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Time Out for Chelsea

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Our gang of four (Libby, me, Anne Seidman and Jeanne Jaffe) did very nicely in New York last Thursday. You’d think it would be hard to whip four people into line and hustle them into and out of things in a timely fashion but we kept the pace brisk and that was good. We lingered over a few things and one of us had a panic moment trying to decide whether to buy a piece of art (decision: pass and hold on to hard-earned money). (image is a pass-through between 26th and 25th Sts. Chelsea = pretty in pink.)
We’ll be telling you about our trip in little chunks, easy to digest, we hope. So watch out for more after this post as we cut our way through Chelsea’s waters and then wind up at the Studio Museum in Harlem for the treat du jour, “Frequency,” a show made even sweeter by the inclusion of Philadelphia artist Jina Valentine and her great work.

We scratched the surface in Chelsea — and mostly things interested us. We were uniformly unimpressed with David Salle‘s high-faluting spin art at Mary Boone and walked out of the deserted gallery quickly.
The house divided on Mike Kelley‘s giganto high school fun house/horror house installation at Gagosian. Jeanne — who will tell you more about it in another post — was fascinated by the artist’s capture of the Jungian underbelly — the id rampant and unapologetic reflected in pop culture. But she was in the minority. Mostly, the rest of us thought it was low energy, over-indulgent, and, too costly for such little payoff. (two images above and the next one are of the Kelley installation. I took the shots not knowing you weren’t allowed. They don’t do it justice. In addition to being high schoolish, the piece felt like a Legionnaire’s hall full of theme booths for some fundraiser to help juvenile delinquents–lots of goth imagery and blood and body imagery, but all clearly faux and staged. In fact the piece is based on a collection of high school yearbook pictures.)

kelleydayisdonerfWe spent the most time looking at Tamy Ben-Tor’s videos at Zach Feuer which Jerry Saltz had raved about. (highly recommended reading with lots of pictures). We’ll second that. The “Women Speak about Hitler” is nicely wacky. (The piece had run previously in Greater New York at PS 1.) Ben-Tor plays various stereotypical women’s roles — the clueless bimbo who likes Hitler’s mustache being one of the most memorable.

What makes the piece, the glue holding it together, is the character of the young, presumably New York Jewish academic whose Little Orphan Annie curls and big horn-rimmed glasses complement her earnest, gossipy delivery of juicy details about Hitler’s bodily and psychic tics, about his bowels and obsessive behavior. We laughed til we cried. (image above is Ben Tor in another work, “Artist in Residence,” creating the persona of an obsessive public artist whose art was to walk between point a and b and count the steps then research the surrounding buildings. She is clueless that the public didn’t get what she was doing.)

Ben Tor is a wonderful shape shifter able to get under the skin of so many and so varied personalities it’s a little shocking. The work is politically-charged and rude (there’s even a piece that skewers public art-making by artists obsessed with minutiae and disdainful of audience). Ben-Tor’s an army of one calling attention to issues of race and prejudice. You don’t see much of this nowadays. Everybody’s backslid into pretty and nice or completely inwardly spiritual (nothing wrong with any of that but it’s time for more politics in art — in exhibits in galleries in Chelsea and elsewhere). (image is our gang looking at a Ben-Tor video)

There’s a stage set up in the gallery and the thought of seeing the artist perform live made me want to get on her mailing list and move mountains to come see a live performance.

Stay tuned. More from Chelsea later.