Articles by

<Jennifer Hamblett>

08/17/11 4:00am

David LaChapelle has always deconstructed images and reconstructed them with the neon brights of pop culture and an airbrush. After reveling in the success of a 20-year photography career that made Warhol proud and Madonna pissed, he suddenly crashed. In his new show From Darkness to Light at Lever House (through September 2) he's deconstructing his process and exposing the frayed edges beneath the gloss. Problem is, caterpillars enter cocoons and become butterflies, not the other way around; after creating a unique aesthetic that pop culture sucked up like Kool-Aid (so unique that he is suing Rihanna for emulating it in a recent music video), his new look struggles to emerge as original.

"Raft of Illusion: Raging Towards Truth" doesn't even try, instead it plunges into art history with the basic equation "fashion photography + art historical reference = art." The connotations from his allusions don't carry across or retain their meaning. What does come across is LaChapelle's earlier aesthetic slowly fracturing as it nears its breaking point.

"Chain of Life," in contrast, flourishes. Looped paper chains hang from the modernist ceiling, interrupting the flow of suits busying through the lobby. Each link is a pink nude photograph forming a drooping umbilical cords of reddish decoration. Somewhere between the biology of photographs and cellular sculptural forms it subtly succeeds.

"Adam and Eve Swimming Under a Microscope" follows the molecular structure of "Chain." Small translucent cutout naked photographs of men coalesce on the floor-to-ceiling windows. LaChapelle's typically vivid colors glow, but their resemblance to stained glass makes them so familiar that the effect is lost. Religious tones and Damian Hirst's butterfly works are too easily alluded to, as are the viral implications in similar Gilbert and George pieces. Both "Adam" and "Chain" seem to be dissecting photography and work best when they don't worry about stitching together parts to form a whole.

LaChapelle is undoubtedly a forceful image-maker. Perversity allowed his commercial work to teeter on the edge, but perversity in the art world is a different animal. If he can use his deeper investigation of the construct of images with the irony and knowing analysis that catalyzed earlier work he may find that his style translates. But he'll have to give up the pop and stop putting things back together.

(Images courtesy the artist, Lever House Art Collection)

08/15/11 4:00pm

Hypersphaerae Jangeri, Psychedelic Cyclone Superball (2011)

  • Hypersphaerae Jangeri, “Psychedelic Cyclone Superball” (2011)

Artist Henry J. Simonds loves balls. Super Balls® in particular. He wants you to love them too. He has dedicated his solo show Requiem for the Super Ball® (through September 10th at Charles Bank Gallery) to worshiping them in all their bouncy splendor. I spoke to Henry about his compulsion to collect and curate life’s little trinkets.

The L: So, Super Balls?
Henry J. Simonds: As a kid I used to collect a lot of things, anything that I thought was interesting I collected and kept, so it wasn’t a surprise for me to find a coffee can full of Super Balls, something like 60 balls, when I graduated college. The whole idea of this show is to emphasize the beauty and dynamism of the Super Ball, so if there are ways that I can do that in any kind of discipline or medium then I will do that if it gets people to appreciate the work itself.

And by “work” you mean the Super Ball or the artwork?
I would consider the show a success if I didn’t sell a thing and all of a sudden there was a resurgence in the appreciation and play of Super Balls, and that’s a grand statement in and of itself. I mean, I would like to recoup the costs of making the artwork.

You describe yourself as an interpreter rather than a traditional artist?
I’ve never had any particular facility in any field whether it be photography, painting or drawing. I have a heightened sensitivity to things, I know the talents people have and I try to elevate those to make an overall product better than it is. I think that looking at Super Balls, most people look at them as bouncy fun things to play with but I look at them and see that someone took the time to create different images, graphics and structures for something that just could have been a clear plaything, they decided to use it as a platform for their own creativity.

You created a scientific study of Super Balls called “Sphaeralogy” and an International Sphaeralogical Society—a Facebook for the bouncy ball set; all of this is pretty intense, do you think you have some sort of compulsion?
Maybe. What is it that I appreciate about Smurfs that compels me to collect a box full of them and keep them into adulthood? It’s this idea that there is something missing about my capacity to pass judgment on things so I have to surround myself with all of the detritus of daily life so that other people can look and interpret what the things were that I like. I’d rather try and see every movie by Stanley Kubrick rather than tell you which one is my favorite. I’m not sure if you can Google the dysfunction that makes me do that!

