Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Quality Overcomes Schlock at This Year’s NYC Fountain Art Fair

The good stuff at this year’s Fountain Art Fair made the trip all the way over to the Chelsea Piers worthwhile many times over. Outdoors, the contrast between the captivating and the boring was much the same as it was inside. Past the gangway to the Frying Pan lightship, mimes stood motionless and a couple of women knitted a sinister seine while a masked trio writhed on the ground and banged on a toy piano. Beyond the performers, a raft to the fore of the ship carried a Pompeii-esque series of uncredited lifesize, silver-painted, featureless sculptures: quadrupeds – dogs? bears? – and a sad, defeated creature – an alien? knight in armor? mummy? – its head lowered dejectedly, half its helmet carved out and concave, leaving a black hole.

Inside, a straw poll of many of the artists on display delivered the unanimous verdict that Greg Haberny was the star of this one, hands down. He’s hilarious, fearlessly profane, insightful and historically aware. A trio of mixed-media pieces matched scrawled bathroom graffiti-style captions to iconic imagery. In Haberny’s eyes, via a twisted take on FBI most-wanted posters, Santa breaks into your house and leaves all kind of shit nobody wants; the Easter Bunny delivers pot; and Jesus turns water into Colt .45 malt liquor, among other feats. Jesus appears again in a can of Rust-Oleum and an Ex-Lax box. From a New Yorker’s perspective, the funniest of them all might have been a parody of the Warhol soup can that sits in a box on the wall of the Gershwin Hotel with a letter of authenticity: Haberny’s version was stolen from Christie’s and is available for a song. When he’s not mocking religious nuts or the cluelessness of the art world, Haberny’s paintings, billboards and mixed media raise a defiant middle finger to the fearmongering that the ruling classes have been dishing out via the corporate media since long before 9/11 (Vietnam references, for example, recur again and again). There was also a letter from a Cash4gold spokesman to Haberny, seemingly oblivious to the stunt factor in Haberny sending them a box of gold-painted rocks along with a request for the late Ed McMahon (their pitchman at the end of his life) to host his birthday party. Even the obvious stuff resonated: the BP logo with a sawed-off shotgun; the Supreme Court as the Seven Dwarves, and a 1968 prisoner of war depicted not as an American soldier, but a hippie wearing a gas mask. Haberny’s composition is meticulous. The heavily weathered “found look”of his larger works is actually achieved via an intricate process of layering, sanding and controlled damage. Haberny had a whole corner of the ship to himself and he deserved it: best to investigate this subversive guy yourself.

Downstairs the fun continued. Sergio Coyote is totally punk, just as fearless and funny. Some of his items on display included a trio of blurry, enlarged face shots of Elvis at his last-ever gig, puffy, wasted and sweating hard, along with an oil painting setting a little latin guy in silhouette, face to an enormous wave. Coyote also has fun with album covers: a series of bloodspattered Christian albums, a Kraftwerk record with Hitler moustaches and a concert album by Korean orphans in Austin, Texas that was so surreal that it really didn’t need alteration. And Rob Servo – a musician who also leads expansive, sprawling jam band Homespun Vector – brought along an irresistibly witty series of surrealist oils, including a brownstone building turned into a wobbly spider and a cleverly layered thought piece inspired by a trip to Pompeii.

Back upstairs, there was plenty of amateurish Bushwick garbage – pseudo-porn, day-glo and kitsch galore. But there was plenty of food for thought as well. Mark Demos (not to be confused with the New Jersey landscape watercolorist Mark DeMos) was represented by several meticulously layered tableaux a la early Arthur Robins, textured acrylic on glass creating a nocturnal volcanic effect, some of it extremely gripping. Jonathan Levitt’s color photo studies in decomposition – a dog carcass, a pig that might or might not have been dead, a freshly bloody deerskin – were stomach-turning but impossible to turn away from. There were a handful of Ray Sell antique-magazine collages playfully mocking kitschy retro iconography, the best of these a stuffed bear coming off the wall to swat at a group of oblivious hunters gathered around a country club table. Andrew Rigby had several playful yet wary studies in geometrics and olive drab; “pop surrealist” Mab Graves’ stylized Addams Family-meets-Emily the Strange style portraits stood out as well.

Someone who calls him/herself Radical! displayed a series of stylized 60s psychedelic illustrations: everything with a head that’s someone or something else’s; dogs armed with syringes chasing a cat, and chicken-headed girls in bikinis (yup – had to smile at that one). On the way out, a wall held a menagerie of Dickchicken cartoon characters with penises coming out of their heads, or where their noses should be. If you used to draw that kind of thing in middle school, be advised that there’s a market for it – or at least a desire to show it. And why not – in its own predictably twisted way, it fit in.

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March 9, 2011 Posted by | Art, New York City, photography, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Art Review: Shaun El C. Leonardo and Alexis Duque in Chelsea

Dominican-Guatemalan-American illustrator Shaun El C. Leonardo draws on his multicultural background, his early education at a Jesuit high school and college football career in a powerfully provocative display, titled Death of a King, that asks a lot of important questions rather than trying to answer any of them. That is left up to the viewer.

