Monday, March 30, 2009

Sticks and stones and bones and words all hurt equally when Jenny Holzer's at the helm

(staring into the belly of the beast-- Jenny Holzer addresses disinformation and the press, advertising and 24/7 media domination all amidst the rapid dissemination of our ever shrinking attention span like a wrecking ball in Protect Protect)

Protect Protect, currently on view at the Whitney is a tour de force of Jenny Holzer's painstakingly selected societal challenges from the past 30 years, spotlighting the artist's communication through the written word, which brings forth both a visceral and gut-wrenching reaction. Above is a selection of female human bones from her Lustmord series, which deal with the terrors of war brought on by the human catastrophe in the former Yugoslavia. Around each bone is clipped a metallic strip engraved in detail of how its victim was raped, tortured and murdered. To say this is a hard work to walk past is the understatement of the year, but in all honesty, this was truly one of the most difficult exhibitions of my entire life. I am a longtime Holzer supporter, and to me, she ultimately possesses a mastery over how words affect each of us, and how as a society we tend to never quite learn from history unless continuously confronted head-on.

Holzer's LED readouts are some of the most eye-poppingly gorgeous structures you will ever see. I loved reading the warning at the front of the Whitney for people who suffer from seizure disorders not to enter. No kidding. Seeing the show at night was jarring for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which was my own stepping into Holzer's past analogies via the visual eye candy of a Blade Runner future. For herein lies some truly astonishing works which will make your head spin if not from the neon colors, but from the rapid vertigo that will envelop you. In fact, some of the structures appear as if they were turbine-like engines more common in power or water plants. For here the LED readouts not only push our inner emotional buttons, but are the cogs feeding the machine that encompasses us all, much like fuel to the fire.

Holzer never lets us forget there's always more beneath the surface than what we are initially led to believe. From government-issued maps of the Iraqi invasion (with sections detailing to the soldiers the oil-rich areas), to her Redaction paintings which are copies of formerly classified documentation, we see how precarious the First Amendment came to being (and still is) a forgotten notion of a Utopian system of government. Can we simply block out the past, like the blackened fingerprints here show? The artist seems to ask, "If a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it, did it ever really fall?" Holzer is showing us the uncensored version, the big reveal being the many who have tried to rewrite history and thankfully failed. But even so, it is a battle still to be fought, and Holzer is not holding back, but waist-deep in the trenches.

Protect Protect runs through May 31st. Make sure to put it on your calendar. It's well worth your visit.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Gallipolis Storm

(Christopher Davison, Gallipolis Storm, Flashe, ink wash, Micron, gouache, Pitt pen on paper, 20 x 20)

blogpix closes Saturday. It's worth a final look. Get thee to Platform stat!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Definitely not in Kansas anymore, Michelle Manley rates an F5 on the Musings meter.

(above, Michelle Manley, Heightened Alert I, acrylic on board, 30 x 30)

Recently I had the opportunity to meet up with artist Michelle Manley at her Lower East Side studio. I've been intrigued by her work for a while, after she first came to my attention last fall. To me her paintings not only conjure up the horrors of natural disaster scenarios, but at their core lies a comprehensive understanding of the futility of the ongoing battle of man vs. nature.

Can it be that lightning only strikes once? In this case, highly unlikely, because Manley electrifies with each new work unveiled. Above is Dynamo. With the juxtaposition of brilliant blue sky set against an unwitting pastoral landscape, the viewer is left unsettled, as if staring at a scene that hasn't quite yet taken place, but is familiar nonetheless. The golden bolt of light flashing down upon the tree line has a subtle purple halo, which catches the eye with popping color, as well as serves a reminder of what might come after the storm-- from darkness, into light.

Manley has a deft approach to her paintings. Starting with dramatic images she finds of weather anomalies -- ones perhaps taken by the Stormchasers themselves-- she then tweaks them to just a little bit skewed. The artist utilizes Photoshop to create scenes of a vastly disjointed nature. Where once laid a river, or farmland under the funnel clouds, now lies a two-lane country road, which seems to not want to know what's further down the journey. Take a closer look at the shaky painted line of the road's shoulder.

