Sunday, June 9, 2013

Big Five Oh, part 6: Lower East Side Perambulation (NSFW)

Robert Boyd

Back 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.

The 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.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres

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

I 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

He 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).

The 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.

Wim Delvoye

Wim Delvoye

Then 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

Maria 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

Next: NADA


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