New Works and the Avenue A Cut-Out Theatre is Anton van Dalen’s first show with P.P.O.W and his first solo exhibition in eight years.
A forty-year resident of the East Village, Anton van Dalen is a neighborhood icon. For decades, his work has documented and depicted the problems of his dynamic neighborhood and its looming surroundings, from junkie dystopia to bank-branch mall. Along with making art, he breeds white pigeons from his Avenue A rooftop and reportedly kept roosters in his home. And he assisted Saul Steinberg, secretly, for thirty years. His paintings commingle these influences: several of these East Village views are from up high and employ the “graphic clarity” that van Dalen has described of Steinberg: “the idea of drawing with a single line, no shading, etc.”
New Works is a series of paintings that feature the new East Village, fully “cleaned up” and luxury-class. Van Dalen selects the polarized colors of sunrise and sunset, perhaps to coordinate with his diurnal pigeon schedule. Van Dalen’s street scenes look flattened and blocky, like colorful dioramas or stage sets, offering a noncommittal interpretation that might be an adaptation to a changing neighborhood. Instead of realism, Van Dalen expresses his vision of the East Village in a naive, though skillful, painting style based in drawing and rich in geometries, figuration, and perspective: just short of cartoonish Canaletto.
The colorful naïvete relents in Avenue A Cut-Out Theatre, the set for his one-man puppet show, which he has previously performed at MoMA and the New York Historical Society. Here, Van Dalen stages violent clashes with police in riot gear. Could this be his telling of the brutal repression, usually invisible, that paves the way for a more user-friendly East Village? Driving out the undesirables?
If so, then we can look for skepticism in Van Dalen’s vision of Alphabet City coexistence. Answers might await when he performs at PPOW next weekend. For now, check out this great interview at Interview with Martha Wilson.