Archive for June, 2013

From a Distance

Friday, June 21st, 2013

Negar Ahkami recently opened The Consumption, her second solo exhibition at Leila Heller Gallery.  Negar, an Iranian-American artist who works between sculpture and painting, figuration and abstraction, brings all of these modes together in new canvases and pseudo-ceramic sculptures that erupt with content.

Negar Ahkami, "Two Poles," 2013

Negar’s paintings depict narrative, surreal, and female-centric scenes and this show offers several versions of a central theme.  From painting to painting, women struggle in water.  They either pump their limbs underwater, or they flail above the water’s surface, clamoring for terra firma – or some other stable buoy.  The particular arrangements vary, but “head above water” is an insistent marquee for Negar’s imagery.

Negar Ahkami, "Mother and Child," 2012

A striking variation on this catastrophe occurs in two paintings: The Ecstasy of Doris Duke and Surround Sound.  Here, Negar takes a bird’s eye view as her women become disembodied in coruscating vortices.  Doris Duke, in particular,  wields a mesmerizing depth; the eye combs through flurries and brambles of white-limned water currents – or some other element.  What is the role of these spiraling sinews?  Could it be that Negar identifies with and beribbons Duke, the legendary and Western collector of Islamic art and architecture?  Or does this painting’s web contemplate the complicated layers of culture, history, and thought between today and the days of Shangri La?

Negar Ahkami, "The Ecstasy of Doris Duke," 2012

A consequence – or a cause – of Negar’s juggle of control and expression is that her paintings exude a purposefully decorative exuberance.  She unrelentingly accounts for every inch of her heterogeneous surfaces.  Blankets of patterns cross each other, matte meets gloss, and pictorial elements rise up in tactile relief.  There’s no doubt about Negar’s sincerity when she credits Iran’s lusterware and molded-relief ceramics, which, as described in the press release, “carry the potential for a Persian-Islamic art that can be as emotive and personal as the exaggerated gestures and drips of Western expressionism.”

Negar Ahkami, "The Water Is Turbid From Its Source," 2012

“I always felt that there should be an Islamic expressionism,” Negar said to the New York Times. “I especially wanted Persian art, which is so exquisite and refined, to be less removed from the angst that so many people there were feeling.”

Is Hasan Rowhani listening?

Ship Shapes

Saturday, June 1st, 2013
New Pier 57 plans

At the hip of the new Whitney Museum site and the foot of the High Line is Pier 57, a waterfront landmark built in 1952 and perched on floating, concrete caissons. Youngwoo & Associates, the developers behind the Chelsea Arts Tower and Chelsea’s Sky Garage Condominium, will restore and develop Pier 57 into a destination for “culture, commerce, & community” in the form of shipping containers – “Incuboxes” – that retailers may rent for $3000/month.  A sample of things to come, perhaps, was artist Garson Yu’s multimedia public art installation, The Interactive New York (T.I.N.Y.).


Garson Yu is the founder and creative director of yU+co is an international design and production studio with a mega-reel that includes Life of Pi, Watchmen, and 300, along with scores of commercials, logos, and title designs. So it’s no wonder that T.I.N.Y. functions and integrates so well in this industrial space.

Suave sieve

T.I.N.Y. consists of videos projected onto shipping containers that line the Pier’s interior walls.  Each container corresponds with a video loop and a microphone, humorously clad in a colander.  Visitors can whisper, speak, or shout into the microphone to skip the video forward or reel it back, depending on their pitch.  It causes freakish, but funny special effects.  An informal survey revealed that women evenly split between high-pitched “eeps” and low-pitched whispers; men looked on from a short distance until coaxed by friends.

Garson Yu (l) and Bing Lee (r)

The video projections look stunning in their lucidity and responsiveness, thanks to advanced programming and some seriously powerful hardware/and software.
  But that does not preclude some cultured amateurism: Yu’s college-aged son shot most of the videos – a close-up of a woman’s face, seagulls lilting in the sky, waves crashing on the beach, sidewalk surfers, a car rolling by.   And speaking of kids: a temporary tunnel with a sound-driven, interactive puzzle traverses the installation, offering more of an all-ages diversion.

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