Monday, January 25, 2010

Friday Gallery-Hopping

The current show at Midtown's Greenberg Van Doren Gallery is entitled John McLaughlin: Hard Edge Classicist, a solo exhibition of 14 paintings from the 1950s to the 1970s by the late, self-taught artist. McLaughlin, though born in New England, eventually lived and worked in Dana Point, California. His influences included Kazimir Malevich and Piet Mondrian. There is a sense of calm in the gallery as the geometric shapes and soothing colors emerge quietly to make their presence known. 

Down on the Lower East Side (LES), Eleven Rivington is hosting an exhibition featuring the work of Olivier Babin, Nick Cave, Robert Medvedz, and Denise Kupferschmidt. These four artists come from different backgrounds but are united together in this black-and-white-themed show. 

Across the street and in the alley at Salon 94 Freemans, walk among the intriguing, dance-inspired sculptures that make up Jennifer Cohen's Grey Lines in Formation

Actual price lists were available at these and other LES galleries, a new (at least to me) development which is a welcome relief from the former, meant-to-intimidate dance that still defines many art-world negotiations at this level. I recall from gallery visits to Chelsea last month that prices might not have always been listed, but gallery employees were forthcoming in response to inquiries. Still, however, you'll encounter the "For prices, please ask in the back" barrier, but I suspect that this sales strategy is gradually disappearing as galleries continue to struggle in this economy.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Are We There Yet?

If you happen to find yourself walking along 4th Street between 2nd Avenue and Bowery, take a look at the scaffolding above street level at 70 E. 4th Street Cultural Center. You will find six panels of Japanese hand-cut paper on masonite. K. Savage has created works which honor the impact six female artists have had on art history and Contemporary art. The artists represented include Artemisia Gentileschi, Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, Hannah Höch, Käthe Schmidt Kollwitz, Cindy Sherman, and Louise Nevelson. Fourth Arts Block (FAB) ArtUp has been transforming this street and its construction areas into art spaces with great success for some years now. Are We There Yet? opened today and will be on view until April 22nd. Thanks to Joyce Manolo of ArtForward for curating this, and other cutting-edge art events on 4th Street. 

Don't forget to stop in to Bond Street Chocolate (and mention ArtUp) across the street for a delicious cup of hot chocolate. You will not be disappointed. The lovely proprietor, Lynda Stern, concocts seriously unique chocolate creations you will not find elsewhere. According to arts journalist Lindsay Pollock, the shop is frquented by artists such as Kiki Smith and Chuck Close.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Illuminating the Text and Disciplined Spontaneity at Zone: Contemporary Art

Village Voice art critic R.C. Baker spoke at Zone:Contemporary Art Saturday afternoon about the historic collaboration between writers and artists. Illuminating the Text was featured as part of the gallery's larger group show, Disciplined Spontaneity, an exhibition of collaborations between artists such as John Cage and Joseph Beuys (Good Morning, Mr Orwell). 

Mr. Baker talked about how art and text converge. Artists, like writers, he said, have a vocabulary all their own. He noted the relationship between Robert Crumb and Philip Guston as well as Frank O'Hara's work with the Abstract Expressionists. These artists believed that words were only an eye-twitch away from the real thing and that reality is only a confirmation of people's expectations. Mr. Baker said that art is collaborative by nature, that is, the artist intends the work to be viewed by an audience.

Illuminating the Text: Long Island City-based painter Laura Bell and New Haven-based percussionist and poet Ian Ganassi met each other at the Millay Colony for the Arts, a retreat for writers and artists. Their approach to collage is a collaborative interdisciplinary process, in a variation of the Surrealist game of Exquisite Corpse. According to the Zone Gallery's website, "...their ongoing series, The Corpses, now numbering around two hundred pieces, began when Ganassi mailed Bell a stained piece of paper with scrawled phrases, to which she added her own images. Exchanges and additions continue until one collaborator declares a work finished." Ms Bell said that Kurt Schwimmer was the father of collage and commented on the extent to which Robert Rauschenberg was influenced by Schwimmer. She added that collage was a turning point in art and talked briefly about Picasso and Braque in this regard. Ms Bell and Mr. Ganassi both reflected on the nature of found objects, describing how they enjoyed fusing these elements into their work. Mr. Ganassi then read from his wonderful "Review" series of poems - Dance Review, Art Review, and Book Review, among others.

