It’s interesting to note how, during the holiday season, when retailers are bending backwards to catch every potential shopper with any technique possible, the gallery district in Chelsea had only a smattering of open galleries on the weekend after New Years’. While they did swing back in full force over the next two weeks, if you didn’t know better, you probably wouldn’t think much had changed.Perhaps it hasn’t.Maybe art galleries are just a different kind of retailer.
So, here is a completely biased list of notable New York shows, open or recently open, that I’ve seen:
Trenton Doyle Hancock at James Cohan Gallery. This was a solid showing from Hancock;those familiar with his signature style of comic characters will happily note that the saga of vegans and the cult of color moves on – though, in an interview, Hancock indicated a future end to the story and a potential radical shift in work.This exhibit reflects similar styles with new twists.A wall series of five-foot-square paintings are a deliberate nod to Phillip Guston, and depict one of Hancock’s domed-headed characters in various configurations.I often wonder if Hancock’s work is more about the complex story than the aesthetic of individual pieces. You can certainly spend a lot of time in either place. Here, at least, it seems like he’s found a solid balance of the two.
Tim Rollins at Lehman Maupin Gallery. I have been a fan of Rollins and K.O.S. for a while, so I was excited to see this show – apparently their first solo show in several years. If you are familiar with their work, this show will seem familiar, yet I think it holds up just the same.Extracting pages from books read collectively and gluing them down as the ground for each painting, Rollins and K.O.S. have continued the style they are known for, while pushing it in new directions.Here, they have constructed a show that appears both beautiful and dark – the term “goth” comes to mind. The collaborative team’s aesthetic has consistently been minimal, and the thick black lines and shapes on these paintings, with their relatively white backgrounds, are as stark as ever. The books Rollins and K.O.S have chosen for this show revolve largely around themes of race, with texts by Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. These are not ironic images – they are earnest and beautiful responses to the texts. A friend of mine recently postulated that “sincerity is the new irony.” If this is true, Tim Rollins and K.O.S. are right out in front.
Robert Gober and Felix Gonzalez-Torres at Andrea Rosen Gallery. With the esoteric title “A Shadow Leaving an Object,” the show consists of two small pieces installed on opposite sides of the main gallery space.The Gober contribution, Prison Window, is a barred window cut into the wall at about ten feet from the floor, allowing the viewer to only see what appears to be blue sky on the other side. We are in jail. On the opposite wall was Felix Gonzalez-Torrez’ Untitled, a pair of two circular mirrors, about 6 inches in diameter, set flush to the wall. This meant that the gallery was technically empty; as described, the two pieces are both installed flush to the wall, with no parts projecting into the gallery. Both of these pieces draw the viewer out of the gallery, while being acutely conscious of their own position inside. As the accompanying statement argues, “. . . the exhibition becomes a setting for a play about the nature of freedom and imprisonment . . .”
Jeremy Earhart at Goff + Rosenthal.. Earhart’s first solo show in Manhattan offered a stunning array of free-standing and wall-mounted works constructed in plexiglass and string. Best seen after dark with black lights shining, Earhart’s pieces are complex, psychedelic and reveal a thorough investigation in color and material. Balancing the intense beauty are layered political, religious and cultural references, giving the viewer as much to consider intellectually as visually.Of the work I’ve seen on display recently, Earhart’s show stands out as unique and timely. Every now and then you get a breath of fresh air among the familiar styles and themes in the art world, and here is one.
Elizabeth Payton at New Museum. Personally, I’ve been on the fence regarding Elizabeth Payton’s work.I enjoy her paint application, use of color, and brush work;on the other hand, her subject matter – the famous lovers and friends she has and has had – trivialize the work to a Paris Hilton level.At their best, her paintings can be ethereal, beautiful and elegant – an image of the west village of New York is a great example.At their worst, they fall like Britney Spears with hair clippers – her separate paintings of Gavin Brown and Michelle Obama fall in this category.Overall, this show didn’t change my mind one bit.It gave a sense of what Payton has been up to for the last several years, but I don’t think it ended up being the most flattering representation of her. Perhaps that makes for a more honest interpretation.
Mary Heilman at New Museum. I didn’t like this show at first, but a good friend whose opinion on art (and painting, specifically) told me that he really loved it, so I have to rethink my first impression. I’m gong to have to go back to see the show.Referencing numerous modern painters from Al Held to Joseph Albers, Heilman employs a loose (for lack of a better term) technique of paint application for her own non-representational compositions (I don’t call them abstract, because they don’t appear to be derived from any recognizable images).Heilman’s work seems conceptually strong – it seems like she’s very intentional about her decisions – but I have a hard time calling a lot of it beautiful, which is why I need to go back and see it again. Admittedly, I rushed through the exhibition first time, so it’s not hard to imagine that I may have missed potential nuance in her work.