By: Jonathan Judd
November 2, 2015
Entering the Andrea Rosen Gallery, at the opening for their latest exhibition, one finds the pervasive presence of security personnel near almost every one of the sculptural works on display. The collective sculptural works form the basis for a traveling retrospective and solo-exhibition of large scale figural sculptures by Polish born artist Alina Szapocznikow. And the security presence adds to an already surreal atmosphere wherein each figural form seems to be in a process of metamorphosis and mutation, decomposition or expansion. It leads the viewer, or at least this viewer, to conceive of these guards as personal watchmen for each entity, keeping the public from touching their fleshy, endlessly malleable forms but also protecting the public from becoming part of the mutation and transformation! The piece titled Alex (1970) takes the photographic image of a smiling woman and encases it in a flattened cocoon of resin. Standing at over 5’ tall, a play of transparency and opacity occurs in Alex where glimpses of fleshy torso, leg and stomach can be seen, a sweater and jeans are embedded in the form, mangled and detached from the one they are meant to cloth. Moving around the sculpture one is challenged to read what is at once human and subhuman.
This amazing collection that brings together Szapocznikow’s work from the 60’s and 70’s, seems poised on the very brink of carnal desires and instinctive human fears. In her life size human resin cast of a nude male, Piotr (1972), the body is pale and wan, and it cantilevers out from the feet creating an uneasy tension in the space it inhabits, leaving the viewer to feel the weight and torpor of the form. Moving around Piotr, you find yourself haunted and enchanted by the mixture of catatonia and orgasm or perhaps narcotic pleasure; he is vulnerable yet unfazed. Overall, here, one is forced to reconcile the real significations, either socially ascribed or personally felt, which one reads from physical forms. Once the human body becomes tampered with its textures and presence distorted, we reveal the ways actions and gestures, our physicality itself, become signs to read and interpret.
Szapocznikow embraces a deeper personal and psychological terrain but in doing so also touches on collective psychological pressure points and social significations. Viewing works like Illuminated Woman or Souvenir, one is overwhelmingly faced with partial elements of the human body, exploded forms that conjure fleeting glances and encounters, moments of passion and desire. As the gallery’s press release states, these are “visceral sculptures that unravel gravity and composition – to explore what she saw as the most vulnerable of all ephemeral manifestations, the human body.” As a holocaust survivor, the artist clearly carries a complex negotiation with trauma and experience forward into her work, as this seems to inform the relation between human vulnerability and conditional extremes, a bridge between the personal and social, the historical and psychological.
October 18, 2015
Scale can make all the difference in a serious collection of figurative portraits or studies, a scale that mimics life size gives figures a type of solid monumentality that invites them into the viewer’s space. For centuries this life size figurative scale was reserved for portraits of kings, gods and mythic personages, here at Sargent’s Daughters on 179 East Broadway in New York, Jordan Casteel uses it as a tactic for humanization. In her exhibition of large scale oil paintings, most around 5 by 6 feet, titled Brothers, Casteel brings before the viewer the faces and forms of African American men, inhabiting the unique environments, really interior spaces, to which they belong. Walking through the gallery, you could see that the diverse crowd present at the opening, faced each painting as if it was an encounter with a familiar friend or new acquaintance. The textured application of paint in works like Crockett Brothers and Ashamole Brothers, renders the surfaces and interiors with an impasto that makes them tangible and felt. Within Three Lions this becomes evident as intimate scene links with figural interrelation, expression and gesture.
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Considering each piece, one must step back and meet the gaze of the figures portrayed, take the time to consider them first as individuals then as intricately linked, as family, as brothers, overall part of a community. The figures are portrayed with key objects that represent their passions and interests: the young Crockett brother dexterously grips his saxophone and the Ashamole brothers balance a basketball between them. First by intuition, then by reflection it becomes clear that Casteel is deploying crucial and timely tactics of humanization, we are allowed into these intimate spaces in order to point up a positive type of visibility that complicates black male subjective. For Casteel concerns herself directly with a contemporary post-Ferguson reality, wherein civil rights struggle is back at the fore and black males have become highly visible within media and news, reduced to being antagonists or victims. When social progress comes under fire, it is art’s job to intervene and create a space for reflection: this exhibit, these paintings, are Casteel’s intervention…
A most necessary one.
September 27, 2015
Entering the gallery space on the 6th floor of the Gagosian building on Madison Avenue, you are immediately met by a series of drawings that cover the three main walls. At first glimpse they seem to have no real distinguishing qualities between them, just monochromatic marks on paper: each piece framed and hung next to the other with marks that vary in density and thickness. Then you step closer and see that the central wall contains many more small scale drawings, arranged in a grid-like configuration, and the outer walls balance this perfectly with larger more complex drawn works, this is a collection of Richard Serra’s most recent creative expression, Ramble Drawings. Serra is an artist that constantly needs to engage with form, tracing various architectural, sculptural and natural forms in a never-ending attempt to understand the way we move through space. Usually we find Serra engaged in the creation of large-scale sculptural forms that use heavy duty industrial materials to shape and form the viewer/ participant’s notion of space. But here we see him move to the 2-dimensional plane, as he puts Litho crayon, black pastel and powder to paper.
