Last Tuesday, I spent a few hours wandering the galleries in the Chelsea district of New York. This article presents some brief reviews of what I found.
In truth, the highlight of the afternoon was not inside the galleries, but out on the street. I wandered around my favorite neighborhoods architecturally speaking, and visited the High Line for the first time since it opened. Both the refurbished elevated structures and the surrounding post-industrial landscape are quite photogenic. I presented a couple of my photos on a previous post.
After spending time outside taking in the neighborhood at both street and aerial level, I came indoors to a solo exhibition of works by Dan Flavin at David Zwirner. Flavin’s large-scale pieces were series of fluorescent lights in alternating colors. The simplicity of the lines and lights and spare nature of the large white concrete rooms of the gallery made of a stark contrast with the intensity and energy of the city just outside. The way to experience these works was to take in the expanse from the center, and then slowly walk along the perimeter with the lights, a sort of walking meditation.
Another exhibit that lent itself to a more slow, contemplative viewing was Spencer Finch’s The Brain — is wider than the Sky. This exhibition consisted of three works. The Shield of Achilles (Night Sky over Troy 1184 B.C.) featured a series of cans hanging from the ceiling, each containing a light bulb and a small hole in its base to let out a point of light. Viewers were invited to lie on a mat below and gaze upward, as if looking at the night sky. Although the cans are meticulously arranged to represent ancient Greek constellations, I found myself thinking of them simply as an abstract array of lights and cylinders. Nearby, 366 (Emily Dickinson’s Micalous year) interpreted the 366 poems Dickenson wrote in 1862 as a colorful spiral labyrinth composed of candles, each of which is colored according to the corresponding poem. The candles are lit in sequence, one a day, so that when I saw the piece several of the candles were already melted. The third piece Paper Moon (Studio All at Night) consisted of gray four-sided shapes as was described by the artist as “a very boring piece and clearly not for everyone.”
Matthew Ritchie’s solo exhibition Line Shot at Andrea Rosen Gallery stood out for me, with the abstract, mathematical quality of both the sculptural and two-dimensional pieces. The swirling, intricate forms with circles, curves, latticework and polyhedra suggest both a mechanical or computer-generated origin, and an organic living structure at the same time, perhaps a large city in space or a rather complex molecule. The two dimensional pieces seem to be projections of the sculptures onto a flat surface, with added layers of color. I was particularly drawn to the title work of the exhibition, Line Shot, an animated feature film with moving versions of his projected sculptural forms, with floating text and spoken word, and a sound track built from metallic resonances – and sound that is very rich but also familiar and inviting. I was impressed to read about Ritchie’s past and present collaborations with physicists, musicians, writers and a host of people from other disciplines; I wish I had been around to see The Long Count, a related performance at the Brooklyn Academy of Music back in October.
At Greene Naftali I saw Paul Chan’s sexually charged show Sade for Sade’s sake. At first glance, the drawings in the first gallery were simply abstract nude figures drawn with curving black lines, and reminded me a bit of the charcoal drawings of Reiko Muranaga. The sexual dimension becomes more apparent in the accompanying video animations, which feature the similar abstract-figurative shapes moving and convulsing while geometric shapes float in the background. Chan also created a set of fonts (available for download) in which individual keys are mapped to sexual phrases that can be used for generating live poetry or performances. In the gallery, he presents several large-scale panels presenting the character set for each font. In the center of this room was a computer keyboard in which the keys had been replaced with modernist geometric tombstones.
At Stricoff, I once again saw Catherine Mackey’s Wharves and Warehouses (I had previously seen her and her work at Open Studios. It was interesting to see her work, which focuses on the modern urban landscape, paired with the work of other artists in the gallery, such as Zachary Thornton’s woman in a yellow dress set against a dark background.
When I saw the sign Edward Burtynsky’s photographic series Burtynsky: Oil at Hasted Hunt Kraeutler Gallery, I was thinking, “oh, ok, another politically charged photo series…” and not expecting much. But the images were surprisingly beautiful. There were area views of open pit mines that had an abstract beauty with their curved contours and subtle shades, if one can dismiss the ugliness of the practice being shown. Other symbolic images included towers in oil fields, and a highway interchange from Los Angeles, a theme of which I am quite fond (and featured in an old Fun with Highways post).
Some other quick notes. I saw early drawings of Jean-Michel Basquiat at Stellan Holm Gallery, which displayed the frenetic combinations of text, figures and shapes that characterize his paintings. Yvonne Jacquette’s intricate and detailed wood carvings featured familiar scenes from around New York City, including buildings, bridges and the waterfront. Hope Gangloff’s large canvases at Susan Inglett Gallery included one nude figure with a cell phone and beer, and another with a writing bad surrounded by abstract shapes, as well as several figures with interesting clothing. Robert Motherwell’s Works on Paper at the architecturally interesting Jim Kempner Fine Art were simple and quite calming, with little bits of detail to discover like cut sections from musical scores.