Arman: Cycles, February 28th – April 6th
Paul Kasmin, 293 Tenth Ave
What’s on view: Sliced bicycles mounted to paintings, with paintbrushes
Whitney Kimball: I’m pretty happy with this show. In this series from the 90’s, Arman made paint brushes and bicycles look like they’ve all gotten stuck to the canvases by giant magnets, seeming to mix Futurist influences (with all the speed and attention to the overall rhythms) with stock objects, which I like. At first, I didn’t care much about the fusion of painting and sculpture stuff in the press release, but he literally does that, mixing the paint quality with the forms so that the leftover brush and the energy of the marks are one gesture. And it looks like he loved doing it. Good Modernist painting.
Paddy Johnson: You weren’t bothered by the contrivances of this work? Using a lot of any one material, in this case, paint brushes, is bound to create something visually appealing, but it’s a cheap trick. Since this painting is made with paint brushes it seems a little literal-minded to me.
Whitney: I didn’t take the paint brushes just as a pun, because they were used sculpturally in the same way as the bikes. I’d probably have that problem if these were made entirely from paintbrushes.
Corinna Kirsch: I did not like this show. There was no magic to the chopped up bikes and circulating brushes, and the paint, often applied with two colors to one brush, didn’t add any “oomph” to the paintings’ overall effect.
To be fair, the painting above might be one of the show’s better works; the brushes move like scurrying minnows, and while minnows are kind of silly, it points to a not-so-lofty goal for painting: to make that sticky substance leap across a flat canvas.
Virginia Overton, March 1st – April 6th
Mitchell-Innes & Nash, 534 West 26th Street
What’s on view: a massive cedar wall of lumber harvested from the Overton family farm, a bathtub running a coffee maker.
Whitney: The gallery smells like hamster shavings because of the fresh-cut wood wall, and scent feels like it’s half of the show, as the only other element is this bathtub and coffee maker. I really like this coffee maker sucking water from the bathtub, heating it, and pushing hot water back into the water. The precariousness, with its fragility and dependence on both well and outlet, and the machine having just enough moisture to keep it lubricated, and the sputtering of the hot water tube, I thought was an ingenious way of looking at the body’s relationship to the environment. Overton turns a coffee maker into a breathing machine, and makes us aware of the air and water around it.
Paddy: This is a show that really engages the senses, so the breathing machine is a poignant, self-reflective touch.
Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg, February 26th – March 30th
Zach Feuer, 548 West 22nd Street
What’s on view: a cast of claymation characters playing mean pranks or caught in embarrassing moments; a room of paint-splattered clown costumes; a box with a video of melting ice cream in it
Whitney: God, this video makes me want to lie down on the gallery floor and sleep ‘til the recession’s over. It starts out with Day-glo letters spelling out a message along the lines of “movers and thinkers, you bang your little drum, you spend all day thinking about hundreds of projects you’ll never get done. You are completely distracted. It weighs you down.” I knowwwww.
Then, we see a mindless band banging their drums, a ballet-dancing bear on a chain, a Grayson Perry character with a giant ice cream cone. Each performer tries to tear the others down, until it’s his turn to be on display. A bully rips off Grayson Perry’s wig, but, finding himself in the humiliating situation of squatting down for a poop, he suddenly tries to throw Grayson Perry a banana peel to cover his wigless head. It makes me feel doubly vulnerable, coming to a gallery for meaning, and feeling like I’m in a kid’s bad dream. It speaks to me. I know, I’m cheesy.
Corinna: Wait—did you like this or not?
Whitney: I guess I identified with it, it made me feel sadness and exhaustion. I thought it was effective.
Corinna: I was too enchanted by these videos to think about falling asleep. Djurberg and Berg’s goopy, face-melting clay people scared me like the type of cartoons that used to be made for kids—stuff like The Dark Crystal—but have since been polished and shine with a rubbery, kawaii glow. Kids stuff is no longer scary.
But their true talent lies in sculpting ice cream for video. They can make it melty, twinkly, or dreamy, anything really other than edible. In the back room, there’s an iPad stuck inside an igloo container where you can peek into an ice cream-only video. I’m all about creative ways to watch video, so props to them for that.
Paddy: Eh, that just seemed like a fancy box to sell the video. I mean, good job and all, but it seems like a product of the commercial gallery world, rather than anything integral to the work.
It’s probably worth mentioning the dominant role of food in this video. The ice cream scoops tower into sky, there’s a pear that literally drips juice, and the main characters all end up in food. In one instance a boy pops out of a banana and then, after a brief foyah out into the wild goes back. In another all the characters pile onto a hamburger and wrap themselves in lettuce and the bun. Anything liquid, from pear juice to the bully’s drool is disgusting.
The press release tells us the work is about elevating the mundane, but I don’t buy that. Gay dancing bears in chains are not banal. The video may be about a lot of things, but the primary theme I took from it was desire. It’s not singular vision of desire—the way it might be in a dream—but one that represents the different wants and needs of the characters. These range from wanting to lick an ice cream cone, to the luxury of having fresh flowers fall on your head. In this case, once they hit a surface, they melt.