Three shows I want to talk about: “Looking Back” at White Columns, “Funny Not Funny” at Bellwether, and “Beyond the Canon: Small Scale American Abstraction 1945 – 1965” at Robert Miller. Although each show varies in curatorial mission, it seems they are all reflecting on recent economic concerns and the sense of doom that lingers especially in the art world. Whether it nostalgically looks back in the more naive and oblivious environment of the past year, or perhaps a comical divergent coping technique, or finding solid and safe grounding in art history, these shows reveal the unsteadiness and fragility we are mourning over these days in an incisive, insightful, and inclusive manner.
Alex Hubbard, Lost Loose Ends, 2008, video, 4 min 8 sec
“Looking Back” at White Columns was undoubtedly an amazing show curated by Jay Sanders, curator, writer and director of Green Naftali. He takes a look back at the shows that have taken place in NY this past year and how they may or may not relate to each other. I noticed many of the works in the show dealt with chance, death and the subconscious with mummies, skeletons, happenchance abstractions, eerie dreamy installations, and odd nonsensical performative videos. My ultimate favorite was Lost Loose Ends, a video by Alex Hubbard who had a show at Nicole Klagsbrun earlier this year. The video is fixed from either above or eye level and the viewer is witness to a sequence of dada-esque performance: a hand manipulates an array of random materials and works them onto a neutral surface layer upon layer of paper dropping and utilizing singular letter signage as stencil to spray paint, lighting a lone bulb only to have it explode and have it memorialized with white spraypaint, covering and recovering the surface with wallpaper, placing a drum symbol to spin then slicing it with an electric saw making the screen vibrate with the intense violence of a blade cutting through metal, and sticking an umbrella through a hole and opening it only to slice each section with a knife. There is no real beginning or an end to this video, just a perpetual act of randomness that is intriguing and abstract and subtley violent, as if in frustration, as if it was a means to discover and explore to find an answer to something that is inexplicable.
A series of paintings by the entrace were installed directly on the wall, on shelves and against the floor, all abstract, rusty, squirmy, neon, and impatient.
A creepy collage drawing by Robert Beck titled “Untitled (Narrative of a Child Analysis by melanie Klein/Art as Healing by Edward Adamson). Eyes and text an illustration from a psychology book I’m guessing, zoomed out and manipulated by abstract swirls that are eerie and surreal, emphasizing the subconscious and dreams.
Nayland Blake is such a multidiscipinarian, a shaman of sorts. This loud and minimal sculpture made of wood, wire and beads reminds me a spell casting magic wand, ominous and otherworldly, alexander calder at top, joan miro at bottom. He currently has a mini retrospective at Location One that I don’t want to miss.
This was one of my favorite pieces in the show, a makeshift feathered devil bird using its beak to screech rhythms out of a record player, automated by a few winding wires and wheels made by Tom Thayer and titled “Black Fowl Reflection”. Again with the eerie creepy otherworldliess of this work plays well with the other works in the show. I was mesmerized by the bird’s static movements, an mummified progression of spastic moves tweeking the record player to send its message, a mating call of death perhaps.
A series of 6 giclee prints by Robert Grenier, automatic and abstract, repetitive and patterned, I was drawn to its non-sensical spontaneity and juvenile scribbling technique. And the fact that its repeated and contained to a singular frame creating that grid was intriguing as I tried to unify a compartmentalized form.
I wish I would’ve seen the play where these props came from. Richard Foreman is the founder and director of The Ontological Hysteric Center and created a play titled Deep Trance Behavior in Potatoland. It seems to have dealt with discovery through travel, visual affects, and performance. The installation is quite surreal, the lyrics in the notes repeat “And call for help, alas but nonne comes high me” repeated, which I’m guessing was part of a sequence in the play. There is a jeweled plastic fish on the side, witty and deadpan in its placement. The legs of the piano are cut so they are low to the floor, making it awkward and childlike. Must have been an odd spectacle.
A drawing by Akira Kanayama, an older work from the 50’s, abstract minimalism combining the square, circle and triangle, for some reason I think about twin towers, odd.
An optical illusionary series by Ron Amstutz titled Re: Perform. The artist colors and costumes himself and stands on a color field and in a corresponding image, turns it into a negative of the initial work. Eye popping and engaging, this performative play with shape, color and form gets both artist and viewer to participate in interpretation.
I love the fabric worthy patterns of this series, especially the use of the mesmerizing target shapes and the lucid wiggling forms.
White Columns has the tendency to fill their walls to the edges with tons of work and this show was no different. I wonder how spontaneous and random it was for the curator to find work in such a subconscious range, and how it might reflect the post-modernist, contemporary idiom that’s floating around. The market boom followed by the economic bubble popping seems to have resulted in a looking in for the artists, a look into their deeper subconscious self, or just self in general. I liked this show very much and look forward to more curated by Sanders.
The group show at Bellwether took on a comical approach and titled their show “Funny not Funny”, curated by owner Becky Smith and Allison Kave. The works were either subversive or superlative in their representation of humor and it took me a minute to indulge in their performances.
Three videos were the highlights of the show, one by Jamie Isenstein showing a man and a puppet dancing to no end with a disco ball, a repetitive side to side move with a frozen grin. There certainly was a degree of odd and creepy here, a repetitive playing along with death, a back and forthness that is ominous and spellbinding.
A superbly articulated manipulated video by Chihcheng Peng titled Follow Your Man, taking existing video and turning it into a repetitive hysterical routine. Here one man follows another down the sidewalk and train tracks, and in each change of screen one figure might have shrunk to half his original size, or doubled in height. they walk pass each other and pass each other and pass each other, startled and stalted, spastic and sneaky, it’s a very fun worthy watch.
A classic Tamy Ben-Tor imitation impersonation, hilarious. And there she is in person speaking to Becky Smith.
I thought about the hair show that was at Andreas Grimm and both bring humor with a snarky wit that was as engaging in the brain as it was in the hearty belly.
Now on a completely different road bend is the Robert Miller show on American abstraction. It’s stifled, quiet, small, plenty and therapeutic. There were many many names I did not recognize and plan on spending some time doing some research.
I didn’t write down the name of the artists I took the pictures of, but there were a few that caught my eye, especially this one. The thickly applied paint and the opaque colors, the eye ball tear shapes were quite mesmerizing.
I love the flow of colors and rock-like formations.
Painted in patches, collage-like, muted complimenting colors.
Rusty, layered collage.
Can you tell I’m getting lazy with my words?
A waterfall of color patches.
Textured globs of paint, colorful and palate filling.
The show includes artists from all over the world that were not traditionally recognized in the canon of abstraction and are brought here in their small scale and although I didn’t take names down and was too overwhelmed to take a checklist, it appeased and gratified a fix for a grounding static comfortable medium.