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NYC Gallery Shows

THE NEW YORK LIST, 2/10/2012

by Emily Nathan

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Willie Doherty, Last Bastion, 1992, Alexander and Bonin, New York
Alexander and Bonin
132 Tenth Ave.
Jan. 28-Mar. 10, 2012
Willie Doherty (b. 1959) has been taking evocative photos of the battle-scarred terrain of Northern Ireland since the 1980s. Large 4 x 6 ft. black-and-white photographs of un-peopled suburbs, railroad tracks and alleyways, captioned with one or two words of text -- “undercover” or “unseen” -- poise on the threshold of meaning. A critique of nationality, borders, identity, violence? Where does the artist stand -- or should that be, where do you stand?

Some examples: a bramble-obscured view through a chain link-fence of a verdant field beyond reads “Invading.” “Last Bastion” -- of what? -- overlays an image of a stone barricade that divides us from some houses nearby. “Shifting Ground” describes a deserted path that leads between two fenced-in territories, one old and decrepit, the other new and modern.

Some photographs are exhibited in pairs, and their juxtaposition reinforces the ironic disjunction between what we see and what the words suggest. Doherty is currently preparing his contribution for dOCUMENTA (13); prices range from $26,000 for individual works to $40,000 for diptychs.

“Tony Cragg,” installation view, 2012, Marian Goodman Gallery, New York

“Tony Cragg,” installation view at The Sculpture Garden, 590 Madison Ave., New York, 2012; image courtesy Marian Goodman Gallery, New York
Marian Goodman Gallery
24 W. 57th Street
Feb. 1-Mar. 10, 2012
Contemporary British sculptor Tony Cragg (b. 1949), who lives in Wuppertal, Germany, is the art-world’s don of Computer-Aided Design (CAD), and he makes artworks that look like laboratory specimens, or marble busts, or dinosaur bones. His current show at Marian Goodman, which includes a group of large-scale sculptures on view in the atrium of 590 Madison Avenue nearby, comprises new works in bronze, cor-ten steel, wood, cast iron and stone, all of which purport to investigate “visual morphology.” 

Indeed, the gallery is alive with objects that seem to exist in a state of motion that simply cannot be sustained, and must, therefore, be on the verge of collapse or transformation. Their planes interlock, seep and ooze, stack or slide. Some look like trails of chimney smoke or car exhaust; others recall a mammoth pile of elephant dung; we see vertebrae, branches of coral, a rendering of DNA.

Cragg’s abstract forms are at turns futuristic and organic, flashy and techno-magnificent, or raw as dirt and un-treated jade. “How to make the surface look alive, like there’s energy inside it?” he recently mused in an interview, and there is something disturbingly visceral about his work, as if he has cast a splash of water or a snake’s shed skin as it falls to the ground.

“Mary Corse: New Work,” installation view, 2012, Lehmann Maupin, New York
Lehmann Maupin
540 W. 26th Street
Feb. 2-Mar. 10, 2012
Mary Corse’s new paintings are literally luminescent. From afar they seem to offer subtly modulated striations of white and cream, but upon close inspection they reveal themselves to be monochromes, covered in thousands of glass microspheres -- tiny iridescent beads traditionally manufactured for industrial use, as in the painted lines on highways.

As with any good Light and Space art, environmental conditions come into play: Corse brushes the microspheres on top of white gesso in ordered sections of directional strokes, which catch the light and appear either darker or brighter than the section next to them. As you walk around the painting, they shimmer; they seem to reveal the very grain of the canvas.

Corse, who was born in 1945, is one of the female forces associated with the male-dominated California art scene of the ‘60s and ‘70s (along with Maria Nordman, Helen Pashgian and some others). This is her debut at Lehmann Maupin, which now represents her. Prices range from $225,000-$250,000.

“Jon Kessler: The Blue Period,” installation view, 2012, Salon 94, New York
Salon 94 Bowery
243 Bowery
Feb. 2-Mar. 10, 2012
Jon Kessler (b. 1957) is feeling blue, and he’s taking it out on the gallery. Salon 94’s downtown space looks as though he’s hurled buckets of cobalt paint everywhere, splattering everything from the walls and the floor to the standing cardboard cut-outs of people scattered throughout the room and the framed collages that hang on the walls. Such is the U.S. debut of The Blue Period, an “immersive installation” that Kessler originally showed in Berlin in 2007.

As patrons walk among the cut-outs, weaving through stacked TV monitors and a rotating mobile of smiling paper faces taken from magazine advertisements, surveillance cameras gone haywire whirl manically on their mechanical arms and splice real-time footage of gallery-goers in the blue-soaked room with other images that range from scenes of the Blue Man Group performing and actors in blue-face, to a lone image of the pristine gallery before the blue. All is madness; our own real-time experience of his space is constantly fed into a cyber-loop which collapses the distinction between real and imagined, here and not-here.

Kessler takes Guy Debord’s seminal 1967 text The Society of the Spectacle and turns it into a surveillance burlesque. He plants pornographic images throughout his installation, immediately implicating each patron in the act of voyeurism. In the framed collages, men and women gaze out at us from behind glass, violent explosions of blue liquid dripping into their eyes and filling their open mouths.

The Blue Period is a modern dystopia, similar to that conjured by Ryan Trecartin’s videos -- but while Trecartin allows you to watch from your chair, Kessler forces you on stage. The whole kit ‘n caboodle goes for $250,000 (dimensions variable), or you can buy the collages separately for ca. $5,000 each. Kinetic sculptures on the top floor are priced at $24,000 a piece.

“Zimoun: Volume,” installation view, 2012, Bitforms gallery, New York
529 W. 20th Street, 2nd floor
Feb. 2-Mar. 10, 2012
It’s raining at Bitforms gallery. Or so it seems from the onslaught of sound that evokes heavy drops pelting a roof, an arrhythmic symphony. In fact, the cacophony emanates from Volume, a single work installed in the gallery by the self-taught Swiss artist Zimoun (b. 1977). Stacked cardboard boxes fill the gallery from floor to ceiling, with a door allowing visitors inside, where the source of the sound becomes apparent. 

Each box is fitted with a small, mechanical motor from which hangs a brown ball the size of a quarter on the end of a wire. As the motors turn, the balls rotate with them, smacking against the side of their boxes and bouncing off, over and over again. Each distinct unit literally marches to the beat of its own drum, and while the cumulative aural effect can’t be choreographed, exactly, temporal and rhythmic structures emerge nonetheless -- if you listen long and hard enough.

This is the artist’s first U.S. solo show, but Volume debuted at the Ringling Museum of Art last fall (the evocation of circus antics is appropriate; Zimoun’s work is sensational). Volume goes for $48,000; a series of the artist’s smaller sculptures, exhibited in the gallery upstairs, are priced around $15,000.

Kay Rosen
Africa, Asia
Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York
Sikkema Jenkins & Co.
530 W. 22nd Street
Feb. 3-Mar. 10, 2012
Language is the message and medium of Chicago-based artist Kay Rosen (b. 1949). On view at the gallery are two new series involving her signature block letters, layered on top of one another (deep) instead of sequentially (wide) -- hence the show’s cheeky title.

In these clean, hand-painted compositions in gouache and pencil on watercolor paper, Rosen’s chosen letters become illegible as their contours intersect and mingle. Whether or not she intends a structural deconstruction of the mechanics of language or not, her appealing compositions strip words of meaning and connotation and reduce written language to what it actually is: a system of lines, angles and shapes.

The paintings don’t read as text-based, even though they are. Instead, they recall architectural sketches or blueprints. They have the precision of an engineering document, the color competence of Josef Albers and the whimsy of abstraction. Their angles and edges soar, arc and collate like the planes of Joseph Stella’s Brooklyn Bridge; Rosen frames them against or within blocks of color that evoke the graphic sensibility of advertising. Works on paper go for $16,000 while the wall paintings, which are reproduced site-specifically upon purchase, are $75,000.

Alec Soth
Sean Kelly Gallery, New York
Sean Kelly Gallery
528 W. 29th Street
Feb. 3-Mar. 11, 2012
This exhibition by the preeminent photographer of the modern Midwest is a folkloric ode to our country’s “lonely men,” the “hermits and hippies, monks and survivalists.” Inspired by the life of a Trappist Monk named Thomas Merton, who lived for three decades at a remote Abbey in Kentucky, Soth’s “Broken Manual” comprises a body of photographs mostly taken during 2006-2010 while he roamed the country in search of wild men at war with society. What results are strangely poignant portraits of lives crafted in isolation, subjects whose overgrown, ruddy and hardened appearances are softened by the gentle rhythms of their organic surroundings.

In one image, a man whose arm bears a tattoo of a swastika glares aggressively at the camera, but he stands naked in contrapposto, his hands resting behind his back, ankle-deep in a pond of lilies. Another bearded character with a bandana tied around his head looks into the camera, a tangle of wintry pine branches obscuring his face -- but both he and the tree are out-of-focus, collapsing “figure” and “ground” into one unified plane, as if man had become one with nature. In still another picture, we see the mottled stone wall of a cave that has been fitted with a metal closet rod and a number of hangers.

The show’s eponymous “broken manual” was written as accompaniment by Soth’s alter ego, a character called Lester B. Morrison who has himself chosen to flee society, and who composed the text as a guide for those who wish to do the same. It includes “helpful hints on everything from disguising one’s appearance to creating a pseudonym.” Also on view at the gallery is Somewhere to Disappear, a 2011 documentary tracking Soth through his travels, directed by Laure Flammarion and Arnaud Uyttenhove.

Anne Truitt, 17 Nov ‘62m 1962, Matthew Marks Gallery, New York

Terry Winters, Notebook 100, 2003-2011, Matthew Marks Gallery, New York
Matthew Marks Gallery
522 and 502 W. 22nd Street
523 W. 24th Street
Feb. 4-Apr. 14, 2012
Stellar shows are at all three of Matthew Marks’ spaces. At 24th Street, works in acrylic and pencil on paper made by Anne Truitt (1921-2004), the Washington Color School artist known for candy-colored totemic sculptures in wood, during the last four decades of her life. These are paragons of restraint, executed with her signature reductive and meticulous hand. Some seem like they could have been preparatory sketches or exercises, exploring relationships between planes and angles that might later take three-dimensional form in her sculptures, but each is signed, neatly, and dated, which indicates that she conceived of them as completed works. Indeed, every one of them is polished enough to hold up on its own: elegant and dainty, but powerful and confidant -- they are nowhere near precious. Prices range from $30,000-$60,000.

At the gallery’s two 22nd Street locations are preparatory notebooks and “Tessellation” paintings by New York artist Terry Winters (b. 1949). The Tesselation canvases, executed almost entirely in 2011, are vibrant explosions of color and shape -- they seem informed by nature’s logic, the ordered patterning of a leopard’s spots, the sequence of a pinecone, or the planes of a snowflake under a microscope. If you like them, act quick; on the day of the show’s opening, an interested patron phoned in for a quote and was overheard mentioning that she’d call back with her billing information. “I’d want it framed, of course,” she added.

Next door, something new from Winters -- a series of never-before-seen, framed 8 X 11 in. notebook compositions that offer a surprising glimpse into his creative process. Each comprises a stack of acetate transfers of images gathered from diverse sources -- magazine advertisements, charts and graphs from Harvard University’s math website, or decorative wallpaper -- layered on top of one another in carefully curated bundles and stapled to a piece of paper. They don’t look like anything we’ve seen before, but they hint at his fascination with patterns and systems.

EMILY NATHAN is assistant editor of Artnet Magazine. She can be reached at Send Email