Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Good Pictures from Matthew Leifheit

Marilyn Minter @ Salon 94

I like both Marilyn Minter shows. What is not to like about fogged up glass with drops of water, and glimpses of naked women on the other side who occasionally lick the glass. It is over-the-top work that goes for the eyeballs hard. The work is photorealistic to the point where I am not always sure what I am looking at, so even the technique is wonderful. The apparently naked women appear out of the soft, lovely haze of what is hard not to imagine as a shower door, giving the work feel of very respectable erotica, the kind of thing one might feel comfortable displaying on a coffee table. Yet still holds the genuinely erotic charge of actual pornography.

I haven’t always enjoyed Minter’s work, but these paintings are both stylistically tamer and more sexually confrontational than in the past, where, shiny high heels, colorful gaping lips and suggestive food all clearly carried an erotic charge without the overt sexual content that would directly link pictures to pornography. The lack of actual nudity allowed the artist and the viewer a plausible deniability as to how base the enjoyment of Minter’s work is.

But for me, the real attraction of the new images is Minter tempering her tendency to gaudiness. I enjoyed how the steely blue-purple palate of flesh, glass and steam tamper down the new work while being as seductive as anything going on in the paintings. Making the work, for my taste a tad easier to look at than in the past. One could make a convincing case for the earlier work being more complex and challenging, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want a certain degree of prettiness when I am viewing paintings.


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Implosion 20 @ Anton Kern Gallery

I haven’t been by Chelsea in a little bit, and it came as a little of a shock how many empty ground floor spaces were available, even spaces that were once blue chip galleries. I guess it makes sense. Since the Highline opened, the real estate bubble popped and Sandy hit, one by one small galleries and then midsized galleries have vanished from Chelsea only to be replaced by second hand dealers and mega galleries showing museum level shows of Old Masters.

With the dwindling of quality galleries in Chelsea, I’ve become more and more aware of how good Anton Kern’s programing has been. It’s not just showing photographers like Enrique Metinides or Anne Collier, but overall they have exhibited work that seemed exciting and for better or worse looked cool, or maybe I just loved that last Nicole Eisenman show.

Walking into Implosion 20, I was hit by how much good work was in the show. It immediately reminded me of the exhibition Bob Nickas curated a little while back. As with the Nickas show, this is packed to the gills with stylishly diverse work that looks like what you’d dream a high-end MFA open studio show would be. The exhibition is centered around 60’s psychedelia, which seems oddly timely with its political flourish combined with a desperate escapism, best exemplified by the presence of plush bean bag chairs positioned to watch police beating on video or a folkish painting of a guitarist across from an image of Hendrix with a color ringed hole descending into the wall.

The pinnacle of the show is the back room, where a blue line around the room at waist level seems to be painted over the work of a solo painting that is minimalist via junk art, a collision of styles that is weirdly appropriate in our current setting of post everything art. Reading the PR, apparently, I made it on the last day of the last show Anton Kern is having before their move uptown to the 50’s where galleries go to be seen by retirees.


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Masao Yamamoto, Tori @ Yancey Richardson Gallery

Austere pictures of birds. Who wouldn’t like to buy pictures of birds? Yancey Richardson nothing but cutting edge work that pushes the boundaries of the medium since moving into their spacious ground floor location.


Through Jan. 28th

Marilyn Minter, Spray On @ Carolina Nitsch Project Room

See, these looked like photographs, but I think of Minter as a painter so I thought they were very technical photorealistic paintings. But nope, just photos. When I was at the LES show, I spent half the time thinking the paintings were photographs. Stupid photorealistic painting. Hard to argue against the impressiveness of Minter’s craft.


Through Jan. 20th

Andrea Grützner, Erbgericht/Guesthouse @ Julie Saul Gallery

As popular as random abstract photographs are becoming, Grützner’s pictures are rather good. All the images appear to be either from a wonderful set in the artist’s studio or what I am guessing is a bohemian loft somewhere in Eastern Europe, filled with cracking painted wood in faded colors that may have made sense in the early 60’s. The vantage points are so convoluted that it is often hard to locate yourself as a viewer, and it starts to make me suspect that these may not be real places but spaces created to be photographed. Either way, Grützner injects an air of mystery into some compelling formal images and this keeps the formalness of the work from growing stale.


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Edward Burtynsky, Essential Elements @ Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery

Well, I haven’t written anything in a while, but on the upside Burtynsky was nice enough not to change anything since last I wrote about him. He has traveled to all kinds of places you’d love to go see and photograph and has brought back dry, uninteresting pictures. But come to think of it, the work has gotten even more formal and dry. So, I guess that’s what happened since my review. My bad. Burtynsky now even less interesting.


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Nan Goldin, Blood on My Hands @ Matthew Marks Gallery

Well, she has made small folksy drawings about her life. I am not sure what I want out of Nan Goldin, and maybe there is no way to get old and continue making interesting work. The grids of pictures in the show feel like the rehashing of her early work for the umpteenth time. They are just dull, lifeless and repetitive. While I am not at all into her doing small folk paintings, at least it is an attempt at something new. Making biographical work that appears therapeutic I would assume is important to Goldin. It has just stopped being important to me.


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Amy Park, Ed Ruscha’s "Every Building on the Sunset Strip" @ Morgan Lehman

Ed Ruscha is funny, and if you missed that in the work, then I think you missed a lot of the point. Somehow making watercolor versions of Ruscha’s Every Building on the Sunset Strip seems to miss the humor of the original gesture. I always took the work to be a rebuke of the abundance of photographic fact in documentary photography of the day, and how little the visual facts contribute to actual meaning. Ruscha’s giant foldout book served as an extended joke on the earnest documentary photography books of the day. So, I am not sure what to make of Amy Park. She seems to get all the facts of the work but none of the humorous dickishness.


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Matthew Brandt, River and Sky @ Yossi Milo Gallery

Making large format prints in lakes isn’t nearly as impressive as making alternative processes artistically relevant again. I am not exactly sure the return of an alt process can be put at Brandt’s feet, but he is certainly at the forefront, as seen in the colorful pictures of a brutalist fountain in his current show. The fountain seems like it only exists in a black and white reality as photographed by Michael Schmidt, making it into a very satisfying trippy batch of colors that look like sheets of baking sheets of hard candies. And for those who find photographic process an interesting feature in art, the pieces are being processed in public water sources, which is fun and crazy or as fun and crazy as alternative processes can be.

But the better question is, since when is this kind of thing artistically relevant? I guess there is always going to be a market for large abstract colorful things, and as photography goes, alt processes gives people selling photographs something easy to talk about and adds an inherent value to the photograph, i.e., the ability to make things in an interesting and unusual way. Or is it that the proliferation of photography programs employing teachers who never gave up the ghost on alt process and, no matter how out of fashion the genre, continue to subject unknowing generations of photographers to such clap trap, that you eventually create a market and produce artists interested in doing it?

Either way these are nice enough to look at, except for the pictures of skies in the back, which are terrible. There’s something about circular pictures of night skies that makes them feel like art that you might buy off the street in SoHo to furnish an apartment on the Upper West Side. Oh, apparently, the night sky pictures are actually cocaine on black velvet. I guess that’s something, but I still think as finished objects they’re not that interesting to look at.


Through. Jan. 21st

Ira Martin, 1886-1960 The Family Archive @ Rick Wester Fine Art

Not sure who Ira Martin is, but his pictures look like they could be recently discovered outtakes from most well-known photographers of his lifetime. I guess the question is, at what point does the popular appetite dry up for discovering unknown photographers? I can’t think of an unknown or forgotten photographer rediscovered in my lifetime, which I can point to as someone who changed what I know about photography. That isn’t to say I don’t like looking at them, I am just not sure how much I care. I like the pictures, but I will not remember them a year from now. I barely remember them days later as I write this.


Through Feb. 18th

Eli Durst, 2016 Aperture Portfolio Prize Winner @ Aperture Foundation


What strikes me most about Eli Durst’s work, especially revisiting it on Aperture’s website, is how little I learned about Asmara, the general subject of his work. The wall text informs us that Durst went to Africa after meeting refugees from Asmara while working in an immigration center in Texas. From the pictures, I can tell you that Asmara is not a terribly modern place and it might have some class issues. But I guess that is something you can say about a lot of places.

This isn’t to say I don’t enjoy Durst’s work. In the interest of full disclosure, I recently curated him into a group show. I would like to put forth that the key to understanding Durst’s work and its place in contemporary photography is how little you learn from such straight-forward black and white pictures, images that look like the documentary photographs we all know of Bresson, Evans or Frank. The subtle avant-garde step in Durst’s work is that as a document, the pictures border on useless and at best, they tell us things that most people already know.

Instead of providing a greater understanding of Asmara, the pictures form or suggest a relationship between the people in the photographs and the photographer. From the level of comfort and casualness of the subjects in the pictures, clearly they appear to be friends of Durst. The shabby hipness of their appearance and the settings paints the picture of some distant bohemian scene in Africa abounding in unknown art and popular music, that Americans only know a visit long ago, when they fell in with the people, and life unfolded like a Hemingway novel, with strangers who become fast friends with whom one eats well, drinks too much and generally have experiences. Which is a lot of life to get from pictures that have a still technical eloquence and seem like products of the skilled eye of a large format photographer.

Taking straightforward pictures that speak to the photographer’s experience in a place instead of trying to communicate historical or political information about a place clearly puts the work in a post Frank tradition of making pictures. But the loose associations from image to image hinge more on the randomness with which most of us currently digest images. Combining this stylistically with the expertise of a commercial photographer places Eli Durst’s black and white pictures of a far-off place soundly in the world of forward-looking contemporary photography.


Through Feb 2nd

Alex da Corte, Free Roses @ MASS MoCA

I hate to admit that the Internet has changed the way images are thought of. It is such a hackneyed line of thinking now, that to even find myself doing it makes me a little embarrassed. I hasten to call the resulting style of work the Tumblr esthetic, because it now seems Tumblr is dying a quick death; people are already onto Instagram, and I am just exhausted trying to keep up.

But if the abundance of images democratically popping up next to each other in people’s various social media feeds have led to questioning the importance of a traditional visual coherence in a body of work, then Alex da Corte seems to be taking it up a notch. Having gone through his rather ambitious show at MASS MoCA, I am not sure I like it, but it has stuck with me. What I remember is a lot of stuff that looked very cool, and I immediately imagined da Corte as someone much hipper than myself who has no qualms going all in on some garish bright colors, fluorescent lights and carpeting, lots and lots of carpeting.

I am not sure what the work means exactly. The carpet, a giant Kleenex box and erector set sculpture along with a giant cover of REM’s Green album with letters missing and a banana on it: the work all scream a vague free association of my own childhood, so I am guessing da Corte is of a similar age or at least young enough to glorify the period when I was a teen. But with the over-the-top colors and everything being so dark, it seems that his connection to suburbia of a certain period isn’t a happy one.

With this kind of random work, I can never quite tell whether the resistance to overt meaning is a punk rock confrontation of the viewer or just a cloying way of for the artist to avoid coming to hard artistic conclusions about the meaning and aspirations of the work. As a viewer, I am not sure if I am being swayed by vacuous work that feels cool or work that is aimed at an audience younger than myself. Either way, it has stuck with me, which is a lot more than I can say about most art.

Through Jan. 15th

Good Pictures from Erica Allen

Erica Allen

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).

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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.

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