KENT FINE ART LLC
210 Eleventh Avenue, Second Floor, between 24th and 25th Streets, New York, New York 10001
November 14, 2013 - January 25, 2014
Mike Cockrill's Existential Man
by D. Dominick Lombardi
Posted by D. Dominick Lombardi
| tags: figurative painting existential
Mike Cockrill has a way of tweaking his audience. I first saw Cockrill’s work at Semaphore Gallery in the East Village of New York, when he was collaborating with Judge Hughes some thirty-odd years ago. In those days, with the resurgence of narrative/figurative painting solidly in the fray, Cockrill and Hughes still managed to shock their audience with all sorts of violent and sexually charged vignettes in which no taboo was left unchurned. In fact, every time I leaf through the ground breaking graphic novel from the earliest days of their collaborations, The White Papers (1982), I feel like I am doing something seedy and illegal.
Cockrill gained much more universal and international success with his Clown Killer paintings, which were part of his retro 1940s/1950s style of erotically charged good/bad girl and good/bad boy paintings. In both, Cockrill reveals an incredibly beautiful color sense that eases his audience through some of the most discomforting, and at times titillating imagery one is likely to come across in an art gallery.
Mike Cockrill, "The Clean Up Guy," 2012, oil on canvas, 48 x 30 in.; Courtesy of the artist and KENT FINE ART LLC.
For his current show at Kent Fine Art LLC, Cockrill gives us The Existential Man. It is a huge leap from the sumptuous and fleshy surfaces of his earlier work, though his eye for color and his impeccable painting skills remain. Now we see a deeper focus on the structural basis of form and composition. Here, Cockrill presents 1960s-ish men and women who are steadfastly confined by the banality of their lives. Forlorn and hopeless, these men and women carry on unflinchingly as they literally fall apart at work, at home or en route.
Stylistically, Cockrill mixes brilliant touches of Modernism in the form of geometric accents to give these works a tinge of movement that further animates his subjects. You can’t help but feel sorry for the men and women he depicts as they sweep or rake up their dislodged eyeballs, even though they seem more or less calm and composed. Is this a metaphor of our generation as we lose sight of our personal dreams amongst all the static and hype; or is it an indication that our frailties can be our strength? Real life, the monotony, it all falls short yet we see in works like Good Save, where the subject utilizes his empty ice cream cone to catch his falling eye, that we can improve a bad situation with a simple catch. I am most impressed by Sleepwalker (2013), Clean Up Guy (2013), and in particular In Box (2013) – where the artist shows us the true nature of defeat, and the banality of the corporate cog as the man who operates within the In Box makes paper hats and airplanes out of co-workers thoughts and concerns.
Mike Cockrill, "Good Save,", 2013, oil on canvas, 42 x 36 in.; Courtesy of the artist and KENT FINE ART LLC.
In addition to these unforgettable paintings, a series of Cockrill’s ink drawings (The Ink Spots) from 1997 surround The Conversation (2013), a work comprised of fourteen freestanding sculpted figures on one large pedestal. The sculptures, like the large paintings in the next room, are reminiscent of the 1960s in terms of fashion and social interactions via subtle changes in body language and positioning. And if it weren’t for the paintings in the next room, one would be most inclined to think of Alberto Giacometti here. Instead, with the understanding of the social and psychological references, you would be more inclined to look at the intricacies of the relationships, or the social and gender status that he so subtly introduces.
The drawings, on the other hand, which date back to 1997, have a far more experimental or improvisational bent. Here, we see another very inflammatory taboo, ‘black face,’ recurring in a number of works. Working with and around what one presumes to be haphazard ink droplets and spills, Cockrill culls a most disquieting synopsis of the foibles and follies of mankind.
—D. Dominick Lombardi
(Image on top: Mike Cockrill, "Sleep Walker" (detail), 2013, oil on canvas, 58 x 50 in.; Courtesy of the artist and KENT FINE ART LLC.)
