Europe is Balding

Europe is Balding, Matias Faldbakken

At Paula Cooper Gallery

By Peter Gregorio

Artists know a lot of very little about a lot of very little things. This is what makes us so good at what we do. We take risks and play. In his best moments, Matias Faldbakken embodies this spirit in his new work at Paula Cooper in Chelsea. 

When I first walked on the second floor extension of Paula Cooper Gallery I was standing in a large white room with the smoothed poured concrete floors that I covet.  In the center of the room was a free standing large baby blue ceramic tiled wall slab and some odd shaped undefined objects on the floor leaning against the wall to my right.  The wall reminds me of the façade of an old school gym locker room; kind of dirty and slapped together, cold and hard, slightly irregular.  Walking past the objects they appear garbage-like; a tiled shipping palette, a small sink, some car parts—pale painted dashboards that were tiled as well.  Colors were barfy red and green, pale blue, and stained bathtub white with the original material of wood metal and plastic peeking through.  They reminded me of Gedi Sibony’s subtle slabs and interventions of the gallery space.  Yet these seem sexier and more clever, less zen and more disturbing which appeals to me more.  Man everything looks good on these fetish cement floors, even when the artist makes something ugly-and here I mean ugly in the best sense of the way. Like how we love the fucked up collages of dirt, graffiti and ripped photos on NY subway walls or when we walk past a pile of tires that was just dumped on the edge of the street in Red Hook Brooklyn, the beauty of urban blight.  Now I’m tired so I walk on the other side of the big blue slab all the way to the far side of the room and sit on the floor with my back against the wall.

 

Sitting on the floor looking out at the baby blue tiled wall in front of me I notice this side resembles a large piece of TV viewing furniture that someone would have in their home with a central panel that houses a large flat screen and speaker. The video playing on the flat screen is a fictionalized documentary in a format similar to what you’d see on the history channel or some random cable crime channel.  There is an array of random shots of political and historical found footage intermixed with scenes from Bollywood, and grabbed media sliced and remixed throughout. There’s something so comical about the footage, so randomly mixed it’s familiar yet still impossible to understand. We fill in the content of what might be said.

The mockumentary feels clever and edgy, not just ironic in the way that so many contemporary artists use all the time, but rather more in the “we all get the joke” kind of way, like listening to the dialogue between Beavis and Butthead.  It has the vibe of Johan Grimonprez’s Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y; a cacophony of remixed news footage to create a commentary on the original. Non- fiction is the lie, fiction reveals the truth.

By presenting this installation of materials and digital media, Matias Faldbakken shows us the narrative of the lie and reveals the absurdity of the state of the media driven world we consume.  I find this work successful as fuck and clever as hell. I’m reminded of the line by Tyler Durden in Fight Club,

Durden: How’s that working out for you?

Narrator: What?

Durden: Being clever.

Narrator: Great.

Durden: Keep it up then, right up.

OK so…

I just read the press release statement on the gallery website…

Shit

I got it completely wrong. 

What is the name of your first pet?

What is the Name of Your First Pet?

Hood Gallery, Brooklyn, NY

By Jenny Lee

 

Mike Schreiber’s solo show at Hood Gallery is located in a row of shipping containers converted into rental store units.  An open secret in the Bushwick/Bedstuy art neighborhood, the space itself is around eighteen by seven feet. In its usual state it is tidy and retrofitted with gallery lights and drywall.  The title of the show, “What is the Name of Your First Pet?” is taken from one of the standard security questions that one would use in order to protect sensitive personal information online.  Art as a publicly available but extremely personal practice is a tension that is addressed here by Schreiber’s ceiling to floor transformation of the gallery.  The walls have been painted black, the lighting amped up clinically bright and the floor covered with kitty litter two inches deep.  Sprinkled throughout are half buried cat toys and a pair of hot topic studded bracelets interlocked.  The feeling is not unlike traversing a public beach in Atlantic City; Random bits of rubbish from a day party sticking out from the sand, with techno music thumping from a beach club speaker.  These devices set the mood for the six equally sized oil paintings hanging on the wall.  At first glance their look of hard- edged illustration feels stylishly banal, with a severely restricted palette of cobalt blue, cadmium red, black white and silver.  The imagery is sourced from the casual drawing sessions that he and his partner Mary Kosut have produced over the years, and the subject matter reflects a kind of spontaneity from this practice.  Cats, big bottomed ladies, faces with their stylish hair cuts, webs and ornate butterflies are rendered in a perversely consistent style.  The use of unbreaking painted lines with even thickness simulates the scribbled line quality of a sharpie marker.  The resulting look of a silkscreened drawing points to a kind of pictographic language.  Schreiber uses this as a way to translate the intimate into the communal without sacrificing the nuanced feel of a comfortable and unguarded dialogue.

A couple of subway stops from Hood gallery you’ll find GCA, or Group Club Association.  This is an exhibition space run out of the other half of Schreiber’s studio and co- run with Kosut.  Tom Koehler, who runs Hood gallery, looks like he could be Schreiber’s long lost brother.  Two tall skinny white guys, it’s obvious that they have an affinity to each other that goes beyond the fact that they both run their own art spaces.  In a concurrent exhibition, GCA featured Koehler’s site- specific ambitiously large crucifix sculpture, completing the art space swap.  This artistic carte blanche is a shrinking privilege where liability in galleries is continuously being mitigated by the demands of return on investments.  Although initially appearing like a cynical simulation of broader art world nepotism, it takes little scrutiny to realize the mutual respect and camaraderie these two producers of local art scenes share for each other.  The ability to use this alienating structure as a form to produce intimate and poetic exchanges possesses a certain vitality, albeit cut with a somber resolve.  Maybe the title of the show is an evocation of this feeling, finding a moment of personal significance within all this mechanical business.

Down the River

 

Open Plan: Andrea Fraser - Down The River

Whitney Museum, New York, NY

by Arthur Ivan Bravo

Having not yet been to the Whitney since it moved into its new location in the Meatpacking District from the Upper East Side just under a year ago, my assignment to write something up about Andrea Fraser’s contribution to the museum’s Open Plan program finally gave me a good excuse to go and see what all the hype was about.  After all, this Open Plan thing in particular sounded interesting enough: a series of five successive exhibitions by as many renowned artists, to be housed within its “dramatic fifth-floor,” which was being touted as “a single open gallery, unobstructed by interior walls,” making it “the largest column-free museum exhibition space in New York.”  How could one not be intrigued?

Fraser, well known for her institutional critique-by-way-of-performance art practice, must have been aware what kind of opportunity was afforded her as the first artist to exhibit in, and utilize, the Whitney’s impressive fifth floor, that is to say nothing of the overall context – social, cultural, political, economic, and whatnot – surrounding the museum’s institutional status in the art world, and around its much publicized – and expensive – move from one area of Manhattan to another, all of which unraveled from 2014 to 2015.

Her contribution, a site-specific ‘installation’ titled ‘Down The River,’ consisted of nothing more than an audio track of unspecified duration played by a grid of speakers evenly distributed throughout the entire ceiling of the space, so as to produce a consistency in how well it could be heard by the visitor below, no matter where in the space they were.  But what then, did the contents of the audio involve, what was the subject matter?  Fraser was able to gain access to record inside the Sing Sing Correctional Facility, a prison located 30 miles north of the city, along the Hudson, which itself provided for the generous, even beautiful (I was there at sundown), view from the west side of the fifth floor space.  At Sing Sing, Fraser recorded the everyday sounds of prison life, from guards and inmates talking and yelling, to announcements being made by speaker, to cell doors slamming shut, to even music being played, and birds chirping.  Indeed, her contribution was as much a response, considering the circumstances. 

Actually, the audio Fraser recorded was only just audible enough, as if to accentuate its competition with the vastness of the space, and the city views from its eastern and western-facing windows, for the visitor’s attention.  As I walked around and across the space, finding nothing there except for the audio emitting from above, and distracted by the sense of freedom and the views beckoning from either side, I thought many visitors – tourists, families, a few young people, lots of yuppies – probably either didn’t notice the audio, or mistook it for the sonic ambience of the museum itself.  I saw children running and playing, adults taking photographs, a young woman dancing, another sitting against the wall writing on a notebook, and tourists at a loss for what to do except to keep walking.  Approaching either side of the space, I saw the Hudson, New Jersey on the other side, an endless parade of cars going to and fro, people bicycling (it was one of those nice days), jogging…On the other side, I saw the end of the High Line, more tourists and picture taking, a couple of very stylish young women who suddenly got up and left, and lots of very human activity on the street below, only the glass separating me from what I was seeing, and slightly muting it all.  

