New York is in a hot haze — and what else to kickstart my week than a stroll through some of Chelsea’s summer art shows.
Shutters and day screens are on my mind.
Japanese culture has made great use of interior screens for centuries. An adhoc, and often times artistic, separation between the public and the private in close spaces. I look at the variety of day screens — from the latticed (and what to do with those peekholes, or screened light) to the transparent to the dark, opaque, the repurposed windows doors and panels, the inherently two-sided nature, and the contrast of the light-filled side, the darker and light-receiving side.
A day screen becomes a physical metaphor for the bridge and space between the public, present, physical world and the digital perpetuations of ourselves, or the present and the story of the present that continues beyond the screen in an online, and as “real”, representation.
Back to the Intimate at James Cohan Gallery and the curators’ own struggle with this dilemma. “For modern audiences, the most intimate moments are often posted, liked, and hash tagged instantaneously. How then are these previously private, sometimes clandestine, moments preserved in our era?..for the young artists of this show, it is proposed that “the act of painting actualises and secures the personal intimacy they seek with their subjects.” Curator Chris Sharp (Lulu, Mexico City) crystallises the context in which intimacy is preserved; suggesting that the feasibility of intimacy is more “an ethical mode, won through the increasingly rare act of paying attention.”
My visit to Intimisms opened on a smile-inducing view of the anterior hall – a delightfully neon screen by John McAllister: blazing oceans murmur of a cloud. The pink and purple colours themselves recall this exuberant Kusama shown in Chelsea last May.
It is eery to walk through this collection of intimate moments. Our modern-day notions of what is intimate, and what is not, are often dictated by the presence of sharing or not. Some painted intimate moments seem so casual, too ordinary, in the context of a 21st century attention span. Who would paint that?
There is something unnerving, frankly, about seeing this introspection captured in such permanent, physical form. What catches attention? The absurd yet ornate yet oh-so-natural details of “Night Talk” (GaHee Park: the purple hair, wound around a finger…or is it a toe? )
The odd purity – and why should this seem odd? – of the baby peacefully asleep on a young man’s bared chest.
There was a good-bye to my favourite McAllister through the windows of James Cohan. A sudden breeze almost created my own intimism on the street.
“You may walk through the pieces to better experience this work” a kind guard suggested, approaching me through the arrangement of Richard Serra’s steel walls, as I slowly edged around the vast main exhibition hall of the Gagosian Gallery’s Chelsea location, wanting to take in the exterior form by every angle before venturing through.
Every Which Way
Admitting first allegiance to Torqued Ellipses, Serra’s new, raw-steel sculptures are at once immense and yet approachable given their width/depth. They are in contrast to last spring’s show of stacked cubes, Equal at David Zwirner, where the blocks seemed too opaque, too massive, to process.
The steel rectangles are all the same thickness, yet standing with different heights and widths — and importantly to me, a thickness of perhaps 1.5 feet: perfect to obscure a human body, not too thick so as to menace or draw questions to solidity, sheer mass.
The oblique rectangles also drew attention to the sheered edges – some serrated and gutted with orange rust, others quite smooth, dark. I could see shapes and visions on certain walls, much like cloud stories winking and vanishing as I walked.
Silence (for John Cage)
A massive rectangle block, aligned down the length of the next hall, laying flat on one long, wide, face. I wondered how this was moved in. This one also was gorgeous to circle, to ponder its opulent weight, the special consideration of edges and sides.Was one long edge curved, or truly sheared perpendicular and straight? Drawn to silence, nary a photo was taken. I wished this room’s friendly guard would turn away and leave me be in silence.
There was a special point, a lovely moment in between this room and the next. Looking back at this sleeping beast of steel, and then forwards at its brother in the next hall, standing up on one long side, set diagonal across the room, marvelling at the difference in emotion between “the floor”, “the wall”.
My eye was first caught by the seemingly-etched female bust in profile (a shallow dent in the steel). Another friendly guard: “do you like it?” The involuntary exultation, a delighted “I do!” with the realisation that two more pieces existed in the room, with the same dimensions, set in parallel immediately beyond this first.
