I keep a running list of exhibitions I read about in the paper, magazines, and blogs, and about once a month we dedicate a Saturday afternoon to galleries. Sometimes the in-person experience doesn’t quite live up to the reviews or the exhibition photos I’ve seen in print or online — but yesterday afternoon’s Chelsea excursion offered one of those “oh-my-God-I-am-so-lucky-to-live-in-this-city-and-have-access-to-all-this-amazing-art-for-free” kind of experiences. So much skill on display. So many transportive experiences. So much wonder.
Days like this are rare.
We started off with Walid Raad‘s “Scratching on Things I Could Disavow: A History of Art in the Arab World” at Paulo Cooper Gallery. According to the press release, “‘Scratching…’ takes as its point of departure the vertiginous expansion of the infrastructure for the arts in the Arab world to produce works that register, in their very fabric, the effect of material and immaterial pressures.” I’m inclined to like all of Raad’s work, so while this show didn’t blow me away, it was a good warm-up for the afternoon.
I must’ve read somewhere about Leonardo Drew‘s show, but when we arrived at Sikkema Jenkins, I didn’t recall anything about his work. We were in for quite a surprise. Drew apparently worked on-site for an entire month to construct this multi-room installation. From the press release:
Rooted in historical evidence, Leonardo Drew’s abstract sculptural compositions are emotionally charged reflections on the cyclical nature of existence. From the eroded fibers of human industry and the tide of urban development to the awareness of ourselves as part of the fabric of a larger universe and a connection to all things, Drew exhumes the visions of the past in a mirror of organic reality that reveals the resonance of life – the nature of nature.
We left Drew’s “fiber archive” — a visual, tangible, olfactory collection of wood in its various conditions of existence – and found right across the street a collection of another sort. Petzel drew inspiration from Borges’s description of a “feverish Library whose chance volumes are constantly in danger of changing into others and affirm, negate and confuse everything like a delirious divinity.” According to the press release, the Feverish Library “brings together a number of artworks whose premises are predicated on the book as a conceptual, psychological, and cultural form. In some pieces, the actual physicality of the book is addressed. The works collectively constitute a meditation on the page, book jackets, design, and content.”
We then wandered into a library of another sort: Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe’s STRAY LIGHT GREY at Marlborough Chelsea, which I had visited three weeks ago without noticing that the exhibition extends far beyond the small room of paintings right inside the lobby off 25th Street. This time we used a back entrance and found ourselves in wood-patchworked library, shelves lined with books sporting canonical cover art, yet unrecognizable titles.
In the back-left corner we found a hole in the wall, which led to an oddly familiar — these kinds of dingy shops are all over Brooklyn — yet uncanny retail environment, featuring wares ranging from oddly decorated cakes to artist-branded chemical products. From the press release,
Articulated through the construction of multiple architectural settings, Stray Light Grey marks a unification of many of the thematic threads from previous projects into a sprawling sequence of interiors. Through a series of fictional and historical narratives the artists have composed an expansive, alternate world that reimagines culture through subjects such as rogue science, psychedelic drugs, mega-conventions and hypertrophic urbanism. A warren of corridors, chambers and passageways is configured into a spatial collage that gives a fragmented vision of a parallel metropolis. As if the visitor has entered a bizarro New York City simulated in a foreign country where the details have been perverted in translation. The overall conglomeration is a system of architecture that forms a sculpture in its totality, a concept of the city as a clumsy monument whose symbolic identity is never fully materialized.
Upstairs we found an abandoned plastic surgery clinic, and down a separate set of stairs we encountered an off-track betting parlor, a weird perma-frost electrical cabinet, and a bathroom whose tub served as a portal into another world.
We finished the afternoon in the miniature, mechanical other-world of Jeff Shore and Jon Fisher’s Trailer at Derek Eller. According to the press release,
…Texas-based collaborators Shore and Fisher will transform the gallery into an immersive environment comprised of sound, projection, and sculpture. A network of ten kinetic wall sculptures of wood, metal, and intricate wiring house hand-built scale models, motors, bulbs, miniature surveillance cameras, and microchips. These apparatuses work together to generate live video sequences which are shown in projection throughout the gallery as well as an accompanying real time soundtrack.
It took us a little while to catch on, but we eventually realized that the video revealed the internal mechanisms of the kinetic wall sculptures. When a particular sculpture’s “innards” were on-screen, a bright, colored light spilled out from inside the sculptural box and onto the wall around it — so we’d rush over to the box and peek through its cracks to see the miniature drama unfolding within.