Jonathan Calm

Artist Biography

Jonathan Calm is a visual artist who works in photography and video that integrates as well as challenges the aesthetic and ideological tenets of architecture, documentary journalism and sculpture. Over recent years, Calm has primarily explored the socio-cultural, historical and geopolitical imprint of public housing on both sides of the Atlantic, tracing the development of the American ‘project’ back to its European Modernist roots across a palimpsest of visionary theoretical predicates and harsh urban realities, with an eye toward ever more critical reinvention of communal city life.

Calm’s art has been exhibited in galleries and museums around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art, Tate Britain, the Museo Reina Sofia, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Jersey City Museum, the Wadsworth Athenaeum Museum of Art, the Smithsonian Institute and the Chelsea Art Museum. Numerous publications, among which The New York Times, Art in America, The New Yorker, The Village Voice, Artforum and The Washington Post, have given significant mention to his output.

Calm received his BFA from Montclair State University in 1997 and his MFA from Columbia University in 2000. He is an Art Matters grant recipient and regular full-time faculty member at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, where he has been teaching since 2009.

Download Artist CV

Artist Statement

Public housing and its diverse socio-historical manifestations is the subject of my recent work. It was the backdrop of my childhood, living seven stories up in the Linden House projects of East New York. I remember those stairs as a test of courage, a passage to get through as quickly as possible before something bad could happen. It was a daily reminder of a simple truth — architecture matters, the core premise of my work over the last ten years.

I begin with research, sifting through archival footage, contemporary news accounts, and local mythologies to uncover stories of life in similar places. I talk to the people who live there, traveling to meet them in neighborhoods outside the economic and cultural centers of New York, Chicago, London, Paris and Berlin.

Modernist ideology permeates these developments, self-contained capsules set apart from the surrounding communities by design. Untitled (Stage) is a detail from le Corbusier’s Cité Radieuse (Radiant City) in Marseilles, conceived as a utopian housing complex but recognized as the prototype of public housing to come. Residents enjoy access to groceries, recreational facilities, medical and child care without so much as leaving the building.

Subsequent iterations reveal flaws in the principles behind these theoretically efficient human containers. Just because you can accommodate large numbers of people in such fashion doesn’t mean you should. **The Parisian Ville de Nanterre projects echo the same problems as Chicago’s Ida B. Wells housing development: joblessness, poverty, drug addiction, crime.

My latest series use black and white imagery to reduce visual “clutter” and isolate architecture as a skeleton beneath the dysfunction. The Chambers series depicts quarters in urban zoos, environments contrived to celebrate the lives they constrain. The Reconstruction series dissolves exalted figures into humble places, pairing popular and historical found images to register present day reverberations of African American history from 1865 and after.

I present these subjects to reframe a problem, to move from a discourse of victimization to one of design intent. The accumulation of images offers the promise of insight — a way to make visible underlying patterns of thought that give rise to failed communities — and proposes new possibilities for rising populations transitioning from rural environments into megacities worldwide.

Rooted Movements

Erika Ranee, Jeannette Ehlers, Jonathan Calm, Nikita Gale, Sara Blo...

July 1, 2014 - August 1, 2014


Jonathan Calm

May 18, 2014 - June 22, 2014

Copeland, Huey, “The Blackness of Blackness”, Artforum, October, 2008, 151
Bischoll, Dan, “Crystal Land Revisited: New Art In New Jersey,” the Sunday Star-Ledger, November 7, 2004, 3, (illustration)
Genocchio, Benjamin, “Images on a Transcultural Highway,” The New York Times, December 12, 2004, 16.
Dawson, Jessica, “African-American Art, forward and Backward,” Washington Post, November 27, 2003, C05
Archer, Barbara, “An Insiders Tour of Chelsea,” The Record, April 19, 2002, 39
Cote Christian, “Hip Hop Bof!,” Le Droit, September 14, 2002, A16
Cotter, Holland, “Cinema a la Warhol, With Cowboys, Stillness and Glamour,” New York Times, April 5, 2002, E31
Cotter, Holland, “Superimposition,” New York Times, July 6, 2001, E33
Finch, Charlie, “Video Choices, Kiki Seror, Annika Larsson, Jeremy Blake, Jonathan Calm,”, March 29, 2002 (illustration)
Finch, Charlie, “My Own Private Biennial,” Magazine, November 29, 2001
Finch, Charlie, “Greetings Friends,”, December 22, 2000
Gladman, Randy, “Jonathan Calm,” NY Arts, July/August, 2002, 17 (illustration)
Goodman, Christy, “PBS Finds Reel New York in Brooklyn: Focus on Homegrown Filmmakers,” 24/7, June 7, 2004, cover illustration, 3, 18-24.
“Gene Heinemeyer Show,” WPAT AM/FM, New York, NY, 2004
Hall, Robert, “New Visions” Valentine New York, The Magazine, Vol. 1, issue IV, Winter 2003, 17-19 (illustration)
Harris, Jane, “Short List,” Village Voice, June 2005, 43
Honigman, Ana Finel, “Pinning It Down,” Sleek, Summer 2008, 214 (illustration)
Huester, Webke, “Da ist die Junge Kunst, die Sich der Natur Zuwendet,” Frankfurter, October 4, 2003
Hunt, David, “Jonathan Calm,” Artext, Fall 2002 (illustration)
Jenkins, Mark, ”At Anacostia, Hats & Accessories,” Washington Post, January 16, 2004
Joiner, Dorothy, “Taking Possession,” Art Papers, November/ December, 2007, 67-68
Kerr, Merrily, “David Hunt’s Superimposition,” NY Arts, September, 2001
Kerr Merrily, “Man Hunt”, NY Arts, November, 2001, 28
Levin, Kim, “Voice Choice, Jonathan Calm,” Village Voice, April, 16, 2002
Michel, Rita, “Loop ’00 Art Barcelona” NY Arts, Jan/Feb, 2004, 31
Pollack Barbara, “Frequency,” Art News, Feb. 2006, 129
Robinson, Walter, “Weekend Update,”, June 23, 2005, (illustration)
Simmons, Frank, “Jonathan Calm,” Time Out NY, April 19-25, 2002, 62, (illustration)
Schwendener, Martha, “Jonathan Calm,” The New Yorker, June 27, 2005
Schwenderer, Martha, “Superimposition,” Artforum Online, July 14, 2001
Trieschmann, Werner, “Taking Possession- is a strong display by black artists,” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, September, 14, 2007
Valdez, Sarah, “Report From New York, Bling and Beyond,”, April, 2006, 63 (illustration)
Valdez, Sarah, “Jonathan Calm,” Paper, February, 2002, 132
Young, Lisa J., “Jonathan Calm,” Tema Celeste, July-August, 2002, 90 (illustration)
Zamudio, Raul, “Superimposition,” Tema Celeste, September-October, 2000, 84


I-20 Gallery, New York, NY, Hunt, David, “Dusk,” Sept, 16-October 28, 2000, 6 (illustration)
Studio Museum of Art, NYC, Minto, Brooke, “Frequency,” November 9, 2005 – March 12, 2006, 34-35, (illustration)
Gallery 101, Sirmans, Frank, “Mass Appeal: The Art Object and Hip Hop Culture,” Ottawa, Canada, August, 2002
The Smithsonian Institute, Anacostia Center for African American Art, “New Visions, Emerging Trends in African American Art,” 3, 6-7, (illustration)
“Art Forum Berlin 2003,” 148-9, (illustration)