Sunday, March 30, 2008

Lander Burton- 6th floor lobby and 'Hope, Pray and Don't Worry'- 7th floor lobby

I first saw Lander Burton's work in Cooper Union's annual end-of-year show and I am an avowed fan. I like all of the artists her paintings bring to mind and there is composure in her pursuit of the abstract vein her work sit in that I like and don't often see. It's almost a kind of formality that I miss, but not formality in the sense of 'formalism;' formality that one would apply to formal wear when one plans to go out dancing in the evening. Even if an artist's job is sometimes to let it all hang out, a certain respect for the audience watching your spectacle (in the form of appropriate attire) is admirable. This formality is apparent in the mannered borders of Lander's colors and shapes and the carefully even surfaces of her canvases.
This brings me to the work on the floor above. Mark Nerys and Ye Qin Zhu, as far as I'm concerned, sit on either side of Lander and are, additionally, good complements to each other: surface is a key point of discussion in the work of each of these three individuals.
Lander's mannered surfaces give way to Ye's violent, blooming, sensuous paint masses as well as to Mark's sheer, toothless planes. I'd go as far as to say that Mark's work sits in or near some kind of 'ground zero' of painting; in many ways he's pared the elements of his paintings down to something less, even, than essence. That sounds bad, scary even, but even if it is scary it's far from being bad territory to cover. It's nihilistic at times, sure, but it's also pretty damn funny too (albeit in a consciously low-brow way).
Compare and contrast Mark's minimal marks on his shining clean surfaces with Ye's maximal paintwork; it might be an unfairly simple cop to say that Ye's work can be similarly scary to look at (the rotting dog carcass?), but I think that it holds; Ye's work is, at the least, uncomfortable in a menacing sort of way from time to time. Both Ye and Mark manage to achieve similar results with entirely opposite strategies as far as the surfaces they work with are concerned. This is part of what makes pieces from both of them sit together so surprisingly well.
So where does this leave Lander? Though I like Lander's approach to a canvas, her style and her show in general, I think that comparison to the show above her sets her work in an uncomfortable middle ground. Its formality, the paint neither piled on nor sparingly applied, can leave her work with a loose neutrality, but neutrality is as difficult to maintain as are uncompromising stringency and uncompromising excess. It will be interesting to watch each of these painters waver between this middle ground and these extremes.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Grayson Revoir - 2nd Floor Lobby

Grayson Revoir does not like Americans. At least, he plays off America's
insecurities and the stereotypes of Americans in Leisure Time, a tiny
exhibit in the 2nd floor lobby space. Six pieces make up the show, four
photos, a beaded curtain, and an immense ball of sloths. Entering from
the round elevator doors, the viewer passes through the beaded curtain
(think Native Americans, not hippies) to find that the tangled mass of
fake fur and wooden claws is the centerpiece, a fairly direct jab at the
orgiastic, masturbatory slothfulness that seems to pervade perception of
our country. What is it to be American if not fat and lazy? The flailing
faux-fauna has matted fur, dirty grey and green, and initially seems to
be a giant, disgusting hairball rather than the interlocked and
well-made animals it is actually composed of. Now, the curtain becomes
mocking. We pass through anticipating exoticism to entertain us and find
only criticism.

Moving to the walls, there are two pairs of photos. The first includes a
picture of a eighteen-wheeler parked on a snowy road and a picture of a
large young man in a small doorway. These take another stereotype of
Americans, their belligerent ignorance, and embodies it in typically
American images. The semi with its huge, white trailer, takes up most of
the frame. It blocks out the landscape and the gas station, and whatever
else it may be in front of, blocks it all out with absolutely nothing
except the vast blank space of the trailer. It is an obnoxious
nothingness. The man in the doorway has the same insistence on being
seen. He fills the door, shoulder to shoulder and head to toe, allowing
nothing to distract from his big, selfish body.

The second pair of photos is the weakest element in the show, and works
least well with the other pieces. Two close-ups of wrapping paper, one
interesting for its reflection and the other a repeating optical
pattern, are more concerned with their formal properties and aesthetics
than any underlying message. Not necessarily bad photos, they simply do
not fit the theme.

Will Schneider-White

Friday, March 28, 2008

Nickola Pottinger and Gabriel Smith in the Houghton Gallery, March 25-29

A few days after Nickola Pottinger and Gabriel Smith's untitled exhibition opened I came back to sit in the Houghton Gallery, that one genuinely nice gallery space in the building. Some other students had come, too, six or seven elementary school students being chaperoned by a woman who asked in front of one drawing the simple and important question, "do you know what's happening in this drawing?" I realized that I hadn't even asked myself that question, and that maybe this was because for me the drawing had been lost in a jumble of other hectic drawings. I had looked over the drawing on an earlier visit but it wasn't until the children had moved that I asked myself for the first time, does that drawing really need glitter on it?

The two artists each democratically occupy fifty percent of the wall space—ceding all floor space to the viewer— and with so many drawings placed so closely to one another the show can sometimes feel like more like a show and tell than an exhibition. But a coherent and interesting conversation emerges from the two sides of the room, that face each other from different ends of the aesthetic and emotional universe. Pottinger's drawings dwell in the delicate and the perishable (do those drawing really need to be on newsprint?) and in a quirky sort of sexuality. Most of her forms come in doubles and many resemble testicles. Gabriel's drawings stare back with two terrifying eyeballs at the center of a colorful and energetic storm.

Some questions came up for me in this show. First, and I ask this all the time now, and other people should, too, why aren't these drawings labeled? Not indicating names, titles, or a show title outside the gallery space isn't just sloppy, it makes the viewing more difficult. I also kept wondering what the importance of a coherent message in a show is, and maybe specifically in a "student" show. There are formal and conceptual threads through each set of work, and I think the conversation between those two bodies is interesting, but I keep coming back to that "show and tell" feeling. It sounds like: Okay, here are my drawings, take a look. And I keep reaching the question, "so what?" What are these drawings saying? Smith's drawings are frail, sexual, maybe, sometimes beautiful. Does that mean they are speaking about frailty, about sexuality? They feel too ambiguous. For me, Nikola's drawings feel like they are working through some interesting problems and questions—pulling back from an order into something more emotional, and then wiping away some of that emotion to reveal another kind of order.

Henry Chapman

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Craft and Afterlife - BFF on the 2nd floor

A trio of friends put on a surprisingly comprehensive show with BFF –Best Friends For now. Katrina Myers, Karen Sawicki, and Alexandra Shaver hardly use more than a single wall to construct a linear and thematically unified exhibit, their varied styles meshing well.

Reading left to right, we find an ascending journey: from the underworld to our world, then above. First is Myers' drawing of a ringed mountain mimicking Dante's circles of hell, from which we move to a vertical triptych of photos paralleling a painting by Sawicki, both depicting the
falling of the damned. Then we move to our own world, Myers contributing earthy drawings and beadings seemingly imported from islands unheard of, representing the uncivilized and savage, Shaver showing a psychedelic utopia, saturated and swirling paintings, inhabited by a few deer, a lot of minute detail, and much fluorescence. A Catholic in this crowd of heathens and hippies, Sawicki completes our living plane with her strange and melodramatic paintings in subdued near monochrome. An altarpiece and a few shrine-like displays contrast luxurious furs and fabrics with scrimshawed portraits, the scratched bone functioning more to make these vanitas than as sailors' mementos. Finally, Sawicki has a wall of scratchboard idols, shining gold and silver, a yearbook of the risen (and of her classmates).

The narrative that can be read through the work is fun, and the BFFs choice to avoid montage and present an edited and clean show is admirable, but the strongest point is the sincere investment visible in nearly everything hung. None of these artists are self-consciously trying to create something new or original, and therefore avoid contrived novelty. And though they wear their influence proudly, the work does not look derivative. The beadings and scrimshaw are carefully done, learned and practiced craft rather than token unusual materials. The work is created first for the love of creation, then for whatever else it carries.

Will Schneider-White/

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

"News From the World" in the Houghton Gallery, March 11-15

The young King in Lola Schnabel's video, "Le Bal des Ardents" looks bored with the entertainment. His eyes flutter around the room, unable to focus on one thing, only perking up when he greedily bites into a big chocolate chip cookie. Maybe the King appears as a reflection of the opening night audience, which comes for the beer and brownies (or, in some cases, cabernet and quiche) but has little to say or think about the work itself. Maybe. I felt that the show asked of me a little bit of time, (at least) a second visit.

"News From the World," a show by Alexander Haring, Patrick Roberts, and Lola Schnabel, looks like it could have been made by any number of people, offering an eclectic jumble of different kinds of work in varying mediums. In keeping with the long, irritating tradition of weekly show openings, this exhibition leaves the work without labels and without titles, keeping the work—unless you know the artist, or the pieces beforehand—anonymous. Maybe that anonymity serves the theme suggested by the title, and maybe the work is supposed to be shown anonymously, as artifacts from the world. But if that is the intention, it isn't executed with enough conviction, and without titles or names, I felt farther away from the work, that the work was not communicating to me, or that the jumble of work in the show was not anchored.

