This week in Cheslea, we saw shows at Asya Geisberg, I-20, Leo Koenig, Andrea Rosen, Gagosian, Mary Boone, Foxy Production, Wallspace, and James Cohan. This marks week one on our crusade to cover different galleries each trip.
Jasper de Beijer: Marabunta
537 B West 23rd Street
May 31st — July 7th
Whitney: Dutch artist Jasper de Beijer photographs homemade models of disfigured or dead Mexicans—a two-headed wrestler, a young girl with a bullet hole in her head—and adds trappings of culture, like sugar skulls, strands of cheap embroidery, fake flowers outlining the shape of a corpse on pavement. It’s altogether swept up in bougie glamour; Frankenstein stitches might as well be a leather costume detail. As the press release explains, “…De Beijer takes the paraphernalia of the Mexican drug war as his inspiration, particularly the mystical and visually obsessive interest in celebrating the flamboyant lives of its leaders and colorful deaths of its victims.”
Mexico’s war on drugs has left over 500,000 dead. Journalists describe paralyzing government-wide corruption and routine encounters with mangled corpses on the streets. Mexico’s recent re-election of the PRI, which has ruled Mexico for the better part of the 20th century with an authoritarian fist, is partly attributed to this war’s devastating effects. I can’t even begin to comprehend that horror. Jasper de Beijer reports having gone to Mexico to research this show, but still, is this really something you can address as a tourist adopting another culture’s ornaments?
Corinna: All I want to say is, “Ugh.” What’s this guy doing making some comic-book horror scenes about the drug wars? Everyone’s a wrestler-demon risen from the crypt or a saint. At the very least, these works could use some subtlety.
Nicole Eisenman: Woodcuts, Etchings, Lithographs and Monotypes
545 West 23rd Street
May 24 — June 30, 2012
Corinna: Nicole Eisenmann’s skilled at imbuing cartoons with a full range of expression. There’s a terse dictator, an oblivious sexual participant, and a solemn gawker. It’s a range which cartoons aren’t usually subject to. I have a problem with the works that border on cartoons of art’s past, like this one‘s Munch-like expression.
Emotion, feeling, and expression: those are the things I get out of these work. It’s hard to judge a work based on those things.
Whitney: What? Expressionism is totally valid, as long as it’s expressing something beyond sad/mad/happy. Some of these don’t go much further than that, others borrow heavily from Dana Schutz and Modernist painters, others repeat the same motifs: deadweight relationships, open vaginas, languid faces, drippy eyes. There are a few, though, that are really unique: a swarm of bicyclists on a downhill ramp, passing wrapped-up sculptures; a colonial man and a banker with nailed-shut ears grabbing a skeleton’s scythe; a nude dreaming of a pink Bumblebee tuna can. And something does happen when these are all hung all together; like Schutz, they give off a feeling of impotence. I think that’s why these two are painters’ painters. Painting can make you feel hopeless.
Josiah McElheny: Some thoughts about the abstract body
525 West 24th street
May 19th — June 30th
Corinna: Well, if McElheny has something to say about the abstract human body, I guess it’s that we all need suits of mirrors and we should have glass masks a little too small for our faces.
Paddy: Yeah, this show is supposed to explore the relationship between abstraction and fashion and does so in the most literal way. There’s a performer wearing what looks like some modification of a lingerie chest who walks around the gallery. Cut glass in the shape of a Willendorf venus hanging from the wall reminds you that the artist is thinking figuration. The exhibition looks like a puffed up furniture showroom.
The performative element is really needed, not just to draw the connection to fashion, but to keep the show from being painfully boring. McElheny has the performer walking along white chalk lines on the floor—minimal geometric abstraction meets catwalk—which recalls Andrea Zittel’s performance Single Strand Forward Motion at the gallery back in 2009. She, too, used chalk on the gallery floor to mark out lines gallery opening attendees should follow. That, too, was pretty boring.
557 West 23rd Street
May 24th — July 14th
Whitney: What at first looks like a run-of-the-mill MFA show includes a handful of great pieces. Valie Export’s 1986 video A Perfect Pair floats between porn, workout video, and advertisement quite naturally; a woman is a station for breast fondling, and floating logos mimic actors’ gestures. “Nelly, it’s a luxury to drink a product without getting paid for it,” explains a man in a ripped muscle shirt. “All these people are unpaid stand-ins for a giant commercial.” The nuanced editing and choreography of that work alone sustain the show.
The advertorial images and product sculpture tend to fall into the background, though on closer inspection they’re each reasonably thoughtful. That even goes for Lizzi Bougatsos’s Hey Jack (don’t worry I won’t embarrass you), a framed image of a firefighter shaking the hand of Mickey Mouse, whose large, pink dildo shoots out of his crotch through the glass. It is by no means shocking (the only thing that’s off-putting about it is how art-fair-y it looks), but the trusting firefighter and Mickey’s childlike grasp and that glass-busting force get weirder the more you look at it.
Corinna: Look, I appreciate a good dick in art, but that Mickey Mouse dildo painting isn’t one of them. Mickey Mouse’s grip on contemporary culture isn’t as strong as it used to be, just like his loose tug on the firefighter’s arm. Choosing a Disney character to emblazon with a bright, plastic dildo doesn’t pack a punch and now, it just seems like wry nostalgia.
There’s some paintings made from stretched t-shirts, including one of those “You Looked Better on MySpace” shirts, some cardboard paintings, and some Kurt Russell movie posters. All nostalgia. And they could all use some guidance as far as “looking good in a gallery” goes.
As for what was OK in the show: there was Walter Robinson, the now-former editor of Artnet, who showed his spin paintings; there was a Josh Kline; and of course, Valie Export’s A Perfect Pair (1986). As Whitney mentioned, Valie Export’s work is by far the best in the show. And if I had to imagine a version of Blade Runner that’s saddled with less cyborg and more pop-politik critique, this would be it. Export’s work was on view earlier this year at Moving Image, and I’m glad to see it’s making the rounds as an important work of video art.
Whitney: I dunno…I don’t think it’s fair to write off past cultural references as nostalgia. Everything automatically gets an expiration date, and there’s more to the work than timeliness. Which is to say that that dick is timeless.
Lucio Fontana: Ambienti Spaziali
545 West 24th Street
May 3 — June 30
Corinna: For all the impeccable, museum-quality exhibitions Gagosian has under its belt, I still had a hard time believing just how much it managed to look like a museum for this show. It was huge. If museums sold work, it’d be Gagosian. Even The Times uses phrases like “the latest blockbuster survey show” to describe the Fontana show, a phrase usually reserved for museums.
But maybe part of that statement comes from the fact that this show looked so similar to that Fontana retrospective I saw more than a few years ago at the Guggenheim, or anywhere else for that matter. If there’s a desire by galleries to make Fontana seem contemporary, there’s no indication of Fontana as violently avant-garde. After a while, one slash into a canvas seems exactly like another slash made into another canvas. Consistency: it’s one example of branding, but it also makes things lose their edge. Maybe it’s that aspect of branding that makes Fontana seem so contemporary, but that’s so depressing.
Whitney: That, plus the prophetic Fontana quotes on the walls and the series of black-and-white photos of the artist approaching the canvas, sticking the knife, slashing it, and standing back, amplified the mind-blowing revelation we were supposed to experience. It gives all of the appearance of breaking ground without the actual work. Even when he does get “beyond the canvas,” he continues to make lateral alterations to other objects— suspending a long neon tangle from the ceiling, turning the lights off to paint neon dots.
Paddy: Was the ceiling sculpture really a lateral alteration? I kept thinking club-loving aliens must have taken over Fontana’s body to produce that rave-inspired piece. The only thing that sculpture was missing was bass.
The prophetic quotes you mentioned would have driven me nuts if there were more of them, but there really wasn’t an enormous amount of wall text. That separates this show from, say, their Manzoni exhibition in 2009, which to my mind had a much more museum-y feel than this one. I just don’t get the sense that the Fontana show is a product of thoughtful curation, so much as an effort to pull together any work that might increase the value of the few paintings the gallery has for sale.
Francesco Clemente: Nostalgia/Utopia
541 West 24th Street
May 5th — June 30th
Whitney: Clemente’s not trying to make things look hot, which still seems to be the case with many others who have adopted the aesthetic of drab painting and sparse sculpture. These feel a little more true to their source. This series of sun-bleached looking mural-sized canvases describe a sort of desert mythology, with geometric quilt patterns or checkers occupying blocks of space, iconic mummies, and bits of barbed wire or talismanic antiques attached to the surface. The thin surface and abstracted forms makes these feel starved and very remote, which may be what Clemente’s getting at.
Paddy: I thought this show was strong too, though I take less issue with the “drab painting and sparse sculpture” aesthetic you identify. I just don’t find these paintings drab. Teorema’s melty wall-with-bottles-on-a-shelf does an amazing job of depicting heat, for example, and the Prussian Blues and glistening stones in The Artificial Princess feel very regal. The painting is so elegant, I actually find it strangely uplifting.
Whitney: Agreed, The Artificial Princess really stands out. I guess by “drab painting and sparse sculpture,” I’m just referring to stuff that looks pared-down, not to suggest that it isn’t beautiful or interesting. The surface just literally looks bone-dry.
Corinna: The last three shows at Mary Boone have focused on the gallery’s roster of hotshot painters from the 1980s: Peter Saul, Eric Fischl, and now Francesco Clemente. Unlike the gallery’s recent smattering of Saul’s over-the-top humor and Eric Fischl’s chic portraits, Clemente’s paintings are pretty subdued. His paintings could be allegories, with their flattened figures flattened out onto flat patches of color or design. An occasional fragment of thing, like a string of beads, spools off the canvases. They don’t try to be anything too complicated, and they definitely don’t try to be smarter-than-thou. It was refreshing.
