Gerald Davis, The Man in the Traffic Light / oil on canvas / 2008
Four separate shows, showing below Houston
The discovery of many rare treasures awaits
BY STEPHANIE BUHMANN
The Generational: Younger Than Jesus
Through July 5, at New Museum, 235 Bowery
212.219.1222 or www.newmuseum.org
This is the first edition of The Generational, the New Museums newly established triennial. It is an ambitious, vast exhibition, which encompasses approximately 145 works by fifty artists from no less than twenty-five countries. All of the artists here were born after 1976, making them no older than thirty-three (which many believe to have been the age of Jesus when he was crucified).
It seems obvious that the age delineation was largely picked in favor of a racy exhibition title, if not to provide a run-on-joke. Just the other day, for example, the museum sent out another email to their mailing list as a reminder for the exhibition with a subject line that read: Come to Jesus. But while its title might be flashy, it is also a testament to the exhibitions premise that much enduring gestures in art and history have been made by young people in the early stages of their lives.
While of course this is true if one thinks of geniuses such as Egon Schiele or Jimmy Hendrix for example, it is hard to see past the conscious marketability of this curatorial concept.
The most interesting aspect of this exhibition however, at least for those who do not believe that radical ideas are necessarily tied to a certain age group, is that it is organized according to the New Museums ambition to explore art on an international level. While the works on display cover a wide range of media, including painting, photography, film, performance, installation, dance, internet-based works, and video games, they also cover extensive geographic ground.
The artists in This Generational hail from Algeria, China, Colombia, Germany, India, Lebanon, Poland, Turkey, or Venezuela, for example and many have never shown in the US before (let alone in a museum context). Of course, a project that extensive requires a larger group of informants than one sole institutions curatorial staff. And in fact, for Younger Than Jesus artists were selected through a participatory curatorial model. An international network of correspondents, 150 curators, writers, teachers, artists, critics, and bloggers were summoned to suggest artists for the exhibition and as a result, more than 500 of those recommended were researched and considered.
To some, the exhibition might unfold simply as a hodgepodge of ideas, tendencies and styles. But to others, including the museums curatorial staff, it portrays something that is currently coming into shape: the development of a global culture. Though only time will tell how many of these artists in this exhibition will continue to challenge us and will have indeed, a lasting impact, or even just a chance to present their work in a public forum, for now, they as a group offer a cross-section of the various tastes out there.
Wiser than God; Worldwide Working Artists Born in or Before 1926
Through July 31
BLT Gallery, 270 Bowery
212-260-4129 or www.billyleethompson.com
Continuing this summers Lower East Side tradition of putting together group exhibitions with tongue-in-cheek titles, BLT stages (as the press release puts it) a project that should have us expect a ferocious battle of the generations raging across New Yorks Bowery. However amusing when seen in context with the New Museums Younger than Jesus show across the street, which was of course its initial source of inspiration, Wiser than God is by no means slight or superficial. Quite the opposite. Conceived by Adrian Dannatt and co-curated with Jan Frank, it is a fantastic exhibition that even to the most savvy and seasoned art audience will offer the discovery of many rare treasures.
The Lithuanian born (but Brooklyn based) filmmaker Jonas Mekas (b. 1922), Francoise Gilot (b. 1921), Picassos companion from 1944 to 1953, and Dorothea Tanning (b. 1910), who in the late 1940s married the famous Surrealist Max Ernst, for example, are only three among many well-established and lesser-known artists included. As its title suggests, Wiser than God might not take itself too seriously, but it does translate as a valid argument, namely that experience weighs more profoundly than youth.
What is a shocking, though pleasant realization when reading over the names of the artists featured, is how many of them are not just still alive but actively working. That might sound macabre, but it is simply just more evidence that in a culture fixated on youth, many older artists can become forgotten too fast. To see some of these artists showcased here is not only a pleasure in itself, but also a thought provoking hint at the fact that we are all partially responsible for the longevity of the art of our time.
Gerald Davis: The Damned
Through July 19
Salon 94 Freemans
1 Freeman Alley
212-529-7400 or www.salon94.com
In his second show with this gallery (which features figurative paintings and drawings), LA-based artist Gerald Davis presents us with portraits of haunted outcasts. Grouped together as The Damned, Davis subjects inhabit obscure and terrifying worlds where alienation and the grotesque spread like a disease.
While themes of sexuality and the loss of innocence continue to characterize Davis work, this exhibition offers a new twist. Captured in his signature style, Davis has turned his focus from the turbulences of youth, the inherent awkwardness and embarrassments, to the hardships of a more eclectic (and more adult) group of characters.
Revealing Davis interest in Classical portraiture and subject matter, an intriguing painting entitled Venice Beach translates as a contemporary take on the Virgin Mary. The composition is dominated by the figure of a woman, her pose arranged according to the Renaissance Triangle, which was a visual manifestation of the Classical ideals of order, balance and stability. However, Davis denies her any sense of noblesse. Her environment is far from heavenly and instead, Davis has her sitting with her baby in her arms on the pavement. We are forced to peek through the legs of a couple of anonymous male bystanders, witnessing her attempts to sell handcrafted goods. She is angelically blond, but also somewhat haggard, an unpredictable fusion of Madonna and witch, or a possible combination of half saint half rogue.
Like John Currin or Lisa Yuskavage before him, Davis pursues a style that fuses a love for detail with social satire. His palette is rich in flesh tones, bestowing a somewhat dreamlike aura and a touch of kitsch upon each figure. Recently, Davis, (who was born in 1974 in Pittsburgh, PA) has received much attention. He was singled out in USA TODAY at the Royal Academy of Art in 2006, and his work is in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles.While this exhibition proves that Davis is indeed an artist worth following, it still leaves us guessing, where he might travel next.
Mark Mastroianni & Rick Begneaud: Signs of Life
Through July 10
133 Eldridge Street
212-966-3411 or www.woodwardgallery.net
This two-person show, featuring Mark Mastroianni & Rick Begneaud, makes a good case for poetic abstraction in painting. Both artists favor a palette that combines pastels with occasional earth tones and they share an obvious affinity for organically morphing forms. Their works are atmospheric, soothing and what most would consider as transcendent.
While there is a sense of spontaneity in the expressive nature of some of Mastroiannis and Begneauds gestures, their compositions are well thought out and balanced. Harmonious is the adjective that is most applicable; and it is while looking at the often-disguised content that one will find two artists who seem very much in unison with their environment.
Mastroianni and Begneaud both draw extensively from their experiences and relations to what surrounds them. But whereas Mastroianni is strongly influenced by nature (in particular the motions of water and the reflection of light), Rick Begneauds inspiration is deeply rooted in his extensive travels, as well as the places and the people he encounters. To both, mixed media is a means to express their eclectic experiences and thoughts. Mastroianni, though also working with oil on canvas, has long favored tarpaper which enables him to build up smooth surfaces. His imagery, (often ethereal, ranging from abstract to illustrative), seems to float above and within these in-between spaces constantly on the verge of transformation.
In contrast, Begneaud embraces collage to create compositions that hint at geometric organization. He in particular appropriates textiles that he gathers from the many places he visits, mounting them onto the canvas as rectangular shapes and combining them with painted accents, such as red color dots. In contrast to some other shows this month that preach the radical, Mastroianni and Begneaud continue along a path that is as private as it is introspective and calm.