Lucid Culture


Art Review: An Excellent Short Summer Group Show at Black and White Gallery, NYC

Black and White Gallery’s current exhibit is characteristically relevant, cutting-edge and well worth a jaunt over to the western fringes of Chelsea. Michael Van den Besselaar provocatively addresses denial and in so doing takes a casual slap at pop art shallowness. Softly photorealistic portraits of vintage television sets from the 70s – two of Asian manufacture, one European – project images of terrorist activity (a hijacked airliner, a helicopter and a trio of Mercedes 240 series sedans) from their grainy black-and-white screens. Eerier still is a set of six Weegee-esque dead womens’ faces. Bonnie Parker, Marilyn Monroe, Mother Teresa, Evita Peron and Rosa Parks are smaller in death than life; the Anna Nicole Smith portrait pans down on her, puffy and lifeless in the purest sense of the word.

Most striking of all is Van den Besselaar’s Lethal Chamber Series. Whether or not these are actual depictions of the rooms where American executioners paralyze and then inject convicts with caustic de-icing chemicals, they’re impossible to turn away from, the curtained white rooms with their gurneys and straps radiating a brutally sarcastic soft-focus light.

Also on display: all-white, lifesize gas masks by Konstantinos Stamatiou; starkly strange cross-stitch-on-canvas figures by Alicia Ross; hip-hop inspired black-and-white collages by Elia Alba and a characteristically devious trio of pitch black “fur geese” sculptures by the irrepressible Jason Clay Lewis (the guy responsible for a recent series of sculptures made out of D-Con rat poison), which might be characterized as the most disturbing items in the entire exhibit

On opening night, the gallery also featured live black-and-white art. Pesu methodically painted a stylized Asian-tinged portrait of a dragon with what appeared to be smiley faces on its back. Those turned out to be scales. To his right, Fernando Mora created a raw, striking, possibly gunsight-view tableau that started out convex and then as he embellished it became just the opposite. Getting your perspective turned inside out after mass quantities of wine is great mind-melting fun – and serves as a vivid reminder of the arduous physical labor that is so often part and parcel of creating first-class art. More galleries should be doing things like this. The current exhibit runs through August 8. Black and White Gallery is at 636 W 28th St., ground floor, hours are Tuesday – Saturday, 11 AM – 6 PM and by appointment.

July 21, 2009 Posted by | Art, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Art Review: Leona Christie at Redflagg Gallery, NYC

We need more art like Leona Christie’s playful, trippy, surreal, utterly original ink-and-gouache drawings and etchings. 1960s psychedelic graphic art and album art seem to be a big influence, but Christie’s work is far less stylized. Bulbous, disembodied sepia-toned forms float in space (or seemingly in a microscopic, possibly biological environment: the digestive system on acid?), constantly morphing into one thing or another. They draw you in, make you smile, make you laugh and make you wonder what other influences, wink wink, are at play here. Here are some possible titles in lieu of Christie’s actually far more serious designations: Pedicure in Space; Pixies in the Intestine; Amoeba Space Fighter; Mollusk Tongue; The Baseball Plant Is Sprouting.

A tube emits a gentle bubble as the fetus above looks on with a bemused expression. Two women relax in a misty, spa-like environment – or is one of them on the toilet? A lava lamp blows bubbles, a big bath towel flows from a woman’s face, a lightbulb grows from the stem of a mushroom. Are you smiling yet? The prices are shockingly affordable for art of this caliber of technical mastery and out-of-the-box imagination. The exhibit is up through September 12 at Redflagg Gallery, 638 West 28th Street, between 11th & 12th Avenues, ground floor. Summer hours are Thursday & Friday, 10 AM – 6 PM.

July 21, 2009 Posted by | Art, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Art Review: Carolyn Swiszcz at M.Y.Art Prospects, NYC

Essential Americana. Much in the spirit of the Coen Bros. and Fargo, this is both a fond attempt to capture the essence of the Midwest as it is a subtly stinging rebuke. In her latest US show, titled Minnesota Miracle, Carolyn Swiszcz’s intricate technique and craftsmanship make a vivid contrast, sometimes amusingly, sometimes pointedly, with the deceptive simplicity of her subject matter. The tire tracks left behind in the show define this exhibit, and they’re everywhere, meticulously etched into the parking lots and driveways at generically anonymous buildings like the 3M Headquarters in St. Paul. Hope Lutheran Church points ludicrously to the sky, its parking lot empty of traffic but full of evidence that there were believers there earlier. The best of all of these depicts a Fashion Bug store (where the overweight shop) and its characteristically empty lot: the store is hastily and simply rendered, cartoonishly bright, the tracks in the show before it a maze of subtle inflections and painstaking work by Swiszcz. Midwesterners especially will resonate to this, but just about anyone will get it if they allow the images to sink in. Through May 23 at M.Y. Art Prospects, 547 West 27th St., second floor, open Tues.-Sat. 11-6.

April 18, 2009 Posted by | Art, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Art Review: Francesca Lo Russo: Cumbre Vieja at 31Grand Gallery

Drop whatever you’re doing. Now. There’s an art show you need to see. Cruelly, it’s only up through March 15 (the gallery has had it up for weeks, but we are obscenely late on picking up on this). If you’re distraught over the way New York has been turned over to the effete sons and daughters of the ultra-rich, if you’re disquieted by the thought of the apocalypse occurring in our lifetime, get your ass down to 31Grand Gallery (incongruously located on Ludlow between Rivington and Stanton on the west side of the street) for Francesca Lo Russo’s exhibit. This is the most powerful, intense, relevant show we’ve seen all year long. In typical fashion, we discovered this on the spur of the moment, having showed up a few minutes early for a Linda Draper show at Cake Shop (more on that later).

Self-taught Francesca Lo Russo really has it in for trendoids. In her paintings – mostly oil on masonite – they lounge nude at the bar texting each other, dos a dos, by the light of their cellphones, sip martinis at a bar that looks suspiciously like Max Fish while balancing their children on their laps, and make videos of volcanos of burning chemical waste while toxic chemicals spill on their oblivious feet. In these paintings, Lo Russo instantly vaults to the absolute pinnacle of the most spot-on satirical artists of our time. There’s a graphite-and-watercolor grey-and-white work here that perfectly capsulizes her vision. In the background, boxy, geometric apartment buildings – perhaps she’s been inspired by Little Annie Bandez? In the foreground, some random guy making a skull out of the debris of the tenement in the background, bricks and children’s toys scattered around, with a brand-new luxury apartment building immediately adjacent to it. It wouldn’t be a stretch to call it Brueghelesque: her characters sprawl and take over every inch of space they can cover with a sense of entitlement that makes you want to shoot them all.

There is so much in this show to fire your pulse and give your trigger finger extra itch. A post-Katrina New Orleans scene, skeletons everywhere, climbing the ivy, while the whole city drowns. Another with a band tuning up and playing knee deep in water while someone in an adjacent bed is visited by Death himself.

From the press release for the show: “Lo Russo completed the vast majority of these new works in an intense three month period of isolation in an attic in Texas. She is self taught as an artist and lives in Brooklyn. NOTE: Cumbre Vieja is a massive volcanic ridge in the Canary Islands. So fractured by previous eruptions, it could break off completely with any new activity. And though it’s real threat is hard to determine, some scientists say the breakage could cause a megatsunami that would could destroy major cities in Europe, Africa, and the United States’ East Coast.” See this show. You will leave validated. And ultimately richer whether you have the means to purchase anything here or not.

[Postscript – after a vibrant run on Ludlow St., 31Grand Gallery shut its doors in 2009. One of the owners moved on to the reliably edgy Black and White Gallery in Chelsea].

March 8, 2008 Posted by | Art, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Art Review: Leonardo Drew, A.D. Peters et al. at the Brenda Taylor Gallery, NYC

You have all of two short weeks – through February 16 – to rush over to Chelsea to the Brenda Taylor Gallery, 511 W 25th St. between 10th and 11th Sts., gallery #401 on the fourth floor, to catch some of the most astonishing art on display in New York right now. In the side room there are several boldly playful, colorful, somewhat tongue-in-cheek paintings by Kathleen Kucka, acrylic appliqué on acrylic. Although many of the accent colors here are pastels, Kucka’s clever cut-and-paste gives them an amusing, guilt-free edge.

But the stars of the show are in the main room where you’ll find A.D. Peters’ new work Iron Ridge: Sunsplash, which is oil and ferric oxide (translation: rust) on a sheet of iron. It’s absolutely brilliant, a reverse image of sorts, of light seen through a thicket of trees. Only the light is painted: the woods reside in the untouched iron. The painting’s focal point, where the light is greatest, is obscured by a tree trunk. It’s a stunningly imaginative, somewhat dark work and is surprisingly inexpensive for something of such imagination and quality. Kudos to the gallery for spotting it.

The piece de resistance here is Leonardo Drew’s Number 74, dating from 1999. Drew’s specialty is gargantuan, wall- and floorsize installations assembled from found objects, something akin to the toy town Bob Geldof constructed out of bits and pieces of sledgehammered appliances in the film The Wall, taken to its logical extreme. Drew’s work is deliberately unsettling, often grotesque. This piece is particularly visceral, practically nauseating: it packs a knockout punch. It is impossible to turn away from. Within its huge, approximately eight by ten foot frame, there are several hundred square wood boxes, each seemingly in various states of decay (Drew’s use of sawdust here, mixed with other debris, is spectacularly effective). Across the top are plastered what appear to be used mop heads (or something equally Blair Witch), along with a couple dozen stuffed toys in various states of decomposition. All of the toys’ faces are either turned away from the viewer, or have been deliberately effaced. Childhood has hardly ever been this brutally or dismissively portrayed: to call this piece iconoclastic is a gross understatement. A work this powerful is too important to reside in the hands of a private collector (although one has to wonder who would actually have the fortitude to come home at night and be greeted by this on the adjacent wall). Whatever price the gallery is charging is not too much for a world-class museum to afford. MOMA, are you listening?

January 31, 2008 Posted by | Art, Reviews | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Latest Williamsburg Salon Art Club Show

A pleasant reminder that group shows – this one fills two spacious floors at the Williamsburg Art & Historical Center – are the ideal lazy person’s way to discover exciting new work. There’s a tantalizing abundance of that here on display through February 24.

Three striking, large oils by the most likely pseudonymous Bienvenido Bones Banez blend 1960s-style psychedelic imagery with South Indian iconography, in a blazingly colorful style that recalls the best concert posters from the Fillmore West. Heads morph into two and three, viens bulge and bones are visible as in an x-ray. The two on display here, Asian and Harlot Playing Beast are an excellent representation. His related solo show runs through Feb 10 at Amarin Café, 617 Manhattan Ave. between Driggs and Nassau in Greenpoint.

One mystery star of the show – there was no indication on the wall who this might be – contributes a dollhouse in the style of an Old West brothel, an action figure sheriff leveling his gun at the back of the oversize doll atop the structure, a sign advertising “Vote for Honest G. W. Bush for Dog-Catcher” affixed to a side wall. There’s also a similar plastic sculpture featuring small plastic doll figures posed somewhat eerily in the windows and on the landing.

The most impressive work on display here is by Argentinian-American Andrea P. Cukier, who’s someone to keep your eye on. The two oils in this show are a good representation of her otherwise powerfully captivating paintings, many of which peer out from the shadows at an illumination whose source is never visible. The two on display here layer white over an obviously meticulously prepared, dark underlayer, perhaps barbwire as seen through a mist.

Lower East Side artist Carla Cubit has two very gripping mixed media sculptures assembled from found objects. The first is West African style, mostly in wood, depicting a widow with her babies, threatened by a spider and lizard. She holds a scroll unwound to a small portion of text: “I am no queen, I sit a widow I kan not walk my journey may end here…”

Brazilian surrealist painter Karla Caprali has three large oils on display. The best shows a woman diving headfirst from what appears to be the roof of the Sistine Chapel into the wild blue yonder of outer space. In another, a Latin woman (possibly the artist herself?) gazes with some trepidation out from behind flowers as jellyfish hover behind her, with an American flag, and then distant industrial towers looming further back.

