Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Beyond Narrative: Varujan Boghosian

[“American Bouquet” (1997), mixed media construction. “Homage to Joseph Albers” (1995), paper collage. “Three Yellow Objects” (1998), mixed media construction.]

Various roles of selector, editor, builder, and juxtaposer characterize the working method of Varujan Boghosian. Cherishing the out-dated and the cast-off, Boghosian energizes them in a process imbuing them with new meaning, aesthetic value, and a contemporary sense. From Boghosian’s studio, old children’s toys, antiquated tools, and oddball objects are transformed into collages, relief constructions, boxes, and sculpture. One can get a sense of the working method of this lifelong collector at his solo show at Lori Bookstein Fine Art, which runs through January 9, 2010. Berta Walker, of the renowned Provincetown gallery bearing her name, has lauded the elegance, lyricism, and poetic nature of Boghosian’s work, calling it “Haiku in found objects.”

Constant trips to flea markets and antique stores have paid off handsomely for Boghosian, who has parlayed these scavenged parts and scraps onto a palette in which time is an essential element. Yet, this sense of time impacts on a number of levels, including Boghosian’s working process: Objects amass in his studio, perhaps waiting years for their new purpose to reveal itself. Even when recontextualized and reconfigured by the artist—however surprisingly and surrealistically—these objects and materials tend to manifest age and vulnerability despite their “rescue.” Boghosian’s very fluency in transcending previous contexts allows a conversation with the past without an ensuing nostalgia. Importantly, he does this without diminishing the integrity of his materials.

Boghosian has even recast history and legend in pursuit of his artistic endeavor. One source repeatedly mined by Boghosian has been the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Robert M. Doty, curator of Boghosian’s 1989 retrospective exhibition at the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth, explained the artist’s ability to forge something ever larger out of component parts: “There is a mood about the work, a stirring of feelings about life and death, which is greater than the specific narrative and has universal meaning and appeal. Boghosian has revitalized the myth of Orpheus in his own terms, using physical means to create images which act as catalysts for transforming individual rapport into the most fundamental human experience.” Under Boghosian’s hand, Leonardo “goes native” in the Victorian Era before exploding like a psychedelic time-bomb into the 1960s. That, while the pitiful—yet hopeful—Orpheus is imprisoned in brick.

The G.I. Bill allowed WWII veteran Boghosian to attend the Yale School of Art and Architecture, where he studied under Josef Albers (1888–1976) whose name appears on a collage in this show. Albers’ students also include the likes of Robert Rauschenberg, Susan Weil, Cy Twombly, and Ray Johnson. An eminent refugee from the Third Reich, Albers—whose work represents a transition from traditional art of the European academy to American modernism—is probably best known for his abstract paintings and his role in art theory. Bauhaus communicant Albers appropriated Color-Aid—originally developed in 1948 as a backdrop for photographers—and propelled it into a staple media for modernist color theory.

In addition to Lori Bookstein Fine Art, Boghosian’s work has been presented at—or is in the permanent collections of—such entities as Stable Gallery, Cordier & Ekstrom, Berta Walker Gallery, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Hood Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum. Twice artist-in-residence at the American Academy in Rome, Boghosian has taught at Pratt Institute, the Cooper Union, Yale, Brown, and Dartmouth.

According these weathered doors and windows, ornamental woodwork, toys, tools, and set after set of children’s building blocks with new identities through his faithful and masterful assemblage, Boghosian (the son of an Armenian cobbler) casts a light on roles played by dislocation and repositioning in identity’s construction. Indeed, upon such dislocation or “repositioning”—whether successful, tragic, or both—rests much of the history of the 20th century. Woefully, in light of identity’s seemingly intractable nature, this “exploration” remains unresolved.

Varujan Boghosian
Through January 9, 2010
@ Lori Bookstein Fine Art
138 Tenth Avenue, NYC 10011

Monday, December 28, 2009

Out of Order: Surfing on Confusion’s Clashing Waves

[“Anatomy” by Scooter Laforge (2009), oil on canvas. “Levitation in Washington Allston’s Desert Landscape” by Larissa Bates (2008), acryla gouache & ink on canvas. “She Turned Up Her Toes” by Stephen Tashjian/Tabboo! (2009), acrylic on canvas with glitter.]

Scott Hug, the founder K48 magazine, has organized a diverse group of 33 contemporary artists into an exhibit at Andrew Edlin Gallery. Dealing with themes of disarrangement, mysticism, and internal logic, “Out of Order” runs through January 16, 2010 and asks: “If order comes out of chaos, what comes out of order?” K48 magazine—produced once a year and filled with works by emerging artists, photographers, fashionistas, and writers—gives Hug a natural vantage point in organizing this show. Like the artists represented in “Out of Order,” Hug has gone solely on gut instincts by picking up the pieces and carrying on in a world that seems to be falling apart. Hug’s own work has—at various times and in a number of media—interpreted and traversed the visual distance between boardroom and spiritual realms. As an artist, the curator’s work has been shown in such venues as D’Amelio Terras and The Kitchen.

