Brian D.'s Profile
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One of new York's top galleries. I always like going here. I'd give them five stars but I really did not appreciate their latest show, of new sculptures by Jeff Koons.
It was very fancy birdbaths--all white plaster casts, each with a mirrored blue orb perched somewhere on it. The suite of sculptures mixed a range of visual references, from a copy of a famous old Hercules statue to a rather plain birdbath to the kind of inflatable snowman you'd see on a front lawn around Christmastime. Koons likes to even everything out--good taste or bad taste, it all ends up as lawn decorations.
It's the expense that matters. Money is what makes all these things (from various socioeconomic contexts) essentially the same, it's money that gave them the same color and texture. The more money there is, the less difference. The more money you have the less there is that's unavailable to you. Koons's work is about this, and about how it works for him as an artist--how there's no material that can resist his vision because he can do anything with his touch. Like the delicate crinkles along the seams of the inflatable snowman--these are miraculously still visible, but hardened, permanent, and dead when cast in plaster. And the orbs twist the reflection of the people who look into them, everyone becomes a warped bluish shadow. In the twenty-first century the distinction between high and low culture doesn't matter anymore--and why should it?--but Koons keeps shoving it in your face, he likes to remind you that it used to be there, until money made it go away. He likes to remind us of the meaninglessness or arbitrariness of taste. Taste is one of the five senses. Taste is a bodily response, and it's personal--it's each of us gives one or three or five stars in a review. But Koons hoards all the tastes for himself here, as the object of his vision, suffocating taste to death and shutting it away from the rest of us behind the immaculate, unimpeachable finish of his work.
Kitsch and desire and beauty and bad taste are all important subjects for art--but if you want to see an artist do them well you can just check out any of the three Paul McCarthy who has three shows up right now, in which he outdoes Jeff Koons in all of them. In his work there's life and it resists his vision, it resists the material, and that difference is where he finds art.
I came to Andrew Kreps with great expectations as a fan of Darren Bader's work but this show--or three shows, he says it is--left me sighing with a tinge of melancholy. Bader is a sculptor, I would say, and what I've liked about his work in the past was the feeling of an organic synthesis forging a deeply resonant and closeknit connections among disparate objects, while employing unexpected materials such as animals, living plants, dead vegetables among images and products and the other usual elements of sculpture today. It's a really thrilling sculpture that electrified the space around it, making all the environment alive and me excited to be in it. Or it was.. now, in this show at Andrew Kreps, the materials are atomized, disconnected, and the space of the gallery is just ordinary gallery white space that's there to separate objects and set them apart from my life and life outside. The walls, floor, and air were there between things to isolate them from each other, and isolate me from them.
It was a show of photographs and objects--photos on the wall, objects on the floor. (Already a significant separation, a categorization keeping everything apart in its own conceptual cubbyhole.) For the most part the photographs don't have a lot going on in them, or at least not anything that really caught my interest. They look like fashion shots or ads or stills from movies I wouldn't want to watch in full. And they are framed in black on white walls, very isolatory. The objects, as I said, are all on the floor, some of them are plain like a can of beans whereas a limited number are big and crazy--a panel printed with a weird text about celebrities along with collaged images, which appeared to be a full-fledged work of art in its own right, and a big plexiglass box with black rubber gloves reaching inward, perhaps a kinky torture chamber of some sort? These were interesting to look at but looking at them only reminded me of the plainness of all the rest of the objects, how little there was to link any of them together, just this analytical picking and choosing that just repeats what any gallery in Chelsea does instead of transforming it and making it a worthwhile space to be in.
apexart is the only non-profit exhibition space in New York that doesn't let visitors use the restroom. Artists Space, White Columns, Art in General, the museums--they all have places where people can relieve themselves. But not apexart! If you ask at the desk they will send you across the street to the Tribeca Grand hotel. (Does the hotel know about this, I wonder?) So their behavior in that respect is more like a commercial gallery, which tends to be very guarded about its private spaces. All over New York people's bodily needs only are recognized when those people are paying customers--"restroom for customers only," except for like, White Columns and Starbucks. Apexart is weird because there's no way to be a paying customer (they don't sell anything) but they don't want to imagine their viewers as having bodies either. If you have a digestive system, go to the Tribeca Grand!!
