Brian D.'s Profile
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I've lived in NYC for six years but I only made it to the Bronx Museum a couple weeks ago, and wow. What a great little museum! I feel guilty admitting this but I was not expecting to enjoy it so much. After visiting I really feel certain that the "neighborhood" museums (Studio Museum in Harlem, Queens Museum, and this one) are the best places to see art in New York--not as sterile or predictable as the famous ones in uptown and downtown Manhattan.
There were three exhibitions up when I visited. One was of a Brazilian artist, Paulo Bruscky, in two galleries. The first one featured works where the artist inserted himself in maps, urban space, and the postal system with his drawings, collages, and performances. I really liked one piece called "I'm Pickling Myself (1974) where he put a photo of himself in a pickle jar, as well as his experiments putting his head and body parts in a copy machine, a new office technology at the time. It all had a do-whatever, anything-goes spirit. The second gallery was more somber: about the artist's use of medical technologies to record his existence as a biological organism, shuffling through the qualities of life and archives. I liked the work in the first gallery better but the shift in tone was a smart way to highlight the range of the artist's work.
The big galleries had sculptures by Tony Fehrer, which were colorful, simple, ingenious, and delightful. He's the kind of artist who looks at the properties of ordinary things and finds beauty in them. The walls were almost bare, except for some small pieces of cardboard torn off boxes, and so viewers ended up navigating the space by encountering all sorts of assemblages on the floor or hanging from the ceiling, which animated the gallery. Tables of colored glass bottles, filled with various levels of liquid, doodads and washers arranged in a circle--there was a shamanistic aura around this dollar-store detritus. I noticed that several visitors seemed particularly enchanted by a collection of colored mop sticks laid out like a sunburst or a blooming flower.
The last gallery featured photographs taken at a beach in the Bronx. They were large-format, high-quality photojournalistic images. I personally preferred the other exhibits but this was a cool thing to have at a community museum and rounded out the experience with another kind of art-making. Everybody takes photos at the beach so in a way, like the Paulo Bruscky and Tony Fehrer, the photo exhibit is encouraging viewers to find (and make) art in everyday life and that's great.
This hotel is fine. My parents stayed there when they visited New York in 2005, I think, and they didn't have any problems with it. More recently I was there for a presentation of.. art? products? I don't know, by Cory Arcangel. Renting out a conference room on the second floor, the event was billed as a presentation of "surfwear," clothes to wear when surfing, not the waves but the internet--pretty standard T-shirts. But there were other things there as well, sheet music related to conceptual performance projects, some electrici tiki décor, like plastic glowing palm trees and icicle lights, a DVD tower full of shitty 90s comedies (Happy Gilmore etc.), a stack of books about contemporary art and how it's shown.. not to mention the DJ table, and the free donuts and coffee from Dunkin Donuts on a folding table and a mini-fridge, branded Coke, but stocked with Nice brand water from Duane Reade. Everything about it was aggressively average, low/middle brow--and I suppose the hope was that amassing all that in one palce (which is itself totally bland--a Holiday Inn conference room!) would eventually transcend it, concentrate it, make it special, but that's not what happened. It was just boring, textureless. Maybe the artist wanted to bore everyone.. certainly the grossly too-full-yet-undernourished feeling one gets after eating two Dunkin Donuts donuts was a bodily feeling that matched the aesthetic impression... I Can't figure out if that's an artistic achievement or what. After a while I moseyed over to the bar, conveniently located just outside the conference room in the second floor lobby, because the event was dry and I needed a martini. The drink was good but the bartender was slow and kept disappearing for long breaks, so I was glad I was the first attendee of Cory's event who decided (around 3:30 pm) that it was time to drink. I was originally planning to give this three stars but now that I've written it out I realize that nothing says it better than "meh" so, two stars.
KW is Berlin's top space for exhibiting contemporary art. Since 1998 it has hosted the Berlin Biennial. This summer's edition is different from the past ones. In the downstairs gallery there is an encampment of the sort that Occupy movements have set up in cities. There are tents, brochures, graffiti, posters, and occasional assemblies. The galleries upstairs feature work that seems closer to agitprop than it does to art--a deliberate choice on the part of the curator, Artur Zmijewski, who writes in his introduction to the catalog that contemporary art doesn't interest him any more. A Powerpoint presentation by Antanas Mockus, formerly the mayor of Bogota, Colombia, discusses his campaigns against the drug business and traffic deaths that involved elements of performance art (respectively: when he got death threats from drug lords he started wearing a bulletproof vest with a heart-shaped hole cut over his heart, and he had mimes line up along sidewalks). In the presentation he says this is "sub-art = art without the pretenses of art."