Manley also utilizes a heightened alert color-coding in honor of the famed Homeland Security Advisory System. Looking into the sinnous outlines of the cloud formations, subtle touches of reds, oranges, and magentas stir amongst greys and charcoals, adding fuel to the fire. Red seems to refer to an F5; orange, F4; pastel pink maybe an F2. Vortexes shift to and fro throughout Manley's works, targeting their innocent victims with a haphazard motion that spares none in its path. Roadways that weren't there before suddenly appear, then disappear, into the belly of the beast. The work at left above seems not to be made from the heavens above, but the bowels of hell; its gaping mouth gobbling up everything in its path.

In Severance, Manley imagines three tiny barns set upon virgin farmland that have ingeniously been given their own twister of liking. As they say, "A chicken in every pot." In Manley's case, for every unsuspecting Dorothy there will be a 2x4 to impail. I enjoyed this scene immensely because it reminds me of the marshland and horse farms north of Boston in Newburyport. The twisters seem to be a focal reference point to the day of final judgment-- punishing the Brahmins for the sins of their Puritanical past.

Manley's work can currently be seen through April 8th in a group show celebrating women's history at Soho Creative NY at 73 Warren Street in Tribeca. Click here for directions.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Volta's major wattage

Fernando Mastrangelo dilligently proves a point here with his cocaine sculpture, Felix, at Rhys/Mendes of Los Angeles, CA. Showing the migrant farmer in plaintive pose-- shoulders hunched, bandana covering his sunburned face, all while working in a field producing a crop that he may never fully grasp its ramifications. The parched earth, or mirrors in this case, echo the days of Studio 54, and the stiletto-clad Hoovers his cultivation will eventually supply. Mastrangelo doesn't necessarily make Felix out to be a victim, though. Though he has no back story, he is working dillgently for the task at hand. Through this discipline, will Felix break free from the chains that bind him, or are the benefits of his industry many to be had? It's fascinating to think of the various storyline trajectories.

Cute Overload has a term for the type of thing you're seeing above -- Reedonk!! I mean, seriously-- my heart is soaring... just soaring... with Sterling Allen's whimsical (redonkulous) toy assemblage creatures on display at Austin, TX's Art Palace. Yes, that is indeed a squash you're seeing with outstretched arms?... feet?, as well as a rally-cry potato head with baby doll arm held aloft in Spud Power pose. My favorite inclusion by far was the old lady wig on the Skeletor mask, and the Rizzo the Muppet-like rat crawling up the background. Who said art can't be fun and inventive at the same time? Bringing out the inner '80s kid in me never felt so good.

On a far more serious note, Rina Catelnuovo photos at Andrea Meislin Gallery were dramatically touching forays into the personalized effects of the conflict in the Middle East. The Hasidic inner sanctum meeting above is a beautiful look into a subculture that's rarely exposed to the outside world. The car bomb photo above shocks us with the carnage that takes place almost daily. Catelnuovu does a terrific job at bringing us directly into the stories that Americans so normally disregard on the daily news. Now, if Catelnuovo can hold the attention span a bit longer than an art fair, her work will be a true success.

Lush tropical vines, flora and fauna inhabit the mindscapes of Andy Harper at One in the Other of London. Like becoming lost in a magical botanical garden, Harper's brushstrokes are immaculate. The rich colors flow into each other seemlessly, and set a mood of rebirth and renewal. Some portions of the pieces do remind me of Alexis Rockman's earlier series, but it's more visual trickery than ecological statement. I also think Harper's oeuvre is far more likely an embracement of the flesh, while bearing an uncanny similarity to certain feminine body parts if laid out in Rorschach format. Harper's paintings were a joy for me to discover, since so very little traditional painting is on display throughout the fairs.

Next up, Eugenio Merino at ADN Galeria of Barcelona. The Dalai Lama here looks like he just came out of the Stallone school of acting, while Shrub Jr. looks more akin to discovering enlightenment than the Mahatma himself. Juxtaposing such hilarious interpretations of a bizarro world run amock sent me into fits of giggles. The lifelike nature of the works again reminded me of the astounding realism of Ron Mueck, but in Merino's case, the message is not in the craftsmanship. For the true meaning of these works lies in the very definition of what is a man of peace, or god of war. To each and every one of us it can be a different thing. Definitely one to watch in the coming years.

Regina Jose Galindo made me cry. Really. I've never been more moved by a piece of art in recent memory. Promoteogalleri de Ida Pisani took the biggest risk ever by her inclusion. Taking performance art to new levels, Galindo's repetitive violent submersion in a vat of water is a graphic visual of waterboarding as means of torture. Only true hearts of stone could watch this and not get that in each one of us there is humanity and worth, no matter the political leanings, or actions of a selective few. Galindo's powerful statement here pretty much closed down all other artists from here on out to me in terms of what they're willing to do for their message to be heard loud and clear, with no static. Beautiful and raw, Galindo's booth is still making me think eight days later.

Last, but far from least, Boru O'Brien O'Connell's photographic exploration into male middle age, and the loss of masculinity itself at Boston's La Montagne Gallery. O'Connell's works sweat out palpable pools of Cialis and Rogaine advertisements, as well as PSAs on prostate health, if they were financed by well-meaning members of the PGA. Too often than not, we overlook as a society the "now what" that comes from men gradually losing control over the prowess they once thought was a given. Take the soap bar, for instance. What once was merely a means of getting clean now serves as a reminder to its owner as to the loss of his youth on a daily basis. I hope to see more of O'Connell's brilliant works again soon. He just may well be the new Cindy Sherman of his generation, dipping into the unplumbed well of the past-their-prime male specimen.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Spiritual Smurfs, poems, leaves and boobies. Get ready for Scope, Part II.

Admittedly I was left a bit perplexed by L.A. Contemporary's booth at Scope. The Fiji-born artist Adi Da Samraj (who apparently was also a well-regarded spiritual enlightenist, new age messiah and divine healer) had works on display that were at best abstract, and at worst loopy high-end productions reminiscent of Calder's wire sculptures if they met Papa Smurf. I really tried to feel something with these works, but they left me cold. Perhaps it was the slick production value of pigment on aluminum, but I just couldn't relate. If the above image WAS indeed Papa Smurf (which I was sadly informed it was not), then maybe it would have been a different story. Until then, I wish Adi all the best in the afterlife. According to Google, he met his maker last fall. Click here to view Da Samraj in action working on some of his dramatically better photographic performances.

Zach Houston had a unique concept: poetry to go. Providing a basic school in the rough in the midst of a ground zero of capitalism at its finest?/worst?, Houston's performance was a direct reference to comissioned work and arts patronage. Visitors were encouraged to engage Houston, naming a price for hire, from which he would then type out the poems on the fly. Here was an example of creativity at its finest, though it reminded me of another Oly's Musings fave--Jason Metcalf's brilliant 2007 Scope performance where he sat inside a tiny house on wheels that served as an ATM machine. A similar way of purchasing art on demand, he'd then vend the works through a chute, dispensing out his tiny sculptures. I really like where Houston is going with this. Scope can learn a great deal from these men, and I really feel this year they were truly in need of more risk-takers like this. Click here to see much better photos of Houston in his element from my newly discovered C-Cyte blog.

Ryan Wolfe's Branching System: Butterfly Hurricane at Dam, Stuhltrager Gallery was a unique installation of robotics and motion sensor technology. Appearing as tiny leaves attached to a massive circulatory system, the foliage would bat back and forth upon your approach not unlike tiny butterflies or moths. Connecting the digital with the human is always a difficult undertaking, but in this case it really worked. Wolfe's superb kinetic structure had a spiritual essence about it. For one, you almost forget the technological aspect and felt transformed to spending a day in the woods. At any moment, I could imagine one of these leaves springing from the wall and taking flight. Wolfe's structure was an ingenious way to inject nature back into such an artificial environment.

Finally, artist Karim Hamid at dFaulken, a non-bricks and mortar enterprise devoted to full gallery representation exclusively online and at art fairs. Just the concept of the "virtual gallery" was enough to bring me into this booth, but the real kicker was Hamid's hilarious paintings of Girls Gone Wild honeys in various states of disrobing juxtaposed with the shit-eating grins on the men's faces. Admidst all the glitter and beads of Bourbon Street, I couldn't help but giggle at the celebration of the truly clueless, for here is an entire generation of women brought up to celebrate their worth in flesh alone. My favorite is the piece on the middle left. Tell me that isn't Anne Hathaway after one too many tequila shots.

