Saturday Art

Francis Alys,Untitled, 2011-2012

Francis Alys,
Untitled, 2011-2012

There is so much art to see in New York that I almost never go to an exhibition more than once.  There is always something new to see:  something that might be wonderful or joyful or powerful or memorable, or maybe all four.  Sometimes as I’m walking into a gallery I get a little butterfly inside because the possibility exists that I’m about to have a life-changing experience.  It’s a childlike feeling, akin to thinking that maybe today the Good Humor Man is giving out free ice cream.  And balloons.

I like that feeling.

But today I revisited several galleries because having seen the shows, I couldn’t forget them.  They haunted me.

There is a quality of inevitability to excellent art.  I notice the decisions that the artist made, but I can’t imagine any improvement.  Sometimes it looks effortless, sometimes agonized, but in either case, the end result has triumphed over the process of creation and now the work exists independent of how it was made and by whom.

I feel that way about the Francis Alys video Reel-Unreel (at David Zwirner 525 W 19th). I discussed the film last week and still highly recommend it.  This week his paintings had a stronger impact on me. They are clearly connected to the film, showing desert landscapes struggling to exist in the same space as film color test patterns.  Such a simple idea, and yet so profound when we consider a country (Afghanistan) in which the authorities have tried to censor all outside media influence.

Diana Cooper,Turf

Diana Cooper,

I also returned to the Diana Cooper show My Eye Travels at Postmasters Gallery (459 W 19th)  Ms. Cooper’s witty assemblages of photographs, and objects leap off the wall to trick the viewer into believing the impossible.  They look dimensional where flat, drawn where manufactured, and continue to refer to the gallery space in which they are exhibited and the art world at large.  These are serious works made with a sense of fun and astonishing skill.  I stood far away, I stood as close as possible, I tried to peer behind, and I was desperate to touch them (but I didn’t).  Several times I laughed out loud (art gallery numbered pins as design elements).  Honestly, I might have to make a third trip before the show closes on February 9th.

Henry Darger

Henry Darger




One show that I haven’t had the chance to revisit, but which remains on my mind is the Henry Darger show at Ricco/Maresca Gallery (529 W 20th)  I had the good fortune to speak with Gallery Director Elenore Weber today, who reminded me that the Darger works on display were originally book illustrations, and therefore drawn on both sides of the paper.  The gallery is having a “turn-the-paintings-around” event this coming Friday evening, February 1st, so that we can all see the opposite sides.  I can’t imagine the logistics involved, but I’m grateful for them.

Chelsea Afternoon

This afternoon wasn’t exactly a random walk around the Chelsea art district, although as many times as I got turned around and began to retrace my steps, random might have been an improvement.

Henry Darger Triptych

I especially wanted to see the Henry Darger Show at Ricco/Maresca Gallery (529 W 20th).  Darger is one of those artists whose personal story adds layers of meaning to his artwork.  A lifelong janitor, solitary at home, his voluminous artwork was discovered after his death: the thirteen volume illustrated history of the innocent Vivian Girls and their nemesis the Glandelinian Army.  The story is violent, and the illustrations are naive, yet compelling in their unschooled perspective, atmospheric colors, and the occasional nude androgyny of the main characters.  His personal demons aside, the paintings are beautiful and haunting.

Kelley Walker

At Andrea Rosen (525 W 24th) an interesting group show called Cellblock II  captured my attention.  I was drawn especially to Kelley Walker’s silkscreened brick walls.  The irony of being drawn in to an image of what keeps me out was particularly provocative.

El Anatsui

El Anatsui




Jack Shainman Gallery (513 W 20th) is showing large works by El Anatsui in which the artist manipulates thousands of pieces of metal in order to make flowing fluid shapes, turning hard cutting edges into soft hems.  This is work that first grabbed me from across the gallery, and pulled me closer and closer to see how it was made.  Like most good art, it works at any distance.  Up close it bears a slight resemblance to the gum-wrapper chains I made during boring junior high classes, but step back just a bit and you see regal golden robes, world maps, and scarred landscapes.

Keith Sonnier

I very much enjoyed a quick stop at Luhring Augustine (531 W 24th) to see Glenn Ligon’s text-based neon work, and a moment at Mary Boone (541 W 24th) to see neon works by Keith Sonnier from 1968-1970.  Just walking into the main gallery made me smile.  That’s not a bad thing for art, is it?

My final stop of the day (getting dark, getting tired) was at the newly refurbished and reopened Winkleman Gallery (621W 27th).  It was wonderful to see Ed and Murat in their beautiful new space, since my last memory of their showroom was damp and powerless post-Sandy destruction.  The show that opened at Winkleman today was a series of large drawings by artist Michael Waugh, who creates his images with handwritten lines of text outlining, crossing, and shading his varied subject matter.  As if drawing isn’t hard enough by itself.  These works are another excellent example of art that rewards you from across the room and satisfies you up close.

Michael Waugh

Michael Waugh

I saw lots more great art, but those were the standouts for me today.  I was happy to see so much two-dimensional work, since installation and conceptual art seemed to dominate the galleries last fall.  No doubt the ebb and flow will continue, as it should.