Sunday, September 21, 2014

There and Everywhere - the Here and Elsewhere Exhibit at the New Museum

Wael Shawky, b. 1971 Alexandria, Egypt, The Cave (Amsterdam) 12:45 min., 2005

In the media explanations the New Museum declares that “Here and Elsewhere” works against the notion of the Arab world as a homogenous or cohesive entity. After a whirlwind of art pieces on four full floors, I would agree. Among the many offerings of video installations crammed into the space, two pieces stood out in embodying the Jean Luc Godard reference the title of the show possesses. The two significantly play on the cinema verite style and blurring of reality as well as the transparent revealing of film techniques aka film-meta referencing that Godard would have utilized.

In The Cave (Amsterdam), Wael Shawky, reciting a long, uncut religious episode from the Qu’ran, is like self-reflexive documentary in the way he strolls in black tie and suit in a grocery store with European whites shopping in the background oblivious of this cultural drama. In Abdel Abidin’s reworking of songs commissioned by Sadaam Hussein, the polished sets of jazz club and glitzy studio space reimagines Hussein’s propaganda into three styles of Western songs. The female singer is sultry and commercially desirable and seduces the viewer into the trappings of the Western medium of music video. Sung in transliterated Iraqi by English speakers (who don’t comprehend the words), here we see a political underpinning indicative of French New Wave cinema and of exposing the constructed nature of film-making.

Abdel Abidin, Three Love Songs, Video, Color, Sound, 8:41 min, 2010

Friday, September 19, 2014

James Bishop at David Zwirner Gallery

James Bishop at David Zwirner Gallery
         The David Zwirner Gallery is presenting an exhibition of several large paintings by the American Artist James Bishop, from September 6th through October 25th of this year. The show features his abstract works, done primarily in monotone on square canvases, painted during the 1960s to the early 1980s. From the moment viewers enter the exhibition hall, his theme, the framework, and simple horizontal-vertical configuration of squares will grasp their attention. As much as his works are compressed and abstracted, the impact from the simplicity is direct and powerful.
His squared and repetitively divided pictorial spaces through the show seem to involve the characteristics of New York City dwellers. New Yorkers look similar and blended, when seen from a distance, but who are people of delicate tastes with distinct individuality when you get close enough to see it, just like Bishop’s subsquares in his paintings. Another notable point is that Bishop’s concretely divided surfaces are not flat, and the many textured painted areas actually reflect the lights. Through the reflections, his brushstrokes became alive and vivid, and it makes his ostensibly static paintings more interesting.
According to the author of ‘Recent Drawings’, Elke M. Solomon, Bishop is one of the minimal artists who has the most limited and repetitious formats in his work, but within it, there is great richness and subtlety of design. No individual squares are same, and no divided spaces are symmetrical, so we can see the minimal artist’s abstract works are not as nearly simple as they seem.
As all abstract paintings ask viewers for their own interpretations (even assumptions) in their stage of completion, so does James Bishop’s series of abstract works also need viewers’ participation to reveal the underlying meanings of the paintings. 

Lily van der Stokker: Huh at Koenig & Clinton

Lily van der Stokker’s cartoonish Huh show currently on view at Koenig & Clinton is both a soothing and fun experience.  The solo exhibition, an installation of all large-scale pink three-dimensional objects, globular-shaped wall paintings, and matching pink custom-made furniture presents a greater discussion about femininity, beauty, and vacant optimism as well as relationships between artists, critics, and equality between the sexes.  
At first glance the room is an almost an overwhelming blast of saccharine cuteness, however there are underlying subtle messages of deprecation throughout the show. A pink cloud-shaped retail sign affixed to the wall stating: only yelling older women in here- Nothing to sell is one message in particular breaks up the seemingly calm feeling of the room making a bold statement on being an older female artist today. The large wall paintings that engulf the space also seem to communicate with each other in the context of the exhibition space. For example two large pajama inspired blobs stand side by side with pink bubbles stating both nice being here on the right side and nice being here on the left side. At the center of the gallery the large irregularly shaped box sculpture is covered in doodles, perhaps referencing pieces of hair, as well as pink flowers and looks to be oozing cartoon paint on to the floor.

Huh plays with the comforts of feminine decorative flatness while making direct references and statements to the art world, but does so with graceful humor boldly requesting that the viewer question both the substance and seriousness.
(Image source: Jeffrey Sturges/Koenig & Clinton, New York)

Cao Fei's "La Town" at Lombard Freid Gallery

Viewing Cao Fei’s newest video work, La Town, is an experience that consists of equal parts enchantment and confusion. Cao’s film, currently on view at Lombard Freid Gallery, draws the viewer into a dark, seedy and crumbling town, La Town. In La Town Cao parallels both the mundanity and vice of contemporary society through an obviously fake, alternate world.
The film is remarkably beautiful, characterized by an array of bright, artificial colors, and the sort of omnipresent night and severe lighting one might find in a neo-noir. Roughly hewn, yet vividly human, wax dolls and plastic buildings substitute real actors and real tableaux. Vague narration further sets the scene. Whispered voices discuss La Town’s dark fate in broken and nebulous phrases, as if the viewer should very well know what is being discussed.

At the beginning of La Town the words “this simulacrum remains unsurpassed in its invocation of the real” flicker across the screen. Through this, Cao acknowledges the unreality of La Town, while simultaneously affirming its credibility as a stand in. Though La Town may be comprised of no more than dolls and plastic toys, Cao asserts its validity as a representative of reality. Through distilling the experience of contemporary society and transposing it onto the obviously unreal, she challenges us to draw parallels between La Town and our own world.

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