Friday, February 24, 2012

Sperone Westwater's "Marble Sculpture from 350 B.C. to Last Week"

 "Marble Sculpture from 350 B.C. to Last Week"  was curated by Gian Enzo and the collection of sculptures ranges from old romantic busts to present day replicas of everyday household items. The title of the show is gets straight to the point: a gallery filled with an obsessive amount of marble from past to present.

As you enter the gallery sculptures are spread throughout the entire first floor. At first the installation is confusing because the sculptures are not in chronological order but after spending time on the first floor you begin to appreciate the mix of sculpture. Tom Sachs' "Brute" (2009-2010) an exact replica of a Brute garbage can carved perfectly out of marble. The beautiful white gleam of the marble contrasts with the older yellowed sculptures which pulls out the vibrant creamy white of the fresh marble. The garbage can was placed on a large table and right next to it was an old yellow head. Such a strange arrangement but none the less very interesting.

"Marble Sculpture from 350 B.C. to Last Week" has prehistoric busts next to modern day consumer items rendered with such precision a machine must have taken part in some of the recent sculptures. Any type of show that has a primal feel with a contemporary glitch is sure to delight any person who enters the gallery.

The Ungovernables at the New Museum

Julia Dault, Untitled 20
(1:00pm - 5:30 pm, February 5, 2012)
Julia Dault, Untitled 20
(1:00pm - 5:30 pm, February 5, 2012)

Over thirty emerging artists, mostly from outside the United States and Western Europe and all under 35years old, have filled the New Museum with a diverse range of artwork for its second triennial, The Ungovernables. Though the subversive and rebellious premise of the show sounds promising, curator Eungie Joo fails to create a unifying aesthetic in this large, uneven exhibit. And still this show feels significant, if only for its attempt to tackle some of the complex and substantial topics that occupy our current social and political landscapes.
There are many stand-out pieces that successfully engage the socio-political themes of the show- though reliance on explanatory text unfortunately permeates The Ungovernables. Amalia Pica’s light installation Venn Diagrams (under the spotlight), is elegantly profound, but only after the description explains why. Julia Dault’s pieces are among the best here. They confront form and material in a way that tackles “ungovernability” head on and gives us the opportunity to have a dialog with art, not text. The peerless standout of the show: Adrian Villar Roja’s twenty-foot high clay sculpture, A Person Loved Me. It is nothing less than a monument to the ravaged potential of a mechanized existence and, unlike the spoon-fed explanation of the show that is reiterated on each floor, it is this piece that covey’s the momentum of the generation and ideas behind The Ungovernables.

Adrian Villar Rojas, A person loved me, 2012

Secondary Structures: Michael Zelehoski at Dodge Gallery (Final)

Michael Zelehoski's first solo exhibition at Dodge Gallery, Secondary Structures, explores the deconstruction of three dimensional objects into abstracted minimal two dimensional forms. The assemblages have a theme of excavation, demolition, and rebuilding. They are made from construction site materials such as pallets, two by fours, and wooden crates. These items were taken apart and cut thinly then arranged into abstract compositions. Their function becomes negated, however the physicality of their original forms remains. An example of this is Blue Pallets (2011). A shipping pallet was sliced into layers and then rearranged into a stack, reminiscent of the pallet piles you might find collected at the back of a lumber yard. 

A duality exists in the assemblages, some remaining close to the original forms of the objects, while others create an imagined illusionist space and depth through overlapping and multiple point perspective. The monochromatic backgrounds also create a sense of non-space, free of gravity and shadows, allowing such pieces as Crate (2011) to exist as an explosion of the original form, with more attention being paid to the shape of the object than its function. By reconstructing and framing these job site materials, their intricacies and flaws are highlighted, offering a sense of their histories. Scuffs and scratches that were ignored and expected in their original forms become detailed highlights and welcomed surprises in the final pieces, acknowledging their previous functions while defining their new purpose as art objects. Zelehoski successfully gives second life to these once three dimensional structures.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The New Museum's "The Ungovernables" (FINAL)

The New Museum triennial, “The Ungovernables,” represents the uncertainty, angst, and disillusionment of a generation subject to incredible instability. The five-floor exhibition presents works by fifty artists born in the late 1970s and 1980s, the vast majority hailing from non-western nations. The diverse ethnicities and medias do not abandon some unifying threads, like the search for identity or representation and a sense of coming of age.

A few standout works express their themes clearly while others require considerable explanation. Adrián Villar Rojas’s sculpture, A Person Loved Me, hints at the inevitable failure of technological objects. The monumental work appears futuristic and extraterrestrial because of its unprecedented shapes and machine-like form, yet it possesses an archaic, decayed feel due to its earthy, cracked appearance. PrayWay, by Slavs and Tatars, suggests a need for new perspectives on religious traditions by encouraging congregation on its light-enhanced floating carpet taking the shape of a prayer book. Also, the video projection JEWEL, by Hassan Khan, shows two gentlemen, one younger and one older, dancing to synthesized Cairene music. The dance begins controlled and repetitive but gradually becomes contentious, expressive and independent, referencing a struggle for freedom.

While the artists in “The Ungovernables” may challenge existing political and social perceptions, thus recognizing failures of previous traditions or constraints, the show exhibits their developing resolve and endeavors to create a new context.

Michael Zelehoski: Secondary Structures (Final)

In Secondary Structures, Michael Zelehoski’s first solo exhibition at DODGE gallery, the artist deconstructs three-dimensional utilitarian objects and meticulously reassembles them on a visually flattened plane, transforming these commonplace items into captivating simulacra of what they once were. 

One exemplary work is Barricade, created from the well-worn white-and-vermilion-striped plywood typical of a railroad crossing arm. Embedded as a low relief, the barricade’s form subtly twists and turns as the eye pans across the piece, its skewed perspective strangely mesmerizing. Other works are more heavily transformed from their original configuration. In the aptly titled Ammo Box series, the works look as though they have exploded, Zelehoski’s compositions capturing the moment when the fragments have just begun to fly apart. Zelehoski’s largest work, Crate (63 x 96 inches), is also his most dynamic. Similar to an assembly diagram for a complex Ikea purchase, planks of wood are suspended in midair, inches from their target.

It is the paradox of the artworks retaining the same materials and general appearances of their namesakes, yet no longer functioning in the same manner, that is at the heart of this engaging show.  By shortening the distance between the signified and the signifier, Zelehoski has pushed the contradictory message of Magritte’s The Treachery of Images to its very limit. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

Simone Leigh:  You Don't Know Where Her Mouth Has Been

     You Don’t Know Where Her Mouth Has Been, an exhibition at The Kitchen gallery by sculptor and installation artist Simone Leigh, explores a wide range of themes in dramatic fashion.  Leigh weaves large-scale sculpture and video installation that mysteriously combine to create an alternate reality where ancient relics from the past meet a projection of a fictionalized futuristic world.  The elusive narrative unfolds against black gallery walls where carefully placed spotlights reveal three large chandelier-like sculptures.  The first of these, titled Queen Bee, dominates the space, presenting itself as a large hanging form made up of a cluster of smaller breast-like sculptures.  This peculiar bundle of orbs seems strangely out of context in its presentation and might normally only convey a sense of fertility and nurturing, feminine sexuality or maternal protection were it not for a more threatening presence evoked by several long TV antennas protruding from what look to be the forms’ gold and platinum nipples. 
     An unusual experience of time in this exhibition is enhanced by Leigh’s use of digital video alongside her artifacts that evoke the past in their use of terra cotta, gold and graphite.  Leigh creates a world where the archaic and an imagined version of the future are commingled in the present.  Her synthesis of anthropomorphic forms constructed from earthy materials collides with visions of the future creating a sense of timelessness that transcends the sum of the exhibitions references.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Perspectives 2012: Anna Shteynshleyger, Greg Girard, Chien-Chi Chang at ICP

Perspectives 2012 at ICP features three emerging photographers: Anna Shteynshleyger, Greg Girard, and Chien-Chi Chang. Throughout the work of these artists are themes of home and displacement. While some of the work is too personal and inaccessible for the viewer to understand it's content, the most compelling work utilizes the photograph to capture people displaced from origins, real or imagined.

Chang’s work invites the viewer into the cramped urban life of several families and follows them as they relocate between different countries. Chang's photographs convey a feeling of confinement with tightly cropped edges. The captions, along with the use of juxtaposed images, indicate a difference in time and location.

Shteynshleyger’s work traces a community of Orthodox Jewish immigrants living in Maryland. Personal objects such as a box that would contain Etrog for the Sukkot holiday, and social practices otherwise invisible to the non-Orthodox community, confront the viewer as if s/he were a member of that community. At times the images become more intimate, positioning the viewer as voyeur.

The final group, by Girard, depicts life on US military bases throughout Asia. Girard’s images reveal a paradox implied throughout the entire exhibit. The displaced Americans seem doomed to forever try and recreate an imagined, ideal world that they left behind. The viewer is confronted with a reality caught between different worlds.

Perspectives 2012 runs until May 6th 2012.

Batman Returns: Joyce Pensato at Friedrich Petzel

Joyce Pensato's new work at Friedrich Petzel provides an intimate glimpse into the artists exhilarating if not slightly deranged studio. Pensato's large expressive paintings depict the darker side of American cartoon icons. Using wide gestural marks to abstract Batman's iconic mask, Pensato streaks her canvases with dripped black and white paint. But these drips don't end at the edge of the canvas. Soiled stuffed animals and kitsch along with the artists studio wreckage casually litter the gallery floor; seamless extensions of the paintings themselves, they are splattered with black and white paint. Pensato mixes her subject matter with her studio practice, literally, in this combination of paintings, assemblages, and photographs of her studio (which resemble still lifes of an old and abandoned Disney giftshop.) Navigate the space by stepping over strewn Mickey Mouse dolls, gunky buckets of paint, and Homer Simpson figurines. One can't discern between intentionally executed art objects and objects lifted from the artist's studio that had fallen victim to Pensato's tornado of a process.

Pensato transforms icons of our Americana youth from vestiges of our childhood innocence into demonic portrayals of the forgotten and left-behind. In reconstructing elements of her studio inside the gallery, she also transforms our expectation of the pristine white-walled gallery space. Whether or not Pensato's paintings might risk redundancy from one piece to the next, Batman Returns provides the unique opportunity to get inside the world of the artist and her practice.

On Simone Leigh's "You Don't Know Where Her Mouth Has Been"

Entering Simone Leigh’s show at The Kitchen—“You Don’t Know Where Her Mouth Has Been”-- is an enveloping experience, in terms of its visual power. The gallery space is sparse, dramatic, and the rich selection of sculptures and video loops included appear like well-lit jewels in a curio cabinet. Imposing hanging sculptures, comprised of clusters of such materials as terracotta, stoneware, salt, glass, and the pedestal-mounted ceramic pieces punctuate the darkness. The chandeliers in particular lead to the inevitable craning of one’s neck while standing directly below, like with "You Don't Know Where Her Mouth Has Been", a piece featuring large-scale cowrie shells of stoneware and porcelain (from which the exhibition title is taken), with violent wire spikes radiating from the great cluster. Indeed, motifs of seduction and violence seem to be on Leigh’s art agenda.

“You Don’t Know Where Her Mouth Has Been” features works that are nurturing, yet aggressive. They employ an 'essential' set of symbols: cowrie shells, breasts, tobacco leaves, flowers, calling to mind the various topics of maternity, womanhood, traditional craft, condemnation of female sexuality, and the experience of African heritage. Whether in the magnified intricacies of her suspended sculptures, or in the video loops (one featuring the bare back of a woman on her side, head covered in small stones, simply breathing), this show inspires a nearly visceral reaction. The gamut of cultural associations that can be drawn from the pieces is complex and individual to the viewer, as is the  emotional reaction. To feel aroused, empathetic, and attacked at once makes me sense that Leigh’s offering is immense, and personally encompassing. Without literal statement, she allows her symbols of womanhood and culture to speak for themselves, and they threaten to do so, sweetly. 

‘Batman Returns’ at Friedrich Petzel (final)

Brooklyn-based artist Joyce Pensato realized her obsessions in the Friedrich Petzel gallery. Big black and white cartoon paintings surround the space as if guarding the installation in the middle of the gallery. The paintings are hanging on the wall painted on linen with quick strokes that reveal a seductive energy in their curved slashes and thick line quality. Toys, stools and pots of paint are the materials she used for the installation which appear to be a chaotic composition in contrast with the sterile gallery space. The installation uses stuffed toys and ordinary tools covered by a black and white dripped enamel. The confusion and indecision of form is juxtaposed against the use of iconic cartoon figures. Homer Simpson, Donald Duck and other familiar caracthers are the protagonists of the show. The reconstruction brings the melancholy mood of a lost childhood which is evident in these dusty objects acting out their fictional lives not on television but on an unconventional stage. 
The installation reveals itself both exclusive to the artist and accesible to a wide audience. The cartoons rest on the gallery floor creating a warring temporary order which is random and affected at the same time. Pensato poses these old playful subjects under a new light exploring the disturbing side hidden under these masks. The show is charming even if the cartoons are still trapped in their clichéd role.

REVISED: Magnum Contact Sheets at International Center of Photography

Tucked into a back room on ICP's lower level, a collection of Magnum contact sheets quietly overpowers the sensational Weegee crime exhibit one must traverse to get there. The contact sheet, not usually intended for the general public, is a unique method for a museum to display photographs. Iconic photos move us, but they stand alone; how can we fully digest their meaning, their historical context? The Magnum exhibit offers a creative solution.

The diverse collection at ICP, which spans the decades since Magnum Photos’ formation in the 1940s, provides intimacy with reading stations, but the best selections are enlarged and displayed on the walls. Outtakes from the famous “Dali Atomicus,” in which Philippe Halsman captures Salvador Dali jumping in midair among hanging objects, come complete with humorous handwritten notes pointing out badly thrown cats and a secretary in the background. Rene Burri’s shots of Che Guevera in conversation stun with their intimacy. Some gems in the collection are recent and lesser-known, such as Trent Parke’s “The Seventh Wave,” capturing the otherworldly beauty of underwater bathers in Australia. But perhaps beauty and history combine best in Leonard Freed’s “Police Work,” no longer a lone striking image of a bare torso and handcuffed arms, but a narrative of frenzied shots as police stuff the shirtless criminal into the back of a cruiser. By revealing each blurry, blown-out take on the roll of film, these contact sheets offer a fascinating peek both into historic events and each photographer’s mind.