On Friday night, as art- and box wine-thirsty throngs descended on West Chelsea for the second consecutive night of several dozen opening receptions in the area’s galleries (further buoyed by pockets of Fashion Week activity), the biggest crowd pushed its way into Gagosian Gallery‘s museum-sized West 24th Street building while their Bentleys and other conspicuous vehicles idled outside, clogging the street. The fuss was over Dan Colen (a friend of the late Dash Snow), who was the subject of an epic but, as Tyler Green and others have noted, not especially insightful or justified Times profile by Carol Vogel chronicling the young artist’s unconventional entry into one of the most coveted stables in the art world. An excellent show would have made all that okay, but alas…
With Larry Gagosian lounging at the front desk, surrounded by a small crowd, I pushed through the foyer into the first room, where a massive red brick wall at least 15 feet tall an 30 feet long bisected the space. Around its back side, a set of massive steel girders kept it in place like some vestige of a bulldozed tenement. The big piece, a kind of brick-and-mortar version of Richard Serra’s “Tilted Arc,” is logistically impressive, but not much else. With no history or discernible craft, its impact quickly faded.
In the following room a row of a dozen or so motorcycles was installed as if they’d collapsed onto one another like a set of dominoes (pictured above). A similarly unimpressed visitor beside me quipped: “Where are all the pissed off Hell’s Angels?” Like the pissed off art fans, they were nowhere to be seen. (To be fair, more discerning reception-hoppers were enjoying the superb Pipilotti Rist installation down the street at Luhring Augustine, and may have never made it to Colen’s less interesting show.) Behind the row of bikes a mediocre large-format painting of bottles in Fauvist hues, a few of them tipped over like the nearby choppers, only made things worse.
The exhibition’s final room (if taken counter-clockwise) was a little better, with two massive canvases and an upside down plywood skate ramp (pictured). If the ramp, like the brick wall, seemed a grand, spectacular but ultimately pointless gesture, it at least had the advantage of creating an unusual and intriguing spatial experience, with visitors to the massive room congregating under its low vaulted ceiling like the crowds perpetually gathering underneath Anish Kapoor’s shiny bean in Chicago. The two massive abstract expressionist canvases nearby, white with thick smears of color in varying widths, were rendered with chewing gum, which gave the entire gallery complex a smell of manufactured sweetness that couldn’t have been more appropriate considering the work on display.
Back outside, the crowd trying to get in was now ten-deep, the air was fresh, and the obedient Bentley driver was still waiting.