On the fingers of one hand: the best of this week’s new gallery shows.
It’s that time of year again. Labor Day’s behind us and the city’s gallery season is about to begin. It is always an exciting moment, regardless of the economy, and it’s an excitement that seems to catch the imagination of people way beyond the usual gallery-going public. Though I shall be happy to give Chelsea’s Thursday evening bunfight a miss, it’s a long time since I remember the fall line up for New York’s gallery and museum shows looking quite so tantalizing. Everyone has their predictions, and they’re often pretty much the same, so I’ve tried to change things up a little bit, and here, in my “On the fingers of one hand” format, are five shows opening this week that, while I’m not claiming they are the indisputable best out there, are ones you’d certainly be silly to miss.
Since they first opened for business just three years ago, Darren Ching and Deborah Klomp Ching have planted their DUMBO gallery firmly on the New York City art map, and managed to make a significant contribution to gallery-goers’ perception of the possibilities for contemporary photography. Their new show promises to be one of the best even by their daunting standards. Phillip Toledano has already produced some remarkable bodies of work (“Bankrupt”, “Phonesex”, and “Days With My Father” are probably his most celebrated projects) but his “New Kind of Beauty” pictures achieve a unique character, and are as haunting as they are timely. His subjects are people who have had themselves radically remodeled by cosmetic surgery – in their pursuit of the sublime they have achieved something nearer the ridiculous, and herein lies their pathos. (Please note that Klompching are quite sensibly jumping the gun a little and opening their show tonight, Wednesday, September 8)
If there is something chilling about the look on Phillip Toledano’s subjects’ faces, the fact that Santiago Sierra’s subjects are rendered anonymous is only one small aspect of his work’s horrifying power. Mr Sierra is one of the most sophisticated political artists working anywhere today, and I predict that his new show “Los Penetrados” (which yes, translates as “The Penetrated”) will be among the most thought-provoking (and talked about) to open in the city this season. It centers on a 45-minute video piece in eight sections. These feature, in turn, the anal penetration of white women by white men, of white men by white men, of black women by white men, of black men by white men, of black women by black men, of black men by black men, of white women by black men, and of white men by black men. Mr Sierra’s intention is the lucid articulation of economic, social, and sexual realities. In this his brutally explicit show succeeds wonderfully.
Perhaps I might not have included Irina Davis’s smirking beauties had I not still been haunted by Messrs Toledano and Sierra’s rather more muscular work, but the juxtaposition lends her Russian take on the conventions of vintage American girlie pictures an extra dimension. The cultural relationship between the U.S. and the former Soviet Empire is possibly the great forgotten issue in global politics, so fixated have commentators become on the rise of the Chinese economy. But these titillating shots of real Russian women enacting the coy poses that our grandfathers preferred as packaging for their women’s sexuality serve as a provocative reminder of its relevance. Ms Davis was raised in Khabarovsk (which is so far east that it’s nearer China and Japan than anywhere else in Russia) but she got her MFA right here at NYU, so I’m going to assume she knows what she’s painting about.
Since I moved away from the Upper East Side I’ve probably paid less attention to the folks at the late Allan Stone’s gallery than I ought to have done, but here’s an exhibit that none of us should miss. Derrick Guild is that appropriately absurd combination of characteristics – a twenty-first century Scottish surrealist. His subjects include colonialism and man’s fatuous attempts to classify the proliferation of the natural world. These interests took him all the way from his home on the Firth of Tay to Ascension Island, a British overseas territory in the South Atlantic, where he spent almost two years painting fantasized variations on the island’s natural flora in the a faux-renaissance manner. His show also includes a painting of a drawing of a man troubled by wasps, and a number of small sculptures: a fig leaf wearing earrings and potatoes studded with jewels and dipped in chocolate. I can’t even hazard a guess what they’re about, but who wants to look at art that you can explain before you’ve even seen it?
Ingrid Calame: “Swing Shift”, James Cohan, 533 West 26th Street (September 10—October 9, Opening Reception: Friday, September 10, 6 – 8)
I am happy to admit that Ingrid Calame is one of my favorite painters. I find her practice of tracing and transforming fragments of the world’s often-overlooked visual details quite entrancing, though in her new show at Jim and Jane Cohan’s gallery she has taken a significant shift in direction. Last year she completed a residency at the Albright-Knox up in Buffalo, NY, where she made tracings of the shipping dock floors of the city’s former Bethlehem Steel Plant. What she focused on were the hand-stenciled inventory numbers that now dominate her picture surfaces in place of the far more abstract scratches and swirlings that had been characteristic previously. This tends to fix her paintings to a point in actual time and space rather more than has been the case in the past, and in my opinion this is a major plus. Given the significance of industrial collapse to our current emotional mood, these pictures carry a real poignancy.