I hope you’ve got stock in Reynolds Wrap. Master of ordinary materials Tom Friedman, who’s made a name for himself using little more than spaghetti, eraser shavings, toothpaste and pubic hair, is at it again. This time he’s applied his outlandishly creative skills to the malleable metal medium most of us keep in our kitchen cabinets, installing ten eye-catching pieces in the Lever House’s shiny Midtown lobby. Aluminum Foil Circle is a slap-dash sculpture of 12 inch-high figures holding hands in a ring. Their leaning, leaping bodies — made from crumpled foil whose shoddiness is only highlighted by its placement in a velvet-lined vitrine — make undeniable reference to Matisse’s Dancers. The inexactitude of the foil people is in opposition to a much more carefully made figure that lies on the floor nearby: the delicately detailed Aluminum Foil Birth, which shows off Friedman’s technical abilities and highlights his often baffling choice of subject matter. A bald, three-foot-long woman lying spread-eagle and wearing nothing but a string of pearls looks shocked as a large orb emerges from between her legs. A bit of Ron Mueck-meets-Aliens humor, the piece fits nicely into this martian metal landscape (in whose center stands a large, googly-eyed extraterrestrial king crowned with cardboard tubes from aluminum foil rolls). In the window of the lobby hangs the piece that stops passing pedestrians. It’s a grouping of 100-odd expertly crafted foil items — ranging from a realistically rendered blueberry pie (complete with serving knife) to a kitten — all hanging from the ceiling by invisible fishing line. The piece is an explosion of cartoonish bits and pieces, a tornado of unrelated objects swept together. We are left to conjure up riddles about their relationships to each other (what do an empty speech bubble and an ice cream cone have in common?), and to ponder Friedman’s expert creation of that which, ultimately, remains meaningless.
Assume Vivid Astro Focus, A Very Anxious Feeling
John Connelly Presents, through June 30th
A very anxious feeling is what you get when you arrive in a gallery and are told to take your shoes off, but you have a hole in your sock. A very anxious feeling comes over you when you don 3-D glasses and words like LICK and COCK and FUCK and BUSH suddenly jump out at you and your boyfriend’s mom (whom you’re there with, and who has no holes in her socks) from their posts against the wall. A very anxious feeling overtakes you when you wriggle into one of the available robes (covered with the above four-letter words, and others) attached to the wall and find at its far end a hole in said wall, and peek through this hole to see a woman — or is it a man? — wearing a black thong bathing suit and crawling around provocatively with her (his?) black armpit hair hanging all over the place. But really, you’re most anxious now, because she/he has noticed you. THE ART IS TURNING TOWARDS YOU! And she/he wiggles her/his androgynous butt as she/he scribbles something on a piece of construction paper and — WHAT IS SHE/HE DOING? — waggles back to you and passes you the note through the hole. “Secrets,” it reads, “R 4 Sharing.”
This is the experience promised to you this month at JCP, and it is not to be missed. Sprawling art collective Assume Vivid Astro Focus, which has ridden the wave of neo-psychedelia into its current place in the mainstream (see the Whitney’s “Summer of Love”), has covered every surface in the gallery (including a number of ordinary objects: chairs, a ladder, a bicycle) with their 3-D wallpaper. The special glasses available allow you to read the blue and red words that plaster the space. Each is four letters, sufficiently infused with political and sexual provocation, and arranged in the formation of Robert Indiana’s LOVE emblem from the ‘60s. As if wearing 3-D glasses and removing your shoes weren’t enough viewer participation, AVAF has transplanted an installation from a 2006 show in a separate room, visible only through portals in the wall with sheaths hanging off them. In this neon-light-adorned space, a series of performances are scheduled (find the full schedule at johnconnellypresents.com); the one I was lucky enough to experience was a quiet, interactive affair with the cross-dressing Dazzle Dancers. The soundtrack for the whole show is an upbeat electronic mix that wafts up from the gallery’s basement level. Follow your ears and you’ll be rewarded with an abstract series of fluorescent light paintings, layered in front of one another in a dim, narrow hallway. The pinks, greens and blues flash to a syncopated rhythm, evoking both elation and — what else? — anxiety.
