The Bowery gets more art – Jon Kessler at Salon 94 and Marble at Sperone Westwater

With the New Museum as anchor, galleries big and small are flocking to the Lower East Side giving it a brand new feel.  Not quite the Mall of the Bowery but getting there.   So on our visit to see The Ungovernables, the second roundup of emerging artists at the museum, we stopped at a couple of nearby galleries, steered by our friend, Hrag Varganian of Hyperallergic, who we ran into and who seems to have his pulse on the scene, for sure.

Jon Kessler, The Blue Period installation detail at Salon 94, with Roberta and cut-out figure.

The Blue Period, a wild, immersive installation by Brooklyn-based artist Jon Kessler fills the downstairs space at Salon 94. The installation –blue paint spatters everywhere, augmented with blaring sounds, dematerializing images of masked portraits in frames, in-your-face corporate-style surveillance cameras and life-size, trompe l’oeil cut-out mannequins — is low-art disco mall culture.  It’s got the super cool affect of an Apple store, all the frozen geniuses caught mid-thought, and the pulsing electronic urgency of a club, or maybe an Abercrombie and Fitch on a Saturday afternoon.  Surveillance? It’s a little like the overkill security of one-time mall magnet  The Sharper Image trying to protect the high-end merchandise from wandering off to Wendy’s.

The crowded space is confrontational–it’s hard not to bump into things. And the cardboard cut-outs look like they are gazing at art in a gallery. Doh.  Or maybe you’ve just asked them a question about Walter Benjamin and they are working on a pithy reply.

Jon Kessler, The Blue Period, installation detail at Salon94. The HDTVs and surveillance tvs mixed up faces inside the room and others from elsewhere–reality and unreality tv.

High-definition television screens as well as a bank of surveillance monitors project the swiveling cameras’ views. If you’re in the room, you’re on the screens, where it’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s not. Surveillance has been turned into entertainment. (Should we take that as commentary on the internet?) YouTube and Facebook self-absorption has found a new outlet, without the joy (is there joy–we’re not sure; there’s glee, but that’s different).

Jon Kessler, The Blue Period, installation detail with cardboard figure wearing facepaint

Many of the cardboard figures sport blue stripes or masks on their cheeks–perhaps a way to foil face recognition software (see artblog’s post on anti-face-recognition tactics by Corey Armpriester). The paranoia and discomfort of the milieu seem all the more appropriate amid this week’s revelation that Google has been violating privacy agreements it had with Firefox — to say nothing of Google’s infiltration of Safari.

Upstairs, the gallery showed a few discrete kinetic pieces also by Kessler. But the real energy of Kessler’s art is in the installation.

Tom Sachs, Brute, 2009-10, marble, 32 x 25 inches

Like we said, Hrag Vartanian steered us to the new Chelsea-implant to the Lower East Side, Sperone Westwater.  The gallery moved itself lock, stock, and barrel to a beautifully appointed five-story gallery space on The Bowery, with elevator or stair options.

We saw two nice high-end shows–“Marble Sculpture from 350 B.C. to Last Week” and “Portraits/Self-Portraits from the 16th to the 21st Century” — and the high points were the marble works on the ground floor and balcony. As the title suggests, the work spanned the centuries, from a Roman bust and one from the Baroque era with amazing curled hair and drapery to a Rubbermaid garbage can by Tom Sachs.

Fabio Viale, Infinite, 2011, marble, 25 x 57 inches diameter
Marble show, notable for the range of objects packed side by side into Sperone Westwater’s gallery
Ai Weiwei’s doors of perception, spookier than many of the other things in the show.

Also noteworthy were a series of doors by Ai Weiwei, a gorilla head on a platter, with tour-de-force carvings of surgical gloves, by Bertozzi & Casoni, and a pair of marble interlocked car tires by Fabio Viale.

The two exhibits come down today, Feb. 25.