ArtSlant Prize 2013: Robin Kang - Playing with Machines
by Joel Kuennen
Posted by Joel Kuennen
| tags: digital installation jacquard weaving machine ancient
Robin Kang - First Place, ArtSlant Prize 2013
Robin Kang interrogates machinery. From her roots as a photographer (BFA) and through her MFA in printmaking at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, it’s always been about how the machine affects the artwork produced and what exactly can be done within that process of translation: idea to object. Her latest projects involve two very different explorations. Using digital jacquard looms, she recreates patterns taken both from ancient weaving cultures as well as the silicon culture of microprocessors, all the while interrupting and reinterpreting through the loom. Her concurrent project, BRXL Blocks, is an interrogation of architectural space through the use of very lightweight, transparent bricks made of PET plastic. These piecemeal constructors are farmed out to agencies of production in China.
Kang’s BRXL Block installations leverage our relationship to the architectural. Installed, they take many forms: towers, walls, even extensions to preexisting architectural features. They sway as gallery-goers pass, so fragile and ethereal are they. When she began this project, Kang says she was coming from a place of industrial critique, a critique of the loss of craft. However, as she came to hold and play with these objects, she found they evoked another theme. “This other element of the object itself came up during installation…I placed myself in this child-like place, just playing with blocks again… The fact that people respond to that and have a desire to play with these objects is exciting for me.” One high-profile playmate is the Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, who has one of Kang’s blocks in his office and has been known to toss it to visitors, enjoying the surprise on their faces as they exert themselves to catch what appears to be a glass brick.
Robin Kang, One Woven Wire, 2012, A Single Handwoven Electrical Wire, Socket, Lightbulb; © Robin Kang
The loomed works bring together one of the oldest computational machines with contemporary technologies. Kang begins, “I was really interested in this relationship between the technologies of digital interfaces and the binary technology of the loom. I started researching images from early computers, specifically woven memory cores that were used in the 60’s and 70’s and are actually made of woven copper wires. There was this interesting physical connection and that was my jumping-off point.” Taking an image, Kang processes it in Photoshop then sends it to the loom where the real interventions and play begin. “There is the moment where you are at the loom and you can switch out colors and put plastic or other materials in or reverse [the loom], whatever you want. It gives you a bit of creative freedom during the process but you don’t really know how it’s going to look until it’s hanging in the studio.”
Within the mechanical process, Kang intervenes, playing the machine like an instrument, disrupting its flow to capture the diversions. Often, a finished piece is constructed out of multiple experiments. “I’ve been sewing together different weavings. For example Ancient Circuit Rising is a combination of weavings including test strips that I’ve added. I have this background in printmaking and I love those printer marks, color tests and print nozzle checks, where the machine is involved in the process overtly.” Here, Kang reasserts her craft, taking together the elements that have been produced by the machine and assembling them to her aesthetic liking.
Robin Kang, Ancient Circuit Rising, Hand Jacquard Woven Cotton, 2013, 30” x 44” x 1.5”; © Robin Kang
What is striking in her loomed pieces is that the patterns find a moment outside of time. Looking at the collection of Kang’s works, it is sometimes difficult to know whether a pattern is one that has been produced through muscle memory, passed down over generations or by core memory, writ in 1’s and 0’s and translated into the rapid movements of steel armatures. The delineation between ancient and modern technologies is blurred in Kang’s tapestries. “Some of the imagery I am using comes from cultures that were master weavers like the Nazca and Kazakh tribes who used highly geometric shapes. Ancient Circuit Rising is actually from a Nazca pattern. What is surprising is how similar some of those images are to what we think of as circuit boards.”
Of course, within any practice that relies on machinery, there are errors in translation. Kang, however, doesn’t view these as errors at all. “Some of these [ancient] patterns are faded or missing pieces so as a source material it has already changed. Then, when I put it on the loom, the aspect ratio changes. For instance, some of the images become elongated when transferred to the loom. These errors actually are a collaboration with the machine, something I wouldn’t have arrived at alone. It’s about the relationship between the hand and the machine and opening yourself up to create something other than an exact replica and to let there be a dialogue in the process. That’s when I have the most fun.”
[Image on top: Robin Kang, Core Memory, 2012, Hand Jacquard Woven Silk and Cotton (image of 1970 Computer Chip); © Robin Kang.]
