A New Season in New York

It’s a new season in New York and there are changes all over.  Even though I feel like I’ve been visiting every month or so, quite a lot seems to be different now that Fall is here.  A brand spanking new PATH train to the city with clean seats and clear signage (though it doesn’t seem to travel any faster!).  New restaurants (Cosi near the New School is gone, replaced with a cafe/gelateria that happens to have pretty good coffee).  Even the venerable Strand Books was different: no longer do they have you check your bags upon entry (hooray!).  But of course what I’m most interested in is the new art for the new season and yesterday I finally got a chance to visit the new round of shows in Chelsea.

I don’t usually go for the installation-type shows as my preference is for paintings, but there are quite a few of the sculptural-object-installation exhibitions and some of them were compelling.  At Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, Sarah Sze puts on a jaw-dropping, smile-inducing, visually stimulating exhibition in the gallery’s four rooms.  Each piece is an amazing assemblage of string, wood, shelves, lights, fans, water, felt, stones, dirt, plants, and hundreds of other everyday objects.  The items are all carefully composed into room-sized works of art that you can walk around and through, taking in the thing as a whole (“Holy cow! Where do I start?”) and as parts (“Look at the fan tug the string across a pulley to move a piece of metal that creates a trench in a small pile of dirt and clanks a key onto a glass”).  I wasn’t sure what it meant, but it was very enjoyable to walk around each artwork, give it some time, and contemplate how the artist could have managed to put it all together.

At Ameringer-McEnery-Yohe, Jude Pfaff has a number of playful sculptures that hang off the wall in twisty, curvy, spiraling forms of wire, metal, glass, cardboard, paint, and other materials.  The exhibition surveys five decades of Pfaff’s work; on the one hand all of the sculptures feel like they come from the same artist, while on the other the variety of methods and materials gives each a different sense of heft, space, and form.

It’s been a few years since I last saw Pipilotti Rist at Luhring Augustine.  The main attraction here is in the center ring, so to speak, where “Layers Mama Layers” fills the entire middle gallery.  Hanging diagonally throughout the darkened room are numerous sheer (“diaphanous”, as the press release puts it, and that is always a word one likes to use whenever possible 🙂 ) sheets of fabric that serve as translucent video screens upon which multiple streams of videos are projected.  It’s sort of like walking through a three dimensional “Laser Floyd” experience, where the multiple parallel screens produce a repetition of forms not unlike two mirrors reflecting into themselves.  It’s quite dazzling visually, though I will admit to not remembering what any of the video was about.  The rear room of the gallery has a large chandelier which is bathed in colorful, moving light; upon more careful inspection one finds that the chandelier itself is covered with, um, dozens of pairs of underpants in a variety of sizes and styles.  I don’t know why…

Of course, most of the shows in Chelsea were of the strictly two dimensional, hang-on-wall type.  At George Billis Gallery — in their new new space (they moved again), now on 26th Street — Ephraim Rubenstein has some beautiful mixed-media black and white drawings of “Temples and Cathedrals“.  At first, they appear to be charcoal, but upon closer inspection one finds, in addition to black charcoal, ink spatters that provide a sense of life and energy to the otherwise archaic objects.  There’s quite a bit of texture up close, resulting from the variety of materials (including wax, pencil, pastel, and ink) used in these drawings; as you pull away the works pop crisply into place with satisfying coherence.  (Way back when, I once tried to get into Rubenstein’s class at The Art Student’s League but the class was too full and I unfortunately never made it in…)

At Gallery Henoch, Mercer County’s own Mel Leipzig has a fantastic show of mostly recent paintings in “Artists, Architects, and Others”.  I’ve seen some of these before at the New Jersey State Museum in Trenton, but many were completed 2010.  Using Golden Acrylic Paints in just three primary colors plus white, Leipzig paints incredibly detailed portraits of his friends and their environs, mostly their studios and offices.  I enjoy walking back and forth and left and right in front of Leipzig’s paintings.  From up close you see the brushstrokes and the work of the artist’s hand, and as you move back you can find the “sweet spot” where the strong perspective and all the details pull together.  The artist isn’t intimidated by clutter; indeed, he seems to particularly enjoy (or at least frequently challenges himself) with scenes of studios filled with books, art supplies, textured floors and ceilings, and more.  At the opening I ran into Linda Pochesci, a one-time student of Leipzig’s who is now an artist and art teacher and who currently has work (highlighted recently in the NJ section of the NY Times) at the Pierro Gallery in South Orange through October 17.

The big event of the night (aside from the sudden violent cloudburst which I avoided through a fortuitious timing of dinner) was the opening at the various Pace Galleries in Chelsea.  Celebrating “50 Years at Pace”, it is an amazing blockbuster exhibition of “great and greatist hits” from all of the names you know.  The reception was packed (most recognizable was Chuck Close, who by the way was recently on The Colbert Report to promote two recent books (Chuck Close: Life and Work).  The exhibition will be worth visiting again to spend even more time with the art and especially the historical time-line of the gallery on display in the back room on 25th Street.

Two unexpected (by me, at least) pieces quickly jump out at you, both saturation reversals of sorts:  an orange painting by the usually white-paletted Robert Ryman and a low-chroma, hard-edged late Mark Rothko.  When you turn your head you’re in for another big surprise:  a huge Clyfford Still from the Whitney, the kind of piece you never see in a gallery setting.  As you continue along, a fantastic Alfred Jensen painting brightens up the far wall in the next gallery with progressions of colors and symbols composed in a diagonal grid.  Moving to the last room of the gallery, a large diptych of 50 Marylins (25 in color and 25 in B&W) from Andy Warhol captures your eye (I’ve recently been reading I Bought Andy Warhol, so it was timely to see this piece in person as I missed the recent show at BAM).  Robert Rauschenberg’s famous “Erased De Kooning Drawing” is there (for the complete story on erasing De Kooning from the mouth of Rauschenberg himself, take a look at this video).  Another iconic image is found on the stairs leading to the annex room:  Saul Steinberg’s 1975 New Yorker cover, “View of the World from 9th Avenue.”  All of this and more (Pollock, Johns, Katz, Lichtenstein, Newman, etc!), and that’s just on 25th Street (plus, I didn’t even realize there was a second 25th Street gallery space, so I’ll have to go back again).

At Pace’s 22nd Street gallery, the crowd was a little bit thinner but the show was still full of highlights, with a focus on minimalist and post-modernist art.  I loved the James Turrell room, “Sensing Thought”, made from wood, Plexiglas, and “computerized neon” light, which will emblazon magenta on your brain.  There’s a gorgeous Donald Judd “stack” of stainless steel & colored Plexiglas and a nice Chuck Close “finger-painting” portrait.  Only a few of the examples here are less than top notch:  a mostly colorless Josef Albers and a truncated Bridget Riley (one of my favorite artists) in reds and oranges, for instance, are not as exciting as other pieces from the same artists.  Overall, it’s an exhilarating and memorable collection of art, the kind of exhibition you rarely get to see outside of the finest modern art museums and a great way to start the new season.

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