NAC in Chelsea

Jacob Kassay @ The Kitchen

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The room is quiet in the sleepy daytime manner of an old building. Above my head tubes of florescent light hum like a bank of bug zappers while square panels in the grey-blue floor creak under foot. Eight paintings by Jacob Kassay hang on the walls and a ninth is placed somewhat precariously on the floor, angled between a black brick wall and a thick structural pillar.  I survey from a central spot, spinning like a second hand (only slower and with less regularity) in a clockwise direction.

The paintings on the walls have irregular shapes with uneven corners and edges that seem slightly askew. They look awkward, lopsided, formally arbitrary; their principle technical achievement perhaps being the fabrication of the wooden support the canvases are stretched upon. That would mean these are paintings whose major distinction is essentially sculptural. Sounds odd, but seems true. The structure of these pieces is further accentuated by the plainness their surfaces, which are raw and bare and leave little for the eye to catch on but creases and surface lint. They are not sexy things; for me they are as easy to look away from as Kassay’s silver plated canvases are to stare upon.

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As I approach the metallic rectangle in the corner I’m wondering why the work with what is obviously the most attractive surface in the show is placed in such a way as to downplay its flat illustrious beauty? Placement is clearly critical so I squat to look at the shadowy space between the canvas and the wall. This is the shiny thing’s dark side, a little wedge of emptiness to look through. Perhaps in this setup the surface is a decoy, because what you see when you aren’t distracted by it is how the object rests in its place. The painting leans at a precise angle because that’s  the angle given when an object of this size fits in that space. Perhaps this piece isn’t about painting at all, but about the relationship of an art object to the architecture of a building–and if that’s so, then maybe the artist’s thinking is more classical than one might first imagine? In any case I decide I’ve come into physical harmony with the piece when I’ve gotten into comfortable lean against the pillar, facing my blurry self head on.

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I’m jotting notes as I exit into a different stairwell than the one I came up. It’s quite. Someone suddenly yells “watch out!” as I nearly knock into another silver-plated painting propped inconspicuously on the landing. Heart thudding, I walk half a flight up and sit down. Art & Architecture I think to myself. You can’t see the work without looking at the red and orange walls in this stairwell. It’s submersed in the space, and when I squint it’s totally edgeless.

Back down in the lobby I notice three more silver paintings nonchalantly leaning here and there. It is amongst the most casual displays I’ve ever seen, so casual in fact that it almost renders the works invisible. I anthropomorphize them and imagine they left the gallery on a cigarette break.  It makes me smile. I ask the attendant how many people loiter in this passageway admiring the artwork. Hardly any, he responds, most people don’t notice it.

photo-23b&WGazing down at my boots as I make my way north along 10th street I see something that gives me another angle on Kassay’s oddly shaped canvases. They resemble certain sections of sidewalk that deviate from the standard square. Futhermore, Kassay’s decision to leave his canvases unprimed and raw puts their textures and general monotones in step with these sidewalk deviations. I wonder then, might they be considered as examples of realism?

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NAC in Chelsea

Seth Price @ Petzel

From about ten paces back

From about ten paces back

It’s got snaps, zippers, a buckle, and straps. The material looks soft, even if beige is among the world’s dullest shades. The interior lining looks like some kind of poly-blend, but what do we think about the pattern printed on it? Tropical flowers and the logo of a finance company. Hmmm. Well, given the cut of this would be garment; I’d say it’s well suited for humans who are shaped like dollar bills. The zipper pull is an eye grabber.photo-68 I reach down and feel its weight in my palm, a fishing lure, a few wooden soccer balls, and a Christmas ornament. They jingle nicely.

I pirouette and approach three encaustic looking rectangular numbers hung in a neat line about head high. They’re all fundamentally the same, like a serial edition that could have been six or six thousand depending on consumer demands. A tangle of rope in a sloppy knot lies beneath the foggy surface of the works, which also employ the logos financial institutions—Capital One and the FDIC—as design elements. They remind me of some non-aquatic thing being forcefully held underwater until its body goes slack. These things give me the chills.

