by Wendy Vogel
As a self-identified feminist well versed in deconstructionist theories, I know how damaging essentialist discourse can be. I believe that biology is not destiny. And yet, the zodiac fascinates me. I’ve spent many hours contemplating the effects of planets on relationships, creative output, and success — so much that an artist friend once pleaded with me to write a horoscope column for …might be good under my editorship. So in honor of …mbg’s 200th issue, I bring you an amateur reading of each Sun sign’s artistic personality with examples of famous artists. Of course, my personal taste and astrological make-up account for any subjective slant or historical gaps in the following analysis. (In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a Gemini born on May 31 with Aquarius rising and my moon in Capricorn or Capricorn-Aquarius cusp, depending on the reading. Judge me as you wish.)
Dates: March 21-April 19
Symbol: The Ram
Artists with Sun in Aries: Daniel Buren (March 25, 1938), Dan Graham (March 31, 1942), John Chamberlain (April 16, 1927), Sherrie Levine (April 17, 1947)
Aries is the infant sign of the zodiac. People born under this sign are likely to possess both the positive and negative qualities of babies: curiosity, warmth, emotional openness, vitality, impulsiveness, impatience and aggression. For artists, the Aries ability to trust one’s instincts and connect to the depths of Fiery emotion while avoiding the hang-ups of Water signs can prove to be a powerful combination. John Chamberlain’s colorful muscular constructions made from bent car parts, for instance, reflect the exuberance and physical energy of Aries natives. Dan Graham (a famous astrological devotee) exemplifies Aries’ restlessness throughout his diverse conceptual projects, from cultural histories of rock music to architectural pavilions. With the confidence bestowed by Aries’ ruling planet Mars, Sherrie Levine defied traditional notions of authorship in her series of appropriated photographs and paintings.
Advice: If your Sun sign is Aries, you’re likely a natural leader and a good athlete. Stuck in a creative rut? Consider starting an artist collective and/or organizing pick-up softball games for your creative industry friends.
Dates: April 20-May 20
Symbol: The Bull
Artists with Sun in Taurus: Willem de Kooning (April 24, 1904), Yves Klein (April 28, 1928), Hanne Darboven (April 29, 1941), Joseph Beuys (May 12, 1921), Frank Stella (May 12, 1936)
Taurean bulls uphold the earthy values of practicality, patience, and dependability. They have a knack for teaching and any profession that involves numbers. It stands to reason that artists like Hanne Darboven and Frank Stella, who made their marks respectively through systems of algorithmic notations and a “deductive structure” of painting on shaped canvases, would be born under this sign. Willem de Kooning’s heavily reworked abstract canvases intone Taurus’s stubborn tenaciousness, as does Yves Klein’s patenting of his International Klein Blue for his pristine monochromes. Few teachers loom as large in art-historical consciousness as the mythical German social sculptor Joseph Beuys, who once said, “To be a teacher is my greatest work of art.” From his time at the Düsseldorf Art Academy to his founding of the Free International University, Beuys sought to bring a radical sense of democracy to education. (Speaking of radical political philosophy and economics, Karl Marx was also a Taurean.)
Advice: You’re at your best when you’re pontificating, Taurus, but don’t forget to keep an open mind to new ideas. Go for that tenure track teaching position, but be humble with your students. Also try some Judo.
Dates: May 21-June 21
Symbol: The Twins
Artists with Sun in Gemini: Benjamin Patterson (May 29, 1934), Robert Ryman (May 30, 1930), Ellsworth Kelly (May 31, 1923), Laurie Anderson (June 5, 1947), Damien Hirst (June 7, 1965), John Baldessari (June 17, 1931)
As a Gem, I can affirm that we Twins rarely find ourselves at a loss for words. Adaptable, poised and communicative, Geminians are the best people to bring to a cocktail party full of strangers, and often make great writers. (Pats self on back.) We can wax cerebral, in witty sound bytes, on topics from celebrity gossip to politics to science. Unfortunately, the ease by which we Mercury-ruled chameleons can fly by the seat of our pants can also be expressed, in its negative aspect, as dilettantism, superficiality and duplicitousness. See, for example, Damien Hirst’s personal branding-as-art. Other artists, like Laurie Anderson and John Baldessari, funnel Gemini’s natural charm into complex responses to media culture. Still other Gems — as different from one another as each Twin is from him or herself — work best when they impose rules on their creative innovation, like Robert Ryman’s white-on-white paintings.
Advice: Even though you work best when you don’t have a routine, Gemini, make sure to schedule some time for yourself. And set deadlines, no matter how absurd they seem. Trust me.
Dates: June 22-July 22
Symbol: The Crab
Artists with Sun in Cancer: Gordon Matta-Clark (June 22, 1943), Philip Guston (June 27, 1913), Tracey Emin (July 3, 1963), Judy Chicago (July 20, 1939)
Like Geminians, Moon children born under the sign of Cancer possess a dual nature, subject to mood swings governed by their ruling lunar planet. No-nonsense on the surface, Cancerians are deeply creative and sensitive beings who retreat into their shells when emotionally injured. These innate nurturers crave a comfortable home life. They make wonderful parents and romantic partners who intuitively create rich domestic settings. It’s no surprise, then, that Gordon Matta-Clark, born on the Gemini-Cancer cusp, became the proprietor of the 1970s SoHo co-op FOOD. Judy Chicago embraced the lunar nature of Cancer in her search for a distinct feminist iconography, particularly in her tour de force installation The Dinner Party (1974-79). And Tracey Emin’s flavor of shock art exposes her messy personal life to public scrutiny — the ultimate Cancerian expression of intense emotionality.
Advice: Cancer, you have a tendency for self-pity. Try channeling some of that nurturing energy outwards — have you considered a social practice project? Scandinavia and the West Coast await you.
Dates: July 23-August 22
Symbol: The Lion
Artists with Sun in Leo: Marcel Duchamp (July 28, 1887), Jenny Holzer (July 29, 1950), Paul McCarthy (August 4, 1945), Andy Warhol (August 6, 1928), Richard Prince (August 6, 1949)
Leos are easy to spot in a crowd. Regal and gregarious, often with exceptional personal style, they command attention. Provocateurs and master media manipulators like Andy Warhol, Marcel Duchamp and Richard Prince channeled the Lion’s roar into their convention-defying work — see Prince’s appropriated photo of a sexualized pre-adolescent Brooke Shields Spiritual America (1983), Warhol’s celebrity obsession, and Duchamp’s chess tournaments with a nude woman in the 1960s. These kings and queens of the jungle understand how to infiltrate public consciousness through their words, as well. Take Jenny Holzer’s piercing language-based pieces, which first took the form of LED lights on a Times Square billboard during a Public Art Fund commission in 1982. Paul McCarthy, however, channels the fragile ego and tyrannical nature of Leo in his neurotic performances like The Painter (1995) and inflatable sculptures of dog shit.
Advice: Your need for attention and spendthrift habits can be crippling, Leo. Perhaps you should find a studio assistant — preferably a Water or Earth sign — to give you some reassurance and help you with your budget.
Dates: August 23-September 22
Symbol: The Virgin
Artists with Sun in Leo: John Cage (September 5, 1912), Sol LeWitt (September 9, 1938), Carl Andre (September 16, 1935), Adrian Piper (September 20, 1948)
An Earth sign ruled by the energetic planet of Mercury, Virgo is the most intellectual sign of the zodiac. Discerning, analytical and loyal, Virgos have an eye for detail and very high ideals. On the other hand, this sign leans toward criticism and insecurity. The quintessential Virgo may be Sol LeWitt, the artist who penned the Sentences on Conceptual Art in 1968. (Baldessari, a Geminian also ruled by Mercury, would sing these sentences in 1972.) Artists like Carl Andre and Adrian Piper fused their Conceptual work with political and social content — Andre in his activism as part of the Art Workers’ Coalition, and Piper’s probing work on identity, from her Catalysis performances in public (1970-71) to her videos and newspaper drawings. (Piper has a second intellectual life as a Kantian philosophy scholar.) John Cage blended the tenets of modernism with Zen-inflected chance based operations in his exciting compositions.
Advice: Virgo, you’re probably already a Conceptual art superstar. If you’re not, your tendency for self-criticism is likely bringing you down. Break your routine for a weekend to put things in perspective. And if you have nervous energy to spare, this Gem could sure use your organizational help.
Dates: September 23-October 23
Symbol: The Scales
Artists with Sun in Libra: Mark Rothko (September 25, 1903), Sophie Calle (October 9, 1953), Carolee Schneemann (October 12, 1939), Brice Marden (October 15, 1938)
Librans simply emanate charm; their refined tastes, emotional balance and intellect draw others to them. This Air sign, ruled by Venus, also has a knack for romance. But their ability to weigh every side of the situation has a downside — they can be plagued by indecision and lack of ambition. Artists like Brice Marden channel Libra’s aesthetic sensibility into a painting practice informed by minimalism, Eastern philosophy and an intuitive grasp of color theory. Mark Rothko’s vibrating palette may also be attributed to a Libran’s gift for color. Sophie Calle, on the other hand, combines romanticism with the detachment of Conceptual art in her highly personal projects. And Carolee Schneemann’s singular performance practice, boldly charting the discourse surrounding the body and sexuality, reacted to the highly rational structuralist film community with which she was once personally and romantically entwined (as her Interior Scroll text explains.)
Advice: Libra, your natural sense of aesthetic balance is unrivalled. Why don’t you try amassing a collection of attractive objects in your studio and see where that leads? You could always present that collection as a work itself — a huge trend right now.
Dates: October 24-November 21
Symbol: Scorpion or Eagle
Artists with Sun in Scorpio: Pablo Picasso (October 25, 1881), Mike Kelley (October 27, 1954), Paul Thek (November 2, 1933), Lee Lozano (November 5, 1930), Ana Mendieta (November 18, 1948)
Natives of Scorpio inspire awe, fear and desire. This dark, sensual Water sign can be ruthless and magnetic at the same time. In business and pleasure, they pursue their goals single-mindedly and can be vindictive to people who put obstacles in their way. At the same time, they are extremely committed to their friends, family and lovers — though the road with a Scorpion rarely runs smooth. The passionate, tumultuous personal life of modern master Pablo Picasso often found its way onto the canvas. Lee Lozano made her obstinate mark by her overriding conceptual project to withdraw from the art world permanently. Sadly, the lives of many brilliant Scorpio-born artists like Mike Kelley, Paul Thek and Ana Mendieta, who explored topics of sexual violence, repression and death in their work, ended tragically. (Though Mendieta’s husband Carl Andre was acquitted of her murder, the cause of her mysterious fall from the window of their high-rise apartment remains open to speculation.)
Advice: You are capable of emotional devastation. It may be best to avoid relationships with other artists and art professionals. But who am I kidding? You won’t listen to me. In fact, you’ll probably try to seduce me as soon as the opportunity presents itself.
Dates: November 22-December 21
Symbol: The Archer
Artists with Sun in Sagittarius: Kara Walker (November 26, 1969), Félix González-Torres (November 26, 1957), Marina Abramović (November 30, 1946) and Ulay (November 30, 1943), Ed Ruscha (December 16, 1937), Alighiero e Boetti (December 16, 1940)
Half-man, half-horse, Sagittarius embodies the mind-body duality that afflicts human consciousness. This highly energetic Fire sign, fiercely intellectual, identifies with the proletariat and the downtrodden. For this reason, politicized content often makes its way into the work of Sagittarians. The Sag tendency for blunt expression can equally inform the direct, piercing output of these artists’ oeuvres. Marina Abramović and Ulay, Sagittarians born on the same date (November 30), “twinned” themselves in confrontational, durational performance work throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Twinning also became an important theme in the work of Italian artist Alighiero e Boetti (Alighiero AND Boetti), while Boetti’s world maps created by workers in Pakistan and other developing nations expressed political content in a provocative way. Even after identity politics became a dirty word (again), artists like Kara Walker and Félix González-Torres, whose works dissect the trauma of American slavery and the devastation of the AIDS epidemic, invoke lasting emotional impact.
Advice: Sagittarius, you have a tendency to think without speaking. Try to temper this candidness in your everyday interactions. Consider putting that impassioned speech to good use in a political cause of your choice. I’m sure OWS could use your voice.