So that's a general commentary about the space and its attitude toward visitors, but what's funny about it is that the last show I saw here was called "Private Matters," an exhibition that purported to explore issues of privacy in contemporary life. But all of the works in it were about public space, and how information circulates in them. An installation by Stephanie Syjuco was tiled with sheets of paper featuring the names of books and essays of leftist thought and art criticism with scissored fringes of urls that you can tear off, like on the DIY ads found on bulliten boards and bus stops, so you could take them from titles of books that interested you to look them up later when you get home. (I tore off a bunch but then forgot to download the pdfs and then I think I lost them, oops.) Then there was a big installation of T-shirts with emails printed on them, all about activists trying to protest at EU buildings with slogans on T-shirts but being removed because of some EU laws about protests, and the emails had the ensuing discussions about what was allowed under free speech protections. It was boring to look at, also like the PDF url installation it had nothing to do with privacy! Isn't privacy all the things that have been kept out of public--secrets of bodies, faiths, personal problems, etc.? It's not about copyright and free speech, which are part of the public sphere. But if figures that apexart, for the reasons discussed in the first paragraph, would be totally clueless about this. The only work included that had something to do with private life was a vitrine of garbage collected by Kathleen Hanna (!!) and someone else. This junk that was discarded on the street, while it had a past connection to inner or indoor existence, had already been ejected outside, however, and anything concerning the people who had touched it was gone.
Art about architecture seems pretty hot right now and Nicelle Beauchene had an exhibition of photographs of buildings by Chris Wiley. The images framed parts of modernist buildings that had become worn down, discolored, covered up with trash. All the images had clear geometric lines of perspective that were disrupted just enough by everyday wear-and-tear. Everything was cool and aloof and depopulated. Overall the show was easy on the eyes but nothing special. Two of the best images were hanging in the office--a bit of an odd choice because a lot of gallery visitors are probably too shy to peek in an office but I guess if that's where the actual clients go you want to impress them.
On the artist's CV it says that Chris Wiley is an art critic who has published his writing widely. He wrote his own press release and I remember it being more fun to read than the usual press release but it didn't give me a fresh perspective on the work. Still, I think it's a good idea for galleries to have artists write their own press releases--even (or especially) if they aren't critics.
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.
This place is very confusing! It's in a ritzy office building and the main entrance is on one of the upper floors. I can never remember which one, and it's not marked in the elevator, and I don't want to ask the security guard in the lobby because when I go into a fancy building on the UES I just want to breeze by like I know what I'm doing, know what I mean? I'll concede that this last point is my problem and not the gallery's. But still. When you get off on the upper floors there are narrow, dark corridors and multiple doors to the gallery, some marked and some not. I always feel like I'm sneaking in an exit, or about to open a door to an employee lounge. At one entrance you're immediately confronted by a narrow staircase, leading to a gallery on the top floor. Considering this is one of Manhattan's top galleries it's a bit disconcerting that it's laid out like a rabbit warren.
Because of its size this location of Gagosian always has several shows up at once. On my last visit one of the big draws was Cy Twombly, an artist who I personally have never liked. When I first started to learn about painting I thought this was my fault--I suspected that there was something special about the relation of the pigment to the brushstroke to the canvas, or about the form of his scribbles to the classical texts referenced in the titles, that I just couldn't understand. As time passed I became more confident that this was not the case. He's a reasonably proficient painter with a few novel ideas and a lot of pretentious talk around them to magnify their importance. (Come to think of it, this description can be applied to most successful artists.) I can see how some people can be moved by his work but overall I think he's way overrated. Cy Twombly died recently and Gagosian Gallery was showing his last paintings. They were big whorls in bright red/chatreuse, green, and yellow--like his old chalk-on-chalkboard drawings but done in synthetic pigments in fast-food-chain colors on wood, for durability. When I looked at them I found myself imagining a 3rd-rate painter ca. 1972 saying to himself: "Now that I've combined Abstract Expressionism with Pop I'll be proclaimed a GENIUS!!" This imaginary painter didn't coincide with the image I'd had of Cy Twombly--and that's partly why the exhibition felt strange to me. On another floor there was a gallery of Twombly's photographs, taken in the Italian countryside where he lived. Lots of shrubs, trees, and country roads with nothing particularly distinctive about them, all overexposed, blurred, and excessively bright with no sense of composition--it was like a bad and pretentious Instagram account (and I should know, haha! Follow me on Instagram). If I had any doubts about my assessment of Twombly's artistry, those photographs killed them. RIP Cy Twombly. RIP doubts.
But that's not all!! There was ANOTHER exhibition at the gallery, of another artist--Richard Prince. It was some black and white text pieces, the hood of a car, tarry textured paintings. I wasn't into it. I love Prince's early work, the photographs of magazines and joke paintings. Magazine ads create an image of a social setting that everyone recognizes but can't actually take part of because it doesn't exist, a simulatneous sense of familiarity and alienation, whereas jokes are what people say to each other when they want to sustain a conversation but are afraid of talking about things that are honest and personal, or just have nothing to say. And Prince's old works are about these feelings. A lot of people seem to think of those works are wry cerebral games but they've always struck me as very melancholy and pointed reflections on being a lonely outsider. What happens to lonely outsiders when they become hugely successful? Some of them turn into surly jerks. That's what happened to Richard Prince. Most of his work of the last ten years is all about being a surly jerk and I'm over him.
I think there was at least one other show at this gallery. It's huge! I can't remember what it was though.
Light Industry calls itself a venue for "film and electronic art" which is something of a misnomer. To my knowledge there hasn't been any of the latter since 2009, maybe early 2010. When it first opened six or seven years ago they would show new work by young artists working with electronics but at some point they decided that 16mm film is the bee's knees and since then every event at Light Industry is some kind of structural or conceptual reel from the 60s or 70s. I made an effort to get into it but honestly, pretty much everything they show is really boring to me, or just plain bad. There are people who love bad old art films though, and if you're one of them Light Industry is great for you.
Paintings by Tatiana Berg at this gallery looked as if they were painted on a whiteboard--actually on a Japanese paper that's "basically plastic" according to the guy at the reception desk, but the end result was that the surface doesn't really soak in the paint, so the trick of painting them, I would imagine, is to get the paint to lie on the surface and dry there without just rolling of. The strokes therefore look quite forcefully and dramatically applied, yet nevertheless not that interesting, and the images that they're combined to make aren't memorable--some female figures, maybe a still life, I can't say what else. A couple of sculptural paintings were scattered across the floor--these were big buoys of raw canvas with paint applied in broad messy stripes. A pretty obvious way of stressing the strangeness of how the paint relates to the plasticky surface in the works on the wall, and it didn't make it any more compelling for me. I learned from reading the press release that this artist belongs to a "New Casualist" movement... but if you have an -ism, if you have all these blunt tricks, can you truly call yourself "casual"?
Also I really don't like the name of this gallery. When I saw it on the window I assumed it was the name of Tatiana Berg's exhibition (which is actually called "Bill Murray") and thought it was a bad name for a show. But for a gallery, even worse.
I had a fairly complicated experience with this gallery that will take a while to explain so please bear with me.
When I went to Elizabeth Dee at the end of February there was a sign on the door warning people not to come in if they didn't want to have their photograph taken and put online. Ryan McNamara, the artist exhibiting there, was making all his viewers dress up in costumes and pose with props for pictures, so they weren't just his viewers but collaborators in his work who would eventually become viewers of themselves in the work. I thought it was a cool idea. I walked inside and got dressed up. I ended up wearing a denim jumpsuit by Armani and holding the end of a vacuum cleaner that was blowing out air to fan the long hair of this other guy who I didn't know. The photo came out really well! It was thoughtful of the artist and the gallery to put all the images online where people could see them and download them. I posted mine on Facebook and it got 27 likes, which is a lot for me! So I was very satisfied with my initial experience at Elizabeth Dee, except for one small thing: Seeing as how people were getting in and out of costume in the gallery I thought there should have been a changing area. I had taken off the jumpsuit and was in my underwear when Elizabeth Dee herself walked out of her office with a client and they saw me standing in the gallery half-naked. It was a little embarrassing--at least for me, maybe she was already used to it. Anyway, this could easily have been avoided if Ryan McNamara had strung up a curtain in the corner or something like that.
A few weeks later all the photographs were cut up and incorporated in collage designs on various objects. I went back to Elizabeth Dee to check it out. There was an archway, jugs and vases, masks, canvasses, etc., all decorated with the results of the on-site photo shoots. It was all very nicely done and I had a fun time recognizing people I knew. Of course I was most interested in finding the picture of me and seeing what Ryan McNamara had done with it. When I finally found it... well, I was disappointed, to put it mildly. The photo was on a jug and my face spread over a curve. Apparently to get it on there they had to wipe out all my features, perhaps with glue.. it was hard to tell with the way the jug curved. So instead of me it was just the Armani jumpsuit with a warped blank spot for a head. I was sad because I looked really good in that photo, and also I felt slightly disturbed by the thought of that jug going to some art collector's house with my wiped-out face. Ryan McNamara's project was about photographing his audience so he shouldn't have let something like that happen to anyone who posed for him.
I really liked the overall energy at Elizabeth Dee while Ryan McNamara's show was up but because of the problem with my face (and also the lack of the changing area) I unfortunately cannot give this gallery more than two stars.
I actually lol'ed when I entered this gallery. Raw concrete floors, exposed pipes and other utilities--I'd just entered from a corridor in a very nice Upper East Side office building but suddenly I could have been in Bushwick. Apparently that's the feeling that this gallery is going for, trying to import some grunge style to Madison Ave for cool points.
Unfortunately I can't even remember what the art here was, except that it involved the kind of big messy painting that you would expect to see in such a space. It was like the art was made for the brand of the place and beyond that it's unremarkable. Two stars is "meh" and that was how I felt about this gallery. First lol, then meh
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