Exit Art, through July 28
Non-profit gallery Exit Art has its heart in the right place, but its curators could do with better editing skills. The latest multimedia hodgepodge includes the work of more than 70 contemporary Cuban artists whose pieces address the subject of time, ostensibly as it relates to their country’s revolution. This proves to be an unfocused topic. What fills (and we mean fills) the expansive space ranges from being ingenius to too messy and obtuse to warrant close attention. Included in the former category is Alexandre Arrechea’s White Corner (Esquina Blanca), an inventive video installation in which a self-portrait of the artist is projected on either side of a protruding corner. In the left-hand shot, Arrechea wields a machete, on the right, a baseball bat. Both men hover at the edge of their wall, contemplating stepping forward and attacking the person lurking just out of sight. It’s a cogent comment on blind fear of the “other”— an “other” who is more similar to us than different. Maritza Molina, meanwhile, considers the other sex (as well as her own) with two large-scale color photos. In Carrying Tradition, the artist is naked and hitched to a rough wooden wagon, on which stand a dozen men in suits. The gender commentary here verges on didactic, but the image quality is irresistably sharp and the subject matter equi-distant between deadpan comedy and horror flick. Similarly easy on the eyes is Molina’s Cutting the Pattern, a photo of the artist adorning a forest with Kara Walker-like silhouettes. The white paper depicts women throughout the ages: We see Victorian gowns, flapper getups and 1970s mini-dresses, all lending to the dreamlike scene a weight of historical import. A few other pieces — like Glenda Leon’s trippy video of a flower sprouting from a sleeping woman’s floral dress — manage to stand out from what is mostly a chaotic jumble of art, displayed in such a way (photos hanging from the ceiling; ones at crouching level on the wall) as to make it difficult to focus on the work. Perhaps we’re too accustomed to the pristine white cube: Exit’s loosey-goosey exhibition tactics reflect its rejection of the mainstream New York art scene. On the other hand, the artists deserve a space that allows their pieces to be contemplated; here they’re just killing time.
Tim Hawkinson; How Man is Knit
Pace Wildenstein, through June 9
Like the show title’s anagramatic jumble of the letters in his name, Tim Hawkinson’s sculptures are everyday materials twisted and piled into rough-hewn, beguiling works. In the charming motion-sensor-activated sculpture Deposition, a string of black beads moves along a large branch to the tottering tune of a slide whistle, like a singing parade of moseying ants. Gimbled Klein Basket is a large, slowly rotating bamboo construction that mimics the mesmerizing visuals of a modern-day screen saver while also pointing to the rather less sophisticated art form of basket weaving. There’s also a running theme of works centered on the five senses, like the series of playful collages combining photos of an eye, nose, mouth, ear and finger, all lodged inside each other in various bizzare combinations. Head Plant and Lopophore, two human-sized (and skin-colored) sculptures, depict what appear to be winding stems sprouting human noses, eyes and mouths. Hawkinson, known in large part for his extensive self-portraiture, is here focused on the body parts that universally enable our human experience of the world — making portraits, perhaps, of the everyman.
Gilbert & George: The Complete Pictures, 1971-2000
Viewing or purchase ($72) at Aperture
Known for their images of sex, smut and bodily secretions, British duo Gilbert Proesch and George Passmore make, oddly, a most dapper pair. The two sixty-something year-olds, whose tailored suits and prim comportment belie the unchaste subject matter of their work, have been living their curious art — they claim to make no distinction between it and their daily lives — for 40 years now. To commemorate the anniversary, they’ve published a 20-pound, two-volume tome to go along with a massive traveling retrospective that started at London’s Tate gallery earlier this year. The pair gained notoriety in 1969 when they were not invited to participate in an important contemporary art exhibition and so arrived at the opening covered in gold paint to sing and dance — and steal the show with their pioneering act of performance art. In the decades that followed this splashy art world entrée, they developed a lexicon of imagery based around themes of sex, crime, religion (especially Christianity and Islam) — and themselves. In Naked, from the photomontage series Shitty Naked Human World, the two middle-aged men let everything hang out of their tighty whities as they pose beside giant phallic turds. Intrigued? The retrospective graces the Brooklyn Museum (a place well accustomed to the intersection of shit and Christian iconography) in October 2008.
Projects 85: Dan Perjovschi, “WHAT HAPPENED TO US?”
MoMA, through August 27.
Dan Perjovchi has defaced the huge white wall in MoMA’s main atrium. It wasn’t an act of vandalism, but rather the Romanian artist’s first solo show in the U.S. While the museum-going public looked on, Perjovchi dashed off large-scale doodles using a fat black marker. “They’re funny at first glance,” he explains in a YouTube video of the process, “but after you laugh they strike you in the stomach.” Each sketch is a one-liner with a political message: In an ostensible comment on government surveillance, one image depicts a stick figure peeking through the stripes of the American flag as though they’re part of a Venetian blind. Another shows three crosses, under which is scrawled the word “Tragedy,” and, separately, dozens of crosses labeled with the word “Statistics.” The work is clever and accessible, bite-sized bits of slap-dash genius that tickle the mind and send you on your way not knowing whether to feel depressed at the sorry state of our world or impressed by one artist’s pithy representation of it.
MoMA, through May 14.
