Culture Vultures

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A select list of some of my favorite museums, galleries and local attractions.
  • 5.0 star rating

    Very cool gallery! There's a great slogan painted on the facade: "the whole world + the work = the whole world." I know this sounds corny, but every time I see it I feel inspired.

    Last time I went the inside also had words on the walls--not painted on but put there by a projector for an installation by Frances Stark. The work was based on her internet chats with Italian men. As far as I could tell the text was a transcription of video chats where Italians were showing her their dicks and vice versa. But the words made it into the art, and I was glad that Gavin Brown's Enterprise put big couches in the middle of the gallery so I could get cozy for 30+ minutes of reading.

    Frances Stark made this work for an important exhibition in Venice last summer and the guys she chats with--as I mentioned before--are Italian, like the people in Venice. The projections are timed to the rhythm of music from a Mozart opera, which has lyrics in Italian, even though Mozart spoke German. But the lyrics are gone, just like the images of these Italian guys who were typing to Frances Stark in English. All these removals and reminders of geographical distance really made me think about the distance between an artist and her audience, because in most cases the artist "isn't in the picture," so to speak, when the audience encounters the work. But, at the same time, the audience wants the artist to expose a private side of herself so they can have a vicarious experience of the genuine emotional connection that's missing from their everyday lives. That expectation for art is basically the same impulse that sends people to sites that promise spontaneous and exciting random encounters, like Chatroulette, even though (or maybe because?) all these sites have to offer is a bunch of dicks. There's something like a "lost in translation" problem there when you can't match your desires up with the desires of the guy who wants you to look at his dick. Same thing with the artist's anxiety over whether what she wants to show is what people want to see. Or when you tell an Italian guy that stab is a verb and he thinks it's a dick. I'm pretty sure that's what Frances Stark was thinking about when she made this work, given the way she mixes together "I'm gonna chat with guys in Italy" with "I'm gonna show my art in Italy."

    I got a little carried away there but I thought this was super interesting and also somewhat relevant to my point, which is: Gavin Brown's Enterprise is a good place to have an intimate experience with some good art.

  • 5.0 star rating
    First to Review

    I walked into this gallery and "Wonderwall" by Oasis was playing from two big speakers, followed by "Time to Pretend" by MGMT--two of my favorite dude jams! The gallery director told me that it was a Smashing Pumpkins station on Pandora, and it was all part of the exhibition by Tyler Dobson. Each of the speakers faced a tapestry stretched on a rectangular frame, each of which depicted loose piles of printed photos. The photo piles had been photographed and then sent to a weave-on-demand tapestry service, which made the images look pixelated in thread, scraps of a pre-digital '90s past preserved in a cheap textile. ("Put it on a mug, it will last longer" would be a good slogan for those various Zazzle services that turn your jpegs into things.) Tucked in the corner was a photo of a teen boy, shirtless, smoking a joint. Apparently there are sites where guys upload their shirtless weed selfies, just thousands of photos in the same pose. This is a recent phenomenon but because the photo is printed out and has a slightly yellowish tinge (maybe a filter?), and the kid has longish stoner hair, the image looks like it could be twenty, thirty years old (except for the iPhone he's holding). The Smashing Pumpkins Pandora station, with its kind-of-edgy-but-not-really songs from all over the 1990s and 2000s, is another reminder that all these soft forms of rebellion are suspended in time, part of the repeating cycle of teens. There were dead leaves strewn all over the floor, a gesture about the passage of time and youth that was so obvious I almost rolled my eyes, but the brown-gray color looked so good with the autumnal shades of the tapestries I gave the artist a pass.

    47 Canal is a fairly young gallery, having opened in the spring of 2011. They had a really exciting first season. But this past fall the quality seemed to lag a little as they tried to bring in artists who they hadn't worked with before, and it made me a little worried. Tyler Dobson is an artist I hadn't seen showing there before, and I really liked his worked, so I left the gallery feeling optimistic. Can't wait to see what they do next!

  • 4.0 star rating

    There's no exhibition quite like an empty gallery.. and man is the gallery at Artists Space EMPTY. Not only is there no art in the space, they also got rid of the front desk, the little bookstore, the open office space, and even the people who work there. The plus to this is that there's easy access to the restrooms. I think they're generally available to public use if you ask but as long as the current show is up, you can just make a beeline for the john (it's the two white doors in the northeast corner), no questions asked.

    Technically it wasn't totally empty--there were some machines that looked the ones that measure humidity in museums, and in one corner there was a copper tube embedded in glass, also suggestive of some kind of measuring device, measuring what I don't know. I identified one guy in the gallery as a gallery attedant because he was there when I arrived and was still there when I got out of the bathroom, and I tried to ask him some questions, but he shrugged and said he had no idea what the objects/machines were, and there were no statements or informational materials. he said "it's a show of aaron flint jamison" and I was like "yeah yeah" because I'd read that in the lobby.  

    Also in retrospect I wonder if the gallery had been painted a light shade of gray because something about it (other than the absence of everythign) made it seem different from other times I've been there--but probably my brain is just inventing thing from trying too hard to perceive something.

    I'm giving Artists Space four stars because I've enjoyed some exhibitions there in the past and overall it's a good program. The current exhibit I don't know what to do with.

  • 3.0 star rating
    First to Review

    Last month I went to Foxy Production to see a show by Michael Wang. I had read some of the articles he wrote for Artforum and other art magazines and he seemed like a smart and cool guy so I was curious to see his art. The show was called "Carbon Copies" and it was a series of sculptures. Each sculpture was made out of carbon and its dimensions were determined by the amount of CO2 that was emitted to create a certain artwork, the appearance of which was reflected by details in the sculpture. So, one of the big ones was based on Richard Serra Torqued Ellipse and it was a cube with a torqued ellipse cut out of the middle. I thought it was a great show. It combined two kinds of work that are super boring--art about art, art about environmental issues--and made a really interesting, good-looking show. Quite an achievement! When I looked at the checklist I saw the prices of the sculptures were in the low three figures, with a couple under $100. This was really exciting for me because I always go to Chelsea without expecting to see any art I can actually afford. I wanted to buy one of Michael Wang's sculptures! I asked if any were still available. The dealer said no--the whole series had been sold together as an installation, and the objects were never meant to be sold separately anyway. They were priced that way conceptually--each price is fixed at 1 dollar per 1.1 negative tons of carbon offset. Not sure exactly what that means, but in any case, the experience left me with a bad taste in my mouth. If that's the way the prices work, maybe they could be written with pen and ink on some nice paper and hung on the wall, so people would get that it's part of the installation. That way the gallery wouldn't confuse or let anyone down. Just a suggestion.

    I was going to give Foxy Production three and a half stars but I guess there's no way to award a half star. So only three.

  • 5.0 star rating
    First to Review

    I did not expect to see ancient Egyptian artifacts in an artist-run gallery in Greenpoint but with Real Fine Arts, you never know. The first time through the gallery I didn't even know what they were, maybe just some outsider-y metallic sculptures inspired by the vitrines of poorly preserved and rusty everyday objects at the Met (seems like a lot of artists are interested in fake museum artifacts these days). Whenever I go to a gallery I always just look at the show first, then go back and consult the checklist later. So when I saw that they really were from Egypt I was amazed! Apparently you can buy these things on eBay. Even before I had learned that bit of information I thought it was a really good, very richly textured show, with various grades of reflectiveness and protruberance on each of the surfaces--paintings, collages, objects, etc. It was all enclosed by a gallery within a gallery, a tight and quiet temporary structure, and walking around it to get to the back in order to view a film on display involved passing through a narrow and dimly lit corridor. This contributed to the sense of these objects being located somewhere outside of time.

  • 5.0 star rating
    First to Review

    Sometimes I think that putting a group of paintings of the same size at the same height on a gallery's wall is a boring way to hang an exhibition. But shows like Charline von Heyl's are a good reminder that this is only the case when the art is boring! (and complicated installation techniques are often only compensating for the art.) She is my favorite living painter and this new work at Petzel Gallery is truly remarkable, with gaunt-yet-bold palettes--pink, gray, pale green in one, black, yellow and purple in another and so on--and the hints of figuration and patterning that always invite some kind of identification or familiarity but never satisfy it, because it stays on the hint level. What I really love about von Heyl's paintings is that when you stand back and observe them they look so complex and layered, with otherworldly depth and aura, but if you look close up you can see there's nothing particularly mystifying or ghostly about the way she paints. The brushstrokes are evident, there's nothing that hides her hand. You can see the roughness, dare I say clumsiness, of the painting's application, and the marks of the palette knife where she cuts the paint into shapes, where applicable. It's just something about the way she combines all the elements to produce an organic whole that is breathtakingly brilliant. The one thing technique-wise that remained a mystery to me was the scratchmarks on one painting; the checklist said there was charcoal among the meida so I asked the guy at the desk if the artist had scratched into the surface of the dried painting with a knife or something, or if that was just what the charcoal looked like when it was drawn on. He didn't know, so he went to ask the director, but the director was in a meeting. He said I could email him with the question and he'd get back to me, which was very nice of him, but I doubt I will. It's not that important anyway.. just curious!
    I'm going to pretend I didn't see the Allan McCollum exhibition in the small gallery--Allan McCollum is always a snoozefest, this show even moreso than usual, which I didn't think was possible--and the Charline von Heyl show is so excellent, I don't want to bring this review down.

  • 5.0 star rating
    First to Review

    For the most part the Pablo Helguera exhibition at Kent Fine Art doesn't look like a regular gallery exhibit--but what it does look like is hard to say. Does it look like a bookstore or a personal library or what? The first thing I noticed upon entering was the plain, industrial-looking metal shelves (bookstore) with colorful hand-lettered signs indicating the genre/category of the books on them (cute bookstore) but as I moved through I noticed these nice mid-century modernist chairs, the low (in terms of both height and intensity) lighting of vintage table lamps, and faded black-and-white photos on the wall--all domestic touches pointing to "personal library." Is this supposed to represent a public space or a private one, I wondered, and can I even say it's "representing" either or is it just _being_ them? after all, it seemed like the books were there for reading, maybe for buying (but they were all in Spanish, so not really for me). As I got to the end of the gallery, still thinking about whether this was one thing or the other or both, I was caught totally off-guard by a third element--the way one wall of bookshelves ended and opened onto a gallery that looked more like a standard art show--framed prints hanging on a white wall, lots of empty space illuminated by natural light coming in a window. Here we have Pablo Helguera's lecture on "The Art of the Future"--printed on sturdy cards, arranged on three shelves, interspersed with cards printed with plates from a 1969 book, "Art of the Future," to which the title of Helguera's lecture/work referred. And though it was purportedly about the future, the lecture really talked about the past--Helguera's own childhood and youth, when he encountered the book in translation, "El Arte del Futuro," in his home city in Mexico and learned about contemporary trends in American art--conceptual art, land art, and computer art, and became very excited about it. Eventually the lecture arrives at a rather grim conclusion that we live in a time of no future, when the future doesn't matter, when all artists are concerned with their own work in the present. So, like with the installation of books, here too there was this tension between public and private, an attempt to make a statement about general trends in the public sphere of art that ends up circling back into a reflection on personal experiences, but then is presenting as a lecture (or installation)--a transmission of a private life into public space, via the gallery. (On the opposite wall hung framed prints in a grid, black-and-white photographs of what looked like an archaeological site in Mexico--I think. I tried to read and comprehend the prints a few times but for some reason I quickly felt tired out trying to understand it and kept giving up and still am not sure what was going on there.)

    On the way out I stopped at the front desk to talk to the very friendly receptionist a bit about the show and I noticed there were flyers that could be taken and exchanged for a free book! I headed for the "Artes" section and found one about cybernetics in art from the 60s--I won't read it (or maybe I'll try to find the English original, I'm pretty sure it's a translation) but because of the timing of its publication and its thematics, as well as its handsome modern design, it seemed like a great memento to take away from this intriguing exhibition.

  • 526 W 26th Street
    New York, NY 10001
    5.0 star rating
    First to Review

