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


Cvijanovic at Bellwether

I awoke on the floor of my apartment this weekend, smelling of booze and feeling damp, which thankfully turned out to be the contents of the can of beer I feel asleep with, but even as that small miracle passed, the real pain set in. I found myself immobilized, as if a subway spike had been pounded through my head. I managed to grope for the remote and turn on the television, something to focus on and keep breathing. At some point during my malaise, a commercial for Bob Hope's 100th birthday appeared on the screen. I was struck by the fact that Bob was going to die, and soon! With the hangover making me feel as old as Bob I suddenly felt the inexorable hand of doom closing in on my prone, listless form. I turned off the devil box and staggered to the shower where I scrubbed like Lady Macbeth. Despite the shower, I was feeling weak and pathetic so I called my old friend S to join me for a walk where I might encounter something more reprehensible that myself. Somehow, I felt like a dark cloud was blotting out all hope of a good art crawl.

I met S on Bedford and ate a greasy slice of pizza hoping to cure my hangover. Nothing. We walked down to Priska Juschka where I was overwhelmed with feelings of mortality by Constanze Schweiger's show "Friends", a series of unflinching portraits of her friends shot in the minimal commercial language of Gap Ads. Instead of impossibly beautiful models, makeup, and digital retouching there are paunches, puffy eyes, stained teeth, and the bad skin of her obviously aging peers. These pesky little details don't factor into the advertising world's desire driven equation. There is a really strange and troubling reversal though by framing her friends in such commercial terms, because although they are not fetishized through makeup into objects of desire, these pictures still seem to be about desire anyway. While S noted that the pictures were actually an excellent example of the oxymoron "pretty ugly", I empathized with the unmistakable look of the subjects to actually be desirable. I don't know if it was the trendy clothes, haircuts, or postures.

There was something almost cruel in the way the sitters were framed by the language of fashion photography. I don't know if I'd want my friends framed against impossible cultural expectations of beauty; I'd rather not use them that way.

The irony isn't so much in the discrepancy between Schweiger's models and fashion models, since her friends look pretty hip anyway as if looking like hell could be the new black. Schwieger's pairing of smaller portraits with minimalist, hard-edged pattern paintings don't suffer from this confusion. The headshots exclude clothing and posing while the relationships to the canvasses raise painterly questions. She also has a video of the large portrait subjects posing on video, which despite their blank expressions is infinitely more annoying than the photos. The thing is, the gallery inexplicably smelled like diapers, seriously, and the whole affair made me feel awful. Maybe I was just hypersensitive or a baby had been through but damn, I had to leave on the quick, but "Friends" is scaring hard partiers off the drugs through June 1st.
Rating: (for the art, despite the odor)

I left feeling despicable and ugly, waiting for something to come screaming out of the sky aimed at my head. Then the large model-like car in the front of Momenta Art cheered me briefly. The contrast between the car's magic shell coating and real tires seemed like an amusing reference to childhood Hot Wheels. Once I got over the grand scale, I remembered the inflatable hot rod at Ronald Feldman's American Dream show, and got thinking I like that one better. Carl Scholz's Cherry is apparently a real car coated to close it off from the viewer. It seems Scholz forgets how much fun it was to play with cars before we could actually get in them since the press release claims the sculpture refers to "the impenetrable nature of existence itself." I really hate reading press releases sometimes.

Rating:

In the second space, the work of Wangechi Mutu posed an interesting question. Should a gallery show artists who make very similar work within a few months of one another? Mutu's mixed media wall installation is very close cousin of Chitra Ganesh's "Her Secret Mission," so close that I thought the same artist was having another show at first. Mutu explores representations of the female body in the context of her cultural identities through drawing and collage. The sprawling wall installation is formally very similar to Ganesh's, but Mutu is focused on the relationship between objectification and mutilation of the body. Mutu's version is less about personal identity than a critique of the problematic cultural practices of two different cultures. S commented on the feather's sticking out from the walls, but didn't really get any of the deeper issues, and I didn't feel like playing teacher.

Rating: (Both artists are unintentionally guilty of the old "Doesn't that look like that thing we saw. . .?" through June 2nd.)

