Image courtesy of Sloan Fine Art, NY
Kristen Schiele’s “Good Bad-Girls” (2010, mixed media with silkscreen on canvas)
Look ahead with Stephanie Buhmann
Noteworthy Exhibitions in April
BY STEPHANIE BUHMANN
Having survived March’s art fair extravaganza, New York galleries, museums, artists, and their audience can now re-focus on a less frantic program.
One of the best shows in town is last month’s recommended Skin Fruit (New Museum of Art, 235 Bowery, Through June 6th). Jeff Koons’ selection from Dakis Joannou’s collection proves less sensationalistic than feared, considering its notorious focus on shock value. True, the exhibition whose title alludes to “Skin Flute” is sex-centric (a digital print depicting a lesbian mega-orgy and a Claymation film showcasing foreplay between a girl and a tiger are two examples), but also intelligent, humorous, and diverse. Ultimately, it has as much surface sparkle as it has substance. Well-known heavyweights, such as Paul McCarthy and Kiki Smith, and younger artists, such as Elliott Hundley are represented with good and sometimes excellent works, but three stand out: Pawel Althamer’s depiction of the Crucifixion as a theatrical performance set, in which a bike seat on the cross will allow the actor to comfortably take the famous pose after having reached for the crown of thorns on a changing stand; Janine Antoni’s Saddle, featuring a full rawhide that has been draped over and taken on the form of a kneeling human figure ready to be ridden; and All, a sculptural installation by Maurizio Cattelan from 2007 (another version is currently installed at the Menil Collection in Houston), which consists of a line of several covered corpses. Each is made of white Carrara marble, taking this antique medium and its connotation of status and immortality to a sobering level.
Unfortunately, Sue Gurnee’s show at Feature Inc. fell short of expectations (131 Allen St., closed March 27th). Though tasteful and tender, her compositions are too reminiscent of Kandinsky, Klee and Ernst. The installation comes with viewing instructions, one of which reads: “Instead of bringing your energy and artistic sensibilities to each canvas let the image’s vibrations contact you.” Besides being a painter, Gurnee is a healer, whose approach to art will certainly divide the audience. While those less esoterically inclined will cringe, others will find inspiration because of it. However, what matters is the quality of the visual content, which in this case is prone to repetition. Cloudy atmospheres that are made of purple and white washes, orb-like formations, and spare geometric electric lines dominate most compositions. One is to view the works from a “4 - 10 feet distance”; but art should not need such guidelines as it allows everyone to feel whatever it is one’s unique makeup will bring up.
In his New York solo debut, Tobias Madison proves how installation art can be a neo-minimalist affair (Swiss Institute, 495 Broadway, Through Apr. 24th). Hydrate + Perform consists of several large acrylic tanks filled with differently colored Vitamin Water. The repetition of geometric forms might be reminiscent of Donald Judd, but the vivid color chart and liquid content also hint at Pop Art’s celebration of consumer goods. Madison is still in the process of shaping his voice, but his vocabulary seems to be in place and one should anticipate his future endeavors.
As expected, Dean Monogenis makes an excellent case for contemporary landscape painting (Collette Blanchard Gallery, 26 Clinton St., Through Apr. 18th). He infuses natural elements with industrial footnotes, renegotiating the divide between manmade constructions and nature’s spare leftovers. Monogenis knows that while forced to coexist, the two nevertheless enhance each other by means of contrast. As if nodding to his 19th Century predecessors, he manages to bestow a sense of Romanticism upon his landscapes, which now are part of urban melting pots that almost begin to look natural.
In April, the late, legendary downtown artist couple Leon Golub (1922–2004) and Nancy Spero (1926-2009) will receive much deserved attention. Spero died last October and though she will not be subject of a solo exhibition, a public commemoration of her life and work will be held in The Great Hall at Cooper Union (7 E. 7th St., April 18th, 3pm). Meanwhile, The Drawing Center will open the first major museum exhibition of Golub’s late drawings. (Live & Die Like a Lion, 40 Wooster St., April 23rd–July 23rd, Reception: Apr. 22nd, 6–pm). Golub was a force, who like the artists of the Viennese secession or Neue Sachlichkeit decades earlier employed painting and drawing as a fundamental and political form of expression. Especially by the late 1990s, Golub’s use of line gained an unapologetic vigor that in the context of figurative art was unusual at the time. The fact that this has since changed is in some part due to him. Golub’s powerful figures and larger-than-life creatures will come unleashed only blocks from the Village, where Spero and Golub lived and worked together for many years.
Sloan Fine Art will host its second solo exhibition of the Brooklyn based artist Kristen Schiele (128 Rivington St., April 21st-May 15th, Reception: April 21st, 6-8pm). Entitled Elektra, this new body of work is based on Schiele’s signature depiction of strong female characters in deconstructed architectural settings. This concoction comes in a vibrant multi-media outfit as Schiele’s technique includes silkscreen, painting, and ink transfers. Compositions are cut apart, x-rayed and reassembled, to create the perfect grounds on which her heroines, derived from pulp novels or fashion magazines, can hold center stage. Schiele’s works are densely layered with images that evoke an array of emotions, ranging from nostalgia to post-modern detachment. The artist’s fascination with B movies and classic horror films aids in establishing a mood that while hovering above gore and kitsch, reflects contemporary media insanity and mythology.
One of the city’s beloved mid-career painters, Amy Sillman, explores unexpected twist and turns (Sikkema Jenkins & Co., 530 W. 22nd St., April 15th-May 15th, Reception: April 15th, 6-8pm). She works intuitively, letting her compositions evolve over time, as if traveling from an unconscious stream of thought to slowly forming sentences and clear-cut statements. While previous works have contained figurative elements, later compositions have been abstract. As one might hold one’s breath about where Sillman is heading next, assured will be her demonstration of ease when she turns formal rhythm, a brilliant sense of color and a joyous celebration of the texture of paint, which in de Kooning’s tradition can range from thick impasto to thin washes, into sophisticated works of art.
One of the most promising group shows to open in April is Devotion, featuring Mary Heilmann, Emily Kame Knegwarreye, Chris Martin, Alix Le Meleder, Joel Shapiro, Pat Steir, Al Taylor, and Joe Fyfe (ZÜRCHER studio, 33 Bleecker St., Apr. 7th–May 16th, Reception: April 7th, 6-8 pm). Curated by Fyfe, it embraces the concept that art making can be seen as a sacred ritual of sorts, which requires a high standard of faithfulness, commitment, and care. Within this context, the selected artists work within various self-established rules and traditions. Occasionally, devotion and obsession can go hand-in-hand and an astonishing story comes with Emily Kame Kngwarreye. Based in the central desert region of Australia, she moved from making batik to painting at the age of 78. In eight years, she created about three thousand paintings, in which splotches made with round-tip brushes dominate. Like her colleagues in this show, her work becomes a discourse in the devotion to an individualized technique and vocabulary.