Sunday, March 9, 2014
Saturday, March 1, 2014
The show looks a little like the art work of it’s curator, Andrew Zarou, often modest in scale (with the occasional large sculpture), based in found materials, with a strong reliance on line and a palate that errs on the side of earth tones found in the home decor of someone who belongs to a food co-op. Now, it’s pretty common for artist/curators to show work reflecting their own taste, which can be problematic, but in this case, the resulting show is excellent, focused and coherent.
The standout for me was Michael Voss’s rows of worn and blackened tennis balls. From what I remember, the black smudges seemed to form shapes on the tennis balls, but in retrospect the smudges could have been the result of random bursts of spray paint. Either way, the dark worn balls immediately brought me back to warm childhood memories of finding one of the hundreds of tennis balls that went missing while playing baseball in the backyard, only to have them turn up weathered and worn after a fresh mowing of the lawn or trimming of the hedges. I was also impressed by Christopher Patch’s sculpture of a very tall tornado or slender tree trunk made from ropes in a variety of colors. The structure was bound so loosely that you could see through it, creating the illusion that the whole thing could collapse at any moment. Creating a wondrous mass of household psychics defying materials.
I am a little on the fence with Ruby Palmer’s small installations, which use shadows to create line on small hard-edged installations of small arranged pieces of wood. Making art with shadows seems hard to do without being cutesy, which was my initial reaction to the work, but the more I sat with it, the more I enjoyed the pieces of wood on their own. The use of common desk lamps as a lighting source does bring the shadow art down to earth. The result is work that feels like a happy accident stumbled upon in the studio, rather than a mystic magic trick where art is created in a transient medium. I loved her piece that hung just below the very high ceiling. It’s hard not to be fond of art that is going out of its way not to be seen.
I didn’t love Ben Pritchard’s large brush strokes of muted colors against a field of raw canvas. The paintings are a tad dark for my taste, though clearly well crafted and in keeping with the general palate of the show, while hammering conforming to the general theme of line that I got from the blurb above the artist list. But overall, an excellent show, one of the best ones I’ve seen at Parallel, and it very much makes me look forward to new work by Zarou.
I love Saira McLaren’s paintings, especially the dyed linen work. As much as she’s been showing of late, the noticeable progress in her art justifies it. The dyes are getting darker and dirtier. She has started layering gold leaf on top of the dyed linen, and I love gold leaf as much as I like her propensity for a pink and yellow tie-dye palate. Unsurprisingly, I am psyched that she is combining the two of them. Even the ceramics are coming together. There is a weird, crushed metallic glob that works wonderfully with the gold leaf and gruffer palate in her new paintings. It’s as if her idyllic hippie paintings are tracing the trajectory of the baby boomers, from her earlier bright pictures (reflecting the playful fun of the 60’s), to the worn palate of the new paintings (mirroring the faded 60’s idealism of the 70’s), to the new gold leaf layered over brightly dyed canvas (recasting 60’s utopian idealism embodied in the materialistic yuppies of the 80’s. Even the more homely shapes of the porcelain seem to work better with the new shabby paintings. I am just excited to see the progress. It’s rewarding to see how much McLaren is pushing her work.
I think Christopher Astely’s sculptures work well with McLaren’s paintings, especially the sculptures of balls pushing through brightly stretched spandex or the two-dimensional metallic canvases. I think it’s fair to say his sculptures are better than McLaren’s, especially the silvery cloth cube with cement exploding out of it. I am just not as into Astely’s color palate. It’s not far from McLaren’s, just a little bit more on the edge of ugly in a way that feels intentional and challenging, but just not my thing.
BP is up to her usual visual games, where the same object is photographed at the same time from varying inventive vantage points to create very different looking pictures. Honestly, I was a little underwhelmed. It’s not unlike work you already know of hers that certainly has felt fresher. Her images have become pro-forma. Heck, even MoMA has rehung their permanent collection in a refreshing self-examining of photography, which illustrates the mechanics of the medium. BP just doesn’t feel as contrary and avant-garde as she once did. That being said, she has gotten really good at what she does. The twelve-picture, multiple floor, interior, exterior image of an apple, shot at what appears to be the same moment, is a tour de force, clearly illustrating how something is photographed creates meaning. It may still be a needed lesson in the visual learning of your average art viewer, but by comparison to the last two Paul Graham shows, BP seems rather safe.
Outside of Louise Lawler’s audio of a parakeet reading off artists’ names, I am pretty sure I’ve never liked anything she has done. Even the parakeet piece didn’t work for me at Murray Guy. It wasn’t until I heard it in the garden at Dia Beacon, where I mistook it for actual bird sounds, for a good half an hour before I came to love it. So I am gonna put my enjoyment of this show on Liam Gillick, who is represented in nice bright crayola-colored door handles on the entrance to the gallery and text describing the closing of an auto factory hanging in sold metal letters from the ceiling. The text was vague, but occasionally touching, and seeing it in a gallery that sells high-end luxury goods to stockbrokers really does make you feel that the suffering of people in the real world is just a punch line to a joke among a class who will never worry about financial security. Lawler does have an attractive picture of an Edgar Degas bronze with a reflection from the display case in it and a witty picture of the light from a spotlight beam hitting a gallery wall that aren’t’ bad. But the two elongated pictures feel like the kind of luxury goods the gallery usually moves or possibly an unintentionally nice counterpoint to Gillick’s work.
Just listened to a discussion on the Bad at Sports podcast, where they were going on about how hard it is for Chelsea artists to change up what they do because there is an expectation from buyers and gallerists that once an artist sells, he/she will continue to produce similar sellable objects. Well, Johnson seems to have had an impressive ten-year run at Julie Saul, where she has had the freedom or bravery to subvert expectations and work through ideas in her shows. I, for one, have always fond that exploration enjoyable. Her new work is in keeping with her ongoing growth as an artist. She is still drawing on top of pictures, but she is being more aggressive than ever with it and is using it to take on the ever-tricky subject of people having sex.
As Winogrand said, “it’s hard to make a picture about a monkey and not have it be about a monkey.” Johnson’s pictures are certainly about sex, but for the first time that I can remember in photography, she deals with the subject in a way that is both sexual and relatable. Which might sound odd in describing pictures which involve a lot of drawing on top of prints, but somehow a silhouette of people kissing splattered in gold leaf seems about right for a visual description of the experience, and a body covered in a colorful installation of dots seems to be a pretty good visual representation of an orgasm. Johnson has drawn sad and happy clown faces over people’s faces, portraying sex as both inherently goofy and deviant, a representation that feels exceedingly accurate and intelligent. There is one misstep in the show, a picture that has a man’s arms photoshopped (?) around a women like a snake it is way to sentimental and seems like a dramatic step down from an otherwise excellent body of work about a challenging subject matter.
I don’t know. There are a picture or two here that are okay, like the one of a blonde woman with her hands in the air and a swath of yellow behind her and the one of a woman with the side of her head shaved and inexplicably covered in dots. But the show is mostly formally amateurish pictures of European prostitutes posed to reference classic paintings. The work is odd, like a photojournalist trying to do something artsy. Which is perplexing, because Marder is a lot of things, but a photojournalist without a reference point for contemporary art, she is not. The work is just so empty. Outside of the picture of a single emaciated woman, there is little in the pictures that would make you worry about the women in the pictures or their choice of profession, and there certainly isn’t much eroticism or even classical form. They’re just awkward. And the work does little to talk about prostitution, sex, women or art history. It is the opposite in every way of Sarah Anne Johnson’s work right down the hall at Julie Saul.
Goddamn Rod Penner and his small photo-realistic paintings. They get me in the door every time. From the sidewalk, I always think it’s a photography show, and I always get in to find his stupid little paintings that make for unspectacular photographs and even more puzzling paintings. What is the interest in photo-realistic painting? The technique? Is it really that impressive nowadays? Hell, I even got a picture or two in before I realized they weren’t digital inkjet prints on canvas. And why does Penner keep doing this? Doesn’t the ability to make things look like photographs just get repetitive?
Hell of a good photography name, and Michael Light also pilots and photographs from a small plane. Pretty badass. The pictures are beautiful and tend to focus on how people have organized themselves, in cul-de-sacs, highway overpasses, and quarries. You get to see new construction of modern houses inch their way up roadrunner-like plateaus in Arizona or the completely unbelievable, tiny little houses on the edge of a giant crevasse, with various levels of rock and sediment and trees growing out of the ridges. It looks like someone turned the Grand Canyon into a stretch of farmland and apparently it’s in Idaho, who knew? The pictures do make one think that we are a little delusional in believing that we matter and aren’t just a passing phase in a longer narrative. On the downside, some of the black and white shots of highways and rivers do feel like other aerial photographs. Still, they put to shame Olivo Barbieri’s aerial pictures with swings and tilts to play with scale, just another example that more often than not, just showing the thing is a hell of a lot more interesting than messing with it to illustrate an idea.
I’ve always liked Thomas Demand. I think his quest to make work about contemporary events by creating and photographing life-size paper models is endlessly impressive. Despite the labor-intensive craft of his pictures, he also tends to make visually engaging pictures, even if you were to mistake them for real spaces. His foray into moving images was a stunning step up of both technical ability and visual skill. The ability to make a compelling image has been important to his work, because at his level you can easily wrangle a team of interns to help tackle the manual labor required. But I am not sure what to make of a lot of innocuous still-lifes of random things. It feels like a real step backwards, where the pictures are okay, but nothing terribly ambitious. It’s as if he is in a Jeff-Wall still-life phase, where it’s hard to tell if he needs a little artistic downtime or if the marketable focus on the wacky craft of his pictures has overwhelmed any inherent meaning in the work and he has just become Vik Muniz.
Repetitive blurry nudes, dancing, and a long exposure, I guess? Decorative, and a downright embarrassing use of Chelsea wall space. This is why people don’t take photography seriously as an art.
Some very impressive and suffocating figurative painting of what looks like a restricted location, like evidence from a spy thriller. Paintings of ugly architecture that looks like it was the shining achievement of a pre-coup Africa government, what could be the inside of a nuclear reactor, a stairwell, a room with servers in it, a giant room of books, and a night view of a densely populated city. If the subject matter wasn’t suggestive enough, everything in the paintings are tightly cropped, leaving the eye very little breathing room. The exteriors allow for only a minimal amount of sky, and the trees at the base of the architecturally harsh building are almost shocking, as they are the only organic material in any of the paintings. It is a world of paranoia, shown in details that border on the obsessive, creating an image of the artist as a talented but troubled painter.
Apparently the subject matter is less threatening than it appears. The nuclear reactor is just the inside of a museum, and the room of books is an Amazon warehouse (which in a way is still pretty threatening). The evidential nature of the paintings might have something to do with the work being based on vernacular pictures found online. You might think detailed figurative paintings of vernacular pictures would be dull, but from a pure painterly aspect, when you get up close, details are often layered on top of details, making the detail appear to be physically lying on top of each other. Creating sharp edges in the image, as if they’ve been cut out of the painting. It was explained to me how he does it, I think it involves stencils. But visually it gives a pretty sexy physical depth to the painting that, combined with Rich’s wonderful use of color, makes the otherwise dry evidential pictures come to life. I still think the work is a little crazy, but in the best of ways.
Through Mar. 15th
It is wonderful to get to see excellent, brand-new prints of Garry Metz’s pictures from Aspen in the 70’s. Garry Metz is one of the lesser-known members of the New Topographic generation, who from the amount of talk about the show, seems to have touched a lot of people through his time teaching and writing. The show is of work that hasn’t been seen much in the last couple of decades. It’s black and white 35mm pictures of the bits of a resort town you hope would exist. Bad mountain-shaped condos and heated pools next to the gritty edges of town where locals live, complete with parking lots, construction, bus stops and an old small plane. It is the Aspen I hope is still there but suspect has already succumbed to the pressures of beautification and upward mobility. On a formal note, there is something very gripping about seeing the ideas of the New Topographics played out with a hand-held camera. The frames deal with the same content, but in a much gruffer and edgier way, where at times you can feel the picture walking the edge of topical banality and spiraling out of control, and when Metz lands it, it’s magic, like in the illusionary front half of an old cabin (shack?) façade being held up by a two-by-four. Seeing the work really makes me suspect that Friedlander and his choice of subject matter probably had a greater effect on the New Topographic generation than most photo-historians have credited.
Through Mar. 20th