Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Facility of DECLINE reunites sculptures, recorded performances, drawings, and installations from Matthew Barney’s 1991 solo debut at Gladstone Gallery. While the show is not a complete replication of the original, it re-affirms its thematic devices- particularly the critique of white, heterosexual masculinity navigating through the modern society.

Upon entering, you are engulfed in the grotesque- the thick, fatty stench of petroleum jelly hangs in the air while sculptures replicating gym equipment made of tapioca, cast sucrose, and prosthetic plastics produce an oozing and visceral vibe comparable to the body-horror films of Cronenberg. The nightmarish and surrealistic gym scene offers no answers to the questions it introduces, you are meant to conjure resolutions while engrossing yourself in Barney’s choice of materials.

And yet, walking through the gallery, I wondered how these pieces could maintain their voice if installed alone- are they only coherent when in dialogue with each other? Without the context of a walk-in cooler with a cast petroleum-jelly decline bench inside, could I understand what the glass case containing wax dumbbells, mouthguards and a speculum was meant to represent? The materials are fetishized to such an extent, that the show itself becomes a living being - incomplete without all facets.

Elmgreen & Dragset: Changing Subjects, The FLAG Arts Foundation

Elgreen & Dragset, Watching, 2016
The Chelsea Arts Tower is a twenty-story high-rise in the heart of one of the world’s biggest art markets. Entering felt like walking into an expensive hotel. Going up to the ninth floor to see Elmgreen & Dragset’s show, Changing Subjects at The FLAG Arts Foundation was a much different feeling than I normally have while gallery hopping.

The elevator doors open to a well-lit area with an ATM machine on the opposite wall above a baby in a padded bag. A security guard right next to the elevator welcomes me and tells me to look closer. Upon inspection, both the ATM and the baby are fakes, or rather sculptures.

Elmgreen & Dragset’s hyper-realistic sculptures and installations continue throughout the gallery space and out onto the terrace. A highly-polished stainless steel sculpture of a boy with binoculars looks out over the Hudson River as the clouds break reflecting bits of the blue sky and the city. A sculpture of a young boy stands in his underwear and his mother’s high heels in front of a mirror having just applied lipstick that now is on the floor.

Everything in this exhibition and space caught me off guard. On principal, I wanted to disregard the building and the art in it because of what I thought it represented and affirmed: the art market. Much to my surprise, though, I found myself thinking about these sculptures more and more. The appeal of these objects as immediately identifiable betrays their intimacy because they beg to be looked at closely.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

"Dolores" at Team (Gallery Inc.) - Cary Wander

Image result for team gallery dolores
       Entering a dark room with flickering lighting overhead, the viewer is immediately confronted by a taxidermied large predatory cat encased in resin.  The rest of the space is filled with various sculptural pieces (each by four separate artists) which are awkwardly placed and make it difficult to move about the white cube of Team Gallery Inc.  The piece that captures the most attention is a very large aquarium filled to the top with water and aqua-scaped with a segmented welded metal cube in the middle of it.  Upon closer inspection, the metal cube is actually the dwelling of 7 or 8 electric eels.  This tank is rigged up to the central lighting of the gallery and the power of the eels accounts for all the electricity that cause the flickering of the track lighting above.  While the tank is an interesting commentary on power systems and maybe even our current environmental state for that matter, the rest of the gallery space is filled with uninteresting assemblage sculptures.

     Overall the gallery was too dark to enjoy the details of most of the work, and besides the wonderment of seeing live electric eels, there seemed to be little if any dialogue between the pieces from each separate artist.  While the showing had it’s moments the non cohesiveness of the sculptures created a lack luster experience that isn’t worth a second look.

Cecily Brown: Rehearsal at The Drawing Center

      Cecily Brown: Rehearsal casts the spotlight on sketches holding their own as works of art. Over 80 pieces, ranging from small sketchbook scraps to huge studies, decorate the space. Upon entering, the overwhelming amount of pieces displayed creates an air of being within a sketchbook itself.

