It was a wise move for Banks Violette to have his double solo show at Team and Gladstone Gallery now, in the summer, June 28-Aug. 17, 2007. His hard-edged, hard-assed, paint-it-black work acts more immediately upon a viewer in flip-flops and jean shorts than on a person done up in dapper armor of winter layers. With Violette’s sharp points and heavy, suspended objects, one is careful where one steps, and the work’s aura is felt directly on the skin.
Now, if Violette had been able to realize all of his outsized ambitions for the exhibitions -- which included iced air at Gladstone and eternal flames at Team -- the latter point would be infinitely truer. As it is, the haptic effects have mostly been left to our imaginations. (Gladstone insists that the dry ice is flowing at all times, but witnesses to this are scarce, and at Team, the propane flame plans have been abandoned altogether.)
Chances are you’ve already heard about Violette’s delayed opening and his absence from the dinner in his honor, courtesy of the Artforum magazine gossip column. These difficulties are more charming than scandalous, especially in an art machine as well-oiled as ours, giving Violette’s grand and ominous constructions a touch of common vulnerability.
Violette’s sensibility seems awesomely strange, like some new particle in quantum physics. In fact, it’s simple -- he takes a Minimalist vocabulary of hard-edge geometric forms, translates them with shiny black lacquer, adds white neon tubes (plus mirror, galvanized steel and snaking electrical cables) and then splays it all throughout the gallery space with an inimitable theatrical verve. These are Robert Smithson’s "non-sites" gone 1980s postmodernist, updated with the fire and ice of rock stage shows, the gear of which -- macho carrying cases, woofers and tweeters, chromed tripods -- are part of the sculptural milieu.
Tying it all together is the physical vibration -- literally -- of the music of Stephen O’Malley, Violette’s frequent collaborator. At Gladstone especially, the sound is as good as I’ve seen in an art gallery, period. The space is suffused with chanting and low tones emitting from multiple amplifiers, as powerful as a foghorn. The depth of this sound illuminates the space more richly by miles than the hollow white neon light. Its presence feels like a delightful slippage in the hegemony of vision.
Violette has undertones of the bad boy but he’s Apollo compared to the Dionysian scene cooked up by the artists Dan Colen and Dash Snow, whose installation "Nest" is currently on view at Deitch Projects, June 28-Aug. 18, 2007. If Violette is a monk in the temple of art, these two are monkeys.
"Nest" represents the refuse of several nights of raucous, wild partying, in which the two artists "shred enormous amounts of whatever paper material they can get their hands on" and ransack the interior of the space, an act of hooliganism that the artists have apparently been perpetrating for years "in hotel rooms all over the world," with little thought of what is referred to as "exasperated hotel staff." (Last fall, the two had to flee in the middle of the night from a fancy London hotel room Charles Saatchi had rented them, before their antics were discovered.) How nice.
In fact, the "hamster nest" in the gallery is a mere simulacrum of refuse. Originally it was manufactured with the help of 30 students from Pratt Institute, who turned 2,000 phone books into confetti, which was then partied hard on by "Dan & Dash’s" crew. When I visited the show, a team of stocky laborers was busily replacing the actual stuff with clean paper, neatly shredded by a documents disposal company. The remains, therefore, are not exactly representative of these dark princes of chaos -- or is this simulacrum more representative of them and their lives than they intended?
The graffiti on the walls is indeed original -- if you limit the meaning of the term to "from the first event," and don’t expect it to mean "capable of or given to thinking or acting in an independent, creative, or individual manner." With all the pictures of genitalia and the word "fuck" repeatedly spray-painted across the walls, a spectacle that’s meant to represent unchecked freedom becomes a representation of tedium and lack of originality. Dan & Dash have reached what seems to be an apex of stupidity and nihilism. Congratulations.
Hylden’s gritty sprayed blacks and his construction-site oranges look street (almost like early Richard Serra, in a curious way), his stripe overlays look like rebar in buildings under construction or warning patterns on the road. As for Aldrich, whose paintings combine stern geometric marks with more casually inflected ones, he looks like an easygoing impresario, one who decodes the culture around him brilliantly but casually, like a gifted musician.
Other great painters are on view in the neighborhood, including the Welsh-born figurative painter Merlin James (b. 1960) at Sikkema Jenkins (in an unnamed group exhibition, July 6-Aug. 17, 2007) and the late Texas recluse abstractionist Forrest Bess (1911-77) at David Zwirner (in "A Point in Space is a Place for an Argument," June 28-Aug. 10, 2007).
James and Bess are both represented by a suite of small, heavily worked, semi-representational canvases. James, who is represented in the current Venice Biennale, takes 18th- and 19th-century representational motifs and then inflects them with a playful self-consciousness in a rendering that is now familiarly postmodernist. His color and his exotic arabesques seem curiously indebted to Kandinsky. As for Bess, whose works date from the 1950s, he has something of the spiritual vision of Arthur Dove, and his imagined landscapes give real visual pleasure.
Also worth noting is the California sculptor Vincent Fecteau (b. 1969), who seems to have something everywhere. I counted his work at three galleries at least: Zwirner, Leo Koenig and Casey Kaplan -- and why not? His success in producing new interesting forms on a modest scale and from materials found in any elementary school -- papier-mâché, balsa wood, foam core -- make him a prophet to a vast, younger generation of no-nonsense, materially motivated formalists.
Another Chelsea highlight was the film installation by Australian-born, London-based David Noonan at Lehmann Maupin. Titled Field, Owl, Tudor, Wayang (2004-05), the work presents four separate 8mm films, transferred to DVD and projected large. Each is a brief, looped depiction of its title, so, for example, in Tudor we have a series of views of a Tudor style mansion, in Wayang, an Indonesian puppet show. Field offers an image of a beautiful, unadorned young Asian woman in a hippy dress traversing a field at a measured pace, walking into the sunlight.
In Friedrich Petzel Gallery’s recent group exhibition, "The Lath Picture Show," June 29-Aug. 11, 2007, Cologne-based Georg Herold stood out with his Suddenly I Find Myself Surrounded by Total Arseholes (2004). Herold has nailed cheap wooden lattes into a meandering loop; each latte is inscribed in black marker with a very German-sounding name, "Ludwig," "Christian," "Helmut," "Dietmar" -- they could be generically German, but more likely they belong to friends of the artist’s. A student of Sigmar Polke’s, Herold knows how to imbue an artwork with cuteness while still keeping it personal.
Tanya Bonakdar Gallery offers a suite of recent video works by Swiss artist Roman Signer as part of the Sabine Russ/Gregory Volk-curated "Agitation and Repose," June 26-Aug. 17, 2007. The oldest, from 1996, is an audience favorite; titled "Bed," it strikes a pitch perfect chord of simple absurdity in the vein of Signer’s countrymen Fischli & Weiss: a human form, lying motionless in a green bed with matching nightstand in a large room, is incessantly surveilled by a remote control helicopter.
Finally, both Matthew Marks and Andrea Rosen galleries went into the summer with shows of vintage post-war abstraction that has, arguably, been overlooked in the U.S., since "New York stole the idea of Modern Art" (to borrow a phrase from Serge Guilbaut). At Rosen is "Kinetic Abstraction, 1950s-60s," a selection of works by eight artists, some familiar (Heinz Mack, Jesús Rafaël Soto, Jean Tinguely) and others not-so-familiar (Hartmut Böhm, Gianni Colombo, Gerhard von Graevenitz, Julio Le Parc). All combine both Op and Minimalist esthetics with engineering and the machine.
Still, the most inspiring work here comes from a painter -- Frenchman François Morellet’s Wave Motion Thread (1965), a string suspended floor to ceiling, vibrated at the top end to send a wave pattern through the whole. It has the power of the science museum display, stripped of didacticism.
At Marks, dealer Mitchell Algus has corralled a selection of 15 minor European artists who have a claim to belonging to either the Pop and Minimalist movements. Despite the oddness of most of the works -- or perhaps because of it -- the show found favor among painters and critics with roots in 1970s abstraction. The large-scale multi-image Photo Realist paintings of Jacques Monory, for instance -- one combines four images of tigers in the circus with the face of a pretty girl, all done in blue monochrome -- can be seen as precursors of the 1980s paintings of David Salle.
The show includes some black-and-white photographs by Alain Robbe-Grillet, who wrote the novel -- shot through with a typically "avant-garde" French sadism towards women -- that gives the show its name, "Project for a Revolution in New York." Among others, Bridgit L. Goodbody at the New York Times has pointed out how these dated ideas about women infect much of the work here.
Good point. But on this topic, it’s interesting to juxtapose this work with the artists in the Rosen show. What are the Kinetic Abstractionists but a boy’s club of tinkerers, as introverted as a high-school robotics club? Just because an artwork doesn’t appear to have sex in it doesn’t mean it’s gender neutral.
ABRAHAM ORDEN is a New York art critic.