Thursday, May 15, 2008

Seven veils between heaven and hell

I realize I'm posting this just following the Spring contemporary sales in New York -- and I may have a note or two about the results in the next day or so. For the moment, let's just say I'm not too surprised at the results overall (I'm intrigued to find out who picked up what) -- though perhaps a bit at exactly which lots failed to sell at their low estimate (or at all). For the moment, though, let me start feeding you last week-ends recap. (I'm feeling more confident since I predicted last night's Lakers-Jazz point spread -- which (coincidence??) exactly matched the Celtics win in Boston. Go Kobe (a true artist). Go Lakers.)

10 May 2008

The evening began well enough (though in an entirely unpredictable fashion) at High Energy Constructs. I’m not sure what I was expecting but the work took me a bit by surprise – which means that by the standards HEC impresario Michael Smoler has set for the space, it was a smashing success. You scarcely noticed the Laib-like (I’m not sure I really mean that) scaffold stairs against the north wall, for a heavily draped platform or balcony (a balcony!) obliquely opposite and looming directly overhead, covered in drapery – a balcony for an illicit assignation or dignitary visiting a theatre incognito. Or something. The title and (did I actually see a press release or comments? If so, I didn’t take them with me) checklist for the show – “The clarity of one is released in the other.” – didn’t exactly, uh, clarify whether these were distinctly individual pieces or collaborations between the two artists, Elonda Billera and Janice Gomez. But I suspect it was something of a dialectic between the two – at least that’s the way it came across – between the constructed and deconstructed, the concealed and chaotic, repression and rage. Specifically the hidden rages of domesticity set against the concealed repressions of public civilities – particularly, the civic space. E.g., broken and scattered tile, latticework, etc., disassembled drawers or shelving, etc. Although some of these pieces (by Billera?) seemed to recapitulate, or even a bit derivative, of what has become a fairly common strategy in contemporary sculpture (cf., e.g., Kaz Oshiro), there were exceptions – seemingly the footnotes to the show – which carried unexpected punch and poignancy (and wit); e.g., a cluster of egg-beaters or whisks dripping with what looked like a waxen better of flames – or maybe just something flambĂ©. It was the kind of show that won you over with such small moments even as it was also the kind of show that was ‘greater than the sum of its parts.’ Still I seem to go from small moment to small moment. Directly across from the flaming whisks were a couple of tiny watercolors or gouaches, a figure study and a sort of landscape, by Branden Koch that immediately grabbed my attention – and (full disclosure) my checkbook. Should I be surprised that he also writes for artillery? They’re small but somehow almost sublime – something that touches the ephemeral, the sort of thing you have in your sights for a split second, but can scarcely grasp.

11 May 2008

Do I sound a bit on edge? Yes, I know I just said that the evening began “well enough.” But did it really? That sort of dialogue with that bit of fireworks at the end – the glittering jewel you glimpse as you quickly snap shut whatever little Pandora’s box you’ve sprung open for a split second – tends to leave me just a bit susceptible to whatever comes next. And my next stop was right across the street to Daniel Hug and David Kordansky. (Which means what? More trouble? Well … I was primed for something.)

That something was Nicolau Vergueiro’s show, Introducing SalomĂ© – my hands were shaking slightly as I stuck the acute accent on the ‘e’. It sounds charged and it was – not just erotic (though it certainly was that) but with an energy that comes out of Vergueiro’s native Brazilian landscape itself. Yes – I confess some of this may simply be extrapolating from my conversation with the artist, who was there; but it does speak to something as sweeping and terrestrial as it is carnal and self-immolating – which, when you think about it, in the Brazilian context, are one in the same. And undoubtedly theatrical – you can practically hear the Strauss as you’re taking in the objects – though the theatricality is somewhat undermined by the disassembled, deconstructed, archaeological aspect of the pieces. There are pieces that seem to reference constume design (one with an inset sketch – a “Herod”) or props. But more important than the theatricality (or its frame, its proscenium, along the lines of an artist like Howard Hodgkin) is simply the performative aspect implied by both process and presentation. The ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’ has here become an excavation or exfoliation of seven (or more, or fewer) skins, crusts; blooms, bodies, fragments. The only deadly sins here are the appropriating, all-consuming vision, and a transgressive imagination we (meaning Salome) are helpless to resist. Salome’s appropriation of the head of Iokannan here becomes an eye stood on end, an iris and aperture on fire, as it were, the flames licking the upper corner, which in this labial configuration becomes a bright silver clitoris, with the Baptist’s head either a floating image in the pupil or a kind of vaginal eucharist – ultimate communion and consummation. It’s a show of mitotic and metastasized meanings – fragments assembled from fabrics, pigments, glass, latex and found materials into objects that variously map or demarcate those extended meanings, or perform them in a sense (e.g., bits of text on one object that reflect personalities who developed or interpreted the Salome story – Nazimova, Rambova, et al.; objects that look to have been one thing or bits of several things reassembled into something slightly different, e.g., materials (including plastic bags) built up into another kind of receptacle or perhaps restraints (the “Herod Study” assembled two sack-like objects that might be described as bags or locks or restraints or shoes or who knows?); pieces variously laid flat or protruding in cascades of material that look like body parts or a configuration that appears modeled on the body (e.g., “Blooming Bodies at Every Intersection” or “Intercalations – Nine Miles East of the Dead Sea”). The very titles give some sense of the corrupting chemistry – of earth, sex, lust. ‘Intercalation,’ for example might connote a kind of extension or extrapolation or a strategic insertion or the introduction of a different chemical component (molecule or atom) into the reaction. The palette is earthen – soft pinks, tans, saffrons, verdigris – yes, the blood has already dried here. But then there’s that bit of silver glittering at the tip, asserting that signal moment of triumph over the material, its consumption and exhalation. Souvenir or saudades – or something still throbbing with life in all its unruly, intractable impulse, tumult and tumescence?

I sound a little unhinged (or maybe just a little frustrated – but not with the art). Fortunately, Daniel Hug usually promises the relief of an ‘exhalation’ after the heady ‘inhalation’ at Kordansky – though I have to say, although it was definitely a cooler show (in degrees Celsius) than the Vergueiro, Erika Vogt’s show of video and large composite lightjet C prints was just as thoughtful and provocative. (MORE)

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