Thursday, December 5, 2013

William Kentridge, “The Refusal Of Time” Metropolitan Museum

The typical art world video cave can be sort of creepy; folks skulking about in the dark watching leaves skittering along some grim black & white landscape, while someone slaps raw meat on their head. So it was fortuitous (if not incongruous) to encounter a more rewarding version of the hip video installation format at the MET.
Kentridge’s beehive of astronomical, astrological, post-mechanical, and colonial parodies, swarm around the walls, reminiscent of a Robert Wilson BAM extravaganza. The percussively propulsive score by Phillip Miller, and scientific consensus from Peter L. Galison, a professor of the history of science and of physics at Harvard, round out this ambitious collaboration.

Kentridge’s extensive experience in theater design has served him well here.
A large mechanical contraption made from wood, featuring pistons and valves in motion, dominates the proceeedings. The set is more cavernous than cave, and all who enter are incorporated into the moment. Seating is on vintage classroom chairs, randomly bolted to the floor. Viewers sitting down and getting up, milling around the space, become part of the temporal procession. The audience has become one with the play.
Black and white projections are distributed among the left, right, and front walls, along which are leaning large sections of freestanding panels with coded post-it notes attached that serve has a disjointed screen. The 30-minute loop opens with a tick-tocking metronome and morphs into an animated progression of abstract scribbled script, combined with live action actors portrayed in costumes conjuring up ode’s to surrealistically historical scenarios. Cosmological references to black holes are coupled with astrologically derived symbols drawn on books, leading into map overlays that could be metaphors for time-space. There is a throwback feel of silent movie gestures, and Muybridge sequences, which effectively integrates past and present with a seamless flow. 


Overall the visuals are compelling, and despite some overtly obvious references to Kara Walker, create effective sub texts relating to colonialism and apartheid. (Kentridge is from S Africa, and his parents were the equivalent of civil rights lawyers.) But what really makes this production click is the soundtrack. Heavily infused with tuba, what I’d guess is a base baritone sax, then injected with a strong dose of tribal imperative percussion, and sewn together within a digital polyphonic fabric, the musical dialogue becomes integral to the sensory totality.
This pseudo tragicomedy is memorable for its multi-faceted inputs. Plugged-in to a mega range of media, Refusal Of Time enthusiastically encompasses an epic sweep of entertainingly jumbled notions of cause and effect.


Hildur Ásgeirsdóttir Jónsson Pocket Utopia

Pocket Utopia’s pint-sized exhibition space squeezes the most out of an expansive, large-scale textile painting by Jónsson. Best seen to full advantage with a bit more elbow room, I was still glad to have the chance to get up close to these “subversive” works. 

At Pocket Utopia

In fact, Austin Thomas told me that she and Sharon Butler came up with that term during a discussion of this Icelandic artist’s work.
I think the idea fits. Jónsson’s pieces could be considered subverting painting not only by their pale, unbrushed chroma, but also by the craft technique used to fabricate them. These are not extroverted works. Infused by the Nordic sensibility they maintain a stoic, static flatness that characterizes a subdued, yet stately presence. 

From the Tang Museum exhibit.

 They emphasize a specific physical process of pigmentation and weaving, but contain a pronounced abstract approach that dissuades notions of conventional landscape imagery. They also challenge preconceptions of presentation; perhaps employing a dry bit of wit, since although they are not stretched on bars, they do appear stretched out. That is key to the artist’s crafty intent; the unique schema here could only be achieved on a loom. 

Yet these pieces are essentially rooted in the Icelandic landscape. Jónsson’s photos of the austere north Atlantic scenery serve as templates for the completed works. The photos share a commonality with Olafur Eliasson’s mystical reveries, and reveal an intimacy of scale I’d like to see more of in the larger scale canvases. 

