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The February Art Crawl
By Keane A. Pepper
Highest Score:
5 Greenbergs

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. Rating: )

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 word sucker.

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.
for Shelly
Rating: for Bronson

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 effect.

(Jenny Dabnau just came down. Rating: ,
Wry Material is searching for wit through February 15th. Rating: )

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 cold.

(Charmer and uh, the bird show are up through February 9th.
and 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. and respectively.)

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.

--Keane Pepper

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Keane gets mentioned in Circa Art Mag


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