Jeffrey Berman contributes two brightly sinister, somewhat photorealistic, psychedelic oils. The first depicts a skeleton onstage – at Altamont, maybe? – holding a melting Stratocaster guitar; the second seems to be a scene at a street race, the runners’ faces menacing and distorted, perhaps zombified.

Carol Quint, one of the organizers, is a proponent of recycling and reconstruction. Her sculpture here is macabre, death-obsessed and impossible to turn away from. There’s a skeleton in a lotus position, sitting in a rocking chair, and a skull with markedly messed-up, broken teeth sitting in a chair, with what appear to be fish vertebrae combed over its head like Rudy Giuliani’s hair. The third is a skeleton in a white puffy dress.

Japanese-American surrealist Junichiro Ishida’s complex, somewhat sci-fi oriented oils seem to be loaded with symbols from Asian mythology. On one of his pieces here, a flock of orange fireballs descends against a weird, nocturnal background, with an inscription below: “The world is always burning, burning with the fires of greed, anger and ignorance. One should flee from such dangers.” Another haunting painting is an undersea scene, a couple of fish lazing alongside a submerged skull/sea urchin hybrid.

Sam Jungkurth’s two big oils here are sinister floral tableaux, ominous blue/purple interiors whose only illumination is the flowers themselves, overshadowed by the darkness.

From all indications, Jennifer Herrera is an artist whose style is still developing, but one of her abstract paintings – which looks to be oil over gesso, creating a wrinkled effect – is a striking, somewhat ominous blend of lime green and orange against off-white.

There’s also a particularly creepy color shot by photographer Scott Weingarten – whose solo show here runs March 12-April 30 – superimposing a tree branch over a shot of a misty night in the woods, creating the effect of a ghostly child-face leering out of the background.

The show is on the second and third floor at 135 Broadway (corner of Bedford) in South Williamsburg, J/M/Z to Marcy Ave. or take the B61 bus which runs on south on Driggs toward Brooklyn Heights and on Bedford north through Williamsburg to Long Island City. Gallery hours are Saturday and Sunday, noon to 6 PM and by appointment, 718-486-7372.

January 21, 2008 Posted by | Art, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Art Review: Little Annie Bandez at Rapture Café and Books, NYC

Noir cabaret singer Little Annie Bandez has seen her a considerable and well-deserved resurgence in her music career lately, with a cd featuring Antony and an upcoming European tour. She’s also a painter, and a terrific one. 9/11 was her defining moment, an ever-present, haunting theme. Bandez’ paintings, like her music, carry the weight of a legendary survivor, the persona she was probably born for and has grown into over the last few years. Her earliest artwork is a charming amalgam of Frida Kahlo and graphic 60s psychedelica. Her latest paintings, on display at the Rapture through January 20 are part of her ongoing Urban Saints series. The unifying theme is spiritual but nondenominational and is a marvelous demonstration of how her unique vision has grown over the last two years. Drawing on pre-Renaissance Italian religious portraiture (Giotto especially comes to mind), Bandez situates her saints in a surreal and quite threatening current-day New York. The menace is tempered by her use of color – vivid magenta, aquamarine, purple and orange – as well as media which create a three-dimensional effect.

Perhaps the most striking of the new paintings, Mary Full of Grace shows a striking blue-robed madonna with three faces surrounded by brightly gritty city scenes, embellished with beads and painted feathers. Bandez’ signature boxy tenement buildings loom in the background. Another very compelling new work, And He Shall Live Again centers around a heart rising from the ashes of 9/11, a pieta to the right. The skeletal remains of Tower One, and the bones of the victims hover above. Angels, a virgin and a silver Star of Bethlehem complete the picture. Several other very compelling works are also featured. This time around, Bandez has victoriously reclaimed the iconography of another repressive era and breathed new life into it for all the survivors. Gripping, emotional and impactful, to say the least. Rapture Cafe and Books is at 200 Ave. A in the East Village between 12th and 13th Sts.

January 2, 2008 Posted by | Art, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment