when I first came to New York in 1982, the Lower East Side still had a
reputation as a dangerous place. It was still the LES of CBGB's, of
druggies and squatters. The Tompkins Square Park riot still lay in the
future. The Lower East Side was the home of radical art spaces like ABC no Rio. But a lot has happened in 30 years. The neighborhood feels pretty gentrified. And it is full
of art galleries. The art gallery density is not quite equal to that in
Chelsea, but it's close. After a day hanging out with DC and LM mostly in Chelsea and in the West Village,
I wanted to explore the LES. I decided I'd walk over to the New Museum
on Bowery then meander south to Basketball City, where the NADA Art Fair
was. I would check out whatever galleries I encountered along the way.
New Museum was founded by Marcia Tucker in 1977 in SoHo. Tucker had
been a curator at the Whitney until she was fired for putting on an
exhibit by Richard Tuttle which was not well-received. She admirably
said fuck it, I'll start my own museum. She started the New Museum in
1977 and ran it for 22 years. There is a long interview with her here, and I recommend her autobiography A Short Life of Trouble: Forty Years in the New York Art World.
Once the scrappy underdog of a museum in pre-gentrified Soho, it is now
an institution in the post-gentrified LES that has garnered a good deal
of controversy not because of the cutting edge art it shows but because of its exhibition practices.
The New Museum at night
The museum was showing NYC 1993: Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star,
which was kind of a nostalgia show. All the art was made and/or shown
in New York in 1993. The title of course comes from the Sonic Youth
album that came out that year. In 1993, I was living in Seattle and
Portland. I was aware of a few of the artists who were in this show, but
not most. (Since then I've encountered them frequently enough--and some
of the pieces in the show were already pretty well-known.) The museum
itself is arranged very oddly--it's like a tall skinny ziggurat, with
the upper galleries smaller than the ones below. So to see the show, you
have to travel from floor to floor repeatedly. I started at the top and
worked my way down.
So Felix Gonzalez-Torres had a tall narrow room of his own.
Charles Ray, Family Romance, 1992-93, painted fiberglass and synthetic hair
Janine Antoni, Lick and Lather, 1993, chocolate and soap
Matthew Barney, Drawing Restraint 7, 1993, three video monitors and video
Kiki Smith, Virgin Mary, 1992, cast bronze
Mike Kelley, Garbage Drawing (not sure which number it is), 1988, acrylic on paper
Nicole Eisenman, Hanging Birth, 1993, oil on canvas
Paul McCarthy, Cultural Gothic, 1992, Metal, motors, fiberglass, clothing, compressor, urethane rubber and stuffed goat
I had see Helter Skelter at MOCA in Los Angeles in 1992, which included several of the artists in Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star--Paul
McCarthy, Mike Kelley and Charles Ray. On one hand, you could divide
the work between art that was primarily conceptual and art that was less
so, but you could also see it as divided between art that has a certain
shock value (or that at least was intended to freak you out in some
way) and art that didn't try to operate on that level. Nicole Eisenman,
Paul McCarthy and Charles Ray weren't trying to give you warm snuggley
feelings nor were they about putting you in a contemplative state. I
like their work a lot, but if an animatronic statue of a little boy
fucking a goat didn't cause riots, you wonder if anything in the world
of contemporary art could.
The men's bathroom at the New Museum
was worried that if someone walked in as I photographed the men's
bathroom at the New Museum that I'd be arrested (or at least ejected). I
felt a little pervy hanging around until the bathroom was empty. But it
was worth it to get this photo--this is the most insane public restroom
I've ever seen.
New Museum selfie
The elevators are completely chromed. I suspect they have been the site of thousands of selfies.
After visiting the NewMuseum, I started my LES odyssey at Hahn & Garis, which appears to be a brand new gallery on Bowery.
Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro, T+85_red&blue_diptych, 2013, Lego
They had a group show up called Peripheral Visions: Contemporary Art from Australia. The piece above by Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro depicts the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. Their medium? Legos. So this begged the question for me--is Lego art a thing?
It seems pretty gimmicky to me, but I love Legos so as soon as I came
home, I went to the Lego store and stocked up. We'll see if anything
comes of it beyond a second childhood.
Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro, T+77_brown&red, 2011, Lego
Stephen Bird, What Picasso Called an Erection for the Eyes, 2012, clay, pigment, glaze
This visual pun is amusing, but what really strikes me (and creeps me out) about What Picasso Called an Erection for the Eyes by Stephen Bird
is that the erect penis is depicted as having been surgically
removed--you see the ring of skin surrounding the disturbing inner
tissue. If it had been just a flat color, it would have been a merely
funny piece. But by making it fleshy all the way, including along the
apparent incision, Bird complicates things. He makes his male viewers
uncomfortable. This male, anyway.
Stephen Bird, Majolica Shoot, 2012, pigment and glaze, 16.1 x 19.7 inches
Stephen Bird, Persian Blue Shoot Out, 2012, pigment and glaze, 16.1 x 19.7 inches
also has a series of plates made from one mold depicting two Jesus
Christs engaged in a pistol duel, with the left Jesus wounding the right
Jesus. The exhibit has three of these plates painted with quite
different glazes, suggesting different times of day (Persian Blue Shoot Out seems like a night-time duel).
show was curated by Marissa Bateman, who happened to be working in the
gallery right then. She gave me a small but handsomely produced catalog
for the show. The catalog mentions that Bateman "currently resides in
both New York City & Sydney." Whenever I read something like
that, I always wonder how someone manages such a living arrangement. It
seems like residences in both of those cities would be quite expensive
to maintain, not to mention the travel costs. And I guess the fact that
I'm asking this question must mark me as a naive country mouse.
Wim Delvoye, Suppo (scale model 1:2), 2010
At Sperone Westwater, there were several clever Wim Delvoye
sculptures. It appears that he has taken existing three dimensional
objects and using some CAD program twisted them in interesting ways and
then fabricated them. Suppo is the name of a scale model RC aircraft
maker, and I think that might be what he is referencing in the gothic
fantasia Suppo (scale model 1:2) above.
there are these two pieces made out of stretched and twisted
crucifixes. Again, it seems likely that a computer did the twisting
prior to their fabrication. The top one has the crucifixes take the form
of a double helix. The bottom one is apparently a Möbius strip. I like
how they take a visual symbol of pre-scientific thinking and combine it
with two visual symbols of post-enlightenment scientific thought--the
double helix standing for DNA and biology, the Möbius strip a symbol of
topology and in general of post-Euclidian mathematics.
Amy Bessone, Object, 2013, silkscreen on canvas on panel, 89 x 68 inches
I found this piece by Amy Bessone at Salon 94 quit clever, but while I could see having it on a coffee mug, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want a seven foot high version.
The exterior of Salon 94 had this fantastic video screen which showed a flower arrangement in the process of decaying.
Also on the Bowery was this tribute to Houston's own Nekst.
And at the corner of Bowery and Delancey was this painted building that appears to be the work of Kenny Scharf.
From Bowery I shifted over to Orchard St. because it seemed to have the highest density of galleries.
On Stellar Rays exterior
On Stellar Rays was
my favorite gallery name of all the ones I saw. And a name like that
might lead you to expect cosmic art with intense psychedelic colors. But
the work inside by Maria Petschnig was anything but cosmic.
Maria Petschnig, from Vasistas, video
Maria Petschnig installation
Petschnig was described in the gallery literature as "frequently
deal[ing] with the intimate, confronting taboos and dominant ideals
surrounding gender and sex. By subjugating her own body to the eyes of
the camera and the public, Petschnig implicates the spectator in the
construction of narrative and character, beyond comfortable social
conventions." In other words, same old, same old. There was work in the
New Museum 1993 show that did this first and better. The videos weren't
all that interesting.
However, the installation in the
gallery was really excellent. From what I can tell, On Stellar Rays
space is a typical gallery--clean white walls, high ceiling, versatile.
