Easter Island Heads through a Brancusi Blender: Colossal Chromed Portraits by Not Vital

At Sperone Westwater, through Oct. 4.

The direction of Not Vital’s recent work is well-suited to the slightly futuristic SW space; here amorphous portrait heads cast in highly reflective, gun-metal-toned steel.

Not Vital at Sperone Westwater (photo: 9/19/14)
Not Vital at Sperone Westwater (photo: 9/20/14)

Vital now shares sculptural DNA with Jeff Koons and Anish Kapoor in his pursuit of technological fetish finish.

The requisite, reflected selfie in one of Vital's "heads."
Self in “head” (at Sperone Westwater, 9/20/14).

A group of drawings, ostensibly loose portraits of one subject, depict similarly stretched biomorphic orbs, though rough-hewn, chalky, and matte. Smudges and sometimes tape masking can suggest both auras and a struggle for essential cohesion.

ICYMI in SW’s group show this summer (see post, 8/10/14), Vital’s light-bouncing, pock-marked, Moon (2011) remains on view as an addendum to the portraits, providing insight into his scope of exploration with the medium.

Not Vital, "Moon" (2011; stainless steel)
Not Vital, “Moon” (2011; photo 8/10/14, Sperone Westwater)

Past is Prologue: Nick Cave at Jack Shainman

At both the 20th St. and 24th St. Shainman Gallery locations, through Oct. 11.

Starting at the end: anything put out there by Cave (b. 1959) is worth not missing.   More to the point, the appropriated cliché of my title above (dating at least to Shakespeare) has found particular resonance in contemporary, mixed media work by African American artists. (The association has been facilitated via the hindsight “Prologue” of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, c. 1952, which has had notable influence on postwar African American art broadly–see the discourse surrounding Thelma Golden’s game-changing Black Male exhibition at the Whitney, 1994.)  Cave has recently re-directed into this vein, pioneered by Betye Saar (b. 1926), and including David Hammons, Fred Wilson, Willie Cole, and Radcliffe Bailey (prominently and at the tip of my tongue, among many others).  A now canonical example of the mode, which entails collecting and recycling material resonant with history—objects, images, fragments—into (new) art is Saar’s assemblage, The Liberation of Aunt Jemima (1972).

(UC Berkeley Art Museum; image: wikipedia).

At 20th St., Cave’s sculptural arrangement, Star Power (2014) specifically recalls Saar’s icon, with its vintage Black Power fist sculpture atop a stack of worn steps, before a backdrop of a red-black-green-quilt-patterned emblem in the shape of the (symbolic) North Star.

Nick Cave, "Star Power" (2014; at Jack Shainman)
Nick Cave, “Star Power” (2014; at Jack Shainman, 20th St., 9/13/14)

It also recalls David Hammons’s textile multiple, African American Flag (c. 1990), as well as his punning constructions and concepts, such as the “higher goals” of his so-named, breakthrough  telephone-pole basketball hoops of the mid-1980s .  Star Power belongs to a mini-group of relatively stoic, if not quite quiet, wall-bound pieces at 20th St. that can suggest cultural memento mori.

David Hammons, "African American Flag" 1990, collection Museum of Modern Art; image from MoMA website ("collections"); it was subsequently issued in a small edition.
David Hammons, “African American Flag” 1990, collection Museum of Modern Art; image from MoMA website (“collections”); it was subsequently issued in a small edition.

Other works exude Cave’s more exuberant, flamboyant aesthetic characteristic of the signature masquerade-like “soundsuits” that have dominated his oeuvre.  Those alien-mannequin sculptures, which share a gene or two with the headless humans of Yinka Shonibare, took a slight turn in 2011 (in simultaneous shows at Shainman and Mary Boone), where their layered cultural and gender evocations began extending literally, in sprouting ornaments and near-tableaux set-ups.  This formal direction is established in several of the new works centered around mass produced black-child-servant figurines—both upholding and obscured by elaborate bird’s-nest “auras” of Eurocentric tchotchkes—miniature faux flora and fauna, twiggy  filigree, assorted, glittering baubles.

Nick Cave (2014; at Shainman).
Nick Cave (2014; at Shainman, 20th St, 9/13/14).

In one variation, a “boy” is transformed into an ithyphallic votive on an electric-candle-lit, make-shift altar that recalls (with divergent sensibility) Willie Cole’s lawn jockey-orisa figures, c. 2000, and Kara Walker’s recent similar figures cast in molasses at her Domino Sugar factory extravaganza in June).