Disciplined Spontaneity is on view until February 20, 2009.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Reverse - New York Polish Film Festival

Poland's entry for the Oscars this year is Reverse, an unsettling film noir I saw last night at Anthology Film Archives. The story revolves around three generations of Polish women enduring the Stalinist-era years of oppression in Warsaw. Highlights include a jazz score (with a fantastic Nina Simone finale), impeccable acting, a macabre story, and the gorgeous cinematography of Marcin Koszalka. Reverse won First Prize at the Polish Film Festival in Gdynia last year. A Golden Lion for Best Actress Award went to Agata Buzek (in various moments a cross between Mia Farrow and Uma Thurman), who played the protagonist, Sabina. Best Supporting Actor went to Marcin Dorocinski (a compelling combination of Ben Affleck and a young Daniel Day-Lewis, pictured at right), Best Cinematography Award for Marcin Koszalka, and Best Music Award for Wlodek Pawlik.

Here is an interview with the young director, Borys Lankosz, in which he says that the current ethos of Polish film-making has evolved beyond the dark ages of censorship. Lankosz admits that women are wiser than men in the ways of the world. This is rather chillingly revealed as the story unfolds. What began as a potentially tedious story of finding a suitable husband for a young woman becomes a study in grace under almost unbearable pressure. 

I lived in Poland from 1990-1992 and heard many stories from students and friends about these dark years. History lives in Poland and is never far from the present minds of artists working in that country today, but now they are addressing it in a post-modern way. Reverse will screen again in New York this spring. Don't miss it.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

More Museums - Arts and Design, Natural History, and Asia Society

Yesterday, a friend invited me out for an afternoon of museum-hopping. We chose the Museum of Arts and Design  (MAD) and the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), where we had hoped to see the Silk Road Exhibition. However, we chose not to see the show (though I've heard it is excellent) when we learned that admission was $21. Also, I've lived in or visited many Silk Road cities (e.g.Venice, Istanbul, Ephesus, Baghdad, Ba'qubah, Basrah, Samarkand, Tashkent, Kabul, Xi'an, Beijing, Delhi, Agra, Mumbai), so my personal experience is sufficient enough to get a clear picture of this fascinating era.

I'll never look at paper the same way again after seeing Slash: Paper Under the Knife, an excellent show at MAD. Intricate cut-outs, topological maps, architectural renderings, vases, a profuse garden, chains, and sculptures are made of paper that has been scalpeled, lasered, shredded, or otherwise manipulated into works of art. Of particular note: Su Blackwell's Rapunzel; Ariana Boussard-Reifel's Between the Lines (a white supremacist bible which has every single word cut out of it, thus rendering it powerless); Celio Braga's Placebos (formed from the paper instructions that came with the prescription drugs that Braga's family members took for their illnesses); Beatrice Coron's Heavens and Hells, two delicate, lace-like pieces displayed in two separate windows; Andrea Dezso's Woman in Red with Black String (one of a series of Joseph Cornell-like dioramas depicting scenes from folk tales); and Judy Pfaff's Bogue Lusa, a lush garden made of honeycomb, silk flowers, and coffee filters.

We decided to stop by Asia Society and were rewarded by having the place to ourselves, but for a handful of other visitors. Devotion in South India: Chola Bronzes features John D. Rockefeller III's collection of Chola bronzes - sensuous figures of Shiva, Uma, and other gods in the Hindu pantheon. We also enjoyed the spare yet elegant art in Yoshihiro Suda: In Focus. Suda is a Japanese artist who is most known for his sculptures of plants and flowers. There is one piece that is not contained within the gallery with the other pieces; an Asia Society employee told us we had to look for it. After an unsuccessful search, we had to ask a guard to show us where it was. Museum employees might this instant be getting some laughs if our search was captured on security cameras.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Brooklyn Museum First Saturdays

In addition to a number of other events throughout the city, Target sponsors First Saturdays at Brooklyn Museum. A visiting friend and I stopped by on January 2nd and we were treated to music by NYC Indie rock band, Cordero, grabbed our free standby tickets to Hedwig and the Angry Inch, then watched the multi-generational, eclectic crowd while we had a decent glass of red wine.

I can't believe I'd never seen Hedwig before! I did enjoy John Cameron Mitchell's 2006 film, Short Bus, but I liked Hedwig moreAfter the film, which was accompanied by Rocky Horror-like fans on stage mirroring the action on the screen behind them, we breezed through most of the art galleries, watched the waltzers in the main ballroom, and then headed upstairs to see Judy Chicago's iconic The Dinner Party (above left), a work that resonates with me more each time I see it.

We didn't stay for the dance party, but headed to Mario Batali's Otto for large, comforting pizzas, more wine, and a most exquisite dessert. Olive oil coppetta is a combination of olive oil gelato, lime curd, concord grape sorbet, blood oranges, and fennel brittle. The result is an artwork that one can describe as sublime.

Bauhaus, Burton, and Orozco - Insider and Outsider Art at MoMA

On what may have been the busiest day the museum has seen in a long while, some friends and I visited MoMA on Saturday, January 2nd. We saw the Tim Burton, Gabriel Orozco, and Bauhaus shows.

I confess to not having been particularly interested in seeing the Burton exhibition at first. I snobbishly thought that it might not be high-brow enough (certainly not to the extent that the other two shows would certainly be), but discovered to my great pleasure that it charmed and moved me. Tim Burton is an Outsider who has come in from the cold to be embraced by all those lonely misfits (now fans and studio executives) who have felt the pain of being different. Burton, raised in the spare suburbia of Burbank, California, compulsively revisits versions of his younger self in films such as Edward Scissorhands and Pee Wee's Big Adventure. He also makes time for Ed Wood, Batman, and Willie Wonka.

The crowd, the cramped and not very well-curated galleries, and the lack of ventilation nearly forced me to skip a lot of the illustrations, models, and assorted paraphernalia associated with Burton's films. It was difficult to see every single piece because of the Mona Lisa effect, i.e. the backs of people's heads were more visible than the art they block. But it was worth it to wait for an opening to get close and read some of Burton's poignant poems and letters. I especially enjoyed reading the letter written to Walt Disney when Burton was in high school and the response from Disney himself. Equally absorbing were the eerily beautiful drawings of Burton characters and costumes from his films. I got a much better sense of this artist, much more so than I did from Gabriel Orozco, whose exhibition we visited next.

Thanks to Acoustiguide, we were able to hear Orozco himself tell us about his own work. While I liked the oversized chessboard with only knights, the series of geometric paintings with gold leaf (see above right), and even the reconfigured car, the rest of the exhibition was a mish-mash of items seemingly there to fill space. I am aware that the nature of a retrospective is to showcase a representation of all of the artist's work to date, but for me, the trajectory of Orozco's career was not as coherently developed as Burton's. Perhaps the Orozco galleries were too large - many of the smaller pieces were swallowed up by the sheer size of the rooms. Orozco is an Insider, embraced by MoMA since the start of his career, and deserves the recognition he has received. The show could have made this more apparent.

We should have spent more time in the Bauhaus exhibition, but after the above two shows, we were bordering on sensory overload, not quite Stendhal Syndrome exactly, but enough to feel that we should have taken it in stages. This exhibition was done well. I think that I remember a number of the pieces from an excellent show several years back at The Corcoran in Washington DC, entitled Modernism: Designing a New World 1914-1939, which encompassed the Bauhaus movement (Outsiders turned Insiders), among others. If you are excited by this show, a nice compliment would be to view Kandinsky (a Bauhauser for awhile) at The Guggenheim (please see my earlier post). You have until January 13th.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Poetry is Not a Bad Way to Start 2010

If I couldn't start 2010 with music (a Fischerspooner ticket I passed on last night), I definitely wanted to start it with words. I listened to four hours of poetry today - that's right, four hours. The first two took place at St. Mark's-in-the-Bowery. Now in its 36th year, the New Year's Day Marathon Benefit Reading boasts over 150 poets reading or singing their work in two-minute increments in a 300-year-old church, decorated only by the wan winter sunlight making its way through the stained glass windows. It's a marathon event, with people wandering in and out with their kids and dogs, and taking breaks for chili and other refreshments until midnight. I didn't stick around for Phillip Glass (he went on at 5 pm) or Patti Smith (she went on at 9 pm), but I did hear about 32 poets and musicians, doing something that I absolutely admire, that is, performing in front of a live audience.

Wanting more, I went back to The Bowery Poetry Club, which hosts a parallel (but free) event every New Year's Day similar to the event at St. Mark's. I should mention that I went to the club before St. Mark's, but they were still setting things up, so I made my way to a cafe up the street to have a quick snack of a salmon, cream cheese, and onion sandwich and coffee. While I read a poetry newspaper, a man sat next to me and struck up a conversation. It turned out that he is a doctor who had studied in Russia and Israel. His specialty is infectious diseases, specifically tuberculosis. He took his leave by saying that he had to go up to Sloan-Kettering to feed some bacteria, which apparently have a diet that includes agar, according to my friend.

Anyway, back to the Bowery Poetry Club and more poets baring their souls to an anonymous, appreciative audience. Listening to exciting thoughts on the state of the world, the nature of humans, and predictions for 2010, two more hours of poetry flew by. My head filled with words, I felt rather inspired.