Sunday, March 8, 2009

Sturm und Drang (and Beauty)

6 March 2009 (continued)

It occurs to me I zoom in on irony and desperation (above) in a mere two paragraphs – and certainly the layout of the show’s exhibitors might incline a quick 360 of the general Pier 94 toward those viewpoints; but obviously there’s so much more. And so much more that has nothing to do with either – really the flip side of that sort of impoverished pomposity. (Can there be, specifically, a poverty of pomp? As opposed to a mere dearth of it? Those Sailstorfer giltwood frames certainly addressed this directly.) But such affects must always coexist with their antipodes; and here (as always) desperation is outflanked by invention and the will manifest in any serious artistic enterprise; irony counterpoised against a straightforward determination of the actuality. Beauty trumps all – though it hardly ratifies an artist’s vision by itself. But it was interesting to see a certain range of varieties of beauty scattered amongst the exhibitor spaces on the Pier. You certainly saw that kind of invention and beauty at Sean Kelly. Or maybe it was about finding beauty in a time of almost brutal upheaval and uncertainty. As soon as you walked into the space, you were confronted with this sense of tempest and whirlwind – but also, undeniably, beauty: a beautiful swirl of a piss painting – a piss painting! (what – you didn’t think anyone was doing those anymore?) along side a funneling double helix of steel – almost a tornado of a piece – by Antony Gormley. (There were also some beautiful drawings by Gormley.) Also interesting work by Los Carpinteros that played with the notion of inter-connected structures falling apart; and minimalist studies by Iran do Espirito Santo (a Brazilian minimalist I know very little about) that played on similar themes. Kelly was also showing some classic Mapplethorpe flower studies, which made a stark contrast with the contemporary work foregrounded here. Made only a quarter century ago, one sees Mapplethorpe’s essential classicism in a new light – with their poignancy and solitariness magnified by the passage of time – and certainly our passage into these dark times.

It’s interesting how you’re also reminded at fairs (and not just The Armory Show) of the curves artists can throw one’s way. There were some interesting drawings by Joan Jonas at Wilkinson (London) – flattened, blotted ink studies of a butterfly and a nude figure – the sort of thing that might be done in a minute or over several hours or days. Less surprising were Fia Backstrom’s text drawings; but no sooner had I turned away then I was immediately struck (and that would be just the word) by a sequence of Jimmy de Sana photographs (from roughly 1979-1980) which astonish in their freshness, clarity, drama and anomalous, almost surreal expression, to this day. 'Whatever happened to him?' I wondered aloud – and Amanda Wilkinson was kind enough to fill me in. Sexually explicit, with frank exposures of astonishing debasement, they’re a bit raw (oh, nothing you can’t handle, dear reader) – but (setting aisde the ‘ick’ or ‘ouch’ factor) what they convey has an amazing clarity, and an inchoate sense of both immediacy and uncertain duration of time. Time flies whether and whatever you’re giving or taking. There was also work by Sung Hwan Kim, who is a Korean artist to watch. (Is Korea the ‘new China’? Or was it ‘there’ before and I just happened to miss it?)


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