NAC on the UES

BHQF @ Lever House

I veer off a bustling Park Ave sidewalk and into the Lever House plaza where office workers cluster in small groups eating sandwiches and sipping canned drinks. Others smoke and watch the screens on their phones. It’s mid afternoon and none seem aware of the big bronze rat perched on its haunches, claws extended as if poised to enter the south entrance of the Lever House. This twelve-foot sculpture is a 1:1 replica of the inflatable rat that pissed off union workers erect outside the buildings of employers they’re protesting. As I pick up a scrap of what looks like shredded tire from the work’s base, I can’t help wondering if the artists employed nonunion labor to do the fabrication and if that wouldn’t be like commissioning an atheist to paint the Last Supper.

Two men in blue suits carrying briefcases enter the revolving door ahead of me and all three of us take a moment to look at the two silver screen prints of the flag raising at Iwo Jima. It’s cool in the lobby, well air-conditioned. One suit says to the other, “you know this was a staged photo, right?” “Yeah,” replies the other, “but it doesn’t really matter how it was made does it? Isn’t what’s important the message of teamwork and victory and patriotism that the image conveys?” Suit one pivots to face his colleague, “you know,” he says, “you should have been in advertising.”

As they go clopping off across the linoleum floor toward the elevator bank I lean against the  lobby’s glass wall and wonder why I care about who made what? Outsourcing labor is standard protocol in the art world; nobody flinches at the practice anymore. But in the context of labor unions—organizations that indeed care deeply about who does what job—is the act of outsourcing production more significant? Can an artist borrow the symbolism of a group while simultaneously disregarding the principles that the group stands for? And wouldn’t such an act essentially deplete the inherent meaning of the symbol? Well, perhaps. But I don’t think that’s the issue here. The bronze rat is no more about protest than the screen prints of the flag raising are about patriotism. They’re simulacrums of symbols that refer as much to Warhol’s legacy as to the maxims of soldiers or union workers.

All the while I’ve been in here I’ve been distracted by the sound of numbers being shouted in a kind of call and response pattern that reminds me of Occupy Wall Street’s human microphone. The cacophony is coming from speakers installed in pieces of office and janitorial equipment scattered throughout the lobby in a lingering way that makes them look left behind. These aren’t representations of the things but the things themselves: a ladder, a mop bucket, an electric floor polisher, to name only a few. Their wiring is exposed, running to outlets in the floor and arcing like power lines across the ceiling to a central point that happens to be an industrial vacuum cleaner. I follow the black cords and quickly learn that the numbers, which are counting upwards, correspond to the video on the flat screen. Standing beside the vacuum I can also hear that the video has its own soundtrack humming faintly from a dustpan.

I watch clips of Che Guevera, Dylan, Koons, Angela Davis, and marching Occupy protestors while straining to hear what’s being said or sang. Much I can’t make out though I know I hear a snippet of Dylan’s “With God on our Side,” and I laugh out loud at number 95: a clip of Martin Luther nailing his theses to the church door while Jay-Z’s hit single, “99 Problems,” quietly thumps along. I don’t think a bitch was one of Luther’s problems either.

Of the twelve objects there is one with an added feature; the filing cabinet is equipped with a glowing red light. It’s set on its side with one drawer open exposing the bulb and seeming to spill documents. I crouch down, and with Luther on my mind I get to thinking about the twelve objects in relation to Christ’s apostles. Does the spill signify an information leak? Is the file cabinet Judas? The documents are all the same. They list 95 quotes that relate to the video. I shout to the guard across the lobby, asking if I can take one. He doesn’t know.

As I pass back through the revolving doors I have to admit that the artwork appeals to the puzzle-solver part of my personality, the bit of me that relishes the cleverness in what often seems to others as vapid exercises in socio-cultural cross-referencing. Being clever alone isn’t enough though because once the puzzle is solved it ceases to be relevant or interesting or even slightly enticing. On my way past the bronze rat I step onto its base and give it a stroke.  “You know rat,” I say running a hand along the underside of its metal paw, “everything in this exhibition seems to be about sincerity and urgency without anything being sincere or urgent itself.” The rat doesn’t respond, of course, but the guard does in incredibly lively manner.

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NAC on the UES: David Lynch, Jack Bush, Lutz Bacher

Lutz Bacher @ Alex Zachary Peter Currie Gallery

Lutz frames pages shorn from books and hangs them up on the wall as if they were pictures. This page, the first thing one sees upon stepping into the AZPC Gallery, is about cosmology. The header reads, “Fundamental Knowledge for the Observer.” One claim made for the searcher of things is that the odds of locating an Earth-size object in the universe are about as likely as finding a particular grain of dust lost somewhere on the North American continent.