Dates: December 22-January 19
Symbol: The Goat
Artists with Sun in Capricorn: Louise Bourgeois (December 25, 1911), Henri Matisse (December 31, 1869), Robert Smithson (January 2, 1938), Eva Hesse (January 11, 1936), Kiki Smith (January 18, 1954), Cindy Sherman (January 19, 1954)
“The accountants of the zodiac,” the Goats have a bad rap in creative circles for being miserly and emotionally detached. Allow me to defend you, Caps. This arguably most earthy of Earth signs exhibits the values of practical thinking, logistic know-how and organizational ability without the outward insecurity or bullheadedness of Virgo and Taurus. It’s no coincidence that Robert Smithson, one of the most famous figures of the Land Art movement, is a Capricorn. I suspect that if you probed more deeply, you would discover a lot of sculptors born under this sign — Eva Hesse and Kiki Smith, however, are excellent examples to begin. The wide range of artistic personalities and styles grouped under this sign, from Matisse to Cindy Sherman, suggest that the Sun in Capricorn may be easily overpowered by other ruling planets’ influence. Maybe a follow-up article is in order.
Advice: Capricorn, while you’re busy plotting world domination, don’t forget to have fun once in a while. Leave the studio and attend an opening occasionally. It could help your career and your personal life.
Dates: January 20-February 18
Symbol: The Water Bearer
Artists with Sun in Aquarius: Barbara Kruger (January 26, 1945), Jackson Pollock (January 28, 1912), Robert Morris (February 9, 1931), Gerhard Richter (February 9, 1932), Miranda July (February 15, 1974), Yoko Ono (February 18, 1933)
Iconoclasts and eccentrics, Aquarians love to shock. They associate with fringe personalities — just think of Yoko Ono’s forays into countercultural exploration, from rock n’ roll to experimental noise — and embrace humanitarian political ideals. Curiously, however, they maintain a distanced attitude from the people closest to them. Like their fellow Air signs, Gemini and Libra, Aquarians have a great facility for language. Consider Miranda July’s Fluxus-inspired instruction-based piece Learning to Love You More, Ono’s Grapefruit poems and Barbara Kruger’s jolting collages. Lightning rods for cultural change, Aquarians truly connect with the spirit of the avant-garde. Pollock’s Abstract Expressionism, Gerhard Richter’s Capitalist Realism, and Robert Morris’s first Green Gallery exhibition of six-foot-tall rectangular boxes provided the touchstone imagery for entire movements.
Advice: Aquarius, you’re an uncompromising dynamo and everyone knows it. But think about the impact of your trailblazing individualism. Are you freezing out everyone around you? If so, consider collaborative work. Join a punk band? It worked for fellow Aquarians John Lydon and Henry Rollins.
Dates: February 19-March 20
Symbol: The Fish
Artists with Sun in Pisces: Martin Kippenberger (February 25, 1953), Eleanor Antin (February 27, 1935), Hannah Wilke (March 7, 1940), David Smith (March 9, 1906)
The two fish that represent Pisces swim in opposite directions, symbolizing the dual nature of this sign that drowns in emotion. Pisces are mystic healers and “old souls” that often attract damaged personalities to them. For a popular culture example, let me offer Kurt Cobain as the penultimate Fish (think about the opening lines of the ode to Courtney Love’s “Heart-Shaped Box”: “She has me like a Pisces when I am weak.”) Unfortunately, the extreme sensitivity of Pisces often leads them to escapism. While this urge can often be satiated by a rigorous creative practice, it sometimes leads to madness, drug and alcohol addiction. Such was the case of Martin Kippenberger, as well known for his hard-partying attitude as his prolific career encompassing sculpture, painting, prints and performance. Hannah Wilke and Eleanor Antin also embraced Pisces’ twinned nature in their performance-based work. While Wilke challenged gender norms by using her own naked, sexualized body as an avatar or cipher for discussion, Antin created highly theatrical characters, such as the homeless King of Solana Beach and the black ballerina Eleanor Antinova from Diaghilev’s company.
Advice: Pisces, use your sensitivity to explore what other artists cannot. We’ve all been affected this week by the awesome power of nature in your element, Water. Without being crass, take this experience and allow it to inform your creative instincts.
Wendy Vogel is a New York-based critic, editor and occasional curator.