We Went to Chelsea: Why Isn’t Every Show Hermaphroditic Squid?

by The AFC Staff on January 4, 2013 · 3 comments Reviews

Jack Shainman Gallery, 513 West 20th Street
(Through 1/19) El Anatsui, Pot of Wisdom

Corinna: El Anatsui’s work does nothing for me. He’s one of those masochistic artists whose painstakingly meticulous process (weaving together aluminum bottle tops with wire) doesn’t have much in the way of payoff. The works are nice enough to look at, but that’s it.

I’m not really sure what Jack Shainman’s program is about: they represent a handful of international artists like El Anatsui (Ghana), Malick Sidibe (Mali), and Zwelethu Mthethwa (South Africa). And then they represent Canadian artist Michael Snow.

Whitney: Yeah, I agree. Whatever El Anatsui’s trying to express, it just does not translate into thousands of hours of tying foil wrappers together. (They look better in the photos.)

But maybe I’m not familiar with the textiles that would make this interesting, or maybe there’s a story, like Felix Gonzalez Torres’s candy wrappers.

Corinna: Agreed. They look better in the photos.

Will: I just watched his Art:21, so I can fill in a little. The bottlecaps—from liquor bottles—are a symbol of the Atlantic slave trade, the “rum” part of 1776’s “Molasses to Rum.” They’re sewn together to create a sculpture without a particular form, only they’re not textiles because the artist discovered that when you say “textiles” people stop caring (paraphrasing). After he started working on them, he noticed they looked like kente cloth, a fabric from West Africa, despite the fact that they very clearly do not (this interview has some grade-A waffling on the topic).

Long story short, this guy will sell you a rare and exotic cloth in the traditional style of his people (from the interview: “I’m from a kente weaving tradition”) that took a lot of effort to make, and it’s sort of about slavery. There’s a Nepalese shop in the Village that sold my mom a rare and exotic rock in the traditional style of their people that took a lot of effort to make, and it’s sort of about meditation. Sea World sold me a rare and exotic whale mug in the traditional style of their brand, and it’s sort of about conservation. I don’t buy it, and the works aren’t very notable visually. Should I like the visual interplay between the various shades of “mud” and “green mud”? The confident use of blobs as a compositional tool? I don’t see anything to write home about. You’re just buying calcified Ghanaian time.

I will say, though, that every work in this show that’s touching the ground is significantly more interesting than all the works around it. I don’t like these works as paintings and I don’t like them as process, but when they’re allowed to function off the wall as sculptures, they work.

Gagosian Gallery, 522 West 21st Street
(Through 1/19) Henry Moore, Large Two Forms

Corinna: This show is great. The first time I went, I expected to see a lot of plop art. But no, Henry Moore’s large, curvaceous bronzes do anything but sit still. With Moore, his sculptures all look completely different from nearly every viewpoint. That attention to all sides of a sculpture has been lost with a lot of contemporary object-based work.

Will: Yep. This show does exactly what it says on the tin, and in best-case Gagosian fashion it gave me a better spin on Moore than I’ve gotten from years of museum-going. You just don’t get to see works at this scale all next to each other in the city, and I’m not sure where there’s anything like it outside of Moore’s foundation. This pretty much sold me on an artist I’ve never particularly liked.

Two things in particular: One, I always thought of Henry Moore sculptures as being particularly smooth, but the work nearest the door here (for one) has what appears to be cross-hatching scraped into it. That was surprising. Two, paperweight-sized Henry Moore mockups exist. Now there’s a power item for your desk.

Whitney: I just thought the vitrine of paperweight-sized mockups were to illustrate that Moore’s forms here come from reclining nudes and bone bits, which seems to have directly translated into the half-rough, half-smooth texture. The show did turn me on to Moore more than before, because walking around a room full of massive stony forms makes me feel small, but the idea of blowing up bones and nudes doesn’t do much for me.

Gladstone Gallery, 530 West 21st Street
(Through 1/19) Huang Yong Ping

Corinna: Worst. Show. Ever.

Will: Upstairs there’s a taxidermied camel kneeling on a prayer rug. It has a needle stuck through its nose. Matthew 19:24, the line from the Bible about camels and needles, is written on its side, in French. That one work sort of captures the problems with the whole show, to me: it’s a one-liner that’s two lines long. Two lines long, and in French.

Whitney: I feel like it’s necessary to explain that the headless animal herd is gathering on a giant broken marionette hand: God. On that hand sits a robed monkey skeleton (“inspired by the character Sun Wukong from the classic Chinese novel Journey to the West”) which holds up a slightly smaller monkey skeleton marionette.

Will: Now you’ve got me reading up on Sun Wukong. He started out as a humble monkey born from a stone egg at the confluence of Heaven and Earth, as you do, and worked his way up to being the keeper of the peaches of immortality. He wears a suit of golden armor with a set of cloud-walking boots, and wields a column he took from the Dragon King of the East Sea, that also by the way controls the tides. And that he also, by the way, keeps in his regular monkey-sized ear. Total munchkin character.

I had a moment there where I thought maybe the reference was interesting, but then I realized that it was actually just Wikipedia being interesting. Ho hum.

Eyebeam, 540 West 21st Street
(Through 1/26) Paolo Cirio, PERSECUTING.US

Will: For clarity, this isn’t an exhibition, it’s just on a screen in Eyebeam’s store. I only stopped in because I get the shakes if I don’t touch a keyboard for more than an hour.

