By: James C. Kao
Since I haven’t lived in New York for a while, I had to be informed that this was the season for art openings. In keeping with the season, I visited several galleries in the past couple of weeks in Chelsea, the Lower East Side, and Dumbo. No show was terrible, though many were not memorable. Here is a brief list of the shows that I enjoyed and remembered.
My first evening of openings was in Chelsea, and the first exhibit I saw was the series titled “Do Not Abandon Me,” created by Tracy Emin in collaboration with Louise Bourgeois at Carolina Nitsch. Bourgeois made gouache drawings involving blob-like figures, and Emin added text and drawings on top. I liked these drawings because they were honest and raw but had a sense of humor. In an interview, Emin stated that “we both work with our hearts and what actually drives us emotionally.” I could discern which marks belonged to whom, but the drawings looked as if one person could have done them. The abstract bodies came together with the drawn figures and texts through the similar intentions of the artists. There was coherence in style and concept.
Later that week, I went to the Lower East Side, and one of the shows I saw was “Judith Page: Night Walk” at Gallery 1 of the Lesley Heller Workspace. There was a lot of pink. Judith Page covers drawings, paintings, and sculptures with Tar Gel, a clear painting medium with a gooey tar-like consistency. Page mixes the gel medium with acrylic paint and forms an organic looking surface. To me, Page’s work speaks of identity and the figure but with a comical sensibility that is communicated through a use of odd mixtures. In one painting, there was a toy horse on top of the canvas, contrasting with the pointed wooden sticks at the bottom of the canvas. These elements broke the traditional rectangular frame of a painting. The wooden sticks reminded me of legs, adding an anthropomorphic sense to the piece. In light of contemporary popular culture, the stakes also made me think of stakes used against vampires. The different objects she includes in her work create multiple layers of meanings and allusions to be deciphered by the viewer.
Judith Page, August 27 (Crossing the Desert), 2010, tar gel, mixed media, 39 x 22 x 1 1/4 in. Image courtesy of the artist.
The next week, I went back to the Lower East Side for the “Collective Show New York 2010” at Participant Inc. This was an exhibition of works by contemporary art collectives. I was intrigued by the idea of an exhibition of just collectives – a group show of group shows. Though when I visited the exhibition, it felt a bit jumbled to me. Still, I liked a couple of pieces. There was a collage titled Porno for Pyros by Brent Birnbaum, part of the collective Artist Accomplices, which was so over the top gaudy that it worked. All the elements came together with a carnivalesque sensibility, there were little details to discover as you look closer such as penises stuck to various toy figurines and cut outs of Miley Cyrus’ heads pasted onto various other pictures of bodies. At the night of the opening, there were also several performances. My favorite was a performance in costume by Don Kaspar of the collective Human Resources. Her outfit slightly reminded me of Chaplin, and her character was neurotic, disorganized, and completely charming. She stood on a stool and began speaking but then started shouting to get everyone’s attention. As she began reciting a monologue, she went off on a tangent and then started going through random pieces of paper, which she then later distributed to the viewing public. At first I thought the piece would fit better in a more intimate space because it was becoming lost in the opening, but then I realized that the neurotic and inconsistent energy of the character actually fit within the insanity: chaos within chaos. The haphazard but intentional way the space was arranged was unlike what I used to see at galleries several years ago, and I appreciate this change.
“Collective Show” opening. Photo by JCK.
Last but not least is “Sleeping with Strangers,” a one-night exhibition of Iviva Olenick and Robert Gerhardt’s works organized by Salon Ciel held at one of the coordinator’s apartment. Sometimes I am dubious of exhibitions held in apartments as the pre-existing arrangements can be distracting, but in this case it actually worked, especially for Olenick’s work. She creates pieces that are embroidered texts and images on small pieces of fabric. The texts read as diary entries, and the apartment setting worked with their air of intimacy. Certain pieces of fabric contain pre-existing designs and reinforce the preciousness of the work. She walks the line between being utterly honest and revealing too much, causing the viewer to be curious to see more but slightly ashamed, as if stumbling upon someone’s hidden journal. Gerhardt’s photographs of people on the subway seemingly caught unaware fits well to Olenick’s work and the night’s theme of invading personal and intimate spaces, both physical and mental.
Iviva Olenick, Love Fire, 2010, embroidery on fabric with fabric collage, 5.5" X 8.5". Image courtesy of the artist.
I was excited to go through galleries and see what New York would present for contemporary art. I remember that before moving to London the work I was seeing in New York were largely paintings and photographs, all pristinely presented. This time, there is more work that involved the space, and they were chaotic and subversive. The energetic opening of the “Collective Show” and the intimate and alternative qualities of Salon Ciel’s show were new to me for New York. I am not sure if I liked it all yet. I ran into Jerry Saltz at White Columns one evening, and he told me that the New York art world was changing. An English curator I spoke to once said the same thing, noting that one gallery he knew of represented only painters and photographers but recently signed an installation artist. I agree, and I wait to see the result of this shift.
Exhibitions still on view:
“Do Not Abandon Me” at Carolina Nitsch Project Room runs through November 13th
Carolina Nitsch Project Room
534 West 22nd Street
Take the A,C, or E train to 23rd Street and/or the M23 bus to 11th Avenue
Gallery Hours: Tues – Sat, 11-6
Gallery Website: www.carolinanitsch.com
“Judith Page: Night Walk” at Lesley Heller Workspace runs through October 24th
Lesley Heller Workspace
54 Orchard Street
Take the F,J,M, or Z train to Delancey/Essex
Gallery Hours: Wed – Sat, 11-6; Sun, 12-6