Wednesday, June 18, 2014
Tim Barber has certainly done good stuff with Tiny Vices, and his pictures are quite good, but I am not sure I loved them. From what I can remember of the show, there were pictures of a wrist, a cat with some flowers, two hands touching, a green lens flare through trees, a naked couple kissing, a child breastfeeding, an overhead shot of a body of water, light breaking through the clouds, all good and sometimes striking pictures. But at some point, it would be nice if photographers got back to putting together bodies of work that made a little bit more sense. I feel Ethridge has gotten old, and I’d like to see pictures once in a while that are about stuff out in the world.
Through Jun. 23rd
Say what you want about Oscar Murillo’s meteoric rise from art school to big budget show at star-making David Zwirner. It’s easy to hate, but remember how many people the other star maker in Chelsea, Gagosian, has run through. Like anyone remembers that Tierney Gearon had a solo show there, huh? Bet you completely forgot that. And man, Murillo’s show comes with free chocolate marshmallow candies. Now, the exhibition is just a functioning candy factory that you can see only by peeking through the shelves or on three live streaming monitors. Like the show, the candies are only ok, but I am all for art that gives me candy.
Ugh, this is so terrible. I am not sure what to say about the over-worked photographs that look like paintings. It’s as though Yancey Richardson is becoming one of those SoHo galleries that deal in things that might qualify as art, but don’t make any sense in the context of the last thirty years of art history. It’s like they are pioneering an avant-garde of tastelessness.
Through Jul. 3rd
I generally like Mark Cohen’s work. I think he is a solid street photographer, who is clearly a level below the greats, but well worth spending some time with. He was certainly the first to bring fill flash and such an aggressive formalism to photographing people on the streets. Is it me? Maybe it’s just the edit, but are there a lot of pictures of children’s crotches in the show? I counted six plus a kid’s butt in a bathing suit, a girl in a bathing suit and two adult crotches. I never noticed this before, and I am now kind of curious to go through a best of Cohen book to see just how much of a theme this is in his work. I assume it’s just the editing, combined with his tendency to shoot from a low and close vantage point. But yeah, lots of kid crotches in the show.
Through Jun 30th
I love Mika Rottenberg’s art. I am an unapologetic fan boy, but I forgot this was up and didn’t realize it until I ran into a friend on 22nd St. who mentioned it, so I had to turn around and head back in a light rain. I enthusiastically sat through the video, which is as good as all her videos are. Just to get to it, you have to go through a swinging wall featuring a bingo machine. The video focuses on a pretty dank bingo hall featuring a random batch of humanity, marking their cards in wonderful purple ink. It isn’t long till the person calling numbers is dropping clothespins into yet another Rottenberg-Rube Goldberg contraption ending with a man sticking the clothespins on his face until he explodes. Then there are a few, and not nearly enough, moments where we are on an ice float and then in a motel room where an odd contraption that vibrates / heats water (?) is next to the women calling numbers in bed. The video makes about as much sense as all her videos, where the visuals are compelling and involve a narrative in which one thing inevitably leads to another and to another until you get an odd result. You can say there is some critique about mass production in the work, but as awesome as the videos are, I do feel that they are getting repetitive. I wish she would engage even more of the outside world with her process, as she did in Performa with her video involving a desert landscape and indigenous people, or her last video Squeeze where she included people in a field picking cabbage. The outside world peeks in with the ice floats and bingo parlor. I just wish there was more of it. It seems like a natural next step that might break some of the repetition in the work.
Can we all just accept that Julian Schnabel is an awesome filmmaker and isn’t a very good painter. It’s funny, but I think I would take Harmony Korine’s paintings over Schnabel’s. I do wish Korine had some of the crazy delusional bombast of Schnabel’s paintings, but outside of one purple and pink painting, Schnabel’s new show is just large, ugly paintings with a color palate right out of a Serra sculpture mixed with a duller crimson red.
There is a super powerful Nan Golden picture about the relationship between people in abusive relationships, where Golden is lying in bed looking back in fear at her physically violent boyfriend Brian who is shirtless and sits smoking sitting on the edge of her bed. It took me getting older and seeing the picture a couple thousand times to catch Golden’s picture of Bruce at an earlier, happier time in their relationship on the wall above the bed. And even longer before it occurred to me that in all likelihood the camera is on a tripod at the end of the bed. She is visibly grasping something under the pillow, possible a cable release? So no matter how intimate this picture is, Nan knows exactly when it’s going to be taken, and is on some level playing to the camera. It’s a moment of fiction that conveys a very real thing in her life.
I once accompanied a bunch of community college students on a visit to Jen Davis’s studio. She did an amazing and extremely personal artist talk where she was very candid and open about her fears and insecurities about herself and her body. It was powerful and gave me a greater appreciation for her work. I grew up a stocky kid, and as an adult, I fluctuate between thirty to forty pounds lighter than I was at the end of high school. So I have a certain degree of insecurity about my weight and a little bit of affinity for Davis’s subject matter. The show at Clamp Art covers eleven years where, in the arc of the work, Davis loses weight and gains a significant other. The pictures tend to be a window into some very intimate and revealing moments where Davis is always in front of the camera. Weight loss or not, the work seems to strive to portray a well-rounded woman who carried a certain sadness but isn’t defined by her size. There is a confidence in Davis at the foot of a bed with the bottom half of man in his underwear running off the opposing side of the frame or even a mild playfulness in the swish of the bottom of a blue nightgown, even reaching a degree of transcendence in a small pool in a green house.
However, as much as I’ve enjoyed the work at times, the pictures don’t affect me as much as I would think. There is something about the pictures that I wish touched me more than they do. At times, I feel the pictures are so well-made that there is a level of artifice to the images, where they stop being the inner fears of someone I’ve met once or twice, and become pictures of someone expressing their inner fears in a piece of art. That level of unintentional distance makes the picture more emotionally safe for me than it probably should be. But that being said, the bluish discoloring in her body while she dried off on the edge of tub or the looking up at the order window of a late night hot dog stand hit me hard and made my heart heavy, especially the late night hot dog stand. It’s an odd thing to take to heart, but it’s so specific, I relate to it. I feel the shame for having been in that same place, and it’s a hell of a thing when art gets you feeling stuff, especially unpleasant things.
Through Jul. 3rd
I saw Caroline Wells Chandler’s cookies in passing at Spring Break, and they seemed a little crafty and jokey for my liking. I walked into Field Project and immediately assumed that the giant cookies on the wall were made with actual edible toppings. For a second, I contemplated whether I could get away with eating a marshmallow peep off of one of the cookies. Might be my inner fat kid, but I had to weigh my desire to eat part of the sculpture against the shame of being caught by the person sitting the gallery. Seems to speak to a certain success in the work. Oh, even better, the toppings are cast and aren’t edible at all.
The oversized cookies are both a little gross and clearly desirable. They provided a wonderful backdrop for the life-size knit version of Muppet characters with enlarged limp penises. It is the physical embodiment of the terror I felt as a child for the off-kilter, trippy narratives of the Muppet show. Remember when Alice took the pill that made her huge and was accidentally crushing the Muppets? In the Muppets Take Manhattan, I got hysterical at the prospect of the villains chopping Kermit up and eating his legs, and I had to leave the movie. My own childhood and food issues might have blinded me to some of the gender issues in the work, and I guess they do have penises. Somehow I took the show more as the absurdity of dragging these beloved childhood characters into the reality of gender and scale, and how it transforms them into bizarre monsters. I took seeing Gonzo’s penis more as a joke about his nose than anything about sexual politics. Of course, one person’s life-size gender-specific Muppet is another’s reminder of mild childhood trauma or yet another’s “anthropomorphic guides from yesteryear” who “sprawl on the floor and slump in corners under paralytic self-reflexivity.” Either way, I found the show impressive, and it certainly stuck with me in an unsettling kind of way
Man, Roe Ethridge’s art of stop making sense and love for vernacular images as an editing device to create context and an odd opaque meaning has really jumped the shark when even Leigh Ledare is working out his mother-fucking issues by creating 60’s snapshots and collaging 60’s magazines and overlaying them on top of copies of the New York Times. I am not sure what to make of the sexualized nudes of his mom from past work. It seemed like a cheap shock that made me feel genuinely uncomfortable. So is that good? I don’t know, but at the least it isn’t forgettable. The current show involves his sexually graphic pictures of his ex-wife and sexualized pictures of his ex-wife taken in the same cabin by her current husband. Which struck me as crazy and hard to understand. But I guess if you are marrying a man who makes sexualized pictures of his mother naked then you’re going in with open eyes and possibly a certain sympathy if not enthusiasm for the work. My objection is more to the form. When she is wearing clothes, why she is she in a retro 60’s outfit with matching period-appropriate hair? Why are the pictures printed 4x6in with a thin white border like 60’s era snapshots? Why the retro collaged magazines? Seems weird to mitigate this very extreme emotional act through the contemporary photographic strategy of taking on vernacular photography. It’s just not subject matter that, at the same time, supports commenting on the nature of photography. Maybe he is trying to cast his ex-wife, as his mother? Is that reading a little too much into the work?
Well, truth be told, I am a white male, so I might be the wrong person to write this, but I didn’t find the Heinecken show sexist like the Times and the handful of people I asked about the show before seeing it. Now, it could be that I have a habit of projecting my own liberal filter onto people I like. Or maybe collaging, cutting up, or superposing naked women from porn could be seen as misogynist or reductive, or even violent towards women. But from the get go, I thought his work was a social critique of the place women had in popular culture of the 60’s. Where no matter how successful a woman was, a large portion of the world would see her only as a sexual object whose real worth was in procreating and keeping herself attractive to better her chances of procreating. For instance, the magazine ads photographed so both sides of the page are visible create a dystopian visual of pseudo oral sex and consumerism. Or the cross shaped collection of images with an idyllic girl surrounded by images of dolls seemed like work more about the pressures put on women by society than an act of anger at women. The interspersing of portrayals of women in magazines with women in porn may be an overstating of the argument about the general sexualization of women in media, but again not anti-women. But it’s hard not to credit the man with taking on the boom of vernacular images as subject matter at the same time as Martha Rosler and a decade before Richard Prince. I am going to stop defending my fellow white males in a second, but I think that the work presents a level of enjoyable subtlety that unfortunately opens it up to being seen as misogynistic instead of a societal critique. But that subtly makes the work more exciting, than say, Martha Rosler’s much more didactic assemblages.
Through Sep. 7th
I’ve always enjoyed Harmony Korine’s films. I loved Spring Breakers. I remember liking Gummo, and even though he was only the writer of Kids, that movie always had a special place in my heart, having moved to NYC right when it came out. So I was a little bit more open to Korine’s paintings than say James Franco’s photographs, and Korine’s painting aren’t bad. They would totally fit in a Bushwick group show. He certainly is a capable painter, who isn’t embarrassing himself. That said, the work does feel like a mishmash of styles that don’t come together as a body and don’t escape the noticeable influences of an older generation of painters. The show feels like the work of a young talented painter who has yet to find his voice. I guess it’s unfair, but considering how experimental his films are and how even more ballsy his music videos and random you tube clips, skilled but conservative nature of the paintings feels a little disappointing. It’s a shame, that if Korine was going to branch out as an artist, he didn’t push himself as a video artist, which I always thought was the best way to approach his movies and is certainly the only way to see his music videos.
Through Jun. 21st
I love that they settled the case, and they’re immediately running the show out there. I guess Richard Prince made them, and maybe the lawsuit will draw more interest. The thing that I don’t remember anyone mentioning is they do seem a little racist. I mean I guess there has always been a certain level of fuck you in Prince’s work that I assume was suppose to challenge the viewer, but somehow superimposing guitars into the hands of Rasta men standing in the jungle and mixing them with pictures of naked white women does seem to play into various uncomplimentary black stereotypes. Maybe that’s the point, but Prince, being an old successful artist fronted by a gallery doing a couple hundred million in profit a year, does tend to tip the work from cultural critique into poor taste.
Tuesday, June 17, 2014
Thursday, June 12, 2014
Richard Mosse’s Enclave shot in war torn eastern Congo is fuckin’ epic. It’s well worth sitting through all 39 minutes. I swear it does not disappoint. As I recall, it starts by following a path over rolling pink hills (it’s shot with outdated 16mm military grade infrared film that registers green as magenta). It continues onto a road with twelve-foot high embankments on both sides, lined with Africans in ragged clothes, waiting as if a person of importance was about to arrive. Or, as the case maybe waiting for the camera and a chance to be seen by the outside world, in hopes of improbable fame or simply to be recorded, to give evidence that they were worth taking notice of. The camera continues on a long, smooth tracking shot where the camera smoothly works through the paths of a crowded shantytown with majestic pink mountains in the background. Kids scurry every which way to stay in front of the camera. The giant shantytown with its epic poverty seems otherworldly, especially from a Western perspective, but locating it in a cotton candy landscape really heightens the effect. Instead of abstracting the horrors of the living conditions, the images become so indigestible images that they linger in your gut, weighing you down as they’re processed. The camera floating just above human height, like a prying overseer, eventually comes to rest on a man cradling a small child in a red blanket. He eyes the camera with puzzlement and unease, as the townspeople fill in the frame, one by one, as if they’re lining up for a banquet picture in front of the distressed father. It is an amazing opening sequence.
From there, a lot happens, and all of it is remarkable. But frustratingly, the video is shown simultaneously on six screens, hanging in a rectangular shape in the middle of the room, so it’s impossible to see everything. There is space to walk among the screens, which makes the experience immersive, but the length of the film makes it quite a feat to stay moving for the entire time. What I do recall seeing from where I sat down was an extended scene of young men with large machine guns and rocket launchers setting up along a majestic, raging river for what I assumed was an ambush. As they waited, and the camera lingered over their shoulders, it was hard not to worry about the cameraman’s safety. Now, why I never worried about the equally exposed soldiers, I don’t know. I guess because they were armed, I assumed they could handle themselves. No one ever comes down the river, but we end up in town where curious onlookers peek at dead bodies laid out in the street. A crowd grows gathers around the body, a young man amazingly wears a 90’s NWO “new world order” t-shirt is dead center. The shirt was most certainly attained through a donation to goodwill and despite the overtures to a George Bush speech, the shirt is actually, even more amazingly from a Hulk Hogan wrestling story line. The shirt creates a wonderfully tragic convergence where Western cultural obsoleteness becomes a caption for human suffering.
The bodies lead to three sequences in the video that all unfold at the same time on different screens. A one story wooden house is moved by hand, a funeral march is led by a woman holding a handmade wooden cross and, in a dark, empty, purple-tinged cement room a woman gives birth. Creating a nice center to the video where life and death come together in a world turned on its head. And then the video moves into a church with a performance by what looks like a funk group. The camera sweeps down the aisle onto the stage and lingers on performers, including children who jump through fiery rings.
The camera eventually returns to the brush where men walk through stunningly beautiful, tall pink grass and end up in front of a man with a tribal spear, who seems to be blessing a ragtag bunch of soldiers before they invade a village. During the invasion, it becomes apparent for the first time in the video that the soldiers are play-acting for the camera. Villagers play dead, and soldiers run by with real guns making shooting noises with their mouths. It is mind blowing, to see this pay-acting war in a place where we have already witnessed so many dead bodies. Like most of the film, the effect is wondrous, perplexing, and tragic. An adult plays dead by lying across a dirt path as a small child sheepishly looks at the camera, then runs a couple of steps, stops, turns to the camera, does a little dance and runs away. Again hard to fathom or process, it is a reality I will never face or understand, and to see it bathed in an ever attractive purple / pink glow is heart wrenchingly beautiful in a way that is both enticing and at the same time feels inappropriate. The film comes to an end by circling a dead body on the road, as trucks pass by unceremoniously.
This is the best art I have seen in forever. It is visually engaging, plays conceptually with the assumptions of documentations and aestheticizing tragedies, and engages the viewer in a semi-informative way about contemporary conditions in the Congo. That’s a hell of a lot of things to do successfully in a video. Hats off to Richard Mosse. He made everything else I saw that day seem pretty inconsequential.
I am not that against Pello Irazu’s pictures of sculptures in his studio that he occasionally paints on top of, but they just seem a little dry. They are more creative than Leslie Hewitt’s photographs, but the work still feels more like a sculpture that is being photographed than a photograph. The additional painting on top of the photograph’s surface is just too much, as are the geometric shapes painted on the wall and the inclusion of some of the actual sculptures. The sculptures don’t hold up to closer inspection and are much more affective at the distance of being seen in a two-dimensional image. So to conclude, the photographs are okay, but photographs, the sculptures and the wall pieces, are all way too much. The show is both over-the-top and underwhelming. It is a tough trick. I like to think of it as pulling a Burtynsky.
I love Roe Ethridge and have said many a time that when this period of photographic history is distilled down, Alec Soth and Ethridge will be remembered as what was happening. But this most recent book Sacrifice Your Body, the basis of this show, has disappointed me with Ethridge’s output for the first time ever. It is especially disappointing coming from someone who has numerous times declared himself a book artist and not a gallery artist. What concerns me most about the Sacrifice Your Body book is that it feels indulgent. His Le Luxe book was large and at times repetitive, with pictures that got more and more deadpanned, until by the end you were just looking at screen grabs of images being processed in photoshop. It felt like a fuck you to the viewer in the most positive punk rock kind of way. Ethridge was challenging his growing fame in the art world or at least the photo art-world, daring his fans to follow on him a difficult artistic turn, like Black Flag doing long Dead-like instrumental jams. Ethridge was inviting all those who loved his work to get on his artistic path even if he wasn’t sure where it was going.
I for one found it exciting and was psyched to see where things were going to end up. The Sacrifice Your Body book is not much of a pay off. It is a step backwards, to what one might have expected from an artist who had gained fame for his idiosyncratic sequencing, and now shows at a blue chip gallery like Gagosian in Beverly Hills, his West Coast gallery. Almost half of the book is made up of straightforward snapshots of a car sinking into a roadside canal. By the time the car is fully submerged and police divers are on the scene, the pictures start to feel like crime scene photography. As mysterious as the pictures are, there are a lot of them, and they don’t get past the style and skill of a driver taking snapshots for an insurance claim. The pictures are mixed with the usual zoological selection of pictures, still-lifes, portraits, interiors, and landscapes, which make up most of Ethridge’s work. The skilled visual detritus forms a portrait of a worn but recently wealthy Floridian community filled with luxury moldings and people who have seen better days. The essay explains that Ethridge was driving to visit his Mother’s hometown in Florida, when he got out to take a picture without putting his car in park, and the car drove itself into a canal.
While not uninteresting, the car running into a canal seems to speak more to the experience of the photographer and less to the visual value of the pictures. The images from or about Florida are skilled and as good as any Ethridge has done. But I expected so much more after his New Photography show of photoshopped vernacular images and the end of the Le Luxe book. I had hoped we were on the verge of a major shift in Ethridge’s work. Instead, we get the tried and true work, which makes up the current show at Andrew Kreps. The show is distilled down to fifteen or so pictures and only one image of a muddy wheel to acknowledge the large series of pictures from the book of the car going into a canal. Leaving the viewer with a solid, but not exciting Ethridge show, it would be tragic to see Ethridge go the way of so many successful artists, making the same work for the next couple of decades. For a time at the turn of this century, it seemed that everything that could be done in photography had been done, and Ethridge changed the equation and opened things up. I believe he has more to offer then a cover band version of his earlier self. Or maybe the snapshots of his car in the canal was the next phase, and it’s all serial snapshot from here on out.
I really loved the last Collier Schorr show at 303. It was a random assortment of pictures that seemed to pull a lot from Ethridge’s scatological approach to editing. In case you were wondering, in 2004 Ethridge was doing Ethridge, and Schorr was doing a pretty straightforward edit of her wrestling work. Like Ethridge, the pictures in Schorr’s last show were formally strong, but individually a little open-ended, unless seen as a part of a greater whole. Schorr photographed humble studio sculptures and strings supporting flowers, making her work more sculptural than Ethridge. The show also featured a wonderful video of a young man possibly with special needs lying in a bathing suit in the park. It was a powerful and effective installation that in a roundabout way seemed to speak about her continued interest in Germany. But the new show feels a little barren and short on formally complex pictures. The images are all of women, often nude, and range from recent pictures to older work, to a drawing, to possibly vernacular work and includes one very half-assed sculptural piece of two rolled prints of a naked woman.
The show layout is straightforward with new large color pictures on all but one wall, which has a clump of images that seem culled from her older work. The point seems to be that she is using her own past pictures as vernacular images, to serve as a reference point for the large color pictures. But generally the walls seem pretty empty and the large room at 303 is doing nothing for the one sculpture, which seems like an outlier that cries out for some more sculptural pieces to make any sense in the installation. But all that put aside, I am not sure what I am getting from the pictures. They did make me think about Schorr’s sexual orientation. She has spent a long time photographing young boys wrestling, or modeling WWII army uniforms, but at no time did the pictures seem all that erotic. Despite the scandalous flash, the wrestling pictures felt almost anthropological, more like a study of male eroticism than actually erotic. The young WWII models often felt slight and effeminate, and neither work created a sense that the photographer found the subjects sexually engaging, nor did it seem like they were intended to be read that way. But I have to say the women in the new show seem a lot more sexualized. There is clearly more graphic nudity than in the work with men, and it could just be my own preferences, but outside of an odd picture of topless woman stacking bricks, I think sexy is not an unfair descriptor for the rest of the pictures. The subjects of these images are without fail of traditionally attractive women, who seem to be comfortable if not confrontational in front of the camera. Oh, and there is one naked young man who has such a pretty face that I did linger in front of him for a second assuming it was a transgendered person, but I am pretty sure its just a pretty young man. So again, not entirely sure the show works, but I am generally in support of nakedness. I guess the show incorporates a lot of Schorr’s fashion work, and as the press release states, “Schorr questions who the women that desire to be looked at are, as well as what power exists in acknowledging that as a post-feminist position.” If that helps you any.
The Korean Chang jia’s show includes some naked people being spanked, a naked lady sitting on top of a large glass vase filled with eels and a naked woman urinating, all shown against an austere gray backdrop. Yup, not sure what’s going on per se. I assume it’s about sex, but it seems pretty dry to be really sexy, and hell if I know what else to make of it. The press release makes the work all the more perplexing, for instance “Standing Up Peeing….conveys the essence of social structures as being an entity which hides and excludes in order to maintain its own validity.” I don’t know if this makes any more sense from a Korean point of view, but to my Western eyes it strikes me as forced and dry with little of value going on, outside of seeing some attractive naked ladies.