Photo by Hildur Ásgeirsdóttir Jónsson

Perhaps the artist’s architectural background contributes to the dried out schematics of her designs, but the blurry, diffuse aesthetic ends up engaging an appealing metaphor of drifting, intuitive map forms. 
This video provides a look at the artist at work:

Jeannie Weissglass; Riptide, journeys in early americana and beyond… Cathouse FUNeral

I’m not sure how to pronounce FUNeral, but I can say that artist and impresario David Dixon’s latest project is at the very least engrossing.
Dixon has taken over a floor in an industrial space in a relatively remote corner of Williamsburg, part of which is a dedicated exhibition space. Dixon’s past endeavors include the “Moonlighting” series of salon-type presentations that have now been rolled up into one alternative art burrito that is quite tasty.
The Weissglass Riptide exhibit happily exudes a salon installation wackiness that perfectly suits Dixon’s offbeat vision of the interplay of art exhibit and improvisation. Although Wiessglass's work inhabits a slightly goofy cartoon persona, her more developed small painting near the entrance is a beguiling bit of quasi post Turner atmospheric delight. 

 The works on paper present a visually revisionist take on American colonial sin, including some amusing X-rated commentary that will probably never make it into any syllabus.  

In the back room a monkish scribe sits in a corner with a “do not disturb” sign attached, hand writing the infinite litany of Pi. Billed as: "Pi-formance" by Evan Daniel Smith, who will 'draw' from memory 10,000 digits of infinite Pi (no joke).
One of the sequences came out as a complete 917 phone number, I should have called it. 

Caving, Curated by Yevgeniya Baras & Farrell Brickhouse at Honey Ramka

Honey Ramka is right next door to Life On Mars, and the two spaces personify the upwardly mobile, professional looking direction of new Bushwick galleries. Yet both are still artist-run, and I would think have continued to follow the grass roots, ‘no stable’ model of on-going exhibitions featuring lesser-known artists. How long this invigorating trend will last before big money collectors catch on is anyone’s guess (mine is not long), but in the meantime the Bogart galleries continue to come up with some soulful shows that for the most part manage to eschew décor.
Caving is a collection of quirky images and objects that exude funky figures and symbols. Baras’s (who is one of the founders of Regina Rex) own work is featured prominently to good effect. She describes herself as a Russian Jew émigré, and although she’s attended top-notch art schools, there may be elements of Hebrew iconology present that lend a sense of ethnic esoterica. 

Farrell Brickhouse’s loose, squirmy figures dovetail nicely with Baras’s mystical gestures.
Brickhouse has always laid in the paint, and at times they can seem mired, but these new glitter pieces have an exuberant splendor.  They could contain acrobats displaying painterly gymnastics as they toss about a lushly felt ground.  
Baras's curatorial effort includes an eclectic compilation of visually diverse intentions, personifying the pluralistic nature of the Bushwick scene. Artist-friendly collaborations such as this with local gallerists are a mainstay of this exciting moment in the thriving creative movement that is Bushwick. 




Saturday, November 9, 2013

John Lees, John Davis Gallery

First off, kudos to John Davis Gallery. This was our first visit and I hope there are many more. His visionary exhibition venue starts out conventionally enough. The upstairs/downstairs primary gallery spaces of the old town house are pleasantly illuminated and neatly organized.
Then there is the dramatic segue into a leafy sculpture garden out back that fronts an old converted carriage house. Entering the darkened, barn-like structure, one encounters concrete walls reminiscent of a quasi-military bunker. You might think this wouldn’t be conducive to the subtleties of art viewing, but in the context of ultra over-architected art repositories, this rustic relic of a viewing space is a revelation.

Continuing up through four exhibition floors, we are treated to art hanging in a slightly scary looking commode from long ago, a mammoth old rope powered freight elevator with an open shaft, and the top floor which affords views out over the antique town of Hudson that could be right out of a Rembrandt or Vermeer.

This was also my introduction to John Lees’s painting on view in the street front town house. Although there are many nuanced aspects to this quintessential painter, my first, and somewhat overwhelming reaction was “this looks a lot like Gandy Brodie lite”.
Having studied with Brodie in my youth, I feel qualified to comment on his influence in my own work, and by extension when it is felt so strongly in others.
I don’t know if Lees ever knew Brodie, but he certainly had to have seen his work. Influences in painting are a vital part an artist’s evolution, but emulation is a slippery slope, artists usually turn the corner on overtly stylistic referentiality, and move on to more interpretative modes.
Yet Lees seems lovingly devoted to these lovely derivations, and he’s really good at it too. This work will charm your pants off, while magnifying how relevant the old adage is about the sincerity of flattery.

