Emily Stern at
The art world lull has passed, but this malevolent cold
almost dissuaded me from finishing the first art crawl of
the New Year. Nobody would accompany me on the rounds these
last weeks, and I don't really blame them. The galleries
seem to have caught a winter bug. The flu like cold appears
to have congested the galleries with abstraction and a slight
case of stuffiness.
Send me mail:
Despite this minor malady, 2003 shows some initial
promise. I didn't attend many openings this month, but the
severe looking crowd at the Pierogi
opening made me feel provincial and cheap like my second
tier University degree and MFA were printed on toilet paper.
My significant other concurred, although she has a fashion
sense at least. At moments of crushing self doubt like these,
I regroup and remind myself "None of these ivy leaguers
are going to put pen to paper," and I go eat a free
Pierogi and get a Lager.
Lets get right into this the best of this abstraction business
before I go getting all anti-formal. Schroeder
Romero has a handsome group show, Stroke (despite
the not very subtle title) that has a pleasing range. Starting
with Bellwether "crystal girl" Kirsten Hassenfeld
whose graphite drawings of gem-like structures are more
than just sketches for her intricate sculptures. The slightly
awkward way the crystals are rendered reveal a delicate,
tremulous hand. Even more beautiful in the "I'd buy
it if I had money" way are Janice Caswell's immaculate,
intricate works using lines and circles. The press release
says something about mental maps, but they are just so delicate,
I don't see any need to complicate matters by trying to
attach subjective meaning. Her wall installation is sweet.
Emily Stern's day dream like watercolors are fascinating
little worlds that just escape frivolity and emerge unscathed
by their likeness to countless other dreamy little worlds.
The rest of the show is competent and sturdy stretching
from the muscular drawings of Anna Pedersen to the obsessive,
graphite texture fields of James Nelson. There are
some colorful, drippy things and some representation that
is secondary to the processes that rendered them. All in
all, the show warmed me after suffering the frigid air.
Stroke runs through February 24th
While the abstraction of Stroke proved to be earnest, Nancy
Drew recasts its spiritual and ideological leanings in lovely
irony. Her engagingly conceptual solo show, Good Company,
at Roebling Hall is
stunning sans the groping sincerity of the aforementioned
emerging artists. Drew remakes some of the greatest hits
of abstraction with flocking, a kind of felt like material,
and no shit, glitter. What gets me is how beautiful the
canvasses are, how great a Barnett Neuman 'zip' looks made
out of glitter and soft, fluffy stuff. One of the main criticisms
of abstract Expressionism is its claim to universality,
while everyone was like, its really all about dudes and
'action'. Drew glams everything up, makes them pretty objects
again. Mondrian and Rothko look sexy, tactile. While Rothko
would've probably slit his wrists at the thought of his
beloved color fields being remade, I think Drew is amazing
for inverting the sensuality from something masculine into
something quite feminine. It really is worth the long, cold
walk to the hall, through February 10th.
To lesser success, but not all bad is Beatriz Barral's Superaccesspace
at Parker's Box. Coming
in from the freezing cold (I skipped
Lunar Space again, there was some kind of
hideous, monster painting in the window), the day-glo colors
were a stark contrast to the misery outside. I bounced about
the room, checking out the odd compositions created by the
convex mirrors placed on the walls while dodging pillow
like sculptures on the floor. While the installation was
cool, I felt a bit let down. She just didn't take her idea
far enough. Where the colored walls meet the ceiling is
a huge distraction, and the sense of immersion never really
occurs. Instead of really inhabiting the space, I felt like
I was looking at a diorama of an example of late conceptual
installation in a museum in the future, seriously. I don't
know; if you're going to create an escapist lounge, really
make it happen. Superaccesspace runs all the way through
What really killed me though, was when I bumbled into Sideshow
Gallery on Bedford. There, on the back wall is
this terrible painting of "s" shapes. I get up
to this thing and its got this gold frame, and I'm thinking
"the 60's called, they want their frame back".
I avoid looking at press releases and such until I've checked
everything out, but in defense of Dan Christensen's painting,
"untitled", was made in '68. The rest of the show,
weird op art, felt its age, except for Lori Ortiz's b-movie
sci-fi paintings. One of these endearing little canvases,
"S.O.L" looked like a dartboard stolen from the
enterprise circa Captain Kirk. Well, as the economy continues
to suck, the gallery owners drop the kids and start showing
the established. At this point, it's probably nothing to
criticize, since everyone has to pay the rent. I dare someone
to go down there though, and honestly tell me how Li-Trincere
won an NEA award for anything remotely like the stuff on
Maybe, just maybe, she won that award a while back when
they still meant something. Hopefully they will take this
down on February 25th.
So, smacked by history, I expected more of contemporary
abstraction over at Pierogi.
Noriko Ambe's really, really labor intensive sculptures
are sort of scary in their implications. If someone made
the Grand Canyon, it would've gone something like this.
Ambe stacks thousands of sheets of cut out paper to create
topographical reliefs. Wait, are they really all that abstract?
Nah, the artist does the same thing on books and the whole
strange room feels like a science project gone bad. In the
back Lee Etheridge IV marvels at the way type looks on paper
like nobody, not every art school undergrad, has done this
before. He types on paper and photographs, creating abstract
fields of text, boo! Hangs around until February 3rd.
To end this little diagnosis of abstraction and before I
forget, Suzan Dionne has three glazed, atmospheric
canvases featuring ropy black shapes at Rome
Arts. The press release for this show is startlingly
vague; all talk about malevolence and humor. Well, they
don't do all that, but they have an odd presence due to
the way the black shape hovers in the well-crafted surface
of Halo I, II, and III. As abstraction ages and grows even
more sub-genre branches, I'll always marvel at what people
say the work is about, like a complete abstraction is about
a lunch date they had, or their fear of small dogs. If the
press release says horror movies, are the shapes scary then?
Well, I thought the paintings were pretty, and I didn't
start looking over my shoulder for some monster. Like Donnie
Darko says "I just don't debate it anymore." Thankfully,
the spate of abstract shows is a sign of diverse art community
that can easily handle this kind of thing once and awhile.
The show runs through February 16th.
Crashing the gates of such beauty and idealism are the rest
of the new crop of shows. I have to make a confession about
Ion Birch's show at Bellwether.
Initially I had balked when I saw all of his high school-quality
pencil renditions of sexual terror and dysfunction had sold.
I was stunned, second-guessing my personal taste, questioning
my eye. Should I leave New York and never return? Here before
me was a sold out show of dubious character. Well, you can
imagine my relief when I heard through the grapevine that
Joaquin Phoenix had acquired the show on opening night.
Apparently, Ion and Joaquin are old friends. In my opinion,
if Phoenix hadn't purchased the show, I don't think any
would've sold. The slightly creepy penis drawings would
have languished in the flat files for years, until someone
took a hit for team art and bought them in hopes that Birch
would be recognized as a 'genius' or something.
(2 Greenbergs for novelty)
Out front at Bellwether
are probably the most poorly shot videos in recent art history,
but oddly, that works in their favor. Christopher Miner's
"This Creature I Am", in Space I features some
fine dramedy of the religious persuasion. Being a mixed
breed Christian with reasonable doubt myself, I enjoyed
Miner's works like "How to Make God Happy" where
he reasons masturbating to thoughts of himself couldn't
possible be construed as lust in God's eyes, since the artist
is not attracted to himself in the least. Why he is thinking
about this is a hilarious setup. Miner focuses on his perceived
shortcomings with a god like scrutiny, a task he no human
could live up to. Stick with the videos despite the fact
they look like they were shot with a shoebox, a piece of
broken glass, and some magnetic tape. Joaquin might have
done him a solid and bought one of his tapes. These guys
are having a pissing contest until February 10th.
When you brave the cold, its nice to get a cup of hot cider,
like the industrial designers at Dam
Stuhltrager offered me. Now their generosity
hasn't affected my rating of their show (a 5 out
of 5) at all. Nah, but really, American Cheese is funny
and fucked up. Without being too mean about it, every object
in the group show by the design collective Elsewhere is
a satirical dig at cheesy kitsch. Come on, they had scented
motor oil, a piece of fabric to toss over your messy coffee
table that will transform it into topographical 'artwork',
and a huge rack mounted pair of fake, fake tits. All this
and an ashtray you stick on empty bottles called an 'ashhole'.
All the work is labeled with gaudy Walmart like price tags,
and there is an accompanying 'score'. It's by a guest composer
playing on CD players still in their packaging hung about
the room. The show lives in badness, so it's pretty hard
to critique. I got sucked into the irreverence and enjoyed
the free cider in a wedge shaped mug that was part of somebody's
piece. While I was there the artists were bitching about
a lack of foot traffic. I didn't have the heart to tell
them that I stopped by out of my sick sense of loyalty since
I'd seen a good show there with robots awhile back.
Dam Stuhltrager is around the corner from Bellwether kids,
so if you can try to swing by for the next show, because
American Cheese will have reached its expiration date. Rating:
Here's a recommendation for visiting the next two shows
in order. First, get warm in Momenta,
but if you are feeling emotionally blue, take your Prozac.
George Kimmerling's installation," Clipped", starts
out innocently enough with confessional kid drawings and
colorful rectangles with headlines. Once you start reading
the headlines and clippings, a narrative of men and boys
gone bad starts oozing out of the walls. The cumulative
effect made me feel like a case was being made and I was
on a jury. All of the evidence seemed to indicate that people
are "gasp" fucked up. Not that things lighten
up at all in Deborah Stratman's movie, "In Order Not
to Be Here", 33 minutes of nocturnal activity and emptiness
in the suburbs. Each frame seemed like an establishing shot
for a noir film. Well, call me a coward, but I couldn't
sit in the dark for more than 10 minutes, and bolted.
Last chance is February 3rd.
Now, to balance the mood, swing by Priska C. Juschka and
watch the break-dancer spin on his digitally looped head
for 2 minutes, count each second. Then turn and look at
the wooden mock up of an airport x-ray system. The extreme
vapidity of both works should clear up and lingering feelings
that last show might have drudged up in your super blasé
self. While Nicolas Jasmin's "Breaker" and Josh
Muller's "Explosion Detection System" are both
topical and cool, it was like having a bit of sorbet to
cleanse the palette before the next dish. I guess I'm just
not as wowed by looped video after Paul Pfeiffer locked
that one down, or want to be bothered with anything related
If the x-ray machine was also a skate park or something.
. . Until February 16th.
Thankfully, Tricia Mclaughlin has something witty and intelligent
to say with her inveterate narrative featuring the Hefty
Man and Slender Woman at Star67.
These two characters and their clones populate McLaughlin's
peculiarly designed world. This show is all over the place
with a large sculpture in the middle of the gallery called
"Toilet/Sink Combos with animation", yup, an animated
video of the main characters playing musical chairs, alternately
pissing and washing. Then there are these little condos
with pictures of the character fucking and sucking all over
the house. They are a sort of swinging middle class representation
living in a stripped down alternate universe. The highlight
of the show might be her animation "Day/Night Unit"
where the characters live out 24 hours in what are essentially
modified hamster wheels. Watching it, I had an awful, existential
pang. Regardless, it was good, twisted fun with a dark undercurrent.
Through February 9th.
At Plus Ultra, you'll
find the teensy gallery occupied by the polite, artistically
composed photographs of Stacey Greene. You'll stroll by
each one, feel a bit sentimental if you ever visited a drive-in
or read W magazine. The gentle narratives are quiet and
laid back. Like the title of the show "Movies That
I'll Never Make" the show carries a strong whiff of
resignation. Why not make those movies? Surely, Greene could
be a bit more ambitious like some of her previous videos.
An unnamed curator and I wondered where her videos might
have gone. I really enjoyed flipping through her big, black
book at the gallery. It seems like she's had quite a run
in the burg. Bring that back, and leave the pretty pictures
for the fashion section. Through February 16th.
for ugliest shows this month are 31
Grand's, Girls and Guns, and Jessica
Murray Project's main show, The Princess Project:
Dust. Hands down, Bonnie Collura, Princess Project, takes
the prize with her abject sculptures and grandiose titles.
While I will concede there were religious references her
titles and symbols in addition to the Mickey Mouse bits
and pieces, you couldn't tie me down and make me listen
to what the press release says. Badness holds sway, and
I could barely bring myself to view Mark Dean Veca's
drawing show in the back, Royale. In these twisted little
worlds, Archie and Jughead via R. Crumb do the nasty among
lumpy shapes. Ouch, this show put me on the train home.
Wait until after February 9th to drop in.
Sure, Girls and Guns displays all kinds of bad taste, at
least it has some self-awareness. The artists' in the show
are well known for their determination to make bad art good
with projects like Charles Krafft's porcelain switch blade
and gun set. The funny thing is, it's mainly guys putting
the girls in the odd situations. Only Helen Garber
who I read about one of my girlfriend's girly magazines,
actually shows girls and guns. I guess Shymala Joshi could
be a woman, but it could be a guy working with Steve Grasse
on the whacky video, "Bikini Bandits" featuring
such notables of bad taste like Jello Biafra, Corey Feldman,
and Dee Dee Ramone. Should it even be an issue to
have a show called girls and guns made by men? Probably
not, everyone tossed their feminist readers years ago. I
really did like Brad Kahlhamer's Praire girl drawings, although
I suspect Mr. Kahlhamer makes his rent money crapping out
illustrations in the same style. If I'm wrong, then good
for him. Through February 9th.
So, did I say the New Year looked promising? Well, the outbreak
of abstraction actually proved to be quite invigorating.
Overall, yeah, it's a good start, but I'm waiting for the
knock out punch, something that I love or hate so much,
I'll be overwhelmed. Wouldn't it be great to see something
daring? Oh, I still have no idea where the new Dietch Gallery
is. I was indisposed, drunk as hell, during the opening.
I heard a rumor that some other drunkard took a swing at
little Jeffery Dietch. Now that would have been a knock
out to see. Isn't it just fabulous when a Brooklyn opening
is shown for what it is, just a big ole' frat party with
hipsters? See you next month art lovers, when it's warm
enough to take a forty along and reveal my inner frat boy.