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Wednesday 09.23.09

« Last Thursday Picks September 2009 | Main | Black Moon Rising »

Looking at New York, New York looking back

I recently had another opportunity to take in New York... whose gallery scene is still adjusting to new economic realities (esp. at the mid and lower levels). Overall, it still has the vulnerability I saw last March but seems to have found a bit of a direction... i.e. what some call "minimalism" is the new thing. Also, the mysteries of abstraction were blatantly on display with Kandinsky at the Guggenheim and O'Keeffe at the Whitney. That and art that explicitly looked like it could have been found lining a homeless person's shopping cart seems to be the in joke there these days. So don't worry, in NYC irony is (still) the new money. Maybe one can't buy anything with irony but they sure know how to spread it around.

On Sept 11th 2009 the light memorial was re-ignited, hopefully the horrible Freedom Tower (aka the bunker) will never be built.

Overall, I found an increasing presence of art from Portland and many of the influential alt spaces had a surprisingly good awareness of some things going on in Portland... in fact, most actually had ties to curators or artists here. Overall it is a good exchange that keeps getting better. It is important to remind PORT's local audience of this because Portland's artists are very active internationally... one really can't understand what it is going on in Portland's art scene merely by seeing shows in Portland.

Portlander Alex Hubbard's work at Dispatch

For starters it was funny running into Portland's Alex Hubbard's faux seafood restaurant menu at Distpatch's opening near the Brooklyn Bridge on the Lower East Side. I had a great low-key time talking to Dispatch's curatorial duo Gabrielle Giattino and Howie Chen. It was a very relaxed opening (even compared with most alt spaces in PDX) ... everyone seemed to just hang out trade stories while Chen occasionally looked off in the distance contemplating the Glenn Branca/Dan Graham talk he would moderate the next night at X Initiative.

Josiah McElheny's opening at Andrea Rosen showed how one of my favorite artists was evolving his shelves. This time a series of monochromatic nods to modernist gems in Barnett Newman/Ellsworth Kelly approved red yellow and blue.

Emphasis was on peace not stress in LES galleries like Miguel Abreu.

Nearby the Lisa Cooley Gallery showed abstractions who seemed purposefully nonchalant... i.e. not dogmatic about being abstraction (related to the Amy Sillman ilk but with a more Terry Winters kind of structure or Per Kirkeby only less busy and less convincing).

At Minus Space Bibi Calderaro's purposefully hollow pinata of theoretical texts on aesthetics had an amusing take on how art frames and sometimes destroys theory. The sculpture will be destroyed at the end of the exhibition with an aesthetically refined wooden rod.

At Matthew Marks Rebecca Warren's show looked good overall (well installed) as she engaged the history of sculpture. You catch bits of Caro and Boccioni etc. in the show but somehow putting stylized genitalia on some of the works lessened their impact... she's good but she's no Marino Marini. That said as a show it was interesting art history porn.

The surprisingly good pairing of Kara Walker and Mark Bradford at Sikkema Jenkins proved they are interesting foils. Ive never been a fan of Bradford but his new works have a lot of Jasper Johns and Per Kirkeby in them now... and are a lot more elegant than I thought he was capable of. Walker's large panels were less interesting but her new video and maquettes for sculpture were well worth checking out. Seeing any of these sculptures realized would be a hoot in any public space, given Walker's trademark irreverence.

William Blake's The Sun at His Eastern Gates: Illustration to Milton's L'Allegro Pen and brush, black and gray ink, and watercolor 6 3/8 x 4 13/16 in. (161 x 121 mm),Watermark: M & J LAY 1816,Signed at lower left, W Blake inv

One of the absolute highlights of the trip was the William Blake show at the Morgan Library. He's stunning, an original thinker and scary good artist on the level we only see once or twice a decade at most. Ill have an essay on art and spirituality, which uses this show as a touchstone for PORT soon. Like Blake it will take an unconventional take.

Dan Graham performing Performer/Audience/Mirror at P.S.1 Institute for Contemporary Art, Long Island City, NY, 1977, photo courtesy of the artist

Dan Graham's retrospective at the Whitney was also a highlight. Definitely a major artist, I was also left with the feeling that he's not quite of the Vito Acconci / Donald Judd level. The difference is how a many of the works felt so self satisfied (a smug sense of trickiness) and generally less generous than the absolute top tier artists tend to be. Clearly major, I enjoyed his BF Skinner style situations (it's his biggest contribution) but somehow even his best ultimately lacked the penetration of Acconci's strongest efforts as an artist or architect. Acconci explores illogic to the point of creating new logic, whereas Graham explores the logical to reveal the facets of that logic. Ultimately Graham just doesn't show me anything I didn't already know through stronger experiences with Acconci, Judd and Smithson. Then again I was nearly a psych double major as an undergrad so the science behind Graham's work isn't novel to me.

The Mike Kelley and Michael Smith exhibition at SculptureCenter was so good I have already reviewed it. A must see.

Donald Judd, untitled, 1976. Dia Art Foundation; gift of the Brown Foundation, Photo Bill Jacobson.

At Dia Beacon, I enjoyed the newer and better hang of the Louise Bourgeois works... but as always it's the Sandbacks, Smithsons, Heizers and the plywood Judds (that's Douglas Fir from Oregon btw) that knock me out the most. Yes X Initiative had Fritz Haeg (which is a temporary start)... but somehow I wish Dia could rekindle its own youthful advocacy and reestablish a larger scale permissive presence in NYC again.

Then there is the new Diller & Scofidio + Renfro designed park, The Highline... It's interesting and a lot of fun to walk on + people watch but many feel it signals the end of Chelsea as the epicenter of art for New York. To a Portlander it seems like an interesting attempt at having trees and wildflowers but to many artists and gallerists it says ever more restrictive real estate prices... (we have legitimate wildernesses within city limits in PDX that make The Highline, even Central Park seem quaint). Still, I think it is a nice looking project and who can blame wealthy New Yorkers for wanting to pay a premium to have a little bit of nature?

Overall, I'm made increasingly aware of how the much stronger, more integrated presence of nature in Portland makes it such a different place. Overall, I don't feel like New York sets the bar like it did decades ago... I see better work elsewhere all of the time (esp. at the mid and lower gallery levels) but its top tier museums like The Met and The Morgan keep me coming back. Still, I see things in Portland before they come to New York all of the time. Overall, my fondest wish for New York is that it not turn into a museum of itself... an outcome I'm not too worried about but it's a concern worth repeating.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on September 23, 2009 at 13:28 | Comments (0)


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