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.
Edgy Art Central is closing. For nine years, Megan Bush and Heather Stephens pushed the envelope, giving more space to irreverent, important, funny, provocative, cutting-edge artists than practically any other gallery in New York. They were good when they were in Williamsburg and when they made the move to Ludlow Street last year, there weren’t many shows or openings that we missed. It was at 31Grand that we discovered the extraordinary work of Francesca Lo Russo, Barnaby Whitfield, Jason Clay Lewis, Jeph Gurecka and many others.
According to their press release, “Megan Bush continues to work as an independent stylist while chasing after Polly the chihuahua and 4-year-old Henry. Heather Stephens continues to art direct at the Wall Street Journal and is joining Black & White Gallery in Chelsea.” Black & White share Stephens’ edgy vision and ought to benefit tremendously. The closing party at 31Grand is Saturday Dec 20 at 6; join us and we’ll reminisce.
[Editor’s note – This is the most half-assed art review ever. The review, not the art, that is: it’s great, it’s just that the show is over. We happened on the closing party, drawn in off the street by what was in the gallery window. We just didn’t want to let the show pass by without spreading the word about the work that had been on display – it’s a lot of fun]
The D-Con owl drew us in off the street. A lifesize sculpture of an owl made completely from D-Con boxes. Too much fun. Jason Clay Lewis’ recently closed show at 31grand – NYC’s Edgy Art Cental – featured many more pieces in a similar vein. A series of stylized 70s headshop pinup posters each had a death’s head. There were also a box of candy and a fullsize madonna sculpture created completely from glazed D-Con (now it becomes obvious where the boxes came from. Another Madonna, looking a little downcast, also came to life in striking D-Con yellow and black. But not everything here was surreal gallows humor: a small potted tree took root in an upside-down skull, evidence that all is not completely bleak chez Lewis. What a fun discovery this guy’s work is: formerly personal assistant to Jasper Johns, the Oklahoma-born Cooper Union grad has some pieces coming up in group shows here and in Philadelphia. Watch this space for further info.