False Metaphors at Schroeder Romero
2004 is here and after a brief respite, I am back to deliver
terribly subjective reviews of the 'supposed' art I keep
seeing. While I entertained the idea of some kind of best
of the heap for January, I decided to leave that kind of
arbitration to professionals. I spent December drinking.
I am still drinking, but I actually left my apartment to
look at the first round of this year's shows. My reticent
friend L accompanied me despite the possibility of frostbite
and my endless stream of comments. We met for a foamy cup
of beer before setting out into the frigid air.
The air outside might not have been as cold as Kenn Bass's
multimedia installation at Roebling Hall. Composed of three
major pieces, a set of drawing machines, a video projection
triptych, and a greenhouse, Bass's show had the feeling
of an intellectual exercise. While L and I watched the video
montage of bits of text and images with some interest, the
rest of the show was pretty oblique and emotionally chilly.
The large greenhouse had some transparencies regarding history
or something, but remained out of my reach. I stared dumbly
at the drawing machines for a while, but having seen the
idea done repeatedly, I tried to make connections between
some kind of seismology and ecological concerns to no avail.
Basically, the dimmed gallery seemed hopelessly pretentious
and inaccessible. We left in search of some emotional warmth.
(I have no idea when this show ends or what it was called.
We braved the cold until we reached 31 Grand for Tim Wilson's
show of photographic oil paintings. I made my way around
the gallery trying to bite my tongue. Let me make it clear,
these represent the worst impulses of post-modern painting.
It is everything that my pal Greenberg was against, the
kitschy and already digested subject matter. Wilson's soft
focus and candy coated surface are immediately appealing,
and like all good candy, they pack a quick rush and little
substance. Ah, what the hell, if these were ironic gestures,
they would be great parodies of Modernist painting, almost
the antithesis of Greenberg's prescriptions, but they aren't.
L didn't think so either. She made an ugly face at me across
the gallery, and she didn't have to say another word. And
for the record, Greenberg secretly wished he could paint
like Rockwell too, or in this case, Richter, but demanded
more of himself and art than that.
(See Me, Feel Me runs through you until February 8th.
One sugar-coated doughnut of a Greenberg. Rating:
Our disappointment was soothed after our arduous trek
around the corner to *sixty seven gallery. Once inside,
I stood next to the furnace they call a space heater and
admired Chris Caccamise's happy like sculptures. One brown
tree with blue leaves struck me as particularly wonderful.
L wandered about, looking at the crowded group show, The
Neon Forest is my Home. Walking around the room, I found
Liam Everett's quietly surreal pencil drawings on beige
paper held my interest. I enjoyed the restraint in his silly
narratives like an ape on the wing of plane. Anke Sievers'
small paintings on paper had a strange voice to them. In
brightly colored landscapes, fire, water, and stone are
accompanied by texts like "Gabriel the Archangel"
imbuing the scenes with a religious tone that seemed oddly
profound. I found them quite suggestive beyond their intimate
scale and awkwardly handled surface. Sari Carel's large
painting of horses had a weird My little Pony vibe going,
far different from the muted canvasses I'd seen a while
back at Momenta Art. I like the change, L said it's the
kind of funky painting you either love or hate, and sure
it could go either way, but I liked it. On the opposite
wall, I had to check the press release to make sure the
gallery hadn't gotten hold of Dana Shutz painting. Apparently
not, the loaded brush painting of a bird in an abstract
forest was someone else's canvas. The ubiquitous E-Team
was one hand with a whacky photograph of a woman wearing
a scary baseball mask in pen with sheep.
I love performance art. (The Neon Forest is My Home is up
through February 16th. Rating:
We stopped for a beer and to warm our feet. My foolish
companion had decided to wear sneakers. I decided that maybe
I shouldn't take her criticism too seriously, but I didn't
tell her that. She's a curator after all, and I am desperately
trying to get my circle series out there. Boozed up, we
headed over to Fishtank.
I have seen worse group shows before, but not many. This
aimless and meandering show looked like somebody raided
undergrad studios, yet again. Unoriginally called "Group
Show", it had one painting I liked of two cartoon dudes
talking about nothing, like a Jim Shaw episode of Seinfeld.
Fresh out of patience, I left without writing down the artist's
name. I put in as much work as the gallery.
(Group Show, mercifully, has been taken down. Rating:
Didn't make it to the group show at South 1st, but we
did stop by the extended show "How You Know it"
by Lucas Ajemian at Priska C. Juschka Fine Art (I love that
last bit they add at the end, it's funny). There was also
a show by Deborah Hampton, Streamline, of abstract flowers
in the back, highlighted by a delicate wall drawing. The
exhibition title refers to a term usually reserved for the
effect of rasterizing a bitmap image in Flash or Illustrator.
I really didn't want to think about that process when I
looked at her flowers, but there you go. Out front, Ajemian,
aimed a bit higher with his multimedia installation featuring
some big wooden boxes, two video projections, and series
of manipulated fashion ads. L, a student of feminism, frowned
at the objectified images of naked bodies, while I was basically
aroused. I hate it when that happens in the gallery. I don't
know what the show was about, and don't much care. At one
point in one of the videos someone spray paints footprints
in the snow. I got the feeling that Ajemian was 'marking'
his territory, like artists were so enamored with in the
70's. I hope someone who cares writes about this show, because
L and I left without further discussion.
(How You know it and Streamline were taken off life support
on the Jan. 26th. There will be no services. Rating:
We came in from the cold at Momenta Art to E-Team's absurd
installation "Train Stop Inn". The multi channel
video installation featured a large-scale projection of
the collaborative team setting up a real train stop in the
desert and trying to get trains to stop for refreshments.
The gallery is transformed into a cheesy replica of the
actual site, wooden fence post and empty drinks, against
faux wood grain wall to frame the videos. The premise of
trying to get a train to stop is funny, the fact that they
succeed is worth the wait.
In the second space Barry Hylton has a series of sculptural
non-sequitars that are perfect foils for the amusing irony
out front. Hylton mounts comic animal masks on textured
backgrounds, almost like trophies, that are surrounded by
humorous passages of text. One of my favorites features
a toad and a duck with the saying "Trigger Happy and
Gunshy Meet all Green and Wallowing for Street Credit'.
Hylton manages to use the text without creating one-liners.
His montages run into a different territory than jokes,
something more like pathos.
(Both shows ended January 19th so you'll have to take my
Up the street at Pierogi, I showed L Ward Shelly's epic
of obsessive-compulsive behavior, We Have Mice. I had visited
the show previously on my own to get a sense of the ongoing
changes that the press release promised. (Yes, on occasion
I have been known to 'read', though I try and avoid them.
They are always so positive. What's up with that?) Shelly's
show was still quite amazing on my third visit from his
hilarious 'flat file' to the myriad of manic processes he
had undertaken since moving into the gallery walls. As L
and I stood there, we could see the artist inside looking
out of a small peephole in the wall, which was quite disconcerting.
Someone told me they were standing around when the artist
casually said "hello" through the wall, freaking
them right out.
During his stay in the gallery, Shelly has built several
ingenious installations into the sheet rock, but perhaps
most spectacularly, Shelly built a temporary bridge across
the gallery ceiling to central support beams to install
the television monitors that provide real-time video and
documentation of the performance. The drawings in the flat
file reflect the process and politics of Shelly's quirky
and ambitious endeavor. While he wants to make a statement
about the dramatic increase in Williamsburg rents and cost
of living, the evolution of Pierogi itself maybe all the
critique necessary. I'm not really concerned with Shelly's
critique, since artists are as responsible for the gentrification
of the area and its radically altered economy. I don't think
the market prices reflect the actual value of the neighborhood,
and landlords are certainly gouging our pockets, but what
did anyone expect? That the 'haves' would give us poor assed
'nots' a break for increasing their property values 500%?
No, they haven't and many of the first wave of artists have
been priced right out of the community they helped revive.
It's sad, but as a critique, Shelly's point seems always
already stated by the commercial success of the gallery.
What is much better is the sheer creative energy and drive
that Shelly imbues the space with from his moving drawings
embedded in the wall to his bitterly funny t-shirts. I wanted
the one with "living the unexamined life" that
hung in his manufactured closet. While some of Shelly's
gestures, maybe the entire mouse theme, are pretty hokey,
the exhibit as a whole is a rare and dramatic gesture that
is more intriguing and rewarding than Marina Abrimovic's
voyeuristic exercise in endurance and isolation last year.
To be fair, Lee Bronson has some elegant glass bubble sculptures
in the back, but if I were the artist, I would have felt
a bit self-conscious about exhibiting such traditional forms
with the complex exhibit out front. It really provides an
excellent picture of the chasm between object-oriented art
you stick in a nice mansion and process driven work that
ultimately vanishes. Not that one is always better, but
the neo-formalists are circling the wagons man.
(We Have Mice and Contrails and Clusters have been extended
through February 9th so go to Pierogi, again if you
haven't been back since the opening.
L and I swung through Black and White Gallery and Jack
the Pelican rather quickly. Jenny Dabnua's paintings didn't
take long to figure out, but that doesn't make them bad.
In fact, the slapstick images have a sense of humor that
Chuck Close's lack, giving the 'serious' figurative paintings
a shot in the arm. The guy with half a face of shaving cream
is funny, seriously. It's pretty simple and largely enjoyable.
Next door, there was some nonsense going on in Wry Material,
a show about process art and installation that suffers in
comparison to Ward Shelly's show. Sorry, but the works like
what may or may not be 'bullet' hole paintings and growing
grass stop at apprehension. Got it? Good. Not particularly
interesting visually or conceptually, the only thing that
I mildly liked were the stapled and torn fabric patterns
made on the gallery walls by Elana Herzog. While L and warmed
ourselves with the free heat, there were some dopes trying
to figure out how the awful puddle paintings in back were
made. Smelled an awful lot like Photoshop to me. Cheers
if it was much harder than that to make the liquid metal
(Jenny Dabnau just came down. Rating:
Wry Material is searching for wit through February 15th.
We made the long trek over to Parker's Box and were quite
impressed by the controlled chaos that is Enriched. Apparently
the directors allowed John Bjerklie, Matt Blackwell, and
Andrew James to basically live and work in the gallery for
three weeks. It wasn't a pretty process from the sound of
things, but they managed to put together a big, wobbly ramshackle
mess of paintings, drawings, and sculpture. Bjerklie's money
tree with an exploded brief case may be the centerpiece
of the group's salon aliéné. That might be
a bit strong, but the show has a wild, juvenile energy that
is quite infectious. L and I bumbled about the space looking
at James' intentionally awkward paintings that climb the
gallery walls and Blackwell's pastiche animals.
There is a lot to digest in the show, like the title suggests,
that gallery has never been so stuffed with art. The back
of the gallery features a smaller almost ancillary installation
of small works on paper by the three artists. A military
surplus cot and television sit in the corner hinting at
the hours the artists invested in the communal act of making
so much. I enjoyed Blackwell's pencil and ink drawings that
surround a rather pathetic looking horse. The spare, tremulous
images function like traces of memory, from grocery lists
to doodles, each one conveys something of the artist's personality.
I never get tired of seeing "Fuck-ed Upd," scrawled
somewhere in an exhibition. It's like a gang sign for artists.
I liked the drawings more than his animal sculptures but
I always prefer drawings anyway.
Plus, I like Bjerklie's DIY aesthetic better from his representational
tree to his variations on transporting and framing images
through elaborately constructed piles of, well, junk. The
back room nevertheless, dispenses with the big objects and
feels like taking a walk in all the artists' heads, while
hopelessly unorganized they do offer fascinating material.
James' small paintings on paper may be better representations
of his whimsical and passionate musings about the everyday
than his canvasses. While they might be a little too laid
back, shades of Karen Klimnick, his painterly style is also
an attitude that emerges with each picture. The attitude
of a guy who manages to get 24oz cans of Bud served at the
opening. Cheers! (Enriched is hogging wall space and attention
through February 2nd, so git over there now. Rating:
Trees and politics, these are two themes I have been forced
to contend with lately. The politics I get, we've got a
neo-con, religious conservative issuing patriarchal orders
from Washington, which causes me to scream "Fuck!"
for no apparent reason like I've got Tourette's syndrome
at the mere thought of his name. The same impulse has caused
better people than myself to make intelligent and provocative
art in response. Liselot Van Der Heijden's spare video installation
at Schroeder Romero is a case in point. Her large projection
of a dying Zebra on the plains of Africa and vultures' tearing
at something make an implicit critique of American foreign
policy that resonates beyond politics into existential angst.
