01/20/11 7:00am
01/20/2011 7:00 AM |

The West 20th Street gallery Jack Shainman, with its two large galleries and series of smaller rooms, generally shows works by two artists simultaneously. But rarely do its parallel exhibitions work together so well as the current pairing of Deborah Luster's circular black-and-white photos of murder sites in New Orleans and Carlos Vega's etched, punctured and painted sheets of lead (both through February 5). The two could not be more different, whether materially, stylistically or in terms of their temperament, and the extreme juxtaposition adds immensely to the impact of each.

Deborah Luster's large-format circular photos, the shape of which is the result of her 8×10 Deardorff field camera, evoke portholes to a different world. The first few pieces in her show, Tooth for an Eye, sustain this sense of dislocation, and it's only gradually that the time and place pictured becomes clear: post-Katrina New Orleans. The images are incredibly forceful and eerily beautiful, even without reading the exhibition description and discovering that each was the site of a murder. The all-encompassing emptiness of the city after the flood takes on spectral tones in light of the homicidal theme—Weegee-style crime scene photography this most definitely is not. Luster manages to convey that desolation with great sensitivity, an impressive accomplishment considering the restricted and often cramped compositions of circular images. The format lends these photos an unexpected softness, the broad curves playing against the rigid diagonals of trash-strewn streets in undeveloped subdivisions, train tracks under elevated highways, narrow alleys and concrete sidewalks. Knowledge of the locations' criminal past renews the sense of devastation: not only was this city abandoned to a natural disaster in 2005, most of its citizens remain in a state of perpetual abandonment. Luster melds notes of unsettling beauty and intense sadness—a "Fuck You" tag at one murder site seems directed at the viewer standing safely in the Chelsea gallery. The massive series, which can be perused in its totality in large bound ledgers in the main gallery, punctuates a metropolis in mourning with more personal and specific death notes. An unfortunate decision to include two screens framed in kitschy lockets marked "Friends" and "Family" on which photo-portraits of the deceased pass in a looping slideshow detracts from the ghostly absence felt throughout Luster's photos.

Carlos Vega's etched, perforated, painted and collaged lead sheets substitute grayscale for the black-and-white of Luster's photos. One piece in particular, the epic "Nebula" (2010), looks minimalist from certain angles where the light doesn't catch the grooves marked on the malleable lead surface. Getting closer one picks out the scene: a huge Broadway-sized theater filled with spectators looking towards the stage, which we can't see. Above them, an explosion of color has ripped through the metal, allowing us glimpses of the colorful collage beneath. As with Luster's photos, the presentation creates the experience of looking in, of peeking onto a concealed or rarely glimpsed scene—not quite voyeurism, more like being in on a secret. In other pieces Vega paints the marks he makes on the matted gray surface in sparse, bright hues, conveying brushstrokes that are wispy and delicate in appearance, but thick and heavy in dimension. He moves between figurative etchings and collages—a tree, a tuft of grass filled with strange insects—and abstract patterns of objects and carved notches, like the Tomasellian set of concentric rings rippling outwards from rocks embedded at the center of "Worn Out" (2011). Aside from the intrigue of this highly tactile and rarely used material, Vega's collaged, painted bas-relief sculptures are incredibly rich and sensitively composed, the subtle work on the metal surface contrasting with the elaborate found materials layered beneath, all assembled into sometimes-jarring, sometimes-organic relations. Each piece demands close, detailed inspection, whereas Luster's photographs require distance, and work well in great numbers as one flips through the whole series.

The interaction between the two—with the large-format photos hung generously in groups and series while the lead pieces are gathered in small rooms that invite close inspection—made for one of the few memorable viewing experiences during a recent tour of Chelsea. Vega's bright, magical and idiosyncratic pieces provide much-needed and very vivid optimism to play off the documentary harshness of Luster's arresting photos. But there's also a good deal of violence in the way Vega carves and punctures each sheet of lead, which can't help but evoke the acts of human violence that make the locations Luster shoots more significant than the vacant lot around the corner, or the deserted bit of sidewalk down the block. Both artists draw our attention to one little bit of activity in a larger field of possibility—the gleaming lead sheets, the devastated New Orleans cityscape. This set of overlapping contrasts and parallelisms makes the juxtaposition of these two exhibitions improbably enriching, their force amplified by their proximity.