The Mystery Trend
619 West 27th Street
June 28th — August 3rd
Corinna: I’m into Ron Nagel’s paperweight-sized sculptures that ooze something shiny out of their gritty, neon surface. Look, I’m sick of seeing neon artworks, but I’m making an exception for this one because of how the neon, here, makes the brackish surface appear even more rough.
While not my favorite work in the show, Ricky Swallow’s pieces were great visual tricks. Sure, they looked like Cubist cardboard constructions, but as Whitney pointed out while we were there, they’re really tough, and made out of bronze. Is one trick enough to make a lasting impression? Probably not. I liked subtlety of these small works, like the little hat on this guy, that you can only see at a certain angle.
What else? The PR thanks Gaylen Gerber “for his generous introductions.” Given the two Chicagoans in this show, I’m not surprised to hear this: Gaylen teaches at the Art Institute of Chicago. Chicagoan John Henderson, who showed some of his immaculately framed photos, is someone to look out for. In the current issue of Artforum, I spied an ad for D’Amelio Gallery with his name listed in an upcoming group exhibition.
Paddy: I liked this show, but you know, the gallery has no images up on its website and if it weren’t for our subsequent conversation about the show I wouldn’t have remembered enough to have an opinion about anything. And that’s not a statement about the quality of the show. When you see 20 galleries in a day, sometimes you forget a little about the work. This website actually makes me angry.
623 W 27 ST
June 1st — July 13th
Whitney: The title “Image Object” (Artie Vierkant’s term) refers to the distinct qualities of the digital image and the objects. Vierkant often creates three-dimensional versions of digitally-made images and then photoshops the install shots in order to make subsequent artworks that aren’t much different. It’s a sort of meta drawing-within-a-drawing thinking that’s got a lot of people excited about Artie Vierkant, but I’m not that into it. It’s all so self-aware, and it just seems to result in lofty, self-serving correctness. Like Andrea Longacre-White’s black-and-white photos of screens, folded, torn, re-photographed, re-scanned, over and over, producing a slight tint.
On the other hand, I love Kate Steciw’s stock image collages with bits of paper or sponges attached to the frame’s glass. The choice of musically-composed motifs (like a wiggly outlet extender or a rhombus of fake wood grain) have a sense of humor, and they’re surprising.
Corinna: I’m into Artie’s photos, but it’s his “possible objects” that I’m not into so much. I like what prompts them, that they start from an idea that they could be made by him or anyone else. For me, it still begs the question of “But why would you do that? What’s at stake?” Maybe I’m being tough on Artie, but it’s only because he’s one of several younger artists who know how to make something look good (re: his “image objects”) while at the same time being witty, without resorting to high-faluting claims.
Paddy: I don’t know that something being at stake would better this work. How much is ever at stake with abstraction? I keep thinking of Dennis Oppenheim’s Echo (1973) in relation to this work. Oppenheim’s piece is a four-channel projection that shows a man’s hand slapping the wall as if to emphasize its materiality. Of course, the projected wall and hand are ephemeral, so the piece mostly exists to show off that difference. It’s a joke, but it also reflects the excitement about what video could be at that time. Nam June Paik had only started working with it in 1965.
Oppenheim’s joke feels a little worn these days — we know how video works — but it’s important nonetheless because it so perfectly captures the ethos of that time and the voice of the artist. I think that’s the value within Vierkant’s “Possible Objects”. It’s not that they’re so great or even enduring, but that they capture an ethos.
I will say that I have the same problems with Andrea Longacre-White’s print outs as Whitney does though and I don’t know about those Travess Smalley scans of clay. The three abstracted images suffer from serious amount of sameness. AFC’s Will Brand told me this morning that he thinks the issue might be scale; he saw a similar piece five times the size at 319 Scholes that was really impressive.
Everyday Abstract-Abstract Everyday
533 West 26th Street
June 1st — July 27th
Whitney: The idea of putting Judith Scott with Andy Coolquitt with Andy Warhol with Walead Beshty reduces all of this work to different modes of abstraction. The press release describes this as making connections between abstract art and life, adding that unlike Modernist abstraction, these works no longer function via self-contained logic. I take that to mean that they pull in outside references, which means they’re somewhat representational.
Though I’d say that about most of these works, I wouldn’t about artists like Judith Scott, whose logic is, de facto, entirely self-referential, or Josh Smith, whose painting here is pretty much Abstract Expressionist, no matter what the reference was. I actually found this disrespectful—Higgs willfully disregards the context and the points inherent in each work in the interest of his own thesis, which is… that abstraction doesn’t have to be just paint?
Paddy: Yeah, this show is worse than those cookie-cutter who-artists-know shows that dominate Chelsea and the LES every summer. It’s just lazy. Even without knowing anything about the art, as a viewer you’re immediately insulted by the fact that the curator never seemed to consider how that Shanique Smith tower of bound clothing was going to look near Manfred Pernice’s table and Al Taylor’s wall mounted broomsticks. Why does this show exist?
Corinna: OMG. After this show, I decided I had to give up on art for the day. There was too much of it crammed in here, and so much that I couldn’t figure out if it was good or not. It was like entering IKEA and being overwhelmed with rows of stuff. I do want this dolphin pan though.