We Went to Chelsea: 26th Street

by Paddy Johnson Corinna Kirsch and Will Brand on January 23, 2013 · 5 comments Reviews

Lehmann Maupin Gallery, 540 West 26th Street
(Through 2/23) Robin Rhode: Take Your Mind Off The Street

Corinna Kirsch: We saw Robin Rhode’s work in our last “We Went to” installment, at Lehmann Maupin’s Lower East Side location. That show included a bevy of larger-than-life crayons that school-age children then used to draw on the walls. Continuing in that vein, Lehmann Maupin’s Chelsea location is showing two large-scale drafting compasses and a series of “street-based photographs”. At least the compasses look good as intimidating steel instruments, like they’re used by giants in some Modernist nightmare.

While leafing through an exhibition catalog of Rhode’s work at the front desk, I glanced at descriptions of Rhode’s work as “performing drawing,” which I guess is what putting a gigantic hair comb up to a graffiti hairball is like. Of course, you know what else is like “performing drawing”? Drawing.

Paddy Johnson: This show is what stupidity looks like. Robin Rhode draws a series of batons on a wall, places himself in the center, and takes a photo every time he adds a couple of batons. It looks like he’s throwing them. Now imagine this conceit applied to a comb and hair ball (thanks Corinna), a giant feather, fanned, and a moving car.

I gotta say, I’m not so interested in the large-scale compasses either. There are two of them hanging in the gallery and they are arranged so they look as though they’ve been dancing. I get mad even looking at them. I think we all know that drawing has a life, but that’s not a concept, it’s simply a characteristic of the medium. You literally have nothing to say if all you can think to make is an artwork that literalizes said characteristic.

James Cohan Gallery, 533 West 26th Street
(Through 2/9) Wang Xieda/Sol LeWitt

Paddy: Google the words “modernist, bronze, sculpture” and the first page of results will bring back results made a hundred years ago or so, and many resemble Xieda’s current work. Most of the wire frame sculptures cast in bronze were made in 2006 or later.

I suppose that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does make you wonder why people suddenly find this aesthetic relevant.

The press release tells us Xieda’s work is based on Chinese characters, which made no difference at all to me while I was at the gallery, as I hadn’t read it yet. Certainly, it didn’t explain the exhibition design choice that had all these sculptures on one enormous mount in the shape of a square horseshoe. The exhibition looks good from one angle, and that’s it. They should have designed vertical columns with shelves for these pieces to give viewers a hint at the Chinese calligraphy reference!

Did anyone have much to say on the Sol LeWitt show in the back gallery? I don’t.

Will Brand: The LeWitt show was a bunch of, as the name implies, “Cut Torn Folded Ripped” works on paper. It felt like the B-team, really; a bunch of works LeWitt designated “$100 Drawings,” a few works seemingly made to set up other, absent pieces, some works made as gifts. They were all the sort of thing an artist makes, but not great artworks.

Courtesy Galerie Lelong.

Galerie Lelong, 528 West 26th Street
(Through 2/16) Nancy Spero: From Victimage to Liberation: Works from the 1980s & 1990s

Paddy: According to the press release, in 1976 Nancy Spero decided to make women the sole focus of her work. I did a bit more interneting after reading the release and  got the sense that decision came out of the belief that the art world would need to come to women, not the other way around. Whatever the case, that’s why this exhibition is filled with the female figures.

These paintings appear to depict female Egyptian leaders along with a few hawks and women with hawk wings. There’s not a huge amount going on here formally though, so the exhibition hasn’t done much to illustrate why she’s important.

Lelong’s space doesn’t help the show. Many of the works are vertical serials and Lelong’s pillars seem to interfere in sight lines at exactly the wrong place.

Corinna: I’ll grant Spero this: she found a style, and she kept to it for years. That’s certainly one part to longevity.

Having said that, Spero’s takes on “history’s happiest goddesses” aren’t that great. Compositionally, they’re not that interesting. In this one, it looks like the goddesses were plopped on the paper with only the slightest regard for form (yes, Paddy), and then they only very casually radiate from the central dancing nymph.

I do like her Picasso and Fredericks of Hollywood collages; I’d never seen those until this week. They’re more complex than her goddess pictures, showing what look like space aliens (they’re Picassos), with gross, penis-arms lurching toward a nearly naked model. They’re just like seeing Jabba the Hutt next to his slave of choice, Princess Leia, and they’re just as creepy.



friendship person January 23, 2013 at 4:07 pm

actually laughed out loud reading “I get mad even looking at them”

ZB January 24, 2013 at 9:59 am

Is it just me – or do other’s find cheap/quick/bad art to be personally insulting. I’ve at times scowled and shook my head at the gallery sitter… obviously not their fault but i feel sometimes like they’ve had me for a bit of ruse.

Paddy Johnson January 24, 2013 at 11:01 am

My friend laughed at me when I told him how mad I got. He thought my reaction was totally absurd. If you don’t have much investment in that world, it is. I really want art to be good. When I feel like there’s a lot of people who don’t take that goal seriously, it makes me angry at the gallerists and even the artist.

CAS January 24, 2013 at 4:41 pm

You should have checked out “Color Shift” at Mixed Greens!

Donald Frazell January 27, 2013 at 9:59 pm

For Gods sake, can we get someone who has a feel for harmonious, spiritual color? Sterile insipidness as relevance to the artscene is irrelevant. It is what is true that counts, and always leads to beauty, new or not.

The artscene is now an appendix, a devolved organ that has hit a dead end in evolutionary culture, Neanderthals now rule the drought ridden Chelsea’s while homo sapiens has moved onto more fertile grounds.

“It is time to put aside childish things”. . You know who. And this is part of what he was talking about. Creative art is the highest common denominator, not the fashion of an inbred cult. Games, toys and therapy are NOT art.

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