Posted on March 10th, 2011

Around Town with Tom Wolf

Tom’s Picks


February 20, 2011

The art season in NYC is going full swing, and there are plenty of interesting shows to see in Chelsea.

Koh and his white salt cone

Walk into the Mary Boone Gallery, and if you are already familiar with it you notice that the anteroom has been stripped down—no Corbusier easy chairs for the moment—and a white curtain separates you from the main space.  White is one of the themes of Terrence Koh’s show in the central gallery (541 W. 24th, through March 19).  The expansive room is dominated by a huge cone made up of thousands of chunks of salt.  The artist, gaunt faced, short haired, dressed all in white, shuffles around the cone on his knees with an expressionless face.  His progression must be painful to his knees, and exhausting.  While I was there he once stopped and lay face down on the floor, before raising himself up and resuming his slow progress.  Spectators are silent watching this rituali, which follows the practice of physically punishing performances by Vito Acconci, Chris Burton, Marina Abramovic among others.   Self-abuse in the name of art was once shocking but now has become a tradition; with his white color scheme and his meditative progress around the cone, Koh turns it into an exercise of renunciation with spiritual overtones.  I returned two weeks later and it looked like Koh had kneepads under his white pants, and he had shaved his head, making him seem even more Zen monk-like. Although he has cultivated an image in the art world as a scenester, here he makes an analogy between art and worship, and it is impressive to watch his determined round.

For sheer extravagance, check out Francesco Vezzoli’s Christian-kitsch

Crying Portrait of Kim Alexis as a Renaissance Madonna with Holy Child, 2010

extravaganza, Sacrilegio, at Gagosian Gallery’s 21st Street space (522 W. 21st, through March 12).  The main gallery is laid out like the aisle of a church with images of the Virgin and Child in the side apses.  The icons are photos of paintings by Italian Renaissance masters like Giovanni Bellini, with the Madonna’s face replaced by those of fashion models like Claudia Schiffer and Stephanie Seymour.  Tears, embroidered out of thread, emanate stiffly from the eyes of mother and child.  These confections are surrounded by gold gilt frames that droop and ooze like Dali’s watches.  The whole ensemble culminates with a stained glass window featuring Vezzoli as Saint John the Baptist, but carrying a big embroidering needle and thread in place of the Saint’s long cross; a side aisle contains a film of the artist’s mother as the Madonna singing a pop song, “Domenica” by the Singing Nun.  Where does this guy get his budget!?