September 28, 2009 · 4 Comments
Cate and I spent last Saturday afternoon in Chelsea and a couple things leaped out as really good. More pictures here.
Chris Ofili’s drawings at Zwirner are sneaky. With outsider-like ease, Ofili draws circles within circles until the whole page is covered with the looping delicate graphite lines. Sometimes the circles undulate and swell, appearing like oyster shells or some weird tumors and other times they’re wave-like and calm. Small and large black dots intersect and become foils for the obsessive lines. The dots line up in rows — very orderly — either at the edges of the paper or in the middle. The designs posit a world of opposites, of ephemeral delicacies and deep heavy solids. And of course the whole show by the Afro-Brit artist is a meditation on race with the black dots forming the Afro hair above tiny smiling faces you only see when you go in for a close look. There is a Zen meditative quality to these works which is appropriate to the subject of people in flow, in flux, and in never-ending populations. There’s a new Chris Ofili book I just got with a Q&A with Thelma Golden of the Studio Museum of Harlem. I’ll report on that soon.
Matthew Weinstein‘s animated talking fish video, “Chariots of the Gods” at Sonnabend is great. The artist also has a bunch of monumental-sized paintings with skeletons — in one case skeletons descending a staircase, a rather too jokey image — on view. The talking fish, however, is what’s to see. I kept thinking of the scene in the Wizard of Oz before the wizard is discovered behind the curtain where he talks directly to Dorothy as if he’s God. The fish (voice of the late Natasha Richardson) floats in the middle of a hotel-ish reception room and talks to you, telling a crazy story about aliens coming to earth; about how they were treated like gods and didn’t like it and left. It’s a rambling monologue and at the end the fish says she’s brought you the air conditioned room and isn’t it nice and says she is an asker of questions not an answerer and says “I ask you to appreciate the enormity of what you now do not know. I ask you to curtsy and bow to me with blank smiles of incomprehension as I stride past you”…. Now, how a fish could stride is anybody’s guess. The scene changes and the fish –immersed in the inky depths — sings a song to Annie about the big, cheesy full moon bringing light to the dark.
Trippy and beautiful in a pop culture fashionable way, the fish story is altogether captivating. Is it a spoof of gurus? A send-up of Pixar? Whatever. It’s a great hallucination and, like I said, it’s Wizard …of Oz.
Anthony Goicolea‘s show Once Removed at Postmasters is the artist’s response to his first trip to Cuba. The American-born artist of Cuban heritage is obsessed with his family’s roots on the island. And after his first trip there, he displays memorials to his family’s past in photos, a painting and a video where things are lit with magical strings of lights that might represent spirits or a memorial. There’s a video of the artist in a little rowboat at night throwing overboard a bunch of cinder blocks–it’s captivating to watch if a bit obscure in its message. It’s a sweet show, very personal and right in the tradition of Afro-Caribbean spiritualism.
Hellen Van Meene’s photos of children at Yancey Richardson are downright Victorian. She’s got children dressed in fanciful clothing (she has a wardrobe she selects from and dressed the child, sometimes putting the dress on them backwards we were told). Some of the photos are of African American children and those seem less posed–they’re not fanciful or fairy tale-like, but street shots, empathetic, that you have seen before. It’s with the Dutch and Russian children that she’s more manipulative and has the better results with images that are weirdly voyeuristic (one thinks of Lewis Carroll‘s photos of Alice but also, because of their sexual charge, the photographer of New Orleans prostitutes E. J. Bellocq)
Kara Walker and Mark Bradford both have new work at Sikkema Jenkins. Walker’s got a video with shadow puppets that continues her narratives of violence and death in the antebellum south. Both artists are best when working large scale and here the works are smallish and feel like out-takes from bigger thoughts expressed in other works. Not a fabulous show.
Alex Bag’s new video Reality Tunnel Vision at Elizabeth Dee is a miss. The artist, who can be right on target with her art-insider parodies, here tackles a huge subject, reality tv shows. She’s just not funny enough to skewer the subject the way it needs to be skewered. Her faux tv show, Medieval Grillin’ in which she barbeques some kind of hallucinogenic plant then eats it and goes on a trip could be broad slapstick ala Monty Python. Yet Bag is off the mark here with one long jokey shaggy dog story that’s just not funny. And at ten minutes the piece is way too long.
Tags: alex bag, anthony goicolea, chelsea, chris ofili, elizabeth dee, hellen van meene, kara walker, mark bradford, matthew weinstein, new york, postmasters, sikkema jenkins, sonnabend, yancey richardson, zwirner