There’s a lot of story-telling going on in New York, or maybe I’m just bright-eyed and bushy tailed and viewing everything through rose-colored glasses, back in New York after a relatively long time away. Regardless, I think there’s a lot of smart-art on display right now – stuff you can really sink your eyes into and that requires at least a good long look, if not multiple return visits. Artists like Gillian Wearing, Xaviera Simmons and Martin Kippenberger expect a lot from their viewers, and if you walk away just thinking “well that was pretty cool” you probably missed the point. Even “I have no idea what is going on” is probably a bit better. Though some of the art is just ravishing, like Anne Ferrer’s inflatable beasties and Mark Grotjahn’s blank peering faces.
As it’s springtime there’s some nice public art – Urs Fischer’s poor little yellow bear that somehow became one with a desk lamp, and there is Ai Wei Wei’s “Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads” in the Pulitzer Fountain by the Plaza.
Let’s face facts – Ai Wei Wei has been taunting the Chinese government to arrest him for years. Rather than signing petitions or vocally demanding he be freed, which would be nothing more than a gesture to appease a western public on the part of the Chinese government, let’s agitate for those things that Wei Wei got himself into prison for in the first place – open elections and an end to the one-party system, an end to massive government corruption in China, and freedom of speech and expression in that country. Ai Wei Wei is showing by example that in China, a thinking, conscientious, and influential person should be ashamed to live a life of luxury and freedom when their countrymen are being ground down daily by a fascist authoritarian military dictatorship.
Gillian Wearing: People
5th May-24th June
521 West 21st St.
So first things first, go listen to my interview with Gillian at her east London studio, which took place the week before the show opened: http://artonair.org/show/gillian-wearing-people . The exhibition functions as something of a little retrospective, featuring the many different approaches Wearing has to her subjects. Her snapshots, from 2005, feature eerie and mostly black and white vintage-looking videos; Bully, from 2010 is a performance piece/video, Secrets and Lies, 2009, follows Wearing’s previous work with confession and anonymity, and also included are some more transformative photographs and sculptures produced in the last year.
Mark Grotjahn: Nine Faces
532 West 20th st.
through June 25
There’s a whole school of painting centered around the use of just a whole lot of paint. It’s a small and select crowd because frankly, too much paint is usually really really bad. But a few artists, namely A. P. Ryder and Vincent Van Gogh manage to pull it off. Mark Grotjahn’s thickly encrusted canvasses manage to utilize the excess of oil paint in the same way. It’s something that is at the heart of abstraction, and encapsulated in what Frank Stella said about the paint looking as good on the canvas as in the can-the paint itself on Grotjahn’s canvasses holds a kaleidoscopic fixation for the viewer. Each image-stylized faces that might be masks or even constructions of peacock feathers, contain, per inch, dozens of starbursts of every possible color that have been meticulously wrought in wonderful smelling miasmic impasto.
Ai Wei Wei
Grand Army Plaza at 59th Street and Fifth Avenue
My familiarity with the Chinese Zodiac mostly comes from the throw-away placemats at my local Chinese-Cuban restaurant (now closed, thank you very much Mr. Bloomberg, though I suspect a solid “D” rating on their health inspection didn’t help much either). But in fact, if you are knowledgeable about these things, the year, day and even hour of your birth can determine what path in life you lead. Mr. Ai’s zodiac animals do not bespeak a happy or fortuitous future for anyone. Even the bunny-rabbit is horrifying and fierce. They are also all decapitated and though it’s supposedly water dripping down from their heads, in the form of the stands they are placed on, I think the more likely substance is blood. They are based on a series of Jeuit-designed statues that once existed in a palace in Beijing, ransacked by British and French troops in 1860. As always, Ai Wei Wei is saying a lot-you have a reference to colonialism and its destructive history, but on the other hand I think you have a clear reference to the burden of Chinese history itself, A country that for millenia has struggled under the yoke of fascism and authoritarianism, and still, and to Ai Wei Wei’s current detriment, chooses to uphold a class-system based mostly on birth and corruption, and a military blindly willing to uphold the status quo. One can’t escape from these violent beasts that determine one’s future!
Curated by Stephen Maine
The Painting Center
547 West 27th Street, Suite 500
This is one of those exhibitions that must have been a blast to curate. Various artists were assigned walls throughout the gallery and set about painting site specific paintings, which though stylistically unique and by a variety of hands, all manage to fall under a general hard-line abstract painting umbrella. the third dimension is touched upon, toyed with and teased, but not beaten into the viewers head. The delicate space between texture, illusion and sculptural space is preserved, with artists like Gary Petersen and Morgan O’Hara sticking to pure painterly gestures, while Dannielle Tageder and Rob Nadeau hang and lean volumes and objects to push their game. Nancy Olivier, Jim Osman and Steel Stillman are also included, and the back wall features a delightful selection of preparatory drawings for the projects.
Richard Long: Flow and Ebb
6 May through 25 June
257 Bowery, New York
The New Sperone Westwater gallery, of museum proportions, albeit on the slim side, presents a thorough exhibit of Long’s photography, text, mud and stone pieces. The setting is a bit uncomfortable, there is a very big wall that easily accomodates a massive eclipse in black, overpainted with muddy finger trails, but it’s very hard to get far away enough to get a good look on the ground floor. The mezannine offers a similarly novel point of view-giving the viewer a up-close position on the “midriff” of the piece. The you can go on what feels like the back fire-escape and stand on one of the stone floor sculptures, with the green of the park in the back, it’s a chance to be in a gallery, and experience a Richard Long floor-piece outdoors. The entire show becomes an oddly intimate affair between the viewer and the art.
May 13-June 3
North East corner of 47th and Lexington
Unlike the violent creatures inhabiting the Pulitzer fountain (in Ai Wei Wei’s zodiac) French artist Anne Ferrer has brought an entirely different menagerie with her, in a suitcase, from Paris. The corner gallery space is inhabited by five robust and variously striped/horned/nippled monsters, deftly crafted in radiant and colorful silks. These organisms perhaps are trying to scare the passersby, but its the same flaccid fearsomeness that Max experiences in his trip to the land of the wild things-they seem more interested in a fun, if not randy, time. Each is on a timer attched to a fan, so that they inflate and wither as the air-stream turns on and off.
Socrates Sculpture Park
May 8 through August 7th
32-01 Vernon Boulevard at Broadway
Long Island City (Queens)
It’s spring in New York, and that means it’s time to go to sunny Queens! The Socrates Sculpture Park manages to combine erudite thinking with a suitably laid-back atmosphere, thus making it possible to enjoy the views, the park, and the sculpture without feeling like you need a copy of 1000 Plateaus under your arm (which I never read all of anyway, take that Peter Eisenman and the Princeton School of Architecture!). Curated by Alyson Baker, with Lars Fisk and Elissa Goldstone, Vista negotiates the picture plane as it is evoked in sculpture. Featuring Ivan Argote, Jillian Conrad, Priscila De Carvalho, Blane De St. Croix, Michael Clyde Johnson, Leif Low-beer, Steven Millar, Slinko, Howie Sneider, Rob Swainston, Jason Tomme.
Martin Kippenberger: “I Had A Vision”
May 7 – June 18, 2011
531 West 24th Street
I had a very nice conversation with a security guard watching over this exhibition. He said something like “(Kippenberger) memorializes habit…” whoa! heavy stuff, and spot on as well. Unfortunately this guard had given up smoking three days before working the show and cigarette butts are everywhere, subsumed within resinous molded blobs. There is a mysterious logic at work, a history of something unknowable-a wheelchair bound figure with semitransparent head and two prosthetic hands sits at the end of a track. in another room, one of those machines astronauts use to accustom themselves to zero-gravity spins around and around, and a dumpster full of ripped-up paintings sits in the midst of photographs of those paintings when they existed. Perhaps it’s a metaphor for the life of the artist, or just the fictional detritus that accrues during real existence, whatever it is, spend some time with it.
Xaviera Simmons: Wilderness
Through May 28
526 West 26th st St.
Xaviera Simmons is an artist who plays with the way we view photographs. Whether it is via scale, oscillating between a small picture that is immediately viewed as a snapshot, or a much larger print that is more likely to be interpreted as a narrative piece. Don’t let those traditional size delineations fool you-snapshots can be just as narrative, and as Simmons pushes her wilderness project and experiments with the many themes and variations found in travel photography-the photograph of the photographer or the lost tourist, she explores other avenues of meaning-class based, race based, and on and on. In the end what seems like a road trip through the west, to see the country and take in the natural wonders, does just that, but on a far profounder psycho-historical level.
Oh, and there’s an interview you can listen to as well: http://artonair.org/show/xaviera-simmons
Express+Local: NYC Aesthetics
Queens College Art Center
January 28-June 30th
65-30 Kissena Blvd. Flushing
Cheap studio space is the most prized and rarest game in New York. Free studio space is like catching a unicorn. Queens College Art Center Curator Tara Mathison divided 16 New York artists up into three groups and gave each group a month long residency in the ring shaped gallery space looking out into the atrium of the College Library. Sort of an experiment in the cross pollination of artistic themes and influences. Artists featured include shock photographer photographer Tommy Mintz and bestselling author Ellis Avery, Who who singlehandedly seems poised to ressurrect the postcard as a viable means of communication, albeit haikus in this case. Anne Sherwood Pundyk, Kristina + Marek Milde, Becky Franco, Howard Lerner, Erin Hanke, Rob Kimmel, Derek Vadala, April Nett, Antonia Perez, Carl Gambrell, Naomi Grossman and Jon Wohl are also featured.