    Found video footage shows up in a lot of art these days, but Trisha Baga adds another dimension to it--literally! One of the pieces in her show at Greene Naftali had Olympic athletes, and fireworks, stadium concerts, and stuff that looked camera-test footage from YouTube spliced together in an order determined by the artist's private network of associations. But because the images were extruded with 3D techniques it felt less introverted and subjective than a lot of the poetic video montage I've seen in the last few years. When the runner lunged toward me in his warm-up stretch and the soundtrack surged it was hard for me not to feel engaged, even though I wasn't really sure of what the image meant. There was also another 3D video, an animation with characters in conversation, and it required a different set of glasses. Signs on the walls noted that the glasses were "specially synced" to each video. There's not a time component to the way the glasses work so "synced" is not the right word, but I understood what they meant and was very impressed by the technical work that went into preparing the videos. More importantly, the different sets of glasses gave the videos a sense of being anchored in space: you really had to move into their zone and stay there for a while with the glasses on in order to appreciate a work. Maybe Baga's next step is virtual reality helmets! (Just kidding... although, who knows?) The whole gallery was darkened, and viewers had to navigate the various glowing sections between and around the two main projections. There were some sculptural video installations to walk through, with projections bouncing off plates or through pieces of broken glass, and weird little assemblages without any digital components just cluttering the floor. These pieces related the digital moving images to everyday objects in a way that suggested a bodily presence for the video without relying on the technological novelties deployed in the 3D works. I doubt they would look that great on their own, with the lights on, but they really added some depth and fullness to the show as a whole.

    I'd say Trisha Baga's show was a four-star experience for me, but thinking back to some of the great exhibits I've seen at Greene Naftali in the last year I have to give the gallery five stars overall. This fall Gelitin put big weird sculptures on pedestals that were rigged so when people pushed levers or buttons on them (as they were invited to do) the sculptures fell off and crashed on the floor. I missed the opening so I didn't get to see the sculptures in their original, untarnished state, just the wreckage several weeks later. So often when messy art gets put in a Chelsea gallery, the installation sanitizes and sterilizes it, putting ugliness and failure on a pedestal for people to ooh and aah at. That always makes me feel a little queasy. Gelitin knocked ugliness and failure off the pedestal--literally!--and when I walked through the gallery I felt like these qualities were all around me, fresh and nasty and alive. Then there was Haegue Yang's show last spring, of her hanging sculptures assembled from Venetian blinds, cameras, and light bulbs. This had a totally different feel than Trisha Baga and Gelitin's lively and funny exhibitions-- it was beautiful, ethereal, serene. As I moved around the sculptures the light skipped down the blinds, and the angles of the camera lenses reminded me of the limits of my perspective. Greene Naftali is on the eighth floor a building, which makes it more of a hassle to get to than Chelsea's sidewalk-level galleries--you have to ride up in an antiquated elevator with an operator and there's usually a bit of a wait. There were times when I thought about going to see an exhibition there but skipped it because I knew it would take so long. But when I looked out the big windows at the city skyline and Hudson River nearing dusk and saw the soft light coming in and filtering through Haegue Yang's sculptures, the high location no longer seemed like a drawback. It can actually be a huge plus.

  • 5.0 star rating
    First to Review

    (note: this gallery is commonly known as Reena Spaulings..

    There's always something interesting happening at Reena Spaulings! This time it's... dishes. The latest exhibition is by Georgie Netell, whose paintings--let's be honest--aren't all that special. They are vigorous abstractions in off-white and gray-blue on brown, burlap-looking linen, whose rawness contrasts with the smooth matte surface of the paint. Quirky little paintings like these are everywhere these days. But it seemed like the ordinariness of them was the point, because they were interspersed with bins full of dirty dishes. Art (or eating) is an everyday thing, the paintings (dirty dishes) are what's leftover from it. Art comes off as a kind of routine, which makes the show sound boring but I actually found it quite exciting to look at the dishes and the food remnants caked to them. The dish trays are installed in weird places, like the windowsill, and on a big black couch in the middle of the gallery--another bit of domesticity that you don't always find in a gallery--which I sat on for a spell while contemplating the work. Also for Georgie Netell's show the gallery's front desk was moved from near the door to within the exhibition space, as if the receptionist's work was on display, too, like the dishwasher's. nice touch. Reena Spaulings is always doing stuff like this to keep you on your toes and capture the imagination. I would highly recommend a visit to anyone with adventurous tastes in art.

