Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Substantial, Compelling Paintings by Andrea Cukier and Florencia Fraschina

by Rimas Uzgiris

The two-woman show by Andrea Cukier and Florencia Fraschina at the Argentine Consulate presents two contemporary Argentine painters whose work is deeply rooted in Argentina’s urban culture, albeit in entirely different ways.

Andrea Cukier, now a resident of New York City but raised and trained as an artist in Buenos Aires, is a painter of suggestive atmospheres. She paints light through mist, humid air, harbors and dilapidated shorelines. She takes inspiration from the painters of La Escuela de La Boca, a group of mostly Italian immigrants to Buenos Aires who often depicted sections of their working-class neighborhoods, including the nearby waterfront. Cukier’s “Broken Passage” is a masterful portrayal of a shattered, chaotic shoreline. The sense of mist and moisture pervades both sky and water so thoroughly that it is hard to see where one ends and the other begins. All things seem to be dissolving into the elements of earth, air and water. The painting is almost wholly abstract. And even though, on the one hand, entropy seems to dominate, on the other hand, there is a tremendous sensitivity to light, which suffuses the clouds and mist and water with a glow that feels almost redemptive, albeit earthy. Other works, notably “Late Storm” and “Evening Light”, may be more representational, but are equally intriguing, depicting the play of clouds, smoke and light in canvasses dominated by sky. Human civilization is suggested with no more than the rooftops of city buildings, barbed wire, and churning black smoke. There is always a threat looming in these subtly dramatic paintings, but there is hope as well—whether in the form of light, or in a fleck of black paint like a bird fleeing the looming darkness. One cannot look at her paintings without being entranced by the complex interplay of grays, whites and blacks. One might say that in her work we have the late Turner in 21st century New York City by way of an urban sensitivity cultivated in La Boca.

On the opposite side of this warm, wood-paneled room hangs the work of Florencia Fraschina, a painter based in Buenos Aires. Fraschina draws her inspiration from entirely different sources. If Cukier reminds us of Turner by way of La Boca, Fraschina’s work brings us the spirit of Hopper by way of Kahlo. Her paintings are a symphony of saturated colors, populated by voluptuous women, often in various states of undress. Like so many paintings by Hopper, they suggest stories. The depicted characters express complex emotional states, and their situations are often enigmatic, sometimes even sordid. The exceptional “El Descanso” depicts a man and a woman in a tub. The woman is enormous, and the man thin and frail. He nestles inside of her legs and breasts, smoking a cigarette, looking up at the ceiling. Is he satisfied, or a bit intimidated—even a bit scared? Is her expression motherly? Or is there the hint of a smirk? Fraschina does not give us easy answers about her characters’ inner lives. Their charm is in their mystery. The paintings shimmer with color—extraordinary blues, bright pink, serene green. One especially harmonious piece is “La Costurera”: a woman, also large, but fully clothed, sews. Her expression is calm and focused, a bit sad as well. The painting is a symphony of blue, yellow, and red, and it is peaceful in its domestic melancholy. Similarly domestic, and quite poignant, is “Almorzando con Mirta”, named after a popular Argentine TV program. An old woman, dressed in black (a nun?) sits at a table, eating (soup? gruel?) from a bowl. She faces a television whose screen shows a young woman with golden hair. In the otherwise drab apartment, the only other color highlight comes from the halo in the painting above the mantle—thereby uniting the old, kitschy painting with the modern television program in a provocative way. Other details also draw us in to this woman, her story, her emotional life: a pair of elephant figurines, a wedding couple statuette. Fraschina makes us yearn for the human, for the true connection to the other, even as she problematizes our ways of relating to self and other through her depiction of pop culture and religious symbols. It is rare to see such social commentary come through a painting so subtly, and with so much feeling for the simple and solitary human life.

This show is a reminder that profound and emotionally gripping art is still being made in an age of shallow postmodernism, and it is being made with talent, craft, subtle intelligence, and a connection to history that is both revealing and progressive.

Andrea Cukier and Florencia Fraschina: Paintings are on display at the Consulate General of Argentina in New York, 12 W 56th St. (5th/6th Aves.) through April 10.

