Pea-Roe-Foam is the gluey combination of green peas, pink salmon eggs and white polystyrene beads. You don’t see them though when you first enter the David Zwirner Gallery on 537 West 20th Street in Chelsea. Instead you are greeted by a solid wall of fluorescent lights, behind which is the dominant installation.
Erica Baum: The Paper Nautilus
After being flooded by so much “deskilled” lazy painting and crude abstraction this past visit, I was very happy to come across Erica Baum’s solo show “The Paper Nautilus” at Bureau Gallery in the Lower East Side . The work was thoughtful and earnest. The process to create it so simple, and the product extremely satisfying and elegant.
Erica Baum has worked with printed material as her subject matter for some time now. In “The Paper Nautilus” the artist continues this investigation into the visual possibilities of this resource by focusing and incorporating halftone imagery found on the printed page. Previously Baum had created work by dog-earing paperback pages with text, this more recent work in two of the three series was based solely on using printed imagery which she dog-eared, sliced, photographed, and printed.
I found the series titled “stills” especially strong. This series was based entirely on this dog-eared fold device . So simple and yet able to completely captivate me without all the buzzing lights, monstrous scale, and flashy materials that I was encountering just about everywhere else.
The strength of the work came from the subtle misalignments created and the distortion in the dot-matrix images as one page was folded back. The two triangles meet each other diagonally and a random narrative and rhythm in each piece is formed. The high-resolution prints clearly identify the textured yellowed paper and slight grey scale halftone shifts as basic printed material from paperbacks… and suddenly the process is immediately understood. The more abstract pieces are reminiscent of Josef Albers. In others one can see figures in a forest, high heels, or profiles misaligned. The titles allude to the photo subject, chapter, or possible book. I struggled to create a narrative, spending a great amount of time with each image, but the artist gives no clear direction.
Possibly what was most exciting about this show was that this refreshing aesthetic formed from such a simple process has the possibility of being recreated and enjoyed by just about anyone at any time and anyplace. Slow down a bit and look for it.
Nick Cave: Rescue
Nick Cave’s work includes some of the most aesthetically pleasing materials. This exhibition portrays dogs, made of wood and painted over, sitting by their thrones, chairs of different shapes and sizes. Surrounding the dogs the public sees a collection of materials hovering over these thrones, consisting of long beaded necklaces, perhaps, flowers, birds, leaves, and various smaller items that seem to create a habitat for these dogs.
To the viewer, entering this space with different dogs on display may resemble dog shelters. Unlike dog shelters, however, the viewer may sense that the dogs in this exhibition are well taken care of and perhaps may not even need rescuing altogether. There is no drive to rescue these dogs, and yet the title stands as it is.
Could the rescuing perhaps include something else? Behind the aesthetically pleasing composition there may be an underlying factor, that although dogs may appear to have thrones, they may not be content or well taken care of in other senses.
But this may also speak to the human savior complex that comes along with domesticated animals. This self-placement of superiority over other animals, especially dogs as pets, and the belief that without us, they cannot be okay when it may just be the other way around. Species may exist independently, but why do humans like pets? Is the need for self-care more important than letting an animal of different specie exist in the environment in which they’d choose to exist?
Many questions arose as I looked at the work and the more I thought of it, the more I liked it.
This part of the piece was very interesting because within the animal environment, the thrones, there was a sculpture of a human. Perhaps there is not a correlation between the exhibition and a dog shelter, but rather a change of environments. Perhaps the purpose of dogs in this scenario is inverted and the dogs represent those in powerful positions, maybe humans, and humans become a prop or a pet instead.
There is place for critical thinking behind this piece that may even be easily dismissed, and critical thinking is what I love the most in works of art.
Thomas Struth: Through the Viewfinder
October 17, 2014
German photographer Thomas Struth, born in the 1950’s, was a key figure in introducing photography to contemporary art over the past few decades. During his most recent exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art I was given the opportunity to scope out his work for myself.
His urban architectural photographs are fused with strategies developed in Minimal and Conceptual art - this can be seen through his black and white street views that are more or less deserted. These were some of the first pieces I came across in the exhibit. One after another I skimmed the row of barren, monochromatic city roads. These landscapes were much smaller in scale in comparison to his larger photos in color, and their centralized viewpoints exaggerated the feeling of desolation. Viewing these overcast skies over empty urban settings brought me to a very reflective atmosphere right there in the museum space.
His larger prints portray people in cultural settings including museums, churches, and other world known destinations. When the viewer first enters the relatively humble exhibition space they are placed in front of one of his larger chromogenic prints taken at the Pantheon. The color, light, scale, and detailed focus of the landscape is enthralling. I also found it funny how I was in a museum staring at a print of people who were engaging in a similar act. The past and present intersect as the viewer realizes they’re staring at print that’s acting like a mirror. Most of his larger photos reminded me of a technique I once tried myself, referred to as The Brenzier Method, which is a lot like the panoramic snapshot. Photographs are digitally stitched together to create an ethereal depth of field between the subject and the surrounding space. One noticeable quality of Struth’s photographs is that they are all subtly intimate. They are large, but quiet. The extraordinary light and color do most of the talking. Even in his monochromatic photos there are quiet murmurs exchanged between the viewer and the scenery.
