Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Walt Cassidy: Tracing the Contours of Private Experience

["The Realm of Chaos and Night" (2006)(from the series The Inferior Orbs), pigment print. "Through" (2010), ink on paper. "Attack on the Ascending" (2010), brass, wood, & fabric.]

With each piece of Walt Cassidy’s oeuvre charting private topographies of emotion, history, experience, and thought, his works—when seen in toto—capture a personal alphabet. A survey of Cassidy’s inner landscape, “The Protective Motif” is rendered in an intimate yet arcane visual language. Incorporating ink drawings, wall sculptures, and photographs, the work shown in “The Protective Motif”—up through May 9, 2010 at Invisible-Exports—testifies the turmoil and incendiary nature of private, affective experience. Furthermore, Cassidy’s work in this show—his very first solo exhibition—attempts to transform an inner chaos to a more palatable order.

Having previously exhibited at MASS MOCA, Paul Kasmin Gallery, and Deitch Projects, Cassidy’s works in “The Protective Motif” issue a narrative drawing upon his various chosen media—and incorporating gleanings from his industrial psychologist father. The brain’s fine workings—the very journey of energy and “information” through synapses to myriad destinations—come to the fore in his work. This show’s offerings trace contours of private experience, constructed on the basis of a therapeutic autobiographical agenda through the transformative ritual of re-experience. Cassidy’s constructions invoke—again and again—varied symbolisms of his “protective motifs.” These repeated ideas, patterns, images, and themes serve as the foundation upon which he extricates himself from personal experience.

In “The Inferior Orbs” (2006)—Cassidy’s introductory suite of photographs—the artist re-conceives John Milton’s map of the universe as a personal cosmography. Sketched by that 17th-Century English poet in Paradise Lost, Cassidy breathes visual life into lines of verse originally published in 1667. Cassidy’s photographic series of circles chart paths between heaven and hell and act as a template—formally and conceptually—for other works in “The Protective Motif.” “The shape of orbs that I use are rooted in alchemy," Cassidy told Interview Magazine in an explanation of his continual use of wheels and circular shapes. "And specifically Milton's construction of the cosmos in Paradise Lost [one finds] Lucifer is the rebel archetype in that story. I was thinking about that archetype and how the rebellious, dark, fallen outsider artist has overwhelmed art from the 1920s to the 1990s. I think we are past that state."

The artist’s most recent sculptural series is centered on “Nail Bomb” (2009), illustrating a field of fragments wired together in an ode to his personal emotional surrender and capturing momentous magnitude and velocity. One can discern this fluidity and motion in his work template, which—like a Nan Golden Cibachrome print—can be viewed as a disclosed private journal. Yet—as with Goldin—the depth and resonance of Cassidy’s works transcend any documentary aspects. Viewing the works in “The Protective Motif” is a meditative experience—on levels physical, psychological, spiritual, and cultural.

The Protective Motif
A Solo Exhibition by Walt Cassidy
Through May 9, 2010
@ Invisible-Exports
14a Orchard Street, New York City 10002

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Movement Schmoovement: Between Movement & Stasis

[Linda Matalon with “Untitled Diptych” (2009), wax & graphite on paper. Nancy Brooks Brody with “Glory Hole, black (vibgyor)” (2010), oil on Venetian plaster on wood panel. Zoe Leonard with “Nest #5,” (1994/98), “Nest #1,” (1994/97) & “Nest #10” (1994/98), gelatin silver prints.]

“Movement Schmoovement” brings together 12 artists and highlights the tension between movement and stasis—not to mention collective and individual actions—in creating change. With a nod to Jill Johnston’s 1971 essay of the same name, the exhibit includes those who have pursued artistic endeavors for decades. One of the first women to “come out” as a lesbian in the mass media in the heady post-Stonewall period, Johnston was a vibrant and controversial culture chronicler and Village Voice columnist who authored “Marmalade Me” (1971), “Lesbian Nation” (1973), “Gullibles Travels” (1974), “Motherbound” (1983), “Paper Daughter” (1985), and “Jasper Johns: Privileged Information” (1996).

In viewing “Movement Schmoovement,” I was reminded of an encounter with a surprised and amused Johnston in Spring 1986 at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 14th Street in which I thanked her for paving the way for queers of my generation (although queer was not the label in vogue at the time). As a junior high student in the early 1970s, I regularly read her column in the Village Voice—a periodical I picked up weekly at the local “head-shop.”

The artists in this show have lived and worked in New York City since at least the early 1980s—and collaborated in ACT UP, WAC (Women’s Action Coalition), WHAM (Women’s Health Action Mobilization), the lesbian collective Fierce Pussy, various alternative art projects, and an array of initiatives in the “peace and justice community.” As mid-career artists, they have maintained rigorous studio practices for two to three decades, through various economic upswings with resulting swells in art value not to mention the all too common recessions. Throughout, they have maintained artistic integrity and curiosity despite variability with respect to interest in their work. These decades have found them sought after, exhibited, collected, and written about alternating with the reverse situation.

Movement Schmoovement participants Nancy Brooks Brody, Joy Episalla, Zoe Leonard, and Carrie Yamaoka were core members of Fierce Pussy along with Pam Brandt, Alison Froling, and Suzanne Wright. This fluid and often-shifting cadre of dykes (active in New York City from 1991 to 1995) was adamantly low-tech, fast, and low-budget—relying upon modest resources such as old typewriters, found photographs, their own baby pictures, and whatever material they could scrounge. With much of their output produced using time and equipment at their day jobs (as was the case with those cultural initiatives emanating from ACT UP/New York and Queer Nation), Fierce Pussy emerged during a decade steeped in the AIDS crisis, activism, and queer identity politics. They brought lesbian identity to the streets in a manner demanded by the urgency of that period.

Importantly, the Women's Action Coalition (WAC) was formed in New York City on January 1992, in outrage over the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas after grueling and heated hearings. Like the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) and the Women's Health Action Coalition (WHAM), they employed a direct action approach—demonstrations, sit-ins, civil disobedience, educational forums, and letter writing campaigns–to voice to their outrage.