What is the news from the world? The most consistent fascination in the exhibition is bodies, their beauty and their strangeness. Almost every piece engages directly with the figure. Two exceptions include photographs that tell a story of human ruins—architectural decay in one, an atomic mushroom cloud in another. This violence is present in the other work, as in the busts of a female human torso and a cushion, which have flashing, sexual imagery projected onto them. Or the looping projection set at floor level, which shows a man trying without success to get closer to the viewer, and being pushed back by some invisible force. Both of these projections have a fast, frantic quality that succeeds in conveying a sense of aggression on the bodies they depict.

The questions concern the body or maybe the body in pain, maybe most explicitly imagined in the three photographs with lush colors that frame snapshots of police detainment, or maybe, as with the severed fingernail, the effects of torture techniques.

The work here is thoughtful, and the curation for the most part lives up to that. The use of the gallery space is creative and while the show does not feel too sparse, it also feels like the work has room to breath. If you only went for the opening night snacks, it's worth a second trip.

Henry Chapman

Monday, March 10, 2008


An unusually sinister looking second floor hallway amid preparations for tomorrow night's show openings. Two new shows tomorrow night: Katrina Myers, Karen Sawicki & Ali Shaver on the second floor lobby, and Alexander Haring, Patrick Roberts & Lola Shnabel in the Houghton Gallery. 

Friday, March 7, 2008

Aurora Pellizzi on the 7th Floor

            I did not know Aurora Pellizzi or her work before the show from March 3-8 in the 7th floor lobby. I did not go to the opening, did not talk to anyone about the show before seeing it. Hanging are a few large print-outs with multiple digital photo collages featuring Ms. Pellizzi (I assume) crudely inserted into touristy photographs of real and absurd locations, often in multiple. Looking at the show's postcard, I see the title is "Alter Ego, ό Mirame y No Me Toques".

            The immediate impression these collages give is equivalent to the tourist photos they parody: I'm sure they are funny to whoever took them. They look like jokes, they are jokes, what else could they be? Are they commenting on the tourist trade or just pointing at it with an obnoxious grin and not saying anything? Aurora in Damien Hirst's diamond-studded skull makes me think of art as tourism, but my thought stops there. The images are rotated and fit on the pages to save room, not to be presented, which brings up the possibility that they're not about tourism or cultural disregard, maybe the subject is the medium. False naïveté has never been charming and when it is so obviously false, when the pixelated cut and paste with her curtains still there between her arm and body is printed large-format and high quality on a big glossy piece of paper, it just looks lazy. Anyway, not knowing how to use Photoshop is not yet social commentary.

So, they're jokes. Sometimes she wears a funny dress, or makes a funny face, or has a cake on her head like a funny hat. I can appreciate humor in art, but these have no punch-line, they are ironic without an end to meet. Do I create that end? These are purposeless images, escaped e-mail attachments, kidding between friends. As an artist, am I allowed to disregard these images as unsuccessful and uninteresting, or must I create a comfortable excuse to leave them on before I can admit appreciative dislike?

Will Schneider-White

Tommy Coleman on the 6th Floor, "Portraits of My Domesticity"

When I circled the sixth floor on Tuesday night I carried a memory of Dennis Adams' voice—who was voicing Mies van der Rohe, or whoever—saying, "God is in the details." In a room full of well-made things, the joke in Tommy Coleman's exhibit, "Portraits of My Domesticity," comes in the details, in the little cracks and in the slight inconsistencies. Yes, I laughed, looking at the Laugh Now/ Stop Laughing signs, which gave the green light for stop and the red light for go. A drawing dented or ripped. A word mispelled. And what about that bed of growing grass with a corresponding picture of a different bed of growing grass? Maybe this isn't an entirely new joke, but Tommy's show does a good job of telling it.

But the title, "Portraits of My Domesticity," feels false. What does that narrative intend to say? Or add to the work? What joke is it trying to tell? It may not be hard to plug the imagery of lawns, marital beds and household notes into a strange story of domesticity, but that action feels just like that—a plugging in. Perhaps each individual piece would have benefited from having its own title. I always wonder why the standard for show openings on Tuesdays is to show work without titles, and I think here especially the work may have deserved names of their own, designations of their own, if only to survive being eaten by that nagging Domestic narrative.

Still, context matters, and coming after a week of unbearable visual noise, Tommy's thoughtful show, complete with its own mysterious and insistent sound, made refreshing use of the 6th floor.  

Henry Chapman