Part of the scientific investigation for this exhibition includes firing Super Balls out of a canon?
Yeah, one day I was like, ooh maybe I can shoot them out of a pneumatic canon in a ballistic tank and film them at high speed and see what they look like, so I contacted a few friends and said is this something we could do. We made it happen and the results are one of the many ways the Super Ball has been investigated, classified and inspected.

It sounds like fun. Is humor something you think about in relation to your work?
Art is serious but it doesn’t have to be serious. I definitely think about that in describing myself. Asking an artist to describe his work is like asking a fish to describe bouillabaisse. As artists we are undertaking activities that adults encourage 5-year-olds to do and yet somehow we are still doing it, so we should at least be able to look at ourselves and go, isn’t this kind of silly? I am finger painting and I’m 36.

Requiem for the Super Ball® continues at Charles Bank Gallery through September 10.

Hypersphaerae Phosphori, Glow-in-the-Dark Superball (2011)

  • Hypersphaerae Phosphori, “Glow-in-the-Dark Superball” (2011)

(Images courtesy the artist, Charles Bank Gallery)

08/03/11 4:00am

You are not going mad. Objects may well be talking to you. And that's what MoMA's new design show hopes. The theme of Talk to Me—on display until November 7th and crammed with over 200 works from designers worldwide—is communication between people and objects. As design and technology have advanced we have apparently developed ways of interacting and communicating with them. Children, who once were content pushing square wooden blocks into square holes, now cry out for touch-sensitive screens and apps.

The premise works and is intensely entertaining. The only danger is that both the theme and physical experience of the show sometimes become overwhelming. You may not be going mad but you may feel like a feeble and fallible human in a much more advanced world.

Design and the Elastic Mind, MoMA's 2008 design exhibition, was the apt prequel and training ground for some ideas in this show. The psychology from then is still present in Talk to Me, but the languages uttered, seen and sensed really push us to the edge of the design frontier this time.

Many pieces are trapped between whimsy and work. Some, such as Emily Read's "Homeless City Guide," obviously have a conscience and pragmatic purpose, while others, like Sascha Nordmeyer's "Communication Prosthesis," are punch lines. Some are mean and sexy, exploring areas of communication that are sensual, elusive and sometimes dark. Karin Baumgarten's objects approximate goose bumps, Sputniko!'s "Crowbot Jenny" prefers to talk with animals through a robot crow, and another work will even physically simulate a menstrual period.

In keeping with curator Paola Antonelli's notion of "pancommunication"—everything and anything communicating in all possible ways—the show excels in its interactive features; QR codes and hashtags for every work, two websites, links galore. But in some ways this is too much self-reflexivity and ultimately distracting. In keeping with the foundations of art history that MoMA rests upon, the pieces that work best are visually engaging. Many plug themselves successfully into less digital and more natural communication modes.

Given the omnipresence of communication, looking becomes a luxury, one that thankfully rescues the viewer from the brink of overload and confirms we are not yet redundant as humans. With a bit of distance and wide eyes Talk To Me offers a fascinating glimpse into our bright, garbled future.

(Photos by Scott Rudd, courtesy MoMA)

08/03/11 4:00am

If video cameras are the pencils of today, British artist and Turner Prize nominee Hilary Lloyd scribbles, cross hatches and swings her pencil with skill and gusto. Her U.S. solo debut at Artists Space in Soho (through August 21) reveals the magical results.

The works are site-specific and the expansive installation alone evokes indulgence in a crowded, over-compartmentalized city. Lloyd's flat screen panels and custom Unicol poles slice the verticals of the space, becoming not only part of the show but also part of the images.

The desiring, voyeuristic gaze is a concern in much of Lloyd's earlier work, but here it has been refined and formalized, emerging effectively as a slightness of touch. "Thighs" is probably one of the most sensual videos ever made. The camera flirts in and out of focus, a pastel lens glare obscures the image further as the gap between two clothed legs emerges.