Advertisements

March 22, 2012 Posted by | Art, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lisztmania Finally Starts to Make Sense

“All hands can play Liszt,” emcee David Dubal asserted in front of what appeared to be a full house Wednesday night at WMP Concert Hall, introducing this season’s debut of pianist/impresario Alexandra Joan’s Kaleidoscope Series.

“Yeah, right,” a fellow pianist in the crowd murmured to his friend. That opinion is widely held, often fueled by frustration at being unable to master the composer’s work, but also by the perception that Liszt’s notoriously challenging compositions are ostentatiously shallow. This year being the bicentenary of the composer’s birth, the Liszt tributes and retrospectives have been endless, and underwhelming. Which made this particular program such an eye-opener. Pianist Eric Clark also deserves credit for offering a revealing look at a different side of the composer a couple months ago; Joan’s take on Liszt was even more enlightening, especially since she played a handful of obscure pieces associated with the composer. Dubal may have had something to do with this, having been her teacher at Juilliard.

And he offered fresh insight into the program, providing a broader historical context as well as the history of the pieces themselves: Dubal is a big-picture guy, and a fearlessly unreconstructed Lisztian. The Valse-Impromptu that Joan opened with, he said, was a prototype for parlor music of its era. And it sounded like that, generically lively: it hasn’t aged well. But Joan has an ear for depth and a flair for the unconventional, so the choice of Liszt’s arrangement of Schubert’s Fruhlingslaube was characteristically striking, a slowly expansive, meticulously paced pastorale. The Funerailles from Liszt’s Harmonies Poetiques et Religieuses, which followed, was a quiet, mournful knockout. Dubal reminded that this was a requiem for the freedom fighters who unsuccessfully fought in the Hungarian uprising of 1849. Restrained almost to the point of minimalism in places, fueled by a stark series of low lefthand riffs, it’s Chopinesque to a fault, rarely played, and Joan let it linger, powerfully: quiet as it is, it was the high point of the night. By contrast, she hit the Transcendental Etude No. 10 in F Minor – which she segued into artfully – with a hard-hitting scamper.

Dubal nailed it when he said that Schubert’s Der Doppelganger was “literally schizophrenic” – Joan played up its spacious, mysterious aspects. And she gave Liszt’s Ballade No. 2 in B Minor a precision that managed to be biting without losing sight of its warm cantabile resonance, another quality that doesn’t exactly spring to mind when thinking of Liszt. The Valse-Caprice No. 2 after Schubert’s Soirees de Vienne was warm and bright, if not much more than simply a testament to Liszt’s loyalty as an advocate of Schubert at a time when that wasn’t exactly cool.

The final composition was the Waltz from Gounod’s Faust, “one of those crazy pieces,” as Joan alluded afterward, where any hope for any kind of interpretive insight bit the dust. Liszt’s arrangement is so elaborately showy that the opportunity to imbue it with soul, or poignancy – Joan’s signature traits – falls by the wayside. To simply get through it and get the notes all right is an achievement in itself. And that she did, an athletic feat made all the more impressive considering that the heavy action of the Bosendorfer she was playing probably would have given Art Tatum a workout. The result, predictably, was a series of standing ovations, ironic to the extreme considering the earlier part of the program was a far more noteworthy achievement. Should every pianist have some Liszt in his or her fingers, as Dubal suggested? A bit of the lesser-known Liszt, that Joan showcased so admirably here, couldn’t hurt.

And not only is Dubal a savvy historian, he’s also a painter, a very eclectic one. Adorning the walls here were a striking, El Greco-ish blue-green cathedral; a series of playful, glittery, Kandinsky-esque abstracts; an invitingly nebulous, colorful city tableau that could have been Paris’ Right Bank from the Pont Neuf; a couple of bucolic outdoors scenes with pre-medieval Asian tinges; an aggressively striking black-and-white work that could be a homage to Jackson Pollock; and even a handful of playful, simple drawings with a coy Keith Haring sensibility. Clearly, Dubal has watched as broadly and as deeply as he’s listened.

