After a day of walking around and gallery hopping, I couldn’t help but notice the same things everywhere. Penises. Lots and lots of penises. And metal- metal watches, metal curtains, metal graffiti. No metal penises though.
I first noticed it at Aicon Gallery on Great Jones Street. What I at first thought was a design store was in fact the gallery. Large patterned curtains of hammered stainless steel hang in the windows. The pieces are reminiscent of the hand hammered tin wall hangings of Latin American Folk art, but upon closer inspection have grim undertones. The artist, Adeela Suleman, hails from Pakistan, and her work addresses the extreme violence that occurs in her society. Entitled “After All It’s Always Somebody Else Who Dies,” the show is comprised of delicate birds that are perched upon weaponry, such as suicide jackets and missiles. A little bit kitsch, like a curtain at Urban Outfitter’s big sis Anthropologie, for probably the same price as the gallery price.
And of course there is “Freestyle Archityper 2” by graffiti legend turned sculptor Mare 139 which we’ve chatted about before, at Raw Gallery. Back in 1985 Mare 139 converted the street style of painting subway cars into freeform metal sculpture, and this show is a continuation of his epic Freestyle Archityper show in Bristol, UK.
In Chelsea, I was greeted with even more metal, by Liao Yibai at Mike Weiss and continuing at ATM Gallery. Yibai’s “Real Fake” blends the ugly beautiful in the way Suleman tried to at Aicon Gallery. Yibai literally grew up outside of a bomb and chemical weapons factory in China, his father made missiles which were to be used against the United States. This history is extremely evident in his work, as he questions China’s love/hate relationship with the United States, and their own “rags-to-riches” story of material and designer name obsession. These stainless steel sculptures at first provoke a little giggle. A giant ring, a high heel with a dragon, metal knock off handbags, cell phones and t shirts seems quirky and silly in metal. But Yibai is attacking the absurdity of our opulence- making the tacky even tackier by making it giant and over the top sparkly in shiny metal.
On to the penises!! The late great Louise Bourgeois collaborated with Tracy Emin before her death, with a series of prints (Bourgeois’ watercolors with Emin’s drawings overtop) entitled, “Do Not Abandon Me.” The prints use a new technique that transfers the dye from Bourgeois’ original gouache drawings onto fabric, to which Emin added text and drawings in black ink. Emin carried the prints around for months and months before doing her share. The results are extremely sexual, vaginas and penises galore- but it’s hard to tell it is a collaboration at all, but seems to be from the same artist. The difference is Emin’s signature highly personal text.
Tetsumi Kudo at Andrea Rosen is a collection of works the artist constructed in the 1960s- cubes and gardens, which is literal, and the show title. Kudo’s oeuvre attacks the consideration of pollution and over consumption to the proliferation of electronics..through penises? The idea here is that we retreat into ourselves, our own personal cocoons filled with the things we buy, self satisfied with possessions rather than relations. Most of the pieces in the show are cubes (cocoons) of many sizes, filled with manufactured goods, but also realistic gardens where electrical elements become flowers, and penises sprout from dirt, or crawl like slugs. Aldous Huxley would approve.
My final stop was one of the most Zen art experiences I’ve had in Chelsea, at Luhring Augustine. Pipilotti Rist’s giant room size projections was one of my favorite shows at MoMA in the last few years. She had a giant circular couch, the center being shag carpet, where viewers could lay and become encapsulated with her video and sounds for as long as he or she wished. It was possibly the most relaxing museum exhibition I’ve ever been to, instead of feeling arted out, I felt like I’d just had an hour long massage. Same goes for her Luhring Augustine show, just on a smaller scale. We are greeted with a triptych video altar, complete with a water cooler as Holy water. The videos show undulating abstractions of male and female genitalia in hyper colors, almost like a kaleidoscope. The back room also continues the penis trend, with wallpapers made from stills of these undulating forms, surrounding Massachusetts Chandelier, a tiered and glowing lamp made from the artist and her friends’ underwear.
The main gallery is where I found Zen. With a series of scrims hanging loosely in a blackened room, Rist has juxtaposed two projections that overlap. One is similar to her MoMA show, showing sheep grazing and running in the lushest grass possible. The other is just a series of moving abstract shapes. The two intersect, then separate over the gently moving scrims, whilst a soundtrack of an extremely slow music box and the sound of wind play. I’m not sure how long I stood in that room, but it felt as if my mind emptied and I was nowhere but there. Thoughts of my busy day running around dissipated, and I actually felt totally relaxed. I left in a bit of a haze, shocked at the daylight when I reentered Chelsea Art Land. Seriously, can this be a permanent exhibition please? It was like a cleansing after a day of letting myself become annoyed at rude art people in galleries. I decided to let Rist’s perfect relaxation experience remain with me and called it a day.