I realized that, for me at least, ‘Down The River’ was about us, human beings, in the absence of Andrea Fraser of course, left to our own devices, and our uniquely conditioned capacities for paying attention to what goes on around us.  

The Human Instamatic

The Human Instamatic

The Bronx Museum, New York, NY

by Adam Zucker

 

“The Human Instamatic,” the title of Martin Wong’s first New York museum retrospective is culled from the nickname given to Wong early in his art making career. Looking at the scope of his work, it is evident the title personifies him, as an artist who expressed the depth of humanity within the contemporary urban community.

Wong had humble beginnings, born in Portland, Oregon and raised in San Francisco. He was largely self-taught as a painter making portraits, which he sold at street fairs throughout Eureka, California. Part of his inspiration to move to New York in 1978, was prompted by a friend that his success in Eureka was OK, but to be similarly successful in the Art Mecca of the country would make him a star.

Following his dream, Wong soon lived, breathed and fully embodied the life of downtown Manhattan. From the beginning of his time in New York he had a penchant for romanticizing the blighted environment that often engulfed his subjects. This is not simplistic idealization however, but rather stems from his direct relationship with his peers in the art community.  This can be seen in a number of his works, such as the lovers in the painting Sharp and Dottie (1984).  Setting the two lovers in a dystopic urban setting presents a powerful juxtaposition. The painting depicts two lovers, acquaintances of Wong’s - - embracing one another within a pile of rubble in front of a towering tenement building. On one hand the painting depicts the displacement that the ethnically diverse community faced in light of the neighborhood’s deterioration and eventual gentrification; on the other hand it envisions the redemption of the human spirit.

Wong’s passion for human nature is also evident in Big Heat (1988), where a tenement building burning in the background is juxtaposed by the fiery passion between two lip-locked firemen who have little interest in the building’s fate. Here, Wong presented a utopian vision of love in a seemingly unlikely environment. Wong’s fascination with fire fighters is further evident in the painting My Fire Guy (1988), where the artist wrote “I really like the way firemen smell when they get off work, it’s like hickory smoked rubber and B.O.”

He was also enthralled by the graffiti movement and often headed out with crews on the Lower East Side while they created large elaborate tags on buildings and objects within the urban environment. Attorney Street (Handball Court With Autobiographical Poem by Piñero) preserves one of the pieces created by a graffiti-writing friend of Miguel Piñero, Wong’s partner and sometimes collaborator. In this work, Piñero’s poetry fills the top grey sky portion of the painting and on the surface of the handball court Wong paints large hands that sign a line Piñero wrote for the film Fort Apache (1981): “It’s the real deal Neal, I’m going to rock your world.”

In these works, Wong’s inimitable mixture of kitsch and high art collide. Not only is this seen in his stylized imagery sourced directly from his loosely edited experiences, but also in his potent use of symbolism.  In many of his works he blends imagery such as red iron oxide bricks and cartoon like hands signing in American Sign Language. The sign language is an allegory for his alienation, and the bricks are metaphors for an obstacle or an entrapment. However, bricks don’t always carry negative connotations. These bricks, and Wong’s oeuvre in general, produce nostalgia for the gritty and edgy city prior to the influx of glass towers, obscene wealth, and blasé boutiques seen today.

After tragically dying from an AIDS related illness in 1999, Martin Wong’s artistic legacy had been as an outsider, unnoticed by larger audiences until just recently.  Near the show’s exit is a group of late works made after he was diagnosed with HIV. He was back in San Francisco living in his parent’s house. These black and white canvases of succulent plants are the most mysterious works in the show. Composed as if shot through a macro lens, these plants seemingly symbolize a sublime return to nature. The Human Instamatic has risen once more.