      Most of the drawings are completed with various types of media, including ink, watercolor, pastel, pencil, and more on paper. A broad range of techniques and trials are ever present in Brown’s works. The drawings have a transient quality to them, presenting as simultaneously finished and unfinished. The compositions tend to feature subjects contrasted with blank space, giving a loose, carefree feel to the pieces.

      The exhibition focuses around Brown’s many different inspirations, such as the prints of William Hogarth, and how she goes about creating her own renditions of these works through repetition. Many of the drawings at first appear to be the similar, but upon closer inspection the uniqueness of each iteration materializes. Slightly altered details and gestures create a ripple effect that transforms the appearance of the entire work. 

      Cecily Brown: Rehearsal is an exhibition that unfolds delicately the longer it is observed. Not only is it a stunning investigation of the differences between finished and unfinished artworks, it’s a reflection of the art of repetition as a means to an end itself. Be sure to find yourself lost in the experience that is Cecily Brown: Rehearsal.

Shadi Habib Allah’s Tamed Kudzu Vines at Reena Spaulings Fine Art

Although at first glance the plants in Reena Spaulings Fine Art might appear like a harmless repeat of the house plants that have been afflicting much of contemporary art lately, on closer inspection they seem to be channeling something darker. For his solo show “Biscuits and Green Sox Maaike,” Shadi Habib Allah scattered two dozen or so generic black pots filled with kudzu vines across the gallery space. (Notably, Allah had to secure a city permit in order to plant the vine.) A thin strip of touch-sensitive Fuji paper runs diagonally across the floor, through the mess of pots. This paper lies ready to capture the movement of the vine, which has been mythicized to grow at a rate of 60 mph. This rapid growth is also supposedly touched on in the sound installation, though the speakers (set up somewhat thoughtlessly on stools at each corner of the room) were not playing during my visit.

Despite these props, the vines (with their loaded history) carry the full weight of the exhibit. And though the installation functions solidly as a kind of time piece with the components of movement and change, it falls short of the nefarious myths that surround the vine. I kept trying to translate the mild potted plants into the images of the kudzu monoculture that has choked and outcompeted many of the botanical species of the South, but this wasn’t totally registering with the tame, airy, and somewhat static exhibition space. There was, instead, the sense that this set-up was temporary, and any growth ultimately negligible. The press release, for one, indicates that the plants must be destroyed at the end of the show. Rather than leaving with the augmented sense of the kudzu vine’s dangerous potential, I couldn’t help but revert to my initial impression: these were ultimately just house plants, firmly within our control.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Rashid Johnson intermingles the sublime and horrific in "Fly Away"

At its core, Rashid Johnson’s new exhibition of solo works at Hauser & Wirth, “Fly Away”, is a cycle: four rooms of both flat and sculptural works that work themselves out into a circular progression, spitting the viewer from room to room and developing certain visual tropes along the way.

The first room the viewer experiences upon entering the gallery is a vast white space (surprise) filled with monolithic drawings, made with a blend of black soap and wax and mounted on large rectangular chunks of bathroom tile. The drawings are jittery asymmetrical grids of crude black faces with teeth barred, giving off a completely ambiguous but ultimately nerve-wracking and paranoid seeming emotional atmosphere.

What struck me upon seeing these works was that they looked like feces smeared on a bathroom wall, not to their detriment. They seemed like spontaneous works of art made by a person pushed to the edge of their sanity, something someone artistically inclined might do in the midst of a nervous breakdown, in a Punch Drunk Love-esque fit of bathroom destroying ragev. They evoke the vile, and radiate primal emotion and mark making, riding the line between abstract expressionism and symbolic representation.

The door on the far end of that room leads to another space where the viewer is presented with a similar set of works on tile, except in this set of pieces the 2 dimensional space of the tile begins to deconstruct itself. Primary colors invade the white space of the tiles, and diagonal and ovular pieces of wallpaper give the viewers a peek into artificial depictions of nature, lush forests, and palm trees.

