An Orchard Street Summer

07/20/2011 4:00 AM |

Welcome to summer group show season! This year on the Lower East Side, that means a lot of white, artist-curated shows, and politically charged work. Here’s a look at what two galleries have to offer.

Looking more like a design boutique than a gallery, Rachel Uffner Gallery‘s group show Summer Whites (through July 29) dissuaded at least one of my co-workers from entering the space. As the show’s title indicates, everything in the gallery is white, a conceit stable artist Sam Moyer and partner Eddie Martinez don’t quite pull off in the curation. Too much of the color can quickly read as decorative, a weakness that doesn’t do artists whose work already walks that line—like Moyer—any favors. Her white grids made of cut wood look far too cold beside work with such a similar sensibility as Sarah Dornner‘s angular floor sculpture “Bow Trap.” Compare this to Uffner’s booth at the Armory, which paired Moyer’s work with the colorful abstract paintings of Gianna Commito to create a symbiotic relationship between quirky geometric abstraction and colorful abstract painting. The structures looked alive.

Ben Gocker‘s “but out here on a beach chair/human hands, large numbers/8000 Glaciers begin to recede,” is the strongest piece in the show, though this too is easy to miss amidst all the white. It’s a giant wall-hung disc covered in hardened toothpaste, and lined with gold foil from inside-out toothpaste tubes. Material use is key here—both imaginative and playful—and so is its transformation. The surface resembles a strange Star Trek alien pancake, cut unevenly for display as opposed to study.

In another show curated by a stable artist, On Stellar Rays asked Clifford Owens to bring together a selection of work he liked. That’s basically the theme of the show, Inti (through July 31), leading to a collection that sheds more light on Owens’ interests in the politically charged and the bodily. Typifying this, Maren Hassinger‘s knotted climbing rope made of garbage bags divides the gallery, and Martha Rosler (Owens’s former teacher) offers a collage combining an haute couture model cut from a magazine and images of torture victims, illuminating how Western culture uses women as commodified distractions from the atrocities we commit elsewhere.

I spent the most time with Barbara DeGenevieve‘s “Panhandler Project,” in which she paid homeless men to pose nude in hotel rooms for her camera. It may be impossible to communicate why this project works: the photographs aren’t very interesting, and describing DeGenevieve’s interactions with the men, captured on video, makes the piece sound like problematic do-goodie social work. That discussion actually occurs on tape, one model jumping out of bed, angry at the notion that anyone call him exploited. As they talk, though, an untreated hernia poking through his belly becomes exposed, a healthcare issue no one had mentioned. All I could think about was how even when plainly exposed, we don’t talk about the most visible and pressing problems.

I mentioned this to On Stellar Rays owner Candice Madey who admitted she found the video very difficult and had previously only shown the photographs. “Well, this is what artists are for,” I told her, knowing that without Owens’ provocation, this work would not have been shown.

(Image courtesy Barbara DeGenevieve and On Stellar Rays)