Fergus McCaffrey presents their inaugural exhibitions with Ari Marcopoulos, on view at the gallery’s Tokyo and New York locations.
Marcopoulos is widely recognized for his photographic work that bridges fine art and street photography; Fergus McCaffrey’s exhibitions allow viewers a glimpse into another side of the artist’s practice with three recent films created in the past two years.
The exhibitions open with The Park (2017–18), a 58-minute film of a public, unfenced basketball court adjacent to the Walt Whitman housing projects in Brooklyn, New York. The first 51 minutes are shot from one side of the court, and the final seven from the other. The Park reveals the basketball court as a fundamental space of public social life, providing an anthropological cross-section of social codes: sometimes the
players are affable, relaxed. At other times, the game becomes competitive, tense. Throughout, neighborhood locals pass through the court, providing an ebb and flow of casual, spontaneous interaction. In this way, Marcopoulos’s film transforms the court into a contemporary pastoral, a dream-like landscape scene picturing a languid, bucolic afternoon spent in community and kinship.
Originally presented as a silent film, for McCaffrey’s exhibitions The Park is accompanied by a live-recorded improvised soundtrack by renowned musician Jason Moran, which was performed and recorded before a live audience in December of 2018 at the sonorium Music Hall in Tokyo, Japan. In 2017, Moran saw a version of the film and was compelled to respond with a piano score to accompany its otherwise silent study of mundane urbanity. He screened a fifteen minute segment of The Park in Washington DC at the John F. Kennedy Center’s centennial celebration of Thelonious Monk’s birth, performing in real-time with an improvised solo piano piece. Monk was known to drag a piano from a community center onto the basketball court and play while watching the game, he could also be found standing on street corners in his native Harlem for hours, thinking about music; this meditative act is mirrored by Marcopoulos’s film, which renders the artist’s signature photographic intimacy into the moving image. Over the course of the film, the viewer is pulled into a fully absorptive situation of the informal basketball game. Moran’s performance spontaneously translates the visual rhythms of the film’s unscripted choreography, giving auditory form to the basketball court activity as read through Marcopoulos’s lens.
Monogram Hunters (2018) finds Marcopoulos in a unique encounter with music and convergence, during travels in New Orleans. Invited to a gathering at a 7th Ward bar, the artist captured a rehearsal by a traditional Mardi Gras Indian “tribe”. Marcopoulos films the members training a new generation the rules of the dance. There are specific codes and gestures which prepare each participant to do battle with rival tribes come Mardi Gras. The chants date back generations, and the drum rhythm coheres this tight-knit group of men to the wider collective of the neighborhood bar.
In Upper Big Tracadie (2018), filmed during a late summer trip in Nova Scotia, Marcopoulos visited a small town founded in 1783 by freed American slaves during the revolutionary war. The church, established in 1822, is a central part of a shrinking society and the site of gathering for its largely African Canadian congregation. Marcopoulos’s perspective—as voyeur and participant—allows the viewer an intimate experience of devotion as it is performed on a Sunday in this small municipality.
Marcopoulos has defined the pillars of his work as “noise, exertion, rebellion and chaos.” In Fergus McCaffrey’s exhibitions, the artist brings the guiding principles of his photographic approach to video work, where they are informed by a sense of equanimity, care, and grace, capturing the slow flow and punctuated ruptures of contemporary social life. Marcopoulos brings a formalist’s eye to public gathering spaces, transforming basketball courts, public parks, churches, and community centers into stages upon which the unplanned direction of daily life plays out.
In each transatlantic location, a selection of newly produced washi prints by the artist will be on view. This body of photos is largely, but not exclusively, drawn from Marcopoulos’s 2010-2012 archive and reprinted on handmade paper carefully selected from a washi collective found only in Japan. Further elaborating his photographic practice with this palpable material, Marcopoulos imbues his serene portrait and street photography with a fresh intimacy, in some cases dramatizing a tension between fluid spontaneity and casual composure, while dispersing a subtle timelessness beyond the frame. In addition to captures of his friends and family, images of graffiti and life in New York, Chicago and, most recently, Beruit are rendered with a nuanced dynamism on the washi’s textured surface.
The soundtrack recording of “The Park” was made possible with the support of Gucci. To celebrate Moran’s collaboration, Marcopoulos created a playbill, zine, and poster, launched by iconic bookstore DAIKANYAMA TSUTAYA BOOKS on December 21, 2018.
About the Artist
Born in Amsterdam in 1957, Marcopoulos first came to New York in 1979, where he became involved in both the downtown art scene and city’s burgeoning hip hop culture. His photographs acted as bridges between the two overlapping worlds, creating a unique sensibility informed by both the raw, intuitive virtuosity of early hip hop music and the ironic, image-based culture of the 1980s downtown art world. After working in Andy Warhol’s studio for two years printing black-and-white photographs, Marcopoulos became the studio assistant of photographer Irving Penn; his work is dually informed by Warhol’s indiscriminate approach to subject matter and Penn’s emphasis on technical skill and formal elegance.
Marcopoulos began his own photographic practice on the streets of New York. His engaged, affable approach meant that he quickly found himself part of the communities he photographed. Taken as a whole, the volume of images Marcopoulos has produced since the early 1980s form a rough biographical sketch of the artist. Over the past four decades, these photographs have provided an intimate glimpse into his family life alongside that of his subjects, which, in the artist’s words, include “edge dwellers, skaters, rap gods, athletes, kids, trees, graffiti, faces, tangles and cars.” Marcopoulos is guided by the rich histories of conceptual art and documentary photography, his approach is spontaneous and intuitive; he takes cues from the practices and lifestyles of his subjects and this imbues his work with both emotional immediacy and formal rigor.
Marcopoulos has been the subject of several solo exhibitions at venues including the Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam, Netherlands; Berkeley Art Museum, Berkeley, CA; MoMA PS1, New York; frank elbaz, Paris; Marlborough Chelsea, New York; and Alleged Gallery, New York, among others. Marcopoulos participated in two Whitney Biennials in 2002 and 2010, and his photographs are among the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; SFMOMA, CA; the New Orleans Museum of Art, LO; and the Detroit Institute of Art, MI. His work has been published in the New York Times Magazine, Interview, Paper, Blind Spot, Transworld Snowboarding, and Snowboarder. Among Marcopoulos’s many books are Epiphany: Gucci, 2016 (IDEA); Not Yet, 2016 (Rizzoli), Rome-Malibu, 2016 (Roma); Out to Lunch, 2012 (Roth); Fumes, 2015 (Karma), Directory, 2011 (Nieves); Out and About, 2005; Kids Born out of Fire, 2004; Pass the Mic: Beastie Boys 1991-1996, 2001; and Transitions and Exits, 2000.Ari Marcopoulos, Monogram Hunters, 2018. Digital video 26:05 minutes. Edition 1 of 5