In mythology and literature, the “language of the birds” is a magical language which only the initiated can speak, revealing secret truths and causing transformations. Language of the Birds: Occult and Art, a new exhibition opening January 12, 2016 at the 80WSE Gallery at the NYU Steinhardt, provides the first in-depth and wide ranging exhibition of over 60 modern and contemporary artists who prove fluent in this language, united in the conviction of art-making as a spiritual practice and a search for hidden knowledge.
Beginning with Aleister Crowley’s tarot paintings and Austin Osman Spare’s automatic drawings of the 1920s, the exhibition traces nearly a century of occult art, including Leonora Carrington and Kurt Seligmann’s surrealist explorations, Kenneth Anger and Ira Cohen’s ritualistic experiments in film and photography, and the mystical probings of contemporary visionaries such as Francesco Clemente, Kiki Smith, Paul Laffoley, BREYER P-ORRIDGE, and Carol Bove.
The concerns and influences of each of these artists are as eclectic as the styles in which they work. While several of the pieces deal with “high” or ceremonial magic, others draw from so-called “low magic” practices and have deeply chthonic roots. The approaches in technique are varying as well, with some doing years of research and preparation for the act of creation, and others working entirely intuitively. Regardless of method, Language of the Birds suggests that all are part of the same lineage: one that pulls on threads from the esoteric web of alchemy, Hermeticism, Spiritualism, Theosophy, divination and witchcraft.
“The artists in Language of the Birds can be considered magicians when seen through a mythopoetic lens,” said Pam Grossman, curator of the exhibition. “They offer up a visual vocabulary, so that we all might be initiated into their imaginal mystery cults and dialog with the ineffable. They speak to us in secret tongues, cast spells, and employ pictures for the purpose of activating profound change in both themselves and in us. By going within, then drawing streams of imagery forth through their creations, each of these artists seeks to render the invisible visible, to materialize the immaterial, and to tell us that we, too, can enter numinous realms.”
The opening reception for Language of the Birds will be held Wednesday, January 13 at 80WSE Gallery, from 6-8 p.m . There will also be a series of public events connected with the exhibition, listed below:
Weds, Jan 27, 7 p.m.: Performance of “The Language,” a theatrical piece written by playwright Matthew Freeman, commissioned Language of the Birds
Fri, Feb 5 – Sun, Feb 7: The Occult Humanities Conference at NYU Steinhardt – a weekend long symposium of 14 lectures and performances which explore the influence of magical thought upon art, history, and contemporary culture
Weds, Feb 10, 7 p.m: “Art Workings” Lectures and panel discussion with Professor Susan L. Aberth, Jesse Bransford, and William Breeze
Artists participating in the exhibition include the following:
Kenneth Anger * Anohni * Laura Battle * Jordan Belson * Alison Blickle * Carol Bove * Jesse Bransford * BREYER P-ORRIDGE * John Brill * Robert Buratti * Elijah Burgher * Cameron * Leonora Carrington * Francesco Clemente * Ira Cohen * Brian Cotnoir * Aleister Crowley * Enrico Donati * El Gato Chimney * Leonor Fini * JFC Fuller * Helen Rebekah Garber * Rik Garrett * Delia Gonzalez * Jonah Groeneboer * Juanita Guccione * Brion Gysin * Frank Haines * Barry William Hale * Valerie Hammond * Ken Henson * Bernard Hoffman * Nino Japaridze * Gerome Kamrowski * Leo Kenney * Paul Laffoley * Adela Leibowitz * Darcilio Lima * Angus MacLise * Ann McCoy * Rithika Merchant * William Mortensen * Rosaleen Norton * Micki Pellerano * Ryan M Pfeiffer & Rebecca Walz * Max Razdow * Ron Regé, Jr. * Kurt Seligmann * Harry Smith * Kiki Smith * Xul Solar * Austin Osman Spare * Charles Stein * Shannon Taggart * Gordon Terry * Scott Treleaven * Panos Tsagaris * Charmion von Wiegand * Robert Wang * Peter Lamborn Wilson * Lionel Ziprin
About the Curator
Pam Grossman is an independent curator, writer, and teacher of magical practice and history. She is the creator of Phantasmaphile, and the Associate Editor of Abraxas International Journal of Esoteric Studies. She is also the co-organizer of the Occult Humanities Conference at NYU, and co-founder of the Brooklyn arts & lecture space, Observatory (2009-2014). Her group art shows and projects have been featured by such outlets as Artforum, Newsweek, New York Magazine, Boing Boing, Art & Antiques Magazine, CREATIVE TIME, and Time Out New York. Her writing has appeared in numerous mediums, including The Huffington Post, MSN.com, Sciences Occultes magazine, and various publications. She is also Getty Images’ Director of Visual Trends.
(Photo: Paul Laffoley “Astrological Ouroboros” 1965. Oil, acrylic, and hand applied vinyl letters on canvas and wood. Courtesy Kent Fine Art.)