Better Than Nothing

04/27/2011 4:00 AM |

Is it better to visit Chelsea or the Lower East Side? This month, take your pick. Mixed bag is the definition of New York’s current crop of shows, and wandering a little will pay off. The following three shows were worth additional reflection.

First stop in Chelsea should be the Joseph Kosuth exhibition ‘Texts (Waiting for-) for Nothing’ Samuel Beckett, at Sean Kelly Gallery (through April 30). The show is made up of three installations, but the two at the far end of the gallery are the best. On the right, a gray room filled with various definitions of “nothing” mounted on uniform black surfaces: Both the execution and the heterogeneous source material deny the definition’s meaning. Paradoxically, as photographs, these works are arguably made from nothing, or at least the immaterial, as they are created through exposure to light. The intangible is once more re-enforced by the work’s title, “Titled (Art as Idea as Idea)”, which describes conceptual art as a product of itself.

One room over, blackened neon tubes hang around the perimeter of the pitch-black space, writing out lines from Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and Texts for Nothing. Head on, the text is illegible, but from the side or a bit below a viewer can read a few words. Walking around the room, all I could think about were the words of a friend who had seen the work in Melbourne a couple months earlier. She believed the piece was commenting on the futility of achieving any creative vision, saying: “You see [the idea] clearly before you, but in the realization it falls apart.” Then she added, “but maybe when you look back at it some of the meaning you intended is there.”

Sascha Braunig‘s painted portraits at Foxy Production (through April 30) have little to no relation to the Kosuth show, but are nearby and worth a look. Socket-less eyeballs and peeling faces suggest her brightly patterned figures have unnamed, otherworldly powers. The work recalls the 1973 sci-fi classic Fantastic Planet, in which humans are merely the toys of an alien race. Braunig’s painting skills are strong, but sometimes fall apart upon close inspection—her ability to render surfaces needs work. Time in the studio and one or two more shows should cure that problem.

Over on the Lower East Side, On Stellar Rays‘ Rochelle Feinstein has steadily been collecting positive press from outlets like the Times, Brooklyn Rail, and Art Critical. A comment on the recession, The Estate of Rochelle F. (through May 1) came into being after Feinstein decided to up the value of her studio holdings in 2009 by repurposing trashed stretchers and other crap she had lying around. She spent no additional money while making the work, and used as much material as possible with minimal interventions. A witty series of crusty paintings results. A giant striped V shape in BP logo colors, “Mr. Natural,” evokes an aged Kenneth Noland, while “Image of an Image” recalls the term “golden shower” by literally painting gold on an old shower curtain affixed to a canvas. The lightest and most enjoyable aspect of this show, though, is that at every turn the viewer is reminded of the artist’s workspace. Feinstein integrates color wheels, paint swatches, and anything else that might look like a study into her finished paintings.

There’s plenty more to visit on Orchard Street, Feinstein’s just the teaser. Wander around a little and you’ll be sure to see other worthy shows.

(Images copyright Joseph Kosuth, courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, New York)