Friday, October 22, 2010

Fred Tomaselli at Brooklyn Museum

Currently on display at the Brooklyn Museum is a mid career retrospective of the work of Fred Tomaselli. The show is comprised of nearly 50 pieces, spanning back to the mid 80’s.  The works are elaborate mixed media compositions created from a variety of materials, from carefully cut out images to pills and plant life, all encased under layers of clear resin.

The three primary galleries are loosely grouped by theme. The first room focuses on abstract pieces such as Black and White All Over. This work is constructed entirely of pills and paint strokes, organized into vertical lines, a minimalist work that when viewed can be disorienting, like some sort of optical illusion. The expansive Echo, Wow and Flutter, can also be found in this gallery and is made of images of birds, body parts and flowers, as well as more pills of different shapes and sizes that have been strung together into intertwining rings.

The second gallery space is devoted to works based on the figure. Untitled (Expulsion), combines leaves, pills, mushrooms a photo collage and paint to depict Adam and Eve being cast out of the Garden of Eden. The apparent exposure of the figures’ circulatory systems puts them in stark contrast to the dark background. The majority of the piece, covered in the bright ornate, almost psychedelic imagery that we see echoed in many of his works.

In the third gallery, nature, and in particular birds, appears to be the unifying theme. Works include the photo collage Big Raven where Tomaselli presents a large bird perched on a stone that gives the impression it is disintegrating into circular patterns across the piece. In Starling, Tomaselli has chosen bugs and insects to make up the throat and stomach of a bird, presumably the food it would have consumed.

The pieces beckon viewers to closely inspect the art, and those who do are rewarded. The materials are revealed and allow for a sense of the process, the countless hours spent executing these detailed works. And although Tomaselli is using drugs to create and compose the work, the method he is best known for, the narcotics do not seem to dominate the subject matter, they are simply the ingredients, employed almost as a pointillist painter would utilize distinct dots of color. To garner their full impact and see the scale and meticulous craftsmanship, the pieces should be seen in person. Even if you are under whelmed by the concepts, pleasure can still be found in the playful details and clever use of materials.

Andrew Edlin Gallery: Henry Darger

On view at the Andrew Eldin Gallery is a selection of Henry Darger (1892-1973) watercolors and collages, created as illustrations for his epic unpublished novel, “The Story of the Vivian Girls”. The untitled, undated images narrate the conflict between the Vivian Girls, seven heroic adventure-seeking sisters, and the Glandelinian soldiers, who enslave children. Self-trained, Darger created his compositions by repeatedly tracing and modifying pictures clipped from newspapers.

The majority of works on display are wide, scroll-shaped watercolors (many over 100” long), some of which are double-sided and hang in the center of the gallery. The images present a strange melding of delightful whimsy with violent toughness. Shirley Temple-esque girls with ringlets and dimples become pint-size Amazons in the face of injustice. Girls sprouting ram horns or butterfly wings populate a world where flowers grow into the clouds. Little girls with male genitalia staunchly defend enslaved children by waging bloody battle with rifles against grown men soldiers. Bright colors and repetition emphasize the artist’s fantastical scenarios.

There is also a set of small collages, portraits of generals from the story, and Volume I of Darger’s novel (an in-gallery computer shows page scans). The collages appear to be reference material for the more complex illustrations. Each consists of many paperdoll-like girls collaged around a giant central figure customized with a red uniform painted by Darger. His incorporation of inconsistently-sized figures as well as his use of dark paper as a ground is a striking departure from the other works displayed. It is possible these are character studies intended to develop his characters individual looks. They have a ghostly carefree quality—the giggling little girl heads from photographs are pasted onto simply-rendered, costumed bodies and consequently feel suspended in an unreality.

Much like cartoonist Robert Crumb, Darger, out of personal frustrations and an inability to connect with people, began creating his own. Unlike Crumb, however, Darger never intended his work for public consumption. There is a conflict between his intent—to create a personal manifestation of the characters in his imagination—and the posthumous exposure of his work. As enchanting as the images are, it feels exploitative for such intensely private work to be displayed. The pieces carry a sense of imperilment—the delicate materials are already eroding and only tiny shreds of information about their creation survive. The benefit of bringing this luminous world into the open is protection against its loss or destruction.

Fred Tomaselli

Walking in to Fred Tomaselli’s exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum, one is immediately inundated into a hyper-reality trip with color, pattern, and supple graphic imagery. Bold saturated color seduces the eyes through the lines and shapes, created by Tomaselli’s brush strokes, and objects he incorporates into his psychedelic universe of imagery. The slick resin finish of the completed paintings enhance the graphic quality of the imagery, making it comic-like and out of this world. One is thrust full force into an off the wall journey with Tomaselli. This happens through an allegorical narrative, where one questions if the artist himself was in a drug-induced state while creating these works, or if the artist is merely playing with societies love affair of hyper-reality.