At 24th St., exhibited under the title, “Rescue,” a group of metaphorically enthroned ceramic canines hold court, embellished with similar, even more dense and glitzy entanglements. Among many other things, this collective tour-de-force suggests ancient Egyptian zoomorphic divinity.

The title at 20th Street, “Made by Whites for Whites,” comes into focus cumulatively; I read the Star Power piece as the one weighty foil.  Of the compelling cacophony of colors, textures, mediums, methods, and messages on view across the dual installations, one final highlight here that outs sublimated stereotypes with a humorously blingy art-sartorial statement:

Nick Cave (raincoats, neck and wrist bling, etc.; at Shainman, 20th St., 9/13/14)
Nick Cave (raincoats, neck and wrist bling, respectively, at Shainman, 20th St., 9/13/14)

“No children under 10″: What Jake Chapman and the Frick have in Common; vs. Edu Overload at the Museum

We can assume that provocateur-YBA Jake Chapman exaggerated a bit with his recent remarks about what a “waste of time” it is to take children to art museums (see http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/news/a-gallery-visit-leave-the-children-at-home-says-top-artist-9644678.html). Digging himself deeper: “children are not yet human,” so (to paraphrase) they can’t get the complexities of (good) art.  Finally, it trivializing artists (“it’s like saying the art is moronic”) to think that your kids could really appreciate it.  Needless to say, easy target—and the obvious responses came in, en masse. We (art people) all have our “earliest hook” stories. (Jake and brother-collaborator Dinos, who grew up mainly in London with an art teacher father likely have some. Anyway, that that’s not the point of his mini-diatribe is one of his points, I think.)

But he brings up a prevalent tendency to defer emphasis from learning/knowing to passively feeling as the main (most important) goal of art—that the latter is sufficient for full engagement. It’s the only sphere I can think of off-hand where there’s a suspicion of claimed, cumulative expertise—the one immediately associated with clichés like: “My kid could do that.”  Recalls Ad Reinhardt’s cartoon critiques (late 1940s) of popular views of modern art in particular; especially a well-known detail of a larger sheet, in which angels appropriated from Raphael confer:

“I don’t know anything about art, but I know what I like … ”

“Yeah, isn’t it nice  that the obligation to be intelligent doesn’t apply to the field of art?”

Posted to accompany an excellent,relevant article by Boris Groys (2012) at http://www.e-flux.com/journal/under-the-gaze-of-theory/

(Image: from http://www.e-flux.com/journal/under-the-gaze-of-theory/; accompanying an excellent, relevant article by Boris Groys (2012).

It is among the many distinct pleasures of the Frick that you will not run into children under 10, due to the in situ display of the collection in several furnished areas of the former mansion and the commitment to forgoing extensive barriers. Thank goodness not everything is prioritized for children.

BTW, don’t forget to disapprove strongly of the Frick expansion proposed this summer! (See post, 8/3/14).  Really, these museums are lemmings in their bids to “out-big” each other, losing their unique identities, as well their respective cultural heritage progressively and stretching their missions to the brink,  in many cases. Segue: there is a related mass move to “guide-ify” every aspect of the museum experience in the unending, ulterior-motivated call to be “all things to all people” (or rather all customers; you don’t have to read Adorno to get the gist of the contemporary culture-industry). There are increasing opportunities for “entry level” gigs (internships; contract) in the “museum education” sphere, the majority for primary and secondary school-age children, that seek to  add fun and  dazzle to the (pre-supposed boring, individualistic?) art experience.  Heavily mediated in-house interpretation has, of course, substantially elided the adult experience with human or acousti – guides, and apps of all sorts at every turn, complete with signposts such as a floor trail  at the Metropolitan Museum.  Great outside, but constant chatter as the norm while viewing art inside a museum?

Lest I be misunderstood as Chapman was (I hope), I assure you I have admired much programming under the rubric of “Education” at virtually all NYC-area museums since the new millennium (especially, in areas of disabilities and language); and am no Luddite either (I can’t remember another occasion on which I have even used the term). My issue is the too-simple, spreading notion that app/sound-bit soundtracks are now, without question, “the way to go” — always — necessary for interest in art (“to get the young people” is a ubiquitous refrain).