The show is an exercise class for the camera. By contrast, we become acutely aware that we are standing still in front of each work. Every piece apart from the central "Shirt" are a result of human movement—a pivot, a nod, a shake; sometimes images combine and escalate to a vibration. But "Shirt" emerges slowly: as if developing with chemicals, a close-up shot of the fabric is slowly revealed, the polka dots visually reflect "Moon," its hyperactive cousin off to the left.

Each work in the show is rewarding, perhaps because of the simplicity, perhaps because these are moments missed or forgotten that we can get back. Through Lloyd's adept camera movements and the strength and confidence of the structures that support these whimsical images, we are focused on the sensitivity and rhythm of looking.

The subjects become irrelevant, a skyscraper, shirt or the moon opening up to reveal the anatomy of the image and the genetics of seduction. In the heat of the moment the pencil or camera disappears, we are no longer looking at videos or even complete images, and it is only that moment that matters.

(Installation view from Hilary Lloyd courtesy Artists Space, 2011. Photo: Daniel Pérez)

08/02/11 8:58am

Artists rendering of the art handlers strike.

  • Artist’s rendering of the art handlers strike.

They normally have access to millions of dollars worth of art, but yesterday art handlers at Sotheby’s auction house weren’t even allowed into the building where they work.

After spending the weekend carrying placards instead of Picassos outside the Upper East Side auction house, art handlers—previously employed on full-time contracts to move, pack and ship some of the world’s most expensive art—were told not to come to work today. Letters were sent to the Teamster 814 Union members on Friday after the auction house and union have been in negotiations over contracts since May.

Teamster spokesperson Jason Ide told that Sotheby’s has been trying to negotiate the reduction of senior union workers and a shortened workweek to cut costs. Sotheby’s claims the Teamsters wish to add 18 workers to their current staff of 43 full time workers, resulting in Sotheby’s employing more unionized handlers than its competitor Christies, even though Sotheby’s New York base handled only half the number of lots that Christies did in 2010.

The union argues however that in light of Sotheby’s recent increase in sales—up 74 percent to $4.8 billion in 2010—now is not the time to be cutting staff. Replacing trained handlers with temporary workers could result in priceless paintings being mishandled, Ide says.

Given the ongoing negotiations and the fall auction season approaching faster than an Andy Warhol painting exceeding its estimate, Sotheby’s claims it was concerned about possible strike action. The lockout and temporary staff have enabled the auction house to continue functioning as usual. A similar lockout occurred in 2004 and lasted for three weeks before contracts were resolved. The UK’s Independent newspaper claims that this new strike could have an effect on the flow of art between Sotheby’s New York and London bases.

Picketing is expected to continue this week with a rally planned outside Sotheby’s building at 1334 York Avenue this morning.

07/15/11 2:08pm

A toast, to art thieves!

  • A toast, to art thieves! (Photo via)

Forget the Met or MOMA, Hoboken, New Jersey is the place to go for rare art masterpieces! At least it was when NYPD raided art thief Mark Lugo’s (pictured) apartment on Wednesday and found 11 stolen works of art.

The police team was treated to an exhibition of 6 of the valuable works hanging on Lugo’s wall, including a Picasso drawing stolen from Soho’s William Bennett Gallery last month. Other works recovered include Fernand Léger’s 1917 ink-on-linen “Composition aux element mecaniques,” worth and estimated $350,000 and snatched from the Carlyle Hotel lobby a few weeks ago.

It seems Lugo, an out-of-work sommelier, is vying to take over the title of “Picasso Man” previously held by San Francisco’s most notorious art thief Terry Helbling. Lugo was caught last week walking out of a San Francisco gallery with the 1965 Picasso drawing “Tete de Femme (Head of a Woman)” (below) under his arm. Lugo is due to be arraigned in San Francisco today.

Fernand Legers Composition aux element mecaniques (1917, at left) was recovered in Lugos apartment after being stolen several weeks ago; Lugo stole Picassos Tete de femme (1965, right) from a San Francisco gallery last week only to be apprehended the following day.