Everything at the Berlin Biennial could probably be described as sub-art. For example, one room has a lopsided circle of screens, each of which displays documentation of a protest that took place somewhere in the world in the last year. It looks like a complex video-art installation, but when I was inside it I felt like I was at a protest meeting, an assembly of assemblies where I couldn't possibly see and focus on the whole thing at once but I still got an impression of a worldwide movement that I could potentially belong to. Likewise, the Occupy encampment on the ground floor looks the sprawling, cluttered installations you see at a lot of biennials, combining a variety of images, texts, and objects. But the sharp cuts between old radical documents (a printout of the 1996 "Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace") and current, useful information (a flyer with instructions on how to get from Berlin to Occupy Frankfurt next week) make it feel like something else. Maybe, because of its position right at the entrance, it's supposed to be a proposition about how works of sub-art engage each other in dialogue.
To be honest, I have never liked "political art." When art has a direct message it becomes one-sided and shallow. But I didn't want to judge the Berlin Biennial by the criteria of art because it defines itself as non-art, as sub-art that is occupying a kunsthalle. Of course, there are individual works here with legible agendas. But it's like an Occupy meeting, where there are people handing out leaflets or starting discussions to promote their own pet causes, but they're still working under the umbrella slogan of "no demands," a rejection of the present system that refuses to participate in its politics. This Berlin Biennial presents an aesthetics of "no demands." Instead of issuing the sort of bland political statement that biennials usually give when they try to get political, it rejects familiar exhibition formats and the expectations people have for contemporary art. It's a biennial and an anti-biennial--a position that has the ambiguity and richness that makes for good art but also feels different and new. That's the impression I got, and it was exciting for me.
A lot of people I talked to about the Berlin Biennial hated it. They thought it was political art and it didn't have teeth, that in spite of its good intentions it was disconnected from life, that it cheapened the Occupy movement by turning it into an installation. By doing this project at KW with funds from the German government, these critics say, Zmijewski et al are capitulating to the system that the Occupy movement rejects. To me this sounded a bit like the people who call Occupy protesters hypocrites because they use laptops made by successful corporations. But that's ridiculous. You don't start a co-op that makes its own computers from scratch to organize a protest. You don't build an Institute for Sub-Art to have a biennial. You just use the means that are available to you and in using them you remake them.
I also heard rumors about corruption, mismanagement of funds, complaints that artists were not paid fairly. These are probably true. But in the end I can only evaluate an exhibition space based on my personal experience there, and my experience at KW was very positive.
If you are set in your ideas about what a biennial or other big group show should look like then maybe KW (especially with this Biennial!) is not for you. But if you are open to new ideas and like to be intellectually challenged I would highly recommend it!
TIP: You don't have to walk through the ticket office to get to the galleries and the attendants don't check tickets so it's really easy to see the show without paying. I did it twice.
I had heard a lot about The Future Gallery before I came to Berlin and was excited to visit it. I'm sorry to say that I was disappointed. Both of the exhibitions I saw there were weak. Jennifer Chan's exhibition had a jumble of works that looked like they were based on trendy motifs I had seen elsewhere--plants, a pool of water, a printed list of unused URLs--but I couldn't figure out why these motifs had been brought in here. The most interesting part was the video, about two dudes Skyping and then ordering a pizza. It was hard to tell what they were saying but I guess the sound was fuzzy on purpose and I was OK with that. The "climax," so to speak, featured a guy in a pizza-print shirt jerking off and ejaculating on the shirt. You don't see a lot of penises in video art, especially not in such long explicit shots. Watching it was uncomfortable (and not just because it was a mediocre penis, lol) so if Jennifer Chan was trying to disrupt the male gaze or whatever I would have to say that she succeeded. More importantly, I liked the connections between that part of the video and the homosocial intimacy of the two guys Skyping and sharing pizza, and how it suggested ideas about contemporary masculinity, youth culture, and internet culture.
At least Jennifer Chan's exhibition was trying to communicate something and engage ideas. The second show I saw at Future Gallery was intellectually empty. There were some elaborately tie-dyed textiles and glass fixtures that looked like they came straight from Home Depot--gestures about materiality and transparency that (as was the case with Jennifer Chan's non-video works) seemed familiar from elsewhere but were not fully conceptualized or convincingly executed here. At the opening the gallery was serving a Turkish gum that was flavorless--you just chewed and chewed and it didn't release any taste. This seemed like a bad choice on Future Gallery's because it was too easy to take the refreshments as an unflattering commentary on the work.
Maybe I just hit a couple of duds. I think it's great that The Future Gallery is committed to working with artists who don't have much of an exhibition history and lets them try out new things. But I feel like there are so many young artists in Berlin and elsewhere that it could do better. Perhaps developing more group shows would be a good idea, because those can cover up weaknesses that solo shows expose.
Richard Phillips had a show here with paintings of Lindsay Lohan and Sasha Grey. They were very realistically done and sexy, no pretenses to the quality. Gagosian Gallery caters to guys with tons of money and I'm sure many of them would like to own huge paintings of starlets in bikinis. Why not? But I'm just a browser myself and my tastes lie elsewhere. There were also videos of the actresses that were too long to be music videos and not enough narrative to be short films. Just the girls moving around on beaches or mountains or nice houses. At the end of the video the titles said "Lindsay Lohan [or Sasha Grey, in the Sasha Grey video]," then "Gagosian Gallery," then "Richard Phillips." Maybe I got the order wrong but it was those three, fading from one to the next. So it was like a commercial but you couldn't tell what the commercial was for. That's what made it art, if not very good art.
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.
(note: this gallery is commonly known as Reena Spaulings.. reenaspaulings.com)
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.
A lovely museum in a bucolic setting. Hessel makes a great stop on a day trip from the city, easy to combine with visits to DIA Beacon or the Storm King sculpture park if you've got a car. If not--then you can't do them all in one day, but be advised that the Hessel runs complimentary shuttles from Manhattan when they have openings. Beer, wine, soft drinks and pretzels at the opening are complimentary as well.
All in all, a great place. But couldn't give it five stars because I'm not into the new shows. One is Haim Steinbach, an artist who never really got my juices running. His work is about shelving, display, minimalist art, the museum retail, etc.--a kind of third-wave pop/appropriation art (if you just read that and you were like "so what?" you feel me). What makes this show interesting--perhaps more so than others of his that I've seen--is what he did with the Hessel's permanent collection. A cool thing about the Hessel is that it's endowed with a small collection of important works of contemporary art but rather than put them up in the standard museum display they let invited artists and curators incorporate them in their shows, using unconventional and experimental display methods, the likes of which you would never see in your run-of-the-mill museum. Steinbach put up this construction-site scaffolding in the big gallery and arranged works above and below it, so you could glimpse the pieces (both museum works, Steinbach's own stuff, design objects, knickknacks etc.) in horizontal and vertical layers, that made you think about the status of each thing as an object or artwork.
The other exhibition was Helen Marten, a young British artist. It was a smart pairing with Steinbach, though I like her work even less. It's also about objects and display, and coming up with quirky convoluted relations between things. Everything is about weight, balance, and borders, and everything is solid and in tension. There are papery woodcuts that look flimsy but hold up to the weight of loaded key rings hanging off of them, for instance. The paintings have stuff attached to the bottom of the frames, so they don't end with the canvas. It's about surfaces and repetition, too--there are cans of olive oil positioned on the floor around the galleries, and the olives and vines from the logo are repeated on the wall--yet nowhere in the show do you find the mess of the oil itself. This is also true in her videos. Digital media can be slippery, glitchy, pixelly, liquid--but when Helen Marten gets her hands on it she makes everything robust and shiny and glossy, crafting digits into beautiful perfect objects, just as hard and solid as the commodities she appropriates in her sculptures. Yawn.
Great museum though!
If you want to chill hard in Chelsea this summer head to Tanya Bonakdar!! Every gallery is going to be air conditioned of course but the back room of "ambient," a group exhibition on view until the end of July, is a dark icebox with a soothing projection by Seth Price--an ocean of digital swells, black and tinged at the crests of their ripples with all the thousands of hues of the Photoshop gradient rainbow. They roll and roll, an endless and endless moving surface--slightly unnerving but not enough to interrupt a relaxed contemplative mood, especially when there are comfy armchairs set up for viewing, with little end tables next to them (bring an ice coffee to put on them, ha). The rest of the show is pretty good as well.
Definitely worth a peek if you've got some time to kill between your transfer from the G to L or vice versa, or at either end of your journey! It sells artists' books, zines, and other paper matter by independent publishers (some DVDs and CDs too). They are organized by publisher rather than thematically so you just have to release your inner browser, dive into a box and see what catches your eye. I picked up an old book of essays on video art and television from 1985, for $12, and a book of "Cell Phone Poems" which was a stack of thick manila sheets cut the size and shape of an iPad mini, or one of those big Samsung tablet phones, and printed with some washed out images and brief poems, held together with a big brass fastener (and a half dozen staples holding its legs down for good measure). The poetry didn't seem amazing but I liked it as an object and at $5 it was hard to pass up. A lot of the other handmade-looking things were in the high end of the single-digits so this thing seemed like a steal by comparison! The people who stop in here look like zine experts (when I went in there was a guy having a long conversation with the clerks, wearing marijuana-leaf printed socks and a snapback) but I think anyone can find something here to their taste if they give a try.
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