On another level, this direction amounts to a naturalization of “visitor management” linked to museum branding and corporate tech giants that is promoted via collusion as well as competition between institutions.  (This development was prefigured in the 1990s as museum gift shops, previously centralized destinations, began installing outposts on different floors to interpellate the viewer experience.  Before we approach a saturation point in this regard, someone might suggest tuning out rather than turning on as (now) an experimental alternative.

Summer Art Snit/Getting GoGo; Faux Pas by the Divine Ms. Marina

Will billionaire-investor-collector Ronald Perelman be the one to prove illicit business practices by Larry Gagosian, finally satisfying the mass schadenfreude hovering around the mega-dealer for decades?  (See N. Freeman, http://observer.com/2014/08/ron-perelman-entagles-the-mugrabis-in-lawsuit-against-larry-gagosian).  Probably not.  Perhaps some muted settlement, but maybe not even, as the legal snit between these formerly friendly 1%-ers proceeds.  It’s over pricing and re-sales – notoriously unregulated, “back room” and ginormous leap-of-faith in the art world.  The mystique and flexibility of art dealer operations perhaps annoys the corporate-mogul Perelman. It’s interesting that, even in this economic stratosphere, the old-money patron perhaps does not quite accept a nouveau riche  art “merchant” as a business peer equally hedging certain legal limits of capitalist business practices.

Full disclosure: Despite all the not-so-nice gossip–personal and prof.–over several decades, I’ve remained a Gogo groupie since his early days in NYC (c. 1980) when he landed in a loft across the street from the Castelli Gallery to court King Leo.  Gotta give it to him for going right for the gold (well, he did have recently accelerated credibility in L.A. by then)–anyway, the rest is ongoing history.  There have been doomsayers in the Old Guard from the beginning.  A lifetime later, hasn’t happened.  Quite the opposite.  Murmurings of tax questions here and there, status quo, at that level of luxury retail in the US, especially when shipping is involved, due to regional tax/tariff disparities; oh, and, some holier-than-though challenges to the supposed “ethics” of “stealing” artists from dealers that “raise” them?–something like that, as if he is unique among (reluctant) colleagues that have solicited talent similarly at least since the age of free agency in sports/entertainment.  Given the ever-increasing stature of his enterprise, he’s stayed mostly mum through the ride about art, business and himself.  Apparently he really knows how to pick ’em (partners; consultants; “experts” on this and that, including very seriously, contemporary art).  Whatever its foundations and sustenance, his cohort of galleries has produced museum-rivaling exhibitions more or less consistently since at least the new millennium–so far so good, for us.

Of passing interest, performance princess Marina Abramovic took center-stage with Jay Z at  Pace Gallery in July for his “Picasso, Baby” video-shoot-party, topping off her increasing appearance in haute lifestyle pages in the past decade that seem at odds with her early, radically anti-bourgeois art messages.  It does, however, fall in line with the omnipresent ego-driven foundation of her oeuvre (not meant negatively, overall; just, it is what it is); and there is something admirable (if, at times, annoying) in her embrace of popular, celebrity art-fun, given all she has put herself through, physically, for her art–and performance art broadly–for much of her career.

More buzz was generated by an announcement on the “Jobs” board of the New York Foundation for the Arts website offering unpaid internships to “qualified” individuals who would be helping to expand the activities of her studio-ashram,  The Marina Abramovic Institute (see J. Steinhaur, http://hyperallergic.com/140998/marina-abramovic-institute-seeks-so-much-unpaid-work). There was no couching of the recruited work in educational, artistic, or even cordial terms – only what her team (no doubt) needed, with a list of skills/qualifications, mainly administrative.  In return, one got (presumably) an inside view of the divine Ms. M’s modus operandi–and the “excitement” of being part of it.   (Diversion: needless to say, one might also wrangle a few [paid-for] college credits – the word “internship” really has become a euphemism for either real labor without learning or easy credits, either way, losing the values of its original infiltration into higher education in more ways than one.)

“Volunteering” to be in the orbit of “great” artists has become pretty much de rigueur in arts/media fields–okay, whatever.   An individual pursuing an arts career might well get quite a bit out of such an experience.  A post-war parallel can be drawn with Judy Chicago’s solicitation and assembling of hundreds of volunteers in creating The Dinner Party (completed 1979), albeit with/in highly different intentions/circumstances.  This aspect of Chicago’s ultimately epic project has been the subject of several severe critiques; yet, many “testimonials” of the overwhelmingly female participants (artists and others) have discussed the project as a positive, life-changing experience in the context of the emerging Woman’s Movement.  Needless to say, as a woman, commandeering the art troops has inherent pitfalls, vis-a-vis the historically male cognoscenti.  The only problem I had with the Abramovic call was its tone-deaf, all-business tenor, given (it is true) the high expectations for her moral compass that her work has generated, in light of the prolonged economic downturn that looks particularly grim for student-age individuals pursuing the arts.

At the Met: Nature Now (Dan Graham’s Glass Garden) and Then (Pre-Raphaelite Arts and Crafts)

The Metropolitan Museum of Art:

Dan Graham, with Gunther Vogt: Hedge Two-Way Mirror Walkabout; through 11/6.

The Pre-Raphaelite Legacy:  British Art and Design; through 10/26.

With the dog days upon us in the Emerald City, two displays lingering at the Met at opposite ends of the aesthetic spectrum are both steeped in nature, real and symbolic, more or less respectively.

First: More mirrors (see posts, 7/29; 8/10) in Graham’s greening of The Met’s stony roof garden in a Photoshop-turned-3-D-like blend of the organic, the synthetic, the city and fort/da self-reflections, with the assistance of a landscape architect.

I remember experiencing Graham’s spiral-in-a-square, mirrored glass pavilion on the roof of the old Dia Art Foundation building in Chelsea (installed 1991; building closed 2004) around the same time I was introduced to Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological theory of spatialized vision. All fit into staggered, cubistic place as I gazed at a reduplicated, hovering metropolis in a shifting Cezanne sky dotted with flickers of my body. It’s interesting how little and much has changed in Graham’s work in the interim (in this comparison) —similar in some ways to Richard Serra’s work over several  decades. Like Serra, Graham has been interested in pushing the inherent properties of his preferred, unwieldy medium by twerking and torquing to destabilize the there there in large-scale installations. graham_mma3

Here, living ivy has been cultivated over a wire frame to form a hedge around the manipulated, transparently reflective, giant mirrored sheets—a fun-house maze on an astro-turf-uniform lawn.graham_mma6

Once rounding the bend, one’s self enters the hide-seek sight lines as camouflaged döppelgangers. What at first seemed redundant (by now) in concept and effect really grew (sorry) on me.graham_mma4








In the Lehman Collection wing is a small survey, across mediums, of the backward-turned, British Pre-Raphaelites, who carefully, defensively, observed and represented nature at the onset of the modern capitalist-industrialist age (late 19th-century). The politics of this group was as confused as its collective sense of history, which romanticized an imagined Middle Ages, yet mimicked art ideals and flourishes that arose in the “fallen” Renaissance. (The entrenched Victorianism of its members and associates is nevertheless apparent in elements like the more-is-more ornamentation and the eroticization of languid women.)

The examples are exquisite.  Drawings by leading figure D. G. Rossetti of his real-life muses in complex iconographic personifications, fabric designs by William Morris, and cross-chronological legends in glaze-defined, detailed paintings by E. Burne-Jones, among other objects such as book illustrations, tapestries, ceramics, emphasize flora and filigree as fluidly unifying and symbolically replete motifs, enhancing knights-and-maidens/saints-and-sinners scenarios.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, "Jane Morris, Study for Marianna" (1868; drawing; collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art; image from the MMA Collections database, metmuseum.org)
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, “Jane Morris, Study for Mariana” (1868; drawing; collection Metropolitan Museum of Art; image: MMA Collections database, metmuseum.org)

Stylistic overlaps and distinctions between art of the Pre-Raphaelites and the historical forms and techniques they admired open out to many issues relevant to art theory, connoisseurship, and creative processes; and their productions demand up-close. Coming up on my Fall “Visual Aesthetics” class, good topic choice for Paper 1 assignment (arch alternative to Jeff Koons at the Whitney!).

Medicinal Mandalas at the Rubin Museum

In the ten years of its existence, The Rubin Museum (W. 17th Street), which focuses on Southeast Asian art (especially Tibetan Buddhist), has achieved a nice balance of aesthetic and scholarly approaches and ambiance re: its exhibitions and installations. Featured objects and images—especially the ancient and ongoing traditional painting and sculpture, but also including some modern and contemporary work—have generally been highly engaging and evocative on formal and subjectively symbolic terms; however, the extreme difference in context (i.e., circumstances of creation; intent) requires some exegesis to address oversimplification, as well as exoticization, for a primarily Western audience–usually provided in accessible terms via supplemental display (wall texts/labels, electronic resources).

The building itself, with a large central spiral staircase, infuses a spiritual dimension into the proceedings within, furthered (typically, so far) by a variety of backdrop gallery colors that destabilize the white-box Western display protocol.

Diversion: the Rubin has laudably developed its educational programming, crucial, in terms of the complexity of its cultural emphasis, and following a trend in mainstream museums nationally. However, we are at a “tipping point” with regard to the number of gadgets and guides at the ready to interpret and explain and lead visitors around museums – here as elsewhere. The trend mimics the Pandora’s box of problematics in the age of virtual reality for art and museums.

The very idea of Tibet (and to a lesser extent, other regions of the Himalayas) is, of course, highly political, which simmers as an energetic undercurrent of the goings-on at the Rubin.  Equally interesting are non-sequitur musical and other events that periodically, along with those directly connected to its mission, show up in the museum’s extensive extra-curricula programming.  If you’ve never been to the Rubin, don’t admit it and do it the very next time you’re in (lower) Chelsea. The ground floor (semi-permanent) exhibit strikes the proverbial right notes as a brief primer on basic Buddhist and (preceding) Hindu iconography for the uninitiated and a review for others destined mainly for the special exhibitions, and includes illustrative impressive examples (I almost said “high quality” — but that phrase is a bit too loaded without parameter-defining discourse).

This posting was inspired by a visit to the summer show, “Bodies in Balance: The Art of Tibetan Medicine” (through 9/8/14) — not unexpectedly, highly recommended.  Seen one intricate South Asian hanging Buddhist mandala painting (c.16th – 20th c.) seen them all (for those other than specialists in related fields)?  Hardly; if you slow down and look at the imaginative, body-oriented cosmic diagrams (painted sheets and scrolls, as well as intricate wood and metal sculpture) on view here, along with slightly (though not much) more straightforward anatomical chart-like drawings created around the same time as anatomical studies coming out of the Renaissance West, in a very different vein (sorry).


Random Sightings

Tara Donovan at Pace (25th Street; through 8/15):

With toy beasts on the brain (see post, 8/4), a peek into Pace yielded what appeared, from a slight distance, to be a big fuzzy creature that, upon approach, deconstructed into an eccentric abstraction of innumerable, spiky plastic pick-up sticks/rods.  Cool.

Tara Donovan, 2014 (installation at Pace, 8/14)
Tara Donovan, 2014 (installation at Pace, 8/14)

Also on view, a human-scale topographical tableau of obsessively arranged index cards, intuitive and methodical, with a similar sense of shifting textures and associative crossings between abstraction and representation.

Tara Donovan at Pace (8/14)
Tara Donovan at Pace (8/14)

Joan Mitchell at Cheim Read (through 8/29):

With the increasing extravagance (that about covers it, for better and worse) of contemporary art in the past c. 50 years, I was anxious to test my experience of old-fashioned, modernist-type, intuitive, non-ironic, signature mark-making painting (aka Abstract Expressionism) with a look at a group of Mitchell’s “Trees” (dating from the 1960s – 90s; most from the 1970s).  What a near literal breath of fresh air.  (Sorry.)  Just the artist and the (endless) canvas (also paper/pastels) . . .  and somewhere very close by, viewers readily sense, trees.  An extension of breezy gesture, yet tangled and searching; continuous, unselfconscious elegance.  One painting features loosely woven strands of Alizarin crimsons and Mars reds, known as “difficult” colors to blend and control in traditional oil painting pedagogy (for several prismatic and material reasons in terms of the pigment binding, as I vaguely recall from a painting class discussion long, long ago).  Others employ subtle, shifting greens, not one shade nameable, breaking through the white-embellished painting fields.  You really have to be there (but brief references, below).

Joan Mitchell, "Red Tree" (1976).
Joan Mitchell, “Red Tree” (1976; at Cheim Reid, 8/14).
Joan Mitchell, "Cypresses" (1975) at Cheim Reid (8/14)
Joan Mitchell, “Cypresses” (1975; at Cheim Reid, 8/14)

Eccentric Installations, High (Paul Kasmin) and Low (The Hole), and a Back-Room Bonus

At Paul Kasmin (both the 10th Ave. and 27th St. spaces): the sunflower-yellow-painted, dimly lit space is tricked out with a bright red, winding dock-like walkway and pungent hay strewn on the floor. Surrealism, yes; inspired by a 1947 show, “Bloodframes,” organized by international arts gadfly-gallerist Alexander Iolas (google), here  “Revisited” by head-art-hipster-publisher of The Brooklyn Rail, Phong Bui, as curator (through August 15).

Amazingly (in this environment), every seemingly randomly placed piece included, across myriad mediums and sensibilities, stands out. Red has a strong (but not exclusive) presence; exuberant monochrome quill-textured paintings and a giant signature rose sculpture by Will Ryman; a squiggly-surfaced wall “tumor” by Lynda Benglis; a realist roses painting by Alex Katz; an Op Art, sloganized Frank Stella by Deborah Kass; and a quintessentially disturbing, Tinguely-like contraption by Daniel Joseph Martinez, with a provocatively ponderous, politicized title, that culminates in a (Beuysian?) dead hare/human hand sculptural mash-up, which apparently has generated a simulated blood-bath all over a gallery wall.

In the same (large) universe as the Martinez, is Roxy Paine’s

Roxy Paine, "Incident/Resurrection" (2013)
Roxy Paine, “Incident/Resurrection” (2013)

neon man being beaten with a stick-object – an obviously Naumanesque, time-lapse sequence in forward and reverse, however, journalistic in its flashing violence and without the dark humor and dialectics of his predecessor.

One of a few cooler-temperature pieces is, ironically, an oven; however in ghostly replicated form, by Do Ho Suh: sheer fabric pulled taught around a representational frame, encased as a kind of 3-D diagram.

Do-Ho Suh, "Specimen Series: Stove, 348 West 22nd Street, Apt. New York, NY 10011, USA" (2013)
Do-Ho Suh,
“Specimen Series: Stove, 348 West 22nd Street, Apt. New York, NY 10011, USA” (2013)









Down-rent on Bowery at The Hole (*autonomous pun*): a plastic-draped and taped space, floor to ceiling – was the gallery undergoing some sort of maintenance?  But paintings were hung over the covering. Turns out the show, “Go with the Flow,” (through August 23rd) surveys recent spray painting, and this is what the work spaces of many practitioners look like, since the particle mist created through the technique fans out all over.

Installation at The Hole, with Zane Lewis's paintings
Installation at The Hole, with Zane Lewis’s paintings

I first visited The Hole to see the “toys for adults” art of fab colab team, Friends with You in 2011 (from Miami; now based in L.A.). Founded by former director of Deitch Projects, Kathy Grayson (after Jeffrey D. split for his ill-fated adventure at MoCA, LA), the gallery’s tendency with installations retains its parent’s cultivated slacker / carnival / pop-ish cutting edge aura that the current survey epitomizes—and atomizes—with diverse, interesting examples.
Surprisingly, I found the installation gimmick (yes) refreshing and enthusiastic on the part of the gallery (the clear, thin sheathing remains both relatively unobtrusive and always perceptible), in contrast to much of art world central’s (aka Chelsea’s) expensively, oppressively dour or omnipotent (or both) ambiance.  Flashback: Fun Gallery / East Village ‘80s – with old school graffiti transformed by new nozzle gadgetry as well as real or simulated digitization, and MFA incubating instead of tagging on trains.

The shaped psychedelic sunset of Greg Bogin is among others that strive for mesmerizing, seamless gradations, sometimes with markings in various New Age-y challenges to 1970s abstraction.

Greg Bogin
Greg Bogin






Others project computer-like cartooning (Austin Lee), cross-breeds of Pop art and anime (Michael Dotson), photo-florescent silhouetting (Rosson Crow) and trompe-l-oeil drips-on-white-on-white that recalls the patterning of Tauba Auerback (Michael Staniak).

Austin Lee
Austin Lee
Michael Dotson
Michael Dotson






Rosson Crow
Rosson Crow















Michael Staniak
Michael Staniak


I am sorry to have botched reference photos of works by two woman artists  that particularly caught my attention, a Lichtenstein-like paint-strokes scribbling by Trudy Benson, and Wendy White’s diptych-type juxtaposition of a blurry- screened photo of a fallen athlete with a washy abstraction.

In a back room of The Hole (*autonomous punning about to get worse*) is a presentation of a kinky, not-quite-kitschy, slickly photographed and obliquely tongue-and-cheek ad campaign by Toronto-based artist  Bruce LaBruce.  There’s some kinship with American peer David LaChapelle.b_labruce3

The marketed product, Obscenity Perfume, was produced the artist and is for sale in the gallery—a unique multiple, and perhaps cultural comment on a debauched,  easy-money craze for celebrity fragrances.Bruce_perfume

The featured beautiful black man and bleached-white woman, in various Catholic vestments and outré, gender-bending attire,  are punctuated with idiosyncratic elements as well as archetypal, even throwback sexual symbolism in highly staged images.