Corinna: For Persecuting.us, Eyebeam resident Paolo Cirio created a database of people who tweeted about the 2012 United States election, and then ranked them by political affiliation. I was disappointed to see how persecuting.us looks different online in contrast to its “offline art installation”. On the website, you can troll people on Twitter (the “Persecute on Twitter” button), but you can’t do that in the gallery. That’s probably a wise choice on the Eyebeam’s end.

Whitney:  The work is seen on a wall-mounted screen, and you click through lists of names and photos which are in blue and red columns. Based on the tweets, each is given a percentage of political affiliation. Justin Bieber is a 114% left-wing extremist, for instance. The most interesting part about this for me was the audio, which reads two opposing profiles and “incriminating evidence” (tweets) at the same time. Since everybody’s using a lot of the same language to tweet about the election, those would kind of echo each other.

303 Gallery, 547 West 21st Street
(Through 1/5) The Perfect Show

Will: That’s a misleading title. Or is that response too predictable? One way or another, this is the only show we saw that had a painting of a dog’s asshole (Sue Williams’s Dallas, 2012). That was the highlight.

I kind of had the feeling that this was the best they could do with some not-very-good work. There’s a rhythm to the walls: the Richard Prince stapled-rubber-band piece seems, implausibly, to echo Williams’s composition, and then there’s a whole series of pyramids and triangles that play off each other nicely: the light in Jane and Louise Wilson’s Toxic Camera, Blind Testing Lab 1; the bottom of the Doug Aitken cloud lightbox; Florian Maier-Aichen’s photograph of a Kenneth Noland triangle; the two dirt pyramids. Then there’s this whole other beach theme going on that’s pretty okay in itself, and that has the nice crossover effect of making the dirt pyramids look like sand castles. There’s some thought put into this, but ultimately it’s the Bristol stool scale of contemporary art: shit, but organized.

Corinna: Look, this show wasn’t so bad, and it was better than most of what I’ve seen at 303 lately, at their gallery or the fairs. It’s a group show, so I didn’t expect most of the work to be amazing, just to give off some sense of “the perfect”. What this meant was a lot of ocean and cloud imagery. There were two lightboxes (Doug Aitken and Rodney Graham), which is more than any gallery should contain at any one time. Well, unless Jeff Wall’s having a solo show.

Some of the gallery’s artists are hard to swallow in large doses— like Karen Kilimnik, in particular, whose two-person show with Kim Gordon was an insufferable, glitter-filled mess. But they’re easier to handle when they’re in a group show, just one work at a time.

Whitney: At least Huang Yong Ping’s taxidermy herd expresses a clear point of view. This show is about as interesting as staring at rocks. You can tell that the curator was thinking about formal rhythms here, but it makes absolutely no sense to me to group a Richard Prince or a Mike Nelson that way. This would make sense if “A Perfect Show” plays on how group shows based on big names tend to suck out meaning, because most of these require an understanding of the artist’s past work to make sense. This worries me.

Corinna: Still not sure how these taxidermied animals express a clear point of view. The narrative he’s bringing in seems fairly open-ended, but has something to do with God and the circle of life.

PPOW Gallery, 535 West 22nd Street
(Through 1/12) Judy Fox, Out of Water

Corinna: So, we walked in and there were all these realistic sculptures of sea creatures, but they were covered with vaginas, assholes, and butts. I want to like these sculptures, but I’m afraid they’re just one-off jokes—oh, look, that octopus has a butt for a head!

Will: Yeah, I was a little suspicious, too, especially since the human figure reminded me a lot of Hans-Peter Feldmann’s very jokey exhibition at 303 Gallery last March. The worms and squid eventually convinced me, though. They made me want to walk around them, and they made me want to look at them up close; that’s more than enough.

The kitschy realism really sells the face-down-ass-up side of the work, because you’ve gotta believe in these animals for the double entendres to hit. They remind me a little bit of ASCII porn; up close it’s all totally functional little slug ribs or octopus suckers or whatever, but if you unfocus your eyes you get a boner.

Corinna: Well, I didn’t get a boner.

Whitney: I did! It’s a flock of incredibly sensitively sculpted, writhing penis-vaginas and Renaissance mer-woman which references Botticelli as much as it does lawn gnomes, while talking passionately about gender and sexual identity. As the worms fuck themselves and reach blindly toward each other, they’re watched over by a platoon of heady octopodes.

Not only does the intense drama make me laugh even now, just thinking about it, but you also have to hand it to Judy Fox for perhaps noting what’s going on in the surrounding galleries and chucking it all out. This is true camp.


gregorylent January 5, 2013 at 1:00 am

obviously not familiar with astral vision, if one doesn’t repsond to el anatsui 🙂 …

but then, these reviewer/commentators seem very much in their heads, as they wander through these galleries … oh, well

Devin Kenny January 9, 2013 at 12:44 am

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W9yPdhL6L3o looks like we all need to be willing for the shilling

Wirklich Verrückt January 11, 2013 at 2:10 pm

Maybe it’s too obvious — otherwise, might one ask why no one mentions the reference to The Birth of Venus (Botticelli, Uffizi, and limitless iterations including this one)? It seems to me that surrounding Venus with the fecund creatures of the sea is an adequate prompt for hours of fertile speculation. I’m having a good time here in spite of a POV not much better than a hole in the fence.

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