Chelsea’s Open for Business
13 September 2008

I took a walk through Chelsea today and feel compelled to report, in no particular order of importance, on what I encountered. There were people out and about, red dots in the right places (for the most part), and nothing too unexpected. All in all, there was a lot of big, pleasing, color photography and some ugly painting, which when spotted early was avoided entirely. Some galleries would be better off not hinting at what is inside. Frosted glass and walls pique my interest. Big, hideous paintings, not so much.

So, I’ll keep my remarks mainly to what shows inspired me to snatch a card or press release from the table.

Corin Sworn @ Zeiher Smith
Bizarre little show about a school principally governed by the children. A series of beautifully, slightly distorted graphites accompany a video, collage, and a tinker-toy sculpture. There is something vaguely threatening about the show’s subject, when the main concern of the limited rules for children seem to be about keeping them from burning everything to ground.

Yevgeniy Fiks @ Winkleman Gallery
I adopted a small, gold plate relief of Lenin from Fiks’ Communist themed show of Lenin kitsch which apparently can be purchased in supermarkets in Russia. I felt a surge of nostalgia in the presence of all the Lenins, not so much for the Cold War, but for visionary leadership. Sadly, I doubt Barak will ever inspire little busts for your mantle. I’m also thrilled to have participated in a little subversive Communist activity helping the artist realize his project. I shall now house the Lenin until I’m dead. I love the fact that I will have to put some sort of note about this show in my will regarding the conceptual nature of the object.

Xu Zhen, Folkert de Jong, Martha Colburn @ James Cohan Gallery
de Jong’s large foam and glue sculptures of bug-eyed, insane looking colonials are pretty hilarious. de Jong gets some mileage out of the ol’ foam and glue, material and process aesthetic. Colburn’s video is bizarre and compulsively watchable as morphing, hand-made collage figures romp in an animated landscape. Zhen presents a Chinese mini-market emptied of content, leaving only the packing behind. The items are for sale at the going Chinese rate. I didn’t realize that. I might have bought an empty package, but I didn’t read the press release.

Keith Tyson @ PaceWildenstein
There’s a note planted on the door of the gallery informing the public that work may not be photographed to protect the artist’s copyrights. Maybe he’s just doing you a favor by keeping these slickly executed, 3-D Mondrians safely tucked inside the gallery. Ken Johnson must have smoked a lot of crack during opening weekend or got really drunk because he actually reviewed this derivative, boring-assed show and Baker Overstreet. (read on) Come on Ken, are the galleries paying you?

Olivier Blanckart@P.P.O.W
Blanckart’s awkward, life size sculptures of famous artists and pop figures, Madonna notably, are chuckle inducing. The critique of artist as commodity is a welcome addition to the landscape. Intelligent ‘goofballery’ comes to mind.

Aaron Johnson @ Stux
I guess Johnson jumped ship from Priska Juschka to Stux. The artist’s singularly unique blend of high camp cartoon imagery and serious abstraction is fully on display. I’m not particularly attracted to the paintings, but these star-spangled canvases contrast seductive surfaces with grotesque imagery. It’s an unusual combination of attraction and repulsion, though I tend to be more repulsed by them. The fully abstract canvas falls flat.

Vik Muniz@ Sikkema Jenkins
I never thought the back of famous paintings could be so appealing. Resurrecting the aesthetic of the ‘Support/Surface’ movement, Muniz updates the Hans Haacke’s critique of ownership by showing what I assume to be faithful recreations of the backs of famous Modernist paintings. In the second gallery, there are some sort of letter things, perhaps composites from the shipping of the work between the museums. Don’t know, but Muniz is doing something different, though it still seems like a finely executed illusion of ‘art’. Whatever it is, it’s incredibly attractive.

Corinne Wasmuht @ Friedrich Petzel
This is a show of really big paintings of abstracted spaces. These are inoffensive and completely devoid of character. Text book painting. Good for the country estate. I’ll take two.

Jonathan Calm @ Karen Golden Fine Art
Calm fills the front room with old, plastic knobbed, TV sets with an array of videos that explore stereotypical imagery of African-American culture; housing projects, guns, and football to name a few. In the back Calm photographs various housing projects in the reflections of puddles of water, perhaps as a metaphor for the illusion of ‘housing’. A politically charged show, if a little academic and not terribly exciting.

Diana Al-Hadid @ Perry Rubenstein Gallery
The big, organic looking sculptures fill both spaces; part honeycomb, part burnt chandelier, Al-Hadid pits nature against geometric forms. The resulting sculptures are rendered in chalky white and ashe hues are grotesque. One wall installation suddenly made me think of the Dharma Initiative from the TV show LOST, which also deals with the intersection between ancient civilizations and modern science. Al-Hadid’s sculptures seem like a similar intersection between some ancient forms and Modernism. Still, in the end, I kept thinking LOST.

