It must be Mary Heilmann’s year. Her irreverent geometric paintings, seemingly crafted from congealing liquid rainbows, have been seen in a solo retrospective at the New Museum, in the 2008 Whitney Biennial, and in "WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution." In November 2008 her work appeared simultaneously on the covers of Artforum and Art in America magazines. And now, her newest work has come to life in a show at 303 gallery called "Two-Lane Blacktop," Jan. 10-Feb. 21, 2009.
Two small white dashes on the irregularly shaped black canvas that provides the exhibition with its title are all Heilmann needs to create a triple masquerade -– it’s an object, an abstraction, and a representation of a road all at once. A "white line fever" video playing on a flat screen hanging on the wall blends right in with the paintings, while expanding the exhibition’s perspective into the real spaces that inspired the works.
The dull brown rectangles on the left side of Truckstop Trip (Lost Hills – Blackwell’s Corner) (2007) are invaded by juicy drips of succulent acid color rent in turn by a pale blue area that opens the painting to the sky. And in Spill (2007), a dripping black cloud hangs over a black-and-white grid that recedes into space like a cartoon version of a dissolving Surrealist chessboard.
Some brightly colored armchairs, constructed from sheet plywood and bright nylon webbing, and mounted on casters, are grouped in the center of the gallery, adding to the exhibition’s hedonistic aura. Prices range from $75,000 to $150,000, with a pair of larger, earlier works priced in excess of $250,000.
Derek Jarman at Elizabeth Dee
A similar joy in juxtaposing black and white with saturated color can be found in the films of the late gay activist Derek Jarman, who died of AIDS in 1994. Although he is best known for feature-length movies, Jarman began his career as an artist and set designer. An exhibition of his early experimental Super 8 films (now transferred to DVD) is on view at Elizabeth Dee Gallery, Jan. 17-Feb. 21, 2009.
In Sebastian Wrap (1975), one of three shorter pieces projected on the central gallery’s three walls, a glittering square floats among silhouetted male nudes like an oversized jewel. At the film’s end, young men are seen holding sheets of golden paper, revealing the simple method behind Jarman’s artifice.
Sloane Square (1976) memorializes Jarman’s studio with objects including a cement garden frog sporting dangling rhinestone earrings, human hands painted blue, cigarette boxes, underwear, and a bowl of goldfish. Images of Jarman’s friends flash on and off, an effect reminiscent of early long-exposure daguerreotypes, when motionless environments were recorded in trompe-l’oeil detail and anything that moved was a blur.
In the Shadow of the Sun (1974), the aptly titled longer film on view in Dee’s back room, is grainier and more abstract. Playing with positive and negative space, cropping and enlarging images overlaid upon each other, Jarman immerses the viewer in the tactile materiality of film -- "the wedding of light and matter -- and alchemical conjunction," according to the artist.
Blue, Jarman’s final film, made when AIDS had nearly blinded him, both returns to and culminates his early experiments with luminosity. A single field of color remains onscreen for over one hour, accompanied by a cacophony of music, sounds and Jarman’s recorded voice describing his struggles with illness and approaching death. The films in the Dee exhibition were lent by James Mackay.
Matta at PaceWildenstein
Works by Roberto Sebastian Antonio Matta Echaurren (usually known as Matta), the Chilean artist who was one of the fathers of Abstract Expressionism, can be seen uptown at PaceWildenstein, Jan. 30-Feb. 28, 2009. Like many European artists fleeing Hitler, Matta moved to New York in 1939, where he became a mentor to Pollock and Motherwell.
Matta, who died in 2002 at the age of 91 (and who was the father of the late sculptor and "anarchitect" Gordon Matta-Clark), was originally trained as an architect in Chile, and worked for Le Corbusier before becoming a painter. Throughout his life, his work continued to feature an architect’s representation of three-dimensional planar spaces.
Sometimes biomorphic, sometimes mechanical, Matta’s nightmarish science fiction universe unfolds in eerie darkness, illuminated by a toxic fluorescent light. Robot characters resembling walking airplanes seem to perform operations on each other in desolate outer space hospitals.
The show begins with Le cerveleur (1949), a wonderful portrait of a blue-eyed robot with rusty propellers hanging from his nose. The drips, scumbles and scratches that would later develop into Abstract Expressionism can be seen on the thinly painted background.
Rendered in black, grey, turquoise and white over clouds of pink and yellow, Interrogation humaine (1957) is dominated by a bowl-shaped structure that could be a laboratory surrounded by robots performing experiments. The show’s brightest painting, Les vents de la vie (1984), features bright flying planes and small clusters of primary colored brushstrokes dancing against a pale yellow and turquoise background, foreshadowing contemporary works by Matthew Ritchie and Julie Mehretu.
By the end of the ‘80s, Matta’s imagery had softened. In Nil et une nuit (1987), the latest work on display, a deep blue sky is covered with splattered star-like strokes of white paint and loosely sketched mythological bird-headed figures resembling ancient Egyptian deities. A rabbit-eared nude even brings Chagall to mind, yet the work also seems influenced by ‘80s Neo-Expressionism.
Justin Samson at John Connelly Presents
Art and science meet again at "Inside the Cosmic Motion Picture," a dimly lit exhibition by Justin Samson at John Connelly Presents, Jan. 16-Feb. 21, 2009. Samson’s goofy, hand-crafted sculptures and paintings are inspired by (to quote from the press release) "Quantum theory and the recent global interest in the Large Hadron Collider built by CERN on the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva."
Constructed from mundane materials, including old circuit boards, light fixtures, particle-board and LED lights, and often covered with copper paint, Samson’s sculptures are funky representations of this costly and sophisticated scientific machinery. In O Point Matter Generator (2009), for example, two towers of blue food containers rest on a piece of chipboard, one topped with a circular circuit board and the other with a toy ball decorated with a pattern of nebulous outer space gas.
Horizontal O Point Generator (2009) is put together from copper-painted wire storage units surrounding a pseudo Victorian light fixture laid on its side. Flanked by two more circuit boards, it contains LED lights that flash in different colors, alluding to mysterious transformations that may be occurring inside the machine.
Paintings influenced by artists from Josef Albers to Ad Reinhardt and Donald Judd can also be seen, with more electric lights that stand in for heavenly illumination. Samson’s charming and melancholy exhibition underlines the distance between our everyday understanding of scientific concepts and the universe’s complex reality. Prices range from $2,500 to $15,000.
Peter Caine at Derek Eller
Down the block at Derek Eller Gallery, a winter-themed installation by self-taught artist Peter Caine has plenty of machine parts that actually move (on view Jan. 16-Feb. 21, 2009). The mise-en-scene in (another) dimly lit gallery is a somewhat yellowed Styrofoam igloo.
On the left, a fearsome tree-stump man wears a snowcap of fluffy cotton batting. A fiery red light burns within his hollow interior, his smooth white tongue moves in and out of his mouth, and his garbage bag ears are wagging. On the right, a life-size beaked gorilla brandishes a skull and crossbones flag.
Inside, shelves hold a pair of boxing robots and a hybrid creature constructed from an animal skull, shells and rocks who slowly flaps his dwarfish feathered wings. A chimpanzee couple stands hand in hand below, shaking their heads and periodically chattering.
A nude female robot in silver boots lying on a table nearby has an open door on her belly that exposes her machinery. Her face rises and falls as an alien in a lime green suit bows his head and prays behind her, next to a snowman in a bear suit. The price of this macabre alpine extravaganza can be learned upon request.
Michael Mahalchick at Canada
"For What It’s Worth" is sculptor Michael Mahalchick’s third solo show at Canada. This time, by embellishing ugly found canvasses with discarded objects he finds on the street, he manages to paint without touching any brushes. "I'm trying to fix them by making them worse," Mahalchick says. "I'm interested in the idea of bad taste -- tasteless paintings with a lot of flavor."
Mahalchick’s ideal of pungent dreck involves plenty of raucous visual play that is only deciphered by careful study of his chosen garbage. Opalescence (2008), for example, an almost minimal "rumination on the notion of whiteness," is a dingy white canvas embellished with dirty white beads and a yellowing package for tooth whitening gel.
Passion is the subject of One Way Out (2008), an unfinished portrait of an Asian couple festooned with a net made of buckskin scraps attached together with colored beads. Since love is blind and inarticulate, Mahalchick has sliced out one of the man’s eyes and stuffed a hole in his mouth with a jumble of multi-colored thread. A protruding artificial flower is doused with Calvin Klein’s Obsession for Men, adding an odorous element for the viewer’s delectation.
The show also features quite a few assemblage sculptures, including You Don’t Know (2008), a fragile contraption that takes the premise of the phallic pedestal to ludicrous heights. The shaft is a long rectangular paper lamp and the head is a square of grey foam, topped with a hilarious google-eyed banana thong.
A tube of household glue dangles like another thong from a length of string below, and a worn-out copy of Warhol’s famous album cover for the Rolling Stones (an actual zipper attached to a photograph of the crotch of a pair of jeans) is taped on another side.
The bloody wages of phallic sins can be seen on a lurid pro-life pamphlet taped to the pedestal’s back, showing photos of matter (including a pair of tiny baby feet) extracted by suction abortions. The adventurous collector can acquire these witty, sometimes disturbing works at prices from $3,000 to $8,000.
ELISABETH KLEY is an artist who writes on art.