Damien Hirst: Colour Space Paintings, Gagosian Gallery, 24th Street; through June 30, 2018
At this stage of the game for Hirst, when hype has become both draw and a distraction vis-a-vis his art activity, he has been attempting to re-presented himself as a seemingly un-ironic, authentic (for lack of better term) abstract painter. I’ll say, unexpectedly, that consolidated foray into pointillist non-objectivity on display here rises to the company of postwar predecessors like Richard Pousette–Dart, Larry Poons, Veja Celmins, and, especially, Yayoi Kusama, in terms of visceral optical power–specifically Kusama’s simultaneous vision of the endless universe and the buzz behind our eyes.
Hirst himself has linked the featured works, mainly from 2016-2017, to his long-standing interest in pseudo-scientific content via images of cells under a microscope. He first produced “spot” paintings in the 1980s in the context of post-Minimalism, which segued, reciprocally, into candy-colored tablets of big pharma. The circle forms were typically arranged in grids or bounded patterns, sometimes shifting within the compositional structure through color arrangement. In the best works here, the spots, in a staggering diversity of tinted hues, are densely applied in all-over fields with an uncanny stroke that seems mechanical in regularity and hand-hewn with occasional delicately trailed paint threads. Depending on light or dark grounds, they can intimate staring into the daylight sun or night star gazing, rendering the exhibition title a double-entendre.
As a bonus, if seeming non-sequitur, a sliced shark piece from his break-through days (1990s) as art infant terrible is installed in an anteroom before the street-front gallery window. Perhaps a reminder of the shark-infested blue-chip art sea in which he swims, but also, of the preeminent theme of death that has haunted his oeuvre. In that sense, to borrow a metaphor from Kusama on her own practice, the new paintings can suggest the obliterative nature of infinity.
Tom Wesselmann: Standing Still Lifes; through Feb. 24, at Gagosian, 555 W. 24th St.
Marti Cormand: Formalizing their Concept: After Levine, After Evans; through March 3, at Josee Bienvenu, 529 W. 20th St.
Bright, billboard-ish, photorealist-light paintings stacked into surface-defined tableaux, in the contextual swell of Mad Men advertising, latent feminism, and white-privilege American consumer consciousness. This Wesselmann series, c. 1967-1981, really nails that postwar Polaroid, plastics, and early mass media sensibility in sleek (but not slick) renditions of mainly generic personal objects, blown up in scale like Claes Oldenburg’s related Pop sculptures. Each “set” suggests a snippet of domestic life, while hedging the allegorical orbit of still life memento mori. Straightforward, well executed, clever and amusing, Wesselmann’s method and flattened modality here prefigure the digital layering of Photoshop. Beyond the arranged canvas works are several related gems on paper, part and parcel of a succinct, illuminating archival display on the development of the series.
One does not have to engage the title of MartiCormand‘s show to find his small-scale, minutely marked, mimetic pencil drawings of rural American landscapes and run-down architecture compelling. Upon approach they can appear to be black and white photographs before gradually revealing their graphite identities. However, beyond the pictorial pleasures and paradoxes of the pointillistic trompe l’oeil rendering, the backstory of the series title complicates this labor-intensive exercise by explicating Cormand’s source material: Sherrie Levine’s infamous photographs (1981) of Depression-era photographs by Walker Evans (as reproduced in a book). Cormand has run the now iconic images, mechanics, and messages of these predecessors through his own artistic mill, sieving a near-century of gender-inflected discourse on art craft, content, and visual aesthetics into his collective result.
“Sean Scully: Wall of Light Cubed”; through May 20, Cheim & Read, 547 W. 25th Street.
“The Past is Present” (Hank Willis Thomas, Turiya Magadlela, Brad Kahlhamer)“; through April 22, Jack Shainman, 524 W. 24th Street.
“Robert Therrien”; through May 26, Gagosian, 555 W. 24th Street.
“Erwin Wurm: Ethics demonstrated in geometrical order”; through May 26, Lehman Maupin, 536 W. 22nd Street.
“Kevin Francis Gray”; through April 22, Pace, 537 W. 24th Street.
“Yoshitomo Nara: Thinker”; through April 29, Pace, 510 W. 25th Street.
“Adrian Villar Rojas: The Theater of Disappearance”; through October 29, The Met roof.
*** Does “expert” abstract painting exist? Like, an ideal display of formal dialectics (structure/not-structure; preconception/perception; accident/ rigor, rigidity/fluidity). Within his own visionary constraints (not an oxymoron in his case) and despite inevitable association with the whole constellation of painting through time, Sean Scully’s work recalls really no one—well, maybe the ghost of Braque. A relatively recent foray into sculpture is represented here by two colossal, fat columns of what appear to be stacked, staggered frames or square platforms – visitors cannot see the tower tops. One is monochromatic black, coaxing out the ziggurat factor; the other features his noted greyed-tinged rainbow palette. Each fills up the relatively small rooms in which they are (respectively) installed, so that a first reaction may be, why not in the large main gallery? But, of course, given Scully’s deep, deft formal deliberations throughout his forty-some-year career, the body/space/object scale is surely integral.
*** I loved Robert Therrien’s caringly-burnished, matte-finish Minimalist sculptures and shaped paintings of the 1980s—still resonating beneath several chromed-hued, colossal versions here. Likewise his overblown domestic geometry of the 1990s—as in generic furniture and plates, here metamorphosed into staged sets displayed in trailers, suggesting Surrealist theater and a compulsion to spotting and juxtaposing unlikely like forms.
*** Clumpy, lumpy, something borrowed, something of you—DIY on both sides of the art-making equation for Erwin Wurm. Viewers will find faux-naively sewn or otherwise scrawled instructions in/on deconstructed and reassembled furniture and other hybrid forged/found objects, which encourage explicit interaction with each piece (put it that way). For example, you stick your feet into sawed holes in an old coffee table. Do it. Sublime bricolage (leftovers patched into service as art), with a chaser.
*** Slightly varied, big scary-cute-animé-tinged paintings of a slightly-cybor-girl from Yoshitomo Nara, a progenitor of the Japanese postwar sensibility and phenomena with global sympathizers and appropriators. A group of black-and-white- glazed ceramics vessels decorated cartoon-like with the subject’s adventures and bearing mixed messages about society and love represents something new for Nara, and … dare I say … saleable? (“Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” J. Seinfeld). They are very cool and accessible. But, I’d rather buy one of the contour drawings that explore his obsessively repeated, enigmatic starlet. And there are colossal, hobbit-strange sculptural sentinels to contend with, as well.
*** Hand-hewn Marble imitating plaster-putty neo-Baroque anatomy studies—mashup Bernini/Messerschmidt/Rodin/Francis Bacon—Kevin Francis Gray offers a compelling antidote to the 3D-printed also Baroque-ish creations of Adrian Villar Rojas currently on the Met Roof (more below).
*** Speaking of which, 3D printing had something to do with Hank Willis Thomas’s sculptures in Shainman’s tri-artist display—making them no less emotion-filled or savvy. That’s especially if you’ve been along on his art journey over the past two decades, from cutting photographic commentaries on sports and advertising to his recent socio-community-network collaborations, like www.forfreedoms.org (currently featured in a small show at MoMA PS1, through September 10). Two wall sculptures here are derived from photographic “points” of interest (Barthes’s punctum) within basketball play-action shots. These hyper-realist, purple-tinged shining arm-to-fingertip-to-basket casts (resin-based) appear both celebratory and haunted by chance and instability.
And a column of b-balls is a great riff on Brancusi; while the theme and multiple-entendres of these, like all his b-ball-based works continue the props to David Hammons. Also included are several of Thomas’s word paintings, which play with semiotics and visual perception while forthright in content.
I came with no background on the other two artists, but left a fan of Turiya Magadlela, who has wrung out translucent colorfield abstractions from stretched panty hose, shouting out feminist performance pioneer Senga Nengudi in the process, and was captivated by Brad Kahlhamer’s wirey “dreamcatcher” American flag.
***Villar Rojas went nuts with the 3D printing in his Met roof installation. Dicing digital images into intuitive new forms and sending them off to the object fabricator is an increasingly popular art process/technique, to be sure–not to be written off as mere fad or novelty. Yet, in the age of digitized reproduction, as well earlier methods–art gains and loses (to clumsily invoke W. Benjamin). The resultant, scattered tableau is “spectacular” (in the sense of G. Debord) and inevitable (back to Benjamin); but, what is the criteria for artistic/aesthetic engagement, differentiation, and quality with this new screen media-to-object trend? So Villar Rojas has incarnated part nightmarish, part goofball hybrid figures, developed from from scans of works of art from the Met’s collection, redistributed, montaged, and melded with fleshed out human bodies, gathered at a kind of haunted feast. It’s fun in a puzzle way and gains as one may recognize snippets and fragments. There is follow-up thought on the glut of objects in museums and their often arbitrary taxonomies of forms, functions, and status.
“Charles Ray,” Matthew Marks (24th St., through April 18)
“John Chamberlain,” Gagosian (24th St., through April 4)
**”Ron Arad: In Reverse,” Paul Kasmin (27th St., through March 14)
Charles Ray has accrued an engaging oeuvre through his ability to come up with novel objects that tap the psyche uncomfortably but always deliver a primary sensation of art play. His memorable colossal toy fire-truck parked on Madison Ave. nearly took the edge off the infamous 1993 Whitney Biennial; and his Freudian family mannequins are already compelling classics. The gilded relic currently on display at Matthew Marks–a (real) truck compacted down to a 5-ft. or so coffin-rectangle encased in silvery chrome–well, there you have it, alone in the ginormous gallery–a bit overdetermined by its surrounding void. (It’s definitely “something,” and there is one additional piece in an ante-gallery for suggestive context.)
