Brian D.'s Profile
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The Queens Museum recently opened an expanded space and it looks fantastic. The old galleries had an awkward shape. The panorama totally dominated everything, being so much bigger and taller than everything else, and the main galleries were just filling it out in a square. The exaggerated height and curved walls tapering into narrow corners were just completing the building, not serving the interests of displaying artwork.
But the new galleries, in a former ice rink, are spacious and rectangular and very amenable to displaying all kinds of art. The NYC watershed map and tiffany glass collection (which always seemed like somewhat odd companions for the contemporary art that the museum usually shows) are still around but separated from the other exhibits in a more coherent fashion. Now there's a permanent display of memorabilia from the World's Fair, which maybe had been in the museum before, but I had never noticed it in the old configuration. The old, oddly shaped galleries are still in use, but the way movement flows into them from the central court feels elegant and now the variety of spaces that they contribute to spices up the experience of the museum visit. On my last visit a rounded wedge-shaped gallery featured works by Cuban artists, highlighting the diversity of artistic communities on display at QMA that you don't always find at the big NYC museums. Upstairs in the education area there was a small collection of unlabeled works--a project that encourages people to look at art without consideration of names, a gesture I appreciated. There was a denim jacket with punk stuff painted all over the back that held my interest for a while, and a painting that I'm pretty sure was made by Philip Guston (not that it matters).
One of the exhibitions in the main space was the Queens International, a biennial exhibition featuring artists who live or work in Queens. There was a lot of good stuff here, and great variety. I won't go into detail about it but I remember one video piece with a hip hop soundtrack and a women shimmying around a kitchen in their underwear with hands duct-taped behind their backs that made my friend say "Art is the best!"
The real highlight for me though was the exhibition "Peter Schumann: The Shatterer," which is about the activity of the Bread and Puppet theater, which has been doing performances and participating in activist demonstrations since the 1960s. There are larger-than-life paper-mache puppets, masks, books... It's so richly textured and full material - i felt like I would walk around, take a look from another perspective, and see a whole other layer of drawings and objects that I hadn't noticed before. From nonsense words and stories to grotesque body shapes, pointed renderings of expressive gestures and wistfully dashed-off ephemeral fragments, the two big galleries are packed floor to ceiling with details that are all worth stopping and pondering. It's up through March 30, 2014, and I would urge any art lover to check it out.
All in all, the Queens Museum is great and keeps getting better. I feel proud to live in its borough.
Color me paradoxical but the art museum feels like the least snooty place on the Princeton campus--not that that's saying much. The entrance is very relaxed, because you don't have to pay to get in, and you don't even have to pay for a locker to store your bag--just ask for a key in the store. The front gallery is like a cozy parlor of artworks, crowded with post-war masterpieces arranged in a circle--I was really impressed by a painting with big scraps of fabric applied to the canvas. It was Conrad di Marca Relli, who I'd never heard of before but was glad to learn about.
American and European art is in the "upper galleries" whereas African, Asian and Native American art is in the "lower galleries," which sounds racist at first, but actually the low-ceiling, darker galleries of the basement level are better for the cool curio-cabinet set up they have down there, with all of these glass cases packed with specimens. I was particularly intrigued by a Mayan display that included figurines of men who were bound, hanged, and tortured displayed alongside instruments of cock/ball torture. Usually when you see the usual old ritual masks or Greek and Roman pottery and busts (all of which are here in abundance, by the way) you feel like you know what they were for and why they were made, but with these things bursted with an enigmatic energy of long-dead sadists.
Upstairs, some of the galleries have low comfy black leather couches in them, inviting you to sit down and spend a while looking closely at a painting. I'm a sucker for couches in museums. If you want me to look at a painting for a long time.. hang it in front of a couch!! I ended up gazing at a Willem de Kooning, a Toulouse-Latrec, and a John Singer Sargent--all artists who I'm not crazy about but, since they had couches, I went for it. I can't say I felt any revelations while doing so but had a good time nonetheless.
