Saturday, March 3, 2012

Chelsea Roundup

Installation view, Happenings: New York, 1958-1963, PACE gallery
By Charles Kessler

Happenings: New York, 1958-1963, PACE gallery (Through March 17)

For the most part this show is made up of historical documentation — there’s very little art — as a result it's pretty dry going even if the subject is pretty wild stuff. More important, this show is not about “Happenings,” but rather it’s about a type of avant-garde theater that many New York artists (among them Jim Dine, Simone Forti, Red Grooms, Claes Oldenburg, Lucas Samaras, Carolee Schneemann, and Robert Whitman) were involved with then — theater that the Dadaist, Surrealists, Picasso and many others had already been doing forty to fifty years before.

True "Happenings," on the other hand, were invented in the late '50's, probably by Allan Kaprow, and it was a more original art form. The difference is, as I understand it, that theater is acted (rehearsed and repeated) whereas Happenings are real, here-and-now events in which audience participation is a defining feature.

Performance art derived from Happenings, not from theater (however far-out the theater was), although lately performance art seems to be merging with theater in that it’s acted but also allows for some audience participation.

With that off my chest, this is an important show, one that should have been done by a museum and in greater depth. While the theater these artists did wasn't original (or all that good for that matter), it is historically important because it kept viable for them, and others, the option of narrative and representation in vanguard art.


Charles Garabedian, The Wine Dark Sea, 2011, acrylic on paper, approx. 30 x 185 inches
Charles Garabedian at Betty Cuningham (through March 24)
I’ve written a lot about Charles Garabedian’s art, most recently here and here. So now I'd like to take the opportunity of comparing his art to the art of a friend and colleague of Garabedian's who happens to be showing across the street at the Prince Street Gallery: Arthur Levine.
Arthur Levine, English Church, 2011, acrylic on birch panel, 22x29. CLICK TO ENLARGE.
Both taught art at UCLA and I knew them when I was a student there although, studying Art History at the time, I never had a class with either of them. Both are about the same age (Garabedian is older but Levine has painted for longer), both work in a manner that manages to bring rather inert acrylic paint to life, and both are semi-representational painters.

But Garabedian, even though he's not getting all the recognition I think he deserves (except from other artists and Christopher Knight) is relatively well-known and shows in great galleries in New York and Los Angeles; whereas Levine is hardly known at all and shows at a co-op gallery, one of the better ones, but still....

Levine's work suffers from reproductions more than most, so clicking on the image to enlarge it might help. You can't really experience the light and space evoked from color interactions in reproduction. You can't see the choppy, rhythmic brushwork and the patterns they form — as good as any you'll find in a Milton Resnick. And you can't see the texture and thickness of the paint that sometimes plays against spatial illusions. Levine's paintings provide more pure visual pleasure than 99% of the art in Chelsea today. Visual pleasure may not be what art is about — but it isn't what it's NOT about either.

So what separates the two artists? Size is certainly one possibility; easel painting isn't fashionable, although Tom Nozkowski, Bill Jensen (until recently), John Lees and many other artists work small and are pretty well known. Also, unlike Garabedian's raw, pugnacious approach to art-making, Levine paints in a traditional manner — but that doesn't bother Eric Fischl or any number of other representational artists. I think the main difference is subject matter. Levine's paintings don't have the provocative subject matter of a Garabedian, nor do they have a conceptual schpeel like postmodern art. On the contrary, landscapes have become a hackneyed subject. We can't help thinking of all that kitschy art in tourist towns when looking at landscape painting today. Well get over it! This work may not be great art, there's very little of that EVER, but it evokes a haunting, pastoral mood that's profoundly deep, which is more than I can say for most art in Chelsea today. Go see for yourself. Just be open-minded.


Installation view, Klaus Weber at Andrew Kreps Gallery.

Klaus Weber, If you leave me I’m not following, Andrew Kreps (through March 24).

Weber's work is in the pseudo-scientific spirit of the art of Marcel Duchamp, Tim Hawkinson, Shane Hope and others. Weber, for example, invented a quirky way to print by rigging up an apparatus to keep sunlight shining on words (the complete text by JK Huysmans: A Rebours) that are printed on sheets of glass. The sun shines through to paper that it bleaches, leaving the text dark. There a strange droll ritualism to this type of work that transforms it from clever invention into meaningful art.

Doug Wheeler, A MI 75 DZ NY 12, David Zwirner (ended February 25).

I said a lot of nasty things about Doug Wheeler’s installation; now you have an opportunity to judge for yourselves. Which is better: before or after?

Installation view, Doug Wheeler, SA MI 75 DZ NY 12 (2012).
De-installation view, Doug Wheeler, SA MI 75 DZ NY 12 (2012)

Ryan McNamara, The Haunting, 2012, at Elizabeth Dee
Ryan McNamara, Still at Elizabeth Dee (through April 7).

This is a form of performance art/photography. Whoever comes in the door is dressed, given props and asked to pose.  The results are exhibited on the gallery website — most of the photos are better than this.


Jeffrey Collins said...

Too bad no one has photos online of the Wheeler show as it was being installed. I wanna know more about the actual mechanics behind it. But I guess i'll have to go work for him or one of his galleries to find that out. ;-)

Charles Kessler said...

I talked to one of the construction workers who told me the guys doing the plastering were unbelievably great. It seems like they went to a lot of trouble to simulate snow blindness.