Big Raven (2008) is a perfect example of this psychedelic, graphic-collage type imagery. Immediately, one notices the bold graphic texture of Raven. Upon closer inspection, one sees that Big Raven is made of hundreds of photos. These photos have been pasted, and formed carefully together into a collage, in order to create hyper-detailed depth and shadow, within the painted outline of the raven itself.

Each piece like Big Raven is carefully illustrated, so that details blend together from far away, creating a readable, illustrious, and sublime imagery. This creates an effect that seduces the eye, and calls for further inspection. Every nuance, ranging from hundreds of eyes, to tablets of prescription pills, is carefully laid out and placed with exact detail, in order to create this transcendent imagery.

Tomaselli’s work reflects on our societies saturated nature, and the craziness abundant within it. His work creates romantic imagery, which references a drug induced rave culture. These paintings reference a slick club drug pharmaceutical culture, prevalent in popular culture during the artist’s lifetime. One feels as if they are taken through each and every drug induced trip the artist experienced during his lifetime. Each and every image is a glimpse into the artist’s expanded consciousness of drug-enhanced narrative.

When one looks at Tomasell’s work, you feel as if you are experiencing the hallucinogenic narrative, just as the artist had imaged you would. You find yourself wanting to reach out, and touch the radii of patterns and shapes emanating from the human and animal forms. This is due to the movement of the eye they cause, with their varying visual patterns. The delicate nature of the layout of the objects, and marks which allude the imagery to the artist’s obsessive nature, capture his vision exactly.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Elizabeth Neel: Stick Season

Elizabeth Neel’s Stick Season at the Sculpture Center presents a paradox; it is simple and complex, easy and painstaking. The show consists of six paintings and a series of sculptural collages titled Orienteers. The sculptures are displayed on a table that runs along the periphery of three edges of the square room. The paintings hang behind the table.

The sculptural collages attract attention as the viewer enters the room. The pieces work both as individual units and as one long collage spanning the length of the table. The collage elements are placed in relation to each other, not attached permanently. These elements include found plastic, cut wood boards, a t-shirt dipped in pink ink, plaster, bone and a package of toilet paper with two rolls removed. In spite of the seeming cacophony, the collage elements fit together in perfect harmony. The toilet paper, placed on the end of a neatly stacked pile of wooden boards, balances the white painted turpentine can, placed precariously at the other end, in an elegant composition. Neel seems to have mastered the art of making one’s household/studio objects into art, without recalling the cliché attached to such an attempt.

Neel includes photographs from the Internet in her collages. One wonders if the photographs were added first or last, if they relate directly to the sculptures or if they are placed almost randomly. Much like the rest of Neel’s work, the photographs seem spontaneous, yet they are so elegantly incorporated into the collages that one can only assume that they were perfectly planned.

At first glance, the paintings seem only a backdrop to the sculptures. Behind the sculptures they become subservient to them, but the pieces (sculptures and paintings) speak so well to each other that it would be a shame to separate them. The paintings mirror and mimic the shapes in the sculptures, placing gesture and weight against exactness and flatness. They are elegantly and seemingly painstakingly composed. Every part of the canvas is given attention; the empty space is as strong as the marks.

In and Out, the second painting in the series consists of broad black gestural marks, resembling a wing, vertical painterly marks to the left of the “wing” and a geometric red line running diagonally over the entire painting. The painting consists of only these three elements, yet it gracefully stands, a complete and complex thought, as does the entire show.

Leigh Ledare-Greater New York at PS1

Leigh Ledare’s photo series at the Greater New York show at PS1 features his mother as model. The photos depict her most often in the nude, genitals directed toward the camera and sometimes with a partner. The color photos seem faded and grainy, almost a nod to the quality of both 1970s family photo albums and 1970s pornography. Tina Peterson, once a talented ballerina poised for greatness became a stripper with an evident penchant for exhibitionism. She smiles and eyes the photographer; she is not aiming to seduce. She is displaying herself.

Perhaps considered by some to be tawdry or exploitative, the photos alone are not what is truly captivating about the show. The images are, of course, jarring given the relationship of model and photographer. This attention-starved exhibitionist mother is not the crux of the series. The star of the photographs is the relationship. If a person was unaware of the kinship of model/artist, would the photos be as captivating? As Ledare tells it, he showed up at his mother's house after not seeing her for over a year. She answered the door naked and lead him into her bedroom where there was a naked young man. This was Ledare's orientation and he accepted the invitation. Leigh began photographing her at her request to document her body and later, its deterioration. The staples of motherhood and age, stretch marks as well as the mark of gravity do not dissuade Tina from fully exposing herself. Vanity is not the only excuse. She is also shown nude after an accident in which she sports a neck brace. This was a jaunt through Oedipal territory via photography and while Ledare and Peterson never pose together, the other people in the photos are certainly surrogates. Nude self-portraits are a direct nod to the part he plays in this taboo endeavor. He sexualizes himself and in that, appears to play surrogate for his absent biological father.

In later photos, Tina no longer looks the fiery temptress. In a video on display, you can see she has aged, her face free of makeup and she looks truly beaten down by the path she has taken. She cries hysterically to her son who holds her as she weeps. The video does the job that the photos can’t quite communicate. The photos are unremarkable. The story is all.

Seductive Subversion: Women Pop Artists, 1958-1968, Brooklyn Museum

Seductive Subversion: Women Pop Artists, 1958-1968
is on view at the Brooklyn Museum from October 15, 2010 - January 9, 2011. The exhibition looks at the contribution of women artists to the male-dominated Pop art movement on a large scale, exhibiting the work of 25 artists such as Martha Rosler, Marisol, and Yayoi Kusama. More than 50 works in a wide array of media fill both the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art and the Shapiro Wing galleries.

Martha Rosler’s photomontage, Vacuuming Pop Art, 1966-72, uses cheeky imagery to show the woman’s role in the art world in the 1960’s. In the middle of a hallway that hangs Pop art prints, Rosler photomontaged a picture straight from a home magazine advertisement of a woman vacuuming, posed with a cheery disposition. This work hints that the woman’s participation in Pop art was unseen to the public, because at the time, the only recognized place for a woman was in the home.

Marisol’s life-sized wooden sculptures, The Bicycle Riders, 1962, also explores the woman’s role in the public sphere. In the middle of the gallery are two wooden figures posed on bicycles. In the lead, by a few feet, is a figure with a male face painted in white and sporting cool shades and a hat. The number “one” is painted in red on its chest. The other figure has the number “two” painted on its chest along with female breasts drawn in graphite. This figure has two heads, a black male’s stacked on top a female’s head, a sort of totem pole for second-place citizens.

Japanese artist, Yayoi Kusama, had an important place in this exhibition, which included her film, Kusama’s Self-Obliteration, 1967, and one of her soft sculptures, Accumulation, No. 1, 1962. Kusama’s Self-Obliteration is a repetitive and layered film in which male and female performers were painted and covered with pieces of fabric while they danced around and mimicked sexual activity. Kusama creates her own decadent ritual in this 24 minute film that sits uncomfortably against popular culture.

Walking away from a show of this size, the viewer is left with an important piece of art history that was left out in a time when women’s contributions to society were, on a whole, unrecognized. In recent re-examination of these women Pop artists, their contributions to the art world can no longer be seen as insignificant. Yayoi Kusama alone sold a work in 2008 for $5.1 million, a record for a living female artist.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Lee Friedlander: America by Car

Lee Friedlander’s America by Car is currently showing at the Whitney Museum of American Art, from September 4 - October 21, 2010. Friedlander (b. 1934) is an American photographer who has exhibited widely and has published numerous monographs of work.

The photographs on view were taken throughout the last decade, captured through side windows and windshields of rental cars that the artist used for travels around the country. The simply framed, square format, silver gelatin prints are displayed in the museum’s fifth floor mezzanine. This gallery is an intimate space, made more so by the two rows of images lining the entirety of wall space. The presentation is enveloping, not overwhelming.

This exhibition gives the viewer an untraditional portrait of America, as each image is framed from within the car so that one not only sees the scene, but is very aware of the vehicle’s components. This choice in composition forces the eye and mind toward active viewing. It separates the visitor from a direct view of any given scene while bringing to mind the prevalence of American car culture. The photographs are organized not by date or location, but rather by typology, such as landscapes, people, signs, churches, or monuments. As a whole the show is less about where each scene is located and more about the typical make up the American landscape. It also seems to be a humorous nod to such greats as Robert Frank and Stephen Shore, well known and highly praised for their documentation of their own cross country trips across America.

AL TAYLOR: Rim Jobs and Sideffects

Currently on view at David Zwirner are selections from two series by Al Taylor: Rim Jobs and Sideffects, featuring drawings and three-dimensional works from the mid-1990s. Both series were originally exhibited separately in two solo shows, one in Denmark and the other in Switzerland.

Metal rims of bicycle wheels—some intact, some manipulated—are the focus of the first series which inspired its provocative title. The assemblages in Rim Jobs recall Duchamp’s Readymades featuring bicycle parts. The pieces were created just days before the exhibition opened, specifically for the Denmark show. Three-dimensional works developed from locally sourced materials are flanked by drawings that reveal how Taylor saw the space and the objects, offering the viewer a glimpse into his experimental process.

Sideffects takes over a double-sided wall shared by two rooms within the gallery. Thin, rod-like forms, varying in size from a few inches to over an arm’s length, seem to penetrate through the wall. The installation confronts the viewer as the rods line the doorway and suddenly appear as you move around the corners of the gallery.

Uninterested in distinguishing works on paper from sculpture, Taylor seamlessly leads you from the physical object to a drawing of that object in a way that prompts the viewer to reconsider how space is understood and experienced. While the work on view was not created with the intention of being shown in this specific gallery, the multiple views and ambiguous backgrounds seen within the drawings, makes the series successful—perhaps in any setting.

Postmasters: Chris Verene 'Family'

Chris Verene's 'Family,' on view at Postmasters, is a series of photographs depicting the artist’s poor, jobless, divorced, working-class yet very American family over a span of 26 years. Verene's exhibit portrays an unidealized, genuine reality that our ‘Jersey Shore,’ ‘Teen Mom’-obsessed culture just doesn't get to see.

Each wall in the gallery is devoted to a certain mix of characters, but the theme of deficiency and economic disarray pervades. Whether it’s shown as the laid-off divorcee who never quite recovers, or the young single mother who goes from living in her car to living in an abandoned restaurant, each picture displays this hidden sector of society that doesn’t live like your stereotypical American family.

The gritty photos of imperfect characters are accompanied by a written narration explaining the context. One photo depicts a father with his daughter at McDonalds. The caption definitively reads, “My cousin Steve with his daughter. His wife had just left them.” Another of an infant crying on a bare mattress next to a frying pan is the image that mnemonically sticks. Then, there’s the last picture of Grandma waving goodbye under an American flag.

As you go down the line of photos, the emotions rise and fall, but the characters never cease to be relatable and in ways entertaining—the Uncle that never moved out of Grandma’s or the overweight cousin you had to drag along on dates.

It’s a relevant show depicting the economic troubles of the American working class, and the end where Grandma America sends you off with a wave.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Reconstructing Space: New Works by Sarah Sze

Currently on view at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery is a solo exhibition of new works by New York-based installation artist, Sarah Sze. Sze's works are highly elaborate constructions built from everyday objects: plastic water bottles, rug fragments, discarded cell phones, cans of beans. The intricacies of her extensive, room-sized installations require the viewer to maneuver cautiously in and around the carefully composed structures to better examine each piece's immense detail.

In The Uncountables (Encyclopedia), the artist's systematic layering and strategic placement of commonplace objects gives new context to our everyday clutter and reconstructs a bizarre version of the very world from which the items were pulled. Numerous tiny holes, pierced in the vinyl of a black lawn chair, resemble constellations. Small, white painted blocks and bottles suggest buildings. Rectangles of gray paint swatches lined atop rulers are reminiscent of rows in a parking lot.

On the second floor is 360 (Portable Planetarium), a piece which further exemplifies Sze's ability to construct new realities. This work exists in its own circular wooden framework, with a landscape of cascading trees cut from magazines. Reflections of water glisten on the walls, invoking the possibility of illimitable space beyond the piece's enclosed architectural realm.

With these refracted and distorted reflections of our inhabited space, Sze manages to establish an order within the assemblages of accumulated objects. Each vignette, created from the minutiae of a lived-world, both grounds us in the everyday while simultaneously projecting us beyond it. Although Sze's arrangements may appear a chance assortment of quotidian paraphernalia, there is an organic and ethereal balance infused within her works that makes each one worthy of prolonged exploration.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Pattern and Degradation at Gavin Brown Enterprise

Rob Pruitt’s exhibition, Pattern and Degradation, now on view at Gavin Brown Enterprise and Maccarone Gallery, lives up to its expected excess in the wake of a nation wide recession. Both galleries are generously filled with work ranging from appropriated Hokusai prints to exquisite corpse photographs of Pruitt in the surrealist tradition. The Pandas flocked in glitter and the Amish inspired Rumspringa paintings emphasize the socio-economic contrast that exists between those within and those outside of the art world and familiarly use a pop style to express this commentary.

The most striking pieces in the show are the Cardboard Monsters, figures made out of collapsed cardboard boxes who are given real life personas and larger than life googley eyes. The figures have legs wearing work boots, Uggs, and stilettos coming out from their cardboard frame, adhering with the show’s consumerist theme while seeming to point toward a hypocrisy that exists within the current go-green trend. Though the figures are recycled cardboard boxes they still are sporting trends and hooked into electrical outlets that power their wandering eyes. The Monsters were all given first names that correspond to relevant figures such as Gavin Brown, Hope Athertone, and Jonathon Horowitz. The naming of these figures widens the gap between those included and those excluded from the “know,” giving an esoteric edge to these otherwise universally relatable figures.

While I was put off by the flashy quality of the work-to-be-bought that Rob Pruitt produced for this show, I wasn’t left feeling un-stimulated. The excesses of the exhibition left me considering and reconsidering the purpose of art in today’s market.