Fear, loathing and lady photographers in New York

Like children staring down a box of candy and a bowl of oatmeal we went straight for Chelsea Dec 12 instead of to the museums. The day was sunny and brisk and we took our chances wandering in candyland.

Trenton Doyle Hancock
Trenton Doyle Hancock at James Cohan.

We knew before we walked into James Cohan Gallery that we were ready to love Trenton Doyle Hancock’s show. His works excite us with their combination of extreme inward-looking eye, paranoia and turgid visuals. In a cool world Hancock sizzles. His manic layering, repetitive imagery, gazillions of words, and push to decoration give us great pleasure and something to chew over. His 3-D wallpaper at ICA’s ramp this year was one of the year’s high points. See post and post.


Trenton Doyle Hancock

Hancock’s FEAR (up to Jan. 10), doesn’t disappoint. The artist’s installation asserts itself with its sly cartoonish presence. Heavily-collaged paintings ring the room — all showing a pair of wide-open, googly-eyes, the kind of eyes cartoon creatures make when they’ve seen a ghost. Something about them reminds us of Philip Guston’s hollow-eyed klansmen and exophthalmic bald guys. On the walls a quiet cascade of painted black raindrops falls into an inky sea rising, expressed as curlicue waves at the wall’s base. The raindrops contain letters that spell FEAR, and while the word is not needed — the black rain is pretty scary enough — words are one of Hancock’s signature design motifs, so it fits.

Kate Clark
Kate Clark at Claire Oliver


From cartoon to creep show, we passed on to Kate Clark’s human-headed animals at Claire Oliver. These taxidermied creatures with their oddly decorated and eerie heads (most have the same face — we wondered if it was a kind of self portrait) were a cross between fashion and grotesque, and carried none of the gravitas that Kate Javens’ Father Ram paintings convey (see post). They would be a great backdrop for Project Runway — you’re in, you’re out or you’re taxidermied. While one of the sculptures placed an animal hybrid on a pile of newspaper, thereby conveying an eco-sensitivity, mostly, the sculptures seem more about the shock and awe of themselves than about the environment or endangered species even.

Zoe Strauss
Zoe Strauss installation at Silverstein. Photo by Cate Fallon.

We stopped by Zoe Strauss’ installation at Silverstein and loved it. (See Cate’s post for more pictures and commentary). The homey installation with the chairs and lamps works beautifully with Strauss’ “family of man” photos. And the big blow-ups of sky, earth and clapboard housing ground the show in the artist’s embrace of the (now damaged) world and its fragile human creatures. We read Karen Rosenberg‘s review in the NY Times and we have to disagree. Strauss’ installation is strong and it goes to the heart of the artist’s uniqueness. This is not a typical white box artist but the inventor of Under I-95, a miracle of an exhibition and one that perhaps Rosenberg needs to experience to really “get” what Strauss is doing. We recommend she take the Bolt Bus.


Ali Banisadr, Land of Black and Gold, 54 x 75.75, was up at At Leslie Tonkonow Artworks and Projects, until Dec. 20, 2008

On a more international note, the Fertile Crescent of Iraq still is on people’s minds–and that’s what Ali Banisadr’s explosions of teeming humanity suggest, at Leslie Tonkonow Artworks and Projects. It’s hi, ho, come to the fair and get your body blown to bits–reflecting the violence of bombings of Tehran, where Banisadr lived until the age of 12. The artist’s large paintings are part Heironymous Bosch, part Persian minatures, and full of humans and action.

Ali Banisadr, Land of Black and Gold, detail
Ali Banisadr, Land of Black and Gold, detail

The paintings’ edges–geometric, colorful forms, place the action under a tent or a kaleidoscopic universe, but the real action is in the hectic gestures–Ab-Ex flicks of a juicy brush that fall apart on close inspection.

This is Banisadr’s first one-man show (he’s 32), and it’s sold out!!! Now that’s the best economic news we’ve heard in months!!!!

Chihcheng Peng
Chihcheng Peng, still from video Follow Your Man, at Bellwether Gallery

As the day wore down, and so did we, we trekked to the southern end of Chelsea for Funny Not Funny at Bellwether. We had high expectations for the show’s star-studded list of artists, including Tami Ben-Tor, Fischli & Weiss, David Shrigley, Michael Smith, and Ryan Trecartin & Lizzie Fitch.

But what ultimately interested us–no fascinated us–was Shadow Your Man, a video by Chihcheng Peng, a relative unknown as far as we were concerned. Editing and manipulating a brief bit of classic footage of Buster Keaton, Chihcheng has created something entirely new–and hilarious.

The show is up to Jan. 17.

Jamie Diamond installation shot, at Moeller Snow gallery, up until Jan. 24

Our last stop was Jamie Diamond’s one-woman show at Moeller Snow Gallery on Bond Street. Diamond, a 2008 MFA from Penn, was one of the hits of the show ID, which we curated at Projects Gallery in the summer. Diamond photographs “family” portraits of random people she finds through Craigslist, or on the street. The portraits are set in hotel rooms, the so-called families named after the hotels in which they pose–the Radissons, the Hiltons, etc. It’s hard to figure out if there’s something wrong and just what it is, and just what it has to do with real family portraits. But there’s something weird happening here and deconstructing it is a great pleasure. Another series, I Promise to be a Good Mother (2007), includes herself posing with a “baby” that’s a doll. The best of that series are the ones including a “husband.” But it’s the faux families, and also videos of faux couples holding hands, that seem to be the most telling. This is a strong first outing and we hope to see more from Jamie!!!