Thursday, March 14, 2013

Chelsea Galleries

Highlights include: Jean-Michel Basquiat at Gagosian Gallery. Every single painting and drawing in the contemporary art history paper I wrote in undergraduate school were featured. (Untitled) Sugar Ray Robinson is warped and anything but a square canvas (it was hard to see this from my black-and-white reproduction in the mid 1990s). Its simplicity in subject matter drew me in initially. It's the lonely crown, the black paint showing layers of color underneath and the off-kilter handwriting. Referencing personal idols doesn't hurt either.

While living in Houston, I stood in front of Riding with Death (below, right) many times while it was on view at the Menil Collection. It has been over a decade since I last saw it and I searched the crowded galleries rather desperately until it was found. It held its own alongside Chinese New Year, an equally stark painting, yet it doesn't have the symbolism as a figure riding a skeleton/horse across the horizon painted the same year as Basquiat's death.

Doug Aitken's 100 Years at 303 Gallery was the biggest surprise. Sonic Fountain featured water dripping from rods suspended in the ceiling. The drips varied in speed creating a sound reminiscent of breathing or at times dancing. It was impressive with how much the gallery was altered to display this installation: holes cut into the floor and walls and concrete displayed in piles.

Fountain (Earth Fountain) was hidden in the back room. Dirt flowed over plexiglass letters spelling out the word "art." It was as seductive as chocolate and very tempting to place a finger through the hole in the middle of the A or the R (I refrained). It was hypnotic yet slightly repulsive (it could have smelled like the mudpots in Yellowstone and I would have believed it).

Detail of Doug Aitken's Fountain (Earth Fountain)

I should have devoted far more time to Ragnar Kjartansson's The Visitors at Luhring Augustine Gallery. A darkened room with a nine channel video installation, based on a performance on in an old farmhouse, greeted me as I pulled aside the black curtain.

The name of the artwork is based on ABBA's song, The Visitors. All the performers belted it out on a variety of instruments with great earnestness. A sad breakup song performed in the company of friends. Very powerful.

I wanted to approach Trevor Paglen's series, The Last Pictures (on view at Metro Pictures), from the perspective of someone who does not know anything about his art. Paglen holds a PhD in geography and approaches surveillance in a compelling manner. I have long been fascinated with his high power telescopic views of Area 51 and satellites in the night sky.

This installation was harder to grasp without reading an artist statement. The press release states that it is "a selection of photographs reflecting unease and uncertainty about the present, and a deep anxiety about the future." Paglen outlines crises in history and presents a doomsday perspective. Here is one corner installation of photographs. If you look carefully on the top left, you can see why I included this image.

John Mann's use of maps and globes is always captivating and Folded in Place at Daniel Cooney Fine Art did not disappoint. My favorite of all of Mann's photographs is the interior half of a globe (below right). We recognize the subject as he provides a sliver of information as to its original function but the interior resembles a black hole - an unmapped area of the interior of the earth or space or....

Répétition II at Paula Cooper featured Dan Flavin installations in both corners of the gallery as well as walking across a Carl Andre floor piece for the first time in years.

This season, Allen Ruppersberg's You and Me was installed on the High Line billboard. His signature use of text and warm, bright colors made it instantly recognizable. Most of the art I have seen of his comes in the form of posters so a billboard presentation was particularly apt.

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