Three decades of influential work shine forth from the backlit transparencies of Jeff Wall’s retrospective at MoMA. Many of his images depict the mundane, as in Storyteller, a picture of six ordinary people sitting on an unremarkable hill. The curiosity in such ho-hum scenes (another example is A View From An Apartment, in which a young woman in loungewear pads across her living room) is that they’re staged. Why, we wonder, did Wall carefully craft these moments, which look to us like enlarged snapshots of nothing in particular? That he did asks the viewer to pay attention: With what tales is the woman in Storyteller regaling her audience? Are we to find significance in the scene out the window in View? Some may enjoy these mysteries of ordinary life, while those who don’t may instead take pleasure in works that are rather more over the top. A Sudden Gust of Wind shows a gorgeous arc of paper caught in a current of air (selected in careful imitation of a Hokusai composition) that is nothing less than visual poetry; in The Flooded Grave, starfish and sea anemones bedeck a freshly dug plot (eat your heart out, Greg Crewdson). Wall is a master of subtlety and surreality.
In the Horticultural Society’s springy green and white gallery, James Welling’s photos hang among shelves of books and sprouting plants. The exhibition is a series of placid c-prints: seven photograms of plumbago blooms and one colorful photograph. It’s a destabilizing take on photography: Rather than recording a moment in time in the context of the real world, Welling’s images are fabricated on his own time, in his own sudio. The plants are arranged on sheets of film in order for their silhouettes to be captured by exposure to light, and then they’re printed in vibrant color (there’s an emphasis on exuberant reds and yellows). The resulting images are dreamy, psychedelic renditions of the shapely flowers, which in places fade into their crisp white backgrounds as if part of a receding dream. Welling has used the process of photograms — a stagnant art associated with youthful experimentation in summer camp photolabs — and lifted it into the realm of the sublime.
Jordan Eagles: Signs of Life
Merge Gallery, through May 19
Some artists replenish their supplies at Pearl Paint; Jordan Eagles does his shopping at the local slaughterhouse. Mammal blood, his medium of choice, sets Merge Gallery aglow in this show of six large panels. Eagles, who has been working for ten years to perfect his technique, layers the crimson fluid with resin to create thick panels (they’re more like sculptures than paintings) that burst with energy. FK1 (pictured) pleases the eye with Rorschachian ambiguity: A splatter of blood on a milky white surface looks at once like a leaping dancer and a gunshot wound. But the work doesn’t get by on shock value alone — in fact, the swipes and drips of animal plasma have, surprisingly, no stomach-turning effect. The work instead conveys calm beauty. Circular pools of translucent red in Phases 1-2 look like Mars and Venus. In UR2, bursts of blood and copper powder shimmer and shift in the light, giving new life to remnants of the dead.
Kim Dingle: Studies for the Last Supper at Fatty’s
Sperone Westwater, through April 28
Kim Dingle, a self-proclaimed “reluctant restaurateur,” isn’t making reference to Da Vinci’s masterpiece in her latest series of oil paintings. The title, rather, points to her stint as owner of a California eatery called Fatty’s: She’s anticipating the day when she can end that frenetically paced career and return to her art. Her series of paintings on vellum depict chubby girls with wild curls, flinging food, swilling wine and tearing into each other while sitting at (and standing on) a long table (which, intentionally or not, does indeed make reference to the depiction of Jesus’s final meal). These larger-than-life scenes are straight out of a storybook about naughty children; their irreverence is reflected in the saucily loose brushtrokes and haphazardly assembled panels (the vellum is in small squares that come together to form the images). Dingle’s work infuses the gallery with a rare exuberance; it’s hard to imagine she doesn’t take some pleasure in rowdy visitors to her restaurant.
Instead of a long-winded, B.S.-peppered exposition, the press release for Justin Lieberman’s latest show reads, simply, “For the exhibition Agency (Open House), I have transformed the gallery into an advertising agency, to the best of my ability. Justin Lieberman, artist.” What the statement doesn’t reveal is Lieberman’s twisted, punny sense of humor — or that “the best of [his] ability” yielded shoddy structures leaking globs of hot glue and uneven puddles of varnish that make the whole show hilariously tongue-in-cheek. In the front gallery is a series of back-lit advertisements — for Wachovia, Prada and Peanut Butter, among other things —that have been recast with wry touches. Words from the National Peanut Board’s tagline, “Why pay a therapist to get in touch with your inner child?” (you may have seen it on posters in the subway) have been vandalized so that the new sentence reads, “Why pay a rapist to touch your child?”— only debatably more off-color than the image of the artist receiving fellatio in the shower while shooting up (and this is in the Prada ad). The back gallery is where the magic happens: A large wooden desk with chairs on wheels (here you’ll find the messy carpentry) and a mock inspirational poster on the wall poke merciless fun at the stilted world of office idea generation.
Jon Kessler: The Palace at 4am (P.S. 1)
Lo-fi kinetic sculptures recorded and then broadcast live footage in the chaotic gallery space, which was crammed full of Kessler’s Rube Goldbergian machines. The material cast a critical glance at George Bush, war, torture and reality TV, all while including — and thus implicating — the viewers caught on tape.