Coming of age in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the second-generation Post-Minimalist sculptor Linda Matalon operates within an ever-expanding and -refining vocabulary noted for its individual, tactile, and luminous approach to materials and textures. Matalon’s work draws upon and pulsates with the collective legacies of Abstract Expressionist painter Agnes Martin (1912–2004), trained architect and abstract artist Gego (1912–1994), iconoclastic sculptor Eva Hesse (1936–1970), Color Field luminary Barnett Newman (1905–1970), abstract painter Blinky Palermo (1943-1977), and Cy Twombly who is so noted for large-scale, calligraphic-style graffiti paintings on solid fields of gray, tan, or off-white. One also finds strains of German avant-garde sculptor and performance artist Joseph Beuys (1921—1986). Having emerged in the early 1990s within post-Minimal examinations of feminism, the AIDS crisis, and identity politics, Matalon’s work references trajectories of context and metaphor from the human body to landscapes. She has exhibited in a range of venues such as the Wolfson Galleries (Miami), Herter Art Gallery (Amherst), the Drawing Center, the Aldrich Museum of Art (Ridgefield, Conn.), the University Art Museum (Berkeley), the New Museum of Contemporary Art, the Bronx Museum of the Arts, the Americas Society, the Neuberger Museum (SUNY Purchase), Chrysler Museum of Art (Norfolk, Va.), the Harn Museum at the University of Florida (Gainesville), and the Weatherspoon Art Gallery (Greensborough, N.C.).

For a number of years, Nancy Brooks Brody’s work with movement-based ensemble LAVA has included photographs, videos, costumes, props, and set designs. Her drawings, paintings and sculptures have been shown across the United States and Europe, including Virgil de Voldere Gallery, White Columns, Exit Art, Andrea Rosen, Lehmann Maupin and Weatherspoon, the Musee de Beaux Arts (Rouen), Trafic Haute-Normandie, and the Musee de Beaux Arts (Bernay). In an Art in America review of her show at Virgil de Voldere, Sarah Valdez praised the Nancy Brooks Brody’s “sure-footedness, patience and intelligence.” In the New York Times, Holland Cotter described her work this way: “The effect is like having Agnes Martin’s bars and bands transmitted as sound waves, a soft, vibrant humming.”

With black-and-white photography as her principal artistic medium, Zoe Leonard’s prolific work includes sculpture, installation, and film. Reflecting experiences and observations in ways subtle and ambivalent, her work captures conflict and gray areas in gender relationships, nature, culture, and space and time. Leonard’s work—offering a language to the voiceless and bringing visibility to the invisible—has been viewed in such institutions as Documenta (Kassel), Whitney Biennial, Vienna Secession, Kunsthalle (Basel), Centre National de la Photographie (Paris), Fotomuseum Wintherthur (Switzerland), and Pinakothek der Modern (Munich).

His practice rooted in Minimalism, Tony Feher’s reworking of transient and “humdrum” materials such as bottles, jars, ropes, plastic bags, and soda crates elevate the mundane and throwaway—imbuing these items with emotion and beauty. In using these “common” materials, his works draw viewers’ attention with repetitive patterns in particular regard to an installation’s milieu and location. Exhibiting his work since 1984, Feher’s work has been shown in an array of institutions, including the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Chinati Foundation, Center for Curatorial Studies, MetroTech Commons, D'Amelio Terras Gallery, Marlborough Gallery, Aspen Art Museum, Serpentine Gallery (London), and Museum of Contemporary Art (Chicago).

Liz Deschenes explores photographic processes in an investigation of photography itself, deconstructing the medium’s role and history in our culture. While circumventing the camera with counter-expectational works devoid of representational content, Deschenes produces reductive and reflective sheets by applying silver toner to black-and-white photographic paper. In doing so, she records any number of physical situations and conditions and parallels photography with method and procedure. Her compelling work has been viewed at MoMA, Tate (Liverpool), the Art Institute of Chicago,the Metropolitan Museum, the Corcoran Museum of Art (Washington, D.C.), the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (Washington, D.C.), and CCS Bard Hessel Museum (Annandale-on-Hudson).

Episalla’s work inhabits interstices between photography, sculpture, and video and focuses on the rich output of information produced by mundane objects and architecture. Art critic Bill Arning has described Joy Episalla’s viewpoint “so close to the subject” and her works’ effect as “especially pronounced.” Like a forensic examiner or palm reader, she combs an array of exposed fissures and entities—rendering and scrutinizing their secrets. A recipient of the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award, Episalla’s work has been exhibited at the Wexner Center for the Arts, Carrie Secrist Gallery (Chicago), Debs & Co., Clifford Smith Gallery (Boston), the Contemporary Art Center (New Orleans), The Phoenix Art Museum, ARCO (Madrid), Aeroplastics Contemporary (Brussles), and Studio 1.1 (London).

Living and working in New York City, Carrie Yamaoka has been shown in such venues as Debs & Co., Aeroplastics Contemporary (Brussels), Artists Space, the Institute of Contemporary Art (San Jose), CCS Bard Hessel Museum, the Wexner Center (Columbus), Mass MOCA, and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery (Buffalo). Yamaoka’s layered and mirrored surfaces are usually made of resin on wood and range from an almost mass-production quality to more random, if not haphazard, texture.

Movement Schmoovement also includes the work of Nicola Tyson, David Knudsvig, Siobhan Liddell, David Nelson, and Sarah Rapson.

While not unified by dogma, common techniques, media, or subject, these artists have lived and worked in proximity—balancing outward impulses to foster change with persistence in maintaining rigorous art practices. In the 39 years since Johnston wrote her essay, the specific political issues may have changed but the fundamental challenges of justice, equity, resource prioritization remain the same.

Movement Schmoovement
Through April 18, 2010
@ La Mama La Galleria
6 East 1st Street NYC 10003

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Swept Behind the Curtain: Doug McClemont’s Magical Ensemble

[“Institute for Turbulence Research (V2)” by Charles Atlas (2010). 3-channel video installation, video mirror unit, transparent screen, & 6 minute loop. “The Chipmunks Genuflect” by Nayland Blake (2010). Rope, fabric, artificial hair, & metal hook (foreground). “Ding Dong (Maggie’s Dead)” by Stuart Semple (2009). MDF, plastic, gloss paint, leather, & electronics on aluminum.]

Using the culturally and emotionally iconic 1939 film, “The Wizard of Oz,” as a jumping-off point, curator Doug McClemont offered the viewer a lode of goodies in “Nobody Gets to See the Wizard, No Nobody, Not Nohow,” which ran at Anna Kustera gallery through March 20, 2010. As Saatchi Online magazine's regular New York correspondent and the former editor-in-chief of HONCHO, Torso, Mandate, Inches, and Playguy , McClemont brought to bear a rich array of artists known for their impact. Charles Atlas, Nayland Blake, Sean Mellyn, Robert Gober, Stuart Semple, John Brattin, Kathe Burkhart, Scott Ewalt, Daphne Fitzpatrick, Deborah Kass, Dan Miller, Caroline Polachek, Susanne M. Winterling came forward with works drawing inspiration from the film adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s novel. McClemont appears regularly in such publications as Publishers' Weekly, Library Journal, and Screw. Having written introductory essays for several monographs on contemporary art, he is currently at work on a book of short stories entitled “Little Morticians.”

Importantly, Nayland Blake created a work especially for this show: In “The Chipmunks Genuflect” (2010), he paid plush tribute to lions and tigers and bears everywhere. This Brooklyn-based artist, writer, and educator is chair of the ICP/Bard Masters program in Advanced Photographic Studies at the International Center of Photography. Represented by such galleries as New York’s Matthew Marks and San Francisco’s Paule Anglim, Blake’s work is included in such collections of such institutions as MoMA, the Whitney Museum, the Studio Museum of Harlem, LA MoCa, the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston), the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the DeYoung Museum. His writing, meanwhile, has appeared in Interview, Artforum, Out, and OutLook. He is the author of numerous catalog essays. In 1994 he co-curated with Lawrence Rinder the exhibition “In a Different Light,” which was the first major museum exhibition to examine the impact of queer artists on contemporary art. In Blake’s contribution to this show, one is reminded of the role played by actor Bert Lahr in the film—in which “his” lion’s tail threatened not only to upstage himself, but the wizard as well.

Robert Gober’s meticulous sculptures—exploring nature, politics, religion, and sexuality—have appeared in five Whitney Biennials. With his work in many museum collections such as the Whitney Museum of American Art, MoMA, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Menil Collection, Tate Modern (London), and Washington’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Gober represented the United States at the 2001 Venice Biennale. He has also had several one-person museum exhibitions including those at the Museum of Contemporary Art (Los Angeles), the Jeu de Paume (Paris), and New York’s Dia Art Foundation. In 2007 there was a retrospective exhibition of Gober’s work at the Schaulager (Basel)—accompanied by a comprehensive book of his sculptures entitled “Robert Gober: Sculptures and Installations 1979-2007.” The untitled red shoe sculpture (1990) in “Nobody Gets to See the Wizard, No Nobody, Not Nohow” can’t help but evoke the film’s iconic footwear. Made entirely of a red wax that suggests candy and blood in equal measure, the creation honors girlhood’s very fragility of girlhood.

Filmmaker and video artist Charles Atlas has created numerous works for stage, screen, museum, and television. His work has been shown in the august environs of the Whitney Museum of American Art, MoMA, Musée National d’Art Moderne (Paris), Centre Georges Pompidou (Paris), Institute of Contemporary Arts (London), the Museum of Contemporary Art (Los Angeles), and Amsterdam’s Stedelijk. A pioneer in the development of media-dance, a genre in which original performance work is created directly for the camera, Atlas was filmmaker-in-residence with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company for 10 years. Atlas collaborated with noted choreographers, dancers, and performers such as John Kelly, Diamanda Galas, Yvonne Rainer, Michael Clark, Douglas Dunn, and Marina Abramovic. “Television Dance Atlas”—the artist’s critically acclaimed prime-time event on Dutch television—was a four-hour montage of original and found footage incorporating dance styles as varied as ballet, burlesque, and figure skating. In “Institute for Turbulence Research(V2)” (2010), the video installation for this show, Charles Atlas recalled the terror and excitement of seeking the safety from frequent tornado warnings in his St. Louis-area childhood basement. The chaotic environment created by his spinning objects, radio waves and mirrored projections is as disorienting as it is memorable.

Rhode Island native and Pratt Institute alumnus Sean Mellyn draws inspiration from Marcel Duchamp and Jasper Johns in his realistic paintings and drawings—usually of happy and wholesome children—in which there is an unmistaken eeriness and bizarre aura. With a surgeon’s precision, Mellyn interrupts the surfaces of his works in various ways. Ambiguity and indetermination often swirl together in his “interventions.” Mellyn contributed “Judas” (2007), an oil-on-canvas of a circumspect young man witnessing a shadowy figure in mid-flight. The subject’s 1970s mirrored sunglasses reflect the film’s nostalgic—if ominous—skywriting event. Appropriately, “Surrender Dorothy!” became the name of the infamous ACT UP/New York campaign to force the resignation or firing of New York City Health Commissioner Stephen Joseph in 1989.

Re-articulating Pop Culture elements into a personal universe of fear, isolation and nostalgia, the drawing, painting, and printmaking of Stuart Semple balance a fabricated, mechanized perfection. Semple has shown his work in London, Mexico, New York, Italy and Hong Kong—and participated in Biennials in Brazil, Mexico, and Britain. Having curated a number of group shows internationally, the surfaces of Semple’s works absorb emotion and collision. Stuart Semple took a literal approach to “The Wizard of Oz”—albeit with a British twist. For “Ding Dong, Maggie’s Dead” (2009) Semple’s heavy house landed on conservative enemy-of-the-arts and homohating purveyor of 1986’s Clause (later Section) 28, the former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. As black as a lump of coal, the piece can be seen as just miner’s revenge for Baroness Thatcher’s demise: harking back to the bruising United Kingdom miners’ strike of 1984-85 in which the former Prime Minister and ally of Ronald Reagan cut her razor-sharp teeth.

