Thursday, December 26, 2013

vanishing point

Brian Gaman
Artists Choose Artists, Parrish Art Museum
Lost or Not, Art Helix, Bushwick

On view at the Parrish Art Museum, two immense inkjet prints stretch across a long passage of white wall with a combination of silence and grandeur. Sweeping from micro to macro vision, Brian Gaman's works on paper seem to move toward distant space, identifying a future that is neither seen nor unseen. Extracted from the artist's video sequences, the works infer the phenomenon of sight and the evidence of vision as opposed to the merely visible, with imagery that is both fleeting and at the same time persistent -- bursting open and dissolving into memory simultaneously. 
Brian Gaman, Untitled, 2013

The little pictures inserted along the perimeter of both prints represent the photographic origins of the larger images, and they provide evidence of a more finite reality. It's as if an invisible lens was morphing the visual target from big to small and back again, and in this way the works possess a sense of velocity. Here, vision seems to be pulled from consciousness and from the smallest fractions of the act of sight. That zap of apprehension -- the Gestalt of it -- is riveting. 

Untitled, 2013, in the studio

The recent spate of essays on the work of the remarkable and sometimes misunderstood artist Ad Reinhardt has reopened those existentialist gates in which works by artists the likes of Samuel Beckett, Bruce Nauman, George Kubler and Robert Smithson are framed. Absurdity, existence, absence, presence -- these are the seductive and unknowable concepts that permeate much of these artist's historic works of art and literature. Gaman, an unabashed Beckett devotee, has referred to perceptual endgames in his art and the process of seeing, and in this he breaks bread with the aforementioned, embracing the sorts of ambivalence that define (or seek to define) the existentialist mind.

I might be getting in a little over my head here, but it's not possible to discuss Gaman's work without acknowledging its philosophical margins and the sense of an imagery that is constantly going away or moving toward an inevitable void. His imagery, a language of circles, spheres and lenses that function both to focus in and focus out is at once simplistic in the absurd and all encompassing in its magnitude. Like Gaman's antecedents, it places the ironic squarely in his field of vision, and this is key to his work. 

Gaman was selected for the Parrish's biannual exhibition, Artists Choose Artists, by Keith Sonnier whose dazzling work in the same gallery electrifies the room. Sonnier's and Gaman's works do something together -- a divine occurrence or, more likely, the vision of exhibition organizer, Andrea Grover -- that allows them to explode into view from the long, vaulted hallways that have come to define the Parrish.

Keith Sonnier, ACA, 2013

They are side by side, more or less, divided by a huge corner of the gallery. Both works flirt with gestural form, with Sonnier's radiant lines stopping and starting with such alarming grace that the work seems to coalesce and deconstruct in front of you. 

In not an altogether dissimilar way, Gaman's work moves toward a visual field that is so optically maximal that it transcends vision -- and then it ricochets back again with hypnotic effect. The gash of form that travels horizontally across the surface seems to move with the speed of light in a logic-bending visual expanse.

Concurrent with the Parrish show, Gaman's work can be seen in Bushwick at an outpost of Art Helix, Peter Hopkins' immersive and refreshingly inventive gallery concept. Curated by the artist Bonnie Rychlak, Lost or Not is a paean to the sorts of ghosts and shadowy afterimages that circulate within histories of place.

Brian Gaman, Untitled

For Gaman, the concept dovetails nicely with his long research into the process of seeing and the development of a language that employs variants of the visual process. Here, the artist's sculptures invoke pairs of eyeglasses (one might even deduce they are the famed spectacles of Samuel Beckett) that maintain a broad and infinite upward gaze. Affixed to elaborate steel frames, the structures appear designed to collapse into a huge pocket. That there are two works that echo one another adds another layer to Gaman's episodic investigations into the visual field. 

What they see is another matter altogether.

Lost or Not is situated in an empty lot on Harrison Place where Gaman shares the geography with sculptors John Monti and Jennie Nichols. The effect of the installation is not unlike a Zen garden, with works selected by Rychlak that are contemplative, exuding multiple associations to the interior mind and eye. 

John Monti

John Monti's glistening black lozenge seems to cap off the top of the world, its underneath a secret place of unknown proportion, place or mood. Jennie Nichols' cast wax cases and books are layered with the notion of temporality, as if the works have been staged for departure from an invisible train station. They look like aged chocolate, and references to antiquity and the passage of time haunt the installation. Together, the works move through an array of metaphors that leap from solitude to fraternity to identity, absoluteness and poetry.

Jennie Nichols, Stacked Cases and Books, 2013

This is a wonderful show that you won't want to miss -- on view in Bushwick through December 30th. You can see the Parrish Art Museum's Artists Choose Artists through January 19, 2014.

Brian Gaman, Lost or Not

And check out more of Brian Gaman's work at


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

a few thoughts on coming together

Foreground Right: James Siena, Red and Black Spirals, Connected; Midground: Anton Lamazares, Untitled; Corbin Walker, Danny Boy 

at Industry City
curated by Phong Bui

It's always something. 

This Sunday was the last day of the ΓΌber-exhibition Come Together: Surviving SandyPhong Bui's tribute to the survival of the New York art community one year after super storm Sandy. I'm happy to say I was able to spend much of the day there. The show was a commemoration of the hard hit artists and galleries that have worked through the year to get back on their feet. More than 200 artists filled over 100,000 sq ft of warehouse space -- inside and out -- with installations of painting, sculpture, video, photography, drawing and all the rest. I'm not sure I agree it was the best show of 2013, but on the whole it was immensely satisfying.

2nd Floor stairway exploding through floor: F: John Newman; B: Mel Kendrick, Allan Graham AKA Toadhouse, Loren Munk

The show sprawled out over four massive floors of the gargantuan (and now infamous) warehouse complex in Sunset Park known as Industry City. A lot of big names, a lot of small names; everyone commingling in a salute the come-back kids that make the art world go 'round.

What I didn't realize on Sunday is that the space Surviving Sandy briefly occupied used to house hundreds of working artists, now displaced by the new landlords who bought the building(s) and promptly raised rents by 50%. Ughh.

Better informed people than me have written about this, (see links below) so I won't belabor the details. But this makes for one helluva messy aesthetic experience. Celebrating survival in a warehouse that has evicted 90% of its artist tenants is a brutality that is almost too much to bear.

Brooklyn's Industry City, Buildings 1-10; photo by Dean Kaufman
For more information click on these links:

Lise Soskolne's Who Owns a Vacant Lot on Shifter
and William Powhida's Surviving Rent on ArtFCity

looks like studio space to me -- the empty square footage of Industry City; photo Lise Soskolne

Anyway, I really was just planning to post some pictures of the show. There's so much to it I've just added some of my favorite things. And, as for all the rest, well...what could be better than the idea of coming together? 

So, for all my friends who couldn't make it to Surviving Sandy, enjoy the ride.

On the ground floor, two inflatable rats heave over Pizzatopia, courtesy Bruce High Quality Foundation, like psalms to the diminishing reality of affordable artist housing...

Bruce High Quality Foundation; F: Pizzatopia, 2011; B: Stay With Me, Baby, 2011 (two inflatable rats inhaling/exhaling)

James Hyde, Climate

Bui recounted to me the visit Stephen Antonakos made earlier in the year to site his installation, a stunning neon work on the 2nd floor. He died just two weeks later. A wonderful artist; a lovely man. He felt very present here.

Stephen AntonakosBlue Incomplete Circle on Blue and Red Wall, 1978

Benjamin KeatingPortrait of her by a sculptor 7:30pm, 2013

amalgams of wall, floor, corner, video, installation and neon works on every floor

A triumph of color, Joyce Robins shares the gallery with Thomas Nozkowski, among others.

Joyce Robins, Untitled, 1993

Gandalf Gavan, Breach, 2013
Fantastic Juan Gomez:

Juan Gomez, Mawinzhe, 2013
Beautiful gallery:

L: Sheila Pepe, Corner piece redux #2, 2012; R: Carrie Moyer, Jolly Roger, 2013

Amazing installation from the Vivre Series -- artist made backdrops line the length of the gallery. Works were offered at auction earlier this year to support the rebuilding of Red Hook. Various artists.

L-R: Donald Moffett, Corbin Walker, Anton Lamazares

Alexander Ross

Beth Campbell, Crashing Tables (Moments Crashing...I underestimated the consequences), 2005

John Walker
Katherine Bradford ships -- adore these:

Katherine Bradford, Ship with Five Moons, 2013

This awesome Deborah Kass is a long time favorite -- so happy to see it here:

Deborah KassAfter Louise Bourgeois, 2010

Michael Joo, Megafawn (Extincted), 2010

Francis Cape, Waterline, 2006

Lois Dodd, 1978 - 2010

Linda Benglis

Michelle Segre, The Collector, 2012

Diana Cooper, Safety Last

F: Ursula von Rydingsvard, Ocean Voices, 2011-2012; B: works from the Vivere Series
I know...I have a lot of favorites. It's that I'm not discriminating -- it's just a very cool selection of works. Bravo to Phong.

Nari Ward, Blue Rung

Lucy Cottrell, How to Look Up To Ten Years Younger

G.T. Pellezzi, The Red and the Black, 2013

Nari Ward, We the People

Here's to survival.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

backward glance


The one-time enfant terrible, Mike Kelley, was a veritable solar system onto himself -- a culture all his own. On view at MoMA P.S.1, Kelley's sprawling exhibition -- what would have been a mid-career survey if not for his 2012 suicide -- unfolds through a honeycomb of classrooms-cum-kunsthalle in a massive overview that is incisive and luminous. Taken altogether, the show is astounding. 

The Kandor Series was based on Superman's birthplace -- a city on Krypton, his home planet -- from which Superman believed he was the only survivor. In reality, Kandor still existed in miniature, having been
shrunken to miniscule size by an evil enemy. Superman rescued Kandor, keeping it inside a bell jar
in perpetuity, sustained by oxygen tanks and TLC. An apt metaphor for the psychic and
spiritual disconnect that Kelley mined throughout his fantastical career.

Recently, someone said it was fitting that Kelley's largest ever show was installed not at MoMA's tonier mid-town Manhattan location but at P.S.1, a former public school, trading on his middle class upbringing in Detroit and inferring an art world slight of some significance. I see the point -- he was an art world anti-hero for much of his career -- but P.S.1 is a perfect venue for Kelley, an artist John Waters referred to as "a terrorist and a healer." The unorthodox and meandering nature of the building allows his operatic body of work to unfold in stanzas. 

Perhaps more importantly, P.S.1 doesn't require the art to be subservient to the institution, its hallowed walls or its own grandness. To be more succinct -- while distinctive, the architecture doesn't get in the way of the art. It feels like a clean slate, which for this canon-bending artist, is a great fit.

Kelley's work was fiercely American. Trenchant, reflective, devouring, his constantly morphing oeuvre placed him squarely in the foreground of the modern dialectic. He called himself an avant-gardist, but he was living in the avant-garde-less postmodern era and this, in the end, added a layer of alienation to a body of work that aspired to aesthetic disembodiment.

From his 70s noise band Destroy All Monsters to his final work, Mobile Homestead, a replica of his boyhood home in the Detroit suburbs that now stands astride MoCAD, Kelley questioned everything, rewriting the rules and then breaking them one by one. He thumbed his nose at popular culture, victimhood, identity and memory, not so much eschewing these things as restaging them with the savage brilliance by which he came to be identified.

from the Kandor Series, 1999 - 2011

He explored America's cultural genetics as well as his own, and in this self-reflective, me-looking-at-you-looking-at-me way, Kelley was able to weave DNA strand over DNA strand into a synthesis of critical thought, discursive logic and biting imagery. His middle class roots inured him to popular culture and its subsets (like craft traditions and folk art), and in the transference of imagery and content from that world into his art, some of his most emotive works emerged. 

detail, Deodorized Central Mass with Satellites

The sumptuous, wildly popular Deodorized Central Mass with Satellites, 1991 - 1999, is super-loaded with associations to conspicuous consumption, fetishism, capitalism and childhood, and there, at the edges of this some-kinda nostalgia are the scuff marks and torn seams, the missing eyes and errant feet, and the tails and ears of abandoned, slightly soiled toys.

It's particularly ironic then, that the backed-up queue leading to the installation was mostly baby strollers and young parents. This is the feelgood gallery -- the opiate in the room -- where plushy orbs of pink and green stuffed-animals dangle like Christmas ornaments. A child's delight. 

Deodorized Central Mass with Satellites, 1991 - 1999

But among all the fluff and coziness is that funny/sad darkness that Kelley knew so well. Nihilism and heartbreak seemed to go hand in hand with what Jerry Saltz famously called Kelley's "clusterfuck aesthetics."

Kelley bristled at these "bad-boy" associations and in the end, it is his intellectual elegance and the convolutions of a restless mind that conjoin in a fictive, opera-like grandeur. Less prurient than his friend and frequent collaborator Paul McCarthy, Kelley's persona, while imprudent in the extreme, is more a commingling of Pierrot meets Goya than of Pierrot meets Caligula. 

Ahh...Youth, 1991, eight cibachrome prints

The artist's fictions wander through the work like stray dogs, redressing social structures, institutional abuse, dysfunction and forms of banality, subjugation and the cultural hazing that is such a large part of modern society. Though he denied abuse in his own childhood, he suffered from lifelong agoraphobia, a condition classically linked to unresolved trauma. Whether fictional or not, some of Kelley's greatest examinations in the dissociative properties of memory and repression were focused on his own history.

Lumpenprole, 1991

In Lumpenprole, 1991 -- monstrous lumps writhe under the bed/blankets in a depiction of classic childhood nightmares. 

detail, Educational Complex, 1995
Educational Complex, 1995 is a sprawling foam core maquette of the schools the artist attended, with "blank" areas inserted here and there -- the places, Kelley said, he couldn't recall due to the lingering effects of repressed memory syndrome. The hypothesis: these were the places he'd been abused. The leitmotif that runs through this work, as through much of his art, facetious or not, is most evident here.  

Kelley's primary subject matter was not autobiography -- it was repression, and the fictions created in its long shadow.

detail, Day is Done, 2005, multi-media installation

above and below, from the Kandor Series

I keep thinking about Harold Bloom's famed assertion that Shakespeare invented human consciousness. In the labyrinth of Kelley's oeuvre -- at once haunting and comical, high and low, mordant and intimate -- there is humanness, and beauty, in reverse.

Memory Ware

More Love Hours Than Can Ever Be Repaid and The Wages of Sin, 1987

Mike, we hardly knew you.

MIKE KELLEY, on view at P.S.1 thru February 2, 2014