It's hard to limit last Thursday to 1000 words but I'm going give it a shot.
In Chelsea, Jeff Bailey Gallery had a great Johannes De Young video that featured a creepy claymation talking head spouting self help affirmations in a English-accented, computer voice. Positioned against a violet gradient background and surrounded by waxy, green plant leaves, he repeats phrases like "I can control my thoughts", while his clay face keeps melting and distorting. He's really trying hard to keep it together but is clearly losing it. And can't we all relate to that?
When I popped into Derek Eller Gallery I spied a sculpture in the office that appeared to be made of a bowling ball, some sort of modeling compound and Polaroid prints. Turns out it was a Thomas Barrow work. Barrow is best known for his "Cancellations" series from the 1970's and 80's in which he photographed the American West, carved X's through his negatives and the printed the results. The works are gorgeous, sepia-toned prints that evoke a post-industrialized and uninhabited, almost post-human time.
At Robert Miller Gallery I checked out the Untitled (Hybrid) show curated by Kate McNamara, Director of Boston University Art Gallery and co-founder of project space Cleopatra's in Greenpoint. The exhibition pivoted the work of seven artists off of Lee Krasner's paintings. For the most part I felt like it showed that Krasner still dominates a room, but I was thrilled to see two Dona Nelson paintings and a great Polly Apfelbaum floor piece.
Nelson kills it and we should all bow down. Each of her two paintings was supported by a stainless steel stand, allowing them to be displayed off the wall. Nelson is a maverick painter who's always pushing the boundaries of painting, and in an atmosphere where a lot of painting questions the physical nature of the canvas and stretcher, her work should be heralded as Done-It-First and done it while having made insanely beautiful paintings at the same time.
Apfelbaum's floor piece consists of four swathes of synthetic, ombre-dyed, material. My first thought was what did the dresses this materially was probably originally made for look like. I tend to love fashion references, so was quite happy already, but then I saw the work playing with the California Light and Space artists, especially Robert Irwin and loved Apfelbaum's comparative economy in time and effort. Apfelbaum's work always has a daring lightness that I admire.
By then it was time to go to some openings, the first of which was Rodney Graham at 303 Gallery. In each of the four large-scale photographs housed in lightboxes, Graham plays a different character. The absolute highlight of my night, was meeting the artist, who was super chill and who kindly explained how he arrived at the scientist photo. It's a play on Carl Spitzweg's painting The Cactus Enthusiast. In Graham's version a scientist in a lab coat looks at a kind of 1-800-Flowers cactus, complete with helium-filled balloons. Forgive me for quoting the press release but they really nail the dark humor. The scientist "seems to have a moment of disgust with the cactus and all it signifies, as if this limp, potted cactus with balloons represents not only his birthday, but the ridiculous culmination of his life up to this point. The wonderment of Spitzweg's original protagonist, his delight animating nature itself, has been replaced by the stark, cold reality of a middling career and the blighted hope of the unfulfilled." Yes.
Next was Wolfgang Tillmans at Andrea Rosen Gallery. I first saw his photos in the 90's and the casual subject matter coupled with the lack of frames were a revelation to me. Seeing everyday images elevated to art while rejecting a traditional photography presentation was super fresh. I had no idea who he was but thought that with that name and those photos, he just had this cool life he photographed and then showed in galleries.
The current exhibition, from Neue Welt, consists of work chosen from a four-year project. I'd say the subject matter isn't so much what's being photographed as it is Tillmans' eye. I don't want to trivialize his work by saying that he's the original Instagram, but in his elevation of what he's looking at, with no necessary narrative except the flow of life, I think his work presaged our current obsession.
The last Chelsea stop was the Anselm Kiefer opening at Gagosian. I was loving the lack of lighting in the gallery, especially noticeable around 7pm-ish, because it was especially gloomy. For the most part, I do love Kiefer and find his attempt to grapple with the enormously difficult position of being a post-Holocaust German very compelling. Epic painting moves me because it's always about life, death, sex and suffering. And Kiefer does it really well. I also find the scale to be somewhat hilarious and self-parodying, though I'm not sure if that was intended. I mean, one painting has an airplane wing coming out of it.
A cab ride took me to Karma Books for Piotr Uklański's Pornalikes opening. There's a wall of photographs of porn actors who strongly resemble celebrities and a giant, fabric eyeball hanging from the ceiling endlessly checking them out. While it speaks about our contemporary obsession with celebrities and porn, it does so in a way that is as entertaining as celebrities and porn are. The giant craft-project eyeball adds to the humor of the work, as if this giant head stared so long and hard that the rest of the head melted away. The only thing left standing is the endless gaze.
Finally, I ended up at The Hole for the heavily populated Abstraction show. Though the show has 40 artists, the works that stood out that night were by Wendy White and Sarah Braman. I like thinking of White as the Michael Mann of painters. Though the shaped canvases are all hand-made they are not at all about the human touch and are rather slick. And that paradox extends to the content, for while formally they are colorful, atmospheric and cool, they all reference the old street and neighborhoods of the Lower East Side, something White is fascinated with.
Braman lays down gorgeous violets and rusty salmons on a couple of discarded plywood sheets and spells out "Lay Down Down," upside-down. Poetic, hipster, minimalism. I find transcendence in the balance between the formal beauty that consciously references minimalism, and the adamantly broken-in pedigree of the materials.
Till next time.