Still, visually (at the very least) Ray’s metal junk-cube pales in (inevitable) comparison with the exuberance of car-crush pro John Chamberlain’s sculptures down the street at Gagosian. The diversity of Chamberlain’s medium-restricted abstractions is always impressive, never mind in the midst of another museum-challenging (and winning) extravaganza that pairs Chamberlain’s postwar American art innovation with full-scale, reconstructed, industrial-inspired environments by French mid-century architect, Jean Prouve. (What’s overdetermined here is the invisible but palpable, piped-in macho characteristic of installations in this space in particular within Gagosian’s enterprise!)
**I will admit that I missed (by a few days) what may be the tour-de-force of this sub-genre, the compressed Fiat 500 wall “paintings” by Ron Arad at Kasmin, and flipped when I noticed it online – wow. The idea was to flip the idea of designing 3-D utilitarian objects on the screen, a staple for the internationally renowned designer, and re-turn such things into purely aesthetic objects. Anyone interested in this sort of thing, you need to know about this. I was introduced to Arad’s work over two decades ago at the Cartier Fondation’s then new building (Blvd. Raspail). In Jean Nouvel’s jewel-like, faceted space were shining steel kidney-bean-shaped tables covering a huge gallery like a puzzle shaken slightly apart. From a above, it was floating lily pads, like a giant, futuristic Monet. You can find images on the web. I didn’t have to. It made a strong, lasting impression.
Takashi Murakami: “In the Land of the Dead: Stepping on the Tail of the Rainbow”; Gagosian, 24th Street
Francesco Clemente: “Two Tents”; Mary Boone, 24th Street
Also: “Francesco Clement: Inspired by India”; Rubin Museum
Murakami, directing his Kaikai factory, has pushed further his superflat painted visions into a Baudrillard-like pressing of digitally-aware and aided (in various ways) plasticized layered patterns, forms and textures–with, however, the underpinnings of the artist’s early anime subjects, graphic personality and symbology (e.g., the D.O.B. character and derivatives; flowers; skulls). The popping results evoke blow-up ukiyo-e (floating world pictures) for the atomic age–a proliferation of swelling skulls overtaking mountainous lands and roiling seas along with fantastical flora and fauna. The center piece of the show is a site-constructed, faux-weathered Shinto-like shrine through which viewers may pass into the apocalyptic, sci-fi samurai surrounds. Lording over the proceedings are colossal, space-age kongorikishi (Buddhist guardian statuary) in color-bleeding, high-finish resins. Among a few chrome-cast hybrid beings scattered about is a silver self-portrait (complete with the artist’s signature John Lennon glasses) as futuristic Bodhisattva, a beacon of hi-tech artistic authenticity to mediate industrial-strength, pending doom amidst lingering spirituality and still somehow joyful, preening display.
Syncretism is also a long-standing iconographic modus operandi for Francesco Clemente, continued in his “two tents,” (literally) juxtaposed as “angel” and “devil” abodes, here. Suggesting both nomadic dwellings and carnival set-ups, the make-shift structures are comprised of fabrics printed and painted with his also characteristic Indian-inspired figuration and palette. The interiors are adorned with enigmatic, symbol-laden narratives. One features Hindu-deity-derived, eroticized nudes, languid and surreal; the other, cartoony, top-hatted “confidence” men and more lustily naked women that suggest capitalistic trickery and hegemony (one figure has a distended globe-belly). Clemente’s autonomous-seeming, hands-hewn inscrutability here and generally is a refreshingly anathema to Murakami’s obsessively controlled, always expanding enterprise, the results of which are as impressively energetic as ever in the current show, not least in terms of formal invention. Both artists mash up diverse cultural remnants orbiting around their respective haunting dream worlds.
More Clemente: It’s always cool to visit the Rubin Museum, ever creative with its contemporary diasporaic, as well as localized, historical, and traditional, South East Asian presentations and programming. A small sampling of Clemente’s work in India over several decades (1980s into the new millennium) is not quite comprehensive enough to get a handle on either his specific inspirations, trajectory, or core aesthetic messages, however, is interesting in tandem with the compelling Boone installation. It’s a nice change in gallery context from the commercial scene of the early aughts when some of this work was debuted in New York alongside noisier “transavantguardia/neo-expressionist” painting; note especially some tiny, amber-toned, blotted watercolors of sexually engaged bodies, dual-purposed as intimate erotic imagery and records of Hindu temple carvings.
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 modusoperandi–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.
“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.
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).
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.
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.
. . . Abandoned, twister-blown, small-town toddler amusement park gracefully re-coagulated, tumbles and hovers into the white cube.
*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.
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".