(images courtesy the artists, Jack Shainman Gallery)

08/30/06 12:00am
08/30/2006 12:00 AM |

Strange Instrument: 3rd Ward
195 Morgan Ave, Brooklyn
Strange Instrument, curated at 3rd Ward by Dana Orland, takes up the fundamental principle that the light condition in which a photographer works is central to the photograph itself. Each work on view is a testament to the range of possibilities from which a photographer chooses and the nuances of meaning created. Ofer Wolberger’s Self Defense, Miami, captures two young men kickboxing in a turquoise racquetball court. A natural white light fills the court, lending the picture a tranquil neutrality. Best of all, Type A employs very controlled natural light in a series of five photographs entitled Spittakes #5. Two friends are sitting on concrete stairs; one arrives at the punch line of a story just as the other is sipping from his carton of milk. The result is a projectile of flying milk, but the joke is really on us. The whole scenario is carefully staged. 
Through September 9 

B. Wurtz: Feature Inc.

530 W 25th St.
The most frustrating kind of sculpture is that which does so little, so well. The work of B. Wurtz, like his contemporary Tony Feher, requires patience because of its delicate simplicity. A lone string holds a plastic yogurt lid, four supermarket coupons and another yogurt lid vertical against the wall. Plastic bags rest on unfurled coat hangers or wire, attached to a geometric wooden base. Mundane, disposable objects receive an egalitarian touch from Wurtz. Everything is precise but not fussy. His assiduousness suggests a latent utopianism and the small scale of his sculptures relate them to architectural models. All of the pieces in this show are untitled, refusing to disclose anything about themselves. Wurtz’s sculpture is content with itself and indifferent to whether we like it or not.  It exudes confidence, and therein, an optimism about forging an alternative relationship to our cultural jetsam.
September 6–23

07/19/06 12:00am
07/19/2006 12:00 AM |

Kim Holleman
Trailer Park

Petrosino Square, at Lafayette and Kenmare Sts

Manhattanites — who are all too familiar with cramped living quarters — might take  a little pleasure in finding a trailer in the middle of an East Village sidewalk. On the outside, the silver vehicle appears to be an inventive solution to ever-soaring rent costs, but a peek through one of its windows reveals not beds, but rather a tiny oasis of green and calm. Kim Holleman’s Trailer Park is a miniature garden, complete with two benches, a sundial and a trickling fountain, installed in what once was a functional trailer. A paved path winds between two small mounds of soil sprouting leafy plants that are watered through a hidden irrigation system. This portable patch of nature — part of the current Storefront for Art and Architecture show around the corner — is the perfect invention for an ever-moving city. The stationary sculpture would be far more exciting, however, if it made use of its wheels and roved the urban landscape rescuing those seeking momentary refuge from the concrete jungle.  

Nancy Rubins
Big Pleasure Point

Josie Robertson Plaza, Lincoln Center

Rubins has added a splash of maritime color to Lincoln Center’s gray plaza. Big Pleasure Point is a collection of over 60 boats fastened together high above the ground with a complex system of wires. The salvaged kayaks, canoes and rowboats burst outward in a giant, many-pointed star above the swarming crowds of tourists and theater-goers. The piece, created between midnight and 7am every day for over a week, is a happy reminder that we’re on an island, albeit one that usually lacks the beachy feeling that this gravity-defying construction invokes. The hovering vessels loom like a hazy memory of a seaside vacation — or, for the rubberneckers among us, like a 60-boat pileup from the East River.  

07/05/06 12:00am
07/05/2006 12:00 AM |

A Brighter Day
James Cohan Gallery, until July 14

The first piece in this potent show sets the tone for the three galleries’ worth of work that follows. Jenny Holzer’s white marble footstool — which sits almost unnoticed just inside the entrance — reads, “What urge will save us now that sex won’t?” Copulation alone is no longer enough to propagate a species threatened by global warming, terrorism, and political unrest, Holzer seems to be saying. With this grim notion in mind, each of the 28 subsequent pieces read as commentary — sometimes understated, sometimes explicit — on the sorry state of our country. Video artist Aida Ruilova’s 33-second looping DVD is a syncopated, desperate soundtrack of painful groans and the whispered sentence “I have to stop” paired with shots of what looks like the artist in an underground cell. Nearby, Folkert de Jong’s carefully carved Styrofoam man looks to the sky in supplication from his perch atop oil drums and bright pink foam machine guns. In the last room, James Hopkins’ shelves hold a collection of wine bottles, musical instruments, champagne glasses and other tools of human amusement, all arranged to look like a grinning skull when viewed from a few feet away. This piece’s rather didactic title, Consumption and Consequence, pinpoints a theme running through the entire show. So is “A Brighter Day” (the show’s real title) meant facetiously? Perhaps, but a collection of work so skillful is also uplifting: Beautifully made art and incisive commentary give hope for better times to come.                     

