Author Archive

Hybrid States

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

Andrew Edlin Gallery features two simultaneous shows, or two related shows, or a show with a prologue.  However you parse PURPLE STATES and Cafe Dancer Pop Up, remember to consider the source.  Sam Gordon, the curator, has explored in his own art the slippery space between art objects and their surroundings.  So it follows that his curated projects would have similarly porous boundaries.

svablogpurplestates5

Sam Gordon, “Cafe Dancer (Collage), No. 2″, 2014

That is, his tromp l’oeil paintings, exhibited at Feature in 2012, dissolved hierarchies between painting materials, such paint and canvas, and personal artifacts, like clothing remnants, studio sweepings, hair, and used matches.  Likewise, these shows at Edlin stitch themselves to each other and carry along the social artifacts supporting them. Moreover, these shows take on the “insider-outsider” binary, employing it to reconsider each category and to synthesize hybrid results.

svablogpurplestates6

Gone Fishin’ at Edlin Gallery

The “insider” part comes from Cafe Dancer Pop Up, for which Sam Gordon collaborates with artists/dancers Jessie Gold and Elizabeth Hart.  Together, they dress up the gallery’s reception area into a Cafe Dancer “satellite” titled Gone Fishin’, which is inspired by Gold’s and Hart’s real-life Cafe Dancer at 96 Orchard Street, a reliable site for performances and exhibitions, and a partner of the NADA art fair.  (See?  Deep inside.)  Works by artists from the Cafe Dancer scene line the long corridor of the gallery, especially artists with significant exposure that includes solo shows, art fairs, and/or residencies.  Some exceptions are Arley Marks and Monique Mouton, artists whose work I haven’t seen, but will follow.

svablogpurplestates3

PURPLE STATES at Andrew Edlin Gallery

The “outsider” part is PURPLE STATES. A serigraph print by Sister Corita Kent literally points visitors “One Way” from the corridor to the main gallery space, where new and older art fuel each other.  Dense zoning and bold layering open up the breadth and potency of individual works.  We see how insider art often shares phylogenetic traits with outsider art, each occasionally passing as the other, and how insider art might be excused of the obsessive and pathological myths of outsider art.  Lest we forget.  Otherwise, a viewer can at least appreciate being steeped among art made by skilled artists who engage with their work through materials just as much as through concept.

svablogpurplestates2

Paul Chan and Henry Darger

Paul Chan’s crisp matrix of girls with penises pairs up with super-outsider Henry Darger’s Flamingo Abbieannian Girlscouts and reminds us that well-established artists like Chan can be indebted to (and just as freaky as) outsiders like Darger, for whom girls weren’t always female.  Elisabeth Kley’s ceramic cage alone would strike me as complex and crafty, but Howard Finster’s apocalypse diorama turns it into a cage or disaster-bound vessel, while her ink filigree scroll maps out as spiraling missiles or black flowers from heaven.  Tenuous landscape unites Brian Adam Douglas’ A Quietus with the hallucinatory facescape watercolor by Agatha Wojciechowsky.

svablogpurplestates1

A cosmic target icon made of thread and paint by Tony Cox accompanies a provocative naturalist motif by Forrest Bess, a “visionary” (which means “outsider”) recently resurrected for the 2012 Whitney Biennial, who earned six shows with Betty Parsons Gallery, the leading AbEx gallery, a historical fact that “demonstrates the extent to which this outsider was also very much an insider.”  Next to it, the guitar-shaped icon by Guo Fengyi reminds me of Bess’ self-administered genital modification, the documents of which he unsuccessfully attempted to exhibit alongside his paintings at Betty Parsons.

svablogpurplestates4

Josh Blackwell’s embroidered plastic bags reanimate remnants, a meaningful process especially next to a pistachio shell painting by Lucky De Bellevue, who is also in the Dancer show, and who pairs well with Thornton Dial.  And the Morton Bartlett bare-legged doll photos, combined with Gina Beavers’ sculptural hand paintings, could spawn a new show about animism (or spanking).  Almost everything in this show is worth mentioning, and the connections are as fluid as observation allows.  But the mystic launch happens in a symmetrical shrine ensemble that includes Brion Gysin, Steve DiBenedetto, Emery Blagdon, Richard Tuttle, an anonymous artist’s Tantric paintings, and drawings from the Korwa people of Uttar Pradesh.  In this corner of the show, automatic writing, ritual, and asceticism join forces with itinerancy and travel – of the body, mind, and soul.

Disperse!

Friday, August 1st, 2014

Covered in plastic sheets, The Hole looks like a construction site or maybe a quarantine zone, which we might need. But look at the airbrushed and spray painted art in the show and you’ll get the joke.  Go With The Flow assembles artists working with sprayed paint, “from aerosol to airbrush” and spanning abstraction, cartooning, and minimalism.

svablogthehole1

At The Hole: (l-r) Michael Dotson, Trudy Benson, Greg Bogin, Michael Staniak, Zane Lewis

When I think of airbrush, I imagine boardwalk T-shirts; when I think of spray paint, I imagine graffiti. But a bit more thinking opens up other fronts.  According to the gallery:

“Surrealists explored the nascent technology, Kandinsky, too; and really not too much else went on in sprayed painting besides a 60s L.A. airbrush movement or Jules Olitski until the slick fabrication art of the 90s upsurge in industrial painting techniques. After digital technology made the world of images screenic and pixelated, gradients reappeared in painting as a mainly digital aesthetic with compressors the easiest way to achieve them in painting.  Simultaneous to all this, of course, the 70s and 80s birthed graffiti culture, the single most impactful global image movement, and the world’s cities have been covered in spray ever since.”

svablogthehole2

Katsu (l), Adam Henry (r)

So how do we respond to the relative immobility of a technique native to tourist kitsch, industrial manufacturing, and graffiti?  For contrast, just consider the importance of atomization to agriculture, science, war, and leisure.  Crop dusting still treats some of our farmland, the CERN supercollider uncovered the Higgs boson after smashing particles to make sub particles, and the U.S. has just recently destroyed all of Syria’s weaponized chemical gases, hopefully.  The market for atomized e-cigarette sales is surpassing $2 billion, while the industry for atomized fragrances is rising toward $33 billion.  And Richard Kuklinski infamously killed his victims with atomized cyanide.

svablogthehole4

(l-r) Keltie Ferris, Rosson Crow, Timothy Uriah Steele, Greg Bogin

So for art, why has atomized paint failed to leap to “fine art” from boardwalk T-shirts and automobiles?  Atomized paint mostly remains in the terrain of fabrication, not painting as painting.  A few exceptions come to mind, including the artists in this show.  But after 800 years of Western 2-D painting, the brush still dominates, despite other technological innovations, such as tubed paint, synthetic colors, and reproduction techniques.   Then again, almost all paint originates from pigment, which already is nearly atomized, so maybe there’s your answer: the technology was there from the start.

svablogthehole5

Dennis Hoekstra

Pablo Honey

Monday, July 28th, 2014

SVA Summer Residencies alum Pablo Jansana is included in the summer group show at Eleven Rivington, always a go-to space for smart exhibitions.  Art in America describes Jansana’s work as “crisply geometric“.  Indeed, his sculptures are savvy and sharp (in both senses); aluminum slats slice through mysterious, fragmented photographic substrates.  Nearby, dry drips line the edges of his big, black diptych, which seems to stretch like a tar-covered tent over a stake.  (Pushing from beneath it must be the ghost of Steven Parrino.)  Especially when combined with Letha Wilson’s photographic sculptures, one can see welcoming context for Jansana’s work, beginning with artists like John Baldessari, Matthew Brandt, and Marlo Pascual.

svablogjansana2

SVA Residencies alum Pablo Jansana at Eleven Rivington

svablogjansana1

SVA Residencies alum Pablo Jansana at Eleven Rivington

Boom and Doom

Monday, July 21st, 2014

To follow up on my recent post about Warm Up 2014…

After a week of bad news around the world, Warm Up brought some good news: techno is here to stay. With a premium line-up of Robert Hood, Objekt, Rrose, Vatican Shadow, Container, and Young Male, the techno takeover made strong arguments for the genre’s durability and innovation.  This resilience and flexibility was reflected in the metallic silver and gold grid quilts onstage, designed by CONFETTISYSTEM, who also are included in NYC Makers: The MAD Biennial.

svablogwarmupvans

Darth Vader: so techno (white socks: not so much)

I missed Young Male, but Container, Vatican Shadow, and Rrose explored the darker, dystopian, and dyspeptic corners of the genre. To hear these artists was to confront hours of rumbling, blasts, drones, and unsettling sounds of conflict that seemed to push PS1′s powerful speakers to the edge, no small task:

“The speaker system has a total power rating of about 40,000 watts. The speakers are my latest design, utilizing drivers from the best manufacturers in  the world. The main cabinet houses 20 high-power devices and the curvature is critical, using technology discovered by the Navy in the 1970s! The large subwoofers are 21″ in diameter and 4000 watts each. You may have noticed that some of the speaker cabinets were not painted yet – that’s because we just built them. We are currently comparing 18″ and 21″ subwoofer designs and tweaking the tuning each week. This is what we love about Warm Up, it is a fantastic event for us to run our latest designs through their paces.” -Jim Toth, acoustics sage

svablogwarmupcontainer

Container at Warm Up 2014

Saturday’s performances, which generated a giddy and friendly vibe on the dancefloor, sounded like Detroit techno clocking in for its latest shift in a 30-year legacy, paved by industrial, electropop, and acid house (and pioneered by artists with names like Underground Resistance, who performed in ski masks and combat suits).

svablogwarmupvatican

Vatican Shadow at Warm Up 2014

Saturday’s crushing soundscapes were initiated by Container’s live set, featuring agile and elastic collisions of distorted thumps and hammering rhythms, and embodied by the visibly agitated Vatican Shadow, who accompanied his murky doom beats with physical headbanging, writhing, grimacing, and shouting, and even hectoring the audience for not dancing. Occasionally danceable, his 4/4 beats bubbled up from a noisy, growling morass signifying decline, dissolution, and doom. Wartime techno. The military industrial complex crushing museums and hospitals. On point!  His stage aerobics distracted me from his fluid, ambitious, and militant vision, especially among the other, more ice-faced DJs. Then again, who am I to judge someone else’s catharsis, channeling everything that is wrong around us, a catharsis I also envied from Container’s live set?

Objekt instantly transformed the scene and repopulated the dance floor with fecund, full-spectrum, and crackling dance beats. His acceptably peaktime jams sent many hands upward, but artists like Robert Hood are there to take us infinitely higher and higher. Hood, a Detroit techno pioneer now living in Alabama as a DJ/Christian minister*, opened with Floorplan (his alias) – Never Grow Old, brought cheers with The Bells by fellow post-Detroiter Jeff Mills, warmed it up with Chicago – Street Player, and closed with – what else? – Blue Monday.

svablogwarmupobjekt

Objekt at Warm Up 2014

svablogwarmuphood

Robert Hood at Warm Up 2014

And then it was over. Back to earth. Back to Detroiters without water.  Back to South American kids stranded in Texas.  Back to Eric Garner dead in Staten Island.  Back to MH17 scattered over Ukraine.  Back to “Israel uses its missiles to protect citizens, whereas Hamas uses citizens to protect its missiles.” -Till next time.

*Robert Hood on the hope of techno: “If you picture yourself as a young Luke Skywalker, with no Jedi training, and you meet this guy Mojo, or Obi Wan Kenobi, and he’s training you to use the force—at first you’re clumsy with it, you don’t know what you’re doing, but once you learn to harness the power of the force, when an adversary is coming against you, the enemy, he don’t even know who he’s messing with. So I guess the sinister strings and the power in those Detroit techno strings, that’s the force.”  -So techno! 

A Dozen Surprises

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

Through his career of over 20 years, Robert Melee has famously combined objects, performances, and environments that he augments with his signature, and often disfiguring, Midas touch.  Central to this oeuvre are his photographs, but this fact might not have been obvious before a dozen roses, his new solo show at Higher Pictures.

svablogmelee2

Robert Melee, “Facelift,” 1997 (l), “Penthouse,” 2002 (r)

In most of their prior appearances, Robert’s photographs have been integrated into his excellent “Units.”  In those compartmentalized, multi-media structures, Robert’s photos are almost indiscriminately crammed together with videos, party decorations, bric-a-brac, and disposable goods.  In this visual forcefeeding, the photos can get subsumed into the swirling marbleized surfaces and rigid planar geometries of the hosting Unit.  They remain within, unlike Freudian slips.

Yet, on a closer look, the photographs decode valuable scripts written through our Melee-ology.  Collected together, they are like a Rosetta Stone.  They are capsules of Robert’s performative values, which include bare flesh, movement, fetish, and unflinching sexuality.  One individual emerges as their champion.  The undisputed queen of Melee-mania is his mother, Rose.  “Mommy” is the star and muse of Robert’s suburban glamour, and of this selection of photos from his photographic catalog.

Most of these shoots with Mommy have been spontaneous: Robert visited her in New Jersey, the tempo quickened, and Robert whipped out his camera.  He styled her and arranged props and lighting.  He gently directed her, but Mommy seized the moment and improvised her role.  From looking alone, we don’t know enough about what these shoots have meant to Robert and Mommy, so we can’t comment on the power dynamics.*

svablogmelee1

Robert Melee, “Kitchen Table,” 1998 (l), “On the Road,” 1993 (r)

Indeed, if we didn’t know the story, would we guess that she is the artist’s mother?  The woman in these photos is mercurial, vivacious, clownish, and licentious.  Those qualities suit a cabaret performer or movie star.  But a mother?  Aren’t we culturally conditioned to seek other signs of motherhood, even for an adult son?  There are fictional precedents for all kinds of outrageous, discordant, or even villainous mothers: Norma Bates in Psycho, Eleanor Iselin in The Manchurian Candidate, Babs Johnson in Pink Flamingos, Livia Soprano in The Sopranos.  But for artistic glimpses of real-life mothers of adult sons, many of us are accustomed to being fed mothers with domestically acclimated postures, tempered gazes, perseverance, and quiet dignity, despite the rocky pluralism of actual mothers.**

What drives these photos, among other things, is how we see Robert’s mother perform and behave in ways we don’t ascribe to mothers, and that is a chance to ask ourselves when our own mothers surprised us by stepping out from behind their motherly veils.  Whose mother hasn’t ruptured the patterns of motherhood with an unexpected opinion, outburst, or act, or even an unprecedented habit?  And maybe those surprises aren’t as extreme as Mommy’s misadventures, but is extreme degree the only difference?

*John Mendelsohn interprets Robert’s work with his mother as reenactment.  He writes of Robert’s Mommy videos, and I see no reason to exclude Robert’s photographs here: “These ‘home movies’ were in a sense caricatured portraits of a fraught relationship performed as farce or psychodrama.” Sculpture Magazine, November 2010

**Luckily, Richard Billingham, Leigh Ledare, and other demographically comparable artists have helped to diversify this field of imagery.