In this series of drawings Serra creates a curtain before the viewer, as he attempts to once again search out the dense forms that proliferate his sculptural work. Marks from the various monochromatic media he uses accumulate until a density appears that takes the shape of undulating form, seeming to grasp at the textural surfaces of his usual industrial sculptural materials. One is unnerved and disoriented looking back and forth between the drawings where the curved, undulations pulse, either shallow and light or dark and deep. Unlike his sculptures or even the site sketches that he uses as sculptural blueprints to plan his monumental works, these give the viewer no space for reflection but demand attention.
September 26, 2015
With the right kind of motivation and a well-planned layout, one can hop across Brooklyn from one gallery opening to the next, and get the full and rich depth that this exciting fall 2015 season has to offer in the Brooklyn art world. Start off on the top of the map, use for your absolute guide and bible Brooklyn’s very own Wagmag, a comprehensive guide to the ever increasing gallery spread in Brooklyn, and get ready for the Greenpoint exhibition spaces. In particular I would recommend checking Heliopolis gallery, Yes Gallery, Java Studios and all the way up on Green Street you can work your way into the intimate space of the 106 Greene gallery.
Specifically at the 106 Greene space they’re exhibiting a solo exhibition from Brooklyn based artist Phoebe Berglund, Waiting in Line, where the artist uses assorted materials including dirt, concrete, bananas and stilettos all pieces from which she cantilevers her deconstructed, heavily painted frames. This work provokes the viewer to consider urban decay and the nature of our built environment, always subject to time and erosion. Commodity culture and technological innovation are foiled by man’s impotence to reconcile with his own temporal limits his finite nature and ultimate mortality. But this will only be your starting point, the beginning of a journey that leads on through all the diverse creative approaches and unique spaces Brooklyn’s art scene has on offer this season.
Next on the list, travel down to the very epicenter, where Brooklyn’s gallery spaces just keep emerging with work that attracts and provokes. This is the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn and here there are galleries ranging from obscure and small, like the City Reliquary or The Boiler, to larger older and more established exhibition spaces like the WAH Center or Brooklyn Art Library. On display in one smaller but worthwhile gallery, Moiety Gallery, a body of work from the French multi-media artist Thomas Mailaender, this exhibition is a series Mailaender has titled 1998. This title brings along with it a functional signification as it directs the viewer to the fact that Mailaender has decided to bypass the use of newer materials and technological processes to develop his distinct photographic collages.
Instead what Mailaender has done here is carry the imagery from his youth, a compilation of found internet images that pre-date the ability to instantly call up images by the thousands via search engine, forward re-examining bizarre images from the early days of computer development. Endured to the process of photomontage Mailaender uses this analog process by taking his images from their digital base and collaging hard copies, then recapturing the images now as collisions between disjointed imagery. In the final prints we see a mixture that combines the grotesque, the tabloid bizarre and the uncanny, a wonderful dizzying popular culture hybrid. Images range from the a carnival extra with bloated stomach drawn on with circular designs to a Neanderthal man and his 20th century wife who has just given birth to an alien child, these call up the late 90’s trash tabloid culture that exists and becomes even more distorted as nostalgic references to a recent past when computer technology was just emerging and remained rough and unrefined in its early stages.
Next stop along the seemingly endless gallery spree that exists within Brooklyn’s ever growing, ever thriving fine art scene, the Bushwick area offers some truly exceptional galleries and exhibition spaces, what I have found is that Bushwick specifically holds some of the greatest performance art spaces. Tucked under the j-train overpass, along the Broadway strip, there are galleries like The Living Gallery, Wayfarers, Good Work Gallery and my personal favorite, Grace Exhibition Space. Here, in these spaces, a cultivated atmosphere has arisen for multi-media and performance works, even large scale installations, to co-exist and spark endless discussion and debate. At the Grace Exhibition Space, during the entire fall art season into the December, there will be a collection of Performances curated by Whitney V. Hunter, the current David C. Driskell PhD Fellow at the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts. This series of Performances titled The Sphinx Returns, seeks to promote the idea and discussion of performance art as the center for myth and ritual in our contemporary lives, injection a sense of the mysterious and the fantastic; but also taking on tough issues like race, gender and sexuality, marginalization and art criticism. I was lucky enough to be present at the opening for the first performance series and what a complete and spectacular adventure, pieces by international artists Hector Canonge and Lion Ayodele, took the body as a site for past traumas and allowed the viewer to contemplate modern identity in relation to art history and world history.
