80 Washington Square East, NYU

Language of the Birds

Language of the Birds: Occult and Art

January 12 – February 13, 2016


Language of the Birds: Occult and Art considers over 60 modern and contemporary artists who have each expressed their own engagement with magical practice. Beginning with Aleister Crowley's trance portraiture and Austin Osman Spare's automatic drawing of the early 20th century, the exhibition traces over 100 years 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, then, when seen through this mythopoeic lens. A visual vocabulary is offered up by them, 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.

Photo credit: Jean Vong

Eight framed artworks hang on a gallery's walls, each in a different frame. A short pedestal on the ground has several sculptures of birds with human faces.
Framed artworks hang on a gallery's walls. A short pedestal on the ground has several sculptures of birds with human faces.
A glass display case showing an accordion-folded scroll of paper and two printed sheets.
Several framed artworks showing different geometrical diagrams hang on the wall behind a glass display case which holds several sheets of paper.
A low circular pedestal holds several items, including a skull and a candlestick. . A green geometric drawing covers the two walls behind the pedestal.
Several framed artworks hang on a gallery's walls. Text on one wall reads "Spells."
Multiple framed drawings and painting hand on a gallery's walls, each in a different frame.
An image of a cloaked figure with geometric designs hangs next to a circular arrangement of occult symbols.
A sculpture on a wire hanger is dispayed in front of several framed wall artworks.
Two hanging artworks, one a painting of wraith-like figures, and one a black-and-white photograph.
Seven colorful wall artworks hang on a white gallery wall.