In the other intermediary room, mostly 2 dimensional works made of various different materials including mirrored glass, oak, and black paint depict abstracted human figures that recall pixilation. In the center of that room, large chunks of shea butter, which evoke dismembered pieces of flesh, lie on top of a large oak table covered by a Persian rug.

However the climax of the exhibition lies in the back room, where “Antoine’s Organ”, a gargantuan structure of black scaffolding, is loaded with an overwhelming amount of icons, imagery, and objects, including potted plants, fluorescent lights, books, and televisions upon which single channel videos play.

Some books included in the sculpture have titles such as The Souls of Black Folks, The End of Blackness, and The Sellout. On one of the tv screens, the instrumental to the song “Criminal Minded” by Boogie Down Productions, a pioneering hip-hop group famous for making the first rap album to feature a gun on the cover, is played over footage of a black church choir singing, combining two elements of black culture that are traditionally viewed as polar opposites.

In perhaps my favorite element of this multi faceted sculpture, potted plants are placed much of the time in custom made ceramic pots, which mirror certain visual motifs present in other rooms of the exhibition. However the simple formal experiments made in these ceramics push this shape language of Johnson’s to much further and more intriguing places than the rest of the works in the gallery, giving a respite from the overwhelmingly conceptual aspects of the exhibition and simply providing the viewer with some beautifully made formal pieces of art to look at.

As a white person it’s impossible for me to have anything valid or insightful to say about how Fly Away speaks to the black experience and how well it does so. However, as an artist, I can say that the show left something to be desired.

Even though I found myself more satisfied with the show after experiencing all four rooms, and seeing how each of them interlocks with the next, I couldn’t appreciate the works in the other three rooms as much after viewing the awe inspiring and overwhelming power of “Antoine’s Organ”. The other works paled in comparison to that final piece, which could be appreciated from a distance and circled like a classic monolithic sculpture, or scrutinized to no end up close as the impressive synthesis of dozens of different ideas, forms, materials and concepts. In addition, “Antoine’s Organ”  provided an excellent contrast with the gallery’s first room, taking the viewer on a journey from the horrific and terrifying space of the bathroom wall drawings to the sublime beauty and cultural consciousness of the nature engulfed “organ”.

Other rooms in the gallery suffered from contemporary art’s current obsession with (expensive) materiality. Perhaps if the concepts and forms they presented were explored further this would not be the case. Although this short coming of the show rests mostly on Johnson’s shoulders, this may be due partially to the greedy and decadent world of New York art galleries which lend themselves only to easily sellable works and not to more immersive installations, site specific pieces, and progressive 21st century art.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

“La Grande Sortie” by Alex Prager: A Two-Sided Stage at Lehmann Maupin Gallery

You are dancing under the spotlight, your shaky moves followed by hundreds of indifferent eyes. Reality fades as members of the audience begin to join you on stage. And poof. Suddenly, you are gone.

Alex Prager’s latest film inserts the viewer into a ballerina’s stage-fright episode on the opening night of her come-back show. The ten-minute short, commissioned by the Paris Opera Ballet, confronts the viewer’s expectations on performers by exposing the perspective of a dancer tormented by the demands of the audience.

Resembling movie stills, seven large-scale photographs hang on the white walls of the spacious first floor of the gallery. The film is screened upstairs in a dark room behind thick velvet curtains. From this floor, one can observe the people below, turning the gallery into a sort of inverse theater where the observed becomes the observer. As in the film, some of the photographs, like “Orchestra East, Section B”, show the distracted audience members, all dressed in 50’s costumes. The highly produced images have the cinematic sheen of a Hollywood melodrama. The rest of the photographs, like “Act III, Scene”, turn the camera around and portray the dramatically-lit figure of the ballerina dancing on-stage. 

Prager’s “La Grande Sortie” is a carefully choreographed show that moves the audience out of their comfortable seats into a performer’s darkest nightmare.

Friday, September 30, 2016

A Beautiful Film and an Unimpressed Audience: Alex Prager at Lehmann Maupin

Alex Prager's current show on the Lower East Side is compelling and charming and funny, but only for the viewer that makes the effort to see it all.