Having been admonished in letter by Greg Stone for failing to know that Mark Lombardi had committed suicide in 2000, I slunk past Pierogi this month feeling awful for not knowing that as I dismissed his deeply political and exhaustive drawings connecting money and power, as if I really knew anything about Mark or his work. I didn't then, and I don't know how many people who see the works will. Essentially, I don't know who's responsibility it is in making the viewer privy to this information but I feel Mark's work is something to be experienced in relation to his larger body of work. Mark's preparatory drawings by themselves are not all that compelling formally, and as a viewer, I wish the preparatory sketches were shown in the context of where they lead. Mark's work isn't so well known yet that anyone will have as much experience with it as Greg, Joe Amerhein, and Jerry Saltz who touched on it in an early May issue of the Village Voice.

Jack The Pelican's new show of Doug Hender's wet-on-wet monochromatic paintings of abstracted female forms is quite a step up from the previous outing, although nothing to get excited about. The black contour lines of pretty women are repeated onto a gray ground and fade out indicating movement through space or time. The repetition of the overlapping forms results in mildly interesting patterns, but that lack of color and further complexity in the paintings was a drag. Strangely, I was reminded of William DeKooning's late pattern paintings, and perhaps Hender's wasn't all there with these things either. With titles like "hangover" and "jet lag" you'd think I could relate, but I'm not a supermodel and I can't afford to just check into rehab for a few weeks when shit gets out of hand, even though my hangover suggested it might be time regardless. Through June 22nd.
Rating:

S seemed to be enjoying the pleasant weather although I cursed my very existence all the way down to South First Gallery. Once inside, I walked through LoVid's (Tali Hinkis and Kyle Lapidus) collaborative installation of drawings, sound, video and what in other contexts is wearable video art. So, if you didn't get it, low tech and high tech meet in a strange little installation. I missed out on the performances, but they couldn't be any worse than Fischerspooner could they? Could they? I couldn't tell and really couldn't care less. There wasn't much sound and video other than static, and I'm not a big fan of signal degradation art. If you are, get on down there. Electricity if Fun When Lovid Plays Synchro runs through June 16th, and we didn't make up that title.
Rating:

S got super excited when we followed a delivery of actual fish into the Fish Tank Gallery. I nearly hurled in the long hallway, before making it inside to find another show of my favorite genre, traditional figurative painting. To my surprise, Bryan LaBeouf was back with a painting from his last show. Well, not really, the show consists of a gang from that bastion of contemporary art, the Figurative Academy of New York. After LaBeouf's crowd pleasers undoubtedly sold, Fish Tank decided to reel in a bunch of figurative painters. Admittedly, there are paintings engaged with the narrative in this show aptly titled Space Invaders. Much of the work deals with this theme literally and metaphorically. Jean Pierre Ray's Sci-Fi settings blend together references from the 50's to Aliens. Formally, Ray seamlessly melds old master painting techniques with the illustrative style of sci-fi novel covers in his paintings like Au-3100. If the Aliens where to abduct or leave behind naked women it might look like Medora Frey's soft focus, photorealism. Her painting of a woman caught in a bright light then perhaps leaving the frame suggests the passage of time through its use of lighting and the absorbed gaze of the female subject.

Jennifer Peasant's paintings of projections onto the figures and spaces in her compositions take up the theme metaphorically, as memory and perhaps history are projected onto the subjects. Peasant wants to engage the idea that history is written on the skin and history is best remembered through pain, like a tattoo or scar is the record of trauma. These works seemed to be about emotional trauma and its wake. Amy Bennett's top down domestic scenes reminded S of the old video game Gauntlet, while I was thinking Zombie At My Neighbors. The unique perspective creates a tension between illusion and pattern that is rather unique in the show as a way of addressing modernist painting ideas. Ann Hirsch literally invades the space with sculptures of an anguished woman atop the false stairway in the gallery. These things have palpable pathos and are brilliant, a solid use of the traditional. The blobby figures and Bay Area living rooms didn't do much for me. All in all, this is a painting show that has designs on more than a claim to relevance or the human condition. Space Invaders is developing Fish Tank as a hot (bright?) spot of figurative painting in Williamsburg through June 2nd.
Rating:

Having tried to give the figurative peeps a reasonable look instead of just shrugging, I was almost longing for some of their discipline at Space 101's fabulously trashy new show The Burnt Orange Heresy. Based on some obscure novel, the show features works inspired by it, which sounds like a project show; a way to relieve all pressure to be original or critical. Having been forced to engage the conceptual trickery at work, I read the damned press release, which is pretty fucking funny. Apparently this is some piece of hackwork that inspired the curator, David Hunt, to get everyone to read and make a piece about. Well, probably a bunch of people said "fuck that" since there is a lot of orange, like "He'll never know, he picked me already for the show." I'm probably never going to read this book, and you can get the idea from the book descriptions that Hunt isn't interested in the work of Hans Haacke or other theory heads who dominated the artistic discussions of the 90's.

Well, this show is an inspired menagerie of whacky works, from Carl Scholz's brilliant and hilarious cowhide motorcyle (I can't tell you how much better this is than the car at Momenta) to Russell Nachman's amazingly bad Dune-like illustrations. The work in this show feels so new it hurts the eyes, and with my hangover I reeled from work to work trying to really care. Although it is pretty damn cool, individually I'm not sure how much of this work would fair. I'm not even gonna try to figure this one out, but Mac Handelman's Sci-Fi painting Deephaven is also a very cool modernist take on illusionism and flatness. Ivan Witenstein's The Kiss is a salute to irreverence and youth. My favorite was Carl D'Alvia's Sebastian (GT8), a sculpture of an orange, cyborg monkey pumping out ooze and looking rather battered. What would be really interesting would be to see the painters in this show go over and start a war with the figurative guys at Fish Tank. Maybe they could all find common ground in science fiction, which much of the work in this show seemed to really be about. It must be in the book.
Rating: (Signifying newness like green neon through June 23rd.)

I dragged S down along Kent Avenue looking for Chi: An Art Space even following another group of art-goers. We entered 184 Kent and were summarily confused when we couldn't find the right apartment. I wasn't much for taking stairs, I get terrible vertigo when hungover and a lemming like desire to pitch myself off high places so we left, (please email directions). Next time. We stopped by Star 67, but the same show I forgot about last month was up. I decided to finish off the crawl by heading east towards Grand Street. Peeked in Sideshow Gallery and saw Rosa Volado's modernist metal sculpture that twists and turns inside the gallery. I had a teacher back in high school who made metal/mesh art, and I actually thought it might be his, but he apparently will die a regional artist, the horror. Volado's form is beautifully crafted and is quite pleasing. The connection to Jonas Mekas's photographic collages, which look like enlarged strips of super-8 film really isn't there, like two different bands playing in the same room. It doesn't hinder Volado's formal work, but it makes Mekas's half feel conceptually weak.
Rating: A to C Jumping Over B runs through June 2nd.

S and I headed past Supercore and I tried to get a coffee only to find out the place is now a bar. I almost broke down and had a glass of wine, but I was feeling puritanical after the previous evening's epic binging. A few minutes later we were on Grand Street and with my hangover making me feel so guilty and repentant, I was all set to go in Lunar Base. I thought I saw a painting by an old painting professor of mine in the window. Well, when I got the door, I was confronted by a "be back in ten," sign. I took the sign as a sign and cut and run, since those familiar paintings weren't by my old prof at all, just another painter exploring the joys of mixed media.

Like criminals fleeing the scene of a crime we ran, despite my pounding head, until we were safely down Grand Street. Then we stumbled upon Open Ground, an artist-run gallery. This dim little place housed a bunch of odd work from Sara Rainwater's unconsciously bad paintings and not quite as bad mixed media works of urban and rural landscapes to Maria Harrison's excellent photographs of an abandoned state hospital. All of the works engaged place to a certain degree, and even the gallery itself fits right into Neglected Places. This place and the generally abject subject matter did little to shake my sense of impending doom.
Rating: (Through May 25th so something new should be up. Someone with some cash drop off a couple gallons of paint and some lightbulbs.)

S reminded me that Plus Ultra had a new show up so we backtracked down South 1st to the tiny cube. When I opened the door I was overpowered by the smell of black liquorice. I made S go in and find out what was causing the noxious odor, I was no condition to be overwhelmed by anything smelly for a third time. S came back out and reported there was a large pair of wing tips made out of liqourice nearly filling the gallery. I bravely charged inside; saw the large shoes and point drawings of wingtips by Andy Yoder and bolted. If you like the smell of liqourice this is a heck of show. As far as shoe art goes, this was pretty ambitious.

Rating: (In a Perfect World aromatically affects the senses through June 1st.)

We stopped in this little deli on Havermeyer St as I finally decided to get some aspirin for my splitting headache. Standing outside I noticed Rome Arts had some new work up. I dropped in for gallery owner Daniel Carello's ultra-minimalist geometric abstractions. I couldn't help but notice they looked like the little skewed window on the back wall of the space. The paintings are perfectly executed, but I'm not a big fan of minimalism, so I was immediately attracted to Colin Keefe's obsessive drawings of cities. The drawings while spare, pencil on paper, imply vast imaginary plans for a city. They also seemed relevant in relation to all the post 9/11 reconstruction planning I've seen, gaining some emotional currency from the very public debate. I began to feel better, even though the aspirin couldn't have possibly kicked in during that odd minute or two I breezed around the space.
Rating: The show comes down June 1st.

Feeling a bit more alive yet having encountered nothing too uplifting in the galleries I was tempted to skip Bellwether. I didn't want to see that little dog hobbling around on three legs to remind me of my own misery. S demanded we be strong and see the new show. Adam Cvijanovic's show turned out to be such an improvement over the consciously bad paintings I had been assaulted with at every turn at Bellwether, I almost cried. His epic, social beach scene, the first part of Hurricane Party, is a monumental work of painting. Cvijanovic depicts an almost all-white beach party that spans the entire front Gallery. Apparently this stuff is somehow portable from the artists' studio like wallpaper, and the artist seems like he is trying to invoke history painting. Instead of Roman armies slaughtering Christians, we have boys and girls getting their party on. The blue sky and beige sand stretch out the horizon and flatten the space like a Rothko painting. The beachgoers break up the monotony of the horizon, but without all the dynamic movement and high drama of war. There is a football tossed here, but no horses or flag poles to create movement. If this was it, the show would've been an ambitious failure.

Walking into the dimly lit backroom, I was suddenly surrounded by an enormous wave on all sides. Like the drowning sequence in A Perfect Storm, I was overwhelmed. All I could think of was the rouge wave that almost took down Ernest Shackleton as he crossed five hundred miles of open sea in a dingy. S was stunned, by the sheer dynamic energy that had been absolutely lacking in the beach scene. Cvijanovic had been saving it all for the deluge. I scanned the walls looking for Noah's Ark, but my eyes settled on the third piece of Hurricane Party. In the back hall is a brightly lit depiction of the space shuttle's vapor trail lifting into orbit, sweet release! I felt elated, by the sheer energy of the imagery, the process, and the shifting allegorical (almost biblical) meaning of the three major works. This thing is like three movements in a symphony, and it almost has the classicism to match one.

What gets me though is the beach Cvijanovic depicts is obviously not Coney Island, which would probably be the inverse of this scene, makes one wonder about the possible narrative relationship between middle America and that wave.

Rating: (Hurricane Party is up through June 30th, so if you are stuck inside during a rainy day, bring a six pack, a towel, and sit on down in the middle of Bellwether and enjoy the beach. )

I felt a hell of a lot better, and I didn't even feel like punting that nippy little dog over the next building. S almost convinced me to get a beer across the street, but I decided to head home and rest after such a terribly hard day. Heading down Marcy Ave, what a spot for a park by the way, I felt compelled to stop in Dam Stuhltrager. They had a new group show up of a mixed bag of work. The show Another State had a goofy, cheerful letter T by Christobol Dam (must be his gallery right?), some weird paintings of elves fighting amid really thick globs of paint, a wonderfully, surreal picture of a fake palm tree, and metal sculpture of what looked kind of like molecular structures. At this point in the day, I didn't bother to take notes, and they only had one press release, which I wasn't sure was available for the "press". I'm wondering if I could get myself a little badge on a chain to use to push my way into crime scenes or get into chi chi events. Probably not, but it'd be pretty cool. So yeah, Another State is up through June 13th so go find out the name of the person who painted those funny little elves doing what they do when they stop making toys and cookies.

Rating:

Ultimately, I departed for my tiny little corner of the burg feeling that maybe I'd live long enough to write this nonsense another day and if I was really lucky, I'd outlast Bob Hope too.


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[email protected] | June 2003 | Issue 39
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