Asya Geisberg Gallery
537 B West 23rd Street , New York, New York 10011
October 24, 2013 - December 21, 2013
Serious Clowning Around
by Aldrin Valdez
Posted by Aldrin Valdez
| tags: sculpture drawing painting humor
For his first solo show at Asya Geisberg Gallery in 2012, Guðmundur Thoroddsen presented ink drawings and wooden busts of blank-eyed bearded patriarchs—gods, men, and their progeny—as the exhibition title suggested: “Father’s Fathers.” Thoroddsen, who is Icelandic, was remixing imagery from various sources: Norse mythology, humankind’s evolutionary path, and the artist’s personal history, while the long geometric beards of the figures, depicted both in the drawings and the busts, alluded to Sumerian statues of kings. These images were accompanied by what appeared to be a collection of ancient pottery and tools (but were actually emulsified feces), arranged horizontally on a broad platform as if they were in one of the Metropolitan Museum’s wings for ancient cultures. Some of the ink drawings reflected this feeling of an archaeological investigation into a distant past; their descriptive quality reminded me of illustrations of ancient artifacts. All of this was done with a kind of tongue-in-cheek humor—the work was funny, gods pissing on each other—but its funniness clashed with the foreboding gloom of those ghostly patriarchs.
Perhaps descendants of that patrilineal race, the men in Thoroddsen’s current show, “Hobby and Work,” sport similar beards, but they seem to come from a more recent time period; maybe they are even contemporary but exist somewhere isolated. In the drawings, the men—sometimes wearing sports apparel and hunting gear, but mostly un-self-consciously nude—play basketball, amble about, defecate, pass gas, shoot guns, stalk prey, or brew beer. This paradise is an ambiguous wilderness or a basketball court that feels very claustrophobic. Thoroddsen’s guys fill the page, along with floating, smiling phalluses and cloudy farts, as though there were nothing beyond the rectangle of the picture. The world is only them, their space, and their shit.
Guðmundur Thoroddsen, Imaginary Father II, 2012, from the Rockabilly Ancestors Series Wood, 17" x 9" x 5"; Courtesy of the artist and Asya Geisberg Gallery.
And what shit it is. Glazed earthenware pieces recall the shape of the shit that some of the men are taking in the drawings. Gnarly and oddly sensuous, they are trophies for achievements like Best October of 2013 I and II (2013). There is a Trophy for Artistic Thought (2013) and even a Trophy of Trophies (2013). They are precious, charming shit-trophies and they have a wink to them that matches the smiles of the phallus-nosed busts. While the first generation of busts represented imposing patriarchs, these are of rockabilly dads and hunting gnomes.
In the “Father’s Fathers” drawings, Thoroddsen let the dark-colored inks seep into each other, creating a graphic effect that made the figures look shadowy, and he burned some of the crudely chiseled busts so that they were a charred brown-black, communicating a terribly violent ending. While he played archaeologist in that show, in the current one he adapts a draftsmanship that feels like he’s simulating an untrained—what the press release calls “primitive”—aesthetic; there’s a cartoonish and purposely clumsy quality to his drawings and sculptures. I think Thoroddsen is actually very skilled with the techniques and materials he uses. And he uses them performatively, like an actor employing a dresser full of costumes to play a variety of characters.
Another significant aspect of Thoroddsen’s work is the simulation of a museum space. Maybe it doesn’t take much work to transform a Chelsea gallery into a place that resembles a room in a museum, but Thoroddsen’s installation effectively determines the context in which to experience the objects he has made. Painting the plinths on which the sculptures rest a blue gray and the walls a mauve-pink, and even presenting the drawings in white frames instead of pinning them directly onto the walls, is a very deliberate choice. These details help create an atmosphere of institutional formality—that of a museum. And in doing so, Thoroddsen’s work raises questions about history and power.
Guðmundur Thoroddsen, Trophy of Beards II, 2013, Glazed earthenware, 4.5” x 4” x 2.5”; Courtesy of the artist and Asya Geisberg Gallery.
