Friday, April 11, 2014

Bushwick vs. Chelsea

By Charles Kessler

In the last week, I went to about twenty galleries in Bushwick and even more galleries in Chelsea. Here's my overall take – broad generalizations, of course. There are many exceptions.

Bushwick: the art is mostly sincere, authentic and personal – even if sometimes not very good. Bushwick galleries are small, modest spaces run by smart, friendly people, often artists. They sell art that's relatively inexpensive. After a few hours of gallery-going in Bushwick, I'm exhilarated by the conversations I've had, and I'm optimistic for the future of the art scene because the artists and art dealers there have their priorities right.

Chelsea: the art is accomplished, corporate, cynical and flashy. The galleries are large (sometimes preposterously so) and beautifully finished. I have no idea what the people who run the galleries are like, at least the big galleries, because they never talk to anyone other than potential clients, to whom they sell very expensive art – sometimes work selling in the millions. After a few hours of gallery-going in Chelsea, I'm filled with despair because art, something I care about very much, has become a monetized and trivialized luxury item. Of course this type of conspicuous consumption is true in a lot of places, but in Chelsea it's more in your face. And to make matters worse, two of my favorite Chelsea galleries, Postmasters and the Winkleman Gallery, places that gave me hope when Chelsea was getting to me, have recently left the area.

A Selection of Bushwick Gallery Exhibitions:

  at Auxiliary Projects (until April 27th)
Sue McNally, left: Married, 2013, ink on paper, 11 x 15 inches; right: Bed Head, 2014, ink and gesso on paper, 11 x 15 inches.
By coincidence, the co-directors of Auxiliary Projects, Jennifer Dalton and Jennifer McCoy, exhibit with Winkleman and Postmasters respectively. The gallery has a unique approach. They work with each of their artists to help them produce handmade art that can sell for under $300.

In this exhibition, Sue McNally's self-portraits capture a wide variety of moods and attitudes with great economy of means. Even though the self she portrays doesn't look particularly happy, after seeing a lot of her drawings, I can't help feeling she had fun doing them. The woman can draw!

Edge Over Easy by Jerry WaldenRobert Henry Gallery (until April 13th).
Jerry Walden, Hundred Twenty Nine (Tit. Whi.), 2014, acrylic on paper, 26 x 19 ⅞ inches.
What keeps this work from being mere decoration is that it's spatially complicated – lines and columns pop into and out of view, and space become elusive and disorienting.

Standing on Cardboard: Avital Burg at the Slag Gallery (ended April 6th).
Installation view: Standing on Cardboard: Avital Burg at the Slag Gallery.
The warm light and color in these paintings are reminiscent of 17th-Century Spanish painting. There's a quiet mystery about them.

THE INDEXICAL MARK, a group exhibition at Life on Mars Gallery (ended April 6th).
Installation view of the exhibition The Indexical Mark at Life on Mars Gallery.  The column in the center is by Etty Yaniv, Beyond the Impetus of Gravity, 2014, mixed media on board, 36 x 36 x 140 inches.
This exhibition doesn't hold together or make particular sense as a show, but it has at least two works that were worth the trip: Etty Yaniv's column Beyond the Impetus of Gravity, 2014, is composed of hundreds of layers of paper and other materials that at first look random, but the layers visually flow like swirling water. And the column feels both solid (perhaps because of the sharp corners) and, at the same time, porous and weightless.

In the same show is an early drawing by Susan Rothenberg that's remarkably powerful and moving, especially for such a small work.
Susan Rothenberg, Untitled, 1977, Mixed media on paper, 16 x 14 inches.
You can see how good she was before her horse imagery became a trademark and lost its impact.

Tonight (Friday, April 11th) Life on Mars gallery opens a one-person exhibition of Arnold Mesches's paintings. I knew Arnold more than 30 years ago in Los Angeles and he was a hell of a painter then. The 90-year-old artist is having a great late phase. This should be a knock-out show.

Centotto Gallery
Vapors and Squalls, or Mediums, Works by Kate Teale, Karen Marston, Jonathan Quinn and Wendy Klemperer
Installation view of the exhibition Vapors and Squalls, or Mediums at the Centotto Gallery.
Centotto is an apartment gallery – something common in Bushwick – and it makes for a warm and intimate atmosphere to look at art. Their current exhibition of works by Kate Teale, Karen Marston, Jonathan Quinn and Wendy Klemperer, is a refreshingly tight theme show having to do with weather, clouds and water. Centotto, to their credit, usually has gallery discussions about the work on view. To find out when this exhibition's discussion will be, check here.

Philip Buehler, Woody Guthrie's Wardy Forty; Greystone Park Hospital Revisited, Valentine Gallery (until April 13th).
Phillip Buehler, intake and discharge photos of patients at the Greystone Park State Hospital.
Afflicted with Huntington’s disease, the legendary singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie spent five years as a patient at Greystone Park State Hospital in Morris Plains, New Jersey. It was there that the 19-year-old Bob Dylan visited Guthrie for the first time.

Phillip Buehler broke into the long-abandoned hospital and found thousands of negatives that documented patients when they were admitted and when they were discharged. Buehler presents these materials, and a few other related things, in a straightforward way, without pathos, and thereby creates one of the few conceptual/documentary photo exhibitions I’ve seen that’s truly moving. Especially heartbreaking are the intake and discharge photos of young people.

Oliver Wasow: Studio Portraits, Theodore:Art (until May 11th).
Oliver Wasow, David, 2013; archival pigment print edition of 30 x 20 inches.
These are what I want to call "painterly photographs." This is not a new phenomenon – it goes back as far as the Pictorialists photographers at the turn of the twentieth century. But I notice that this type of photography is being shown a lot more lately.

Oliver Wasow's photos have a "painterly" quality for several reasons: the backdrops are literally taken from paintings, usually from Hudson River School paintings; the photos are easel-size; the color tonality and light is all-over; and the poses are quiet and contemplative, unlike stop-action photography.

A Selection of Chelsea Gallery Exhibitions:

The only good work I saw in Chelsea this time, or at least work that didn't offend me, was in the small and medium-sized galleries. Two photography shows in particular impressed me: Simone Kappeler, DE BUCK gallery, 545 W. 23rd Street (until April 15th),
Simone Kappeler, Elk City, Oklahoma Pool, 1981, Fuji-film color print, 19 ⅔ x 19 ⅔ inches.
and Sharon Ya’ari, at Andrea Meislin Gallery, 534 W.24th Street (until April 26th).
Sharon Ya'ari, Bridge with Flowers, 2013, 60 x 74 inches.
Both have glowing color and a sense of tactility that's more typical of painting than photography.

And, at the BravinLee Gallery is this painterly video:
From Katie Armstrong’s Dark Spring, 2013,  hand-drawn animation. Click here to watch a trailer.
It's hard to see any hand-drawn animation today without thinking of William Kentridge – but Katie Armstrong has very much her own sensibility and drawing style.

Two of Ryan Trecartin's hyperactive videos from 2009 can be seen at the Elizabeth Dee Gallery, 545 W. 20th Street (until April 26th). They're difficult to take because of the frantic antics of his wildly made-up actor/friends, the riotous soundtrack, and the vibrant graphics thrown at you at lightning speed. But his videos are personal and, until recently when his work spawned so many imitators, unique.

And there were even a couple of excellent painting shows in Chelsea:

Los Angeles artist Roy Dowell, at Lennon Weinberg, 514 W. 25th Street (until May 3rd).
Roy Dowell, Untitled #1057, 2014, acrylic on linen, 52 x 40 inches. 
I used to think Dowell's art was too design-y until I saw his painted sculptures at the inaugural Made in L.A. biennial exhibition at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles in 2012; and now, with this exhibition, Dowell is making some of the most delightfully eccentric paintings this side of Tom Nozkowski. 

Rackstraw Downes at Betty Cuningham Gallery, 541 W. 25th Street (until May 3rd).
Rackstraw Downes, Study, Outdoor Dance Floor, Presidio, TX, from the Bandstand Looking South, 2008, oil on canvas, 13 x 39 1/2 inches. 
They're not only beautifully painted but are endlessly interesting because of the vertiginous space, sparkling light, and mostly because of the haunting, desolate, subtly disturbing subject matter.

Artists Anonymous: Old Game New at Jonathan Levin Gallery's new ground-floor space, 557 W. 23rd Street (until May 3rd).
Installation view, Old Gamd New by Artists Anonymous, Jonathan Levin Gallery.
Artists Anonymous is a collective based in London and Berlin, showing in the United States for the first time in a new additional space the Jonathan LeVine Gallery opened on 23rd Street. Their art-making process is unusual (aside from being anonymous). They paint images in reverse colors, as if it were a negative, photograph them and print them in reverse. The result is something between photographs and paintings done in weird, acidic colors. Then the works are arranged to create an environment that, in this case, is like a life-size pop-up book.

Dan Witz: New York Hardcore at Jonathan Levin Gallery's original 9th floor space, 529 W 20th Street (until May 3rd).
Dan Witz, Agnostic Front Circle Pit, nd, oil and digital media on canvas, 48 x 82 inches.
Witz's new paintings are skillful in a typically Chelsea manner, but it would be hard to call them corporate because of the violent and chaotic mosh pits that are Witz's subject matter. It's interesting that in spite of the riotous subject matter, the paintings are carefully choreographed. It's as if the action is stopped and the figures are posing. It makes for a strangely otherworldly experience.

I fondly remember Dan Witz's inconspicuous little paintings of hummingbirds that he painted on walls all over Soho and the East Village in the early eighties; I wrote about them here. He certainly has come a long way from that – and so has Chelsea!
Dan Witz, Hummingbird from his “Birds of Manhattan” series, c. early 1980's, acrylic on sheetrock (photo © Jaime Rojo, from the Brooklyn Street Art website).

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