Matter of Time
Betty Cuningham Gallery, until July 14

Discontent with the state of the world is more subtly expressed in this smaller group show, where escapism rules. Each of the inventive pieces seems to be part of an alternate universe. Kathleen Vance has built a slab of cement and sand out of which sprouts perfectly delicate blades of grass on one side and velvety moss on the other. It is a living sculpture that at once seems utterly natural — like a remnant from a decaying house — yet is completely fabricated and would never actually come to exist on its own. In Jeff Shore and Jon Fisher’s Sand Time III, a video shows two interiors intermittently filling up with rocks — a landslide invading a house, we think, until we realize that the cameras recording the shots are located inside two minuscule wooden models nearby, which mechanically tilt back and forth, and the “rocks” are actually grains of sand pouring from one tiny room into the other and back. These artists are using their creative abilities to play God. And in troublesome times like the present, who can blame them?

06/21/06 12:00am
06/21/2006 12:00 AM |

E.V. Day, Bride Fight
Lever House Lobby Gallery
390 Park Ave

Slowing a speed-walking New Yorker is no easy feat, but art installed in unlikely locations occasionally does the trick. People rushing by the Lever House recently have been pausing to take in E.V. Day’s current installation, Bride Fight. The white explosion of tulle, lace and silk, peppered with two pairs of pumps, a string of pearls and a blonde braid, at first appears to be a model of a galactic phenomenon. A closer look — and a glance at the title — reveals that the supernova-like abstraction in fact represents an earthly situation: two dynamically positioned wedding gowns within the installation suggest larger-than-life brides having at each other with superhuman rage. This is a catfight from nuptial hell, a humorous yet nightmarish representation of the stress of having a “fairytale” wedding. Day’s piece functions visually — the energized outward blast of white material could be a 3D rendering of an Italian Futurist painting — and also as social commentary, but what sends New Yorkers on their way with a smile, for better or worse, is the work’s one-liner quality: they look, they understand, and then they get on with their day.

Sarah Sze, Corner Plot
60th St and Fifth Avenue

The one-liner appeal of this sidewalk curiosity beckons to pedestrians from afar. The brick building rising up from the pavement (or is it sinking into the pavement?) promises to give passers-by the simplistic pleasure of gawking at a sci-fi movie set. Its perceived predictability slips away, though, when viewers bend over to look in the window of the oddly positioned structure. Inside, there is no perfect replica of a New York apartment and no scene from Poseidon. Instead, Sze has arranged a collection of her trademark objects: Rolls of toilet paper, pushpins and empty bottles populate the interior of the partially submerged space in a disorienting jumble. While some might be relieved that the piece isn’t consistent with its Epcot Center-ish exterior, the unexpected tableau of ordinary things isn’t satisfying either. Sze’s most successful works are her expansive installations of quotidian objects in the hundreds, assembled with Rube Goldbergian logic. The cramped space inside Corner Plot’s windows doesn’t allow for the careful, ordered nature of those larger works, and consequently people walk away from the piece more confused — and just as unstimulated — as they were on the approach. 

06/07/06 12:00am
06/07/2006 12:00 AM |

Interstate: The American Road Trip

Socrates Sculpture Park, 30-01 Vernon Blvd, Long Island City
You may think a summer road trip only yields empty fast food containers, adolescent revelations, and asymmetrical tans, but the artists in Interstate have mined the experience to create a surprising and humorous exhibit. Starting at Andrea Zittel’s popular High Desert Test Sites event in the California desert and ending at the super-urban Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens, these nine artists crossed the country collecting road signs, historical artifacts, and even highway guard rails. Carolina Pedraza’s bright green mailboxes wind along the park path while Chris Hanson and Hendrika Sonenberg’s structure of pastel-painted street signs towers above. Two long stretches of guard rails enclose Virginia Poundstone’s Wildflower Median and Mark Klasson’s blue payphone sprouts off the dirt, promising a live connection to the Mojave Desert. Allison Smith’s cloth tent houses historical artifacts from living history museums, and R. Scott Mitchell’s rectangular prism mocks the monotonous, reflective surfaces of office parks. These twisted remnants of the open road could not be more out of place in the urban mayhem of Queens, but the contrast gives these sculptures visual drama and a dose of cheeky playfulness.

