Wicked Artsy: Working With What You Get

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02/05/2009 4:40 PM |

Wicked Artsy is Benjamin Sutton’s gallery round-up.

In a way the up-and-coming Lower East Side gallery district is the perfect setting for exhibitions of refashioned cultural material. Granted, its narrow retrofitted, tin-ceilinged spaces don’t feature the relatively high median standard of art found in Chelsea’s lofty warehouse galleries, but when artists and gallery directors successfully transform second- (or older) generation spaces and objects into new configurations, Lower East Side galleries gain a vitality all their own.

In Lehmann Maupin’s beautiful old factory warehouse, Kanye-approved Japanese post-pop artist Mr. continues his canonizing of young Japanese men’s culture of cuteness known as kawaii. In a series of large-scale photographs, a massive anime-style painting and a 35-minute video installation, Mr. puts the subculture’s fetishized, adolescent, pre-sexual female fantasy objects front and center. Though less sexually explicit than much of his previous work, Mr.’s parody criticizes a cultural penchant towards displaced sexuality and socially constricting female roles that is self-evident in Japan’s popular media, but not necessarily any less prevalent in our own.

Received cultural traditions and artifacts of our North American heritage are up for re-imagining in Brian Lund’s exhibition at Smith-Stewart’s modest and sunny storefront. Lund maps the familiar but no less complex editing patterns of classical Hollywood musicals by Bob Fosse into colorful pencil graphs. Though there’s a certain satisfaction in following the progression of lines, dots and names into and out of various pockets and streaks of symmetry and abstraction, it’s unclear what’s at stake, for us and for Lund, in this formal exercise. Is this his version of mapping the human genome, of finding in the regimented complexities of Hollywood’s technical traditions some key pattern to the American brain and its dreams? If these are our cultural ink blotches I certainly enjoyed the exercise, but they haven’t changed my life yet.

Switching subjects from the over-produced to the used and discarded, Michael Mahalchick’s show at CANADA’s surprisingly spacious gallery hidden in a Chinatown mid-rise deals in the most democratic material of our consumer culture: trash. His found art sculptures, like the most delirious passages in Don Dellilo’s White Noise, remind of the unbelievably rich visual culture we live in and of the intimate relationship between modern American art, soda cans and mangled electrical wires. Most things we discard are products of fine-tuned, elaborate international assembly lines that testify to the care devoted to creating even the most disposable artifact. Mahalchick, thankfully, is able to throw a few (or a wheelbarrow-full) of these items together and create artworks that are dense, playful and engaging to look at yet profoundly unsettling to think about.

Mr.: Nobody Dies at Lehmann Maupin (until February 21), 201 Chrystie Street (between Stanton and Rivington Streets), Wed-Sat 10am-6pm, Sun 12pm-6pm

Brian Lund: A Very Real and Very Dark Time at Smith-Stewart (until March 1), 53 Stanton Street (between Forsyth and Eldridge Streets), Wed-Sun 12pm-6pm,

Michael Mahalchick: For What It’s Worth at CANADA (until February 22), 55 Chrystie Street (between Canal and Hester Streets), Wed-Sun 12pm-6pm