Language of the Birds: Occult and Art

80WSE Gallery, New York University
January 12 – February 13, 2016

Curated by Pam Grossman

Opening reception: Wednesday, January 13, 6 – 8pm
Hours: Tuesday – Saturday from 10:30am – 6pm

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 exhibition takes its name from the historical and cross-cultural notion that there is a magic language via which only the initiated can communicate.  Often referred to as the “language of the birds,” it is a system rumored to operate in symbols, and to be a vehicle for revealing hidden truths and igniting metamorphic sparks.

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.

Participating Artists

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. * Rebecca Salmon * 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

Special Events Related to the Exhibition

Weds, Jan 13: Opening Reception   6-8pm

Weds, Jan 27: Performance of “The Language,” a theatrical piece written by playwright Matthew Freeman, commissioned for Language of the Birds.    7pm - Free and open to the public.

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.  Tickets required - SOLD OUT.

Weds, Feb 10: “Art Workings” Lectures and panel discussion with Professor Susan L. Aberth, Jesse Bransford, and William Breeze, moderated by exhibition curator, Pam Grossman.   7pm - Free and open to the public.

About the Curator

Pam Grossman is an independent curator, writer, and teacher of magical practice and history.  She is the creator of Phantasmaphile, a blog which specializes in art and culture with an esoteric or fantastical bent, 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), where her programming explored mysticism via a scholarly yet accessible approach.

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, Time Out New York, Juxtapoz, Arthur, 20×200,, and Neil Gaiman's Twitter.

Pam’s writing has appeared in numerous mediums, including The Huffington Post,, Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Film Comment blog, the Etsy blog, Sciences Occultes magazine, and various Fulgur press publications.  As a featured guest on HuffPost LIVE, The Midnight Archive web series, and myriad other radio shows and podcasts, she has discussed the role of magic in contemporary life.

She is Getty Images’ Director of Visual Trends, and she lives in Brooklyn with her husband, Matt, and their two cat familiars, Albee and Remedios “Remy” Varo.


Header image: Paul Laffoley "Astrological Ouroboros" (detail) 1965. Oil, acrylic, and hand applied vinyl letters on canvas and wood. Courtesy Kent Fine Art.