the infant-Stingily reiterated by the adult-artist-Stingily writing might be any form in which one is involved in the manifestation of one’s self.

In Stingily’s work, there is clearly some-thing very personal. From childhood diaries, to found posters taken from her grand-mother’s house, there is a clear proximity to herself. While the materials and subjects are all within arm’s reach, it is not always such a direct line from the artist to the art object. When I quizzed Stingily on the question of ‘Identity’ in her work, she commented, “Identity is a part of every-thing anyone does. If it comes from you or you helped create something it’s a part of you. Even if it’s fiction it’s still the writer’s thoughts.” One starts to think of that which is personal as not just the material facts of one’s life, but also the fantasies and the falsehoods that seem to agglomerate around us like cotton candy on a stick. Perhaps this is the reason the artist resists any over wrought explications of her work. Stingily comments that, “I don’t think the artist intentions should be explained through words but with the artist work and the reaction of the viewer.” Her methodology is one of provocation rather than pedagogy. “I don’t care how people view my work, I enjoy it. People can be so pretentious about art that’s boring and white-washed.” She says she is open to, “whatever the viewer sees and feels necessary to discuss. (…) If someone tells me their opinion and we‘re on the same page that’s awesome. If not it’s okay too.”

Stingily held her first solo-exhibition at Queer Thoughts in May this year. The opening came for me at the end of a hectic week of art in New York with Frieze and NADA, the big auctions of contemporary and modern art at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips and the usual round of Uptown, Downtown and Chelsea gallery openings and exhibitions. By the time I came to view Stingily’s show I was tired and a little depressed. It was a genuine relief after all this to see Stingily’s precise, potent, and wonderfully lyrical exhibition.

Consisting of five sculptures, each artwork in the exhibition was a variation of a braid that had been made with store-bought hair extensions. There was a short thick braid, a long elegant floor length braid, a braid that split in two, a grouping of five little braids and even a kind-of silver braid. Embellished with brightly colored hair ties, they had a perverse seriality. I couldn’t stop thinking of Sherrie Levine as Stingily’s artworks shared the twin qualities of playful found objects and elegant abstraction with Levine’s.

In addition to any art historical or theoretical allusions, there was also the clearly personal subtext to the exhibition. A friend of mine posted a photo to Instagram of Stingily at her opening where she, like the artworks, wore braids too. In the exhibition press release, Stingily quotes the lines “They told me I looked like the comedic snake, the Disney version. I didn’t know he was powerful, majestic, to be respected.” There is a very optimistic form of relativism here, where one can shift perspective and take control of perception. When asked about these words, Stingily said, “It came from my childhood. People want to tell you about yourself and it’s up to the individual person to learn for themselves who they are.”

In an attempt to elicit a more direct statement from Stingily, I asked her whether she thought of her work as political. Her response was sharp and astute: “Most work has politics in it if it was the artist intentions or not.” Thinking of the strange, sometimes very dark, sometimes absurd state of America in 2016, I found myself thinking that really I couldn’t agree more.

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