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

Robin Hoffman: Artist to the Stars of the Brooklyn Underground

Robin Hoffman describes herself as “Brooklyn artist, mom, former ballet soloist and hanger-out at Jalopy.” With her second coffee-table book, Ukulele Chicken Sketchbook: Jalopy Bands, she continues the series of portraits begun in last year’s Live From the Audience: A Year of Drawing at the Jalopy. Perhaps inadvertently, she’s created a niche for herself as the documentarian of one of New York’s most vital music scenes, capturing the essentials of innumerable Americana roots artists in the span of a few lines and angles. Picture after picture, Hoffman gets it: the growling gravitas of the Little Brothers; the sprawl of the M Shanghai String Band; the Ukuladies with their Mona Lisa smiles; the Sweetback Sisters’ effortless competence and charm; the scruffy Brotherhood of the Jug Band Blues; the unselfconscious joy of the Calamity Janes, and Balkan brass band Veveritse’s spring-loaded swirl. With her band the Hot Mess, Jessy Carolina is portrayed as a flapper. Kelli Rae Powell looks like Liza Minelli (she’d love that, no doubt), and especially tiny next to her rugged bassist husband. And Hoffman absolutely nails Maybelles frontwoman Jan Bell’s plaintive soul with just a few decisive strokes. Hoffman celebrates the release of the book with a party on February 11 at 6 PM at – where else – the Jalopy, 315 Columbia St. in Red Hook, very easy to get to via the F to Carroll St. She recently took some time out of an obviously busy schedule to answer some questions:

Lucid Culture’s Correspondent: When did you discover the Jalopy?

Robin Hoffman: I live in the neighborhood, and I found Jalopy in the summer of 2008. My husband and I began going out late in the evening to stroll our baby to sleep, and we discovered that Columbia Street had a whole night life going on that hadn’t been there before we had the baby. Then I found out that Doug Skinner was teaching ukulele there, and that was that.

LCC: How do you find the time to spend so much time there? Frankly, I’m jealous…

RH: It’s my dumb good luck to live relatively close by. The show usually begins at 9, and my son usually goes to sleep around 8:30. My husband, Ben, likes that time to write, so I grab my sketchbook and head over.

LCC: When did you start drawing there?

RH: The first show I attended and drew was September 25, 2008. The audience was very sparse, and the late Bob Guida was on stage. Here was this huge man, playing a huge electric guitar and singing like a great big fat angel. He was just wonderful. The second show I went to, Ernie Vega was playing. And he was great, and again the house was inexplicably sparse. Ben and I looked at each other and said, is it always like this? Jalopy is quite a welcoming, friendly place, so I soon felt fine about going there alone.

LCC: Does this relate to a career in commercial art for you?

RH: I studied Illustration and Cartooning at School of Visual Arts here in New York. I like illustrating performing arts particularly, because of my long background in dance. I’ve done a small amount of editorial illustrating, and I do a little other commercial illustration. Mostly, I seem to sell my pictures and reproductions to individual customers.

LCC: Why do you do this? It’s not like this is ever going to get any space at brooklynvegan or stereogum…

RH: For me it’s an active interaction with the music, like I am still dancing. I think that’s probably the hit! I love the way bodies arrange themselves in order to make music. I love to enjoy good music. The Jalopy Theatre itself is a muse for me – I’m fascinated with the way it works as an experience for performer and audience. There’s a proscenium, and enough separation, but also a close proximity. It’s kind of a perfect blend of formality and intimacy.

LCC: At what point did you realize that you had something here, that this was a scene that really deserved to be documented?

RH: By the time I’d filled the first sketchbook, I knew I was witnessing a special moment in a special place. Seats were filling up; talented, dedicated people were in the audience and on the stage, also hanging out and having dialogue, musical and otherwise. The Jalopy is really a pillar of my neighborhood and has a fantastic energy. It’s fun to be there. I’ve filled up some sixteen sketchbooks now almost entirely at Jalopy.

LCC: Action shots are tough. What Bob Gruen and Mick Rock and all those photographers from the 70s did is great, capturing the stars of the era and of the underground, but when you look at them, half of the people in the photos are passed out in the CBGB bathroom. That’s not a hard shot to take. You, on the other hand, draw what appear to be exclusively live action portraits – even your sketch of the Jalopy’s owners, Geoff and Lynette Wiley, shows her behind the bar, and him checking the sound on a crowded weekend night, from the looks of it. There’s so much activity in these portraits – and what appears to be very quick pencil strokes on your part. Are you one of those super fast artists? Is it a matter of catching what’s in the frame before it fades?

RH: At first I considered taking photos for reference, but I abandoned that idea pretty quickly. I’m not capturing a literal instant in time. I’ve learned to have the patience to wait for a gesture to happen again, and to invest in what might seem to be mundane details. Those details can ironically be what draws your eye through the picture. As I practiced patience I developed speed.

LCC: These portraits are incredibly kinetic – to what degree, if at all, does your dance background inform your art?

RH: My dance background definitely informs the way I observe. In that first sketch of Bob Guida, for instance: he was sitting quite still but he had this inner spark going on that was very, very active. Then, look at a band such as the M. Shanghai String Band, which sometimes has twelve or thirteen players moving in a complex dance around one another and the mics. That dance has a rhythm that I depend upon to decide where to place everyone in the picture. As a former performer of a very physical art I understand these things and they interest me, and then I have to credit my illustration training with helping me understand how to put it on paper.

LCC: You play ukulele also – are you in a band? Performing these days?

RH: I love playing ukulele and I play every day, but I’m only just getting confident enough to join in jams. Learning to play music has been another rich part of this adventure.

LCC: Who’s the guy in the lower left corner in a lot of these?

RH: That is a wonderfully campy bust of Thomas Jefferson that is always stationed downstage right – on the the audience’s left – on the Jalopy stage, appearing to be looking at the performers. He is part of the decor – I love putting him in the picture. I believe Geoff said he got it at a garage sale.

February 2, 2011 Posted by | Art, blues music, country music, folk music, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 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: 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: Leonardo Drew, A.D. Peters et al. at the Brenda Taylor Gallery, NYC

You have all of two short weeks – through February 16 – to rush over to Chelsea to the Brenda Taylor Gallery, 511 W 25th St. between 10th and 11th Sts., gallery #401 on the fourth floor, to catch some of the most astonishing art on display in New York right now. In the side room there are several boldly playful, colorful, somewhat tongue-in-cheek paintings by Kathleen Kucka, acrylic appliqué on acrylic. Although many of the accent colors here are pastels, Kucka’s clever cut-and-paste gives them an amusing, guilt-free edge.

But the stars of the show are in the main room where you’ll find A.D. Peters’ new work Iron Ridge: Sunsplash, which is oil and ferric oxide (translation: rust) on a sheet of iron. It’s absolutely brilliant, a reverse image of sorts, of light seen through a thicket of trees. Only the light is painted: the woods reside in the untouched iron. The painting’s focal point, where the light is greatest, is obscured by a tree trunk. It’s a stunningly imaginative, somewhat dark work and is surprisingly inexpensive for something of such imagination and quality. Kudos to the gallery for spotting it.

The piece de resistance here is Leonardo Drew’s Number 74, dating from 1999. Drew’s specialty is gargantuan, wall- and floorsize installations assembled from found objects, something akin to the toy town Bob Geldof constructed out of bits and pieces of sledgehammered appliances in the film The Wall, taken to its logical extreme. Drew’s work is deliberately unsettling, often grotesque. This piece is particularly visceral, practically nauseating: it packs a knockout punch. It is impossible to turn away from. Within its huge, approximately eight by ten foot frame, there are several hundred square wood boxes, each seemingly in various states of decay (Drew’s use of sawdust here, mixed with other debris, is spectacularly effective). Across the top are plastered what appear to be used mop heads (or something equally Blair Witch), along with a couple dozen stuffed toys in various states of decomposition. All of the toys’ faces are either turned away from the viewer, or have been deliberately effaced. Childhood has hardly ever been this brutally or dismissively portrayed: to call this piece iconoclastic is a gross understatement. A work this powerful is too important to reside in the hands of a private collector (although one has to wonder who would actually have the fortitude to come home at night and be greeted by this on the adjacent wall). Whatever price the gallery is charging is not too much for a world-class museum to afford. MOMA, are you listening?

January 31, 2008 Posted by | Art, Reviews | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment