February Art Crawl
By Keane A. Pepper
... Trees and politics, these are two themes I have been forced to
contend with lately. The politics I get, we've got a neo-con, religious
conservative issuing patriarchal orders from Washington, which causes
me to scream "Fuck!" for no apparent reason like I've got
Tourette's syndrome at the mere thought of his name. The same impulse
has caused better people than myself to make intelligent and provocative
art in response. Liselot Van Der Heijden's spare video installation
at Schroeder Romero is a case in point. Her large projection of a
dying Zebra on the plains of Africa and vultures' tearing at something
make an implicit critique of American foreign policy that resonates
beyond politics into existential angst. The extreme close up of Zebra,
actually a one-minute loop of its last breath, is projected on a
large white wall in the dimmed gallery. In the adjacent room, as
the carrion tear away at some pitiful beast text like "This
is not about oil," from Bush's mouthpiece, Ari Fleischer are
flashed over the gruesome scene and noise. Together, the two short
video loops are unnerving metaphors for the grim results of our foreign
policy while echoing our inevitable fate. Van Der Heijden conveys
this with economy and grace, something uncommon in the often lengthy
and self-indulgent world of video art. Her photographs of visitors
photographing scenic dioramas at the Natural Museum of History are
straight forward critiques of constructed representations, while
the videos display a strong political will showing the duplicitous
manipulation of language and appearances. ...
2004 is here and after a brief respite, I am back to deliver terribly
subjective reviews of the 'supposed' art I keep seeing. While
I entertained the idea of some kind of best of the heap for January,
I decided to leave that kind of arbitration to professionals.
I spent December drinking. I am still drinking, but I actually
left my apartment to look at the first round of this year's shows.
My reticent friend L accompanied me despite the possibility of
frostbite and my endless stream of comments. We met for a foamy
cup of beer before setting out into the frigid air.
The air outside might not have been as cold as Kenn Bass's multimedia
installation at Roebling Hall. Composed of three major pieces,
a set of drawing machines, a video projection triptych, and a greenhouse,
Bass's show had the feeling of an intellectual exercise. While
L and I watched the video montage of bits of text and images with
some interest, the rest of the show was pretty oblique and emotionally
chilly. The large greenhouse had some transparencies regarding
history or something, but remained out of my reach. I stared dumbly
at the drawing machines for a while, but having seen the idea done
repeatedly, I tried to make connections between some kind of seismology
and ecological concerns to no avail. Basically, the dimmed gallery
seemed hopelessly pretentious and inaccessible. We left in search
of some emotional warmth.
We braved the cold until we reached 31 Grand for Tim Wilson's show
of photographic oil paintings. I made my way around the gallery
trying to bite my tongue. Let me make it clear, these represent
the worst impulses of post-modern painting. It is everything that
my pal Greenberg was against, the kitschy and already digested
subject matter. Wilson's soft focus and candy coated surface are
immediately appealing, and like all good candy, they pack a quick
rush and little substance. Ah, what the hell, if these were ironic
gestures, they would be great parodies of Modernist painting, almost
the antithesis of Greenberg's prescriptions, but they aren't. L
didn't think so either. She made an ugly face at me across the
gallery, and she didn't have to say another word. And for the record,
Greenberg secretly wished he could paint like Rockwell too, or
in this case, Richter, but demanded more of himself and art than
Our disappointment was soothed after our arduous trek around
the corner to *sixty seven gallery. Once inside, I stood next to
the furnace they call a space heater and admired Chris Caccamise's
happy like sculptures. One brown tree with blue leaves struck me
as particularly wonderful. L wandered about, looking at the crowded
group show, The Neon Forest is my Home. Walking around the room,
I found Liam Everett's quietly surreal pencil drawings on beige
paper held my interest. I enjoyed the restraint in his silly narratives
like an ape on the wing of plane. Anke Sievers' small paintings
on paper had a strange voice to them. In brightly colored landscapes,
fire, water, and stone are accompanied by texts like "Gabriel
the Archangel" imbuing the scenes with a religious tone that
seemed oddly profound. I found them quite suggestive beyond their
intimate scale and awkwardly handled surface. Sari Carel's large
painting of horses had a weird My little Pony vibe going, far different
from the muted canvasses I'd seen a while back at Momenta Art.
I like the change, L said it's the kind of funky painting you either
love or hate, and sure it could go either way, but I liked it.
On the opposite wall, I had to check the press release to make
sure the gallery hadn't gotten hold of Dana Shutz painting. Apparently
not, the loaded brush painting of a bird in an abstract forest
was someone else's canvas. The ubiquitous E-Team was one hand with
a whacky photograph of a woman wearing a scary baseball mask in
pen with sheep.
We stopped for a beer and to warm our feet. My
foolish companion had decided to wear sneakers. I decided that
maybe I shouldn't take her criticism too seriously, but I didn't
tell her that. She's a curator after all, and I am desperately
trying to get my circle series out there. Boozed up, we headed
over to Fishtank.
I have seen worse group shows before, but not many. This aimless
and meandering show looked like somebody raided undergrad studios,
yet again. Unoriginally called "Group Show", it had one
painting I liked of two cartoon dudes talking about nothing, like
a Jim Shaw episode of Seinfeld. Fresh out of patience, I left without
writing down the artist's name. I put in as much work as the gallery.
Didn't make it to the group show at South 1st, but we did stop
by the extended show "How You Know it" by Lucas Ajemian
at Priska C. Juschka Fine Art (I love that last bit they add at
the end, it's funny). There was also a show by Deborah Hampton,
Streamline, of abstract flowers in the back, highlighted by a delicate
wall drawing. The exhibition title refers to a term usually reserved
for the effect of rasterizing a bitmap image in Flash or Illustrator.
I really didn't want to think about that process when I looked
at her flowers, but there you go. Out front, Ajemian, aimed a bit
higher with his multimedia installation featuring some big wooden
boxes, two video projections, and series of manipulated fashion
ads. L, a student of feminism, frowned at the objectified images
of naked bodies, while I was basically aroused. I hate it when
that happens in the gallery. I don't know what the show was about,
and don't much care. At one point in one of the videos someone
spray paints footprints in the snow. I got the feeling that Ajemian
was 'marking' his territory, like artists were so enamored with
in the 70's. I hope someone who cares writes about this show, because
L and I left without further discussion.
We came in from the cold at Momenta Art to E-Team's absurd installation "Train
Stop Inn". The multi channel video installation featured a
large-scale projection of the collaborative team setting up a real
train stop in the desert and trying to get trains to stop for refreshments.
The gallery is transformed into a cheesy replica of the actual
site, wooden fence post and empty drinks, against faux wood grain
wall to frame the videos. The premise of trying to get a train
to stop is funny, the fact that they succeed is worth the wait.
In the second space Barry Hylton has a series of sculptural non-sequitars
that are perfect foils for the amusing irony out front. Hylton
mounts comic animal masks on textured backgrounds, almost like
trophies, that are surrounded by humorous passages of text. One
of my favorites features a toad and a duck with the saying "Trigger
Happy and Gunshy Meet all Green and Wallowing for Street Credit'.
Hylton manages to use the text without creating one-liners. His
montages run into a different territory than jokes, something more
Up the street at Pierogi, I showed L Ward Shelly's epic of obsessive-compulsive
behavior, We Have Mice. I had visited the show previously on my
own to get a sense of the ongoing changes that the press release
promised. (Yes, on occasion I have been known to 'read', though
I try and avoid them. They are always so positive. What's up with
that?) Shelly's show was still quite amazing on my third visit
from his hilarious 'flat file' to the myriad of manic processes
he had undertaken since moving into the gallery walls. As L and
I stood there, we could see the artist inside looking out of a
small peephole in the wall, which was quite disconcerting. Someone
told me they were standing around when the artist casually said "hello" through
the wall, freaking them right out.
During his stay in the gallery, Shelly has built several ingenious
installations into the sheet rock, but perhaps most spectacularly,
Shelly built a temporary bridge across the gallery ceiling to central
support beams to install the television monitors that provide real-time
video and documentation of the performance. The drawings in the
flat file reflect the process and politics of Shelly's quirky and
ambitious endeavor. While he wants to make a statement about the
dramatic increase in Williamsburg rents and cost of living, the
evolution of Pierogi itself maybe all the critique necessary. I'm
not really concerned with Shelly's critique, since artists are
as responsible for the gentrification of the area and its radically
altered economy. I don't think the market prices reflect the actual
value of the neighborhood, and landlords are certainly gouging
our pockets, but what did anyone expect? That the 'haves' would
give us poor assed 'nots' a break for increasing their property
values 500%? No, they haven't and many of the first wave of artists
have been priced right out of the community they helped revive.
It's sad, but as a critique, Shelly's point seems always already
stated by the commercial success of the gallery. What is much better
is the sheer creative energy and drive that Shelly imbues the space
with from his moving drawings embedded in the wall to his bitterly
funny t-shirts. I wanted the one with "living the unexamined
life" that hung in his manufactured closet. While some of
Shelly's gestures, maybe the entire mouse theme, are pretty hokey,
the exhibit as a whole is a rare and dramatic gesture that is more
intriguing and rewarding than Marina Abrimovic's voyeuristic exercise
in endurance and isolation last year.
To be fair, Lee Bronson has some elegant glass bubble sculptures
in the back, but if I were the artist, I would have felt a bit
self-conscious about exhibiting such traditional forms with the
complex exhibit out front. It really provides an excellent picture
of the chasm between object-oriented art you stick in a nice mansion
and process driven work that ultimately vanishes. Not that one
is always better, but the neo-formalists are circling the wagons
L and I swung through Black and White Gallery and Jack the Pelican
rather quickly. Jenny Dabnua's paintings didn't take long to figure
out, but that doesn't make them bad. In fact, the slapstick images
have a sense of humor that Chuck Close's lack, giving the 'serious'
figurative paintings a shot in the arm. The guy with half a face
of shaving cream is funny, seriously. It's pretty simple and largely
enjoyable. Next door, there was some nonsense going on in Wry Material,
a show about process art and installation that suffers in comparison
to Ward Shelly's show. Sorry, but the works like what may or may
not be 'bullet' hole paintings and growing grass stop at apprehension.
Got it? Good. Not particularly interesting visually or conceptually,
the only thing that I mildly liked were the stapled and torn fabric
patterns made on the gallery walls by Elana Herzog. While L and
warmed ourselves with the free heat, there were some dopes trying
to figure out how the awful puddle paintings in back were made.
Smelled an awful lot like Photoshop to me. Cheers if it was much
harder than that to make the liquid metal effect.
We made the long trek over to Parker's Box and were quite impressed
by the controlled chaos that is Enriched. Apparently the directors
allowed John Bjerklie, Matt Blackwell, and Andrew James to basically
live and work in the gallery for three weeks. It wasn't a pretty
process from the sound of things, but they managed to put together
a big, wobbly ramshackle mess of paintings, drawings, and sculpture.
Bjerklie's money tree with an exploded brief case may be the centerpiece
of the group's salon aliéné. That might be a bit
strong, but the show has a wild, juvenile energy that is quite
infectious. L and I bumbled about the space looking at James' intentionally
awkward paintings that climb the gallery walls and Blackwell's
There is a lot to digest in the show, like the title suggests,
that gallery has never been so stuffed with art. The back of the
gallery features a smaller almost ancillary installation of small
works on paper by the three artists. A military surplus cot and
television sit in the corner hinting at the hours the artists invested
in the communal act of making so much. I enjoyed Blackwell's pencil
and ink drawings that surround a rather pathetic looking horse.
The spare, tremulous images function like traces of memory, from
grocery lists to doodles, each one conveys something of the artist's
personality. I never get tired of seeing "Fuck-ed Upd," scrawled
somewhere in an exhibition. It's like a gang sign for artists.
I liked the drawings more than his animal sculptures but I always
prefer drawings anyway.
Plus, I like Bjerklie's DIY aesthetic better from his representational
tree to his variations on transporting and framing images through
elaborately constructed piles of, well, junk. The back room nevertheless,
dispenses with the big objects and feels like taking a walk in
all the artists' heads, while hopelessly unorganized they do offer
fascinating material. James' small paintings on paper may be better
representations of his whimsical and passionate musings about the
everyday than his canvasses. While they might be a little too laid
back, shades of Karen Klimnick, his painterly style is also an
attitude that emerges with each picture. The attitude of a guy
who manages to get 24oz cans of Bud served at the opening. Cheers!
(Enriched is hogging wall space and attention through February
2nd, so git over there now.
