Saturday, March 3, 2018

Good Pictures From Bryson Rand

Bryson Rand

Mason Saltarrelli, Thurman Munson @ Marvin Gardens

As a young child in the 80’s, I was obsessed with the Yankees, especially Yankee teams from just before I could remember baseball. I would buy baseball card team set after team set of 70’s Yankees trying to imagine the importance of Ed Figueroa or Jim Spencer and marvel at the youth of current players like Willie Randolph and Lou Piniella, but must of all I idealized the famed hard scrabble leader of the 70’s Yankees, Thurman Munson, who died in a plane crash at the height of his playing days. As much as I have liked Mason Saltarrelli’s paintings and enjoyed his more recent forays into sculpture, I am a little bitter that despite the title, his rather stylish installation of weathered wooden objects has no obvious connection to Thurman Munson.

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Lewis Stein, Works from 1968-1979 @ Essex Street

I know nothing about Lewis Stein, but I very much enjoyed his minimal and perplexing installation. It is either an overly subtle statement about urban living or a rather stark production of West Side story. The meaning hinges on how much an old billy club reminds you of systematic oppression as opposed to Officer Krukpe. Either way, the street light hung so low that one can touch it wonderfully distorts its scale. The center of the gallery is squared off in velvet rope that could be about the economic exclusivity of the city, or a reminder of the theatre and again for me at least, West Side Story.

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Lydia McCarthy, Non-Game Ecstasy @ Essex Flowers

Pictures of random things in a show has become standard practice for contemporary photographers. That said, McCarthy is doing it to a reasonable end. She plays on the brain’s desire to make order out of the seemingly random, and then undermines this impulse by creating a disorientingly trippy chaos. Her work also hinges on her superb use of color, keeping to a stylish and upbeat palate of pleasantly bright pastels that easily produce a rather offbeat trip, especially with the contrast of the two dark outlier photographs. Her skill also extends past photography into sculptural aspects that result in a thoughtful installation, with brightly colored frames for the photographs, a geometric wall painting and lovely opaque lamps hanging from the ceiling mirror the color orbs in the two portraits of women whose emotion seem caught somewhere between dazed and joyful. McCarthy has created a strong body of photographic work that of late has gained a head of steam with her wonderful solo show last year at 106 Green and this excellent show at Essex Flowers. It should be interesting to see where things go from here.

Scott Alario, Soft Landing @ Kristen Lorello

I love Scott Alario’s work. I always thought of myself as someone who would eventually be a father and my only reluctance was that I enjoyed my life and didn’t want to give it up for parenthood. Alario’s work holds out hope that parenting could be as rewarding as people say, but still allow for a fruitful artistic life. He has struck a delicate balance between a believable and romantic portrayal of parenting. He has taken the imaginary world of his children and manifested them photographically into something real. Having followed the work, I always assumed that Alario had one child, a girl, and was surprised to read in the press release that the current photographs were of his son. The amount of purple and pink and the lovely portrait of his child as Rey from Star Wars speaks to an open minded gender-neutral parenting. In his last two shows, Alario’s vantage point has shifted towards focusing more on the color and surface of the things that surround his children, with telling details like brightly colored patched pants, scribbled-on toys, and the touching of paintings that all speaks a progressive if not artsy parenting, a childhood that is more than familiar to me as the son of hippies.

The show also takes a step forward in marrying artistic practice and family with three detailed hallucinatory collaged landscapes that seem to be sourced from faded comic books by Alario and his wife Marguerite Keyes.

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Torbjørn Rødland, First Abduction Attempt and Other Photographs @ Galerie Eva Presenhuber

Man, recent MFA photography shows have made me tired of work consisting of random assortment of stylishly made photographs that have only a tangential connection to each other. I have always thought of Torbjørn Rødland as a lesser Roe Ethridge, but with more naked ladies. I am not sure the current Rødland show changes any of that for me, but he does seem to be on the tip of many a tongue nowadays, and there is something to be said about his work. Without even realizing the title of the show, I spent most of the exhibition having flashbacks to the morally challenging and emotional disturbing rape revenge fantasy film Elle by Paul Verhoeven. There is something about the quality of light that is so professional that everything feels like it is a studio rather than real life. Combined with all the objects from naked women to broken ceramics, the look is so stylish the pictures become hyper real, like something from a waking dream or, I guess a well-made foreign thriller. Then there is the image a woman thrusting her hips up towards an unknown force outside of the frame, and an image of naked buttocks pushing gently against a small picket fence and hands tensed against the front of ice skates that all hint at a complex if not sinister sexual dynamic underlying the work, even when it is just the shine off of a green apple.

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Stephen Shore @ MoMA

As I get older, the more and more fascinated I am about what artist do in the period after making their most well-known work. When I was younger, the idea that an artist would make a derivative of their work, over and over again, seemed to be a betrayal, a forsaking of the inherent modernist pact with the viewer to always move forward instead of pleasing an unseen market for the work. But as actually becoming old ever approaches, it does occur to me that at a certain point an artist doesn’t owe us anything. If they make something great that they are known for and would like to spend a lot of time after that working in a similar vein because they enjoy working that way, then all the power to them. But the modernist narrative is always present in the back of my head whispering: have they sold out to make a living? Have they run out of ideas? Are they oblivious to their artistic rut?

This idea hangs heavy over the rather impressive Stephen Shore retrospective at MOMA. The retrospective does bring out all the work one might want to see from Stephen Shore. It starts with early street work that lays bare the influence of Robert Frank and continues into his experimental film work that led to meeting of Andy Warhol and Shore becoming part of the scene around Warhol’s factory. That leads to a run of avant-garde conceptualism that underlies his famous large format work on 70’s America. The show does a wonderful job of displaying those early attempts, even including a complete reinstallation of a show of vernacular photographs Shore curated along with a reinstallation of American Surfaces as it was shown at Light Gallery in the 70’s. As a Shore geek, the reinstallations are pretty thrilling. Hell, so is getting to see his first experimental film in its entirety.

Which all leads to his rapturous 70’s travels across the US, making perfect formal pictures that illustrate a bohemian experience of the world akin to Richard Linklater at his finest. But once you’ve familiarize yourself with the work that Shore is most known for, you are face to face with everything that comes after it, and it is hard not to be struck by the starts and stops, that never get going, where he takes on being a street photographer or traditional landscape photographer, but neither produces much in the way of a compelling body of work, just the occasional excellent picture. The only revelation from the show about the later work is how much of it was done on commissions. This later work is matched up with what feels like attempt to recapture his avant-garde youth. Cut off from being part of the forefront of an artistic movement, you get Shore seems to be awkwardly wading into self-publishing with small bodies of repetitive work that felt dated when they first started appearing in the early 2000’s. This continues into his current practice of taking Instagram pictures. Both touch on American Surfaces without any of the subject matter of more youthful adventures in the early 70’s travels.

But it occurs to me, while staring down the Mick-o-Matic that he used to make some American Surfaces pictures, that it is hard to ask more from Shore than what he produced in the 70’s. If he finds fulfillment in conceptual book projects or his passable return to large format work in the Ukraine and Israel, more power to him and especially with the Israel work, I am not above enjoying a master covering his own hits.

Through May 28th

Curran Hatleberg @ Higher Pictures

Curran Hatleberg has been living in some very rarified photographic air. Over the past couple of years, he has produced a large body of photographs of working class to poor Americans in parts of the country who have been forgotten and overlooked of late. People that in 2016, reached out with a terrible fury at that oversight, to vote in ways that political prognosticators had missed. Hatleberg’s vision of this world is of a distinct insider, whose presence in the work is almost invisible. The viewer is let in as an intimate participator in these lives, as is often not true with the emotional distance of reportage, which often comes across as exploitive. Hatleberg creates an experience that especially of late has grown more and more other worldly. Here buildings are destroyed by an unseen natural disaster and inhabited by a small child holding a snake, as if readying to rebuild. Men in a junkyard go about their business of digging a car-sized grave. Even more jarring, a family outing at a park is ground to a sudden halt by a woman’s gaze acknowledging the camera, suddenly stripping us of our anonymity and making us painfully aware that we are viewing all this from a posh Upper East Side gallery. These perspective-shifting moments are given even more weight by the subtler pictures, like one of a snake cutting through some lush rust-colored water or another of the bright dots of color mimicking the packaging of Wonder Bread on the door of what could be a condemned building or one of the child rapturously grasping at and the flickering light that surrounds him.

Hatleberg is one of the most exciting young photographers going, and his work is endlessly impressive. His art is developing at a rapid pace. His last show at Higher Pictures was fantastic but at times felt a little too subtle, where we were only getting the details that built this life without any of the greater narrative. In this new work, by contrast, the narratives are so arresting that they might even be sneaking into being stage managed. The clarity is so pronounced that, in the best of ways, it feels too good to be true, putting a wrinkle into the work that makes it all the more conceptually complex. My only reservations about the current show are that some of the repetitive pictures that give a glimpse into how the artist is composing this world and conceptually addressing the act of storytelling are not as nearly as interesting as simply having more images of the world Hatleberg has been able to conjure.

Good Pictures From Susan Wides

Susan Wides

Monday, January 22, 2018

Good Pictures From Tommy Kha

Darryl Jennifer, Mind Power @ Okay Space Gallery

The Bad Brains are godhead, and for stretches, say pre-Quickness, they were undeniably perfect. So, it is nice to see Bad Brains guitarist Darryl Jenifer branching out into the visual arts. His paintings are graphic and folkish with an upbeat palette that matches the Bad Brains much toted PMA. The paintings revolve around the iconic Bad Brains Banned in DC lightning bolt and occasional Rastafarian rocking out. The show is solid and features a selection of early Bad Brains’ photographs by Lucian Perkins that appear in the legendary DC hardcore book Banned in DC. AS a teen I obsessed over that book like it was the Dead Sea scrolls that, with enough focus, could unlock the great secrets of DC hardcore.

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