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            I pass by a rack of white clothes that are to be handled with white gloves and imagine how they would look splashed with red wine. Violated, yes, but perhaps enlivened a bit too. In the next room I come upon more of the rope pieces and pause to take them in. The surface of these works looks like something that’s been vacuum-sealed. Little ripples and tight folds allude to a moment in the history of this object when all its air was sucked out. They exude the nervous energy of a quite claustrophobic passing through a narrow corridor.

           photo-65 I’m grateful for the skylights in third section of space, not for the illumination but for the feeling of openness. More of these drab garments for dollar bills lie like stacked husks on knee high platforms. On the wall there is something new: images of envelopes printed on cheap paper and adhered to wood boards that have been jig sawed into different shapes. Like the garments, the inside of the envelopes are decorated with corporate logos in repeating patterns.

I see now that these garments are the same shape as the envelopes and that for the most part the envelopes appear torn asunder. The idea of enclosure, or of something inside something else seems to run through all these objects. But there are ruptures too. Not just the torn open envelopes, but the rope in some pieces escapes the seal of the rectangle and droops towards the floor. I consider this as I pause briefly on the threshold of the gallery before making my exit.

NAC in Chelsea

Josiah McElheny @ Andrea Rosen Gallery

four or five steps back

The first thing I see as I set my eyes on the artwork closest to the door is my own body reflected. It’s a mirrored sculpture—there are two actually—and as I circumnavigate them I notice each is outfitted with shoulder straps on the inside. They are evidently meant to be worn, somewhat like a sandwich board, except the contraption is made in such a way that whoever put it on wouldn’t be able to see where they were going.

            Notice the thin line on the ground. It runs a circuitous route through the gallery starting and ending at the base of these body sculptures. This must be how the wearer navigates the room, with eyes on the ground. I proceed on the line and pass by eight freestanding display cases each housing two, three, or five glass objects. The edges of the display cases look to be made of the same wood as the wearable sculptures, and the glass of which the cases’ faces are made seems consistent with the quarter-inch sheets of glass pegged to the walls, which have been cut into simplified bodily forms like stylized foosball figurines.

                                                 standing on that white line

Are the objects in the cases vases? No, clearly not—they all have open bottoms and a number have holes and notches cut into them. Vertical bands in black, white, grey, and brown, stripe each object and establish a hypnotic optical effect when I move around them, which I do several times, nearly inducing a space out. I snap to being present when it occurs to me that my orbit could be compared to that of a celestial body. I’m behaving like a moon.

I lean against a wall, mimicking the foosball figurines whose backs I imagine are also up against the walls. Contact is key and if you can touch something with your eyes why not enter it with your mind? Here then I travel inside one of McElheny’s neat vitrines with its beige linen floor and I peer out from the interior of one of these stripped objects. A penetration? Well yes, of sorts, but if you consider it sexually (and how can you not?) then the question is what’s born of the engagement?

                   two paces back

            The work is more cunning than I. It reveals itself as an inverted scenario. It is not I that have entered the work, but the work that has entered me, occupied space in my personal think box. I’m the one penetrated.

NAC in Chelsea: Georg Baselitz, Harriet Korman & Charles Long

Charles Long @ Tanya Bonakdar

Charles Long sculpture at six paces

Charles Long sculpture at six paces

These naked beauties would liven up greatly if given the opportunity to be seen outside while the sun’s rays played upon their surfaces. Currently, the lighting in the gallery is a flat travesty, though it does allow the armature of the sculptures to be seen rather well. These sticks of steel, eloquently bent—as if following the lines of a confident scribbler—are the branches from which a resinous material that is alternately transparent and opaque stretches and droops. Certain of them look like stained glass windows melting. The organizing form seems to proceed with the same chaotic consistency as nature itself, reiterating endlessly though never duplicating exactly.

At an arm's distance

At an Arm's Distance

Georg Baselitz @ Gagosian

Baselitz & guard at seventeen paces

Formally, these paintings are the creaturely equivalent of noshing jelly donuts, so wonderfully sloppy and goo-filled is this old German’s painterly technique. But once those luscious colors and quick black dashes of line coalesce into form, these pictures reveal themselves to be objects of horror and disfigurement, held in this reverential sanctity of silence and white space like a victim shredded by shrapnel enshrined in a glass tomb.

The painted woman's right hand, so close the guard gets audibly anxious.

