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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.