The invisible “elephants in the room”, indeed. The reverse trompe l’oeil is a thrill — several tons of solid steel emerging into sight. Again I circled, and then made my passage through the gap created between the first wall and the second, wondering at the ‘vibes’ and warmth for the rusted, orange wall to my left and the smooth, dark, cold face to my right. No conclusion, simply a difference in textures that anticipated a kind of imbalanced force field as I proceeded. And then, the obligatory look back, and left, through the thin (inches?) gap of light between the second and third walls — too narrow to pass, so narrow in contrast so as to be a casual and perfect reminder of the sculpture’s impenetrability and designed placement. And the happy guard, again hidden from view (snap, snap, as if hiding were a game).
After the frantic and colourful Intimists, these sculptures’ austere presence provided private spaces for introspection and a calming energy of metal and mass.
Looking for a light-hearted interlude I stepped into Pace Gallery’s GLASS. I was immediately drawn by Fred Wilson’s black glass drips. The show as it turns out was more serous than its medium might suggest.
So a reflective amble it was. An exquisite dark mirror of black Murano glass, I Saw Othello’s Visage In His Mind, which summoned Snow White and other beauty- and evil- fairy tales as I peered into the depths of my own reflection.
No Way But This: Wilson’s black chandelier at once bland — recollecting China and Hong Kong’s recent obsession with statement art deco piece — yet also glossily captivating like a trapped king spider, or the centrepiece of a futuristic medieval castle, hung above Kiki Smith’s Mine, spiky and vaguely-menacing red glass stars strewn across the floor — or geodesic sea urchins.
Close by, Wilson’s evocative installation was of milky-white glass ceramic place settings and several classical sculptures — a standing woman, a fallen, cracked ‘Roman’ head-bust. Take It or Leave It: Institution, Image, Ideology.
Walking by Smith’s Salvers and Teacups, an assortment of found glassware items – three raised cake holders, many more glasses and beakers – resting on a blue-green paper-cloth, and well-watched by not one but two guards, I had the (controlled) urge to kick and destroy the whole peaceful, fragile scene: a flash of ilinx? And yes, perhaps an instinctively fitting response, as Smith is exploring the eternal cycles of life, death and decay, rebirth.
Maya Lin’s works were lighter and more positive: a twinkling, wall-mounted Chesapeake of green glass marbles and Dew Point, a collection of clear glass pods, somewhat reflective, more translucent, blown to represent “water-worn rocks”. I came up to Dew Point eagerly, half-hoping to see a diffracted vision and reflection much like Ai Wei Wei’s White House crystal balls, yet no water nymphs danced into sight.
Next, a quick, colourful walk through Luring Augustine’s group show Shape-Shifters. Those currently obsessed with chevron stripes will enjoy the glimpse of Jeremy Moon’s candy-coloured and candy-cane-striped Joyride, framed through the back hallway.
“What is this neon?” I smiled, approaching Bas Jan Ader’s installation Please Don’t Leave Me. Initially this tangle of hung cord and light bulbs, the hand-written letters in black, seemed to be a fresh response to Emins & Co’s pastels and neat cursives. Lo and behold, made in 1969.
Likewise enjoyable was the again vintage, again current Thoughts Unsaid Then Forgotten. A visual shock to the mind and phone prattling along at whatsapp-snapchat speed, this writing on the wall is a welcome reminder through the decades that the case for privacy — and a siren call for the process of capturing intimacy, to harken back to James Cohan – exists.
Ader’s image series were provocative, haunting, confusing, funny. Who wouldn’t love the 18 piece, light-etched (song lyrics?) In Search of the Miraculous? Or be charmed by the plaintive, pink-skied Fire (could the work’s title be anything else?), a silent sign held by a lone figure on a dear-to-my-heart rugged California coastline.
MARIANNE BOESKY GALLERY: I TALK WITH THE SPIRITS
Wow. This Alabama artist is irresistible! Notable were:
- Thornton Dial’s multi-layered painting sculptures, most notably the bright triptych Slavery to Freedom, the proud tiger – head and tail extending in sculpture out from the ‘painting’.
- Lee Mullican’s Water Worship, with his style of short lines layered over a rich canvas of symbols and images, somehow reminiscent yet predating Korean minimalist Chung Sang-Hwa with a heady, tribal transcendence.
- Mullican’s Untitled (1960), a mystic figure richly rendered in ink-like circles, dots.
I had not been one for the mystical, the tribal, yet these sculptures and paintings moved me. Our discussion shall remain private, fitting with the theme du jour. I came out of Chelsea floating and found some equally-elated friends at The Edition. The next chapter, visiting Marfa for the Robert Irwin opening, awaits.
xx lighterati penned by Kalina King