  • Fernand Leger’s “Composition aux element mecaniques” (1917, at left) was recovered in Lugo’s apartment after being stolen several weeks ago; Lugo stole Picasso’s “Tete de femme” (1965, right) from a San Francisco gallery last week only to be apprehended the following day.
07/11/11 7:00am

The essence of lunch is combining quickly a myriad of ingredients then tossing or flattening them so they just about hold together while you ravenously tuck in before they disintegrate just as they reach the threshold of your bite.

This is a similar process to how Phoebe Washburn makes installations, and this time she too ends up with a tasty product. Nunderwater Nort Lab, Washburn's new exhibition at Zach Feuer Gallery (through August 12; a parallel exhibition at Mary Boone Gallery runs through July 29), combines the bread and butter of her previous installations with the performance of lunch.

A floor-to-ceiling wooden structure made from chunky wood scraps marked with traces of their earlier roles forms the chamber in which Washburn's lunch happens. Like worms prospecting a juicy peach, burrowing holes offer tunnel vision into the laboratory of lunch. No decay occurs inside these holes though; in fact delicate plants seem to be sprouting off the recycled body.

On the opening night food smells wafted through the tunnels and into the gallery space, whilst hungry visitors looked in with hopes of being invited into the food lab to feast with the chosen guests. "Nuderwater Nort Lab" is a dramatic installation, but as with all of Washburn's work, the drama comes from the honesty and sheer labor of the materials, a lack of illusion and a wry humor.

In this piece more than her others, the performance element seems to detract from the minutiae of the construction and the frequent comparisons to the work of Sarah Sze or Jean Shin. Instead here our attention shifts to the process. Every time lunch is made the performance of the event seems to power the work, reflecting back on the arduous construction and the frivolity of lunch as part of a much larger cyclical chain of events. It is something of a battle. The monumental construction without the lunch seems like a cumbersome folly, but during the performance, when lunch takes center stage, the giant arena makes the quotidian meal absurd.

Forget the newest foodie hangout. This is a new way to combine lunch and art, and in the process save the legacy of the lunch break forever.

(Images courtesy the artist and Zach Feuer Gallery)

06/28/11 8:56am

Robert Miller

Robert Miller, the dapper art dealer who developed an eclectic taste for art’s outsiders, died aged 72 in Miami last Wednesday. A prominent art world figure for 25 years, he championed many gay and female greats. Louise Bourgeois, one of his most successful female artists, called Miller a “compulsive hunter.” In the vibrant 70s art scene he indeed captured New York’s rising stars including Robert Mapplethorpe, Andy Warhol, Lee Krasner and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Miller began his career as a painter, but his penchant for waspish suits rather than the cool beatnik threads of his fellow students signaled his transformation into an uptown gallery owner. He opened his first gallery in 1977 on Fifth Avenue after working for the André Emmerich Gallery. Robert Mapplethorpe was one of the first artists to join the gallery and Mapplethorpe’s closest friend and punk icon Patti Smith reflects today on him as her mentor.

“Everything looks easy,” Miller said in a New York magazine article from 1988, “but it’s like the ballerina who leaps but spent fifteen years practicing to do that move, there’s a lot of pain involved.” It was not only selling art that took over Miller’s life; he battled a series of illnesses that resulted in him undergoing brain surgery and having both hips replaced.

But illness never stopped him. In 1983 Miller chartered a plane to take his client, fashion mogul Calvin Klein, to a small New Mexican village to visit the studio of Georgia O’Keeffe, a painter Klein collected obsessively. The trip paid off and Klein returned with five key O’Keefe works purchased for approximately $3.3 million.

Miller nurtured two power dealers of recent years when Howard Read and John Cheim (of Cheim & Read) worked with him as directors, but in 2001 he moved the gallery to Chelsea before handing over its reins to his wife Betsy and son Robert Peter Miller Jr. the following year. He had become disillusioned with an art world increasingly more commercial than in his heyday.

“You cannot possess much of the great art in the world, but you can perceive it, particularly through reading,” he said. “People are reading less, and that opportunity to perceive is slipping away.”