Brian D.'s Profile
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Midtown never ceases to amaze me. I tend to avoid it but when I do go there I always come across some weird surprise. Granted, this time it wasn't such a surprise because it was what I was looking for--but surprising nonetheless. In a nondescript building on Madison Ave., on the fourth floor (up a very large stairwell that could only have been built before WWII, and had the wooden bannisters to match, but also some hideous burgundy carpeting from the 70s) is a small art gallery called Front Desk Apparatus, which has apparently been there since 2006, though I'd never heard of it until recently, when it had an exhibition of work by Carissa Rodriguez that I wanted to see.
The works were all small things or small gestures made in the space of the gallery, like a set of four slender fluorescent bulbs installed in a square around an empty light fixture. A rack of post cards featured (among other cards) photos of the works on display in other places. One shelf had a few unevenly shaped ceramic cylinders, the kind of thing you'd make in seventh-grade art class when you're supposed to produce a mug, but they were studded with rows of razor blades. So it's humble and threatening at once. One was upside down (or right-side up, if it's a cup), so you could see it was hollow. I gently tilted another one just to see if it was light as I expected, and it was, so it was surely hollow too. The way the shelf was set up made--the one glimpse into the unglazed belly of the ceramics, and the prickly garden of razors that were just barely planted into the glaze of the clay on the outside--really made me curious about the inside and the outside of the things, and left me with a sense that boundaries between the surface and interior aren't necessarily where I'd think they would be.
Art installed in a gallery office can be an awkward situation, and usually I just won't bother going up for a close look unless I know someone who is working there. Otherwise it's like you're intruding in their personal space and interrupting their work. But at Front Desk Apparatus I glimpsed a big print of a tongue on the office's back wall and decided to venture in for a look. I was glad I did. After passing the partition that blocked off the work area on my way toward the print I discovered that the guy working there was really hot (but not in an intimidating way) and he was happy to answer my questions and offer more information about the work. The print was a big photo of the artist's tongue, and she'd had her dermatologist write on it in a marker about the various health problems that aspects of the tongue indicated--the raw white and red spots that showed she'd been eating poorly, etc. What really blew my mind was the note that these scalloped ridges around the tongue's edge indicate problems with the spleen. This lump of flesh in the gateway to the inside of our bodies is relatively far away from the internal organs of the gut yet it is totally connected to them and the shape of it changes dependent on their condition. Bodies are wild.
The hard thing about making art is coming up with an image that will impact people in a meaningful way. It's easy to think of an image that means something to you--but how do you communicate that feeling to hundreds or thousands of strangers? Pop art made things a lot easier: use an image that already means something to a lot of people, and change it to make it your own . I think pop art works best when a popular, mass-culture image is changed in a way that communicates a very individual, personal relationship to it--and it's a personal relationship that a lot of other people can relate to.
Bad pop art is almost too easy. Take a popular image and change it in an obvious way--make it something it wasn't, make it the opposite of itself (i.e., the cute and familiar becomes strange and scary). Make it really big, in an expensive and monumental material. This is what was happening at the KAWS show at Mary Boone was about. A few huge wooden statues, of a Mickey Mouse-type figure, with a head that had been modified to look uncanny: no eyes, split ears, standing in poses of shame and disappointment. I didn't like it at all. But it's certainly popular. I visited on a Saturday and the gallery was swarming with people, all of them admiring this giant junk. I felt like I was in a scene from that Banksy movie, "Exit Through the Gift Shop." What do they like about it so much, I wondered? Maybe for some people it's just cool to see an easy way to make an art. they know it encourages their fantasy that they too could be an artist, if they just put in some effort and money. Maybe what they admire is the will the artist has to make art work for himself.
This might be my favorite restaurant in the world? As other reviewers have noted, the ambience is nothing special, and like them, I am not the kind of guy who cares about that. I like robust flavors, low prices, generous portions, and--because 90% of the time I'm eating out alone--fast service. And Lali Guras has all those things in ample quantity. And they always come out when you're 3/4 done and give you a second helping!! I tend to get the veg thali--thali because it's a curry so you get a well rounded meal on one big plate, and veg because the meat ones are good but the meat chunks tend to be a little bony, so veg is just easier to wolf down, which I appreciate. But all the appetizers and soups are great too.
