Friday, November 9, 2007

Chelsea, Tuesday November 6th

I just took an overnight trip to the City, and started on Tuesday afternoon with a quick tour of Chelsea. I don’t try to see everything, I cannot sustain the interest, or the feet that long, so I hit the obvious galleries, mostly sticking to easy to get into ones on the ground floor. This fortunately includes the best galleries, so is an easy way to keep tabs on what is happening in the art world in a general way. While my first post might lead the reader to conclude that I hate the contemporary art world, this is not true. I actually am enjoying contemporary art more than I used to, I think in large part due to the fact that the art has changed in the thirty years I have been looking at it. Craft, skill, consummate and obsessive attention to detail seem to be in style again, in a range of materials and styles. Concept is still important but is no longer the only thing; the object at hand also compels the views interest, not just the idea behind it. For me, a visual person more interested in what is present to my senses, this is a relief and has made art fun to look at again. Below are a few of the highlights of my last tour.

I started with the small gallery of friends of mine, Morgan Lehman on 10th Ave. between 28th and 29th Streets. (photo of it with current show) A sliver of a gallery, they have a beautiful show of small paintings, one painted for each week of the year, several years on view, by Emilie Clark, someone I did not know before. I asked them what shows should I not miss, and they told me about the Antony Gormley show at Sean Kelly. I have always like Gormley, having known his work since the 1980’s when he showed in Soho at a gallery on Broadway, Salvatore Ala Gallery. At that time his work stood out, it was highly physical and depicted the human body or its relation to the world. My first memory of his work was seeing what appeared to be a human mummy wrapped in lead plates soldered together. They stood in the gallery and had a presence. Given that this was when conceptual art was all the vogue, seeing actual objects that depended not upon text for impact was refreshing. I go see his work anytime I can, and this show does not disappoint.

The first piece exhibited is the upside down figure in three dimensional outline surrounded by a steel aura, all done in square wire. I don’t know how to describe except to say that it is very much in his tradition of the lead wrapped human figure, only here the wrapping, open cells of wire extend out for several feet in all directions, as if the human dissolved into a steel cloud.

This theme is continued to the name piece of the exhibition “Blind Light”, a huge glass enclosed steam room basically, within the large back gallery space. It has one opening, and you can see the fog/mist billowing out, being sprayed from very small attractive tubes high up, creating an even fog. I ventured into the room about three feet before panicking and retreating, it was totally disorienting you could not tell up from down let alone see anything, truly blind light. Great show, don’t miss it.

The other discovery of the day was at Nancy Margolis Gallery, a ceramic artist named Eva Hild, someone who I had known of before. Imagine a mathematical equation made concrete about multi-dimensional space with wormholes, etc. You have got the image, three-dimensional objects like a mobius strip gone wild. All it turns out done in clay, which is white, glazed, and each one is painstakingly built up of coils by hand, sanded down and then covered in white kaolin. They take months to make each one. The effect is pretty amazing, really beautiful and worthy of attention.

I went to see a show by a friend of mine, Chris Haun at Zone Center for the Arts, 601 West 26th St. Inspired by his train ride up the Hudson River between Hudson and the City, the show is visually interesting.

On the same floor of 601 W. 26th, I saw an antique store like no other, Sebastian Barquet, specializing in modern furniture and objects. The gallery has a huge glass enclosed space where the furniture and objects are lit like objects in a museum, safe from the touch of the viewer, and the walls also are glass displaying frames and wall art.

Most notable to me was this drawing of a dog, the cutest thing you ever saw, by Rembrandt, in a frame by Bugatti. Truly a wonderful piece.

I then made it to Lehmann Maupin Gallery also on 26th Street, to an exhibit of Do Ho Suh, fabulous. His theme this show seemed to be small human figures, with one standing the rest clasping on to him and each other creating endless chains.

Only photos can tell the story, the large installation is a tornado of suspended little men, chains of them.

above detail of the tornado of little men by Do Ho Suh.

Really striking, but my favorite is the horn or elephant tusk of men, each one getting smaller into infinitude.
above detail of the human horn by Do Ho Suh

There were drawings as well, a red cloud one made of concentric circles, as obsessive the sculptures. The first work by him that I had ever seen was also at Lehmann Maupin a few years ago; it was an entire life sized studio apartment sewn in three dimensions of parachute silk. So he goes from theme to theme but each is equally painstaking. Pretty great stuff.

Of note is the Joel Shapiro show at Pace Wildensteins space on 22nd Street, beautiful classic modern sculpture, in a beautiful installation.

One of my favorite pieces on view in Chelsea was to be found at Andrea Rosen Gallery, who often does small exhibits in the back gallery, this one was a group of eccentric artists not often seen, including this exquisite Florinne Stettheimer painting. She was a wealthy heiress who painted charming very personal images that capture the Zeitqeist of her era and class. Not often seen, they relate to the surrealist sensibility of the time, but are more interested in social commentary than some of the other painters of the time. By social I mean her Society and class intersecting with other classes, etc. Also exhibited were paintings by Rober Greene who showed at Robert Miller Gallery when I worked there, and who I have sort of lost track of; nice to see his work again.

One stop on my tour was the little pocket gallery on the 11th Avenue of Thomas Beale, who constructs sculptures of small pieces of wood, and one is a large bowl of clam shells.

Fun, not sure it is great art, but its obsessive quality and skill of execution again deserves respect.

This concludes the tour I took, and does not include everything I saw. What all of these entries have in common though is that they involve skill of execution, craft if you will, and also interesting concepts as well.

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