Thursday, October 27, 2016

Positive Pathways (+)
Adam McGowan
A recent visit to the The Mitchell-Innes & Nash gallery showcased the collective art pieces named  Positive Pathways (+).  The title of this exhibit sounds like an environmental conscious terraforming cult. My ephemeral response to the installation as a whole is a feeling of melancholy but with a mixture of adventure.  This feeling seemed to be brought about by the way the light interacted with the whitewashed walls and pillars. I noticed that I was drawn to the light; observing what that meant - maybe a religious association.
The exhibit consists of sculptures that were sculptural reliefs created using thermoforming which is a commonly used industrial process with thermoplastic sheets.  These sheets are heated and formed on a mold.  The reliefs are based on 3D renderings of stills taken from Youtube videos and images found online of religious practitioners promoting the positive energy healing such as meditative poses.  Most of the sculptures were a velvety red and white.  The rich color of a red velvet had definite religious overtones.  In addition, there was sand piled up on the corners and around the main sculpture.  In the addition to the reliefs, the main sculpture was a very impressive reinforced plaster of a woman performing a healing ritual to a child.  Framing the sculpture was an implied racing track with even more sand in the outer orbit.  
The artwork was both visually and aesthetically pleasing, however the Healing aspect of the Quantum Touch Healing exercises felt to be a bit far fetched.  This did not take away the experience of feeling somewhat reverent because the artists’ intentions were to bring positive energy to heal the mind and body.  It was interesting to see that this new found “religion” is creating their own art similar to the Christians so long ago.  

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Vague Accent by Olga Chernysheva at the Drawing Center

Walking into the Drawing Gallery to see Vague Accent by Olga Chernysheva (based in Moscow) one must enter a small room, hung with a series of drawings made during Chernysheva’s month-long visit to New York City in November 2015. Hung at varying heights the sketches challenges viewers to see the pieces clearly.

Each charcoal rendering captures the ever-present New York moments which surround us. In Untitled [A Play…], looking across a subway platform, a man is standing by a garbage can while two large piles of trash in bags rest on carts nearby. Other than a figure using a cell phone this scene could have taken place any time in the last hundred years. With quick strokes, and gritty medium the artist captures the unpolished character of the New York subway station.

Trains blur past in other untitled works captioned, “…NY trains often change routes unpredictably. But the conductors know the new plan.” The text, printed and pasted onto the paper with intention, compliment the drawings without being overpowering.

By making her pieces more difficult to see, Olga Chernysheva asks her viewer to focus on common scenes they would otherwise pass - the grainy charcoal like an old memory of the first time you saw the act unfold.


Olga Chernysheva, Vague Accent, 2016, installation view, Drawing Center, New York. Photo: Martin Parsekian

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Facility of DECLINE reunites sculptures, recorded performances, drawings, and installations from Matthew Barney’s 1991 solo exhibition at Gladstone Gallery. While the show is not an exact replica, the original thematic devices are evident - particularly the presentation of white, heterosexual masculinity navigating through contemporary social expectations.

Upon entering, the viewer is engulfed in the grotesque- the thick, fatty stench of petroleum jelly hangs in the air while sculptures mimicking gym equipment made of tapioca, cast sucrose, and prosthetic plastics produce an oozing and visceral effect comparable to the body-horror films of Cronenberg.

And yet, walking through the gallery, I wondered how these pieces could maintain their power if installed alone- are they only coherent when in dialogue with each other? Without the context of a walk-in cooler containing a cast petroleum-jelly decline bench inside, would I understand what the glass case containing wax dumbbells, mouthguards and a speculum was meant to represent? Barney's materials are considered to the point of obsession, as if the piece is entirely about its choice of material. This fixation implies dependency- the pieces are symbiotic, the show is a living being and, is therefore, 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 districts. Entering felt like walking into an expensive apartment building. Going up to the ninth floor to see Elmgreen & Dragset’s show, Changing Subjects at the FLAG Arts Foundation, triggered different feelings than I normally have while gallery hopping. The elevator doors opened to a well-lit area facing an ATM machine above a baby in a carrier. A security guard next to the elevator welcomed me and encouraged me to look closer.

Elmgreen & Dragset’s hyper-realistic sculptures populated the gallery space and extend 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. Back inside, there was a sculpture of a young boy standing in his underwear and his mother’s high heels having just applied lipstick. Facing a mirror, he can see his reflection and the wall of a morgue with one of the cold chamber drawers pulled out holding a body.

After leaving, I found myself thinking about these sculptures more and more. The appeal of these objects as immediately identifiable betrays their intimacy. The ATM with abandoned child; the young boy in front of the mirror; the lifeguard scanning the horizon leaning out of his chair moments before leaping into action; even the pairs of pants resting on the floor next to one another all present moments of voyeurism for the viewer that induce curiosity. These sculptures represent moments of transition, defining moments in the assumed lives of these hyper-realistic figures. They give us just enough to wonder what could have been happening before and what will happen next.

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 mountain lion encased in resin.  The rest of the space is filled with various sculptural pieces (by four separate artists) which are awkwardly placed and make it difficult to move around the gallery space.  The piece that captures the most attention is a large aquarium brimming with water and aqua-scaped with a segmented welded metal cube in its center.  Upon closer inspection, the metal cube contains 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 remainder of the gallery space is filled with uninteresting assemblage sculpture.

     Due to the inconsistent eel power, the gallery was too dark to enjoy most of the work, and besides the wonderment of seeing live electric eels, there seemed to be little if any dialogue between the pieces.  While the showing had it’s moments the non cohesiveness of the sculptures created a lack luster experience.

Cecily Brown: Rehearsal at The Drawing Center

      Cecily Brown: Rehearsal casts the spotlight on the artist's sketches, which hold 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.

      The drawings are completed in various media, including ink, watercolor, pastel, pencil, and more. A broad range of techniques are present in Brown’s works. The drawings have a transient quality to them, presenting as simultaneously finished and unfinished. The compositions tend to feature mostly empty space surrounding the sketch itself, giving a loose, carefree feel to the pieces.

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

      Cecily Brown: Rehearsal unfolds delicately to the viewer. Not only is it a stunning investigation of the differences between finished and unfinished artworks, it’s a reflection of how repetition is a means to an end itself. Cecily Brown: Rehearsal is a gallery experience that you will surely want to relive again and again, and no two experiences will be the same.

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 ordinary house plants, 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 black pots filled with invasive kudzu vines across the gallery space. A thin strip of touch-sensitive Fuji paper runs diagonally across the floor through the pots, lying ready to capture the movement of the vine (which Southern legend says grows at a rate of 60 mph). This rapid growth is also a part of the sound installation, though the audio was not playing during my visit.

Despite these props – the paper and the audio – the growing vines are the crux of the show. But installed as they are, they aren’t quite delivering the punch I might expect out of an invasive species that has choked and outcompeted many of the botanical species of the South. Images of these kudzu monocultures don’t totally register in the tame, airy, and somewhat static exhibition space. There is, instead, the feeling that this set-up is temporary, and any growth ultimately negligible. As I left, I couldn’t help but revert to my initial impression: that these were ultimately mere house plants, totally within my 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.