So, (the work begs the question) what is obscenity?b_labruce2  This is an appealing cross-over display (in more ways than one),  enhanced by the palpable presence, just steps down the block, of legendary House of Field HQ (Patricia Field’s four-decade- plus, subterranean boutique known as much for its glam-fetish wear as for the fashionista wardrobe of SITC’s Carrie Bradshaw).  Not surprisingly (if you didn’t know beforehand), LaBruce has a connection with the porn industry, namely as a respected film director (one facet of his artistic activities).  Judging from what’s here, I imagine he’s very good at it.

Addendum, 7/13/15:  A selection of his “avant garde” films, related in subject matter, were recently screened at MoMA: Bruce LaBruce: April 23-May2, 2015.

Sculpture: Minimalism (Sperone Westwater) / Maximalism (Nancy Rubins at Gagosian)

“Sculpture”; Sperone Westwater (Bowery), through August 15.

“Nancy Rubins: Our Friend Fluid Metal”; Gagosian (21st Street), through September 15.

If Koons’s flawless shine fetish has fascinated the masses and cognoscenti alike (for the most part), dominating art-social media-NYC this summer in an endless flood of fun-house selfies, a mirror ball of another ilk—namely an equally gleaming, though pockmarked moon by Not Vital, has landed at Sperone Westwater.

Not Vital, "Moon" (2011; stainless steel)
Not Vital, “Moon” (2011; stainless steel) [click to enlarge]
Gazing at this fallen celestial orb feels very different than clowning into a Koons, although, it compels, likewise, to take that side-long self-glance, if not a money shot of our narcissism. The work rests in a sublime installation on the third floor of SW’s Gagosian-challenging new-ish Bowery HQ; which also includes a vermilion-lacquered, half-stairway to … oblivion, or a fourth dimension behind the wall, by Wolfgang Laib (2002), a ritualistic circle of puzzle-piece rock fragments by walking artist extraordinaire, Richard Long, and a heavy wood abstraction in the shape of an inverted tau, which also suggests an altar, by Carle Andre (pace Andre’s distaste for content association—true, as well, it couldn’t be more formally Minimal).

Third fl. installation view, Sperone Westerwater; with "Moon," a R. Long (1996; granite) and a Carl Andre (1992; cedar timbers)
Third floor at  Sperone Westerwater (partial view); with “Moon,” a R. Long (1996; granite) and a Carl Andre (1992; cedar timbers)

Each floor of this group show has similarly intriguing juxtapositions as well as engaging specific works by an inter-generational, international roster; with more mirroring on the ground floor in the proto-disco assemblages (one, kinetic) of Heinz Mack, c. 1960.

Heinz Mack, "Kleiner Stelenwald" (1960; brass, with motor)
Heinz Mack, “Kleiner Stelenwald” (1960; brass, with motor)

Back then, the reflective surface was just taking off in pop culture and contemporary art, après Brancusi (prominent in works by many emerging NY-based artists at the time, including R. Smithson, R. Morris, Y. Kusama, L. Samaras).


Nancy Rubins was a memorable hit at the 1995 Whitney Biennial with a floating, twerked and bound mattress installation featuring creamy supermarket cakes smushed into the crevices, evoking a post-industrial Tiepolo. (Digression: bed and mattress show, dedicated to R. Rauschenberg’s famous MoMA Bed 1955, with Rubins, Guillermo Kuitca, Tracy Emin, Sarah Lucas, Pepon Ossorio . . . ?)*  In the interim, Rubins got into heavy-metal assemblages that also defied gravity, with the origins of the fragment components more and less discernible—rambunctious off-spring of later Frank Stellas. Twenty years hence, the three works currently on view at Gagosian are again bouncing off the ceiling, as well as walls and floor—dense clouds of recycled junk (Shinique Smith is one heir), including a proliferation of defunct, old-school springing playground or low-rent carnival rides in the form of sea-foamy-tinted, kitschy-toy, zoomorphic cross-breeds.

Nancy Rubins, at Gagosian Gallery, 522 W. 21st St., summer 2014
Nancy Rubins, at Gagosian Gallery, 522 W. 21st St., summer 2014

. . .  Abandoned, twister-blown, small-town toddler amusement park gracefully re-coagulated, tumbles and hovers into the white cube.

Nancy Rubins, detail
Nancy Rubins, detail

*Re: “bed show”; update (11/1/15): I was unaware,  when I posted this, of the comprehensive exhibition at 21er Haus, Vienna, “Sleepless: The Bed in History and Contemporary Art,” (Jan.-June 2015), including several of these artists.

Blue-Chip Blow-up Beasts

Big Dogs (Jeff Koons), a Fat Rat (Bruce High Quality Foundation), and a Trash Bag Teddy Bear (Gimhongsok)

The Koons retrospective (Whitney Museum):  as commentary floods in, one point approaching something of consensus: he wins the mirror-ball of summer-sculpture-NYC (i.e., the pop-media prize), with his bloated, shiny-coated, kitsch-ified Brancusis.  (That’s post-Kara Walker’s Domino sugar mama, winner of all 2014.)  On Koons’s concurrent colossal dino-toy-like topiary at Rockefeller Center’s plaza, however, I would say: could have left this chapter one and done, with the first, brilliant (yes) flowering Puppy (conceived 1992) in the same spot in 2000.

Jeff Koons, c. 1993; from the MMA website (roof exh., 2012)

Jeff Koons, c. 1993 (cast/polished metal); from an exhibition page (2012) of the Metropolitan Museum of Art website (currently on view at the Whitney).

Installed in the Lever House courtyard (just off Park Ave., NW corner Park/53rd) is The New Colossus (2012) by the sometimes-Banksy-like team, BHQF, a cast bronze replica of the giant rubber-and-roped “union rats” commonly erected at worker strikes and protests in the U.S.  Ostensibly, the piece anchored a larger recent show about “art and labor” inside the building’s gallery.  However,  it also stands alone as a commodity, very expensive to produce (if not up there w/ the creatures of Koons), subsumed into the acclaimed modernist edifice (designed by G. Bunshaft / Skidmore, Owings & Merrill) and its corporate collection.  Basic Frankfurt School points of socio-economic and aesthetic reference are easily applied and cast (pun intended) sharply in this case.

Bruce High Quality Foundation (collaborative), "The New Colossus," 2012; Lever House courtyard (photo: 8/2/14)
Bruce High Quality Foundation (collaborative), “The New Colossus,” 2012; Lever House courtyard (photo: 8/2/14)

However, the idea that antagonism between workers/owners has reified (i.e., been cast in proverbial stone), which may signal that a tipping point for modern Capitalism may be at hand, is (perhaps; interestingly) also suggested.

Equally to the point (in situ in midtown): rat images / image triggers (like the word, RAT) have a special meaning for NYers, who are united in trying not to acknowledge the alarming statistical ratios of rat population to our own, barely separated by cracked concrete and plasterboard (of which we are intermittently reminded by news flashes).  So this giant rodent near the building’s chic restaurant and terrace sitting area is also charged in this connection.

The grandiosity of it (starting with the ton, give or take, of precious metal employed) brings up the postmodern-ish problem of the cast found object – the replica, the simulacrum, on and on (and back to Duchamp and Picasso).  At this point, with work of this ilk, we are basically talking about how “good” (engaging) the concept of the cast holds up in particular instances, and how conceptually layered (or not) the resultant new object.

Precisely, in  an intrinsically similar vein but different situational context: a giant bronze cast of a teddy bear made from stuffed trash bags by Seoul-based artist, Gimhongso  (Bearlike Construction, presented by Art in the Parks, NYC).   Placed in the modest triangular Tribeca Park just below Canal St. where W. Broadway picks up again,  the trompe-l’oeil / double-take figure from a (short) distance suggests a garbage “snowman” built by some kids in the night from the ubiquitous from trash bags left on the curbs across the street, and commands second looks.   It’s also a great down-market riff on Koons’s immaculate over-blown playthings.

Gimhongsok, "Bearlike Construction," Tribeca Park; bronze

Gimhongsok, “Bearlike Construction,” Tribeca Park; bronze

View 2
View 2

Flashback: “rats in the gallery” a decade ago by German artist, Katerina Fritsch

Katerina Fritsch, 1993; Wikipedia
(“Rat King,” 1993; cast/plastic, painted; Wikipedia)

Snapshot reactions/recommendations on contemporary and occasionally other art recently on view around town. See you in the galleries, Jody B. Cutler-Bittner (art historian/educator). Search artists, galleries, museums, key words below, and "enter".