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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.

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April 18, 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: Anthony Pontius at 31grand, NYC

There’s a lot to like in Anthony Pontius’ oils on display here through May 24. This series centers frequently goofy, cartoonish, anthropomorphosed animals onto dark, nebulous, out-of-focus forest backgrounds for a feel that is Simpsons and Twin Peaks simultaneously. A two-headed dog chases its own face, a guillotine looms beneath the dripping trees, a killer’s goofy, fuzzy-bearded face leans in from a stick-figure body. These paintings are surreal, psychedelic as hell and the more compelling the more you stare at them, the backgrounds especially. Playful yet eerie, the visual equivalent of a mix of the Ventures’ minor-key hits. In the back room Pontius also has several wry, Edward Gorey-esque pencil sketches on display. Yet another rousing success for 31grand, a welcome addition (some might say antidote) to the neighborhood.

[postscript – 31grand Gallery is sadly now closed – one of their curators went on to join the similarly edgy Black and White Gallery in Chelsea]

April 25, 2008 Posted by | Art, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Art Review: Frida Kahlo at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

This exhibit, the first major Kahlo retrospective in an American museum in practically fifteen years, commemorates the hundredth anniversary of the great Mexican painter’s birth. Conventional wisdom is that either you’re in the Kahlo cult or you’re not. Not to be disrespectful to Salma Hayek, but more than any major motion picture ever could, this exhibit will shatter any preconceptions about Kahlo that you might hold, especially if you’ve been subjected to disdainful commentary about the artist’s presumable self-absorption. On the contrary, the works on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art through May 18 underscore the universality of Kahlo’s dark, tormented vision. For the uninitiated, it could be a life-changing event.

In addition to more than forty original works on loan from around the world, the exhibit includes a fascinatingly assembled collection of photographs from throughout Kahlo’s life, along with two separate exhibits placing Kahlo’s work in the context of Mexican art from her era. The first including works from the museum’s formidable collection, including the famous, anonymous Execution of Maximilian and David Siquieros’ astonishing Giants; the second focuses on the work of her contemporary Juan Serrano, who died only last year. While this stroke of uncommonly smart, relevant curating is a bonus, it’s Kahlo’s work that everyone is coming out for(early arrival is very strongly advised, the earlier the better).

Kahlo is best known for her self-portraits, blending elements of European surrealism into her overtly traditional Mexican style. Despite being crippled in a bus accident while still in her teens, she was a strikingly beautiful woman, someone who bears only a passing resemblance to the monobrowed, lightly moustached, stoic figure in her paintings (on the other hand, her husband Diego Rivera, an aging, dumpy man whose own work has long since been overshadowed by hers, is always rendered as a pillar of strength). In more than one sense, Kahlo never completely recovered from her injuries, was frequently hospitalized throughout her life and spent her last few years in a wheelchair. The anguish in these works – the iconic Broken Column, depicting her spine as an ancient stone obelisk shattered in many places, and The Two Fridas, one of whom has just ripped her own heart out – is visceral. While most of her work is dead serious, she wasn’t without a sense of humor, as demonstrated by her surreal, green-themed portrait of botanist Luther Burbank as a plant. And she’s nothing if not self-aware: the most riveting, and revolting of all of these portraits depicts the artist as an infant in the arms of a wetnurse, whose breast is rotten and sagging, the tendrils extending from Kahlo’s mouth sucking all life out of it.

There are so many other iconic works here. Without Hope shows the artist on her frequent hospital bed, trying to suck some sustenance out of a funnel overflowing with entrails and fish heads. In a nod to the Mexican votive artists of the late Eighteenth and early Nineteenth century, the famous The Dream positions a skeleton on the top bunk overlooking the artist below. The exhibit also includes the hauntingly ethereal Suicide of Dorothy Hale, the New York socialite/actress appearing several times as she floats down through the clouds, then bleeding but intact at the foot of the skyscraper from which she hurled herself.

The show ends on a typically dramatic note with the potently feminist The Circle, a nude torso in a circular frame, a splash of flame – or is it blood? Or both? – emanating from behind a shoulder. The self-portraits are all reliably disquieting, including a handful of miniatures rarely seen in the context of a major exhibit.

Perhaps one of the reasons for the critical backlash against Kahlo is her legend itself. Like Sartre, Camus, Joy Division and Nick Drake, she’s someone that American audiences tend to discover while in their teens, a point where those who have suffered young (who hasn’t?) find special affinity for her work. Whether Kahlo is in your own pantheon or not, this is an extraordinary exhibit, one of the best in recent memory, making the cost of a trip to Philadelphia well worth your while. Through May 18 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 26th Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Tues-Sun 10 AM – 5 PM, Fridays til 8:45 PM.

April 21, 2008 Posted by | Art, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Art Review: Andrea Cukier in Midtown

Shows like this are why we live in New York. This is someone who will be creating important and emotionally impactful art for a long time, the rare artist whose work will send you flying out into the street afterward with an elevated pulse and renewed passion for being alive. Argentinian expat Andrea Cukier’s work is defined by subtlety, yet packs a potently visceral intensity. To say that her collection of nebulous yet riveting oil paintings – on display at the Consulate General of Argentina through April 30- is captivating is the understatement of the year. Many of these works are pensive and stark, yet rich with emotion and sometimes longing. The artist has a special affinity for the port of Buenos Aires, several views of which are featured in this show.

Cukier’s unique vision makes liberal use of lush textures, subtle earthtone shades over a signature grey background. Another of her signature devices is to situate her point of view looking in from the shadows or somewhere hidden, whether it’s from behind clouds or in a thicket. At its best, Cukier’s work is quietly transcendent. When these paintings are representational – not all of them are – the view is jaggedly hazy, out of focus. Her clouds are thick with shades of white and grey, rather than opaque: they get in the way, or provide concealment. Ships’ masts rise, thin and frail, through the mists concealing what’s below. Vertical and horizontal lines snake their way through washes of shadow: is it barbwire, or the view of a town along the shoreline? Cukier has stated that she wants the viewer to be able to feel the humidity and the smell of the water, a goal whose ambitiousness is not as farfetched as it might seem (New York artist Pamela Talese does the same thing with brutal New York summer heat in her landscapes of industrial wastelands). It is impossible not to be drawn into the remarkable depth of these paintings, with their seemingly endless layers and minute variances of shade. In the distance, barely discernible, the ghost of Turner nods approvingly.

Overall, what is most impressive about this show is that as good it is, this isn’t even her best work – wait til you see what’s on her website. An appropriate soundtrack would be the eerie ambience of Jehan Alain or Radiohead. Or A Salty Dog by Procol Harum, at leat as far as the harborscapes are concerned.

Cukier also has a series of green-themed, Chinese-inspired watercolors here, mostly pondscapes, seemingly painted by an entirely different artist – they have absolutely no resemblance to her oils. While demonstrating a good eye for light and reflection and an ability to assimilate a very stylized technique (which also calls on the viewer to feel the heat and humidity), it’s been done before and just as well many dynasties ago.

At the Consulate General of Argentina, 12 W 56th St. through April 30, free admission Mon-Fri, 11 AM – 5 PM.

April 11, 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: Alex Dodge – Intelligent Design, At the Klaus Von Nichtssagend Gallery, Brooklyn NY

Williamsburg artist Dodge is not completely at ease with technology, which is something of an understatement. This show features some recent work which is very thought-provoking, as well as some that is decidedly not. Several of Dodge’s graphite-and-oil paintings are considerably gripping, including one showing a person naked except for a pair of briefs, facedown, hands tied behind the back, a computer keyboard above. Another is a sunken scene, a lobster, reeds and debris along with a keyboard resting on a riverbed or sea floor. There’s also the portrayal of what looks like the Death Star from Star Wars, its surface comprising boats and a plane aimed at one of the World Trade towers. “It looks like barbecue sauce,” an artist from the Williamsburg scene remarked, pointing to the the brown, seemingly random smudges throughout the painting. But the best piece in the entire gallery is something different entirely: a large abstract oil ominously interspersing different shades and textures of black.

On a wall that can’t be seen from the street are also several separate pages taken from coloring books, colored with crayon (within the lines, of course), each with colorful plastic refrigerator-magnet letters affixed to the corners. These are for sale for $400 apiece. We emailed the gallery and asked them to let us know in the event that anyone buys any of them. If that happens – and at the rate the art world is going, it probably will – we will contact the buyer and see how much he or she is willing to pay us for a piece of used toilet paper. $500 seems fair to us.

February 16, 2008 Posted by | Art, Reviews | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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

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