  • 22-25 Jackson Ave
    Long Island City, NY 11101
    5.0 star rating

    Webster's dictionary defines art as "the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects; also : works so produced." But these days a lot of art isn't about the production of objects, or even the conscious use of skill. It's more about creating an experience for the viewer. (That's what makes it fun to Yelp about!) New York's best museum, the Museum of Modern Art, is built around a history of objects, but fortunately they have the resources to support an outpost in Queens at PS1 where they can showcase performance and sound and other various kinds of experience-oriented art. It's a place for happenings that keep people coming back again and again throughout the year. While PS1 is well known for the summer WarmUp series (and I mostly agree with other reviewers that this used to be a fun party but is now overcrowded--the organizers need to rethink it a bit), there are plenty of other events, including readings and book launches, and they aren't just limited to things of interest to the art world. It seems to me that PS1 is trying to be a hub for contemporary culture, inclusive of music and literature as well as art, and I think they're doing a good job of it. The ambience of the old school building gives it all a sense of humility. There can be some esoteric stuff here, but it's all in the spirit of learning and discovery.

    There tends to be a broad variety of art up at any given time--plenty of objects to anchor the events. Some recent stand-outs for me were Darren Bader's series of rooms with living animals and vegetables, with a pair of burritos basking in the sun at the end, and Janet Cardiff's motet playing from forty speakers. The latter piece was gorgeous and moving and it always had a big audience of people sitting on the benches and walking slowly in circles, listening carefully. It stayed up for so long that I thought PS1 might make it a permanent installation, like James Turrell's skylight. Alas, it had to come down, but other good things will come in its place.

    A final note about the café: The reviews talking about how bad it is are obsolete. In 2012 the M.Wells diner took it over and now the food is amazing. It's not cheap, but it's a decent value, unlike the standard museum café (such as PS1's old one) that charge ridiculous prices for mediocre-to-poor-quality fare.

  • 5.0 star rating
    First to Review

    Nice little spot. A rare non-profit in the area, which is partly why the offerings here are often so unlike the other stuff you see in the neighborhood. It is funded by the German government but there is so much more than German art here and you might enjoy it even if you don't have any particular interest in Germany.

    A recent exhibition had work by Adrian Jeftichew. There was a lot going on and I don't even know how to describe the mixture of humor, curiosity, and excitement I felt while walking through the gallery so rather than try to sum it up I'll list some of the themes/motifs: dogs, dog hair, dog-man, human hair, wigs, balloons, prehensile tension, drawings on the wall with ketchup, drawings behind doors, art that's hard to see, art in the bathroom, sculpture with tortilla, animal faces, noses. Pretty interesting, right? I was lucky that the curator was there and he generously walked me through it and made sure I didn't miss anything. He also explained some backstory. Turns out Adrian Jeftichew isn't even a real person, it's a name of a nineteenth-century circus freak (a dog-faced man) and a two-person artistic team took his name for their collaboration, and they also use pieces of his biography in the life of their fictional artist, to present their wild installations as the work of an Eastern European beast-man. So they play with your perception not only on the level of your physical experience in the gallery but also the narrative around it, which, honestly, is usually what people remember and talk about more than the art itself--especially when art is description-defying as theirs. Very cool. Looking forward to seeing what Ludlow 38 does next!

  • 5.0 star rating
    9/29/2013 Updated review

    I was walking down 23rd street thinking about how it's too bad Paula Cooper closed her little space near the corner of 23rd and 10th Ave, because so many galleries are expanding these days, it's a shame Paula Cooper scaled back because it really is the best gallery in Chelsea--and then just an hour later, I was walking up 10th Ave and noticed a new gallery I hadn't seen before, and it's Paula Cooper space that just opened two weeks ago! I didn't even know when I walked in--I just saw on the window that they were showing Alan Shields, whose work I had just read about that morning, without knowing there was a show of it in Chelsea. Serendipity upon serendipity! The show is really amazing--it is some kind of totemic, shamanistic free-spirited assemblages, the best "hippie art" I've ever seen. (Coming to it straight from the Anne Truitt show at Matthew Marks makes poor Anne look so pathetically boring.) One piece I really loved was a huge tapestry, with a fabric that looked like it had been tie-dyed in a rusty blood red, and the color richly saturated the textile and made illusionary folds and fissures all over it--it looked like skin from the inside. Beads and strings were strung across it, in bright and pastel colors and some pieces with a metallic sheen that seemed like a weird combo with this rich crimson cloth but that just makes the throbbing of the surface more magical.

    I read on the web site that this space will be open through January 2014--so catch it while you can!

    5.0 star rating
    5/15/2012 Previous review
    At the moment Paula Cooper has an exhibition up by Sherrie Levine, who I think is just fantastic. A… Read more

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