Local Transit:  An Exhibition in Two Parts
Artists Space, 38 Greene St, Soho
In another exhibit connecting distant places, the curators at Artists Space have traded artwork with Artspace in Auckland, New Zealand, to create two shows on the theme of location. The project is meant to provoke comparisons between the ‘center’ and the ‘periphery,’ implying that New York is the center of the universe, but in reality, it’s virtually impossible to distinguish between the New York and Auckland artists.  More interesting is the wide range of methods used in depicting landscapes and maps. Marie Lorenz presents a beautiful wooden canoe whose carved pieces can be run through a press to make woodblock prints of the Manhattan skyline. Dane Mitchell creates distorted maps of the world in which a country’s size reflects its number of museums, and Yuk King Tan forms images of buildings and people using small colored firecrackers. Barely relating to the idea of place, but perhaps the most charming of all, are Ellen Birrell’s photographs of wildly mutated lemons against colorful backdrops. In a separate show at Artists Space, Daniel Joglar hangs objects from the ceiling and makes subtly beautiful arrangements of office supplies on a tabletop.

05/24/06 12:00am
by |
05/24/2006 12:00 AM |

Artists Against the State: Perestroika Revisited
Ronald Feldman Fine Arts

31 Mercer St, SoHo

Though we may be familiar with Russian Constructivism and the burly figures of Soviet Realism, most of us are a bit fuzzy on the rest of 20th-century Russian art history, probably because the Soviet Union widely suppressed unofficial art in the post-war period. This massive show at Ronald Feldman is devoted to the underground art that only came to light during Gorbachev’s Perestroika in the late 1980s. The Nonconformist art includes cheeky figurative paintings — such as Komar & Melamid’s Portrait of Ronald Reagan as Centaur — along with found object assemblages, text pieces, and sculptures. Some of the highlights are Nikolai Kozlov’s assemblages of toy weapons and furniture pieces, Grisha Bruskin’s 15 white statuettes of Russian caricatures, Eric Bulatov’s paintings of dramatically angular slogans, and Yuri Avvakumov’s delicate prints of red architectural plans on newspaper. With saturated colors and Constructivist-influenced forms, the works speak eloquently of political frustration and desperation.

Columbia University School of the Arts MFA Thesis Exhibition
20 Jay St, DUMBO

The Columbia MFA program has developed a reputation for being both the most expensive program of its kind, and a reliable factory for new art stars. Given its direct pipeline to Chelsea, students are willing to spend $80,000 on tuition for a chance at instant success (the Yale MFA being a $60,000 bet with similar odds). So how promising is this year’s batch? Well, the video artists steal the show. Tamy Ben-Tor, who’s already found commercial success, screens an outrageous video satire of her professor Rikrit Tiravanija, while Ronnie Bass’ video installation Our Land charms with a similar cheekiness, and Tommy Hartung offers a glacially paced sci-fi tale. But the bulk of the show is kitschy, figurative painting, which is the Columbia trademark. To make representational painting seem more edgy the students fixate on gross or glaringly tacky subjects, such as a statuette of an eagle or the cheap siding of a prefab house, and put down gooey layers of muddy paint. These paintings might appeal to buyers, but they offer little else than a nod to current fashions.

04/26/06 12:00am
04/26/2006 12:00 AM |

f : t architecture : Model Space

Black & White Gallery, 483 Driggs Ave, Williamsburg

For the next few months, the courtyard of the Black & White Gallery will hold a gleaming white architectural confection. Built by the artist-curator-architects Peter Franck and Kathleen Triem of f : t architecture, the construction is a large-scale model of a house they’re building in Saugerties, New York. Working models are not normally sensational, but by blowing one up to 1: 4 scale and embedding it in a concrete backyard in Williamsburg, Franck and Triem have created something novel. Surrounded by clusters of aluminum rods representing trees, the minimalist form soars above a landscape of stacked white polystyrene. The combination of materials — I-beams, foam, Plexiglas — is strange, but the structure appears light and elegant nonetheless. The house is generically stylish, fusing Pierre Koenig with Zaha Hadid, but in miniature it becomes a symbol of escape, purity, and the endless allure of modernism.

Simon Faithfull: Ice Blink
Parker’s Box, 193 Grand St, Brooklyn

Before we even get to his art, Simon Faithfull deserves props for his sheer physical hardiness. He undertook a residency at a lonely British research station in Antarctica to make videos and Palm Pilot drawings of the desolate landscape. The Palm Pilot drawings are amazingly dexterous considering the medium — one captures the intricacies of the research station, another the gentle outline of a friend’s face. The videos range from jolty cinema verité footage of barking seals to clear, minimal shots from a fixed camera. In the latter category is 44, which records the view through a ship’s porthole as it slowly passes ice cliffs.  Similarly, Falling looks over the bow of a vessel as it plows through icy water, driving dark cracks into the white surface. All of the work is quiet and subdued, reveling in the severe beauty of the landscape.