The show posits that the “wizard” (if there ever was a wizard), wants to remain invisible. While chromatic adventures in the Land of Oz fall dramatically short of its “rainbows and bluebirds” promise, artists can and do cast magic. The ensemble put together by McClemont shows the creating art is like The Land of Oz—promising unseen gifts behind the curtain. In “Nobody Gets to See the Wizard, No Nobody, Not Nohow,” viewers reap a cultural dividend of the heady ACT UP and Queer Nation period of the late 1980s and early 1990s in which McClemont himself participated (along with a number of the represented artists).

Nobody Gets to See the Wizard, No Nobody, Not Nohow
@ Anna Kustera
Through March 20, 2010
520 West 21st Street, NYC 10011

Robert Gober: Sculptures and Installations 1979-2007

Friday, March 19, 2010

Band of Brothers: A Salvaged Legacy

[Third illustration: Unknown, Untitled, c.1972, found photograph]

Scott Zieher discovered a pile of photographs among discarded effects of a recently deceased tenant in the basement of a Manhattan apartment building. Exhibited for the first time in the show “Band of Bikers” at ZieherSmith (and presented in a new publication of the same name from PowerHouse Books), these photographs from circa 1972 offer an intimate and most poignant portrait of a group of gay bikers in both city and forest settings.

This touching sampling of a historical subculture at its carefree zenith brings into focus a brief, specific period of relative innocence, when middle-of-the-road Americans more often than not failed to perceive the homoerotic undertones of their most heterosexual of institutions. With conceptual light cast by issues ranging from anonymity in homosexuality and underground motorcycle chic to vernacular photography’s pop-culture ramifications, a warm and generous spirit of camaraderie pervades this subterranean survey. Like a real-world set for Kenneth Anger’s 1964 experimental film “Scorpio Rising” casually captured by an unpretentious extra, this found cache of old-school, leather party snapshots emanates archeological as well as emotional significance.

While the particular tenant’s cause of death is not known, these recovered artifacts bespeak the irreparable squander and loss of artistic, cultural, and literary legacy during the AIDS epidemic. During the late 1980s and early 1990s it was so outrageously commonplace to come upon trashed remnants of prematurely consumed lives. Isolated individuals (such as Zieher) managed to rescue minute portions of such treasures from oblivion. Happening upon such treasures on nights out with friends and comrades during that period, we would absorb the tragedy by looking through the books, records, and assorted ephemera of our lost brothers. Horrified, we would go through unidentified photos knowing that history and experience were being lost before a proper recording, reckoning, quantification, and qualification. At the same time we mourned for a brother unknown to us as well as the loss of his potential heritage. How we absolutely resented the cavalier decisions by survivors (whom we always assumed to be ultra-homophobic cretins from the "outer reaches") to trash such treasures on the curb!

The original individual photographs, as well as the book, will be available throughout the exhibition. The PowerHouse publication also includes an essay by Scott Zieher. Zieher , a poet, art dealer, and avid collector has scavenged and collected books, photographs, art, paper, archives, and ephemera since childhood. His recent poetry has appeared in Tin House, LAB MAG, The Sienese Shredder, and KNOCK. His first book, “Virga,” was the first of a projected 13 sequential, book-length poems. He is president and founding member of Emergency Press, and co-owner of ZieherSmith with his wife, Andrea Smith.

Amos Lassen has made the following observations about this documentation of three gay biker gatherings from the summer of 1972 (a high-water mark and season illuminated in the must-see documentary “One Bright Shining Moment: The Forgotten Summer of George McGovern”): “The photos are old and faded but they still show the happiness of the time and the beauty of men. Leather and denim fill the photographs and the men who are in them smile gloriously. They are all happy to be with each other and exude a true sense of brotherhood. Some of the photos are playful and there is a certain sinuosity to others. However, what we see above all else are senses of pride and belonging. Here is a history of a time gone and what we see is the carefree abandon with which some of the gay community lived (and loved). It would be wonderful to know what was going through the minds of the men in the photos but we will have to wait until someone else can supply us with that. Meanwhile we have this wonderful album.” Well said, Mr. Lassen!

Band of Bikers
@ ZieherSmith
Through Saturday, March 20, 2010
516 West 20th Street (between 10th and 11th Avenues), NYC 10011

Band of Bikers 1962/1972 (Hardcover) by Scott Zieher

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Susan Sharp’s Biomorphic Mastery

[“Trilogy 1,2,3,” oil on three wood panels. “Rim,” oil on wood panels. “Borderlands,” oil on 15 wood panels.]

Intersections, polarities, continuum, and tension come to life in “Borderlands,” Susan Sharp’s new series of multi-panel paintings being shown at Heidi Cho Gallery through February 6, 2010. Sharp—drawn to paint in its liquid state in which its forms emerge—pours several layers of paint on smooth surfaces such as wood and masonite. In this process, Sharp evokes dense and translucent personal topographies of internal mindscapes.

Tension between organic and biomorphic forms struggling to connect—and the resultant interplay between attraction and repulsion—create a depth and resonance in Sharp’s work. Her seductive colors engage—via transparent veils—in a lyrical pas de deux. Such color-driven passages appear to be informed by meandering rivers and geological formations both real and figurative.

These multi-panel paintings explore infinite spaces of sky and depths of water in varying bands of color in which illusions of far and near arduously navigate borders delineating disparate worlds. As art critic Donald Kuspit has said: “Susan Sharp's abstract paintings are saturated with an indwelling luminosity on which intricately meandering lines spin themselves out, often composing themselves into free-form planes that seem to throb with a life of their own.” Her imagery and juxtapositions grasp patterns of psychology and intuition: The viewer is left to read and absorb an ambiguous back and forth that is as playful as it is impulsive.

With absolute impunity, Sharp manipulates forms, colors, and lines in an emotive—if fragile—entanglement. It functions effectively within these effusive parameters, so loaded with oblique references and metaphorical associations. The way lines convulse and explode in Sharp's work contribute to their meditative and mindful qualities. Their ethereal quality results from their reaction to painting surfaces as well.

Borderlands: Susan Sharp
Through February 6, 2010
@ Heidi Cho Gallery
522 West 23rd Street, NYC 10011

The Birthday Party: Scott Daniel Ellison

[“Birch Trees” (2008), acrylic on canvas. “Haunted Houses” (2009), acrylic on canvas. “Mouth” (2009), acrylic on canvas.]

In his trademark faux-naïve style, Scott Daniel Ellison’s second solo show in New York City (and at ClampArt) expands upon his fascination with ragged animal life, horror film characters, and his own recurrent fears. On view at ClampArt through February 20, 2010, the small figurative works in “The Birthday Party” depict animals and people both as single and multiple figures.

Over the past two years, Ellison’s paintings generally have grown larger (up to 14 x 18 inches) and his macabre subject matter more entrenched. Inspired by Scandinavian folk art he admired while living in Sweden, along with obscure horror films, grisly tales, recurrent fears, and popular music (Ellison is also a recording artist), the darkly humorous works are sparse and enigmatic, suggesting but never completely offering extended narratives. Largely focused on animals Ellison has seen firsthand, his works offer a refuge to such quirky creatures as skunks, sloths, opossums, and ocelots. Yet, on occasion, one will find the stray vampire, werewolf, or hot young woman. His subjects’ diminutive nature give a sense of storybook illustrations on crack—that could have been taken from either “Friday the 13th” or the aftermath of a backyard raccoon raid.

Originally trained as a photographer at SUNY Purchase and the International Center for Photography, Ellison cites influential American photographers Diane Arbus (1923–1971) and Ralph Eugene Meatyard (1925–1972) as other major influences. This is apparent in Ellison’s earlier deadpan compositions of animal portraits as well as the obvious mood of many of his newer pieces. In Ellison’s work, one can easily see disturbing elements so reveled in by Meatyard, not to mention the haunting intrusions of “inner space” so elemental in Meatyard’s work. Not conforming to either the east coast’s “street photography” or the west coast’s romantic camera realism, Meatyard was too far ahead of his time: His images were populated with dolls, masks, family, friends, and neighbors in such settings as abandoned buildings or suburban backyards. The “photo boom” in which Meatyard and such colleagues as Henry Holmes Smith (1909-1986) and Harry Callahan (1912-1999) found themselves roughly paralleled the ferment and general upheaval of the civil rights and antiwar movements—not to mention the sexual revolution and counterculture.

Based in Beacon, New York, the artist has also shown his work at Carl Berg Projects (Los Angeles).

The Birthday Party: Scott Daniel Ellison
Through February 20, 2010
@ ClampArt Gallery
521-531 West 20th Street, NYC 10001

Scott Daniel Ellison Music on iTunes

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Hudson Guild: Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom!

[“Winter Amaryllis,” Peter Harvey. “Birds, Butterflies & Flowers,” Alvaro Amejeiras. “Mexican Vase With Red Flowers,” Sally Friedman. “Bowl of Tulips,” Muriel Taub Glantzman.]

Last year, a request for submissions was sent out by the arts program at Hudson Guild for a show featuring unusual still-life works. The response was so overwhelming—and varied—that it was decided to separate the response into three different clusters of still-life exhibits. The show last spring was devoted to food and kitchen objects. Next year a show will focus exclusively on inorganic objects. The current show, curated by gallery director Jim Furlong, is focused on horticultural objects. Other exhibits have been devoted to watercolor, drawing, oil painting, landscapes, and portraits.

Since 1895, art programs at Hudson Guild have helped to strengthen the fabric of community in Chelsea by bringing together people from diverse backgrounds to explore their mutual interest in the arts. Hudson Guild’s two galleries—Hudson Guild Gallery (opened in 1948) and Guild Gallery II (opened in 2001)—offer a number of ways for participants of all ages to engage with the visual arts. Providing this opportunity for those who might not otherwise have access to the art world is a special mission of Hudson Guild. The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, the Milton and Sally Avery Foundation, Con Edison, Susan and Tony Gilroy, Emily Meschter, Jolie Stahl, and Friends of the Arts at Hudson Guild assist Arts at Hudson Guild in serving these underserved communities.

Just a glance at the four pictured works shows the remarkable variety of styles and media utilized in depicting elements from our everyday lives—and the enduring fascination of the still life in creative expression. For more than five decades, Hudson Guild’s various arts programs have presented more than 300 diverse shows and works by both professional and amateur artists. Traditional styles of painting, drawing, sculpture, and photography have been supplemented by works using emerging media and styles. Talks and tours led by Guild arts staff (and sometimes the artists) encourage a deeper exploration of the visual arts. Over 3,000 people participate in Hudson Guild's arts programming each year. Their various initiatives help foster development of self-discipline, self-esteem, and creativity.

In our new century, Hudson Guild continues the vital work of social reform. Begun by such visionaries as Felix Adler (1851-1933), Hull House founder Jane Addams (1860-1935), The Children’s Aid Society’s Charles Loring Brace (1826=1890), and Henry Street Settlement founder Lillian Wald (1867-1940), most settlement houses (of which Hudson Guild is one) were formed to empower the poor and working poor—especially those in America’s burgeoning immigrant population. These institutions are no less important to our neighborhoods today.

Botanical Pictures: Unusual Still Lifes of Plants & Flowers
Through January 26, 2010
@ Guild Gallery II
Hudson Guild Fulton Center
119 West 9th Avenue (between 17th & 18th Streets), NYC 10011

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Matthew Cusick: Cease To Exist

[“Charlie’s Angels” (2009). Maps, book pages, Folger’s Coffee, ink on wood panel. “Many Rivers” (2009). Inlaid maps & acrylic on wood panel. “The Colony” (2009). Inlaid maps & acrylic on wood panel.]

Apparitions lurk behind muscle cars, celebrity culture, ubiquitous freeway interchanges, and manicured golf courses in the new work of Matthew Cusick at Pavel Zoubok Gallery being shown through February 6, 2010. Incorporating maps and other printed materials into understatedly grim collage-based painting, his landscapes and studies convey Southern California’s more nihilistic corners. Recently featured in Katharine Harmon’s “The Map as Art: Contemporary Artists Explore Cartography” (Princeton Architectural Press, 2009), “Cease to Exist” marks Cusick’s solo debut at Pavel Zoubok.

“Charlie’s Angels”—depicting convicted Charles Manson “family” murderers Susan Atkins (1948–2009), one-time homecoming princess Leslie Van Houten, and former Catechism teacher Patricia Krenwinkel—is the centerpiece and sole figurative work of the show and indicative of the Southern California milieu at the onset of the 1970s so jarringly captured by Cusick. Embedded in their skin creases are map fragments showing geographic locations of their murder spree. Zombie-like and cloaked in textbook pages on the nature of the family from the Sociology of Child Psychology (1966), the three tread upon a carpet of Folger’s Coffee in a reference to their victim Abigail Folger (1943–1969)—an heiress to the Folger Coffee fortune. Stabbed 28 times in the rampage upon the Cielo Drive residence of Roman Polanski, Folger was a civil rights worker who had volunteered in the Los Angeles mayoral campaign of Tom Bradley and the seminal 1968 presidential campaign of Senator Robert F. Kennedy after having served as publicity director for the University of California Art Museum in Berkeley.

The exhibition title “Cease to Exist” refers to the song written by the monster Manson and recorded by the Beach Boys in 1968 under the title “Never Learn Not to Love” as the B-side of their “Birds Over the Mountain” single and included in their 1969 album “20/20.” Beach Boy Dennis Wilson—a former acquaintance of Manson—rewrote the melody and changed some of the lyrics. For instance, rather than opening with Manson’s original—and sinister—“cease to exist,” Wilson altered them to the sexual come-on “cease to resist.” The song was credited solely to Dennis Wilson. The connection between the Manson Family and the “squeaky clean” surfer image of the Beach Boys underscores the duality of innocence and malevolence in Cusick’s work in which desire co-exists with repulsion.

Hindsight is indeed 20/20 and to review these lyrics with knowledge of the brutal Manson rampage is chilling: “Pretty girl, pretty, pretty girl, cease to exist. Just come and say you love me. Give up your world. C'mon you can see I'm your kind, I'm your kind. You can see. Walk on, walk on. I love you pretty girl. My life is yours and you can have my world. Never had a lesson I ever learned. But I know we all get our turn. I love you. Submission is a gift. Go on, give it to your brother. Love and understanding is for one another. I'm your kind, I'm your kind. I'm your mind. I'm your brother. I never had a lesson I ever learned. But I know we all get our turn. And I love you. Never learned not to love you. I never learned.”

Loneliness, alienation, and isolation are downright visceral in this ensemble by Cusick, who has previously captured oblique aerial images of Texas highways traversing allegorical landscapes and depictions emerging from Hollywood films in respective shows at Lisa Dent Gallery (San Francisco) and Glenn Horowitz Bookseller (East Hampton). In dissecting books into fragments and combining them into inlaid and intricate works with unintended contexts, Cusick parallels human knowledge acquisition. Without being pedantic, Cusick offers the viewer a provocative yet playful exploration that is wonderfully cerebral.

Matthew Cusick: Cease To Exist
Through February 6, 2010
@ Pavel Zoubok Gallery
533 West 23rd Street, New York City 10011

Friday, January 22, 2010

Pierrot le fou is (not) Dead: Bernardí Roig

[“Pierrot le fou,” mixed media installation. “Pierrot le fou is (not) Dead,” mixed media installation, aluminum, electricity. “Despondency Exercises (IV Movement),” mixed media sculpture. “Not Twin Heads,” mixed media sculpture, polyester resin.]

Classical myths and post-Modern philosophy culminate with the current body of works by Bernardí Roig at Claire Oliver Gallery. Showing through January 23, 2010, “Pierrot le fou is (not) Dead”—a powerful mélange of sculpture and installation by one of Spain’s most prominent contemporary artists—is Roig’s third solo exhibition with Claire Oliver Gallery. Media such as drawing, sculpture, and video come alive in Roig’s dynamic works in which the human figure is the conceptual center.

While flirting with traditional sculpture, these Minimalist and Conceptual works speak of society in which envelopes have been pushed to the bursting point. As cast in every tiny detail of “Pierrot le fou is (not) Dead,” the viewer can discern inherent chaos in our collective societies so pervaded by loss of historical memory and identity. In our respective societies—so saturated with the mass media—it has become a challenge to discern fact from fiction or important issues from those trivial. The figures in “Pierrot le fou is (not) Dead” Roig aptly capture this distance and lack of sensation.

Furthermore, Roig’s illuminative and metaphorical use of light is a vital element in conveying perspectives of time, space, wholeness, and schism. Sheathed by fluorescent tubes, Roig’s subjects are blinded in a cacophony of imagery and voyeurism. Simultaneously confined and sightless, Roig’s white sculptures (which are casts of real people) are an embarkation point in analyzing imprisoned memory and identity.

Inspired by classical myths and postmodern philosophy, the prose of Thomas Bernhard (1931– 1989) and art of Pierre Klossowski (1905—2001) also find their way into Roig’s work. One of the German language’s most important post-war authors, Bernhard’s existential works explored abandonment and death. Klossowski—who translated important works by Virgil, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Martin Heidegger, Friedrich Holderlin, Franz Kafka, Nietzche, and Walter Benjamin into French—greatly influenced such seminal philosophers as Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, and Jean-Francois Lyotard. Indeed, Roig’s compelling work explores boundaries separating and connecting two essential paradigms: the pre-Modern (founded on the integrity of the spirit) and the post-Modern (which alters interpretation and presentation of images).

Communicating with the viewer through his solitary sculptures, Roig’s presentation of the human body and its symbols manage to balance a number of variables. These include death, immortality, desire, eroticism, intimacy, isolation, and fulfillment. This interior dialogue is accomplished in the separate narratives of his various works or by their absorption as an ensemble. The artist’s fluency in art history and philosophical discourse greatly empower his works.

The artist’s work has been viewed in a number of venues, including Atlantic Center of Modern Art (Spain), Foundation La Caixa (Barcelona), Foundation Ludwig (Havana), Museé d’Art Moderne (Oostende), the Kampa Museum (Prague), the Kunstmuseum (Bonn), the Domus Artium (Salamanca), and the Museo Carlo Bilotti of Villaborghese (Rome).