Prager’s show, "La Grande Sortie", takes up the first and second floor of the gallery. The first floor has 10 large photographs depicting a small, mostly white, half-interested audience.  The large photographs are technically well done, but a casual observer might have difficultly finding anything interesting within them. The audience depicted seems to be intentionally composed of people who are not particularly special.  The photographs are single frame depictions of Prager’s film that confronts the the dual perspectives of performer and audience. This is nearly impossible to glean unless the viewer climbs to the second floor.

Up the stairs, hidden behind a heavy black curtain, is the work that is the heart of this show:  a short film commissioned by the Paris Opera Ballet, "La Grande Sortie." The ten minute video tells the story of a ballerina’s performance on opening night. Her dance is hampered by stage fright. The real or imagined indifferent and hostile reactions of the audience only intensifies the fears of the dancer on the stage.  The tempo of the classical music and the feeling of dread increases as the ballerina begins magically dancing with members of her unimpressed audience.  Concluding with a vanishing act, The ballerina disappears in a cloud of smoke, the film elegantly speaks to the universal sense of anxiety that many people battle daily.  Once viewed, the first floor’s photographs transform from dull to poignant.  The show leaves the viewer with a sense of compassion and empathy for the internal struggles others face.

OSGEMEOS Transforms Lehman Maupin Gallery into an Urban Art Space

Brazilian twin brothers Gustavo and Otavio Pandolfo, collaborating under the name OSGEMEOS, have transformed the Lehmann Maupin Gallery space into an immersive interior landscape in their new show Silence of the Music.
 OSGEMEOS's show illustrates the evolution of urban street culture, in paintings depicting boom-box-toting-b-boys dancing on cardboard mats, a mystical music-cart made of junkyard scraps, interactive turntables with gramophone horns, and a child's lullaby mobile. The exhibit diminishes the traditional physical separation between art and viewer. Every surface of the gallery has been transformed, including the floors and ceilings.  Bright colors, glitter, and sequins create an enthusiastic celebration of street music and visual culture. Depicting the evolution of street music through the lens of visual art, the show illuminates how music and art in urban communities are inextricably bound to one another; that to comprehend their unique history, one must examine them in tandem. The irony of bringing graffiti art into the private gallery space, initiates a discourse about art hierarchies established by the institutionalized art community, but this discourse does not take away from the celebratory emotion expressed by the work. Thus, OSGEMEOS brilliantly creates an exhibition that is to be both thoughtfully considered and sensually enjoyed. 
Every surface of the gallery has been transformed, including the floors and ceilings. Bright colors, glitter, and sequins create an enthusiastic celebration of street music and visual culture. Depicting the evolution of street music through the lens of visual art, the show illuminates how music and art in urban communities are inextricably bound to one another; that to comprehend their unique history, one must examine them in tandem. The irony of bringing graffiti art into the private gallery space, initiates a discourse about art hierarchies established by the institutionalized art community, but this discourse does not take away from the celebratory emotion expressed by the work. Thus, OSGEMEOS brilliantly creates an exhibition that is to be both thoughtfully considered and sensually enjoyed. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Meleko Mokgosi - Lerato

Meleko Mokgosi
Democratic Intuition, Lerato

When entering the gallery, we are welcomed by a long, wide hallway containing a big painting on the right. Half of this large piece is text in a language unidentifiable to the average American. One could find this frustrating, being in country where we can read practically everything. This seems an intentional move by Mokgosi, a way to say that we do not know everything.

As you walk into the main room there is a door opening to the right that you almost miss seeing. In this small room is a beautifully rendered painting of a South African woman in a chair surrounded by children latching onto her. It alludes to classical portraits of Mary and child, but with a non-European woman. At its center is a large room with only a few pieces on each of the four walls. All the the paintings are rendered beautifully and are intriguing to the eye. There was one more small room in the back that held another painting of a South African women surrounded by children, similar to the painting in the first small room.

There was a lot to take in, in Mokgosi’s exhibit with how the subjects in the portrait engaged each other, but also how the paintings engaged the viewer through the eyes of the subjects starring right back at you.