December 17, 2011 Posted by | Art, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Two Art Shows for Our Era

There are two art shows in Chelsea at this moment that everyone should see. Stylistically, they couldn’t be more dissimilar; thematically, they share a dark vision; technically, each artist has viscerally stunning command of his own individual style. The more sacrilegious of the two is Aaron Johnson’s exhibit at the Stefan Stux Gallery. With a brightly colorful, in-your-face approach that draws equally on 60s psychedelic illustration and classical Chinese iconography, his minutely layered multimedia acrylic-on-oil collages take gleeful pleasure in pillorying the axis of evil between Christian extremists and the right wing.

A soldier dog defecates in a prostrate Jesus’ mouth as the two ride the barrel of an army tank; Babe the Blue Ox is about to get even with a twisted Paul Bunyan; Michelle Bachman devours a barbecued Obama as she enjoys dinner with grotesquely cartoonish Clintons, Newt Gingrich and others, with Sarah Palin the harpy buzzing overhead. Elsewhere, the Statue of Liberty gives Jesus a blowjob, hamburgers and hot dogs attack those who’d devour them, and Jesus (or is it St. Peter) is crucified upside down, a nail through his penis. These are just several of the literally thousands of details in Johnson’s works, apropos now but with equal historical value for the future, that is, if art like this is still legal after the 2012 election.

At the Marlborough Galley in Chelsea, Vincent Desiderio’s latest exhibit goes for a more global appeal, but one that’s equally cynical, pessimistic, and symbolically charged – and also great fun if you pay attention. His large, imposing, intense oils unassumingly demonstrate a magisterial old-masters technique, yet both his brush and trowel serve to make a point or simply evince the most impactful shades of light and shadow rather than being an ostentatious display of chops. The largest and most cruelly ironic is the burial of a woman in the woods, in later winter or early spring, in frontier America – the title references “fecundity.” Blurred, diabolical expressions occupy the faces of the mentally retarded men walking past a medieval marble garden (it’s a parody – first person to identify the original wins a prize). Another equally twisted and entertaining spoof turns a well-known John Singer Sargent image into a casually oversexed mongoloid. More retards stare zombie-faced from one imposing oil, wrestle half-naked in another.

A woman’s corpse lies in a coffin doing double duty as a sink, a la the Shining, in a tremendously vivid, green-tinted photorealistic tableau. Another corpse, this one decayed and wrapped head-to-toe in grey body tape, uses a digital camera to take a photo of a Renaissance-era child with mongoloid features. Paint peels from Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel roof as disembodied, toothsome mouths roar from the side walls. The artist himself looks up somewhat triumphantly from the bottom of a surreal stairwell, “after Orozco.” The most utterly chilling, least subtle of all of these is a skewed side view of a pirate ship titled Horizon, a black-caped skeleton shaded in the murk of the ship’s sails. And that uncharacteristically blithe woman in the wedding dress? That’s a self-portrait – Desiderio’s Mona Lisa! Until each of these artists gets his MOMA retrospective, these are shows to remember for years.

Johnson’s show is up through at the Stefan Stux Gallery, 530 W 25th St. through October 22. Hours are Tues-Sat 11-6 and by appointment . Desiderio’s, at the Marlborough Gallery, 545 W 25th St., runs through October 15. Gallery hours are Tues-Sat, 10-5:30.

September 20, 2011 Posted by | Art, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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.

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

Robin Hoffman’s Timeless Images Capture New York’s Oldtime Music Scene

It’s funny how even though millions of bloggers and youtubers have documented live music over the past several years, there hasn’t been one particular photographer with a signature vision to emerge like Henry Diltz in the late 60s/early 70s, or Bob Gruen during the punk era. However, this era is fortunate to have Robin Hoffman, whose new coffee table book Live From the Audience: A Year of Drawing at the Jalopy Theatre vividly captures much of the magical demimonde of New York’s oldtimey and Americana music scenes. Interestingly, Hoffman is not a photographer but a painter, with a singular and instantly identifiable vision. She has an amazing eye for expressions: in a few deft strokes, she portrays banjo player Eli Smith in a characteristically sardonic moment, with a sly jack o’lantern off to the side of the stage. Her perfectly rendered portrait of Mamie Minch brings out every inch of the oldtimey siren’s torchy bluesiness, leaning back with her resonator guitar as she belts out a classic (or one of her originals that sounds like one).

Hoffman is a former ballet dancer and maybe for that reason she also has a finely honed sense of movement. A lot of these performers play sitting down and consequently don’t move around much. One particularly poignant painting shows the late Brooklyn bluesman Bob Guida jovial and comfortably nestled yet full of energy, seated with his hollow-body electric. The single most striking image here marvelously depicts the Jalopy’s Geoff and Lynette Wiley, Lynette behind the bar, warm and beaming triumphantly from the rush of a good crowd and a good show, bushy-bearded Geoff to the side up front, attentive as always, the audience ecstatically lit up in silhouette in the front of the house. Other artists vividly captured in the Jalopy’s magically wood-toned ambience include Ernie Vega, Feral Foster (being particularly Feral), the Maybelles, the Ukuladies and les Chauds Lapins.

These paintings induce synesthesia – you can literally hear the ring and the twang of the voices and the music. Hoffman has also included several equally captivating sketches and sketch collages, in the same vein as the ones she periodically posts on her excellent blog. It’s a wonderful portrayal of one of New York’s most vital music scenes, one frequently overlooked by the corporate media and the blogosphere. It’s also a valuable piece of history – although few of the artists here will ever be famous, the music they make deserves to be. The book is available online, but as Hoffman says, “It’s a lot more fun and a little bit cheaper to get one at Jalopy.”

July 11, 2010 Posted by | blues music, country music, Literature, Music, music, concert, New York City | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Having Conquered Los Angeles, Polish Artists Invade Brooklyn

Thursday night, while the Komeda Project provided murkily beautiful ambience, the art show at the Polish/Slavic Center at 177 Kent St. in Greenpoint was similarly intense and intelligent – and covered a vastly wider emotional spectrum. Two Los Angeles-based groups, Krak Art and the Emotionalists joined in the exhibit – it wasn’t clear who was who, but pretty much everyone on display made an impact. Janusz Skowron, who seemed to be the ringleader, explained how their initial LA show “proved the critics wrong” – it was a smashing success. As this one ought to be as well. He brought his own oils, including both intricately textured, allusive portraiture and lushly layered geometric work, one a study in horizontality and the other the opposite.

Anna Zatorska’s haunting, intense housefront tableaux followed specific color themes: pensively autumnal red, hypnotic nightmare scarlet, wistful blue/grey with a clothesline in the background. Arthur Skowron evoked Arthur Robins with ominous, fire-licked, stormy waterfall and whirlpool scenes, while Kinga Czerska’s abstract, fun work playfully juxtaposed casually colorful curves against linear astringency. That playfulness took on added irony with Artur Popek’s genial overhead views of a strangely industrial resort in the offseason, as well as a main-street scene offering an understatedly pointed contrast between the bustle of technology and older, less worldly comforts.

The textural star of the show was a vividly composed, intensely layered acrylic work by Kasia Czerpak-Weglinski making striking use of both enamel and tile accents. Zbigniew Nowosadzki’s paintings also made use of rich background layers, most notably in a hazy view of birds above a ship. And the most evocative work of all was by Piotr Betlej, whose portraits’ finely drawn, minutely nuanced expressions emerged, worn and weary, out of an ominous, chaotic morass. Some, possibly many of these artists will be famous well beyond their own Polish-American community: get to know them before that happens and your life will be enriched.

April 14, 2010 Posted by | Art, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Art Review: The Spiritual and the Simian at the Jewish Museum

There are two strikingly different but captivating new exhibits up at the Jewish Museum (1109 5th Ave., enter on 92nd St.) for you to enjoy. The more serious one exhibits three iconic poststructuralists’ works rarely seen outside the space for which they were commissioned, the Congregation B’nai Israel Synagogue in Millburn, New Jersey. In 1951, Robert Motherwell, Herbert Ferber and Adolph Gottlieb were called on to deliver A) a rather striking, symbolically-charged wall-size painting, B) a vividly optimistic, ur-1950s lead-on-copper sculpture that foreshadows Frank Stella and C) a floor-to-ceiling quilt designed by Gottlieb, woven with respect to tradition by the women of the congregation. These were all cutting-edge then and it’s fascinating to see them here today, out of context.

Now for the fun, family-friendly part. For those of us who grew up with Curious George and retain happy memories of his misadventures, the exhibit on H.A. Rey and his wife Margaret is pure nirvana – and it’ll resonate with curious kids a little older than Curious George age who haven’t come to the point where they consider those books babyish. And it wasn’t Hector Aquiles Rey from Mexico or the Dominican who wrote them – it was the former Hans Augusto Reyersbach, a German Jewish emigrant who narrowly escaped the Nazi invasion of Paris with his wife, making the thousand-mile trek to Lisbon via bicycle before embarking for Brazil and then New York. As it turns out, he’s the model for the Man in the Yellow Hat (Reyersbach hispanicized his name while working in Brazil); Margaret was the inspiration for Fifi, later renamed Curious George by an American editor. Very interestingly, she was the mastermind behind the stories. There are sketches, original illustrations and rare photos by Margaret along with an especially poignant exchange of correspondence between H.A. Rey and his editor in London, carried on from stops along the way (the Reys never stopped writing and working on stories, and evidence of this actually saved them from suspicion by the authorities on several occasions).It’s truly an exhibit for the H.A. Rey completist – the museum has their passports, their visas, their address books, everything but their luggage (much of that, sadly, was lost somewhere between Paris and Lisbon). There’s also a cozy nook for little ones to play, with copies of the books in question. The whole thing adds an entirely new dimension to a Curious George style “narrow escape.”

The exhibits run concurrently through August 1. Museum hours are Saturday-Tuesday 11 AM-5:45 PM, Thursday 11 AM-8 PM and Friday 11 AM-4 PM. Free day is Saturday.

March 17, 2010 Posted by | Art, 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: The WAH Center Does It Again

Another pretty amazing group show up at the Williamsburg Art & Historical Center. This one features a “younger generation” of women born after 1950, up through the end of May. Many highlights, probably as many as last year’s vastly diverse exhibit.

 

Nivi Alroy contributes an intense collection of mixed media, notably a tall (seven-foot) sculpture of a bombed-out house sitting in an upturned dresser drawer, the scorched face of a stuffed rabbit fixing its stare from a second story window. There’s also a rustic woodcut of a collapsing industrial area juxtaposed with a reflection below, a daguerreotype-style view of workers staring at themselves in the water. Andrea Cukier has three green-tinted, stylized medieval Chinese-inflected pondscapes: as with so much of her work, she makes the heat and humidity visceral.

 

Shan Shan Sheng has a number of strikingly colorful, heavy glass sculptures here including an absolutely haunting, orange-tinted undersea scene and a couple of massive bells, one of them abruptly upturned. Bahar Behbahani has both a murky, out-of-focus wallsize umber-tinged portrait of a family staring out from their couch, Arabic calligraphy and musical notes floating overhead, as well as an unsettling 3-D piece, a dense mandala-like figure on a screen a couple of inches above a second, painted level, obscuring more calligraphy and a dead sheep on its back.

 

Even more provocative were a series of bombs (their noses, to be precise, seemingly fashioned from restaurant-sized carbon dioxide canisters) by Leonor Mendoza. Adorned with earrings, peace signs, an animal figurine, lockets, charms, and most ominously, melted green plastic peoploids, they’re poignant and as understated as bombs can be. 

 

Of the best-known artists on display here, Judy Chicago is represented by a trio of black-and-white woodcuts, the earth mother under siege, as well as a sculpture study from The Dinner Party, part of the plate eerily peeling back. There are also prints and a striking, colorful wallsize painted quilt depicting a jazz trio and its unperturbable frontwoman from Faith Ringgold.

 

But the most striking of all the images here was the live installation by Olek (Agata Oleksiak) and Naomi White. They’d positioned a group of people in colorful, full-body knitwear, their faces hidden, lazing around a living room, watching tv, the screen depicting the struggles of someone in an all-white bodysuit, seemingly in a lot of pain and trying to escape. Abu Graib, anybody? Talk about making an impact!

 

Over by the Nivi Alroy section, classical guitarist Margaret Slovak played warmly and virtuosically. You probably won’t get to hear her or be taken in by the Olek/Naomi White installation, but the show is a must-see if you’re in Williamsburg – it’s only a couple of minutes from the J/M stop at Marcy Ave., 135 Broadway on the south side of Williamsburg, about a block past Bedford as you walk toward the water. Hours are Saturday-Sunday noon-6 PM.

April 28, 2009 Posted by | Art, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment