Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Chelsea Gallery Roundup

By Charles Kessler
Doug Wheeler, "Infinity Environment," SA MI 75 DZ NY 12 (2012), David Zwirner Gallery

I was in Los Angeles in the sixties and seventies so I saw a lot of "Light and Space" art. I didn't like it then and I still don't. I think it's easy and cheap (Robert Irwin's floating disk paintings —  soooo miraculous and Zen. Awesome, man!), but I didn't expect to find Doug Wheeler's "Infinity Environment" at David Zwirner (through February 25th) ridiculous and pretentious in addition to cheap.

First you have to wait your turn in an outer room, then you're required to take off your shoes and put white booties on your feet as if you're going into some kind of holy clean room.
Waiting area for Dour Wheeler's "Infinity Environment." The two people on the left requested anonymity.
Then someone instructs you on what you can and cannot do, where you're allowed to stand and what's the best way to experience the work. All this for the psychedelic experience of seeing nothing but white space (and maybe some floaters depending on your age). Oh please.

There were a lot of good things happening in Los Angeles in the sixties and seventies -- Ron Davis, John McLaughlin, Charles Garabedian, Frank Gehry, Abstract Expressionist Ceramics, performance art -- just to name some. It's a shame that "Light and Space" art and the "Cool School" are getting the most attention now.

But Chelsea has a lot of work I love, and -- I never thought I'd say this -- most of it is video art. Although it's become a joke that now every exhibition of painting or sculpture has to have a video component, the video is usually pretty lame and the sculpture and paintings are really the main thing.
John Miller, "Suburban Past Time," installation view, 20112.
These exhibitions are the opposite; the real interest of these artists seems to be the videos and their other work seems secondary or peripheral:

John Miller's installations at Metro Pictures (through March 10th) are simple, strange and beautiful, but his videos (made in collaboration with Takuji Kogo) are more powerful. The text for the soundtrack was taken from personal ads, animated and set to manipulated voice recordings, which might not seem like much, but the result is poetic and deeply moving.

Paul Kasmin, in an additional new space around the corner on 27th Street, presents James Nares "Pendulum" films from 1976 (through February 11th) along with photographs and related work from the films. The films, shots of various objects swinging on a wire hung from a footbridge over a gritty Manhattan street, are claustrophobic and disorienting, and beautiful and haunting; the related work is just related work -- not much without the films.

Monica Cook at the always cutting-edge Postmasters gallery (through February 11th), is an interesting case similar to Allison Schulnik except not quite as extreme. The sculptures on display were used to make the animations and they struck me as heavy-handed and so disgusting they border on silly. But they work great in the animations. What is it about video that allows us to accept more pathos and melodrama than we'll tolerate in painting or sculpture?
Monica Cook, installation view, Postmasters, detail view of the character Oriana.
I was disappointed in Shirin Neshat's video at Gladstone Gallery (through February 11th). It doesn't have the stark dramatic impact of her past work; but it's a lot better than the photos on view which seem very cranked out.

One pet peeve regarding presentation of video: why the f*** can't galleries provide a proper viewing experience. Presenting video in a room without seats and expecting people to stand for twenty minutes or more is just rude and inconsiderate. Even worse, as was the case with John Miller’s videos at Metro Pictures, is showing them in a room where people have to pass in front of the video. Kudos to Postmasters and Gladstone for providing a proper theater.

Okay, since I'm all worked up, here's my rant on Damien Hirst's "Spot Paintings." I like Hirst’s work, I really do. I like its ambitiousness, boldness, humor and inventiveness. But this is cynically corporate work that at best is mildly interesting for the variety he can achieve with such limited means. Moreover, I suspect his hype has finally caught up with him -- these shows have been poorly attended (I asked several of the guards, and they all agreed). I experienced it myself because Gagosian has a ridiculous rule about only allowing photographs that include people, and I had to wait a long time to find these two women.

But there's a lot of other abstract painting and relief worth checking out: Bill Jensen at Cheim and Read;  Richard Kalina at Lennon, Weinberg (especially his water colors); Martha Clippinger at Elizabeth Harris; and at the Howard Scott Gallery, David Goerk who, just when I thought minimal abstraction was finished, managed to do something interesting with it.
David Goerk, 6.13.2009, 2009, 15.2 x 15.2 x 5.1 cm, encaustic on wood.

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