04/12/06 12:00am
04/12/2006 12:00 AM |

Tara Donovan: New Work

Pace Wildenstein, 534 W. 25th St.

A lot of artwork on display in New York right now leans heavily on conceptual or narrative frameworks that send you running to the wall labels. The Whitney Biennial boasts the best examples (“an articulation of nostalgia and diligence reflecting ‘traditional,’ transcendental American values,” etc.), and this recurring trend is bogging down Chelsea as well. What a relief, then, to come across a show at Pace Wildenstein that is unapologetically sensual. From out on the street, Tara Donovan’s installation appears to be a glowing, white mountain range on the floor of the gallery. But the luminous topography is actually composed of stacks of clear plastic cups, arranged in gradations of height to simulate peaks and valleys over an area of 3,000 square feet. The piece is absurdly labor-intensive, but the labor generates mystery and a magical transformation of materials, which are welcome qualities in contemporary art.

Andrew Sexton
Oliver Kamm 5BE Gallery, 621 W.27th St.

The skulls, flames, lightning bolts, and Rottweilers in Andrew Sexton’s work might lead you to believe that he’s another artist obsessed with a goth-metal-Americana aesthetic. That may be, but the works in Sexton’s first solo show have a surprising element — they’re all portraits. The five-foot, steel handlebar mustache, which the receptionist will set on fire if you ask nicely, is a self-portrait. The arrangement of painted car doors, tequila, a live masseuse, and a Walkman with a soundtrack is meant to capture the personality of Michael Stickrod, a young video artist. The Crumb-like cartoon in ink and soy sauce portrays Adrian Wong, a classmate of Sexton and Stickrod in the Yale MFA program. All of the objects transcend easy classification by combining several different aesthetics — Louis Hopper includes a Cobra-shaped beer tap, a skull carved from cheddar cheese, a wall painting of lightning, and a skateboard. Despite the mish-mash of materials and forms, each portrait conveys a fondness for a loveable, albeit eccentric subject.

03/29/06 12:00am
03/29/2006 12:00 AM |

Cao Fei: Hip-Hop
Lombard-Freid Projects

A wildly talented young video artist from Guangzhou, China, Cao Fei is making a name for herself with her oddball satires of Chinese culture. Her lush Cosplayers video documents teenagers play-fighting in fanciful anime costumes, and her video Rabid Dogs, which was in the recent Armory Show, features Burberry-clad actors romping like dogs through a corporate office. This show at Lombard-Freid unveils a suite of three videos that see hip-hop colliding  with Asian culture. In Guangzhou, Fukuoka, and New York’s Chinatown, Fei cajoled local characters to dance uninhibitedly to hip-hop music, and most performed old-fashioned two-steps to the pounding beats. Her subjects are all endearingly out of sync with the music, which suggests, in the most entertaining way, the challenge of throwing together East and West, old and new. Fei, who has worked extensively in theater, constructed elaborate backdrops for each video; the Guangzhou piece is projected on hanging laundry, the Chinatown one on an overturned restaurant table, and the Fukuoka video between wall drawings of Japanese scenes. Her skills as a filmmaker aside, Fei provides a refreshing combination of humor and criticism in capturing China’s fast-changing role in global culture.

Participant, Inc.

Yes, that’s pronounced Ri-DYKE-ulous, and say it like you mean it! Definitely one of the angriest shows in a while, this joint curatorial effort by A.L. Steiner and Nicole Eisenman addresses the current status of lesbian culture in relation to the mainstream. The exhibit coincides with the release of a ‘zine of the same name, and both involve a multitude of artists, some of whom are not lesbians or even female, including Amy Sillman, Nicola Tyson, Chicks on Speed, Lisa Sanditz, and Miranda Lichtenstein. In the gallery space, the work all blurs together in a mass of fists sprouting from vaginas, smeared fake blood, and cutout photos of Shane from The L Word. Speaking of which, this raggedy, 90s-zine-style show is a refreshing change from that over-glamorized melodrama of lesbian life, and it’s a reminder that lesbianism does not have a comfortable place at mainstream culture’s table. However, this messy political expressionism, which the press release acknowledges as somewhat tongue-in-cheek, seems oddly retro and out of place today. Maybe contemporary art viewers have forgotten how to deal with angry minorities and we need to be reminded, or maybe the 21st century just requires a more sophisticated kind of political statement.