The monstrosity of scale is unsettling; if you get too close the paintings devour your field of vision. At this proximity I can make out tiny channels, like linear capillaries, that the hairs of the brush left in the paint. The thin black strokes that define the figure approximate the flight patterns of flies. I am identifying with Samuel Becket’s narrator in How It Is (1961), crawling, belly down, in the mud. From a distance these paintings remind me of the kind of love that leaves bruises and scars in its wake.

Harriet Korman @ Lennon, Weinberg Inc.

Four steps back

These paintings are delightful in the nude, pure eyeball art, which is rarely done so simply or so well. A lot of neo-geo type painters get hung up overly complicating the format of their images, not Korman. Her shapes are fundamental and her colors are damn near primary, and so what’s truly affective is the juxtaposition of colors that vibrate, each at their own frequency, in a way that is absolutely visible—and, I’ll admit, mildly disorienting.

I step in close, focus on a point where multiple colors intersect, and allow my eyes to relax. As my vision softens (as if I were trying to see through the wall) the warm colors extend off the canvas while the cool ones sink down into it. Everything appears to shake. The edges of the colors brighten and darken depending on their neighboring hue. These colors sear into my vision, and when I look away their afterimage distorts everything I see.

Close enough to kiss

NAC in Chelsea: Alec Soth & Weegee

Alec Soth @ Sean Kelly Gallery
Alec Soth’s photographs look good naked, in color as well as black and white. Soth works like an old school photographer; he takes his time researching and executing projects and almost always tends towards images that carry strong visual narratives. He also shoots with an 8 x 10 view camera, like the good old boys of the f64 club. (All this I know before entering the show; Soth’s photographs have long captivated me.) This project is focused on hermits and recluses, outsiders. Between the tremendously well done documentary movie and Soth’s photos you realize solitude and loneliness are not equivalents, that humans are survivors, which is easy to forget if you’ve never had to survive, and that luxury can be a view, or a piece of fruit, or a smile.

I wonder what Thoreau would think? He might wonder, briefly, where all the women are (as I do), but he would probably want to know about the fertility of the soil. Kerouac wrote Desolation Angels while living solo as a Fire Lookout. What were those two trying to escape? Dead end thinkers and the 9 to 5 drag. Perhaps. People go into hiding for lots of reasons, thing is once you settle into the rhythm it stops feeling like hiding. I always dug this line from Desolation Angles, it reminds of something you’d hear from a drunken mystic on the lam, “My life is a vast and insane legend reaching everywhere without beginning or ending.”

A finger's distance from the print.

Weegee @ Steven Kasher Gallery

Lady with Umbrella (it's sunny today too)

Wegee’s pictures never needed clothes and they still don’t. They’re packed in here, salon style, and it’s visual mayhem, which would have probably pleased Weegee. In picture after picture people dance, smoke, die, kiss, scream, drink, work, worry, and wheel about like there could be nothing more important to be doing. Weegee was a shameless shooter, the opposite of his contemporary Stieglitz in many ways. Stieglitz would have shot for the NYer; Weegee would be on the staff at the Post. Because he always went for high energy images, the expressions on the faces of Weegee’s subjects twist and jump and screw like cartoons. He makes you think composure is dull.

NAC in Chelsea: Dubuffet, Ding Yi, Ai Wei Wei, On Kawara, Cory McCorkle

Dubuffet & The Art Brut @ Ricco Maresca Gallery

Dubuffet, "Corpse de Dame."

Dubuffet’s drawings look good naked. In this one, a classic in the Frenchman’s canon, the impact of the ink on the paper registers with the fierceness of a snapped tree trunk. It’s a totally flat image, manic tangles contained in a body mostly defined by its chunky outline. It reminds me of an animal hide rug, but it could also be an illustration of psychotic depression. There’s no equivalence for the intensity and violence going on inside this woman’s body and that spooky grin Dubuffet gave her.  In his first ever published piece, The Planet Trillaphon as it Stands in Relation to the Bad Thing, David Foster Wallace writes a passage that fits this drawing perfectly. This lady has what DFW called “the bad thing”…

“…I’ll tell what I think the Bad Thing is like. To me it’s like being completely, totally, utterly sick. I will try to explain what I mean. Imagine feeling really sick to your stomach. Almost everyone has felt really sick to his or her stomach, so everyone knows what it’s like: it’s less than fun. OK. OK. But that feeling is localized: it’s more or less just your stomach. Imagine your whole body being sick like that: your feet. the big muscles in your legs, your collarbone, your head, your hair, everything, all just as sick as a fluey stomach. Then, If you can imagine that, please imagine it even more spread out and total. Imagine that every cell in your body, every single cell in your body is as sick as that nauseated stomach.”