One print that stood out from the rest, however, was a large chromogenic print of a lush green forest. This scene was dense with leaves and moss-covered brush that looked unspoiled by human contact. It was as if human life was observing this space for the first time. In a review on ArtNet, I came across a quote by Struth that I found noteworthy. Struth exclaimed, “I wanted to remind my audience that when art works were made, they were not yet icons or museum pieces. When a work of art becomes fetishized, it dies.” This brought to mind the saying, if a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? If the photo is taken but never shown, does it have a different meaning than if it were on display? As a fellow photographer, this is something I will wrestle in my mind for a while.
(images courtesy of www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions)
- Juliette Sandleitner
Your Concise Guide to Gowanus Open Studios 2014
The Gowanus Canal (photo by the author)
With Greenpoint, Williamsburg, and Bushwick, North Brooklyn may be the borough’s largest artistic enclave. But artists live and work in South Brooklyn, too, and Gowanus — with its Superfund canal and its romantically industrial landscape — is one of their primary neighborhoods. This weekend, 302 artists and arts spaces will open their doors for Gowanus Open…
(Photo taken from: http://www.timeout.com/newyork/art/mike-kelley-reconstructed-history)
Mike Kelley’s work featured in Skarstedt Gallery is a work to be observed, laughed at, and nonetheless discussed and thought out. Kelley’s show Reconstructed History dates back to his collage works made during the late 1980’s. These works represent illustrations taken out of history textbooks, in which Kelly wrote and doodled ideas, elements and words that mock these representative images from the past.
Taking a juvenile approach, Kelley explores the ideas of history as being seen by the new generation, and in his images he emulates and mocks the scribbles made by American History students in their textbooks. Although of its immediate superficiality, this exhibition underscores a deeper meaning than just doodles: it’s the progressive recreation and rejection of the past, as a haunting ghost created and told by the victors and the ones in power. Revolution and reconstruction is indeed a major player in Kelley’s work, which can be retold as creating graffiti in the conservative-sacred pages of books, just as graffiti created on the walls of streets and subways.
(Photo taken from: http://www.timeout.com/newyork/art/mike-kelley-reconstructed-history)
Defying authority is another theme present in the works, and it not only involves physical authority, but also takes more of a conceptual tone. Similar to the past battles between the classical art of the academies, and the innovation and re-invention of the modernists, Kelley pushed conceptuality by re-asking the question of how non-artistic mediums can be used for art. All of this is asked while he creates this artistic experiment that serves its purpose as a social and cultural punch, and explores the traditional attitudes when it comes to art.
(Photo taken from: http://www.timeout.com/newyork/art/mike-kelley-reconstructed-history)
Kelley’s challenges towards society and cultural values resonate throughout his Reconstructed History exhibition, and truly does a comedy approach to the inclusion of meaning and the interpretation of the past as something that needs to be learn from, kept buried deeply and not clumsily repeated.
Several weeks ago a friend said to me, “You know what really bugs me? That people still feel the need to ask if something is art or not. I mean, it’s 2014. Get over it already.”
I tend to agree with her, at least when the question is really rooted in criticism. If something is presented as art, that’s what it is. Good or bad doesn’t enter into the equation. But what if something is presented within what is perceived to be an art context, while really making no explicit claim of its own?
The “Material Evidence” exhibition on 21st street was indeed an exhibition, but as far as I could tell, it seemed not to be marketed or presented as an “art” exhibition. There was a security guard at the door (who, ironically, was far friendlier than any of the folks behind the desks of any other space in Chelsea) and the photographs themselves were of pretty poor quality with dents, scratches and other imperfections.
Accompanying the photos, encased in glass on the floor, were some of the actual materials that appeared in the corresponding photo, and it was perhaps this more than anything else that had me questioning, despite my conversation with my friend weeks prior to the visit, whether or not the exhibition was, in fact, art. There seemed to be something so blatant and obvious about this gesture, the lines so direct, that seeing the objects in conjunction with the photos was almost less affecting than the photo itself. I suppose the intention was to draw a clear connection between the easily dismissible photo document and the actual reality portrayed photographically, but the effort was almost too transparent.
In this respect, the exhibition seemed more akin to a history museum than an art exhibition. It felt more like the carriage museum in my hometown with simulated buggy reins and descriptions of carriages behind plastic. Interested, educational, stimulating, but not necessarily a display of “artworks”.
I ought to add, here, that I have no answer to the art/not-art debate, nor do I care, necessarily, to find one. I don’t know if “Material Evidence” was an “art” show or not, and I’m not really sure that it matters. What was interesting to me was the fact that most people who step into the exhibition would, I imagine, be coming from other galleries in Chelsea, and likely heading to even more afterward. So in this context the exhibition presents a photojournalist-type collection of images in an attempt to objectively address two very real current crises (in Syria and Ukraine) and is taken most likely to be art.
I wonder if the audience might be more receptive, more willing to engage with such material within the context of art. If this weren’t in a Chelsea space, would the reception have been different?
Apparently, not long after I left the exhibition, it was vandalized by a neo-nazi group, and the curator was assaulted. I wonder if, due to the nature of the exhibition, it was more of a target than your typical Chelsea art exhibit. The material was presented quite confidently as fact, whereas much of the art in the surrounding area is more heavily filtered through the “lens” of the particular artist. Is art more threatening to people when it resembles fact, or when it is presented as fact? Or is “factual” documentation, when presented as art, what really poses a threat to people? Probably all of the above, but I think it was perhaps the latter that was in play at “Material Evidence”.
No One Dies In The End
It is amazing how sometimes a statement from one show’s press release sets the tune for a number of shows one might see. Spin Zero, a group show at Novella Gallery featuring Brian Wood, Max Razdow and John Newman, describes how, in the work featured, “object, image, and metaphor reach longingly toward meaning but don’t reify into simile or discursive reason.” The paintings of Brian Wood, in particular, stand out as ideas about space, positive form, and negative space, always promising the viewer a long ride just before turning right around. Something in his paintings is reminiscent, and evocative - of what, I couldn’t tell you. It is this moment before synthesis of meaning which really intrigues me, and I found myself encountered by it at other shows as well.
Angela Dufresne’s paintings at Monya Rowe gallery created a similar experience. Standing in front of Mother, Son and Foal (2014), a painting of an underwear-clad man kissing a foal in the foreground of a snow covered landscape while his naked mother, presumably, watches startled from behind a fallen tree trunk, I can see all the components, the characters and the setting, and the context, for a narrative. I am, somehow, still not sure what the narrative is. I am somehow also not overly concerned with arriving at a narrative. Instead, it (and the whole show) makes me think about how paintings can exist outside of the realm of human rationale, and that expecting, or even demanding, a conclusion, or a finality within the painting, is judgement on my part as a viewer, rather than a component of painting itself. I am able to appreciate the painting for its absurdity, for its specificity in time and place, and for its immense materiality, while questioning both Dufresne’s intentions as a painter, and my own prejudices as a viewer.
"If only you’d use your brains a little more, you could honestly call yourself a halfwit.”
To describe what happened is overwhelmingly simple – two kids singing on some rocks.
But Fault Lines, after reading through the press release for the show, isn’t simple at all. The vastness of geological time and the physical rupture of breaking stone, historical insults taken out of their context and the social implications of such, the impermanence of young boys’ singing voices – slow down, Allora and Calzadilla! Let’s get back to my astute description above – two kids singing on some rocks. I want to tone down the melodrama a bit. When a press release lays it all out like that beforehand, completely equipping the audience with what is going to happen and the meaning behind what is going to happen, isn’t letdown inevitable? Also, I’m not sure that it accomplished any of the elaborate goals the press release describes. As soon as those little kids walked into the gallery space and started singing, I felt totally uncomfortable. And not just because of their ethereal, freaky voices. The kids looked like they got off at the wrong bus stop – dressed in regular kid clothes, goofy kid haircuts. And yet they aren’t regular kids – their alien voices were gorgeous and theatrical, and they hurled historical insults at each other while they alternately walked and sat and self-consciously leaned on huge marble slabs in a gallery. What the hell? All this while a large group of people awkwardly followed them around the space, taking pictures and recording video onto their phones. I got the sense that I was supposed to feel like something incredibly profound was happening.
I don’t want to use the word profound. I will say it was unusual. And ultimately I liked it. It was a new kind of gallery experience and the singing was beautiful to listen to. I don’t think it was much more than that. And that’s fine, right? Because even though I don’t see it as this heavy statement on geo-political fault lines and social drama of the past and the present it was still unlike anything I’ve seen before. Sometimes a weird experience can just be a weird experience – and because of that simple analysis, enjoyable.
There are the mechanics of polyphonic vocal , geological and sculptural displacements, and adversarial rhetorical language in a performance. Young male vocalists from the American Boychoir School and the Transfiguration Boy choir performanced. Fault lines consists of a group of a group of 10 stone sculptures.
“For Fault lines, the artists have dug into the historical strata of adversarial language, excavating incendiary proyocations from these utterances, and taking note of their distinctive contours, shapes and marks. At the same time, the dual where the voice escapes the letter, allowing the musical texture to take precedent over the word’s intelligibility. Fault Lines explores the complex mechanics of the voice produced in the space between the body and speech, between pure sonority and linguistic meaning. Lacan considered inslults a primary form of social interaction, central to the imaginary order. At once antisocial and crucial for human relations, both divisive and unifying, insults can be seen as signs of fissures in social and political civility that give rise to turmoil and conflict.”
The performance of young boys was impressive and their sculptural displacements were artistic and creative. Their voices were beautiful. I agree that there is social interaction and human relation in Fault Lines. I think that young boys voices are a bit artificial and mechanical rather than natural. They are miserable because they were trained a lot. Their voices are like adults’ choirs of the catholic church. Most children don’t sing like them. If young boys sing naturally like other children, the performance would be better.