The paintings are saturated with bumpy impasto and earth colors, and like Brodie, revel in a layered transference of nature into paint. Lees is actually a more sophisticated draftsman and manipulator of pigment than Brodie, while more focused on the traditional conventions of figure, scenery, and sentiment. 

Lees's forte is his ability to deftly incorporate figurative, landscape and architectural iconography into succinctly mysterious scenes that resist the artist’s formal inclinations. Becoming lustrously loose, these softly diffused images use textured layers of dense color to fill in outlines of hokey, posed looking compositions that the artist might have drawn out in advance. His interiors are especially effective; dimly lit from within, there’s a plasticity to the spatial relationships that lends credibility and weight to the pictorial narrative.   

The seductive surfaces are all about built-up strata of paint delicately morphing into a pearly, satin-like patina that tends to delve into a Ryder-esque chiaroscuro.
Lees has anything but a heavy hand, yet theres an insistent and intentional dependency on thick impasto that at times seems to be a means to an end, and implies that this is a conceit he cannot (or would not) do without.
But what if Lees had never known of Brodie’s work? I’d imagine he’d have made himself into a perfectly competent representational painter, but without the romantic flair and painterly intensity gained from this symbiotic relationship. I don’t mean to accuse Lees of plagiaristic intent, or appropriation. Perhaps he just revels in coating his work in Brodie’s commanding charisma, which I’m sure is a very tempting premise indeed.

 John Lees (above)                                                      Gandy Brodie (above)

Dave Hardy: A House With Gates, Regina Rex

Regina Rex continues to mount substantial exhibits, now with Hardy’s imposing and confrontational sculptures that contain a vulnerable fragility within their stern authority.

The intense materiality and implicit didactic recalls Beuys use of native objects embedded with a personal mythology.
Thick, industrial-grade sheets of glass, which afford a sensation of weight, delicacy of tint, and tenuous balance, emphasize an architectural profile. The sheering planes of glass, which act to somewhat break up the formal rigor, viciously crush slabs of foam encrusted in a concrete slurry. The solid looking mass portrayed by these chunks of foam play a crafty, tromp de l’oeil sleight of hand; they might be seen as actual poured, solid concrete made to look like foam.

But all the technical prowess, hard edges, and macho strutting here are coupled with a graceful, yet precarious instability that could be toppled at any moment. The tension posed between structural formidability and figurative sensitivity, lend these sculptures an invigorating dichotomy.
The wall hangings loosened sensibility fluctuate between airy, rough-hewn tapestry, and a reluctant nod to casualist painting. They employ a satisfying shmear of dilute pigment mixed with what I’d guess is the concoction used to coat the foam. The raw looking canvasses are mounted on metal brackets that protrude into the room, engaging in a dimensional dialogue with the sculptural forms.
Hardy’s work bridges a serious and brooding notion with transparent lucidity. Lightness may not be his thing, however the gravity of the work is somehow uplifting.

Rebecca Litt, Valentine Gallery

Litt’s small-scale paintings are a perfect fit for the intimate confines of Valentine’s back hallway. These understated contemplations about the nature of isolation don’t feel withdrawn, they just need their own “space”.
Indeed, the depth of Litt’s work stems less from concern for a graphic interface, than with her staged figure’s intense psychic relationships. The subdued dramas play out on the picture plane with little fanfare, and seem oblivious to the intrudingly voyeuristic stares of her audience.
The artist likes to use gridded veils to further her point about separation and meditation. Then a heightened chroma surprises with a sudden burst of cautious enthusiasm, drawing us in to her private reverie of webs and curtains.  

Friday, November 8, 2013

St Elmos Fire, covered by UILAB & Sterolab

This is a nicely pumped up version of Eno's original.

Brown eyes and I was tired
We had walked and we had scrambled
Through the moors and through the briars
Through the endless blue meanders.

In the blue august moon
In the cool august moon

Over the nights and through the fires
We went surging down the wires
Through the towns and on the highways
Through the storms in all their thundering.

In the blue august moon
In the cool august moon

Then we rested in a desert
Where the bones were white as teeth sir
And we saw st elmo's fire
Splitting ions in the ether.

In the blue august moon
In the cool august moon

In the blue august moon
In the cool august moon.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Various Small Booktures & A Few Drawings James Prez; at the Mulberry Street Branch of the New York Public Library.

Ostensibly an exhibit, these little fairy tale objects manifest as an alternative, Disney-esque universe in a Grimm influenced art installation.
The library space perfectly suits what I imagine was the artist’s vision of a path through a forest of literature, paved with books serving as pedestals, for the artist’s odd collection of collectables. Like the genie from the bottle, these 3D sculptural assemblages could be conjured from the pages of their tomes.
Tucked among library shelves and browsing patrons, Prez’s trail of painted ceramic tidbits salvaged from flea markets and yard sales, draw you into their offbeat, child-like context of wonderland fantasy.
Their up-close appeal and goofy detailing provide a sense of peering into disjointed scenes that could be part of some kooky stage play frozen in the moment. They are intriguing vignettes from snippets of kitsch that exist to contemplatively amuse, while stimulating a slightly perverse notion of peeping into the recesses of the repressed Victorian psyche.
Collectively the pieces seem invested in a kind of joyful, yet earnest innocence, but perhaps there’s is a sly bit of irony at work here; who needs a white walls and fussy technique to achieve ingenious results?

Katherine Bradford: Small Ships, at Steven Harvey Fine Art

Bradford’s art soothes the painter’s soul; the lusciously caked on layers of thickly lustrous pigment should satisfy any painterly palate.
At first glance her images might be considered crudely rendered, but their rough-hewn surfaces then morph into a kind of elastically concrete substance.  Hidden beneath crusty oceans of vivid chromatic intensity, lurks a sensitively conceived notion of nuance that inform those voluptuous swathes of luminous seascape. 

The artist’s obsession with ocean liners emphasizes a funky figure ground relationship, similar to the way Guston subverted cartoon references by jumbling up conventional picture plane semiotics. The artist’s playful instincts infuse her work in (or shall I say on) “Titanic on the Piano”. The impending disaster comes off as blackly comical; the toy ship sails blithely on towards an ice cube of an iceberg.


Bradford employs an effective conceit by stretching out the vertical mass of her painted ships. This distortion frees up an energetic thrust that invigorates compositional integrity, while shifting perception away from the clichéd reference of  “boat pictures”.  

However the work is freighted with a diffusely sentimental yearning; they can evoke blurry postcards from bygone eras, but remain contemporary without becoming saccharine. “Brooklyn (Arriving in the Harbor)” celebrates a cruise with corny looking text, but conveys a festive sincerity we can believe in. 

Ron Gorchov, Leslie Heller Workspace

I first met Ron Gorchov and saw his work at Magoo’s bar in Tribeca during the mid 1970’s.
Tommy, the one-eyed, quasi Mafioso proprietor had been busted during the Knapp Commission for providing hookers to corrupt judges and cops on the premises.  Apparently as part of Tommy’s community service Magoo’s was then reinvented as a bar and grill catering to the recent influx of artist types. Tommy created a loyal artist following by instituting his famous burger & beer collection. If you were one of the lucky patrons, Tommy would take a piece of art in exchange for a tab of equivalent value. That coupled with a very popular pool table made Magoos the place to see and be seen in below Canal St.
Gorchov’s painting was prominently featured above the pool table lounge, where as I recall he would occasionally hold court, but not play pool.
Fast-forward to the LHW exhibit, where Ron Gorchov has mounted a quiet exhibit of small works on hand made paper that maintains a stately presence.
The artist’s work at Magoos was typical of his earlier “potato chip” shaped stretchers that warped their way into prominence. There is still a hint of the signature 3D bow to some of the art, but mostly they have relaxed into flatter configurations.

Gift From The Nixians V

A Gorchov trademark that does seem to have remained virtually unchanged are the familiar vertical slashes. This move animated what might otherwise result in a clunky looking attempt at mask making. But then Gorchov has never pretended to be a virtuoso; his wobbly, concave structures carve curvilinear boundaries in space, while his mark making espouses the virtues of loosely informal technique. 

Vintage Gorchov, (not in the Heller exhbit)

What does seem to have evolved in the recent works on paper is a textural integrity. The thick, wafer-like ground provides stability for inherently diffuse, lightly pigmented forms floating in their constrained, yet unframed ether.
I’m not sure I buy into the artist’s grand scenario of Greek mythology in any literal sense, but from an historical perspective these pieces could be seen as ethereal symbols relating to shields or coats of arms. The gallery installation also works well with the generous use of wall space, giving these plaintive, but intimate works a chance for their soft sound to be seen. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Summer Stock, Brooklyn NY/Brooklin/Blue Hill Maine

Summer is my favorite time of the year. I never weary of the warmer climes. It's also my favorite season to see art. The traditional summer group show’s relaxed ambiance, and pluralist ethos can provide a titillating taste of art fresh from the studio.

Ground Floor Gallery, Small Wonders

This new addition to the Brooklyn gallery scene is located in Park Slope. The small, but well designed storefront exhibition space has an intimate appeal, and a nice window display area. The Slope may not be the artistic beehive of Bushwick, but Krista Saunders and Jill Benton have not let that dissuade them from putting up relevant exhibits that feature under-recognized artists who deserve a look.
The Small Wonders exhibit also features small prices, and I think some of the art here could command a higher value. That said GFG’s stated mission is to introduce new collectors to affordable art, an altruistic notion that might end up paying off for everyone.
Small Wonders was a curated open call, and so contains an eclectic variety of objects and images that coincidentally coalesce in a kind of fairy tale narrative. 
The four graffiti panels by Miles Wickham grab your attention immediately. Street artists do not always translate well in a white wall context, but these wonderfully vivid compacted verticals contain stacks of cryptic calligraphy that might have been created by some alien creature. They’re exotic signposts advertising a foreign realm of abstract notations. 

Becky Yazdan’s succinctly compact compositions achieve a pleasing density, and could be seen as monoprints. 

Elissa Swanger’s blotchy yet sensitive chiaroscuro conveys a minor figurative drama that invites closer scrutiny. The mottled texture brings out a nice resist effect, and harkens back to Rouault. 

Flat Frontal at Schema Projects

This Bushwick gallery presents a vivid array of brightly chromatic and loosely geometric works, which emphasize references to fabric design and handmade patterns that might conjure up primitivistic sources.
Margrit Lewczuk’s curvilinear symmetries incorporate a playful, Matisse-like notion of design. Their clean simplicity invokes a pleasing purity of line and color.

Meg Lipke’s rambunctiously enthusiastic colorations invoke jungle influenced batik.

 Lawrence Swan, aka “Lars” has installed one of his deceptively casual 3D pieces that establish an understated, yet compelling presence using a kind of off-hand/short hand expertise found in origami.
His budding, pinstriped flower unfolds, revealing a star-shaped stamen. This germane germination turns a mundane sheet of paper into a blooming blossom of artful modesty. 

Swan’s funky and fun collage is assembled from torn squares of art paper to which the artist applied washes of color. This lively banner evokes semaphore signals, or a Klee-like compendium of kaleidoscopic quilting.   

The artist’s gently folded black & white grid may harken unto (or vice versa) his wife Lori Ellison’s current paper pieces fabricated from crumpled up paper.

S.S. Champlain Presents: David Dixon “Temple Mount” (A God Named Pollock)

Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t conceptual art supposed to be a bore (yawn)?
Not when David Dixon brings his droll and scintillating gift for story telling to the fore. The art world needs more minds like Dixon’s to throw at the pressing issues of the day; such as pissing on Jackson Pollock’s grave.

Indeed urination as an art medium may not be a new concept, but the artist does give new meaning to the term “streaming live”. Dixon’s novel tale is not so much a metaphor for Pollock’s painting style, as it is about misogyny and feminism.  
Apparently Pollock used to go outside his studio to pee on some small rocks and pebbles. After Pollock’s death, (and internment under a large macho boulder) Lee Krasner gathered all the pissy stones from Jack’s pissoir and used them for her much more modest gravesite. 
Was this a sly bit of ironic feminist commentary, or just a fond farewell gesture to the king of the chauvinist gesture?
The artist (Dixon) has not completely forsaken traditional media here, although he has upended it with this installation piece. Making a carefully reproduced 3D paper mache replica of the Pollock grave boulder (complete with bronze plaque), he somehow managed to affix the thing to the ceiling of the gallery, thereby enabling the viewer a bird’s eye view (albeit upside down).

This is a typical Dixon subterfuge. He delights in reorganizing our perception and conception of events and creations we thought we knew. Dixon’s suitably ingenious "Stand-up Philoso-comedy" critique of Courbet’s “A burial At Ornans” enters into the realm of poetry slam and performance (art?), and will leave you doubting the veracity of Jansen.
To top it all off (his head that is), the artist is currently working on a post-life piece, wherein his skull will be preserved in perpetuity. Since one of my favorite art installations is the Capuchin Crypt “bone bonanza”, I’d say he might be onto something.
"What you are now we used to be; what we are now you will be..."

Jeanne Tremel, Wood Paper Paint, Handworks Gallery, Blue Hill Maine

What took me so long you might ask. Just don’t want to be accused of favoritism. (well OK, she is my favorite)
But this does seem like a perfect opportunity to present my wife’s plein air art to the blogosphere. I also take some pride and joy in that I introduced Jeanne to painting outdoors up in Maine a few years ago. Initially she was slow to take it up, calling it the hardest thing she’d ever done as an artist.
Of course I find that hard to believe since Jeanne is one of those rare artists that have the golden touch. She was born a painter, with a nimble touch, and painterly insight.
The exhibit at Handworks prominently features Jeanne’s watercolor works on paper. Marcia Stremlau who owns the gallery, generously hung Jeanne’s work in a continuous line on the best wall.  We were very pleased.

Blue Hill is an affluent Downeast enclave with a long tradition of summer arts activities that Handworks has been a part of for many years. I like the way this exhibit combines more traditional crafts with fine art. Craft is a staple of the Maine art scene, and although it might be considered gauche in NYC, the interaction of utilitarian and decorative items with more purely visual art, refreshes my eye and reminds me that this area is about the relaxed pleasures of getting away from it all.
Jeanne’s impetus for plein air is based on an intimate relationship with the foreground, featuring rock and lichen that show off her predilection for quirky, detailed line, then nuanced washes are delicately blended into a diaphanous background region of sky and ocean. 

Bubbly Waves on a Foggy Day

watercolor on paper 12" x 9" 2012
She works almost exclusively with dry watercolors from a tray, which imbue the picture plane with a pale translucency appropriate to the elusive flux of climate, light, and tide.
The trick with interpretative plein air watercolors is to find an equilibrium that encompasses a range of effects, but is contained within a specific pictorial structure. Jeanne has a knack for finding just the right combination of ingredients that bring a distinct sense of time and place to her intricate compositions.
While her studio work with oil paint could be considered an exploration of the inner nature of psychic turmoil, the plein air etudes waft dreamily towards a cathartic sensation; akin to warm basalt ledges, bathed in misty sun, and caressed by frothy surf.

Cynthia Winings Gallery, Blue Hill Maine

This ambitious new exhibition space is located in an historic old Maine saltbox, whose previous incarnation was Judith Leighton’s gallery, one of the grand old cranky dames of the Downeast art scene.
Ms Wining’s courageous undertaking to breathe new life into the old legacy is admirable. Winnings is a transplanted New York artist herself, and CWG follows the recent Bushwick movement of artist run galleries.
She is helped by the wonderful upstairs/downstairs exhibition space architecture involved. Abundant natural light filters nicely with the artificial. Thick wood beams lend a sturdiness to the open floor plan of this spacious barn-like structure.
The inaugural show features a mix of local and New York artists whose work, though at times influenced by Maine’s landscape, avoids the coyness that can inflect regional art. Winnings is taking a leap of faith here, the tried and true formula for many Downeast area galleries is not to rely exclusively on fine art that challenges the viewer too strenuously.
CWG may end up filling a void, but the question is will local summer collectors be enough to support an endeavor who’s only mission is to present innovative visual art? I hope so.

Heather Lyon "Protective Object" (series)

David Hornung "Evergreen"

Cynthia Winings "Constellation on the Horizon" 2013 Gouache and collage on paper, 6 x 6 inches

Ms. Winings

Duke Ellington’s Mount Harissa (Far East Suite)

This must be one of the Dukes’s most suave and scintillating recordings.
Billy Strayhorn’s collaboration makes everything go well, while the piano riff at the beginning and end encompass everything that makes American jazz great.