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.