Museums are reliquaries of the past. They influence the present and future by determining whose work is important and worthy enough of permanence and visibility in the scale of a museum exhibition. Most often, they maintain the status quo. In Thoroddsen’s work, the museum is a closed system built by patriarchy. Only the stories of masculine men get told and retold in a series of one-upmanship and constant reference to predecessors in this insular world. It’s a parody that isn’t so far from the reality: white, heteronormative stories and images get to be shown, while the stories and images of people of color, queer folks, and women are marginalized. Thoroddsen’s criticism of patriarchy takes the form of serious clowning around that only thinly scratches the surface. I don’t know if he’s interested in truly challenging convention though. That would be a different kind of art. But we can find value in the work he makes now, with its prickly ambivalence, because of the questions it asks. And questions can be disruptive to convention.
(Image on top: Guðmundur Thoroddsen, Basketball Practice II, 2013 , Watercolor, graphite, ink, and collage on paper , 42" x 29"; Courtesy of the artist and Asya Geisberg Gallery.)
220 36th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11232
October 20, 2013 - December 15, 2013
Art after Sandy
by Ryan Wong
Posted by Ryan Wong
| tags: Sandy surviving painting sculpture mixed-media installation video-art
Among the irrevocable losses Hurricane Sandy wrought from New York were works of art: thousands of objects damaged or destroyed in Chelsea galleries, studios in Red Hook and Greenpoint. Phong Bui, artist, curator, and publisher of the Brooklyn Rail, was among those who lost work to the storm. He curated Come Together: Surviving Sandy, Year 1 as a statement of solidarity with a traumatized art community.
Sprawled over 100,000 square feet on four floors in the massive Industry City building in Sunset Park, the exhibition can be thought of as a sort of biennial for New York. Like other recurring exhibitions founded in the wake of tragedy (the Gwangju Biennale and Documenta come to mind), Surviving Sandy uses the exhibition format as a generative act. The works in Surviving Sandy are for sale, a tangible way for the artists to gain from the project; the exhibition doubles as an art fair, without the glitz and trading that comes with one.
New York perennials like Ellen Phelan, Chuck Close, Jonas Mekas, Alex Katz, Richard Serra, and Lynda Benglis have works on view here. But the exhibition also showcases approximately 300 others of all stages in their careers: some given mini-exhibitions in alcoves, others clumped together in frenetic mini-salons.
Jo Nigogosian, Xx, 2013 and 4 9., 2012 and Alex Katz, Marine 11; Courtesy of the artists and Come Together: Surviving Sandy, Year 1.
Though works in the exhibition do not all directly address Sandy, water is a theme throughout, as are ruin and chaos. At the entrance to the exhibition is After the Flood, a new work by Dustin Yellin with his signature layered resin sculptures: a Boschian swirl of figures suspended in the aqua casing. The devastation of Hurricane Katrina appears in Francis Cape’s Waterline series, in which the flood mark serves as a formal stamp in each of the photographs. The room they are hung in has wainscotting installed, a visual pun, suggesting both domesticity and the formal quality of the flood.
But as in real life, water in these works is not always a menace. Alex Katz uses his light touch to turn the surface of water into placid, pastel-colored abstractions. Diana Cooper, who lost much of her work to Sandy, created a site-specific work in which she turned the industrial red sprinkler system into a sculpture. Some of the pipes are given faux-extensions, and the red tubing is mimicked in mirrored pieces embedded into a gallery wall. Superflex’s Flooded McDonald’s is a mesmerizing twenty minutes of water slowly seeping into and eventually drowning one of the fast food branches. In another context this might be horrifying; but because we all know the brand, one that will outlast this one branch, the scene is filled instead with humor and melodrama.
And visible throughout the exhibition, just outside the large factory windows, lie the docks and water of the Upper Bay. Water is essential to the history and future of New York, the reason for its existence and a threat to it, the key to the commerce that fuels its art world. E.B. White wrote over sixty years ago of the precariousness of New York, that the city “should have been overwhelmed by the sea that licks at it on every side.” But, improbably, it had not, nor has it been.
(Image on top: Bosco Sodi, Vivere Series, 2013; Courtesy of the artist and Come Together: Surviving Sandy, Year 1.)