I really enjoyed a temporary exhibition titled "New Jersey as Non-Site" that looked at art made over the last few decades in New Jersey, which you wouldn't ordinarily think of as an art-making place but lots of amazing stuff has come out of it--mostly by artists who were living in New York and were just going there for some fresh air, or quarries and abandoned houses, but still. Did you know that two members of Fluxus used to have weekly meetings at a Howard Johnson in New Brunswick? And they organized a YAM festival in Jersey? I also liked learning about the artistic community that Amiri Baraka cultivated in Newark. There was all sorts of interesting art stuff happening in New Jersey--and you could say that there still is now, at the Princeton University Art Museum.
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!
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.
I like this bar but I could never give it five stars as it's too damn narrow. I like some elbow room and at Beverly's once the crowd at the bar is one man deep it's hard to walk from one end of the bar to the other without being like "scuse me" "pardon me" and shoving your way past everybody. So it's a nice place to meet up with friends on a week night but I would steer clear on weekends, unless I manage to park myself at one of the lounging areas in the front or back (probably the back, since that's where the bathroom is and I will have to go there at some point anyway). But otherwise I like the design of the place. It's newly built but it's not slick or pretentious, yet at the same time it's not divey either--the furniture is in pretty good shape and it's clean. It strikes a nice balance, like an art gallery with concrete floors and some utilities showing but still neat enough for showing art. I make this analogy on purpose because Beverly's does display some art works. Up front there's a relief panel in styrofoam, backlit with blue and rose LCD bulbs. I'd seen the piece elsewhere and thought it had this effect of otherworldly alien menace yet in the bar context it evoked a timeless downtown neon coolness, with a strange twist--and I liked it more than I had before. The rear lounge area in the back has a giant backwards 2, hewn from wood, under a little canopy of icicle lights. The je ne sais quoi of art pieces like these makes Beverly's feel like a place where you should always be poised for an interesting, open-ended conversation.
I saw a show by Devin Leonardi here. The paintings (gallery statement called them "exquisite"--maybe a tad presumptuous?) depicted quiet scenes--minor landscapes, views from porches and windows. I liked the way that Leonardi turned leaves and branches into monochromatic negative space, without shading, to give these intimate paintings the flatness of impersonal graphic design. There was a relatively small number of paintings spread out in a fairly large gallery, giving each work a lot of breathing rom. I would call the overall effect precious (in the best possible sense) but probably not exquisite.
The first time I walked into Galerie Suvi Lehtinen I was like "... What?" There was a video installation, which was not surprise in itself, but the sequences of clips on all the channels were from thirty-year-old Hollywood movies, and it had the kind of soundtrack and female voiceover you'd hear on an insurance commercial. There were bursting fireworks and swelling music. What sort of gallery was Suvi Lehtinen, I wondered, to show such kitschy stuff? But it got to me emotionally, because even when they are all cut up Hollywood movies always make me have feelings. I just can't help it! So I kept watching, and the installation looped back to the beginning. There was an audio track (added to seem like diegetic sound but it wasn't in the originals) with reporters on the TV and radio talking about the AIDS crisis. That's when I understood that Allese Cohen (the artist) was grounding the time when the movies were made in political history, and using the movies to communicate the history of the AIDS crisis with Hollywood's techniques of manufacturing emotion instead of the usual didactic, agitprop way. It was very smart, like contemporary art usually is, and very moving, which contemporary art usually is not. I'm glad Galerie Suvi Lehtinen showed this work.
The only problem with this gallery was that the press release said the installation included a fragrance developed by the artist in collaboration with the perfumer. It seems like "smell art" is becoming popular now and that's cool. The problem with Allese Cohen's smell art was that I only learned about it from reading the press release. I didn't notice it when I was there. If you're going to show smell art it has to be bold! So minus one star for faintness of scent.
