For the latest installment of Bushwick Beat we saw a range of galleries, including those visited last month at 56 Bogart St., along with galleries located a little further down off of the L train.
Our first visit was to Luhring Augustine. The high profile gallery got its start in Chelsea, and when it opened a Bushwick branch, seemed to confer a new legitimacy to the predominantly small scale, artist run gallery scene. Other major Chelsea galleries have been more reluctant to expand to Bushwick, and Luhring Augustine remains somewhat unique in the landscape. As one of the largest spaces in Bushwick and certainly the most pristine, it truly feels like a portal across the river straight to Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood.
Artist Glenn Ligon showed a 7-channel video installation where each screen featured a different cropped view of Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip, the comedian’s standup special from 1982. Pryor has been an enduring interest for Ligon throughout his career, with Ligon’s text paintings often featuring quotes by the standup comic.
This performance by Pryor is notable for being his first appearance after an attempted suicide resulting from his drug addiction, which he speaks about candidly and at length in this segment. However, the frenetic cropping and jagged movements of Ligon’s work, titled simply “Live,” cuts out all of his dialogue. The installation forces the viewer to sit in silence while Pryor’s body is fragmented, highlighting Pryor’s physical tics and gestures alone, each one an overstatement of stereotypes pertaining to race and masculinity for black men. Surrounded by silence and darkness, to watch the installation is fascinating, bizarre, and charged with a social critique that is at once ambivalent as to its message and lacerated with an uncomfortable force.
We then made our way to 56 Bogart, where we saw the extremely cute sculptures of Elizabeth Ferry, featured in her solo exhibition, Shelf Life, at Honey Ramka.
The show consisted primarily of cartoonish depictions of snails, small figures that could have easily been swallowed up in the large gallery space. However, the artist took a novel approach to the installation in displaying the molluscs. Installing low shelves all along the perimeter, the little sculptures were discovered as visitors brushed past the wall. This changed the way one interacted with the gallery space causing the visitor to snake along the wall to observe each piece on an intimate, closeup scale.
The gallery was also filled with long, pebble-studded tables supporting clam-themed snow globes, a natural extension of the mollusc theme. Along the walls were brightly colored depictions of faces (presumably of snails) whose features were made by casting a variety of things, such as bananas and handprints, in plaster. Overall, the show was successful purely on the strength of its joyful and odd spirit of creation.
At Life on Mars gallery, a group show titled Ghost in the Machine was on view. It featured the work of artists David Humphreys and Austin Lee.
Lee’s application of spray paint in these works is surprisingly subtle and painterly given their paired down and cartoonish imagery. He manages to find a lot of detail, emotion and descriptive transitions in these works. What is especially arresting is the way that hard and soft edges define areas of the paintings, giving focus to the blues of eyes in one instance and dissolving upper lips in the shadow of giant noses in the next. This not only gives the works a sense of space and a strange relevance to photography, but delights the eye in figuring out how near or far the spray can was to the surface when each mark was made.
The other artist featured in the show, David Humphrey, mashes together figurative and abstract imagery with a dry and obscure sense of humor. His paintings are impossible to normalize despite being very clear. This is due in large part to how effortless, almost nonchalant, his transition is between recognizable things and indecipherable abstraction. Humphrey’s paintings speak to the possibility inherent in refusing the either/or proposition of abstraction and figuration that painting is so often reduced to.
Our last visit was to Microscope, one of the galleries located off of the Jefferson stop. The show featured work by Takahiko Iimura, a Japanese artist based in New York who has been making work with film and video in a career that spans five decades. The works on view in Seeing Double are sharply effective at presenting video and film as the subject of itself.
Across film projection, video recording and television display, each piece places the viewer in a non-place where recording and replay technology observes only the act of its own function, disconnected from human interest or further content. As a result, the show feels like a sanctuary and respite from our everyday interactions. Where so much of our lives is spent looking through screens, it is good to have an occasion to watch them from a distance.