It’s Become Increasingly Obvious That I’m an Incorrigible Structuralist

Matthias Bitzer
Matthias Bitzer

Last weekend was glorious! Spring had sprung! My scratched cornea had healed, which meant I could wear my contacts once again — which, in turn, meant that I could wear my new sunglasses! I could go out without a jacket (and keep it off all day long, on principle, and pretend that I wasn’t just a wee bit chilly!)! And there were new exhibitions galore! So I dedicated Saturday — part of it, anyway; the second half was supposed to be dedicated to developing this presentation, which didn’t exactly happen as planned — to art.

I think I’ll dispense with my typical practice of “thematizing” my gallery tours. I always pretend to find some conceptual thread, some overarching theme that ties together the myriad shows I see on my marathon art adventures. Everything I see is — in my mind, at least — somehow about language and mark-making and structure and materiality anyway. So let’s just take that as a given.

Thus, as one might predict, I saw some fantastic structuralist work around Chelsea, Soho and the Lower East Side last weekend.

I started with Moyra Davey’s “Ornament and Reproach” at Murray Guy. Honestly, Reader, it didn’t do much for me! (I hate that pretentious writerly convention — the silly direct-address-of-the-reader thing! Yet it somehow seems appropriate here, given how overwrought the “concept” for this show was.)

via Murray Guy
via Murray Guy

2014-04-05 13.48.21I then moved on to the Kitchen, which is typically my Chelsea tour “home base” — another convention that seems fitting, given that I lived on 19th Street, a block away from the Kitchen, from 1998 to 2002. I saw Gerard & Kelly’s “Timelining,” a hybrid sculpture / choreography / spoken word installation.

Two brass sheets leaned up again the wall. Two young men, sitting in two side-by-side chairs, stood when I entered the room, and began to walk in circles around the room, sometimes in tandem, sometimes at different paces, sometimes in different directions. While circumambulating the room, which featured a black line bifurcating its floor and walls, the men recited one of three Transcripts — surrealist/autobiographical texts full of temporal prepositions, like this: “Now in front of Whitney died / Whitney died in front of LA bike rides // Now in front of drove cross country / drove cross country in front of…” According to the Kitchen, it’s all about “queer time and intersubjectivity.” But of course! I liked it a lot.

While I can certainly see how intersubjectivity plays out in the piece — for one thing, the performance highlights the intersubjective relations between performers and visitors — it also, simultaneously, seems to reinforce the fairly resolute subjectivity and agency of the visitor. When I walked in, the show began. Before my arrival, the two dudes were just hangin’ out on chairs. As I walked around the gallery, they walked their circles around me. They occasionally glanced at me as they walked. It made me a little self-conscious, but it was also kind of empowering, I must say: at one point, I said to myself, jokingly, “make the art happen, dammit!!”

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In keeping with the choreography script, I then moved on to Jim Campbell‘s “sculpture light installations” at Bryce Wolkowitz. I sensed I was seeing low-resolution feeds, rendered in various matrices of LEDs, of people walking on the street outside the gallery. I was almost right; as the gallery explains:  “The exhibition includes panel projections comprising hundreds of LEDs strung from ceiling to floor form a grid that transmits low-resolution imagery distilled from found Kodachrome home movies; wall-mounted pieces, or topographies, composed of individually-scaled LEDs that comprise a gradient picture plane; and a series of four color LED-based bas reliefs, whose transparent, molded, resin front pieces act as both surface and content.” I thought of the exhibition as offering various permutations of low-resolution data visualization.

