Filed under Man About Town

A Couple of Sleeper Shows

October 2, 2012
Professor Tom Wolf

School is back, and so is the art season in New York, in full swing.  On my way around some much talked about shows in Chelsea and uptown, I have found a couple of gems that aren’t getting so much buzz but that are well worth visiting.  They also afford the great pleasure that when you see them you are not among throngs of people, but almost alone with the works of art.

In Chelsea you should definitely catch Thomas Hirschhorn’s dramatic capsized installation at Barbara Gladstone (530 West 21st, through October 20), Richard Phillips’ glamorous Hollywood treatment of Lindsay Lohan at Gagosian, with some immense paintings by Anselm Kiefer and two huge sculptures by Baselitz in the side gallery (for those of you who like Wagnerian sturm und drang), (555 West 24th, through October 20), plus Justin Lowe and Jonah Freeman‘s dystopian funhouse at Marlborough (the favorite of my Contemporary Art students, 545 West 25th, through October 27).  But a less trafficked show at Bruce Silverstein offers different pleasures.  Modestly titled Seven Americans after a 1925 exhibition, it features a group of major American modernist artists, those grouped around the great photographer and art impresario, Alfred Stieglitz.

Maine Seacoast Still Life, Hartley

Equivalent, Alfred Stieglitz

The gallery includes several works by each of the now historic Seven Americans included in Stieglitz’s original show:  Charles Demuth, Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, John Marin, Paul Strand, Stieglitz himself, and Georgia O’Keeffe, the one woman.  The modest sized works usually take nature as their subject, and often feature close up views, as these early 20th century modernists, especially Dove, come daringly close to total abstraction, while also retaining some reference to the real world.  Stiegltiz’s nine photographs from his Equivalents series exemplify this:  black and white expanses of sky and clouds with celestial light playing across them, they are tiny (around 3 1/2” X 4 1/2”) monochrome prints that capture infinite space.  In the show they are given equal status to the paintings, honoring Stieglitz’s early 20th century campaign to have photographs accepted as works of art, hardly an issue today.  Among the paintings, the exhibition features two compact nature abstractions by O’Keeffe, and a rare opportunity to see four Hartley still life paintings in a row.

Meanwhile, uptown the Regarding Warhol show at the Metropolitan Museum is a must, as it features a mini-retrospective of one of the most important and entertaining artists of the late 20th century, plus assorted works by 60 other celebrity artists who, like almost all of their contemporaries, could claim to be influenced by him.   Pick your time carefully—when I went for a second look this Saturday afternoon the entrance to the exhibition was so crowed you had to stand and wait to get in, and most of the exhibition is not spaciously installed (I looked at the splendid, recently re-installed 19th century American paintings instead).

Mike Kelley, Memory Ware Flat #49

Mark Kelley, Memory Ware Flat #41

Peter Scheldahl, in his review of the Warhol show in The New Yorker agreed with the general consensus that another 60 artists could just as easily have been chosen as influenced by Warhol—but he singled out Los Angeles artist Mike Kelley as a particularly conspicuous omission (and suggested a curatorial bias against the West coast).  By coincidence you can walk a couple of blocks south of the Met and see a splendid show of Mike Kelley’s Memory Ware Flats at Skarstedt Gallery, (20 East 79tth, through October 20).  I was alone in the gallery when I went on a Tuesday afternoon.   These works are rectangular conglomerations packed top to bottom with small mass produced found objects:  plastic jewelry, plastic toys, buttons, etc., held in place with tile grout. Between 6 and 7 feet in their longest dimension their frenetic surfaces recall Jackson Pollock paintings or Alfonso Ossorio’s combines, but their imagery evokes the bargain stores of Middle America as much as Warhol’s soup cans evoke supermarkets.  The assorted stickers, peace signs, and buttons include slogans such as “I know 50 Ways to Taco Bell,” “Drug Use Is Life Abuse,” “Mom’s Taxi—Buckle Up,” “I Was ‘Gangster’ Rocked,” and “Vote for Secretary Rachel Cortes—‘Cuz Character Counts.” In juxtaposition they suggest the rich diversity of everyday American life—the subject matter of Pop art in the 1960s.  Depending on the artist’s choice of objects, the works range from buoyantly multicolored to elegantly restrained–like Memory War Flat # 49, (2008), on the second floor, the most recent piece in the show, which the artist restricted to just black, white and gold objects.  The little plastic death’s head, positioned just below the middle on the central axis of the piece, can’t help reminding us of Kelley’s recent suicide; recalling the loss of this talented artist it adds an elegiac note to a handsome and exuberant exhibition.