But the installation Petschnig has made converts it utterly--cheap wood
paneling, acoustic tile drop ceiling, cheap floor lamps and occasional
mysterious objects. It looks like it could be a whorehouse, a sex
dungeon, or even maybe the windowless room where a kidnapper has kept
his victim for years. The space Ptschnig creates achieves the goal that
On Stellar Rays described far better than the videos.
David Nadel, Burn #299
When I went to Sasha Wolf Gallery just down the road, the vibe couldn't be more different. There was a beautiful show by photographer Katherine Wolkoff up, but it was a photo in the back by David Nadel that
really caught my attention. At first, I couldn't tell what I was
looking at--thousands of uneven black marks against a white background.
It's a photograph of a snow-covered hillside where a forest has burned.
Anyone who has driven between Austin and Houston through Bastrop has
seen a similar ghost forest, the remains of a serious forest fire in 2011. The sight of it is haunting, and somehow taking similar photos in the snow, as Nadel has done, amplifies the effect.
Ryan Humphrey at DCKT
And in an abrupt shift in tone (which was typical of this perambulation), we had the street punk petty criminality of Ryan Humphrey at DCKT.
I liked the work because it made me laugh, and like Petschnig's
installation, it made for a fairly convincing environment. (Apparently
the materials were the results of petty crimes--stolen milk crates,
broken bike locks, etc.
Ryan Humphrey, Titty Fuck the Police
The "Police" part of Titty Fuck the Police
is a real sign to which Humphrey's has added the other words. But the
reason I like this is because it is the most bizarre variation on "Fuck
the police" I've ever seen. Saying "Fuck the Police" or "Fuck the cops"
is merely an angry commonplace. But "titty fuck the police" is both
specific and absurd. And it made me laugh. (I'm realizing that a lot of
the work on this stroll made me laugh. It's a good thing!)
Amanda Browder, Prism/Livin/Room (detail), fabric installation
In the basement of Allegra LaViola was filled with Prism/Livin/Room by Amanda Browder.
By the time I got here, I had seen at least 19 galleries and the New
Museum. My feet were aching and I was tired. I almost didn't want to
walk down the stairs to see the show in the basement because I was
afraid it might be completely uninteresting and I'd have to walk up the
stairs for no reason. But I took the chance and descended and saw this
delightful installation. In addition to the fabric construction, there
was a sewing machine--work on this installation was continuous.
Apparently members of the public were invited to help on occasion.
Amanda Browder, Prism/Livin/Room (detail), fabric installation
But best of all were two fabric covered chairs. They were so
comfortable--I almost fell asleep in one. This would have been a good
place for a nap. I don't know if it was just my weariness or if it was
Amanda Browder's art, but this was the most peaceful and relaxing work I
saw all day.
From there, NADA was only a couple of
blocks away. But before I talk about NADA, I want to mention a couple of
other LES galleries I saw on other days.
Ford at Gallery Onetwentyright
On Thursday, Ford and I had stopped in Gallery Onetwentyeight after visiting Cutlog. They were having their own art fair--the Fridge Art Fair.
It was a real art fair in the sense that it had
multiple exhibitors. It was a little like the Pan Art Fair--some of the
exhibitors were artists, some were galleries.
paintings by Ingmar Usas at the Fridge Art Fair
wall of Eric Ginsberg pet art
The guy behind Fridge was Eric Ginsberg,
a painter who specializes in faux-naïf paintings of pets. (If you never
went to art school and you paint like this, it's naive. If you have an
MFA from Columbia, it's faux-naïf.) Of course, I totally approve of the
Fridge Art Fair. Things like Fridge and Pan are not satellite art
fairs--we're like little bits of space junk.
Peter Rostovsky, Night Blossoms, 2012, photoshop painting created with Wacom tablet
About a a block from my hotel was P! Gallery. I liked these images by Peter Rostovsky.
Peter Rostovsky, Tango Red, 2012, photoshop painting created with Wacom tablet