The extreme close up of Zebra, actually a one-minute loop
of its last breath, is projected on a large white wall in
the dimmed gallery. In the adjacent room, as the carrion
tear away at some pitiful beast text like "This is
not about oil," from Bush's mouthpiece, Ari Fleischer
are flashed over the gruesome scene and noise. Together,
the two short video loops are unnerving metaphors for the
grim results of our foreign policy while echoing our inevitable
fate. Van Der Heijden conveys this with economy and grace,
something uncommon in the often lengthy and self-indulgent
world of video art. Her photographs of visitors photographing
scenic dioramas at the Natural Musuem of History are straight
forward critiques of constructed representations, while
the videos display a strong political will showing the duplicitous
manipulation of language and appearances.
(False Metaphors is up through February 9th . Rating:
While animals make for interesting subject matter in Van
Der Heijden's conceptually driven work, The Road Runner
and Wily E. Coyote serve as muse for Rosamarie Fiore's solo
show at Plus Ultra. When we arrived, L was all like "What
the hell is this crap?" in a hushed tone. Despite my
impulse to laugh and dismiss the ceramic tableaus, I found
them creepy. I don't know if it's the fact that Fiore's
don't read as ironic representations, but as sincere gestures.
I say this, because the The Road Runner is killed, brutally,
in every scene. There is no comic relief in the coyote's
epic failures, only bloody death for the bird. It seemed
a little sadistic actually, watching the bad guy win everytime.
If it's a critique, then Bush is the coyote and the bird
is integrity, freedom, honesty, and whatever else has been
run over in the effort to stop those pesky terrorists in
Iraq, er, Afghanistan, wait, no, in New York. Everywhere
except where they actually detonate bombs. My complaint
though, is that Fiore's ceramic objects are absurdly made
that I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Basically, they
are hideous, but it may actually work for Fiore conceptually.
She manages to make the familiar ugly and mean, like politics.
(Through February 9th. Rating:
Bellwether lightened things up with a double dose of colorful
and almost cheery art work. Rebecca Hart's solo show Charmer
is as billed, a funny, ingratiating show with a childlike
simplicity. In the middle of the gallery is a furry, stuffed
horse laying on a throw rug, sleeping or perhaps dead. Ripe
with meaning, the piece is best viewed as silly sweet gesture,
not a comment on art. Above, spreading across the ceiling
is a beautiful beehive made of furry twist-ties. Mounted
on the wall on the back wall is a less successful cabinet
with little racecar trophies. L and I couldn't really make
much of a connection with the other pieces, and left it
alone. In the second space, Patrick Callery has curated
a nice show ostensibly about birds. We enjoyed it, though
I forgot it as soon as I rounded the corner in the bitter
(Charmer and uh, the bird show are up through February
make for a worthwile visit before Bellwether sells its Williamsburg
soul for Chelsea greenbacks.)
L and I warmed up at Dam Stuhltrager in Leah Stulhtrager's
solo show about trees, nature, and real estate. The black
and white, almost monochrome show features ink drawings
of tightly rendered trees, houses, and other detritus on
shaped, cloud-like blocks of painted wood. There are also
several white washed tree branches and wooden birds emerging
from the gallery walls with a blanket of paper leaves beneath.
There seems to be a narrative thread, possibly about development
linking the different sections of the show. The one element
of the show that didn't seem as well executed was some signage
in the corner that seemed too obvious, but doesn't really
detract from the hushed show. L was busy petting the gallery
dog, a rambunctious hound of some kind and was a little
preoccupied. That may be the only downside of having a personable
dog in a gallery.
(I lost the card and thus the exact closing date, so I'll
say February 9th like everything else. Rating:
Eh, what else did I see, um, there was also a show of Russian
dolls, the little rounded kind that fit inside each other,
interpreted by several artists at 65 Hope Street. L and
I joked that Barry McGee must have been real busy, but then
again it's a popular style. Here's a formula, draw a pathetic
looking face on a grey background only with lines and viola,
you have the style favored by the BFA crowd, west coast
inside-outsider art, or something. It's a pleasant assignment
with milquetoast results. The Same might be said for the
lovely garden installation, Living Room, at Monya Rowe,
along with the uninspired paper relief collages on the walls.
(The Russian Doll shows closes on the 2nd, and Gabrielle
Micchia's installation closes on February 8th.
Having braved the cold with me, I took L out for a well-deserved
round of beers before retreating into the warmth of my studio.
Hopefully, kids, the crawl will be a bit more timely for
the next go around. Maybe. Maybe not. Nah. Whatever.
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