Michele Oka Doner
April 2018 – April 2019
”NEW YORK - Tower 49 Gallery is proud to present Strategic Misbehavior, a year-long exhibition of work by internationally acclaimed artist, Michele Oka Doner. The exhibition includes a selection of life-size and small-scale bronze sculptures, hanging wax hybrid forms, large prints and, in the sky lobby, a series of 54 photographs of marine invertebrates titled Into the Mysterium. (2017) Guest curator, Deborah Rothschild notes that, “Through Oka Doner’s interventions Tower 49’s lobby is transformed from a purely commercial space to a stage for enacting mythic dramas.”
Upon entering the building’s lobby visitors will encounter three large deity-like bronze figures: Mana (2015), Primal Self-Portrait (2008) and Purana (2015) who stand at the main entrance with green palm fronds at their feet. Two smaller bronze sculptures: First Radiant Figure (2008) and Pallene (2008) are placed atop the building’s reception desk, also with plant offerings beside them. Part human, part divine, part tree and part mineral, the five headless and armless bronzes are at once commanding, monstrous, and somewhat humorous.
Besides the offering of greenery, Oka Doner imagines the bronze deities receive food in the form of eight white wax objects that hang from twine on an adjacent wall. Though invented forms, they evoke cured meat and poultry, as well edible crustaceans and vegetables—providing a balanced diet for the bronze gods they nourish. Oka Doner was inspired by the foodstuffs depicted hanging on ancient Pompeian and Egyptian wall frescoes.
In addition to the bronze and wax sculptures, three monumental relief prints are installed on the far end of the gallery’s main floor. Oka Doner invented the printing method by inking actual twigs, branches, roots, etc. and passing them through the printing press onto absorbent papers. Birth of Adam (2007) stretches 8-feet high along one of the gallery’s granite walls, while Adam from Roots (2007) and Lungs (2007) appear together on the opposite wall.
Upstairs in the gallery’s Sky Lobby, 54 color photographs comprise Into the Mysterium (2017) a unique collection of photographs that captures the wonder of aquatic, invertebrate life forms such as sea anemones, jellyfish and underwater plants. The artist discovered these complex, delicate specimens at the Marine Invertebrate Museum at the University of Miami where she spent time documenting their habitat and movements.
Installed as a red-and-yellow glossy ribbon that winds around the Sky Lobby’s red marble walls, these underwater creatures appear behind shiny glass, alluding to laboratory samples. They float and drift peacefully in a realm far removed from the hectic pace of our own. The scarlet, orange and gold hues, seen throughout, appear to stretch and twist in front of the camera, much like the surrounding red marble walls and the complimentary white grain. Both colors appear frequently and mix together, creating the illusion of an airy, weightless space. Strategic Misbehavior by Michele Oka Doner inserts landscape elements into a manmade urban setting that examines the beauty of nature in its infinite variety.
Michele Oka Doner was born and raised in Miami, Florida where botanical and aquatic ecosystems are central to sustainability. In the late 1960s, Oka Doner studied at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor where she received a Bachelor of Science in 1966 and a Master of Fine Arts in 1969. The artist moved to New York City in 1981, when a range of associations swirled around the body, the individual, the environment and global viability.
Deborah Rothschild was raised in Miami just a few blocks away from Michele Oka Doner. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude from Vassar College and received Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy degrees from the Institute of Fine Arts, NYU. As curator at the Williams College Museum of Art she organized exhibitions of work by living artists including Adrian Piper, Tony Oursler, James Turrell, and David Hammons, as well as history-based exhibitions such as “Prelude to a Nightmare: Hitler’s Early Years in Vienna, 1906—1913” and “Making it New: the Art and Style of Sara and Gerald Murphy.”
Tower 49 Gallery, one of New York City’s most unique and striking contemporary art spaces, offers exhibition free of charge and open to the public in the street-level lobbies and on the 24th floor of its Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM)-designed building. Spearheaded by Ai Kato, Exhibition Director, the gallery’s mission is to originate exhibitions that challenge conventional ideas about public art, featuring such internationally acclaimed contemporary artists such as Cordy Ryman, Friedel Dzubas, Frank Stella, Mark di Suvero and Jules Olitski. Tower 49 provides a sanctuary of contemplation in an extraordinary space for the public to discover the important role that art plays in our daily lives.
This exhibition is organized in collaboration with Marlborough Gallery
PUBLICATION: 65-page catalogue with text by Deborah Rothschild
Photography by Jeffrey Sturges