Tag Archives: Fischbach Gallery.

Outer-Space in Chelsea: Art/B-Ball Extravaganza; Aerial, Back-lit View of the Boroughs

At Marlborough Chelsea, through Feb. 14:

Devin Troy Strother, “Space Jam”


Colin Brown‘s painting, Blackbird (2014; acrylic/canvas w/ lights; 44×77 in.); in a group show at Fischbach Gallery, through Feb. 7

I first saw Strother’s work on a postcard at the Studio Museum in Harlem (2011), part of its great on-going series, “Harlem Postcards,” which commissions artists to create images for the purpose, then offered gratis to visitors (see “Harlem Postcards”).  Strother  reproduced a patchy collage representing six (numbered) Harlem Globetrotters in faux-naĂŻve, vertically stretched form, lined up with their tiny (white) coach against a swatch of graph paper. Infused with a kind of nostalgic, political, personal, and communal playfulness,  Strother (b. 1986) also found, in this over-determined  subject, an analogous entertainment factor, in terms of how he approached his art (as recorded in an artist statement). A recent group show at The Hole (on Bowery) featured two laugh-out-loud, yet sensitive take-offs on Matisse’s primitivized, monumental dancers in small-scale, craft-store-glittered, paper-doll-“darky” versions (see post).  Strother’s sinewy figuration and adolescent art instincts in general recall the black-ish, bobble-head-alien drawings of immediate predecessor, Layla Ali—all of which culminates in his current mash-up homage to and investigation of Michael Jordan, as physical being and cultural sign, via the 1996 crossover kid hit “Space Jam” starring His Airness.

While representing the moment a black sports star definitively usurped the mainstream (white) throne of American boy-man sports-hero worship, the film also tinged Jordan’s legacy with superficial, economically-motivated elisions of real racial divides, addressed influentially in the mid-1980s by David Hammons in his hoop-appended telephone-pole installations, Higher Goals (Brooklyn and Harlem), which spawned a continuing sub-genre of b-ball-themed art in relation to African American subjectivity (led by Hammons’s own subsequent projects); Strother gives dual throw-back props here and furthers each cause.

Standing in the entrance area like sentinels are sky-high cut-outs, sketchily painted in Strother’s rough-hewn style, of suited up b-ball idols. One main gallery is carpeted in a rec-room outer-space pattern recalling not only the film’s animation but the Fun Gallery graffiti of the 1980s aka the early (racial) of hip-hop days; with a big shout-out to still truckin’ Jetson fan-artist, Kenny Scharf–an aptly juvenile metaphor for Jordan’s outta-this-world status while goofing on the film’s title (which never quite made sense).

Collectively, and at odds with Strother’s thus far idiosyncratic figurative bent, the several series of paintings on view exemplify major trends in “new abstraction” for a combined airbrush/CGI look (see, e.g., MoMA’s current show, “The Forever Now”; post).  Several include bright, pasty brushwork on gradated Day-Glo  backdrops; others sneak in tiny cartoon  black faces into abstract areas recalling early Ellen Gallagher, and a main group features appropriated action shots of Jordan  splattered and streaked with paint for a futuristic Leroy Neiman effect. The centerpiece is a color-coded pseudo-basketball court with memorial overtones, as punctuated by obstacle-opaque surrounding barriers and deflated golden basketballs.  The occluded, layered messages, somewhat ambiguous, don’t impede the appealing visual energy, minimal irony, and main ideas of the overall presentation.

Devin Troy Strother installation at Marlborough Chelsea, 1/22/15
Devin Troy Strother installation at Marlborough Chelsea, 1/22/15

The galactic journey at Marlborough was the perfect mind-set in which to stumble upon Colin’s Brown’s twinkling night panorama of a plane landing at JFK in a group show of otherwise earthbound, realist paintings at Fischbach. With a cropped plane wing barely visible in the foreground of the indigo void, Brown’s piece evokes a Kodak travel-promo light-box while actually an obsessively painted and pricked surface in a unique method developed by the artist, then lit from behind, so that the geometrically organized colored specks shine into the viewer space.  It stands out above all for unabashed  idiosyncrasy–all we can ask of artists.

Colin Brown painting, 2014, detail.

Colin Brown painting, 2014, detail; at Fischbach Gallery, 1/24/15.