October Art Crawl
By Keane A. Pepper
Man, let's just get this out of the way. What a lame start
to the season, sorry everyone, not a whole lot shakin'.
I just can't get excited about this first round of openings,
so I've decided to take my cue from the silliness going
on at Riviera Gallery. You know something is wrong when
four paintings by teams of two artists all look like Barry
McGee was on every team. I desperately want to be cool too,
but I'm not gonna paint in pastel colors and draw things
as outlines. No more sad sack anything. Anyway, Riviera
pit a bunch of Philly kids versus New York kids and the
results were only striking in their similarity. The same
thing could be said of the new shows. There's just this
kind of bland, democratic neutrality to all of them. So,
I've decided to toss the Greenberg this month and pit the
shows against one another to manufacture something like
The first round features a match up of robotic and mechanical
installations. Mark Esper, a local favorite in black, clocks
in with two shows, new sculptures at Dam Stuhltrager and
a work in Zap! Electric Narratives at Greenhouse Projects.
Ben Parry, a new comer from England has two separate installations
at the commercial heavyweight Black and White Gallery. Esper's
large mechanical sculpture crammed into tiny Dam Stuhltrager
lands a head shot. This strange machine looks like something
out of the original Star Trek series, with extremely non-functional
looking lights and boxes, except everything actually makes
the contraption work. Based on Esper's love of crazy electromagnetic
principles nails with little faces swing around magnetic
switches that open and close based on proximity. When the
circuit is closed, sound erupts from one of a myriad of
homemade speakers. There isn't really any aesthetic decisions
being made other than realizing the idea, and that complexity
is enough to generate a unique style. Beyond that, little
homemade robots putter around drawing and erasing on an
endless loop. I was taken by Esper's complete fascination
with the materials, one that pretty much seems to blind
him to giving two shits about polish. He's got some hokey
drawings of the excellent interactive light sculpture at
Greenhouse Projects. He's not afraid to show some really
bad drawings, which somehow I admire. Over at the converted
garage (it's dangerously close to White Castle, beware!)
that is Greenhouse Projects, Esper has made a pretty neat
installation that casts your shadow in light. Basically,
I think you interrupt infrared light and complete a circuit
turning on a little lights in your silhouette. It's like
Esper isn't a sculptor so much as mad scientist that also
makes art. That kind of unselfconsciousness is priceless
in the repetitive, self-reflexive art world. There are two
other artists in the garage. One guy show's tiny little
back-lit drawings about a dreamy narrative, and the other
had a glowing cross.
Ben Parry, a London based artist, created a mechanical installation
to obliquely critique Western hegemony. Well, that's what
he says he's doing, but mannequins with video heads and
whirling doll-arms? Nah, it's kind of silly, but the second
installation in the back is far more elegant with its slow,
spinning signs and sculptures of violence, destruction,
decay, and a bit of hope all tenuously linked together by
yellow rope. While the spinning black umbrella with a little
white dove borders on embarrassing sentimentality and the
gas-masked globe is trite; the references to surrealism
and films like Luc Besson's The Last Battle save it from
being terrible. His semiotic play between language and icon
works better than warbling televisions and his stylistic
appropriation of post-apocalyptic film culture works. Parry's
monotypes and paintings are far too serious and mannered
to elicit the same kind of empathetic response I had with
Esper's geeky drawings. Parry's sense of humor flies right
out of the ring. His light boxes are better ways to impart
an absurdly authoritative voice into the silliness of the
Mark Esper wins by unanimous decision, since Parry's mechanical
sculptures don't really do much of anything, when they look
like they could be a lot more interactive and engaging.
(Mark Esper through October 10th at Dam Stuhltrager.
Ben Parry, New World Disorder through October 20th)
There's not much fun in pitting very evenly matched shows
together, so I'll mix it up. Momenta Art was supposed to
open with Tana Hargest. Well, apparently she fucked up and
the show still hadn't opened when I last checked. It's a
real shame, since her work in a group show there had the
kind of cynical humor I dig. Mark Swanson's alienated white
boy politics in Live Free or Die would've been a good sparring
partner for Hargest's delayed New Negrotopia. Swanson's
whacky, good-bad aesthetic pays off in his sprawling installation
as he explores his considerably mixed emotions about his
home culture, New Hampshire's shoot-first, eat-it later
mentality. Ah, what a fine state, no sales tax or gun control.
Don't they elect arch-conservatives? Swanson opens with
a black deer tableux and a black and white image of the
title character in Carrie. Obviously, Swanson has some issues
with high school. Well, it brightens up, with stripped logs
and a rainbow target, before getting dark and creepy again
in the back.
A plaster body with comic writing hangs face down from the
ceiling, while a black robed mannequin bust sits off to
the side. Drawings on what appears to be animal hide and
a cape made of dirty whites add to the black comedy. Before
it goes over the top goth, twin sequenced, glam deer heads
get the party going again. The show is a dissonant, yet
gleeful mess that it is part haunted house and part strangely
affecting meditation on the artist's conflicted identity.
Swanson wins on a technicality, though it's a shame these
artists work couldn't go head to head. Live Free or Die
is up through October 6th at Bellwether so git on down there,
In a feather weight battle of traditional no-frills documentary
photography versus ink-jet prints, 31 Grand offers Melissa
Cortez's straightforward pictures of several latinos while
Jack the Pelican backs Laura Emrick's plexi-glass montages
of space. Cortez's photographs are nice. So nice that they
couldn't possibly offend anybody let alone stand up in a
creative battle. Technically sharp, Cortez's prints of a
resolute cheerleader, sullen young men, and an old man to
name a few lack any other strengths.
One of Laura Emrick's prints proclaims "We don't know
what the rest of our brain is for". Well, apparently
neither artist here has provided any demonstrable proof,
considering Emrick's cheesy montages that contrast beautiful,
possibly Hubble-generated images of space with sci-fi proclamations
all divided up by day-glo Mondrian lines of plexiglass.
(I use what's left of my brain to make fun of silly shit
like this) Emrick's thoughts on the future of mankind waffle
between optimistic, something like We'll change our bodies
to adapt, and pessimistic Civilizations may not overlap
in space time. Whatever, but the works are too sincere and
not sufficiently ironic (gasp) to make day-glo plexi work.
Better, but not much, are her monochrome plastic sculptures
using what looks like 99¢ store kitsch. They kinda
like genuine little expressions of an alien species, amazing.
Emerick's hybrid photo-montages win by decision through
her display of creative combinations over Cortez's way boring
documentary photography. Still this was like a warm up for
a main event, so no one get excited.
Let's pit an up and comer that doesn't change its program
much versus the undisputed heavy weight champ of Willyworld
that doesn't change it's program much either. Space 101
with its 'Check me out! I'm so weird. I'm so hip!' group
shows versus Pierogi's 'We only show two obsessive/compulsive
people, mostly' program.
With a title (and sub-title) like Druid: Wood as Superconductor,
I expected another whacky, emerging artist show at Space
101, and I wasn't disappointed. What bothered me was the
déjà vu. 'Fuck, this shit again?' Anyway,
there's a cart with dirt in the back. I had some good pizza
after I saw this show and I can't really remember anything
right before it, isn't that strange? Well, I remember that
there were wood shelves, a painting of wooden emblem, wooden
book cases, a big, droopy wooden cross, a Paul McCarthy
cloned video of a wooden contraption, a relief of the woods,
plus the cart full of dirt. That pizza was really good
was I? Oh, Space 101 can't be bothered to list the names
of the artists or titles of works except on the one or two
lists scattered around the gallery, and I was so annoyed
this time I just left. I apologize to one or two people
who's work I like, but tell that dude to put up some titles
and names for those of us just browsing. Or maybe there
could be a few artists who actually explore these whacky
Pierogi in the other corner had paintings by Steven Charles
that were really, really obsessively painted. I mean caked
on lines upon lines and dots upon dots that get topographic,
even on the really big ones. I hoped the artist enjoyed
more than I did. In the second space, Lisa Stefanelli had
some big, graphic flame-like abstractions on pretty surfaces.
Think big, cool tattoos on flesh in the smaller works, and
big, cool flames on the side of a hot rod in the larger
paintings. Not bad at all if you like tattoo art.
Who wins? This is kind of like having been at the Tyson-Spinks
fight, where really only the audience loses in the end.
We just award it to Pierogi for the hell of it. Bah, everyone
always goes to Pierogi, no dates needed.
What's better, big sculpture or little sculpture? *sixty-seven
has an excellent show with Chris Caccamise's little missives
plus a wall of drawings. Heidi Cody has some big corporate
logos at Roebling Hall scaled to each companies profits.
Caccamise's sculptures are abundant and playful musings
about the world around him from the natural to the man made.
The objects display a child like sense of wonder and are
very cute, simplified cartoon shapes crafted with a slick,
yet evident hand. Most of the objects have simple color
schemes reflecting the subject, as if the real thing had
been vectored in Flash. Happily for the artist, someone
dropped by and snapped up most of the good ones, which was
actually quite a lot. In addition to the sculptures, there
is a wall full of drawings that expand Caccamise's vision
beyond cartoon toys. I found his hand made license quite
If Caccamise's work titled toward the vapid side given the
nature of his subject matter, then Cody's large sculptures
immediately lean towards the socio-political given the topicality
of her work. I know no one really wants their work to be
called "topical", but we are guarding oil wells
in Iraq, and Cody's sculptures are cropped sections of the
world's largest oil companies from ExxonMobil to Bristish
Petroleum. It just can't be helped, which isn't a bad thing.
Cody doesn't assault the viewer with walls of text implicating
the oil industry with shady political decisions around the
globe or environmental disasters like that boring bastard
Hans Haacke. Instead, she allows the forms to waffle between
rigid formalism and implicit critique. Unfortunately, their
collision doesn't create any real edge.
While Cody's work is conceptually and formally tight, I
guess you'd call it very professional, I preferred Caccamise's
goofball sculptures with their conscious naiveté,
that's less ironic than escapist. Caccamise's "Secret
Tornado and the Power of the Beast" is up through October
6th and Cody comes down on the 13th, the sore loser.
Oh, I would have loved to see what Studio Fachetti and Lunar
Base could've pitted against one another, but the former
was closed for renovations (of their program I hope) and
Lunar Base was showing their in-house abstract expressionist
artist again. Wait, a minute, do you think they change artists?!
They couldn't be, could they? How could each artist make
the same paintings? God, someone tell these artists the
date. This gallery needs to add some combinations. Maybe
they could show, lets see, a minimalist show, or Op-Art?
That would bring them twenty years closer to the present.
In the battle of small galleries its Rome Arts versus Galerie
Galou! I don't even want to go into either of these shows,
but I'll try to do it quickly and painlessly. At Rome Arts,
Lee Quinones pulls one of my personal favorites in Space
and Time. Make an object, then make paintings of the thing.
Well, this sci-fi sculpture and painting combo made me long
for a teleportation device. The only space this should be
hung in is a hotel, and you wouldn't want to spend much
time with it either. Galerie Galou, the cramped little space
around the corner from 31 Grand, was housing an eclectic
group show by a German collective. When I say eclectic,
I'm talking Punky Brewster, not mixing Prada with a thrift
store bag. Salon style would be the nice way to put it,
but the only things this show had going for it were a few
big pencil drawings of things you might leave on your coffee
table with a few dashes of color. Everything else was imminently
forgettable, so don't sublet your studios in Berlin just
Rome Arts takes this one by a TKO. There was basically less
of the bad. Like watching two awful boxers hug and try to
hit each other below the belt. Don't worry the winner is
open until the 5th, and the loser will have left the building
before this hits.
Conceptually charged photography and sculpture go head to
head at Schroeder Romero and Fishtank! This one is actually
pretty interesting, both feature work centered around dark,
domestic secrets, except that one has polish and the other
rusbbish. Mirrors by Peter Scott at Schroeder Romero features
photographs of Scotts' carefully constructed murder mirrors
in tranquil, domestic spaces. These Hitchcock like moments
look like they might be Photoshop specials, the images of
murder digitally added, but apparently that's not the case,
as the sculptures attest. Across from the photos are semi-transparent
mirrors that reflect (reveal) moments of murder from 'true
crime' magazines. The contrast between the idyllic surface
and the terrible interior make the mirrors function as metaphors
for public/private domestic life. My only issue with the
show is that the photographs might not work so well on their
own, without the sculptures there to authentic their process
plus they seem to exist as easily collectable versions of
the more interesting objects.
Over at Fishtank, John Freyer has some photographs of bottles
in paper bags, which are really at the gallery up on the
fake stairwell in the front. The fact that the press release
goes on and on about how this dude got famous selling his
life on e-bay fails to mention that doesn't make this show
any good. Freyer's competent photographs of rubbish don't
function as a metaphor of alcoholism as dirty family secret.
I get sick when press releases become part of the narrative
of a work, 'cause this photo/found object installation lacks
that narrative layer anywhere in the piece. Apparently there
was someone else showing in the space, but I just thought
it was some of Freyer's life for sale. Opps.
Scott scores a knockout over Freyer who needs a little conceptual
development and less talk about his one-hit wonder. Mirrors
gloats through October 13th and Souvernirs skulks out
on the 5th.
Who's better at drawing, artists or novelists? Well, these
creative types square off at Parker's Box and Plus Ultra
in this light weight bout. Summer residents Geraldine Pastor
Lloret and Tere Recarens represent the artists doing drawings
at Parker's Box, while Dave Eggers, Susan Minot, Will Self,
and Jonathan Ames put up for the Novelists. Well, you'd
think this would be an easy victory for the artists but
Will Self holds his own in the land of subversive comics
against Recarens' comical and allegorical series "Monkey
and Panther". Recarens fills half the gallery with
the humorous and very human antics of the cute characters.
It has a punk spirit that is much broader than Will Self's
absurd one-liners, but don't hit quite as hard. Recaren
lands more punches, but Self's deeply cynical voice is happily
present in his cartoons. Neither of these are about making
'good' drawings, just conveying disjointed, crazy narratives
and some pathos.
Lloret, does a big, kinda abstract wall drawing at Parker's
box and it looks kinda nice, but I couldn't really get into
it. I mean it kicks the hell out of Dave Egger's supremely
slackerish painting of a visit to the dentist. Dave, It
heartens me to read you quite painting seriously years ago.
It's also conceptually light years ahead of Minot's hobbyist
watercolors, which are pleasant and about as filling as
a marshmallow. Jonathan Ames fares better with his doodles
done while chatting with this therapist. Nothing ground
breaking here, just the compulsive sketches of a funny assed
Parker's Box wins this round, largely because Dave Eggers
practically sinks Plus Ultra all by himself. Finger Flip
(right? So punk.) is up on both feet at Parker's Box and
Art + Literature sports a shiner, both, through October
Alright, I'm getting sick of writing this goddamned thing.
What's better, wishy-washy abstraction or watercolors? Heavy
Spaces at 65 Hope street pits Lucas Monaco and Mark Masyga's
studious abstraction versus Chris Doyle's really big watercolor
paintings in "Do you like Pain Pleasures?". Mark
Masyga's petite abstractions bear little resemblance to
anything remotely heavy. At best, they are pretty, detail
oriented color studies of shapes in space. That's that for
him, while Monaco's obsessive drawings of shapes actually
oscillate between abstract patterns and large, expansive
cityscapes. I've enjoyed his drawings in the past, and Masyga
seems like a smart pairing, but his canvases lack delicacy
and conceptual depth.
That's exactly what Mark Doyle was aiming for by doing big
watercolor's from video stills, which I'm guessing he projected
onto the paper. I don't think its an inherently wrong technique,
but when a drawing of a monkey and a panther fucking is
more interesting than a six foot painting, its not just
about technique anymore. While these big coloring books
are visually very pretty its like the solid wood furniture
at IKEA, nice wood but its still IKEA. Basically, these
things are kinda soulless and redundant. If the video equipment
that peppers Doyle's paintings are supposed to be a self-reflexive
device to signal a post-modern stance its completely unnecessary.
When it gets down to it, these really seem in it for the
money, like Tyson or something. Ack, go back to public art.
65 Hope street wins by unanimous decision. Heavy spaces
gloats over the bloated corpse of watercolor painting (Someone
write in and explain why watercolors are so popular? Was
it the rich models partying? The suburban youth snapshots?
What? Just stop! No more copying photographs in paint and
selling them for absurd prices. Collectors stop this awful
habit) through October 20th while Doyle rolls out of
the ring on the 13th.
Alright, so I think watercolor is being abused, that won't
stop me from pitting two painters again. Laurie Thomas at
Priska versus Jose Lerma at South First. Thomas wins! Why
you ask? She knows the value of a circle, and employs them
liberally, although I won't hold it against her that she
claims inspiration from Chandeliers at Grand Central. She
doesn't need to fake a reason to paint circles. Well, I'm
aware that my fetish shouldn't be the deciding factor, but
Jose Lerma might as well have knocked his own teeth out.
I'll split with all the other dumb ass critics who like
these sophomoric jack-off paintings because Lerma loads
his brush with pastel hues when he paints his goofball character.
Great, the guy goes to Skowhegan and comes back with a show
called "Two Beats Off". Good title dude.
Thomas is up through through the 20th and Lerma makes fun
of painting as a really, really, no really, masturbatory
activity through the 31st, pity.
Lastly, to wrap this travesty up, I stopped by Front Room
Gallery and was treated to an odd show of photography and
video by a husband/wife collaboration. The works range from
photographic explorations of presidential grave sites to
a video of people hanging around in trees in the woods.
In between is a video of strangers asked to tell jokes shortly
after 9/11 and a video of planes flying pell-mell around
a horizon-less sky. The works by Amanda Elic and Ethan Crenson
seemed mature and displayed a range of expressions from
deadpan humor to elegiac poeticism. I'd pit this against
Dirty Old Toy Box at Fluxcore for a laugh, but I really
only peered through the window. Still the work that I could
see including some large black and white wall drawings were
a vast, vast improvement over the last show I saw there.
"Collaborations" runs at front Room through
Mmmmm, oh yeah, there's some funky, Japanese inspired tabluex
at Sideshow. Actually, it would have looked great at Space
101 two or three shows ago. I kinda liked this alternately
slick and clunky installation. It seems like a vision of
the world gone wrong in some subtle way. Don't quite get
it or care though.
"Exerbia" by the todt art collective is up
through October 27th.
Unfortunately, I feel like the lack lust opening to the
season put me into a funk, and I'm hoping desperately that
something will really set the tone, instead of emerging
from the dullness. Now, I'm going to get a beer and wait
for the hate mail to start rolling in.
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