Tag Archives: Sperone Westwater

Nauman Steps Out in/of Contrapposto in New Work

At Sperone Westwater (Bowery), through Oct. 29, 2016:

“Bruce Nauman: Contrapposto Studies, i  through vii”

It helps to know that you’re seeing the recent work of a video art  pioneer half a century ago.  Then you will trust in your immediate perception of dexterity with the medium in the shifting juxtapositions of unadorned, cropped images that characterize the featured, wall-scale projections.

Cognoscenti will come fully aware of Nauman’s widespread reputation as stark yet low-key Conceptual Art guru to several subsequent generations of artists to emerge out of the greater L.A. area.  Specialties: performances, alternatively, for the camera and recorded as documentation, that centralize the artist-body (as here) and word play–implied or directly, alternatively or mashed together–epitomized by the neon art signs for which he is best known.   Most compelling throughout his oeuvre is a unique dialectic tension between subversive, cultural erudition and dumb-deadpan humor–while his sense of form generally aligns with a Minimalist approach, i.e., serial, barely deviated repetitions, across still and moving, photographic and sculptural production.

So contrapposto is an over-determined sign–semiotically speaking–of the origins of western visual aesthetics–namely, anatomical mimesis idealized.  It’s a straight-ish line from 5th-c. (b.c.) Greece to late Rodin (at least)–with multitudes of related, even dogmatic, 2D production vis-a-vis the primacy of figuration, in between.  Suffice it to say, this  counter-poise pose has been fetishized as the birth of naturalism in figurative representation; and as such, a progressive step towards the self-conscious, gravitational human subject, as opposed to its otherworldly, stiff-kneed (votive) predecessors.  Nauman nudges it into movement through a series of essais, which gradually entice viewers to consider whether the ensuing visual rhythms are intuitive, algorithmic, or a potlatch combination reining in all sorts of other methodological possibilities as well as myriad associations.

These video “weavings” (note the one photo-stripped study included) have been generated by slicing and dicing sections of the bent/straight arm/leg pairing that define contrapposto, eking forward and back, flipped, reoriented, playing on negatives and positives–then montaged to evoke and juggle morphing, moon-walking, humpty-dumpties.  It only takes a few minutes to be mesmerized–and discreet pieces become more complex–i.e., pattern-like and pulsating, as one ascends the gallery’s ethereal floors.

I venture the series also encompasses a monumental wink at Duchamp’s mechanized send-up of the Classical subject in Nude Descending a Staircase (c. 1912); as, the Dada trickster has been a beacon for Nauman from early on (beginning with his now iconic performance/image series, Self Portrait as a Fountain, c. late 1960s, an homage to Duchamp’s infamous urinal-fountain, c. 1917).

Maybe it’s only four video takes–maybe it’s forty–with which Nauman has created and arranged these seemingly widely variegated non-narrative vignettes.  Maybe it’s partly a meditation on the hyped weight of art history–or a paean to its wellspring–probably both.  One thing for sure, he’s not just going through the motions–although it’s him going through the motions.

Post-Industrial Pop Pottery at Sperone Westwater

“Bertozzi & Casoni: Selected Works,” through July 24 at Sperone Westwater (Bowery).

Warhol’s afterlife never ends–what else could possibly come to mind upon entering a gallery full of seemingly worn Brillo boxes filled with the detritus of repeated re-use; culminating in a installational mound of them, upon which a dog looks for a spot to . . . whatever.  The rich visual and art-metaphoric semiotics already orbiting around these ostensibly “found” sculptural arrangements (and others in the show) are compounded upon realization of the ceramic–yes, trompe l’oeil ceramic–medium (all elements in most).

Bertozzi & Casoni; installation at Sperone Westwater, 6/27/17
Bertozzi & Casoni; installation detail; Sperone Westwater, 6/27/17

If it’s mimetic, it’s Renaissance illusionism, which is to say, Italian, which is to say, Giampaolo Bertozzi and Stefano dal Monte Casoni, the pair behind this dazzling display of faux-foraged debris, also partly indebted to postwar arte povera.  That shows especially in the construction-qua-paintings, such as a splashy, psychedelic, Rube Goldberg plumbing parts wall piece–except that it’s really ceramic–and another featuring gridded first-aid tins (yes, ceramic approximations), opened and filled with time-capsule, Surrealist-like artifacts.CAM00700

Bertozzi & Casoni, at Sperone Westwater, 6/27/15
Bertozzi & Casoni; installation detail; Sperone Westwater, 6/27/15

The art historical evocations are multitudinous, from Giorgio Di Chirico and Joseph Cornell to the white-washed stacked wooden-crate abstractions of Louise Nevelson to Robert  Rauschenberg’s 3-D graffito recycling and a Beuysian sense of mutable materiality; not to mention (less so) Damien Hirst’s sanitized art-medicine cabinet works also created in the late first decade of the new millennium.  The mode and modality of simulacra here recalls the realist sculptural fabrications of Robert Gober; and the Cuban art collaborative (now duo), Los Carpinteros, who similarly conceptualize and execute workshop-style craftsmanship to complicate spatial, optical, and conceptual expectations for art.

There’s a very cool Alberto Burri / Takashi Murakami / beehive- environmental mash-up skull “painting,” again, remarkably, of ceramic manufacture.  You may get the idea, but, really, you have to be there.

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)

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.