In Scooter Laforge’s work—represented in “Out of Order” by two of his trademark neo-surrealist paintings “Anatomy” (2009) and “Bat” (2009)—whimsy can barely contain a larger volley of ambient danger, raw sexuality, and irony emanating from his East Village studio. Proceeding on a daring course, Laforge’s pungent storytelling fuses with a rich palette in a narrative on the heartaches of life in the Metropolis. Tenuous movements between desire and its fruition—and between fable and fantasy—reverberate upon Laforge’s tableau. His beguilingly deviant work has been shown in such venues as Exit Art, Wooster Projects, and White Columns.

Banality gets the shaft on the canvases of Stephen Tashjian (Tabboo!)—a seminal figure in the East Village’s 1980s underground scene. An artist not contained by any media—whether painting, sculpture, photography, puppetry, music, or theater design—Tashjian is revealed to viewers of “Out of Order” by three of his paintings: “She Turned Up Her Toes” (2009), “The Early Bird Catches the Worm” (2009), and “John Heys as Diana Vreeland” (1989). Tashjian attended the Massachusetts College of Art where he became friends with vanguard artists Mark Morrisroe, Nan Goldin, and Jack Pierson. Indeed, Goldin included photos of Tashjian in her book “The Other Side” (though in his drag persona Tabboo!). He performed in that persona at the noted East Village venue, The Pyramid Club, alongside other legends of that era such as the Lady Bunny, Rupaul, and Hapi Phace as well as at the annual Wigstock. Probably best known for his graphic design and iconic lettering on the cover of the successful Deee-Lite “World Clique” album, Tashjian’s work has been documented by the New Museum (New York) and Grey Art Gallery.

Greatly influenced by the French painter Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665) who worked in the classical style, Larissa Bates reflects a determined logic, clarity, order, and preference for line over color in her work, including those exhibited in this exhibition. Symbolism and imagination amid invented geometric spaces are offered in painstaking—though surreal—detail to the viewer. Bates work encapsulates a vigorous critique of gender roles, environmental swashbuckling, and political dynamics gone awry. The debilitating constraint of social pressures upon men to exude bravado and machismo is visceral in her paintings while she simultaneously provides an alternative construct for masculinity. In this new gender code, Bates frees men to possess sensitivity, vulnerability, and childbirth. Bates’ strange worlds and rich motifs—set within grandiose dramas—have been exhibited at Bendixen Contemporary Art (Denmark), the Mobile Museum of Art, the Ulrich Museum of Art (Kansas), and New York’s Monya Rowe Gallery.

In Andrew Guenther’s “Not a Doctor (Orange)” (2009) and “Green and Black on Chair” (2009), viewers catch a glimpse of his artistic practice in which sculptural elements are added to the canvas. Guenther’s paintings, silkscreens, and drawings accentuate and delineate viewer perspective and reaction—at the same time underlining our culture’s cumulative ambivalence. Paul Brainard has curated group shows as well. Having organized a group show called “True Faith” in the summer of 2007, Brainard’s figurative work runs to the edgy. “Fire in the Snow,” his piece in “Out of Order”—dense with collision of divergent human reaction—reflects Brainard’s penchant for the seductive and sexually charged.

At present, Keith Mayerson’s work is included in the permanent collections of MoMA, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art (Los Angeles), and the Cleveland Museum of Art. Metaphor runs counterintuitively in his works, which draw from iconic images and popular culture—albeit with a mirroring twist that couples an unconscious world with one more concrete. The viewer will find a rich synchronicity of factors in Mayerson’s works—including those related to constructs of gay experience and identity, semiotic exploration, transcendence, and wells of cognition. Mayerson’s paintings are emotionally, socially, and spiritually replete. One is “catapulted” from them into an alternative dimension dependent upon the mood or figure captured in the particular painting.

As art critic Eric Gelber has pointed out most succinctly, “Justin Lieberman uses text in his art for comedic purposes and to recontextualize, subvert, critique, and perversely celebrate the mass media environment we are submerged in from birth to death.” Viewers of “Out of Order” are treated to a bit of Lieberman’s self-reference and bitingly twisted humor in his mixed-media work “Our Machine” (2006-2009). Despite our immersion in the overwhelming and overbearing mass media, Lieberman’s work poses an ultimate—if incomplete—transcendence of this situation by individuals who will find some way to express authenticity.

A number of David Benjamin Sherry’s works are represented in this show. Sherry hems and haws between psychedelia and surrealism, portraiture and landscape, reality and fantasy, and abstraction and photography in an eclectic creative tornado. A successful fashion photographer whose work has appeared on the pages of Dazed and Confused, Purple, i-D, V Man, and Japanese Vogue, Sherry’s first monograph “It’s Time” (ISBN 9788862080934) was recently issued by Damiani. Notably, Sherry worked with photographer David LaChapelle while a student at the Rhode Island School of Design. Tyson Reeder’s gouache works “Orange Lighting” (2009) and “Pink City” (2009)—as well as his oil painting “Jungle” (2009)—exude a certain primal velocity of color and line in elemental cosmologies broaching myriad landscapes. Reeder sometimes accomplishes this with Impressionist deftness, other times with a troubling impatience.

Upon walking into Andrew Edlin Gallery, one is confronted immediately by the looming untitled work of Louisiana ex-pat Lucky DeBellevue—constructed with chenille stems! Known for his sculptures made by pipe cleaners and other inexpensive store-bought materials, DeBellevue is represented by another piece in this show (also untitled and also made with chenille stems). Meanwhile, Michael Mahalchick’s mixed media works—produced with scraps of fabric, fur, and clothing—often result in nearly figurative and emotionally searing sculptures in which one encounters existential issues tinged with sexuality and loss. Mahalchick has exhibited his work at such venues as the Sculpture Center, PS1, and Andrew Kreps Gallery. Brian Belott mines thrift stores for discarded junk such children's books and found photos that are cut up and assembled into collages emanating beautiful, chaotic acts.

Others included in this show are Hackworth Ashley, Hrafnhildur Arnardottir, BOBO, Matt Bua, Jeff Davis, Jake Ewert, Ry Fyan, Amy Gartrell, Jonathan Hartshorn, Nancy de Holl, Shaun Kessler, Anne Koch, Ryan Lucero, Billy Miller, Annie Pearlman, Asher Penn, Jacob Robichaux, the Society for the Advancement of Inflammatory Consciousness, Ryan Trecartin, Jan Wandrag, and Amy Yao.

“Out of Order” offers the viewer a gleefully subversive odyssey, thankfully free of the pedantic and academic. Despite divergence in artistic fluency, this array of considered reactions and visions surprises at every corner while stretching the envelope to its farthest point and throwing in a bit of fun besides.

Out of Order
Through January 16, 2010
@ Andrew Edlin Gallery
134 Tenth Avenue, New York City 10011

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Virtual Vistas: Nola Zirin

[“Lost in Palermo” (2009), oil on canvas. “Saturnine Spirals” (2009), oil & enamel on canvas. “Black Holes” (2009), oil & enamel on canvas.]

From her studio in Brooklyn’s Dumbo neighborhood, Nola Zirin produces work tapping into the rich traditions of Abstract Expressionism—particularly the spatial, color, and pictorial relationships and equations enumerated by Hans Hofmann (1880–1966). Bursting forth in constant movement, Zirin’s vibrant visions point toward mythic objects and patterns. “Virtual Vistas,” an exhibition of her new paintings will be up at June Kelly Gallery through December 29th.

As described by writer Jill Conner, Zirin’s new work traverses boundaries between the banal and transcendent. “Pictorial depth renders a light, buoyant effect as each painting captures the dynamism of this world.” Zirin “clearly” captures an aura and ambiance in utilizing the landscape structure, according to Conner.

Superfluous elements fall by the wayside in Zirin’s work, allowing a glimpse into what is truly important. It is no wonder that Zirin studied painting with George Ortman and Milton Resnick (1917—2004) at New York University. In her geometric and symbolic vocabulary—conjugated in monochrome planes with flurries of “activity”—we see Ortman’s influence. In Zirin’s larger artistic animus, Resnick’s hand is seen in qualities and quantities of paint lodged across faces of her canvases and resolution of confluent forces in her compositions. With the specter of the September 11 tragedy extant in some of her works, one also can see a bit of the mystical qualities found in Resnick’s abstract paintings.

Color powers the velocity of the speeding, hovering, swaying, and other movement in Zirin’s work. This fluency of hues—coupled with a seemingly instinctive sense of space—allows the viewer to readily engage or commune with feelings and moods coming to life on her meditative canvases. Interchange between her painting movements drives Zirin’s representational spectrum. Whether fluid or coarse, her techniques culminate in communicatory depths not without their paradoxes.

Zirin’s work has been shown in such venues as the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Heckscher Museum of Art (Huntington), the Islip Art Museum, Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum (Rutgers University), and the National Museum of Taiwan.

Virtual Vistas: Nola Zirin
Through December 29, 2009
@ June Kelly Gallery
166 Mercer Street, NYC 10012