There’s nothing more exciting in the art world for me than heading to NYC for the weekend to visit my creative friends and see in person big name and emerging artists.
Chelsea always makes it on my annual list of ‘must see’ places with blocks of art galleries showing the latest and greatest. This year we walked there via the High Line, an elevated pedestrian walk and recent addition to Manhattan’s glamour and sightseeing. Walking literally through buildings and along billboards I admired the landscape design and the built-in contemporary wooden lounge chairs – making a mental note that this is one reason to come to the city in the nicer months.
Galleries in Chelsea are either hit or miss. They host names that are making a debut or controversial and questionable artists that haven’t quite broke into the museum world…yet. A few exhibits that sent the cognitive gears whirring started with the Mike Weiss Gallery showing the work of Will Kurtz, titled nothing but the respectable Extra Fucking Ordinary. At first glance my friends shied away from the peculiar sculptures seen through the display windows – but that is exactly why I wanted to go in. I don’t go to these galleries to see tame, pleasing work – I want my right & left brains to be stimulated, repulsed, interrogated and energized. And yes this show was quite repulsive. Consider the first two life-size sculptures of dogs in their worst states, taking a shit and discreetly becoming erect. The natural habits of animals that we in all instances try to avoid this artist has immortalized. Yet somehow we see this as art because he is capturing the essence of a moment – of the ordinary. Through torn newspaper collage, wood, wire, screw and tape Kurtz captures disturbing poses and scenes from everyday life that we try to avoid or go unnoticed; a crude half-naked woman pulling on her nylons with a cigarette dangling from her mouth while a dog sniffs her ass; a sad sleeping ragged old man; unruly, overweight friends posing together as if at a tourist attraction. Upon closer observation you notice the colorful newspaper images that have been randomly slapped together – may not be random at all. Pop-culture references, political images, and text placed just so remind us that even in those ordinary, unglamorous moments the media and our society impress us with these unattainable notions of beauty, sex, money and intellect. Maybe Kurtz is asking ‘what’s so bad with being extra fucking ordinary anyway?’
Slushing through the snow to our next visual experience we had to check in at the Gagosian Gallery for big name artist Damien Hirst’s, The Complete Spot Paintings 1986 – 2011. Imagine being in a room as large or even BIGGER than a two-story house surrounded by spots. Perfectly round spots two times the size of you in vibrant hues and subtle tones, lurching off the stretched white canvas onto the wall. How does he find brushes so big and so precise to create the perfect circle? I felt like I was back in art school learning the meaning of the color wheel for the first time. Primary, secondary – wait what’s in between that…tertiary?! Where does Hirst mean to take us with these colors? Is there a formula, a mathematical equation? Leaving the large-scale paintings before I became trapped in the solution, led me to another room filled with a maze of smaller spots. The illusions tripled with hundreds of round circles in varying degrees of colors illuminating from a central point. Taking a step to close to observe the technique I thought I saw pencil lines… but the guard made me move back before I could be sure. I thought of a baker’s frosting tool for cakes, squirting out perfect dollops of color to be sweetly savored on a special occasion. My friends implored ‘can we get out of here?!’ before the spots swallowed us in a mixture of hues, tones and delusion.
Hidden behind frosted doors at the Mary Boone gallery the next exhibit of artist and political activist Ai Weiwei was subtle yet powerful. Millions
of ceramic hand painted sunflower seeds formed a large rectangle encompassing the gallery. Aesthetically I was only impressed upon close looking, admiring the realistic quality of the seeds and the delicately balanced layering to create the unified shape. Conceptually Weiwei takes us deeper into the political past of China, putting his own freedom at risk. Taken from the press release, “The sunflower, with its destiny to follow the sun, became a common metaphor for The People during China’s Cultural Revolution. At the same time, the seeds of the flower provided sustenance at all levels of society, and the ubiquitous discarded husks provided evidence of an individual’s existence. Ai Weiwei demonstrates that a staggering quantity of individual seeds may produce a deceptively unified field.” See a video of the artist and project at http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=PueYywpkJW8#!
The final performance, It’s a Draw by modern dancer and choreographer Trisha Brown left us appreciative of the intersection of the visual and kinesthetic. At first glance you wonder if these large-scale charcoal drawings can even be called drawings. They look like rudimentary marks in varying intensities with the occasional diffused footprint among the lines and smears. Could it be that the human figure was being denoted within the lines – or the mark making was a pure playful and heartfelt expression of the artist? We discovered it was both. Brown and her colleagues transformed their physical, kinetic movements into drawings by holding charcoal in their toes and hands while dancing. The pieces came together in a new light – the intensely dark, short marks turned into a staccato tempo, the circular smudges a foot twirling en pointe, and the soft lines a delicate dancers toes. The intersection of tangible and intangible was observed on these walls and provided me with a satisfaction of the interdisciplinary language of the arts.
Till next time NYC! Artists please continue to inspire, provoke and provide something worth coming back for (I’m sure you will).