So get out and explore the expanding art world around you, if you are working and/or living in NYC from Queens to Brooklyn, Manhattan to Harlem there is art all around you. I have laid out for you some great spots to visit on the Brooklyn art scene, but all over the city the exhibition season has started and shows will be continuously opening, from the smallest gallery to the largest museum exhibition. Get out and see what is on offer this season in NYC, and if you are in the borough of Brooklyn then you know what to do, take that winding art trail throughout the urban environs and seek out something culturally uplifting.
Recently, visiting the Five Myles gallery located on St Johns Place, just off of Franklin Ave, I witnessed a group of young musicians and visual artists converge on a singular opportunity to occupy a space, inviting the viewer to slip into an immersive audio-visual experience. At Five Myles, the group of artists behind the aptly named, “Ashcan Orchestra,” opened up the show; on the main-stage would be what the composer Jonah Rosenberg labeled as an “electro-acoustic chamber opera,” under the title of “Ode to Jackeen.”
The chamber opera, consisting of four musicians on various instruments, including percussion, flute, acoustic guitar and violin, combines the Ensemble Sans Maître, with the composer’s vision for a performance based on counter-cultural, beat author Kenneth Patchen’s “The Journal of Albion Moonlight.” But, you may ask, a bit facetiously, where does the opera come in? Well, accompanying this tribe of art school experimentalists is a singular feminine figure, tall, lithe and hauntingly evanescent; from this figure, the operatic tremolo issues, charging the entire piece with a shocking Gothic flare of tradition, in the service of a neo-expressionist cacophony. More on this later, but first to give a little more detail on the opening performance and the inspired Five Myles program that makes events like this possible.
Five Myles gallery, as they express in their mission statement online, works with the local community in midtown Brooklyn where they are situated. Local artists and musicians during the summer season are allowed to invade the gallery space with absolutely no charge, putting on unique, experimental performances, exhibits and concerts for anyone who shows up. This is something that they call the “Space Program,” and it was this program that brought this extraordinary group of young artists together.
Now to go into further detail on the opening performance, the Ashcan Orchestra,” takes this traditional label at its very root, to orchestrate, what they achieve is a simultaneous orchestration of sound, light, rhythm and movement. In this performance one first encounters the totemic like structure that they’ve crafted for the show: a cubic piece, rising to around four feet constructed with wood, lights and wire. Around this structure the artists group themselves with a collection of bells, xylophones, toys and objects, and so the sound begins and the lights fire off on the totem like some monstrous traffic light given consciousness. Producing a panoply of dissonant chords, vibrations and notes they build the sound to moments of discomfort, shocking the listener as if to shatter an innocent moment of childhood nostalgia. The entire performance ripples with dreamlike incongruity and creates strange audio-visual combinations that both stimulate and unnerve the viewer, an experience that I highly recommend.
Following the Ashcan performance, there comes the next re-evaluation and subtle deconstruction of traditional highbrow elitist cultural music formats, this was witnessed in the “Ode to Jackeen.” The performance began and it was immediately clear that this was not going to be a smooth harmonic display, a display of virtuosity by the musicians, yes, but in dissonant chords and jarring climaxes where the instruments seemed to almost shriek and jabber in unison with the persona of Joe Bobo. Images were projected onto a screen doubling as backdrop and stage set, as the ensemble played around the poetry inspired by the composer channeling wild beat lyricism. But aside from this, constant bits of narrative interlude would fall into place between operatic bursts and the convulsive notes of the ensemble.
This is where my interest was piqued, for on the whole there was an abstract and almost universalizing quality to the piece that rendered impressions of inner psychic torment, the surreal torpor of unconscious dreamscapes. However, this use of a narrative overlay pulled the piece together and gave it a substantive ground and context. Then it came to me, before me was a necessary continuance of Dada Theater, the amalgam of Dada’s symbolist poetics and anarchic style, overlaid into the beat generation’s project, driven by a wild denunciation of bourgeois morals and restrictive normative codes. Originally, this anarchic theater that took confusion, irrationality and the de-hierarchizing of fine art, feeding directly into an epistemological crisis over what art could be and who was authorized to produce it, was born of post-war tension and trauma. Here, we see that war has continued by any other means, for now it is the war of the self against the socialized norms encoded within, psychic trauma writ large.
Ultimately, this particular muse from the beat generation emerges from Burroughs’ dark corridors of the movement, that prose which attempted to capture the raw reality of mid-twentieth American subjectivity, a subjectivity constantly put upon by an ever more institutionalized and bureaucratized social-landscape. Joe Bobo our hapless character within the narrative skit is a Kerouacian “dharma bum,” a “desolation angel” simply trying to get a meal, get some kicks and explore the American roadways, but he is beset upon by sinister and sterile medical personnel representing the terror of the juridico-medical discourse that labels and apprehends all those that do not conform to a call for ceaseless productivity and middle-class norms. In this way, the sublime crescendos of the ensemble become Bobo’s psychological discontent, his strange medicated visions, and distorted hysteric hallucinations made manifest. This is an authentic channeling of the beat project and a worthwhile experience, if the ensemble reunites make sure to be in the crowd.