Pierrot le fou is (not) Dead: Bernardí Roig
Through January 23, 2010
@ Claire Oliver Gallery
513 West 26th Street, NYC 10001

Bernardí Roig Video

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Building on a Cliff: Matt Connors, Arturo Herrera & Merlin James

[“Tiergarten/Monuments” (2008), Arturo Herrera. Collage, mixed media on paper. “DBCWMCIII” (2009), Matt Connors. Oil on canvas. “To come” (2009), James Merlin. Acrylic on Plexiglas, wood, & metal.]

Creating bodies of work that are—at once—familiar and unsettling, Matt Connors, Arturo Herrera, and Merlin James move between painting, sculpture, and points between. On view at Sikkema Jenkins & Co. through January 23, 2010, the three artists included in “Building on a Cliff” largely work in areas of drawing and painting, while additionally creating hybrid works blurring the definitions of specific art practices such as painting-sculpture, photography installation.

In Connors’ dialogue with post-war abstraction and Modernist painting styles, his palette, line quality, and paint application most clearly enunciate. His works transcend the self-referential, while attempting to incorporate film, music, and poetry. Irrationality, desire, and anecdotal experience fuse into Connors’ installations and extend the tenuous abstraction of his work into the architecture of the exhibition space. Indeed, abstraction and representation fluctuate radically in Connors’ work. This while Connors negotiates back and forth from embracing and rejecting Clement Greenberg’s tenet, which holds that painting is irreducible only to be obfuscated by pictorial representation. Installations by Matt Connors, despite disparate yet coexisting priorities of media, the artist’s work nonetheless lauds Modernism. While working in one medium, the artist’s final results evoke yet another.

Arturo Herrera creates steel sculptures based on delicate ink drawings, large wall works from small found photo images, and collage works that fluctuate between the recognizable and the abstract. Herrera’s fluency in a range of media allows him to evoke memory as he taps into the collective unconscious: This is true regardless of whether he works collage, work on paper, sculpture, relief, wall painting, or photography. In Herrera’s synthesis of characters, shapes, and obscured images memory and recollection are palpable. The artist’s techniques of fragmentation, splicing, and recontextualization—while compelling in their own right—culminate in a rather subversive quality. As with Connors’ work, viewers experience visceral ambivalence between the figurative and abstract as well as a seamlessness with regards to media. All this while the artist straddles various genres and styles! In Herrera’s hands, assemblage can come off as a primal expression of Abstract Expressionism. Provocative, the artist combs various niches of our cultural such as cartoons, coloring books, and fairy tales in his sometimes dark explorations.

New paintings by Merlin James often reveal their physical structure and may even include small sculptural details. For over two decades, the painting of Merlin James has evolved across myriad genres such as portraiture, seascapes, landscapes, still life, erotic works, and interior scenes. Meanwhile, his styles have managed to accommodate the range from smooth studies through impasto. Paint’s materiality, in fact, comes forward loudly in his explorations—in which any number of ingredients find their way into his cauldron. While sometimes embracing a certain cryptic quality, James’ work vacillates on degrees of representation as well as between tradition and innovation. As critic Roberta Smith has written about James: “His paintings blur abstract and representational; they hint at photographs, but also evoke Modernist masters. They revisit traditional subject matter like landscape and still life, but can also attend quite explicitly to sex. Always, they are hyperconscious of physical means.”

Matt Connors lives and works in Los Angeles; Arturo Herrera (while born in Caracas, Venezuela) lives and works in Berlin; and Merlin James lives and works in Glasgow. Connors’ work has appeared at CANADA (New York), The Breeder (Athens), and LutgenMiejar (Berlin). The recipient of such awards as a DAAD Fellowship, Herrera’s work has been exhibited in such venues as Centre d’Art Contemporain (Geneva), Dia Center for the Arts, P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, and the Whitney Museum of Contemporary Art. Meanwhile, James’ work has been shown in such venues as Kerlin Gallery (Dublin), Vitamin Arte Contemporanea (Turin), the New York Studio School, Kunsthalle (Manheim), Andrew Mummery Gallery (London), and Galerie Les filles du Calvaire (Brussels).

Building on a Cliff: Matt Connors, Arturo Herrera & Merlin James
Through January 23, 2010
@ Sikkema Jenkins & Co.
530 West 22nd Street, NYC 10011

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Bridge to the Possible: Helen Frankenthaler

[“High Spirits” (1988), acrylic on canvas. “Groundswell” (1987), acrylic on canvas. “Untitled (February 24, 1984)” (1984), acrylic & crayon on paper.]

One of America’s most distinguished artists, Helen Frankenthaler has exhibited her work for six decades. Being a transitional figure between Abstract Expressionism’s first and second generations, Frankenthaler’s career took off in 1952 with her work “Mountains and Sea.” Viewers will have the wondrous opportunity to see an array of vital and continually evolving paintings and works on paper by this native and noted New Yorker at Ameringer McEnery Yohe through January 23, 2010.

While attending Dalton School, Frankenthaler studied under Rufino Tamayo (1899—1991). A Zapotecan Cubist painter who synthesized aspects of pre-Columbian culture into his work, Tamayo’s work was noteworthy for its tonal interplay and richness of geometry, metaphor, and explorative transfiguration. Upon returning to New York after completing her studies at Bennington College, Frankenthaler rapidly took her place as an important player among the ranks of its avant-garde art world and the New York School of painters such as Lee Krasner (1908—1984), Jackson Pollock (1912–1956), David Smith (1906–1965), Willem de Kooning (1904–1997), Elaine de Kooning (1918–1989), Franz Kline (1910 –1962), Adolf Gottlieb (1903–1974), and Barnett Newman (1905–1970). She was married to Robert Motherwell (1915–1991), a fellow member of this “crowd,” from 1958 to 1971.

With these and other artists, Frankenthaler helped to wrest away the pole of artistic eminence from Paris—allowing New York to seize the spotlight of artistic innovation. Influential art critic Clement Greenberg—who actively promoted the Abstract Expressionist movement—helped “steer” Frankenthaler through the New York art scene in her career’s early years and introduced her to movement catalyst Hans Hofmann (1880—1966). Hans Hofmann reinforced Frankenthaler’s Cubist orientation—begun in high school with Rufino Tamayo—when she studied with the former in 1950.

Marked by its longevity, Frankenthaler’s career has spanned the entirety of post-war American painting—and several generations of abstract painters. First exposed to Jackson Pollock’s work at his Betty Parsons Gallery show in 1950, Frankenthaler was awed by its completeness. “It was all there. I wanted to ‘live’ in this ‘land.’ I had to live there and master the language.” The paintings so grabbing her attention? “Autumn Rhythm,” “Number One,” and “Lavender Mist.”

Abstract Expressionism itself resulted from an interest in Cubism and Surrealism among that generation of artists, combined with their antipathy toward social realism and geometric abstraction. As that movement morphed into Post-Painterly Abstraction in the late 1950s and early 1960s, two distinct trends could be discerned. The Hard Edged Painters—including Ellsworth Kelly and Frank Stella—explored relationships between shapes and edges. Color Field Painters—the other group—included Frankenthaler and Morris Louis (1912—1962) who stained unprimed canvases. The latter artists, inspired by European Modernism, explored various physical aspects of large fields of pure, brilliant, open color. At the same time, artists such as Kenneth Noland (1924—2010) straddled both trends in their work. In her moving of Modernist painting from the linearity of drips and spatters to the luminousness of Color Field works, Louis would call Frankenthaler “the bridge between Pollock and what was possible.”

Importantly, Frankenthaler joined Miriam Schapiro, June Wayne, and Lois Mailou Jones in speaking at the 1971 Conference of Woman in the Visual Arts, which protested exclusion of women from the Corcoran Gallery’s 1971 biennial show. While Frankenthaler once stated that “the question of sex will take care of itself,” MIT art historian Caroline Jones lauded the artist’s 1950s works that simultaneously conformed to the rules of abstraction while containing clear, sensual elements of rebellion against them. Though Frankenthaler’s painterly signs of protest lasted barely a decade in her many decades long career, Jones contends that their presence presaged feminist performance artists such as Yoko Ono and Carolee Schneemann who worked in the Sixties and Seventies.

In a 1995 interview with Rob Storr, Felix Gonzalez-Torres had this to say about Frankenthaler: “All art and all cultural production are political. I’ll just give you an example. When you raise the question of politics or art, people immediately jump and say, ‘Barbara Kruger, Louise Lawler, Leon Golub, Nancy Spero—Those are political artists.’ Then who are the nonpolitical artists, as if that was possible at this point in history? Let’s look at abstraction, and let’s consider the most successful of those political artists, Helen Frankenthaler. Why [is she] the most successful political artist, even more than Kosuth, much more than Hans Haacke, much more than Nancy and Leon or Barbara Kruger? Because [she doesn’t] look political!”

In her seminal work “Mountains and Sea,” Frankenthaler introduced the aforementioned technique of painting directly onto an unprimed canvas. By utilizing this technique of “soak stain” (in which the turpentine-diluted oil paint’s color soaks into the canvas), this Frankenthaler work had the effect of a watercolor. At times, the method would give a halo effect to her paintings. Yet, while this work is considered pivotal in art history, Frankenthaler avoided working in series and allowing her work to fall into a rut or formula—unlike some of her contemporaries. With her hand, the canvas moved from mere support in paintings to “playing” an “active” role. In Frankenthaler’s paintings from the 1980s exhibited at Ameringer McEnery Yohe, viewers will experience the continuing role of depth illusion in her ever spontaneous and varied work as well as its sculptural quality.

Helen Frankenthaler
@ Ameringer McEnery Yohe
through January 23, 2010
525 West 22nd Street, NYC 10011

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Conjuring Passion: Chris Fennell

[“Akupara” (2009). Acrylic, powdered pigment & paper collage on paper mounted on canvas. “Cataract” (2009). Acrylic, metallic glimmer & collage on paper mounted on canvas. “May You Live in Interesting Times” (2008). Acrylic, rice paper & paper collage on paper mounted on museum board. “Boom Times” (2009). Acrylic, glitter, & paper collage on paper mounted on museum board.]

Referencing nature, mathematics, architecture, and religious art, the organic and geometric patterns of Chris Fennell’s mixed media collages come alive in “In Little Place a Million”—Chris Fennell’s first solo exhibition at Newman Popiashvili Gallery. The title of the show—running through January 9, 2010—is a quote from the prologue of William Shakespeare’s “Henry V,” in which the chorus begs the indulgence of the audience that they might allow the small domain of the stage to stand metaphorically for larger ideas and events. Approximately written in 1599, “Henry V”—part of a tetralogy including Richard II, Henry IV (part 1), and Henry IV (part 2)—is based on the life of England’s King Henry V and focuses on events occurring immediately before and after the Battle of Agincourt during the Hundred Years’ War.

In Fennell’s work, abstraction’s revelatory and exploratory powers come together to conjure passion and the scope of such history implied by the show’s title. Accomplishing a synthesis of references, the abstraction of Fennell’s work goes beyond exploring those various entities and challenges the viewer as well. Fennell does this with his chosen medium of paper—cut in differently sized circles, lines, and rectangles that overlap in multiple layers. Created and meant to be viewed as an ensemble, Fennell conceives his works with a sense of how three or four or five layers will interact on the surface. Notwithstanding, the artist concedes inherent challenges in visualizing their entirety due to distortions created by intersecting layers.

With such processes set in motion, unforeseen things occur in creation of new works. Fennell welcomes this element of unpredictability: If he is not surprised at some point, something is probably wrong. Labor intensive, Fennell’s works take place both in space and over time. Unlike plane geometry, in which a dot represents a precise location in space, Fennell sees the repetitive dots in his works as capturing passing moments. Unlike mathematical points, Fennell’s dots elide and elude boundaries rather than defining precise places. He manages this in the plethora of his works’ visual effects. The spontaneity of Fennell’s works, coupled with the interplay—indeed dialogue—between textures and surfaces, result in tectonic movements between form and spirit allowing for larger existential questions.

Chris Fennell was recently featured in “Here and There,” a two-person exhibition at PS122. His work has also been shown at Carol Jazzar Contemporary Art (Miami) and Alpan Gallery (Huntington).

In Little Place a Million: Chris Fennell
@ Newman Popiashvili Gallery
Through January 9, 2010
504 West 22nd Street, NYC 10011