Saturday, February 14, 2015

Good Pictures From Alex Thebez

Diana Thater, Science, Fiction @ David Zwirner

I started my day on 27th St. and worked down, so Zwirner was at the end of seeing lots of art. When I walked in the door, I felt like numerous reviewers who have expounded on the state of Chelsea: it’s over. Large, bloated galleries, showing increasingly conservative and established artists, where the cost of real estate isn’t killing the neighborhood, sheer boredom is. Then wham, into Diana Thater’s installation, which casts the entire gallery in a dim, but radiant blue light. The first blue gallery featured two stunning, realistically detailed videos of the galaxy. In a panic, it hit me that there must be all kinds of open-source images of space that I should spend more time looking at.

The main room felt like the VIP lounge of a chic nightclub or every other shot in the Hype Williams masterpiece Belly. In the center of the main, dark blue-lit room is a large, white-cube structure with cut-away trim emanating pink fluorescent light. A video shooting out of it onto the ceiling shows beetles frolicking in a patch of leaves. Sure, there is something very showy about the installation, like a pop culture version of James Turrell, but after a day of mostly dry and expected art, it was a much-needed shock to the system.

PS From what I gleaned from the Times review, beetles apparently navigate by the stars, and when urban light blocks the stars, they wander aimlessly.

Through Feb. 21st

Sebastiao Salgado, Genesis @ Yancey Richardson Gallery

God. Salgado makes the most boring pictures of the most amazing subject matter. It really is an amazing skill, one only matched by the master of bland, Edward Burtynsky. Salgado goes to the most dramatic places on earth and then, through overly romanticized, high contrast images, produces work that is so similar to every photojournalist picture ever that they become endlessly clichéd art. His inability to resist making a Salgado out of everything ends up completely removing the viewer from the event being photographed. He could make a dull picture of the return of Christ to reunite Genesis while having sex with Phil Collins on an iceberg. He is a black hole of photographic charisma.

I might be the wrong audience, being a photographer who sees lots of pictures and all, but I can’t remember ever being motivated to do anything political from seeing a picture. Reading an article sure, seeing documentaries, movies, hell, TV, but I've never opened a magazine or art book and seen a picture that motivated me to give to a cause or volunteer or go to a protest, nothing. I think photographs can be helpful tools in assisting in the communicating of an idea, but on their own they are pretty unconvincing. So to wrap up, Salgado is a terribly dull photographer whose life’s work has been to assist others with better tools, change public opinion. Also, I am gonna be very angry if the Oscar for documentaries goes to the film about Salgado rather than to Virunga, the touching movie about park rangers caring for mountain gorillas during a civil war in Congo (which got me to donate to assist the maintenance of the park).

Already Down

Annette Kelm, Archive @ Andrew Kreps

I have no clue what to make of Annette Kelm. I remember her pictures of odd museum displays from a group show at Anton Kern, I want to say this past summer? Same thing here, some pictures of museum displays of, I am gonna say, a show on sixties radicalism and feminist fashion? And then pictures of objects against a neutral background, like a pair of pink overalls with a political button, and a series of homemade tops covered in painted political slogans. The work seems to touch on politics and presentation and maybe some higher-end, Octoberish art-concept stuff, which is a little lost on me. I do find Kelm’s choice of things to dryly photograph compelling. But on some level, I am not sure these things need to be photographed. There seems to be evidence of something that might be explained in a terribly engaging New Yorker article, but as images they are perplexing and opaque. The things in the pictures do seem to reference complex topics, and the pictures are placed on the wall as art. I'm just not sure whether it is very smart work that I don’t understand or whether it's just bad art, and the opaqueness is a failure in the images. At this point, I am still a little fascinated and waiting to see how things play out.

Nope, just read the press release, which tends to reduce the images to interesting footnotes on explaining large subjects, but Kelm seems to show no interest or ability in communicating this photographically. The pictures just come off as illustrations for an academic text. Heck, at this point it would be more endearing to show the pictures with lots of wall text. But Kelm has chosen to present the pictures without a context, in hopes, I assume, of driving the viewer to read the text out of curiosity. But I've got to say, once I’ve done that, it becomes clear that the text is a more engaging form of sharing information than her photos. I even feel a little weird that there is a whole strain of art out there, which I feel Kelm is a part of that thinks I need to be tricked by unclear art into reading otherwise illuminating text about compelling ideas.

Through Feb. 21st

Cheyney Thompson, Birdwings and Chambered Shells @ Andrew Kreps

I had a friend complain about the lack of love for op art. Well, I gotta say, computers really seem to have opened some stuff up for op art painters. Thompson’s paintings looks like very faint digital images that have been enlarged and stretched so that the squares of information are barely visible and the space between them forms a white screen on top. This creates some very lovely large minimalist paintings with mild hints of color under a light haze that bounces and undulates as your eye struggles to find a plane of focus. And, as if to show some dexterity, three large, aggressive black and gray paintings with wide, thick brush strokes feel as heavy as the white paintings feel light.

Through Feb. 21st

Yasumasa Morimura, Las Meninas Renacen de Noche (Las Meninas Reborn in the Night) @ Luhring Augustine

Pictures of people reenacting Las Meninas by Velazquez in front of the original Velazquez to imitate a mirror the painting is looking into. I guess that's cute, right? It certainly must have taken some doing to set up, and it is a wonderful painting, but after Eve Sussman’s giant video at the Whitney Biennial, I think art reenacting Las Meninas has been covered.

Already Down

Max Neumann, New Works @ Bruce Silverstein

Large photographs, which, I think, have been painted over? Which turns the images into modern silhouettes crossed with the art that a serial killer in an episode of SVU might make. I do like Silverstein's efforts to show more contemporary work, but the more they do, the more I suspect this isn’t exactly their forte.

Through Feb. 21st

Josef Koudelka, 12 Panoramas 1987-2012 @ Pace / MacGill Gallery

This could be the best edit of Koudelka’s panoramas I’ve ever seen, and it almost makes me not hate the format. The locations and how he has photographed them certainly create an otherworldly place right out of a very depressing Fellini movie. But I still have a hard time with the panoramic frame, which somehow makes the images feel a little cheap. Now that I think about it, that is a real testament to Lois Conner’s ability to use such an unforgiving format and produce quality work.

Through Feb. 14th

Scot Sothern, Lowlife 1985-1991 @ Daniel Cooney Fine Art

I’ve known Scot Sothern’s pictures from seeing them online, of what I took to be naked prostitutes. They were always fascinating, and some seemed erotic in a very dirty, black and white, high-keyed, flash kind of way. My reactions ranged from Oh god, why would anyone have sex there or with that person, to Shit, this is sad, and I never, ever want to have sex again. Sothern's pictures are compelling. Their dead-center framing and harsh flash can give the impression that a very talented consumer of prostitutes, not a practicing artist, made them. This lends them a certain charm. With the immediacy in the way the images were made, you can't help feeling that for better or worse, you are under a bridge paying a weathered, naked woman for sex. Seeing that the pictures exhibited are small snapshot-style prints of maybe 4x6 in does maybe go a step too far in making the photos look like mementos from what I am guessing is a not terribly happy moment in two peoples’ lives.

Having read the press release, apparently Scot Sothern is a little bit of both a working photojournalist and a fan of getting fucked up and having sex with prostitutes. I guess this makes the work a little less enjoyable for me. I liked believing that the pictures were a well-crafted fiction as opposed to a skilled documentation of what is actually happening.

Through Feb. 28th

George Platt Lynes, Robert Mapplethorpe, Ted Victoria @ Robert Miller Gallery

I haven’t been to Robert Miller in a bit, but I feel like the same Mapplethorpe work was up last time I was there. I mean, I like Mapplethorpe, and especially some of the close-ups of marble statues, but again I am sure this was the exact selection they had up last year. Maybe they only have so many Mapplethorpes to sell?

Through Feb. 21st

By Proxy @ James Cohan Gallery

It is always good to walk into a group show and see Siebren Versteeg’s paintings, made by an algorithm with his computer. Having just seen Michael Williams at MoMA’s new painting show, Siebren’s computer kicks the shit out of Williams’ paintings. But they do say the best football prognosticators are only right 50% of the time, and throwing darts at the stock index does about as well as most brokers. So I guess it’s not surprising that a computer randomly generating paintings has got to be as good as some upper echelon abstract painters.

But even more exciting than Siebren's paintings was what appears to be a monitor he has set up that is trying to match his paintings to pictures of people on the internet or at least that's what I was led to believe by the vague title LIKE, 2014 Internet connected computer program with real-time recursive image searching output to 46" LED monitor 42 x 25 inches. It is also not an unreasonable assumption for a diptych made up of one of his computer-generated abstractions being paired with a google search on autopilot for images. Also there is a Yoko Ono in the show. I guess I was in a hurry, or really into Siebren’s work, to catch it. Oh no, wait, referencing the gallery’s web site, it was a minimalist chair and table set with a white chess set and high gaudy chair backs. I generally like Ono’s work, but often her performances are much stronger than her objects. There were also some uninspired google earth screen grabs from Jon Rafman, which I think we can all agree have grown tiresome as a practice.

Already Down

The Curve @ Wallspace

Oh, how I love thee, Wallspace. Who else, in their love of photography or at least their dealing with it as a medium due the respect of other mediums, has a wonderful group show that intelligently works in some of Jan Groover’s black and white still life photographs. The exhibition also stars the fabulously bright-colored ceramic pieces of Zachary Leener that look like the best art one could make using SpongeBob SquarePants as inspiration (and for the record I mean that in a very good way). The lively, almost silly sculptures go great with Groover’s darker black and white still lifes and Kristen Jensen's more earnest and stylish, though not unexpected, sculptural pieces. Or for that matter, Matt Paweski’s lively wood sculptures. The show also features some quality painting by Monique Mouton, and as usual, Wallspace, even in a small off-season group show, manages to come up with something excellent. They really are the best gallery in Chelsea hands down.

Through Feb. 14th

Good Pictures From David Severn

David Severin

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Good Pictures From Thomas Prior

Thomas Prior

Book Review of Noel Camardo, Los Angeles

I’ve been spending a lot of time with Leo Rubinfien’s Garry Winogrand retrospective and thinking a lot about street photography. In particular, Rubenfien argues that Winogrand’s late pictures from Los Angeles are a quality body of work and not, as Szarkowski argues, an unfinished problem left incomplete by Winogrand’s untimely death. During my falling into a wormhole of Winogrand pictures, out of nowhere Mr. Camardo was nice enough to send me a copy of his new book of LA street work, and my first thought was, wow, Camardo kills Winogrand’s later pictures. Granted, I fall on the Szarkowski end of the debate over Winogrand’s later work, but still, if Winogrand had ended up with Camardo’s images, there would be no doubt of the quality of his late photographs.

Now, I am not trying to be unfair and saddle Camardo with a Winogrand comparison. But Camardo at his best takes the tragic chaos of Winogrand’s LA work and crams it into the meticulous frames of Friedlander, if Friedlander worked in color and was a little more formally stiff. The books starts with a man in front of convenience store holding a cross to the sky and ends with a man radiating light as he sits Indian style on a sidewalk. It is the LA that as a New Yorker I always imagined. Yet, as good as Camardo is, some of the pictures, like the well-lighted steps of an LA mansion, feel like filler or, at best, setting the scene for some of the meatier images. And more than one picture seem to have been taken from a car, which is a limitation, except when it is overcome, as it is in a stunning frame of street signs that lead to man painting a pink garage. Driving pictures do make sense for LA, which is certainly an automobile town, but at times, the car vantage point feels like just too high a hurdle, even for someone as talented as Camardo. But when his daring pictures come together, they become a perfect synopsis of all 70’s photography, rigid architectural pictures with hints of social economic issues, whit an improbable grouping of strangers forming a coherent narrative. The pictures are exceedingly impressive, like one of a row of garbage cans outside an apartment building, with a older lady beautifully lit by warm light in the top right corner, an older man putting out what looks like a rug in the center and a small child alone at the bottom of the stairs at the lower left. Camardo is what would have happened if Winogrand had bought a 4x5in and hadn’t died.

Good Pictures From Adam Neese

Adam Neese

Yasi Ghanbari, YO! I’m Your C.E.O. @ Nurture Art

I am not sure what Yasi Ghanbari has against Tom from Toms Shoes, the liberal company that sells stuff and uses some of the profits to help poor people (apparently there is no Tom, just a guy named Blake). But I love that the art she makes really seems, in a cryptic way, to be sticking it to Tom/Blake. The centerpiece is an extended video where the artist, wearing no clothes, comically struggles, with the help of a man off-camera, to use her own backside as a stamp to decorate canvas colored drapes. The video screen is flanked by what might be drapes from the video, and her derrière stamps have produced a colorful flower print. The drapes are so convincing, I feel that I have seen them at IKEA. So much so that I almost suspect the video is reverse-engineered from actual IKEA drapes. Each set of drapes is paired with shoes that I assume are made by Toms Shoes and come from a pile of Toms shoeboxes in the corner of the show.

I think it’s fair to say that butt-printed curtains paired with shoes made to benefit the less fortunate is a critique, but I would be a little hard pressed to say how. There are also some white steps printed with a 90’s cartoonishly diverse ad for Benetton clothes featuring a varied cast of models, that I feel was shorthand for the 90’s tendency to over-correct for all the hate, racism, and misogyny in the history of modern culture up to that point. So I am also taking that one as a clear shot at Tom/Blake. Then there is a mannequin wearing a Toms shirt twisting on a yoga mat with, I want to say Toms coffee, and watching a slide show of the very white young Tom/Blake with non-western kids. Which again seemed like a pretty aggressive dig at consumerism trying to fix the world through selling over-priced luxury goods. And this all appears across form a very attractive video of Ghanbari in bed behind a screen of steam talking on her iPhone about, I think, art theory (it was a little loud at the opening and I couldn’t quite make out the conversation). Again I don’t know much about Toms Shoes, but I do love that the work has an edge and is taking on things beyond the art world. It is not something you often see in the Brooklyn art scene. You also don’t tend to see the level of execution Ghanbari brings to her work, which feels both professional and ambitious. Also the back of the press release has this charming list

Purchases made in this exhibition resulted in the following actions:

1 week of clean water (140 liters) was given to a person in need.

2 trees were planted.

7 pairs of shoes were given to 7 people in need.

1 pair of glasses was given to a person in need.

1 backpack was given to a child in need.

Through Oct. 10th