Great gallery. I recently learned that on Saturdays, members of the gallery's staff (and even Andrea Rosen herself) stand in the gallery and talk to visitors about the work. It's very generous--I got a full tour of a fascinating show, "Counter Forms," with works by Tetsumi Kudo, Alina Szapocznikow, Paul Thek and Hannah Wilke, all of whom worked in different parts of them world, died youngish and were forgotten in the 90s but making a comeback now. And they deserve it: weird materials and biomorphic forms, industrail waste and synthetic pigments, intriguing use of slightly sickening colors and textures--a fertile mix of mad-science lab and contemplative poetry that seems to speak to the ways in which artists are dealing with the relationship between bodies and technologies now.
Usually Andrea Rosen has a few shows up at once - a big one in the front, medium in the middle, and a selection of works by different artists in the showroom in the far rear, which means you're guaranteed to find SOMEthing to like on any given visit. For 'Counter Forms," however, the whole gallery was devoted to this single group exhibition. But it's definitely worth it! so much to see.
There is also a small appendix across the street. I feel like the narrowness of this space makes it slightly awkward. It's smaller than any of the spaces across the street, even the little showroom in the back. I haven't felt really impressed or moved by a show here yet but, it's new so maybe they'll get the hang of it (no pun intended!).
My first impression of this place was, why so dark? If you hang a right upon first entering and go to the selections from the permanent collection the first gallery you see has no lights, so it's hard to see the work, especially the Jackson Pollock painting from 1947/8 that is all crimson, forest green, black--I think it's those colors, it's really hard to distinguish them with no lighting! As you go on it gets better--the second gallery is all Rothko's and also dim, presumably to help create the "intimacy" that Rothko, in a quote pasted to the wall, says large paintings create by immediately iniviting you into them, which I'm not sure I buy, but anyway. The lighting gets better but that's not to say that ambience issues are not problematic in other ways. A video room featuring recent acquisitions has a few videos on monitors with headphones, and chairs to sit down in and watch, which is nice, but in one of the projected videos with sound on speakers, making background sound for the whole room, there's a guy using a chainsaw, very LOUDLY, so I could hear it through the headphones while trying to watch Mark Leckey's "Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore" and it was VERY distracting/annoying. Maybe noise-cancelling headphones would be worth the investment if that's how you're going to install video. A highlight of that room was Andrea Fraser's "Little Frank and His Magic Carp," in which the artist listens and reacts to the audio guide at the Guggenheim Bilbao while the voiceover guy on the guide talks about how the curved walls of Frank Gehry's design are so "sensual" (and he's British so he says "sen-soo-al" not "sen-shoo-al" which is gross) and tells people to touch and fondle those undulations. Anyway Andrea Fraser ends up pulling her little green dress up so you can see her buttcheeks and panties as she grinds on a fake stone column. I liked this video because it made me laugh out loud. And clocking in at six minutes, it's a great length for video art.
I spent some time in the basement reading room, which was nice and quiet and had a lot of comfy modern furniture to relax in while skimming the books from their library. But the books are SO disorganized! some are piled up on tables, the shelves are a mess, with books leaning in diagonal stacks instead of orderly rows, and again--poor lighting!! The lighting in the reading area is fine, but around the shelves it's super dim, so to read the spines you have to bend low and get your nose right up against the shelf. Very poorly conceived in my opinion. But otherwise a nice reading room.
In summation I'd say my experience here was uneven all around. Even walking through the galleries I got a sense of major inconsistency. Half the museum is a permanent display of works from the collection, the other half is recent acquisitions. The permanent display part was more or less a textbook account of art since 1945, and if you've been to other museums of modern art you won't be surprised by how the galleries are put together, and might I add they are put together quite well, albeit a little lacking in imagination. But the layout of the new acquisitions felt totally random to me. My attempts to discern the reasons why certain works were hung in the same gallery resulted in utter bafflement. Continuity certainly was not helped by so many of the installations in this section being totally over the top. It would be great if the curators who did the permanent collection and the curators who did the new acquisitions could have a pow-wow and share some lessons with each other on structure and spontaneity, respectively.
Very fancy. Have you seen Elysium? I just watched it last week on my flight to LA so it was hard not to think of it while walking around the Getty campus--this pristine, verdant paradise of beauty and leisure perched high above the swarming world below, like the satellite nation in the movie. The nice thing about the Getty (unlike Elysium) is its openness to we plebes. It welcomes anyone who can pay $15 for parking, or take the bus.
The panoramic views of LA, from downtown to the Pacific, are spectacular, and the gardens a delight. A friend said he thought the gardens didn't have enough natural messiness for him. But I thought the sequences of contrastive geometries to the flower beds, and the spilling of certain plant species from one area to another, gave a sufficient sense of spontaneity in its perpetual struggle with harmony. Just like in the materials of the buildings of the campus--the alternation of synthetic, smooth beige cubes and the rough-hewn blocks of rock, also beige. Hmm.. now that I make this comparison I'm starting to wonder, are the gardens too overdetermined after all?
Strolling around the campus and enjoying the serenity is the highlight of a visit to the Getty. The art collections are not quite so spectacular. I did enjoy a temporary exhibit in the galleries of the Research Institute, featuring old books with maps of the world, and detailed drawings of ancient Greco-Roman structures in the Middle East, or etchings of Egyptian mummies by 18th century French explorers. The grand size of the books and the exploratory nature of their contents conveyed a sense of wonder at a planet that hadn't yet been entirely photographed and GPSed. But nothing wow'ed me that much in the galleries of the permanent collections. They are fine, but seeing as how this is a relatively young museum they just don't have the treasures of the Met or the Hermitage or what have you. However, seeing all the paintings of Italianate landscapes, the rolling hills, the rocky slopes, the villas standing in for Palestinian houses in Renaissance religious paintings and the fragments of Roman edificies dotting the landscapes of the Romantics, gave me a sense of how the Getty imagines itself with regards to the past, and even a speculative glimpse of its future... it'll make a beautiful ruin someday.
I've never been a major lover of Donald Judd's work and learning more about it on a tour of the recently opened Judd Foundation (such as, he based many of his sculptures on mathematical formulas) didn't do much to curry him favor with me. I just don't think there should be that much math in art! But nevertheless I really enjoyed touring the space and would recommend it to anyone who can get a reservation (it's by appointment only, and tours are booked far in advance). What's great about it is seeing some of the pieces in Judd's personal art collection, works by his friends who can be found in any big museum of modern art, but here they've been lived with. The art has grown into the house, which makes looking at it a very different experience than a museum. The huge geometric paintings by Frank Stella, an orderly puzzle of angles and curves, where the fruity kitchen colors of the 70s--avocado, oatmeal, lemon, peach--had faded into a lighter, odder palette, or in the bedroom, Dan Flavin's serially off-center array of fluorescent arches, whose red and blue light extended endlessly in the glass dorr on the elevator shaft and yellowed the picture windows with their shine. Curiously, the walk-in closet/dressing room had a caricature by Daumier about the 19th century art salons of Paris, not the kind of thing one would normaly associate with Judd! Also interesting to see the artist's obsession with order domestically applied to his kitchen counters, where all the forks and spoon lay out in a lengthy series.
What a wonderful small museum! The name of their show of new acquisitions made me laugh--"Initial Public Offering," a nod to San Jose's status as the capital of Silicon Valley and a tech industry center, but there was nothing funny about the show itself--a remarkable group of works, each one an exciting use of materials and allowed room in the spacious first-floor galleries to have its charms felt from all sides. Two of the most memorable pieces for me were a totemic figure by Tim Hawkinson, woven from cardboard with enormous mitts and no head, its crinkly stuffed body both forbidding and inviting to touch, and a large photograph by John Chiara, who as I learned drives around in a van that he converts into a camera and does long exposures, so some of the traces of the developing process appear as blurs and imperfections on the surface, which he cuts in irregular shapes. it was a shot of the ocean, dappled and sparkling with sunlight, huge and awkward and gorgeous. I had never heard of Hawkinson or Chiara before (or many of the artists in the collection) but I will keep an eye out for their work in the future! Appreciated the chance the San Jose museum gave me to learn about them.
The upper floor galleries had an exhibit about food an art--there were some nice pieces here too, and the school group touring there made me realize that the topic was a great one for public engagement and educational opportunities. On that note, a lot of signage encourages people to post to social media about their experiences, and use the San Jose musem's branded hashtags. When I searched for them I didn't find that much activity--so it's like they were trying to hard, and social media discussions are something that happen on their own and feel weird when forced from the top, so my one suggestion would be to tone that down a bit. Otherwise, fantastic museum that any American city would be fortunate to have!
I don't want to sound snobby but I have to say what I feel: Espresso 77 would be a hip local coffee shop in most American cities. In New York it feels suburban to the point of being quaint. I can't think of how to say this without sounding like a snob, which is a shame because I really don't want to sound condescending. i love Espresso 77 and the atmosphere around it is what makes living in Jackson heights so great--the slow, suburban, neighborly atmosphere in the midst of a vibrant urban area.
I'm not picky about coffee but I drink it enough to know what's good, and the coffee here isn't amazing but it's fine. As other reviewers have noted, service isn't amazing either but you get what your order and that's what counts. It's popular, but whevener I want to have a seat to read or work I find one. Espresso 77 has a subscription to Artforum so usually near the beginning of the month I'll come in to leaf through the magazine and see what's up. At night they serve beer and wine, so it's a chill place to have a drink in an area with a dearth of bars (excluding the gay bars and the straight ones where you pay a few dollars to slow-dance with a senorita). There's live music, and though I've never attended I concert I often walk by (I live on the street a block up) and see a crowd enjoying it.
In keeping with the small-city coffeeshop tradition Espresso 77 has changing exhibitions of works by local artists. And to be frank a lot of them aren't that good. I remember a show in the fall of paintings where the people held umbrellas and the rain flowed around them--they were corny in their obsession with the perfect shape of the umbrellas, the unmuddy hues of skies and coats despite the rain. A simplistic fantasia on the umbrella's bouncing rim and round crown. But a more recent exhibit my Pascal Jalabert really impressed me. I'm pretty sure it was the first time I've seen an art show in a coffee shop that responded to the whole space--a total installation that took everything into account. There were landscape/architectural drawings--contour maps from a bird's-eye view of forests and cities, rendered in soft pencil colors, with red bridges in them. They were hung in the wall in a gently sloping arc, like the span of a bridge. And then there was a cardboard-and-foil red bridge spanning the coffeeshop itself, from one wall to the other reaching over the heads of patrons. Exhibitions have changed several times, but the bridge is still there.
I also like the row of exotic theatrical masks that are permanently installed above the window, and the funny art in the bathroom
As I begin to write this I'm thinking about all the things I've seen and heard at Issue Project Room, both in their old location at the old can factory in Gowanus and their new digs in a stately bank building in downtown Brooklyn.. and the sheer diversity of the offerings here boggles the mind. I can remember a quartet of electric guitars playing incredibly loud experimental contrapuntal pieces, installations of drone-making devices, extremely rude and dirty performance art, a marathon performance of a Milton Friedman string quartet.. if it's live and edgy and and electronic and weird, Issue Project Room is a good home for it.
I went there last night for the first time in a while (I heard they had problems securing the vaulted roof of the bank, and were closed for renovations) for an evening of "internet as poetry." I wasn't in the best disposition for it.. there was a torrential downpour outside, and my feet were totally drenched, what's more because I'm about to leave the country for two weeks I stopped buying groceries a week ago and I've been trying more restaurants in my neighborhood, last night I tried a Chinese place, New Peking, that looks totally run of the mill but had great reviews on Yelp--I'm not sure what these people were thinking, my sesame chicken was totally normal, which means heavy with sweetness and stickiness and fat, not in a great way, so I felt bloated and dazed when I arrived at Issue Project Room all wet. I tried to mitigate the effect with a large can of grapefruit radler ($6) but I think that just made it worse. The first act was Bunny Rogers, who was not only reading from her poems but singing and dancing and displaying a sculpture, two pastel wicker chairs that were woven kitty-corner to each other. There were dramatic costume changes--from Disney princess get-ups to a lounge lizard white leisure suit. Plus, a live piano player on a baby grand! Certainly not your average poetry reading. The poems were good too, though I wonder if all the drama of the performance distracted from the reading part, rather than enriching it. After a brief intermission, during which I guzzled water but still felt like garbage, was Kevin Bewersdorf, who is notorious, apparently, for not using the internet for five years. But now he's back on it, and read some poems--a slammed a few, freestyle--contrasting the ideas of the web (soft) and the net (hard). "babies are perfect. babies are on the web" I noted on my phone, transcribing his words, and I still don't know what they mean, but it sounded cool. He didn't really seem to know how to read into a microphone well and a lot of his words got lost, in fact I think my favorite part was the very beginning when, un-amplified, he made a Santa Claus "ho ho ho" that boomed in the old bank's vault. Christmas in July!
Speaking of which.. the space doesn't have any ventilation or AC that I could discern which makes for some sweaty summer nights.. so i might wait til yuletide to return.
p.s. I love the multicolored stretched fabric parallelograms hung around the room.. it's just for acoustic purposes, but it looks like a cool show of monochrome paintings!
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