All in all, Scope brought it once again-- though with decidedly fewer NYC galleries represented this time. A truly international affair, what other reason could you have to visit Lincoln Center?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Roadhouse bars, dramatic prairie dogs and lots and lots of blood-- Welcome to Scope, Part 1

One of the best things by far about Armory week 2009 was the inclusion of the Austin, TX, art galleries. At Scope's Okay Mountain Gallery, an artist-run enterprise, I felt quite at home, becoming enthralled with artist Jesse Greenberg in particular. Here, Greenberg makes sculputral constructs consisting of everything but the kitchen sink. Appearing somewhat like a jukebox you'd find in a roadhouse bar, Greenberg helped transform the gallery's booth into a sort of Day of the Dead mixed with Saturday Night Fever, all while throwing in a bit of Duel for good measure. To say his works are a bit over the top would be the understatement of the year. Greenberg's visuals challenge our perception of what can be construed as art, and examine new ways to create the new from reconstituted detritus.

In honor of this collaging of sorts, I'm enclosing the below photo by Carlos Rosales-Silva from the Okay Mountain website and Flickr to show you a bit more of what the booth looked like.

Next up, Jordan Eagles. I've been seeing Jordan's works for a while now, and his show at the now-closed Merge Gallery last summer really made me take notice. His most recent pieces on display at Costa Rican gallery Jacob Karpio seemed to up the light quotient by about 10,000 megawatts. Seemingly bursting forth into supernovas, Eagles' cow blood and resin process traps the basic element of life itself into a manmade fossilization. Having their closest resemblance to amber, he applies layers upon layers of resin until the sheen is so glossy you can see your reflection. In this work alone he uses over 14 layers, and the piece weighs 250 pounds. Note to pending collectors: make sure you properly hang this, or you'll have quite a mess on your hands.

Now for some much needed humor and tongue-in-cheek celebration of our internet obsessed culture. Hrag Vartanian called this little guy below the "new global folk art," and for good reason.

Comenius Roethlisberger and Admir Jahic have teamed up for their second collaboration of Invisible Heroes: Without You Baby, There Ain't No Us. These simple color pencil on paper drawings capture a still frame of the money shot itself-- in this case, the prairie dog giving us some major 'tude. Everyone has seen him. He's now a part of our collective unconscious. Whether we like it or not, Roethlisberger and Jahic have also entered the domain of pop culture, and "cuted it up" just a bit more. Given the need for escapism in our day to day lives in an ever greater capacity-- with YouTube leading the way-- this installation just about hit it out of the park for me.

Part two of Scope to come tomorrow. Until then, please don't call him a chipmunk.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Deux, baby, deux

Welcome back to Part 2 of my Pulse 2009 rundown. Get ready for some serious color. You might need to wear shades.

It's not often I get to see what's going on in Hungarian art today, but at Pulse I got a quick lesson in some quite nice color abstractions of Istvan Nadler at Lena Roselli Gallery. If you click here you get to see a slickly made video of the artist in action. Even though I've seen works like these time and time again, there's something engaging about their even flow and sinuous formations.

The above gravity-enhanced drip painting by Ian Davenport was one of my favorite works of all the five fairs I attended. There's something special about a work that needs so very little light to achieve its full effect. Here, Slewe Gallery of Amsterdam really did a nice booth-- as well as the simplistic, but highly disciplined, geometric abstraction work by Steven Aalders directly below.

The above Markus Linnenbrink works again establish him as one of the top fair artists of 2009 in terms of sheer production value, and the multitude of galleries showcasing his works. The difference is that in these versions he explored his different choice of mediums in much further detail than previous years. The above encaustic piece, In the Wrong Place is unfortunately mistitled, for it felt just in the right place in its central location at Berlin's ftc./Fiedler Taubert Contemporary. The top work in epoxy resin has such a glistening sheen it took me numerous viewings before I could see all the layers in full detail. Linnenbrink doesn't necessarily make his art for critical approval, but they are beautifully done color-saturated creations with a broad range of mass appeal to the general art buying public. It's no wonder he comes back time and time again in even more prominent focus.

Next up on the color wheel wagon is German artist Peter Zimmerman at Spain's Galeria Horrach Moya. These three epoxy resin lovelies look like they just stepped out of a Jeremy Blake retrospective. The works' immaculate surfaces belie a peaceful undercurrent not unlike a zen retreat. I could have stood in front of these for hours just soaking in their mellow vibes. Who needs a massage therapist when you have great visuals to calm your inner soul?

Next, something totally different. From before where I was celebrating color, now I've come to celebrate texture. David Hevel's creations come in like a dirty bomb at Mardi Gras, if it was held in Carol Channing's closet. These wondrous assemblages truly floored me with their originality. I couldn't get enough of these freaky little dolls with baboon faces. They have an almost religious iconography about them; mixing in little girl dress-up parties with pop culture references of perhaps an unreleased Planet of the Apes. The floral installations with beading are immaculate constructions-- flawless in every manner. I had never even heard of Marx & Zavattero gallery before Sunday, but I will say that it certainly won't be the last I'll hear of them-- a gallery not afraid to take risks (betting its entire booth on Hevel), with stunning results. They're definitely one to watch in the coming years.

Recently I did a post where I mentioned how Allison Schulnik's works sometimes creepily move a bit too close in terms of resemblance to Nathalie Djurberg's claymation creations. But this time, at Mark Moore Gallery, they were transformed by a fabulous curation and hanging, as well as the artist's own delving into the depths of despair, as well as depravity. Utilizing her palette knife almost as if she were frosting a cake, her layers and layers of paint give rise to a sad cast of characters-- clowns a bit down on their luck; apes in screaming poses; and floral arrangements that all look a tad bit "off." I hope Schulnik continues on this path. These were some delicious works that looked almost edible at times. Luckily for me, about this time, I got my ridiculously overpriced-- $11-- veggie panini from the snack bar and continued on.

The below new work, Self-Portrait as Sky Scraper by Julie Heffernan at Catharine Clark's booth was a bit surprising, given that her usual solitary focal point surrounded by a bountiful harvest must have had a headache tonight, dear. In its place was a condo-like towering structure, seemingly referencing urbanity amidst a lost Eden. Interesting, but I must say I prefer her previous works-- they felt more real to me. Heffernan continues to out-Currin John Currin in sheer painting ability, so she's always a good one to look for at the fairs.

Next up, an eternal Oly's Musings favorite-- Nicholas Touron at Virgil de Voldaire. I truly love Touron. He makes me laugh and feel extremely troubled at the same time. His creepy cast of characters are back in action again-- the evil green penguins who go aimlessly to and fro, following no set leader; the beast of burden deer/moose/log hybrids; the military helicopters overhead leading the pack, all whilst nebulous prophylactic monsters appear ready to devour anything in their path. Truly the stuff nightmares are made of-- well, cute nightmares, at least.

Below, all I'll say is Vadis Turner made this entirely from tampons. That's pretty sick... sick in a pretty awesome way! Her B.U. (go fellow Terrier!!!) education I think is really showing here, for the small and intimate nature of its art school really brings out the imagination in its grads. I simply adored this work, but got this weird sensation for a Billy's Bakery cupcake and purchasing a new supply of Midol after I saw this. Michael Lyons Wier continues to be one of my favorite gallerists in Chelsea, and for good reason with this choice.

Above, Jim Lee at Freight + Volume showcases works that at first are not what you'd think of as "painting," per se, but they truthfully delve deeper than anything at the fair into redefining its very meaning. A portion of generic carpet, as shown above, stain intact, could be a crime scene; a lover's "gift" left behind; or maybe, just maybe, some vomit leftover from a bad day at preschool. The black lines reign in the work, giving it much better depth perception.

Jeanne Silverthorne at Shoshana Wayne puts new meaning into the term "miniature." In fact, after Zadok Ben-David's foil trees, I didn't think anything could top their Lilliputian nature. But Silverthorne does. All I can think of here is Romeo finding his sleeping Juliet, and taking a sip of the hemlock. Where's my Pelican Shakespeare when I need it?

And finally, last, but not least, Lincoln Schatz's amazing foray into digital video delay, I, You, We at Catharine Clark. Forming a mosaic of imagery on time-delay, I was seeing my silhouette tagged onto someone else's face in negative image, along with a multitude of other disjointed parts to and fro. What a magnificent ending, for how else could I define Pulse, other than a fair that's mismatched at first glance, but beautifully comes together in the end as a new creation.

Bring on 2010!