Saturday, May 10, 2014

Chelsea Roundup - May, 2014

By Charles Kessler

Once again I’m forced to take back all the bad things I said about Chelsea. Just kidding – it’s still hateful. I agree with a friend who says he feels like he's intruding on the 1% when he visits the Chelsea galleries. Nevertheless, this time there were a lot of excellent, if often absurdly excessive, exhibitions.

The Gagosian Gallery exhibition, Julian Schnabel, View of Dawn in the Tropics, Paintings, 1989–1990 (even the title is excessive), is a good place to begin because the exhibition epitomizes the good and bad in Chelsea.
Exterior view of the Gagosian Gallery space on 24th Street in Chelsea.
Schnabel was the first artist to make it really big in the boom boom eighties, but by 1989-90, a backlash had arisen against his art and that of the other Neo-Expressionists. People were tired of all the bombast and hype. (Of course, compared to what's happened since then, the eighties look pretty chill.) And as this show demonstrates, Schnabel made a lot of unconvincing and thin work at the end of the decade.

Maybe the money and acclaim overwhelmed Schnabel's ability to edit himself, or, more likely, in order to have the confidence to even consider doing such grandiose work requires an ego uninhibited by second thoughts. Whatever the cause, paintings like the one below deserve the disdain heaped on them at the time.
Julian Schnabel, Untitled, oil on green tarpaulin, 108 x 84 inches (Gagosian Gallery until May 31st).
On the other hand, occasionally Schnabel pulled off a grand, theatrical painting or two, like the ones below – and then you just have to salute him. And it takes a big-time Chelsea gallery with the resources of Gagosian to do a show like this.
Installation view, View of Dawn in the Tropics, Julian Schnabel 1989-1990 (Gagosian Gallery until May 31st).

Fred Tomaselli no longer makes decorative patterns with marijuana leaves and colorful pills in his paintings – and that's a good thing because that work quickly came across as gimmicky. In his first exhibition in New York since 2006, Tomaselli instead fills his images with small, colorful photos, beads, strands of plastic, etc.. (To see this better, click on the image below to enlarge it.) And the backgrounds of his paintings are sprinkled with colorful dots, swirls and stars that float in outer-space and explode like fireworks.  The upshot is these drug-free paintings end up feeling more hallucinogenic than his earlier work.
Fred Tomaselli, Penetrators (Large), 2012, photo-collage, acrylic, resin on wood panel, 72 x 72 inches
(James Cohen Gallery until June 14th). Click on the image to enlarge it. 

In David Zwirner's three enormous Chelsea spaces (525 and 533 West 19th Street and 537 West 20th Street), there's a large (needless to say) museum-quality exhibition of art made in Cologne and New York in the 1980s. There are about 100 works by 22 artists including such art stars as: George Condo, Robert Gober, Mike Kelley, Martin Kippenberger, Jeff Koons, Sherrie Levine (who also has a solo show at Paula Cooper – don't bother), Albert Oehlen, Raymond Pettibon, Richard Prince, Cindy Sherman, Rosemarie Trockel, Franz West, and Christopher Wool.

There are two Keith Haring shows in Chelsea; the largest, at the Barbara Gladstone Gallery, features works Haring made in the mid- to late 1980s. Unlike his earlier, more playful paintings, this work deals with serious political subjects such as the AIDS epidemic, gay sexuality, and the negative impact of technology and the media. It was a revelation to see how Haring's limited pictorial vocabulary could have such great emotional range.
Keith Haring, Untitled, 1985, acrylic and enamel on canvas tarp, 120 x 180 inches (Gladstone Gallery until June 14th).
The much smaller second-floor Lio Malca Gallery might not have as many of Haring's paintings on display, but the one they have is a real tour de force – a ferocious five-panel painting that was originally installed above the DV8 Bar in San Francisco. I can understand why the bar sold it – it probably spooked their patrons (that and the money, of course).
Keith Haring, Untitled (DV8), 1986,  (Lio Malca Gallery - no end date).

This is Rio de Janeiro-based artist Tunga's fifth solo show at Luhring Augustine, and over the years, he has evolved a personal occult mythology involving secret ritual and ceremony, alchemy, and Jungian archetypes that gives rise to these strange apparatuses.
Installation view, Tunga, La Voie Humide, 2014 (Luhring Augustine until May 31st).
Whether Tunga actually believes in this occult mythology or not is irrelevant – the work feels authentic.

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, another Rio de Janeiro-based artist (and also Paris-based), is having her first New York solo show, at the 303 Gallery.
Installation view, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, euquinimod & costumes, 2014, mixed media
(303 Gallery until May 31st).
The exhibition is titled euquinimond & costumes, and it's a selection of her clothing and textiles that she saved over the years and arranged chronologically in this installation. To quote the press release, the clothing and textiles act as "possible autobiographical evidences and as the symptoms of Gonzalez-Foerster's artistic personality through different periods." It's probably not an original idea, and I'm not sure how much insight into her personality I gained, but the installation has a serene cheerfulness about it, and yet, at the same time, it's inexplicably disquieting. Perhaps it was the haunting music playing in the background.

Lisi Raskin's paintings at the small Churner and Churner gallery are assembled like jig saw puzzles and are tactile and spatially complex. They also have great physical presence even though they're modest in size, varying from a couple of feet to a couple of inches.
Lisi Raskin, Untitled (Little Bear 2), 2013, acrylic paint, paper, archival glue, and wood, 20 1/2 x 16 3/4 inches
(Churner and Churner until May 31st).
I would have been happier if I didn't read the spiel in the press release and just enjoyed the work by itself – but that's one of the the occupational hazards of doing your homework as an art blogger.

Robert Longo, like Keith Haring, has two shows in Chelsea (Schnabel, not to be out-done, has another show too, but in the Lower East Side at the Karma Gallery, and Lisi Raskin has a site-specific environment in Tribeca at Art in General  – dual shows are the minimum standard for legitimacy now). Unlike the others, though, Longo's shows are getting a lot of attention, both favorable and unfavorable, with a so-so review in the Times, a rave in Time Out New York, and many other articles and reviews.

Longo is a good person to end with because his work, like that of his contemporary Julian Schnabel, exemplifies what's good and bad in Chelsea today. For the Metro Pictures show, Longo worked with a team of highly skilled illustrators to reproduce several famous large Abstract Expressionist paintings. They were done to scale and copied with amazing accuracy, except they were done in black and white using charcoal.
Robert Longo, Gang of Cosmos installation view, 2014 (Metro Pictures until May 23rd).
The irony is obvious: black and white instead of vibrant color; deliberate rendering instead of "action painting," impersonal team of illustrators vs. the personal mark. But once you get over the miraculousness of it, this show is ultimately one joke that goes on too long(o).

But Longo, like Schnabel, is sometimes capable of pulling off a successful spectacle, as he did with his work at the Petzel Gallery, especially his powerful 17-foot-high American flag that seems to be cutting through the floor.
Robert Longo, Untitled (The Pequod), 2014, steel, wood, wax and pigment, 207 x 192 x 12 inches
(Petzel Gallery until May 10th).
There's an obvious reference to Jasper Johns's flags, but it also divides and defines the room the way Richard Serra's sculptures do and has the same physical heft and threatening presence. The gallery lists the material as steel, but I touched it (I'm bad) and it felt like styrofoam to me. Whatever. It's a thrilling piece – the kind of theatrical production Chelsea excels at.


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