This is something to meditate on downstairs where Lutz has filled the gallery as well as the outside courtyard with sand. The tracks of past visitors are scattered here and there amidst the little dunes. I take off my shoes and meander barefoot; nothing compliments thoughts of infinite possibility quite so well as a tactile sensation between one’s toes.

Sittin in the sand

In the background there is a lilting soundtrack of twangy string instruments, the sort of music you might find in a massage parlor. A voice asks, “what are you thinking,” another responds, “how happy I am.” Both sound sedated. Back upstairs four television monitors sit on the floor displaying monotones of blue and grey. The screens flicker and if you lie down on your belly and stare, they are really quite calming.

In an adjacent room there this a photograph of a black school bus with a painting of a galaxy on its side. On a low table sit stacks of white t-shirts with the front half of self-help statements printed across their fronts, “what I needed from my mother and didn’t get was,” or, “I am a person who.” A video of an unedited conversation between a man and a woman rolls along. I sit and watch. The camera must have been left on the table, as if it were a voice recorder, because all you get to see is a knit sweater and a hand that occasionally reaches for a coffee cup.

Parts, snippets, fragments—this is how we experience everything. Wholeness is an illusion generated by the reflective division of the intellect. Wholeness takes time, occurs over time, but what about the wholeness of the integral component? Sooner or later you have to find a point where divisibility is no longer possible, right? Or would that simply signal the inadequacy of the tools one was using to split and measure?

David Lynch @ Jack Tilton Gallery

This piece is the size of a small bed, photographed from about twelve paces


        Boom! First piece to come into view is a large mixed media work in a handsome frame of a long limbed person blowing off his or her head. From there it gets weirder and weirder, but if it didn’t I think I’d be a little disappointed. After all, Lynch is the reigning king of surrealism and subconscious dream fantasies exploding violently into reality. Self-mutilation in the form of eye gouging and arm chopping recurs, as do depictions of matches and things being lit on fire by them. Lynch’s raw material—he uses cardboard to great effect, as well as plywood that is itself scored and charred—is imbued with the same injured aesthetic of much of his subject matter.

picture of "a man eating," from an arm's distance

This is physical stuff. His figures, formed of goop and stick, protrude from the surface like bones through skin. It’s unsettling, and if it wasn’t in a fancy gallery it might be frightening. There is also a thirty-second film of an egg that hatches an insect on a stage, and series of black and white photographs that could be the result of negatives collaged in a dark room. Attempting to define these images is like trying to recall a dream upon waking; you have a sense of it, a feeling even, but the edges of the form won’t come into focus. Whatever it is, it retains the mystery of its presence.

Jack Bush @ Freedman Gallery

This massive picture is the first painting discussed below

There are few flat surfaces as pleasing to the eye as the paintings of colorist illuminated in the afternoon sun. It’s as if they were made for this light. Especially Jack’s paintings, they are washy and weightless—about the opposite of those pictures made by his moody contemporary Mark Rothko. There is not a trace of anxiety or restlessness in Jack’s paint handling, nor is there a dark hue or a primary color in his palette. Edges are precise without being mechanically so, and where there are forms, they appear as natural and at ease as a duck on a pond.

probably five inches from lens to painted surface, close up of earlier pic

I spent most of my time with two paintings in particular. In the first I was attracted to the scumbled technique of the pink-toned undercoat. It reminded me of a skinned knee, stained particleboard, marbled fat, an airplane view of a flesh ocean; and on top of this layer Jack’s painted a series of curved dashes in different colors like musical notes on a score. Each of these brush strokes has a ragged edge that gives them a splintered look, or the appearance of colors quickly, even spontaneously applied. And the way these strokes bunch together and slink apart, you’d think Jack was recording the movement of an earthworm.

six paces back

The other painting I gravitated towards was perhaps the simplest of the lot. Five non-overlapping rectangles of color occupy the entire surface. There is nothing zippy, no background or foreground—just blocks of blue, pink, grey, red, and ochre. It’s a mind-clearing artwork that just seems sturdy. There isn’t a curved line in the entire composition; in fact, it’s about as organic and natural looking as the checkerboard landscape of the Midwest. Still the feeling this picture stirs in me is one of serenity, like sitting poolside on a summer day, buoyant and carefree, not because I have no cares but because I can get inside a moment where they exist free of any need to be attended to.