I've never been to Egypt but I can imagine how the mystery of seeing the Sphinx rising from the desert is somewhat mitigated by all the trappings of the tourism industry around it--tour guides, the lines, souvenir stands, finding bottle water, etc. Postcards and pictures make it look like an Ozymandias experience of encountering ancient history amid the sands but I'm sure the real experience is more tightly managed. That's how it is with the mammy sphinx at the Domino Sugar Factory, "A Subtlety" by Kara Walker, where you wait in a long line (fast-moving, but took me about 45 minutes to go three blocks on a Friday afternoon) and then sign release forms absolving the organizers of any guilt should you inhale an asbestos and then go inside, where there are guides observing you and you're surrounded by tourists, people posing and snapping the object, which is so huge and mysterious albeit somewhat detracted by all the hullaballoo I've just described. I've read a lot of articles about how, although this work deals with the legacy of slavery and racism, most of the people who go to it are white and they take goofy pictures pointing at the sphinx's ass and so on, but when I was there were a lot of people of color and though everyone was taking photos of the sculpture they seemed to me to be posing solemnly, not silly--I remember one man who dropped to a half squat and pointed a sober, thoughtful gaze at his friend's phone, holding it for two or three minutes while his friend staged the perfect shot. So, maybe reports were sensationalized, or maybe I just lucked out to be there on a day when the atmosphere was chill, and people were taking pictures not to make light of it but because that's all people know how to do when confronted with a monumental sublime moment, the enormity of an important piece of art that will later dissolve, the importance of it swells their longing to capture it in an image and tag themselves to that moment to think of it again later. I couldn't resist getting a photo either but it all seemed too big to fit on my iphone so I just got some details of the dirty sugar at the sphinx's feet, the lodes of impurities lodged in her sugary flesh like dirt in shoveled snow.
I went to this gallery to see the Robert Buck show. It had sculptures that reflected the visuals of the southwest U.S. and the Native American experience--lots of concrete and barbed wire and earth-tone paints. It was just OK. But I give it four stars because apparently the artist used to exhibit under the name Robert Beck but changed it to Robert Buck, which is much cooler. Also I love the front doors at this gallery--the handles are thick and square and have a nice burnished copper look. Thanks to the doors, I always enjoy going in and out of this gallery!
Very interesting gallery. Over the summer it featured a program called Films & Windows, where every few weeks it showed an artist's video(s) inside the gallery and another artist's sculptures or installation in the big vitrine that faces the sidewalk. I have been here a few times to check out what Mathew was showing as part of this program. The first time I went I really liked the window pieces, by Kerstin Braetsch (sp?), but I absolutely hated the video inside. It was an interview with an American woman, an artist apparently, who was talking about Berlin and how it had changed over the last decade. She was rehashing every possible cliche about gentrification, talking about how things were better when she was younger with zero self-awareness of her own role in the gentrification process. And she spoke with that dippy Californian intonation pattern that I can't stand listening to. So after about three minutes I went outside to look at the sculptures some more.
When I returned the situation was reversed, in that I wasn't crazy about the window installation (by Taslima Ahmed, there were lots of pictures of cows, like in the tunnels of the trains you take to get around the Zurich airport) but I enjoyed the videos. They were made by the artist Ken Okiishi around the year 2000, when he was a student at Cooper Union in New York. They weren't amazing or anything but very good for undergraduate work, and gave an unpolished look not only at the New York cityscape of ten years ago but also the media environment (internet and movies) of the time. As I understood it, the theme of the Films & Windows series was gentrification, and it was approached in subtle ways. Showing this older work was one of them. Using the storefront as a gallery space was another.
I should note that on my second trip to Mathew I talked to some people about the video I had seen on my previous visit and I learned that the Californian woman had in fact been an actress, reading a script that was deliberately written to sound extremely irritating. It fooled me!! I guess that makes it more interesting as an artwork but I still hate it.
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