 Dan Graham and Cory McCorkle @ Murray Guy

McCorckle’s sculpture and film look good naked, Graham’s schematic drawings, pictures, and architectural model don’t. The gallery is divided in half, McCorckle’s side is darkened for one wall sized projection of a man walking through a forest and a pair of long and skinny sculptures suspended form the ceiling. The film’s soundtrack of crackling, breezing, brushing, woodsy-noises are the final touch on an atmosphere that sooths and touches on the familiar Romanticism of man in nature, existentially alone yet part of something infinite.

Graham’s side looks like a plan for urban design, atriums especially, and one can see the curatorial hand here: a yin yang setup where Graham’s side is nature in man’s world vs McCorkle’s man in nature. No question Graham had some particularly insightful thoughts regarding privately owned public spaces, but they’re not evident in the drawings, photos, and 3-d mock up on display. If he were submitting this caliber work to Mom P.S.1’s annual contest for young architects, I’d be surprised if he raised a single eyebrow, unless there was some sickeningly clever statement to go with it, which knowing Graham you can’t rule out.

Ding Yi, Ai Wei Wei, and Wang Xingwei @ Chambers Fine Art

Allen Ginsberg & Ai Wei Wei

Black and white photos Ai Wei Wei snapped back in the eighties when he lived in New York look OK naked. These are essentially documentary shots, ephemera really, and a very small sample at that. (They’re drawn from a much larger collection I saw in Beijing years ago, put together by the super thoughtful young scholar Steph Tung.) Wei Wei takes a ton of photographs—still to this day—that have helped shape his story as a controversy-courting artist. The coolest photo may have been Wei Wei sitting on a bar stool beside Ginsberg. It’s funny to think, Ginsberg would never have become the household name he became were it not for the widely publicized court proceedings that decided his greatest poem, Howl, wasn’t pornography. Much later, obviously, it would be scandal and controversy that would make Wei Wei’s reputation go global. Yet here they are, a pair of radicals, hands cupped as if in meditation like a couple of Buddhists at the bar.

Xingwei’s paintings don’t look good naked, but Ding Yi’s do. Xingwei paints cityscapes on large corrugated sheets of metal. It all looks too planned to me, like a made to order object. The concept of a painting of the city on a piece of the city does nothing to enhance it. It feels more like an exercise than anything else.

And yet, Ding Yi’s painting is precisely an exercise, a practice, but it has the kind of pregnant potency and durational energy you find in canvases worked by Anges Martin, Johnnie Wionna Ross, or Shen Chen. His lines and dots are clear and concise; his colors and patterns pronounced and persistent. It looks effortless and masterful and meditative, and it’s painted on a checkered flannel sheet. Odd. Reminds me of warmth and warmth reminds me of Beuys, even though he never used flannels. Ding Yi’s paintings conform to no time, they’ll look good in ages beyond information.

Ding Yi's painting (the center) at arm's distance.

Ding Yi's painting at about seven or eight paces.

On Kawara @ David Zwirner

When they occupy a large gallery, On Kawara’s date paintings look good naked. They’re around 100 of them on the walls at Zwirner’s, all different sizes, mostly grey with white lettering, though a few are blue or red. That’s his thing, everybody knows him for it, and so really presentation is what keeps the work fresh, well, that and whatever happens to be occurring in the world when these paintings get wall time. Coincidentally the debate raging among clock keeps now is that leap second coming up at the end of February. Got to keep the astronomical and atomic times in line. On Kawara paintings speak to both, but also to the human experience of time. What does time feel like? Well, nothing I suppose, it’s only a concept after all, nothing sensory about it. But it sure as hell can make you feel something: old or young or fast or slow. Here’s the On Kawara riddle that I came up with looking at his canvases. What makes you feel anxious when your behind it and easy when your ahead of it? (answer: Time)

On Kawara @ Zwirner