via Wolkowitz
via Wolkowitz

Then came one of the highlights of the afternoon: Matthias Bitzer’s “Saturnine Swing” at Marianne Boesky. He has a simultaneous show at Boesky’s uptown gallery, but I didn’t see that one. When I read this — “For Saturnine Swing, Matthias Bitzer will use both the uptown and Chelsea gallery spaces to present his drawings, paintings, and sculptures, and multi-part installations, ultimately engaging the two spaces and the works contained within to achieve his larger project: a metaphysical space that weaves history, memory, and narrative into a multi-layered realm that addresses the issues activated by our comprehension of reality” — I thought, oh my, how Aby Warburgian!  Good call. As it turns out, Bitzer is drawing inspiration here from Warburg’s Mnemosyne Atlas (which we discuss in my Archive class) and Deleuze & Guattari’s rhizome. Not only did I love the pattern and geometricism of the individual works — particularly those that resembled shelves full of books — but I also saw a lot of the Atlas and the rhizome in the installation’s staging, with all of its beautiful formal and chromatic juxtapositions.

via Boesky
Installation shot, via Boesky; all the other images are by me
And here's my slightly-less-successful version of the same image.
And here’s my slightly-less-successful, but pretty darn similar, version of the above image.

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An official Rosen image, which is much better than the photos I took
An official Rosen image, which is much better than the photos I took

After that, I wandered over to Friedrich Kunath’s “The Temptation to Exist (May Contain Nuts)” at Andrea Rosen. Nuts! — I’ll say! It felt like the Aesthetics of Administration à la Reading-Rainbow-meets-Crazy-Cat-Lady. If you take a look at the images, I think you’ll see exactly what I mean: it’s all abstracted file folders, feline gymnastics equipment, and Pantone headaches. I prefer my interpretation to that presented in the official exhibition statement, which was so full of artspeak it was almost comical — which was maybe the point, given that there was clearly a sense of humor in the exhibition itself. Anyway, here’s the official gobbledygook:

Inextricably entwining the experience of the ordinary with the sublime, Kunath’s works jump between daydreams and “reality,” painterly surface and psychological interior. Through heightening the artifice and the sincerity of the narrative, both are shown to be essential. Playfully pushing every element to the limit of its emotionality and capacity for meaning, Kunath reveals the deflative qualities of a climax, and simultaneously suggests that certain new truths can be revealed through, as the writer David Berman describes, “knowing which dimension of an uninteresting thing is actually interesting.” The act is an embrace of existence – both vibrant and mundane. An invitation into a perpetual joke.

Kunath, via Rosen
Kunath, via Rosen

And then I moved on to see Todd Hido’s photos at Bruce Silverstein. I often use Hido’s work during the photography lesson in my Media + Architecture class; he captures the suburban uncanny so well! As I tweeted, Hido has always struck me as a more romantic, melancholy version of Gregory Crewdson; both focus on cinematic representations of architecture, but their photos have very distinct tones. Hido’s scenes are often shrouded in mist or masked by glare. Here, what seems like condensation on the lens adds a romantic blur, but also draws you into the scene and makes you feel the chill. It’s odd, particularly given that many of the photos in this series are taken in Hido’s hometown in Ohio, that such personal images have such clinical titles.

Todd Hido, #10845-7
Todd Hido, #10845-7

Then came another of the afternoon’s highlights: Ghada Amer’s fabulous “Rainbow Girls” at Cheim & Read. In the past, Amer has rendered sexualized images of women in embroidery on canvas, thus using a feminized craft — sewing — to re-appropriate this imagery. Apparently the pieces in this exhibition mark a new development in her work: the integration of text — particularly passages from canonical feminist texts, relayed in both Arabic script and English. Also present here are sculptures of “metal calligraphy,” which allude to the latticed screens and inscriptions that are so prevalent in Arabic architecture. I could ponder her work all day — there are so many beautiful connections she’s making here: between texts and texture, lines of thread and lines of language; between the aesthetics and semantics of Arabic and Latin scripts; between gender and meaning-making. But because, once again, I’ve gotten in over my head with this blog post, I need to move on. I’m not getting paid for this, you know.

Ghada Amer
Ghada Amer

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Detail of the above

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Detail of the above
Detail of the above

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Detail of the above
Detail of the above

2014-04-05 14.58.16I wrapped up the Chelsea leg of my trip with David Hartt’s “The Republic” at David Nolan Gallery. The eponymous film explores “the proposed city plans of Greek urban planner Constantinos Doxiadis for both Athens and Detroit”; neither plan was realized. The film montages together images of Athens and Detroit, thus rendering the two cities indiscernible and blending them into a “hybrid city-state.” Infrastructure played a central role, which made me happy. The gallery had other stuff in it, too — like bronze plants that sprung up from the floor, which I took as an allusion to the resurgence of nature in a depopulated city. 

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Lots o' infrastructure
Lots o’ infrastructure

And here’s my obligatory “accidental selfie” of the week:

Ha - I guess I did put my coat back on after all.
Ha – I guess I did put my coat back on after all.

Then downtown to Soho and the Swiss Institute for Heidi Bucher. Her Raumhaut (room skin) (1977-79) is an obvious precursor to Do Ho Suh’s gossamer architecture. The “dirtiness” of these skins also reminds me of the work of Jorge Otero Pailos, an architectural preservationist who collects “skins of dust” as a chronicle of a building’s condition — its years of accumulated material history — before it’s cleaned and preserved. Bucher’s work also feels like the antithesis to a Rachel Whiteread sculpture.

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After that, I was off to see Allan Wexler’s “Breaking Ground” — photos, drawings, and sculptures exploring what I’d call “speculative archaeology” — at Ronald Feldman. He examines the history of mankind’s intervention into the landscape as builders, and our transformation of natural resources into building tools and supplies. The individual pieces themselves were marvels of construction, in keeping with the central theme of the show. Good stuff.

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Becoming I-Beam
Becoming I-Beam
Adams House in Paradise
Adams House in Paradise

In keeping with the “fundamental structures” theme, P! hosted one-half of a two-gallery showing of Brian O’Doherty’s work. “Connecting the…” was a tiny explosion of structuralism: chess boards, language games, and grids.

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2014-04-05 16.57.32I then wandered over to Norfolk St. to see Carter’s “Beside Myself” at Lisa Cooley, who’s really been on a roll lately. I’ve liked everything I’ve seen there over the past year or so. Here’s what they have to say about Carter’s work:

In his new paintings, Carter sews highly decorated fabric into regions of the canvases, expanding on his long-standing interest in portraiture. His use of fabric evokes the body: floating mouths and painstakingly stitched circular eyeholes serve as renditions of faces. The materials themselves speak to the quotidian – clothes, cloths, sheets, and other textiles inherently connected to everyday life, or as Carter describes, “referencing garments, shoddily created…shit couture… or woman’s embroidered samplers created in the 18th and 19th centuries to ‘keep busy’ and to decorate the home… or Liberace’s sexuality expressed in his dress.” His paintings return our stare from behind their eyelets – shrouded yet glancing out, calling to be seen, while curly squiggles, carefully stitched together, mimic hair in a highly stylized, artificial way, suggesting a wig rather than human locks. Carter’s process imparts the feeling that the varying eyes, mouths, and wigs affixed to the paintings could be easily exchanged for others: that identity is nothing if not a composite of representations, fragmentary parts attempting to portray something whole.

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And finally, I saw Corin Hewitt’s “The Third Station” at Laurel Gitlen. Here we encounter a stage-set ghost town consisting of two architectural structures. We can’t enter, but in their display windows we see surveillance footage of the implied interior. Each structure features a little back plot, where we find rubble and buried Post-Its, cosmetic containers, gloves, masks, etc. Cosmetic containers are perched on the buildings’ side ledges, too. There’s an obvious connection being made here between facades, skins, and screens.  The back room then features two tables displaying some of the same detritus we find buried in the backyard dirt — but displayed in a rigid fashion, as if these objects are being catalogued — as if they’re the find of some highly aestheticized archaeological dig.

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A lovely picnic

And in lieu of a proper conclusion (I’m way too tired for that), I’ll close by saying, See? It’s all about structure.

The end, for now.

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