May Fare: Chelsea

Steven Kaltenblach is a guy I can relate to, an overlooked prankster cutting through the pomp of circumstance of the art world.  Tucked into the back corner of Marlborough is a small sample of his conceptual work and sculpture.   A typed essay from 1968, “A Short Article on Art Expression” begins with “The manipulation of perception is a valid goal of art expression.”  And continues, “There are three factors which determine the nature of any perception: the object perceived, the environment in which the perception takes place, and the person who expresses the perception.”  A message in a bottle washed upon the banks of Chelsea close to fifty years later reminding me to be aware of constructs behind looking at art.  The essay was included in the catalog of the 1969 exhibition, “When Attitudes Become Form,” which coincidentally, is a great title for a Koons exhibition.

Speaking of attitudes and environments the only imaginative thought I could wrangle from Richard Serra’s exhibition at Gagosian was the analogy of “house of cards.”  How much intellectual and emotional weight can be derived from cold steel?  It is like the Richard Tuttle show at Pace, a study a poetic self-importance and conceptual materialism.  Perhaps it is the particularly American tendency of overemphasis that I have a distinct aversion to.  The entire Serra exhibition is a manipulation.  Later, upon reflection,  I thought those three rooms of cold steel really did make an interesting statement after all: ABOVE BELOW BETWIXT BETWEEN,  EVERY  WHICH WAY,  SILENCE (FOR JOHN CAGE).

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“Shrines To Speed,” a nostalgic exhibition that explores car culture at Leila Heller Gallery, is filled with big names like Warhol, Basquiat, Prince, Hopper, Koons, and Eggleston.  Bruce High Quality Foundation is also included reminding me of their work entitled ‘We Like America and America Likes Us’ at the 2010 Whitney Biennial that projected movie scenes from the windshield of a classic Cadillac ambulance.  But the thinly sliced Citroën by Gabriel Orozco is still by far the most cunning statement on car culture for me.  Interesting to note that car design today has lost its independence and in many ways the result is not sexy or seductive.  All automobiles look essentially the same now.  The aesthetic decline marks the dumbing down of the smart car where autonomy is erased.  Like globalization itself, homogeneity is the goal.

You are bound to learn something at Bruce Silverstein, a gallery that always pushes the envelope of photography.  The title of their new exhibition “Songs and the Sky” comes from Alfred Stieglitz’s cloud study series “Songs of the Sky” which became Equivalents  (1925–1937).  The exhibition encourages listening to music as a complement to the photographic display.  I tapped into an interesting work by Henry Cowell, a Eastern leaning composition derived from plucking the piano strings. At times I felt like I was in a derelict basement with groaning pipes as I look at the photos by Barbara Morgan who captured Martha Grahams “Deep Song” (1937) a response to the Spanish Civil War.  I will have to return for further enlightenment.

More music awaits next-door at Luhring Augustine whose program has exploded with sound over the last few years.  Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller have created a true gesamkunstwerk out of an old caravan. “The Marionette Maker” (2014 ) simultaneously conjures the freedom and mechanization of art while revealing it as a spectator sport, part and parcel of the entertainment industry.  A very apt statement on the condition of artistic appreciation and practice today.  This has to be experienced.  The object (s) perceived, the environment in which the perception takes place, and the person (s) who express the perception are all in a perfect groove of profundity.  And that’s not all, Experiment in F# Minor (2013) in the back space are a set of speakers cranking out clanging guitars conducted by your own shadow.   The result sounds eerily like the soundtrack of Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man, which was the handiwork of Neil Young.

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Ken Price (Detail of ) Coffee Shop at the Chicago Art Institute, 1971, Acrylic and ink on board

I have never seen so many Ken Price drawings together in one place until I went into Matthew Marks. The artist’s color sense and intellect is eye-opening and off-beat.  Price’s drawings are constructed with the extra-sensory in mind, hallucinatory and imaginative.  One can imagine the Fabulous Freak Brothers walking out of one of his landscapes. Looking at all of them made me appreciate a red box truck, the green leaves and blue windows outside the gallery even more so.

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Lastly, I had an immediate knee-jerk criticism of Jocelyn Hobbie’s portraits at Frederick and Frieser due to their candy land colors and empty, thoughtless, faces. But the more I let them work their discreet charm, the more I came to appreciate their beauty and compositional flair. This is popular art that mirrors the vapid, airbrushed imposition of fashion magazines that appeals to a broad set.  Hobbie has manipulated perception well enough for a sold out show.

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-JSB