Neil Campbell @ Marianne Boesky Gallery
As far as big, sweeping gestures, Campbell’s room sized black triangle in the back room of Boesky takes the prize. In the front of the gallery are some unimpressive circles on the walls. They are inexplicable and seem to be there as place holders. Whatever, just don’t turn around when you see them. Proceed into the curtained room, give your eyes a minute to adjust, and then appreciate the infinite space Campbell as carved out of wall using light and black paint. It was my most memorable experience in Chelsea, other than crossing paths with Zach Feuer. Either he doesn’t recognize me, or we simply will never, ever acknowledge one another. I wasn’t about to make small talk. “Hey man, I didn’t even bother to go in your gallery, there’s some sort of shack in there and Gatorade.” “Oh really, you fucking asshole. I should punch your teeth out.”
Seriously, Campbell’s black triangle would make James Turrell smile.

Alex Hank @ Ramses Barquet
Never heard of this gallery before, but Hank puts on quite a show with his purple walls, handsomely framed photographs that speak of massive wealth. The show, with embossed metal narrative captions, seems to tell a bizarre love story of some kind. I didn’t spend enough time with the work, I was sort of overcome with class envy and bolted, but I was struck with how handsome the show was. I don’t know if allows room for much critique. I don’t know, it just felt like an expensive show of expensive things. Perhaps that undermined the likelihood that I’d try and connect the fragments. I’ll probably go back, I’m a sucker for passages that include something like “then I saw her emerge from the darkness. I shit my pants and I’m here for the weekend.”

Baker Overstreet @ Fredericks @ Freiser
I’m just going to say it. This dude has the worst fucking name I’ve ever heard. His faux, outsider paintings somehow perfectly capture what you would expect a Yale educated dude named Baker Overstreet to make. If my name was Baker Overstreet…I’d be a rich, yacht sailing, ascot-wearing motherfucker. Of course you go to Yale. Yale really only wants to admit people like Baker Overstreet, but they have to take some women and minorities. Baker Overstreet’s show is called Follies. Baker Overstreet, Follies. The paintings are tragic, these are follies. These are probably the worst things I saw today, they caught my attention from across the street, but then I went inside. But, when your name is Baker Overstreet from Yale of course you also get reviewed in the Times. Jesus, Ken Johnson, what the fuck are you doing? Ken, really, Forest Bess and Alfred Jensen?? These are Jules DeBalincourt light, stripped of any narrative interest. The lesson here is that black backgrounds look nice. Fucking Baker Overstreet and Ken Johnson. The art market deserves to implode if this is what gets reviewed in the Times. Please Ken…I know there’s not much out there, but your Modernisms showing.

Marsha Pels @ Schroeder Romero
Of course I had to stop by my own gallery. They have some of my work in the back, which looked good. You can check out my video A Study for Sofia Coppola’s Film ‘Powhida’, but enough about me. Pels has a collection of scary sculptures that seem to be about death, but a punk funeral with neon and skulls. In the project room is weird little installation with a Kathe Kolwitz print Pel’s mother left to her along with some scattered papers and a fur coat lined with cast hands. I get the feeling the show is a personal meditation on mortality, memory, and loss, but without sentimentality.

Dan Heidkamp @ Buia Gallery
Dan is a friend of artist Tom Sanford, and I hung out with them this summer after a series of studio visits. I met him in his tiny Williamsburg studio before a debauched evening in the garden outside my studio. Dan freaked out due to some combination of drugs and we nearly had to ask him to leave, but he mellowed out near the end and went for a walk. He was freaking out presumably because of his first Chelsea solo show at Buia Gallery (love the name) which was less than two months away. Well, his loosely painted figurative canvases look much better outside his studio. The highlight of the show is a painting of a wedding party where every single person in the picture looks fucking miserable. It’s also the most convincingly painted canvas in the room. The others seem a little thin or hesitant in the brush work, on which his painting style seems to hinge. The show doesn’t lack character, these are like absurd updates of Bonnard. Congrats Dan, sorry this isn’t exactly the Times, but your name isn’t Baker Overstreet and I’m no Ken Johnson.

Anyway, enough pithy reviews for today. There’s a lot out there, tons of big, color photographs of landscapes and plenty of big-assed abstract paintings perfect for all those shiny, new condos. Let’s just hope rich people keep buying them so the art market doesn’t collapse.

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