Trees and politics, these are two themes I have been forced
to contend with lately. The politics I get, we've got a neo-con,
conservative issuing patriarchal orders from Washington, which
causes me to scream "Fuck!" for no apparent reason like
I've got Tourette's syndrome at the mere thought of his name. The
same impulse has caused better people than myself to make intelligent
and provocative art in response. Liselot Van Der Heijden's spare
video installation at Schroeder Romero is a case in point. Her
large projection of a dying Zebra on the plains of Africa and vultures'
tearing at something make an implicit critique of American foreign
policy that resonates beyond politics into existential angst. The
extreme close up of Zebra, actually a one-minute loop of its last
breath, is projected on a large white wall in the dimmed gallery.
In the adjacent room, as the carrion tear away at some pitiful
beast text like "This is not about oil," from Bush's
mouthpiece, Ari Fleischer are flashed over the gruesome scene and
noise. Together, the two short video loops are unnerving metaphors
for the grim results of our foreign policy while echoing our inevitable
fate. Van Der Heijden conveys this with economy and grace, something
uncommon in the often lengthy and self-indulgent world of video
art. Her photographs of visitors photographing scenic dioramas
at the Natural Musuem of History are straight forward critiques
of constructed representations, while the videos display a strong
political will showing the duplicitous manipulation of language
While animals make for interesting subject matter in Van Der Heijden's
conceptually driven work, The Road Runner and Wily E. Coyote serve
as muse for Rosamarie Fiore's solo show at Plus Ultra. When we
arrived, L was all like "What the hell is this crap?" in
a hushed tone. Despite my impulse to laugh and dismiss the ceramic
tableaus, I found them creepy. I don't know if it's the fact that
Fiore's don't read as ironic representations, but as sincere gestures.
I say this, because the The Road Runner is killed, brutally, in
every scene. There is no comic relief in the coyote's epic failures,
only bloody death for the bird. It seemed a little sadistic actually,
watching the bad guy win everytime. If it's a critique, then Bush
is the coyote and the bird is integrity, freedom, honesty, and
whatever else has been run over in the effort to stop those pesky
terrorists in Iraq, er, Afghanistan, wait, no, in New York. Everywhere
except where they actually detonate bombs. My complaint though,
is that Fiore's ceramic objects are absurdly made that I don't
know whether to laugh or cry. Basically, they are hideous, but
it may actually work for Fiore conceptually. She manages to make
the familiar ugly and mean, like politics.
Bellwether lightened things up with a double dose of colorful and
almost cheery art work. Rebecca Hart's solo show Charmer is as
billed, a funny, ingratiating show with a childlike simplicity.
In the middle of the gallery is a furry, stuffed horse laying on
a throw rug, sleeping or perhaps dead. Ripe with meaning, the piece
is best viewed as silly sweet gesture, not a comment on art. Above,
spreading across the ceiling is a beautiful beehive made of furry
twist-ties. Mounted on the wall on the back wall is a less successful
cabinet with little racecar trophies. L and I couldn't really make
much of a connection with the other pieces, and left it alone.
In the second space, Patrick Callery has curated a nice show ostensibly
about birds. We enjoyed it, though I forgot it as soon as I rounded
the corner in the bitter cold.
L and I warmed up at Dam Stuhltrager in Leah Stulhtrager's solo
show about trees, nature, and real estate. The black and white,
almost monochrome show features ink drawings of tightly rendered
trees, houses, and other detritus on shaped, cloud-like blocks
of painted wood. There are also several white washed tree branches
and wooden birds emerging from the gallery walls with a blanket
of paper leaves beneath. There seems to be a narrative thread,
possibly about development linking the different sections of the
show. The one element of the show that didn't seem as well executed
was some signage in the corner that seemed too obvious, but doesn't
really detract from the hushed show. L was busy petting the gallery
dog, a rambunctious hound of some kind and was a little preoccupied.
That may be the only downside of having a personable dog in a gallery.
Eh, what else did I see, um, there was also a show of Russian dolls,
the little rounded kind that fit inside each other, interpreted
by several artists at 65 Hope Street. L and I joked that Barry
McGee must have been real busy, but then again it's a popular style.
Here's a formula, draw a pathetic looking face on a grey background
only with lines and viola, you have the style favored by the BFA
crowd, west coast inside-outsider art, or something. It's a pleasant
assignment with milquetoast results. The Same might be said for
the lovely garden installation, Living Room, at Monya Rowe, along
with the uninspired paper relief collages on the walls.
Having braved the cold with me, I took L out for a well-deserved
round of beers before retreating into the warmth of my studio.
Hopefully, kids, the crawl will be a bit more timely for the next
go around. Maybe. Maybe not. Nah. Whatever.