Tara Donovan: New Work
Pace Wildenstein, 534 W. 25th St.
A lot of artwork on display in New York right now leans heavily on conceptual or narrative frameworks that send you running to the wall labels. The Whitney Biennial boasts the best examples (“an articulation of nostalgia and diligence reflecting ‘traditional,’ transcendental American values,” etc.), and this recurring trend is bogging down Chelsea as well. What a relief, then, to come across a show at Pace Wildenstein that is unapologetically sensual. From out on the street, Tara Donovan’s installation appears to be a glowing, white mountain range on the floor of the gallery. But the luminous topography is actually composed of stacks of clear plastic cups, arranged in gradations of height to simulate peaks and valleys over an area of 3,000 square feet. The piece is absurdly labor-intensive, but the labor generates mystery and a magical transformation of materials, which are welcome qualities in contemporary art.
Oliver Kamm 5BE Gallery, 621 W.27th St.
The skulls, flames, lightning bolts, and Rottweilers in Andrew Sexton’s work might lead you to believe that he’s another artist obsessed with a goth-metal-Americana aesthetic. That may be, but the works in Sexton’s first solo show have a surprising element — they’re all portraits. The five-foot, steel handlebar mustache, which the receptionist will set on fire if you ask nicely, is a self-portrait. The arrangement of painted car doors, tequila, a live masseuse, and a Walkman with a soundtrack is meant to capture the personality of Michael Stickrod, a young video artist. The Crumb-like cartoon in ink and soy sauce portrays Adrian Wong, a classmate of Sexton and Stickrod in the Yale MFA program. All of the objects transcend easy classification by combining several different aesthetics — Louis Hopper includes a Cobra-shaped beer tap, a skull carved from cheddar cheese, a wall painting of lightning, and a skateboard. Despite the mish-mash of materials and forms, each portrait conveys a fondness for a loveable, albeit eccentric subject.