Feb 4th 2020

Armageddon Yacht: Michael Anderson at New York’s Arts & Leisure

by Sam Ben-Meir

Sam Ben-Meir is professor of philosophy and world religions at Mercy Collage in New York.

International collage artist Michael Anderson is presently enjoying a solo show, the first in four years, at Arts & Leisure gallery on New York City’s Upper East Side. Armageddon Yacht is an exhibition of sixteen recent works, all featuring Anderson’s unique and inimitable style. Whereas most collage artists make use of magazines, Michael uses exclusively street posters gathered from around the world, which allows for work on a much greater scale than is typically associated with collage. His pictures are at once unmistakable and visceral, sweeping, playful and ironic.

Consider for example the title piece of the show, Armageddon Yacht (2019). The name is derived from a term that US sailors use for an aircraft carrier. Power and violence are recurring themes in Anderson’s work – and no less here. With irony and wit he questions our contemporary assumptions and illusions about power. The central image of three models sipping martinis on a yacht presents us with an idealized vision of Western luxury and decadence, privilege and wealth. Contrasted with this is the wide surrounding border where we find a kind of conflagration out of which emerges a montage of terrorists, and exaggerated machismo. In a darkly humorous way Anderson suggests that both worlds represent fantasies and asks us to question the unspoken ways that each needs and implicates the other.

There is currently an exhibition in Israel entitled Naked Soul, centered on the painter Chaim Soutine. When we are naked, we are at our most exposed and vulnerable. Some artists are intent on baring everything, their soul, with every stroke of the brush. Van Gogh was perhaps another such painter. This is not what Michael’s work is about. His work is not about himself as such, but about the world. But nor is he simply collecting and aggregating the fragments of an atomistic society. There is an aesthetic transformation of these fragments that takes place – he works his materials over. This accomplishes something crucial: it defamiliarizes the material and turns it into something we no longer know; to put it another way, perhaps more precisely, it depotentiates our habitual frame of reference. There is indeed a subversive element to his work. But in what sense, precisely?

 

Anderson is keenly aware that we live in an era oversaturated with imagery – some real, some “real”, and some fake, with the lines between them growing ever blurrier. He confronts head-on the challenge and necessity of finding ways of constructing meaning out of this chaos. At the same time, he refuses the temptation to privilege any particular construction, or set of signifiers: everything is off-center – set free of its origin, and reduced to a kind of vector of energy, free to float and intersect with other modes, creating new and novel ways of becoming. One is tempted to suggest that there is an implicit ontology running through this body of work, an ontology of univocity perhaps, a kind of univocity of being.

Michael Andersson Armageddon Yacht
Armageddon Yacht (2019) by Michael Anderson

Briefly put, to say that being is univocal, means that being has only one sense, and is said in one and the same sense of everything of which it is said, whether it be God or man, animal or object. The fundamental problem of a univocal ontology is that if being is said in one and the same sense of everything that is, then how should we understand the difference between beings? It was Spinoza who grasped the solution to this problem. The only acceptable difference is difference as a degree of power or intensity.

What I am suggesting is that in Anderson’s collage there is no hierarchy, or ontological privileging – nor is his work meant to meant to invoke a former unity that has now been lost or broken. All things are in this sense equal. What we find in Anderson’s work is a kind of “continuum of differential multiplicities through which intensities are actualized.” So, there is undoubtedly something subversive about his work – but not in an immediate political sense. What he subverts is fixity and essentialism, any system that blocks the process of continual transformation.

Anderson’s art invokes a great sense of freedom, of limitless possibilities, the most disparate images, visual references and allusions can intersect in startling and provocative ways. His de-centered, non-linear approach enhances this sense that we are not bound by ordinary logic. At the same time, every genuine work of art sets up its own rules, its own limitations, its own conditions which determine what can and cannot be done, what will and will not work. This is not less true of Anderson’s pictures, and he is scrupulous about honoring the work itself, respecting the parameters, as it were, which are internal to and different with every work.

In my many visits to Michael’s studio I have had the opportunity to observe his process up close and over time – from the long and careful method of layering by which he makes his “canvas” to the dissection and application of representational elements and graffiti abstraction (and now graffiti textiles), to the countless small touches which fine-tune the piece and lend it polish in its final stages.

Anderson has been and remains a formidable and prolific collage artist. This show is but a small sample of the monumental work he has yet to reveal to the public. In Anderson’s work faces, figures, forms and things emerge, converge and seem ever ready to submerge back into the universal substance from whence they came. His vision is a large, comprehensive, almost Spinozistic, one. And for that – at a time when we are beset on all sides by narrowness and provinciality – we can only be grateful.

Michael Anderson: Armageddon Yacht runs through February 9th at Arts & Leisure located at 1571 Lexington Avenue in New York City.

 

Browse articles by author

More Essays

Jul 22nd 2021
EXTRACT: "You’d think our brush with mortality through the pandemic would have brought some of this home to us. You’d think it would give us pause for thought about what really matters to us: the kind of world we want for our children; the kind of society we want to live in. And for many people it has. In a survey carried out during lockdown in the UK, 85% of respondents found something in their changed conditions they felt worth keeping and fewer than 10% wanted a complete return to normal."
Jul 20th 2021
EXTRACT: "English artist Damien Hirst’s latest project, “The Currency”, is an artwork in two forms. Its physical form is 10,000 unique hand-painted A4 sheets covered in colourful dots. In the same way as paper money, each sheet includes a holographic image of Hirst, a signature, a microdot and – in place of a serial number – a small individual message. The second part of the artwork is that each of these hand-painted sheets has a corresponding NFT (non-fungible token). NFTs are digital certificates of ownership which exist on the secure online ledgers that are known as blockchains. ---- The way that “The Currency” works is that collectors will not be buying the physical artwork immediately. Instead, they will pay US$2,000 (£1,458) for the NFT and then have a year to decide whether they want the digital or the physical version. Once the collector selects one, the other will be destroyed. ---- So what is going on here, and what does it tell us about art and money?"
Jul 20th 2021
EXTRACT: "Ellison was an abstract expressionist painter, who, having come to New York City from West Texas in 1962, was as he said “unable to find traction” as a painter. At the same time, he began collecting ceramic objects and educating himself about this field of art as he went along. In 2009 he bestowed on the Metropolitan Museum of Art over 300 extraordinary examples of American ceramics, spanning the years 1876 through 1956. Since then, Ellison has gifted to the Museum over 600 works – including a significant collection of European art pottery in 2013, and most recently over 125 modern and contemporary clay vessels and objects – making the Museum one of the most significant repositories of Art Pottery in the world. ---- The current exhibition presents nearly 80 pieces drawn from Ellison’s latest donation, and it is a thoroughly captivating show; even where (or perhaps especially where) the works are outlandish, bizarre, sometimes almost monstrous, but nonetheless enthralling."
Jul 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Over the course of England’s journey to the Euro 2020 final, one of the most fascinating plays has been happening just off the pitch. Whenever the TV camera cuts to the team’s manager Gareth Southgate, he is occasionally seen standing alone on the edge of the field, urging his team on. ---- But most of the time he is deep in conversation with his assistant Steve Holland. ---- A recent study of English football culture points to a shift away from what the authors term “Beckhamisation”, after the former England captain and Manchester United star player David Beckham – a popular and instantly recognisable symbol of that period of football history (though, it is not suggested the culture was his creation). ---- During the 1990s, the study claims, this “Beckhamisation” saw high octane management practices imported from the corporate world into football. ---- In recent years, this has been replaced by “Southgatism”, a leadership style which that study describes as “modest, self-deprecating, down to earth, diverse and progressive”. "
Jun 30th 2021
EXTRACT: "New York’s Museum of Modern Art is currently presenting an exhibition devoted to an in-depth review of Paul Cézanne’s drawings. If there is any criticism to be made of this extraordinary show, it is that it is frankly overwhelming: with roughly 280 pencil, ink and gouache drawings and watercolors (and even a handful of oil paintings), there is so much to take in that two or three visits to the exhibition may be required to do it justice."
Jun 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "Cognitive flexibility provides us with the ability to see that what we are doing is not leading to success and to make the appropriate changes to achieve it." .... "Flexible thinking is key to creativity – in other words, the ability to think of new ideas, make novel connections between ideas, and make new inventions." .... "The good news is that it seems you can train cognitive flexibility."
Jun 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "Confronting our complex history and ultimately embracing a more equitable, balanced, and humble culture may be a tall order in these fractious times. But that makes it even more imperative that we fully reckon with who we are and who we are capable of becoming."
Jun 11th 2021
EXTARCT: "A further health benefit of hiking is that it’s classed as “green exercise”. This refers to the added health benefit that doing physical activity in nature has on us. Research shows that not only can green exercise decrease blood pressure, it also benefits mental wellbeing by improving mood and reducing depression to a greater extent than exercising indoors can."
Jun 10th 2021
EXTRACT: "“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress,” Mahatma Gandhi said, “can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” If we apply that test to the world as a whole, how much moral progress have we made over the past two millennia? ...... That question is suggested by The Golden Ass, arguably the world’s earliest surviving novel, written around 170 CE, when Emperor Marcus Aurelius ruled the Roman Empire. Apuleius, the author, was an African philosopher and writer, born in what is now the Algerian city of M’Daourouch."
Jun 4th 2021
EXTRACT: "Research we’ve done, which looked at 37 adults with type 2 diabetes, found that over two weeks, prolonged sitting was associated with high blood sugar levels. But we also found that when people stood up or walked around between periods of sitting, they had lower blood sugar levels. Other studies have also had similar results."
May 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "Paul Van Doren's legacy lies in a famous company, and in his advice to young entrepreneurs to get their hands dirty, and to know what goes into making what they are selling."
May 19th 2021
EXTRACT: "May 7th marked three hundred and ten years since the philosopher David Hume was born. He is chiefly remembered as the most original and destructive of the early modern empiricists, following John Locke and George Berkeley." .... " Shocking as it may (and should) sound, Hume is implying nothing less than that the next time you turn the key in your car ignition, you are as justified to expect the engine will start as you are in believing it will turn into a pumpkin. For there is a radical contingency that pervades all our experience. We could wake up tomorrow to a world that looks and behaves very differently to the one we are in now. Matters of fact are dependent on experience and can never be known a priori — they are purely contingent, and could always turn out different than what we expect."
May 1st 2021
EXTRACT: " The sad reality is that the Mizrahim (Jews of Middle Eastern and North African descent) were discriminated against from the day of Israel’s inception, whose Ashkenazi (European Jewish) leaders viewed them as intellectually inferior, “backward,” and “too Arab,” and treated them as such, largely because the Ashkenazim agenda was to maintain their upper-class status while controlling the levers of power, which remain prevalent to this day." ..... " The greatest heartbreaking outcome is that for yet another generation of Israelis, growing up in these debilitating conditions has a direct effect on their cognitive development. A 2015 study published in Nature Neuroscience found that “family income is significantly correlated with children’s brain size…increases in income were associated with the greatest increases in brain surface area among the poorest children.” "
Apr 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "We all owe Farah Nabulsi an enormous debt of gratitude. In a short 24-minute film, The Present, she has exposed the oppressive indecency of the Israeli occupation while telling the deeply moving story of a Palestinian family. What is especially exciting is that after winning awards at a number of international film festivals​, Ms. Nabulsi has been nominated for an Academy Award for this remarkable work of art. " 
Apr 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "When I crashed to the floor of my home in Bordeaux recently after two months of Covid-19 dizziness, I was annoyed. The next day I collapsed again. Now I was worried. What I didn’t know was that my brain was sloshing around inside my skull, causing a mild concussion. Nor did I know that I was in for a whole new world of weird and wonderful hallucinations."
Apr 13th 2021
EXTRACT: "Overall, our review has found that there isn’t evidence to back up the claims that veganism is good for your heart. But that is partly because there are few studies ....... But veganism may have other health benefits. Vegans have been found to have a healthier weight and lower blood glucose levels than those who consume meat and dairy. They are also less likely to develop cancer, high blood pressure and diabetes. "
Apr 8th 2021
EXTRACT: "Pollock’s universe, the universe of Mural, cannot be said to be a rational universe. Nor is it simply devoid of all sense. It is not a purely imaginary world, although in it everything is in a constant state of flux. Mural invokes one of the oldest questions of philosophy, a question going back to the Pre-Socratic philosophers Parmenides and Heraclitus – namely, whether the nature of Reality constitutes unchanging permanence or constant movement and flux. For Pollock, the only thing that is truly unchanging is change itself. The only certainty is that all is uncertain."
Apr 8th 2021
EXTRACT: "Many present day politicians appear to have psychopathic and narcissistic traits too. It’s easy to spot such leaders, because they are always authoritarian, following hardline policies. They try to subvert democracy, to reduce the freedom of the press and clamp down on dissent. They are obsessed with national prestige, and often persecute minority groups. And they are always corrupt and lacking in moral principles."
Apr 6th 2021
EXTRACT: "This has led some to claim that not just half, but perhaps nearly all advertising money is wasted, at least online. There are similar results outside of commerce. One review of field experiments in political campaigning argued “the best estimate of the effects of campaign contact and advertising on Americans’ candidates choices in general elections is zero”. Zero!"
Mar 30th 2021
EXTRACT: "The Father is an extraordinary film, from Florian Zeller’s 2012 play entitled Le Père and directed by Zeller. I’m here to tell you why it is a ‘must see’." EDITOR'S NOTE: The official trailer is attached to the review.