Monday, January 23, 2006

Now playing at the big-ass dealers

Actually Got Out Of The House this weekend. After dithering over the L mag and failing to find a Voice, we decided just to go to Chelsea and see what we saw.

There may be hundreds of galleries in Chelsea, but the big ones at street level get 80-90% of the walk-by traffic. We got through Gagosian, Mary Boone, Barbara Gladstone, and a couple of pretenders whose names I cannot now recall, before collapsing. It was the Thomas Hirschhorn show that did us in--more on that in a moment.

What I notice about big-ass art dealers, usually, is that they foster art which is Big and Thin. It must be large enough to fill a room the size of a basketball court; it must be, in some way, obsessively strange and trivial; it must take a lot of work to make a fairly obvious point, in a staggeringly arcane way.

Case in point: the Ghada Amer show at Gagosian. The pieces are, after all, mildly neat. They are huge canvases with repetitive, overlapping images, evidently stolen from Hustler and Disney, stitched into the canvas by hand with thousands of dangling threads.

Other canvases in the narrow back gallery were square and black with nearly illegible text stitched in and covered in tar. The text appeared to have a vaguely revolutionary content, but I certainly didn't have the patience to decipher it.

The Point, as far as I understood it, was the usual stuff about women's processes versus women's image, as objectified by Society, and the Male Gaze, and all that. Probably. I suppose. Since I'm not a professional reviewer I'll skip the lingo.

My concern, though, is that in terms of actual physical affect these pieces are kind of ho-hum. They have roughly ten percent of the energy of a middle-stage Guston. They're primarily about a Sisyphean process, lending weight to a paper-thin, static sociopolitical commentary.

What kind of daily life of the mind must this artist have, then--stitching, stitching, stitching, making the occasional aesthetic decision but largely just doing busy work? And all for a show that is Flavor of the Month at Gagosian, hip and trendy for now, but utterly gone by March? Is her life as a big-league artist at all satisfying in its balance and creative exploration, or is she sacrificing the blood of her thousand-hour days to the dealer's need to exhibit Big and Strange?

Just asking.

On to Mary Boone, where somebody had curated a somewhat random group show of famously shallow, staggeringly priced artists, Warhol and Koons among them. I'm not sure why this show was happening in January at all--it had the flavor of a late-summer throw-together done by a flunkey, when dealers, patrons and critics are all upstate, detoxing in Nature. Its most salient feature was a mirrored floor which made us slightly queasy. I checked the price list and all the works were in the six-to-seven-figure range, all with red dots, except the floor. I suppose even the super-rich collectors draw the line at actual vertigo in the home.

But it was the Thomas Hirschhorn show at Barbara Gladstone which delivered the coup de grace, rendering me, at least, literally too nauseated to continue. It was called, with refreshing honesty, "Superficial Engagement." At first glance it looked like an installation by one of those outsider artists who fills vacant lots with a labyrinth of psychotic crap--mannequins drilled full of screws, cut-out signs, thrift-store art and magazine collage. Upon closer inspection the magazine photos turned out to be unsparingly graphic images of roughly dismembered human corpses, more and more and more and more of them. Side by side with these were lots of pretty Spirograph drawings, String Art, and plasma screens with planetary images twirling peacefully round. I mean to say, huh?

Upon reading the press release, I discovered that the artist's concern is to engage the viewer at a level too superficial for political discourse to enter, on a number of arenas at once. He succeeds. With a sledgehammer. The work has no grace and no finesse, and is less deep and real than a visit to Coney Island. On an energetic level I can actually appreciate what he is trying to do--he is acknowleging the strata of body, darkness, violence, density, and fear; simultaneously the intellect with its medium of language, simultaneously the spirit with unity and peace. Unfortunately the first is all too easy, and the last is all too perfunctory. He must be a tired, tired man.

1 comment:

Liz said...

This was too too funny! Huzzah for discernment.