Friday, February 25, 2011

Stephen G. Rhodes - Metro Pictures

The current installation piece by Stephen G. Rhodes in Chelsea’s Metro Pictures gallery provokes the senses and resuscitates sedated areas of the brain causing disorientation as they awaken to timeless clocks, broken drinking mugs and a four wall rotating projection beaming images of parking lot fires and wig wearing men. Rhodes’ textual translation of Immanuel Kant’s The Illnesses of the Head is then further transmogrified into the visual realm making the artist’s New York debut exhibition a dense jungle of connotations.

Rhodes’ fusion of eighteenth century philosophy and twenty first century art production either attract or repel observers instantly. The first room of the three-room installment stages a familiar setting for viewers who are subject to delirium. For the more rational viewers, the first room, a showcase of ordinary domestic objects bathed in Rhodes’ artistic elixir, is vexing; they agitate into the succeeding rooms in search of elucidation.

The second room hosts a video segment which is projected onto the prude, orthodox, white walls of the Chelsea gallery. Rhodes encircles the visitors with turbulent noises and obscure imagery as the projector orbits around a desolate table lamp in the center of the room.

The final room in Rhodes’ installment is spatially more fragmented (artificial wall positioned to shatter the rooms quadratic floor plan) but visually more conservative. The finale of mixed media sculpture, mounted wall cabinets and floor grazing canvases is the closest thing comprehension-seeking visitors will encounter before they exit; greeted by the reality of a un-salted New York sidewalk in February.

CHRISTOPHER WILLIAMS For Example: Dix-Huit Leçons Sur La Société Industrielle (Revision 12)

Visitors to Christopher William’s recent show might have had trouble figuring out how the random assortment of photographs connected to each other, much less the title. For Example: Dix-Huit Lecons Sur La Societe Industrielle does not have eighteen photographs, nor does it seem to have very much to do with education or industrial society. The confusion may have been the artist’s intention – it’s hard to tell, of course, but the title and the press release, which leaps from Canned Heat lyrics to photographer jargon, are a give away. Featuring one photo to each wall, the show made for a playful series of fetishistic depictions of unrelated banalities that let the viewer infer subjective connections between pieces. Certain bright colors reappear in various photos, along with the odd reference to an awareness of the artifice and art of photography. The images shown are clean and precise, with a commercial feel and an engrossing level of detail, making a simple viewing enjoyable in itself. The aesthetic experience, together with the intellectual puzzle of trying to figure what exactly is being said, entertained a visitor enough. Each might have left with their own interpretation of what is going on: maybe it’s an attempt to find a new photography, an interest in color or in imagery, a desire to lampoon both art and commercial photography. In making all of these equally possible themes, Williams managed to break away from photography’s bond to direct reference into a realm of subjective abstraction. Or maybe he just took nice pictures of random things; both seem like valid interpretations.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Big Shots: Andy Warhol’s Polaroids of Celebrities, January 8 – February 26, 2011

The sensation one feels upon entering the exhibition of Andy Warhol’s Polaroids currently installed at Danziger Projects is that the art on view may actually be viewing him. Tiny eyes stare, seduce and surround the spectator from four walls, evoking moods as diverse as the row of celebrity faces. Icons including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Yoko Ono and Jane Fonda model youthful displays of showmanship and genuine contemplation, posturing as if to engage visitors and one another within the space of the gallery’s small front room.

However neatly framed and contextualized in the clean, white surroundings of a Chelsea gallery, the seemingly improvised snapshots of Warhol’s acquaintances and eccentric self-portraits maintain the informality of their original size and picture quality. The viewer’s familiarity with the Polaroid print as a medium lends accessibility to the photographs and creates a personal connection that mirrors his attachment to their subjects. Harsh lighting and plain backgrounds recall the aesthetics of a scrapbook, almost stark in comparison to Warhol’s celebrated iconographic screen prints. Uninhibited by filters of formal technique, styling and process, the Polaroids offer moments of intimate transparency that let the artist and his larger-than-life subjects speak for themselves. Thirty-eight "big" personalities reach beyond the confines of small formatting to create a collective discourse that sparks recognition and then builds upon the sentimentality of its audience.


Sculptures by Matias Faldbakken are at the Reena Spaulings Fine Art gallery. The cast concrete sculptures are interesting because they make the unusual connection of art to television and moonshine alcohol. These are subjects thought to be on opposite ends of the cultural spectrum. The sculptures appear cryptic at first, but clues - the objects used as the molds, have been left on the concrete form in some cases to help communicate what they represent. By leaving the objects used as the molds around the outside of some of the sculptures insight into the concept is given, visual variety is added, and the distinction between artistic process and product is diminished. Placed on the floor along one wall of the gallery room are 18 jug shaped objects made of poured concrete. The plastic jugs, used as molds for the sculptures, are the kind used to produce and distribute moonshine. The actual jugs used as molds were not removed from a few of the sculptures after being filled with concrete. Several feet away and parallel to the jug shaped sculptures sits a row of four narrow rectangular concrete sculptures. Again, in one case the artist left the mold around the concrete form - an empty flat screen television box. Faldbakken reduced his process to mixing and pouring concrete. The act of pouring is not a laborious method of art making. The production process and arrangement of the sculptures express the theme of pointlessness among these opposing subjects. The sculptures are the result of the idea that created them.

Friday, February 11, 2011

On Line: Drawing through the Twentieth Century

In what can arguably be described as vibrant, On Line: Drawing through the Twentieth Century provides an extensive survey at the transformation of drawing from 1910 through 2010. This periodic timeline intelligibly displays drawings technical transition from a formal mode of academic exploration, to its procedural development into spatial abstraction. The exhibition thus invites the audience to consider an increasingly global communicative advancement; a universal language that is as auditory as is visually expressive. The eclectic works on display range from the explorative studies of Kandinsky’s watercolour drawings (1925), to Agnes Martin’s sensually grid work The Tree (1964) to Anthony McCall’s effortless Five minute Drawing (1975), to Ranjani Shetter’s cosmically ambitious installation Just a Bit More (2005). Inspiring does certainly encapsulate the evolution of drawing as once a tool for academic development, to a mode of personal exploration.

Additionally, On Line inherently presents the technological innovations that served as the catalyst for drawings abstract and political progression. Sculptures, digital media, and even performance art creatively reflect the development between existentialism and drawing such as the exquisite simplicity of Rodchenko’s Spatial Construction no. 12 (1920). Even the banality of Krasinki’s illogical blue installation (1970), to the unintelligible Schneeman video installation Up to and Including Her Limits (1973-1976), affords a perceptive outlook into the procreation of media and drawing.

Although a historically poignant exhibition, On Line futilely categorises the works in an attempt to “label and identify”- as one would do with insect specimens. Nonetheless an incisively coherent survey of line’s conventional and creative duality.

Sean Bluechel "Another With Suspension" (REVISED)

Visiting Sean Bluechel's current show is like walking into an adolescent nightmare. The artist managed to transform bright colors, a nude female model, and seemingly inexpensive materials like cardboard, clay, and balloons, into clownish horrors. Inside the gallery space the viewer is confronted with an overwhelming collection of ceramic objects and walls packed with photographs. The objects are arranged on makeshift sawhorses that resemble an artist's studio, and perhaps the chaotic environment in which the works were created. The collection is a frenzied mass of gloppy glazes and sloppy construction. Many individual pieces resemble broken bits of thrift store tableware assembled in to sagging and clumsy architectural structures. As the viewer snakes around the work-tables (paying close attention not to knock anything over in the cramped space) he begins to notice the alarming photographs. The model's face is hidden in every frame while the rest of her naked body is exposed and fused with awkward and fragile looking prosthetic appendages. Her poses are not vulgar, but upsetting nonetheless. The clumsy alterations of her body render her grotesque and pitifully vulnerable all at once. The show’s one redeeming quality (and what may hold the viewer’s attention beyond a passing glance) is its self-referential sense of humor. There is a fist sized object hiding amongst the larger ceramic works that looks exactly like a pile of dog excrement with a red candy heart on top. It is a perfect summary of the entire show, and Bluechel invited the comparison.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Stephen G. Rhodes - Metro Pictures

Used as a tool for memorization, method of loci involves constructing a mental space to visualize your thoughts. Stephen Rhodes latest installation brings his mental palace into reality inviting viewers to explore an unsettling world inspired by Immanuel Kant. Funneled through the exhibit by roughly-constructed secondary walls, visitors find themselves in a deranged shanty rather than a sterile art gallery. Every horizontal surface is littered with cups, clocks and other household ephemera inducing a feeling of cluttered claustrophobia. Hidden alcoves are formed as a result of the temporary walls, rewarding the explorative visitor with the artist’s works. Paintings such as Vacant Portrait: Roussseau shows a canvas primed for a portrait with the sitter strangely absent; a hand written note attached to the bottom encourages the viewer to come closer. Also found in these constructed spaces are a series of sculptures titled Inkantinent Mochte Gemacht, reminiscent of mounted curio cabinets filled with objects and imagery. The works, fitted tightly into their niches, have an enshrined quality. At the center of the instillation we find a multimedia extravaganza. Two pairs of jury-rigged projectors rotate in the center of the room blanketing the walls with video. We watch as an assumed Immanuel Kant labors at his desk, while simultaneously furniture is being caught on fire and objects are crashing to the ground. Rhodes message seems opaque, hidden behind esoteric symbology and dense German titles, but as we become overwhelmed by the space perhaps we are clearly experiencing the artist’s intention.

“Text Portraits” - Ben Durham, Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery

Fairly simplistic, large-scale portrait drawings are what one sees upon first glance when viewing the work by artist Ben Durham. Disheveled faces glare back at you in a fixed trance of contempt and cold gazes penetrate through you when moving through the gallery from portrait to portrait. Each image is a mug shot. This may explain the defensive eyes that peer back at you. Durham knew each delinquent; after all, he grew up with them. Perhaps the depth in process in which the detail manifests, is why we see such an eerie breadth in the tale each image tells. A tale that we know is there but may never fully understand because we are on the outside looking in. Durham’s process is hand-making the thick and textural paper and the graphite is layered so thick in places that a soft, almost carpet-like appearance is created. What may be the most fascinating detail is that the entire portrait is composed of only text. The text tells the tale of Durham’s thoughts on each individual, but the end product that we see is illegible. Durham speaks into a recorder his memories of the individual and plays them back, on a loop, as he works.

There is fascinating detail disguised by simplicity in these “text portraits” by Ben Durham: his honesty gives him the ability to pull us into an uncomfortable world and make us acknowledge our willingness to be there. The collection is unique in a way that cuts through the mainstream art world and displays a level of raw beauty that exists in a world that seems so far away from the galleries, museums and their frequenters in New York City.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Ellen Gallagher at Gagosian Gallery

In a cosmos of tiny details and everyday references Ellen Gallagher’s work is most impressive in her choice of material. Her exhibition includes large format works of collage and small, delicate drawings on paper. The drawings are mounted in glass boxes allowing the viewer to see the paper on both sides, slightly transparent with carved and cut out patterns. Gallagher’s collages looks like abstract patterns, often uniform in color, but constructed of small figurative elements. The figures always are simplified and stylized; they only suggest fragments of a person, as an eye or a hairdo. In a couple of her collage works the small dark paper pieces in blues and greens cover the surface completely. They look like unearthly, compact landscapes in motion. In the piece Greasy the collage pieces further appear on a white background, but the space has the same kind of movement, like an explosion coming from the figure in the left corner.

Gallagher has worked with the grid and with pop culture references prior in her work, however less evident here. Most present is the typed word, the letter cut out and sometimes even painted over, but still recognizable from magazine and newspaper print. Her work is elaborate and labor intense, which can almost look too constructed, nothing more than a beautiful surface. Where is that element that pulls us in, make us relate to the work? I believe it is within the choice of collage material, printed images and text we recognize from our daily life.