It’s showtime in Williamsburg.
At Chris Martin’s opening at Sideshow on a hot, drizzly evening that felt more like July than September, painter David Kapp quipped that Martin was just the standard-bearer needed for the whole tantric/psychedelic/New York School/minimalist thing. Martin does indeed approach his endeavor with the energy and urgency of a one-man movement.
Following the artist’s solid but tidy outing at Uta Scharf last spring, he makes a bigger splash here with three enormous oils in which diagrammatic intensity vies with a love of funky, self-evident materials. This is nowhere more apparent than in the untitled, chiefly black-and-white painting that has the gallery’s front room all to itself. It is ten by twenty-four feet, and every square inch vibrates with the energy of unfaked commitment.
The back room houses nearly 200 works, including two less-huge paintings, and medium- and small-scale works by Martin and other artists, including Al Jensen, Max Gimblett, Joyce Pensato, Loren Munk and many others from his personal collection of 20 years, as well as newspaper clippings, postcards, typescript pages, et cetera. The implication, of course, is that these artifacts of his extended artist-family have shaped his worldview, his approach to art and the very paintings in the room. It is a generous gesture, consistent with this brazenly unconventional gallery’s support of the idea that artists should set the agenda. The big paintings are $45,000 and $25,000; the smaller works range from $3,000 to $12,000.
Artist Patty Martori has shown at Pat Hearn, D’Amelio Terras and other galleries and now reinvents herself as an "artists’ thinktank" called Holiday, located in a former carriage house on Powers Street. The venue’s name has a vague relationship to its schedule -- open half the year, from May through November, it closes after Thanksgiving to become Martori’s studio through the winter months. Her focus is on collaborating with, rather than representing, "underexposed" artists; last month’s Leslie Roberts show got some serious ink, and the current offering, a video installation by Erik Moskowitz, is another success.
The literary source for the ten-minute-long video, titled A Bit of Dirt and projected on a large screen, is a 1927 novel called Insatiability: A Novel in Two Parts by Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz, but the artist’s association with the Wooster Group is evident in the ensemble acting and the dynamic use of the entire space. A group of malcontents (including a smoldering Amanda Trager, the Brooklyn-based artist, as the Princess Irina) perches tensely on a sofa in a grand house, morosely discussing aspects of personal moral responsibility, and the significance of individual action -- all of it lip-synched to a sing-song soundtrack in the artist’s voice.
The mansion’s interior is represented within the gallery’s space by means of props and photo backdrops. On a tiny monitor in one corner, brief clips of news broadcasts show talking heads debating the ethics of torture, presumably on a geopolitical scale, contrasting with the hothouse atmosphere on the bigger screen. It’s dark, comic and engaging -- and comfy seating is provided.
Neighborhood fixture Phong Bui, publisher of the always-interesting and truly alternative Brooklyn Rail newspaper, enjoys his second consecutive solo show at Sarah Bowen Gallery on North Sixth Street. Strangely enough, in the process of demolishing his first installation, on view during July, he devised a better one. In his room-sized installation, titled Hybrid Carnival for St. Exupery #3, the space-dissolving interplay of beveled, built-out walls and perspectival illusion of three dimensions is central; the slightly dizzying result is even stronger in the gallery’s smaller, isolated back room.
Relating strongly to the mottled washes and muscular, faceted planes of the installation are a number of "Studies," 12 by 22 inches, in watercolor and gouache with collage. The artists tells me he does one every day. Dated 2005, they are $2,700 each.
Daniel Aycock, publisher of the indispensable wagmag listing of neighborhood shows and guiding force behind the Front Room on Roebling Street, periodically repaints his entrance to make it easier to find among the building’s eye-catching murals and proliferating tags. It is now fire-engine red, and the recently redesigned space is among the most comfortable local venues.
The current show is "The Instant Retrospective," by Italian-born New Yorker Sante Scardillo. The artist has worked, over the years, with Momenta, the late Annie Herron, and Larry Walczak of eyewash, and was published in the premiere issue of Permanent Food, a magazine that emanates from the fecund brain of Maurizio Cattelan. Textual interventions on magazine and newspaper ads, some of the works here are witheringly funny, some elliptical; all of the great many works on view critique the media, consumerism and U.S. foreign policy. A favorite is an ad for expensive toddler’s footwear, textless except for the Chanel logo, to which the artist has added the tagline, "Start Them Young." Most of the work is under $1,000; the show can be seen through Oct. 8, 2005.
Adam Simon, a cofounder of Williamsburg’s now-closed 4 Walls, shows six paintings and a video in "Basic" at artMoving through Oct. 9, 2005. The paintings are materially inventive, employing a technique that involves acetate stencils and house paint rollers, eliminating most evidence of the artist’s hand. But Simon is quick to point out that his concern is with broader social patterns, which is clear from the imagery of the paintings -- one involves eating; two, work; three, sex.
A well-edited, ten-minute video features subjects (including gallery co-director Aron Namenwirth) discussing these topics and more, mercifully silent and subtitled so as not to overwhelm the space. After dark, the video, playing in a window-mounted monitor and complete with voices, casts an eerie glow over North 12th Street. The paintings are $2,000 and $5,500; the video, in an unlimited edition on DVD, is $50.
As the public face of Jack the Pelican Presents, director Don Carroll possesses an impresario’s sense of showmanship and a gleeful enthusiasm for obnoxious contraptions. A few months ago, he filled his Driggs Street venue with a shrill, bratty installation of animated, transgressive, life-size automatons by Brooklyn artist Peter Cain. The much more successful "Braggin’ Rites," on view through Oct. 9, 2005, is a project by the artist team Jesse Bercowitz and Matt Bua, whose work was seen in the Brooklyn Museum’s "Open House" show in the spring of 2004. It puts the gallery’s infundibuliform space to good use -- by thrusting "the Biggest Bowie Knife in the World" down its length.
The knife doesn’t actually look much like a knife. Its handle is a Cushman, one of those three-wheeled vehicles used by traffic cops. One side of the blade is a patched-together fuselage of silverish materials, which emits a series of curious rackets along its length -- a sort of abstract sonic narrative. Turning the corner at the point, the viewer is forced into uncomfortable proximity with an astounding collection of unrecognizable, dimly lit moving parts. (It is as if the artists were daring the hard-working freelance critic/photojournalist to get a usable shot.)
Woodsmen understand the importance of keeping their knives clean. This one has developed a nasty patina of animal pelts, discarded electronic devices, segments of a fiberglass canoe, retrofitted aquaria, moribund blenders and two monitors playing bizarre, Bowie-knife-related videos, loosely laced with the power cords that keep it humming. It is a truly multidisciplinary installation, encompassing sculpture, painting, sound, video, found objects, flashing lights, kitchen arts and text -- about the only form the piece does not embrace is clog dancing. It’s $55,000.
Speaking of contraptions, Mark Esper and Ryan Wolfe show their latest at Dam, Stuhltrager on Marcy Avenue. Brooklynite Esper has shown frequently here and elsewhere in the borough; an interest in mechanisms and hardware has threatened to eclipse the poetry in his work. Not so in the present show, "Second Orrery," a meditation on the spiral in the form of a model tornado. This time out, Esper’s apparatus produces a swirling column of steam, and is embellished by a tiny, circling locomotive, a model of the double helix, and colored lights on a looping timer which alternately emphasize the tiny storm and its shadow.
Californian Ryan Wolfe bills himself as a "device artist," and his "Sketch of a Field of Grass" comprises dozens of wall-mounted, computer-activated blades of fake grass flickering as if in a breeze. The criteria triggering the blades’ independent, irregular movement are not immediately apparent, but the calming effect lulls the viewer into not caring to figure it out. The gallery continues its expansion and plans an outdoor space in the near future.
Four solid group shows round out the list. Tastes Like Chicken Art Space, despite its name and remote location on Morgan Avenue in industrial East Williamsburg, is worth seeking out for "Me, Myself and My Emotions," a collection of allegorical self-portraits curated by Greenpoint artists Linda Dennis and Rachel Phillips. Dennis contributes the oil-on-canvas "Woman with her Dog," a portrait of a bug-eyed girl coddling her scrappy little puppy, and Judith Page is represented by three small, hanging, pink-paint-dipped talismans made of doll parts and bones. They have a creepy, understated presence; once you notice them, they dominate the room.
"Double Dutch," a six-minute video by Kate Gilmore is riveting, excruciating. A single take, it is a tight, elevated shot of the artist’s shapely gams, in magenta heels, gradually, masochistically demolishing the platform on which she inexpertly jumps a rope, frequently falling on her ass. Notwithstanding the inner-directed thesis of the show, in the context of current American foreign policy, the video lends itself to a reading as a study in the folly of misguided tenacity. The show continues through Oct. 9, 2005.
Four videos crowd "Superfat," at Brooklyn Fireproof through Oct. 9, 2005. Curated by Joshua Altman, now at Stux, the show brings marquee names to this ambitious space on Richardson Street. Martha Rosler, Nayland Blake and Patty Chang weigh in with work suggesting a troubled relationship with food; in the gallery’s performance space, the Amsterdam-based L.A. Raeven (who are anorexic identical twins) contribute the hour-long 5200 ml, in which a young, super-thin woman sprawls uneasily on a rumpled mattress in a stark, white room, occasionally bestirring herself to scrawl a few lines in a notebook, sip from a cup, or weigh herself. In a weak, halting voice-over she reads from these notes. ("One hundred grams appeared from thin air. It’s a mystery.")
No, I didn’t watch the whole thing -- maybe there’s a happy ending! Comic relief is provided by Convertible Fat Car (2005), a tiny, pudgy automobile by the ever-amusing Erwin Wurm.
At NURTUREart on Keap Street, budding curator Julie Fishkin ponders the dynamics of attraction and repulsion in "Dear Bubble Tea," on view through Oct. 30, 2005. Fishkin tells me that bubble tea is a super-sweet, foamy beverage, long known in Chinatown and "getting trendy." (Shades of soup dumplings!)
Highlights of the show include "Bling Bling" by Julie Peppito, an amalgamation of found objects, detritus, fabric and paint, bound with bungee cords and hung from the ceiling by a shiny chrome chain, and digital C-prints by Matt Lucas from his "Permanent Foliage" series, photos of fake flowers and leaves. The work is about looking and each piece rewards close examination. Fishkin in still in school, pursuing an MA at Columbia; be sure to read her statement, which is hilarious. NURTUREart’s mission is focused on the emerging curator, and the work -- all of it new -- is priced for the emerging collector.
The centerpiece of "Enemy Image," curated by the Russian-born Whitney curatorial program alum Elena Sorokina and on view at Momenta through Oct. 17, 2005, is "Cards (Enemy)" by South Africa-born, Richmond, Va.-based Siemon Allen. The artist, whose work was seen in the Whitney’s own "American Effect," has lined the gallery’s back room, floor to ceiling, with selections from his collection of war cards. It’s an all-American genre of collectible like baseball cards, having its own subculture of conventions, dealers and prized rarities. Who knew?
The cards show men in battle, war room conferences and big fighting machines. As director Eric Heist points out, the tenor of the cards from World War II is gung-ho, easing into self-criticality during Viet Nam and becoming hard-line again in the post-9/11 era. The show also includes memorable paintings by Brooklynite Larry Deyab, from his "Falluja" series, dated 2004. Compact canvases in black and white spray enamel, they evoke, in their one-shot sketchiness, the grisliness of wartime photojournalism. Allen’s installation is $35,000; Deyab’s canvases are $1,000 and $2,000.
Sleeper of the month is Dan Bleier at Holland Tunnel. A veteran of the East Village vortex of the early 80s, his bouyant, slick, resin-on-wood wall pieces rock this small space on South Third Street.
Also worthy of note: one of the most gracious fellows around, Ed Winkleman of Plus Ultra offers, on his excellent blog [http://edwardwinkleman.blogspot.com], some hard-won advice to artists on how to make a studio visit enjoyable and productive for both parties. It’s in his archives, dated Aug. 5, 2005. . . . Greenpointer Barry Stone posts a new photo every week on his home page [www.barrystone.com], and this week’s, taken in McCarren Park last spring, is a beauty.
"War Paint," new sculpture and works on paper by Kim Jones, on view at Pierogi through Oct. 10, 2005. . . . "Houses, Rocks and Constellations," new, small dioramas by Donna Dennis at Five Myles in Prospect Heights. . . . "Manufactured Landscapes: The Photographs of Edward Burtynsky," at the Brooklyn Museum, opening Oct. 7, 2005. . . . DUMBO nonprofit Smack Mellon inaugurates its new exhibition space at 92 Plymouth Street with "Multiplex 2," opening Oct. 14, 2005.
For a relaxing yet reasonably brisk brunch, we like the wonderful garden at DuMont, on Union Avenue south of Metropolitan.
STEPHEN MAINE is an artist and writer who lives in Brooklyn.