Monday, August 21

Dog days in Chelsea

Summer Fridays at my office this month allowed me to make a quick dash to Chelsea to catch the tail end of the summer season. A few highlights:

The most pleasant surprise came at Nicole Klagsbrun, which hosted the US debut of paintings by the Israeli artist Alona Harpaz. Usually I don’t go for such light subject matter—young, beautiful men and women posing vulnerably in a swirling, abstract dreamland (think Henri Matisse shot through David Reed)—but Harpaz’s diverse handling of paint—thin streaks of floating, biomorphic shapes, figures rendered like fashion sketches, and thick, repetitive floral motifs, all punctuated with big, spray paint–like dots—provided pleasurable, sustained viewing. These paintings, which are all seemingly painted with the same half-dozen tints, have to be seen to be truly appreciated.

Likewise, Tara Donovan’s recent drawings at Pace/Wildenstein also call for, and reward, sustained engagement. The artist uses a repetitive conceptual process, here inking rubber bands and pressing them onto large paper sheets to create wild compositions, as a means to a purely formalist end. The eleven large, marvelous drawings give the viewer different visual sensations when viewed from afar, at midrange, and up close. Donovan’s approach reflects the seriality in art making advocated by Sol LeWitt, whose 1965 sculpture hung in the main gallery.

Adolescent and postteenage kicks are alive and well these days. The Banks Violette–curated show at Bortolami Dayan, War on 45/My Mirrors Are Painted Black (For You), was filled with work that we’d expect this artist to like and show. What Roberta Smith recently called “boys-in-black central” could also be called the children of Steve Parrino: the late artist’s name appeared in the title of a collaborative painting by Violette and Gardar Eide Einarsson that hung opposite the front door. (Herwig Weiser’s spray cans are depicted above.) The work in the show can be seen as the next logical step after the obsession over goth culture in art from a couple years ago, but with less gloom and doom and with more testosterone. The work directly or obliquely referenced aggressive music (and, by extension behavior, or at least posturing): not that of record-collector types but rather that of a certain kind of uneducated educated brutes who love the rush of Black Flag or death metal. The heavy beer drinking, mosh-pit guys. The hardcore kids in rural college towns. This subject matter, or point of departure for this art, depends a lot on knowing this context. That said, the dark, psychologically intense art here is, for the most part, more convincing and visceral than works by Sue de Beer or Alex McQuilkin, who exploring tamer teenage subcultures such as goths. More investigation is needed here.

Popular and underground music popped up elsewhere. In a group show at Stellan Holm Gallery, Graham Dolphin meticulously etched or wrote lyrics to albums by Madonna, Talking Heads, and the Ramones onto the actual record covers and vinyl records. Similarly, Maureen Duncan obsessively wrote phrases on records too. Also in her installation at the Parsons MFA photography show at Peer Gallery, she displayed a CD tower with empty plastic jewel boxes, each one engraved with the cover art (e.g., the Cure’s Boys Don’t Cry, Elvis Costello’s My Aim Is True) of the displaced packaging. Neither lighthearted nor angsty, Dolphin and Duncan, who may be of a record-collector trend, buckle under the dramatic weight of De Beer and McQuilkin, but I think the former two artists have something else going on and are worth keeping an eye on.

I’m suspicious but a little intrigued by another recent trend in art, the barely-put-together sculpture led by Gedi Sibony, who was included in Greater New York 2005 and has work in a group show called A Broken Arm at 303 Gallery. B. Wurtz, who has several pieces in the Matthew Higgs–curated Dereconstruction at Barbara Gladstone Gallery, could be the grandfather of this style, if I can call it that. (Fellow Feature Gallery artist Tom Friedman may be the crazy uncle.) Seeing Higg’s solo exhibition last spring at Murray Guy, I can understand how he’s interested in producing art with minimal effort but with lasting (or so we hope) conceptual implications. I remember reading something in Artforum on Hurtz not too long ago that I will have to revisit.

Last stop was I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art, a retrospective of lithographs, documentation, books, and ephemera from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design—a haven for conceptual artists looking for teaching gigs and exhibition venues in the 1970s. The locked display cases at Printed Matter were frustrating, as many of the note cards, typed class assignments, and other papers overlapped: much of the information just could not be read. To make up for this, the organizers included book works by students on a tabletop, which could easily be rifled through.

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