As you come up the stairs, the lifesize silhouette of a muscled man falls backwards in relief against the white of the wall behind him: a World Trade Center allusion? The questions begin before you get in the door of the gallery. Inside, a series of more silhouettes – self-portraits, it seems – appear against a shadowy, earthtone-splashed backdrop of bombed-out, smoldering urban scenes – an Iraq war reference, maybe? And are the hulking, brooding strongmen planning on saving the day…or savoring the bitter taste of defeat? The most stunning of all the images is a the upper body of a black man reaching high, either strung up with chains…or decisively grasping a boltcutter, to sever them triumphantly?

Leonardo’s pencil drawings are similarly provocative and enigmatic. One shows a man in armor with what looks like the pop-up tab of a beer can where his nose should be, Obama portraits adorning his shoulder and knee guards. A rightwinger making fun of the President, daring others to hit him? Nope. “I just wanted to be a warrior for Obama,” explained Leonardo to the crowd at last night’s viewing, who all seemed to want to join him. Other drawings match stylized medieval and Aztec warrior images to contemporary brands ranging from the Nike swooshtika, to Spiderman, to the coat of arms from Leonardo’s high school.

And in the back, there’s a painting that deserves to be in the MoMA collection. Alexis Duque’s Slums series includes this surreal brick-and-white-toned architectural view of an empty, war-riddled building turned inside out. It’s part Escher, part Aztec pueblo. Imagining what happened to all the people amid the shrapnel wounds, the headless statue, the hints of random furniture and household goods, satellite dishes, the abandoned guitar on the balcony and numerous bullseyes, none of which have been hit dead center, sends a potent message. A must see after passing through Leonardo’s compelling exhibit, which runs through November 27 at Praxis International Art, 541 W 25th St., open Tues-Sat 10 AM to 6 PM.

November 16, 2010 Posted by | Art, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pianist Joe Gilman’s New Album Gets Synesthesia

A cynic would say that when musicians aren’t stealing ideas from each other, they’re stealing them from other artists. Some of the tracks on jazz pianist Joe Gilman’s new cd Americanvas seem to be an attempt to sonically interpret a series of fairly well-known works of visual art; others simply use the paintings as inspiration. More often than not, this approach works, in ways that are surprising and surprisingly fun. As one of the head honchos at the Brubeck Institute, Gilman has access to some of the world’s most promising up-and-coming jazz talent, and puts them to good use. Here he’s joined by saxophonists Ben Flocks and Chad Lefkowitz-Brown along with 19-year-old bassist Zach Brown and fearless 20-year-old drummer Adam Arruda, who absolutely owns this album.

Fast-forward past the opening cut, which is like Rick Wakeman at his most olympic. Instead, savor the devious, playful, absolutely spot-on Where the Wild Things Are, a Maurice Sendak homage – it has nothing to do with the movie and everything to do with the book. Arruda has a field day, in both senses of the word, with this, bounding and rumbling all the way through, ever-present but never to the point where the ostentation might get annoying. Gilman’s hop-skip-and-a-jump piano solo brings the adventure to the point where the monsters appear, the soprano sax goes modal and they go out in a quietly glorious, chordally-charged shimmer. Roy Lichtenstein’s Whaam! gets a bustling, rapidfire, unselfconsciously cartoonish rendering; Keith Haring’s Monkey Puzzle (no relation to the Saints album that preceded it) gets a surprisingly serious, straight-up swing treatment with expansive lyrical piano solo and genially smoky tenor sax. The standout piece in this gallery is, unsurprisingly, Nighthawks, which interprets the iconic Edward Hopper diner tableau as Huis Clos (look closely: there’s no exit). After Gilman’s slow noir ambience sets the stage, there’s a very long, very slowly unwinding tenor solo, and then a casually stunning shift: waiter? Garcon? Whichever the case, the alto sax offers a welcome break from the long, long night…until he leaves, and it’s back in Gilman’s lowlit fingers.

Romare Bearden’s classic New York at Night appears here as the vividly evocative Nocturne du Romare, Brown’s agile bass walking it lickety-split beneath late 50s-inflected solos around the horn. The moody, catchy Yellow, Red, Blue – a Rothko reference – echoes with Mulatu Astatke-ish circularity and another sudden shift from sinister to sunny, Arruda’s big, irresistibly fun, dramatic cymbal accents as effective here as they are in several other places on this disc. Other tracks here include a subtly interlocking exercise in contrapuntal melody and tempo shifts, and a viscerally anxious Scott Collard ballad carried by the reeds. It’s out now on Capri Records.

September 23, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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: Ellen Driscoll at the Frederieke Taylor Gallery, NYC

This was at the top of the page at artcal, and for good reason. Ellen Driscoll’s latest exhibit, titled FastForwardFossil is a must-see, as hauntingly intense as it is apropos to our time. The theme is environmental armageddon, its centerpiece a massive, floorsized sculpture constructed mainly from cut-up pieces of plastic spring water bottles. A conflation of three real-life oil drilling sites, it packs a wallop the size of an ice sheet, even if it’s melting (and part of it is: there’s a big hole in the upper tier with a half-frozen pool below it where the water has “landed.”) Every ominous portent of the aftereffects of two centuries’ of burning fossil fuels is here, whether overt (the big sinkhole into which somebody’s house has disappeared, the splintered, dead trees) or less obvious (the tiny gallows adjacent to the empty cages). This deserves to wind up in MoMA along with her other works on display there.

 

The watercolors are awash in richly evocative earthtones, sharing an eerie apocalypticism. An oil refinery sits silent and abandoned, victim of a new ice age. A tanker meets the same fate, as does a stadium. There are also a couple of marvelous multi-frame works, somewhat in the style of a Chinese scroll, the first depicting a pipeline rising from the ground, eventually turning into a highway for a caravan of armored assault vehicles, the second a coastline view from the wall encircling an amusement park, to the polluted beach, to the water as it gets deeper, almost submerging a tin-roof shed and an abandoned car. The exhibit runs through at the Frederieke Taylor Gallery, 535 W 22nd St., 6th Floor through May 16, Tuesday through Saturday, 11-6 PM.

 

While you’re in the neighborhood, don’t miss Shahzia Sikander’s equally apropos, antiwar-themed exhibit at Sikkema Jenkins across the street, up through May 3.

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

Art Review: Pat Arnao at Chashama Gallery, NYC

“The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.” One of Pat Arnao’s favorite Faulkner quotes, imprinted on an overhanging beam at the Chashama space where her new exhibit runs through January 2, it fits her new work aptly. Titled simply The Black Paintings, they’re striking, indelibly urban black-on-white images, mostly acrylic and oil on paper. While this collection – a considerable departure for the often fiery (pun intended) artist – is minimalist in the sense that there’s no wasted energy, every stroke being integral to the piece, they’re not skeletal. Many of them pack a wallop. The ravages of time and neglect are inescapable here. There’s a three-quarter view of the boxy skeleton of a house which is either going up or coming down: it could be either one. A view of a telephone pole, seen from below is intense with the absence of any sky or background behind it (Arnao’s use of negative space here is masterful).

 

Two of the more haunting images illustrate a factory – or some other abandoned, warehouse-like space – with the roof caved in, or a ladder – a fire escape? – hanging precariously from the side of what’s left of the building. Arnao’s Boxes collection is also on display. According to the artist, it isn’t an Iraq War parable, although some viewers might see it that way. It’s a set of small, clear plexi boxes, each about half-full of sand, with various detritus atop each pile: body parts from toy cars (a front quarter panel, a bumper); tires and wheels from toy construction equipment; what looks like a miniature metal mesh blanket used for rock blasting; broken glass, and other gritty/menacing material. Fascinating and disturbing stuff.  

 

All of these pieces are up at Arnao’s site, although the little images on your computer screen necessarily don’t carry the visceral impact of the actual items: you owe it to yourself to see them in the flesh before the show ends. At Chashama Times Square Gallery, 112 West 44th St. through Jan 2 (closed Dec 24-25 and Jan 1).

December 19, 2008 Posted by | Art, Reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Art Review: Jason Clay Lewis at 31Grand Gallery, NYC

[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.

November 17, 2008 Posted by | Art, 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: Michael Salter; Chris Gallagher in Chelsea

University of Oregon professor Michael Salter’s sendup of consumer culture, currently on display at the Jeff Bailey Gallery through February 9, is spot-on, even if it has all the subtlety of a billboard on fire (an animated video of which is part of the exhibit). But Salter’s scathing critique is leavened with considerable humor. In the center of the room stands a colossus, a fourteen-foot robot assembled completely from white styrofoam used in packing boxes. Along the gallery’s right wall are an assembly of smooth, faceless, white porcelain figures, each about 18 inches tall, and they’d be taller if each wasn’t slumped over, beaten, completely defeated. A couple of them sport logos, as if wearing a t-shirt. One has an array of green leaves – flaunting his/her environmental correctness? – except that one of the leaves has fallen off.

On the back wall are paintings based on simple geometric shapes. There’s the view of a house, the sidewalk in the foreground scarred with cracks, and another showing an empty plastic lawn chair, microphone and amplifier posed in front of another house. There’s also the painting on which the burning billboard video is based. All of it is very effective and equally amusing. We need more art like this. The Jeff Bailey Gallery is at 511 West 25th St., #207 on the second floor, between 10th and 11th Avenues.

And while you’re over in Chelsea, stop by McKenzie Fine Art for their Geometric Abstraction exhibit, also running through February 9. Chris Gallagher’s two viscerally affecting pieces are the star of this show. The first, Ad Infinitum sets freehand parallel lines at an angle, their blue, green and orange blending with the offwhites and yellows of the background, inducing vertigo in the process. There’s also a smaller, similar painting, Tilt, less arresting but still full of striking contrasts, its lines practically dancing off its plain background. McKenzie Fine Art is also at 511 W 25th St.

January 27, 2008 Posted by | Art, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment