Brian D.'s Profile
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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.
This is one of New York's great neighborhood museums, and it's been on a roll lately with a series of adventurous group shows detailing the far-out regions of black artistic imagination. There was one about Afrofuturism, science fictions, utopia/dystopia in the winter, and on my last visit I saw "When Stars Begin To Fall," about folk and vernacular art and how the visual language of that has influenced "professional" artists. i want to put the last part in quotes because the exhibition as a whole makes you wonder what that even means, especially when the unprofessional work, in many cases, looks better. There's just a freshness or spontaneity or freedom about it that lots of artists have a hard time preserving when they go through the system of schools and galleries and adapt their vision to conventions of mediums and art histories--things that folk artists never have to think about, unless of course they want to--though of course the best artists always manage to do that, and some of them are represented here. I won't detail everything I saw, but one particularly memorable installation was by Jacolby Satterwhite, who framed and hung drawings by his mother (an "outsider artist" of sorts) of strange variations on familiar household objects, over a wallpaper he made of 3D digital renderings of those objects, alive in a raucuously colorful montage landscape that he imagined around them. It felt like the heart of the whole exhibition, a place where the relationship between folk arts and the world of museums was an intimate, familial one of loving kin.
I'd like to give the Studio Museum five stars but the architecture of the galleries is not that great. The central gallery has a plopped-down feeling that makes work installed there feel random, and it's wreathed by a balcony of uneven width. The narrow corridor on the balcony's east side is always used for small shows unrelated to what's going on around it, and the shape of it (one long wall) poses a real challenge for anyone who wants to develop a story in art that's more complex and compelling than a this-then-that, one-after-another sequence. The balcony also casts shadows, or maybe it's just the yellowness of the lights they use that make everything feel dimmed. Anyway, I realize these are not simple problems to solve, and despite them I will keep coming back to the Studio Museums and doing my best to enjoy the great exhibitions here.
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.
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.
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.
This gallery features all Korean artists. When I visited they had a group show: "Permeated Perspective: Young Korean Painters." It was organized to look like a museum exhibition, with a nice brochure on heavy stock and everything. I personally was not impressed. For one thing, I couldn't figure out what about the perspective was "permeated." It all looked like regular old perspective to me. Even when the painters were mixing traditions of Asian ink painting with Western styles it looked way less flattened and squashed than the Korean stuff I've seen at the Met. One of the artists made ink portraits of Bond villains and other movie characters in a semi-traditional style. Another did contemporary interiors where the brush strokes were softened for some depth and domestic warmth. She was my favorite in the show, but even she couldn't move beyond gimmickry in her approach to painting and her subject matter. I wonder why when Chelsea has so many galleries showing artists from all over the world, Doosan needs to pigeonhole itself and its artists as specifically Korean, even to the point of limiting its show concepts to national origin.
According to Yelp three stars is "A-OK" so this isn't a *bad* review. In fact I will start out by saying something positive: I am so happy that the Whitney's management has decided to move! They are opening a new location near the High Line in 2015, and that will be great for them. Maybe by now you can already guess what I don't like about the Whitney... it's that the building sucks. Every time I go there I feel depressed. It's a dark, heavy place, with the vibe (and smell) of a mid-century institutional building. When I'm on the stairwell between floors I have flashbacks to junior high and it's generally unpleasant.
But despite that I can't give the Whitney a bad review because they have (and especially lately they have had) so many great exhibitions! I'm always impressed when the artists manage to take the gross building they've been given a space in and turn it to their advantage. Last summer when Sharon Hayes was there the oppressive & somber atmosphere of the third floor--with its low brutalist ceiling--was actually a good accompaniment to her documentations of protests and interviews with ordinary people. The raised platforms that brought viewers even closer to the ceiling really emphasized that. Wade Guyton, who had a show on the same floor, made a series of mirrored U's in various sizes, and the cement squares that tile the ceiling turned into viscuously moving holes in the reflections. Plus the gallery was reorganized with temporary walls in a visually dynamic layout that made me forget about my surroundings. Also the recent Richard Artschwager exhibition was one of the best retrospectives I have ever seen, and his work is all about the psychology of interior spaces. It led me to think about how the Whitney's building has a bad effect on my psychology, which was better than just feeling it.
In short, there's almost always a couple of must-see shows at the Whitney and I hope that in 2015 when it moves seeing them won't be such a downer. I also hope they install working water fountains there. The water fountains here never eject more than a weak trickle and it's impossible to drink from them.
I had never heard of this gallery before but several people told me that the Albert York show there was a must-see and so I went to check it out. I hardly even ever go to galleries on the Upper East Side but maybe I should do it more because being situated in townhouses they tend to have a very relaxed, homie vibe, that the big boxes in Chelsea lack. This is especially true at Davis & Langdale where the floors are a dark and uneven old parquet, and when you go to the basement to see the second half of the exhibition there's a door open into the workshop, revealing a wall hung with frames--the heart of the operation, exposed! When I was there a little boy was drawing in his sketchbook, and the elderly people who run the gallery were walking around the space and talking about the show ("These paintings are hung low, aren't they?" "It's a little late for that") and even though they weren't related I felt as if I'd walked in on a family gathering. As for the exhibition the paintings were incredibly delicious. Albert York used very forceful physical brushstrokes to make simple, fresh, compositions and there's a satisfying tension to how it all comes together... you can see how the paint was applied and it looks like the painter added paint from the outside as the image itself emerged from within--from within the paint or the surface or the painter's imagination (which is organically fused with the surface), I don't know, but it's amazing. Amazing! For example, there's one landscape with a long brown snake slithering along the bottom. It's just a green space with some ordinary deciduous trees, not a jungle where you would expect to see a huge snake, and yet there the snake is, its sinewy curves looking right at home in their natural habitat of S-curve brushstrokes. In another painting a cartoonish, scribbled-in alligator grins out at you from under a patch of bushes. I can't remember the last time I felt really excited about a still life with flowers but in York's floral paintings each petal is every bit as surprising as an alligator or a snake. Unfortunately this show will be closing soon but I plan to follow up and see what this gallery is showing in the future.
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.
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