Dominique Lévy Gallery
909 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10021
February 27, 2014 - April 12, 2014
Rediscovering Greatness: the sculptures of Germaine Richier
by Gabrielle Lipton
Posted by Gabrielle Lipton
| tags: sculpture figurative
Forty-six of French artist Germaine Richier’s sculptures fill the three floors of the Dominique Lévy gallery in a solo exhibition of her work. A collection of silver gelatin photographs of Richier and her studio taken by her creative companion Brassaï provides a grounding backdrop for the sprawling show, which encompasses multiple decades of Richier’s work, allowing visitors to see how Richier’s artistic vision evolved throughout her life.
It’s a matter of comparison. Female sculptors are rare to begin with, and within the category, few are widely recognized – Louise Bourgeois claims what might be the sole celebrity status in the field. This coupled with the fact that Richier’s work hasn’t had an exhibition in the U.S. since 1957 (two years before her death) places Richier at the tip of a double-edged sword; her obscurity grants her the prestige of an artifact being rediscovered, but the lack of prior exposure makes it difficult to quickly recognize which of her works are truly great. Or, is she truly great at all? Or just one of the best in an under-populated category? Most will claim the former, but only after having given the works patience to slowly reveal themselves as more than just spindly bronze figures.
Germaine Richier, Installation view; Courtesy of the Dominique Lévy Gallery
The abundance of work serves twofold: to make up for lost display-time and to evoke the sense of being in her cluttered studio (of which Brassaï’s photographs give visual testament). Being sucked into the world of Richier, however, makes for a curious headspace. An intensely emotional artist’s work could not be displayed in this fashion without feeling overwhelming, but Richier’s slightly haunting, stick-like figurines are more about rational relationships – those between humans and animals, humans and nature, humans and self – than waterfalls of feeling. And, of course, the primary relationship here is the relationship between the works themselves. Restrained in both physical and passionate substance, Richier’s work is most powerful in numbers, and this exhibition capitalizes on that.
Her work is far from abstract. After training classically during the twenties at the École des Beaux Arts, Montpellier, Richier moved to Paris and studied privately under Antoine Bourdelle, a protégé of Rodin. Some of her earlier pieces look like Tim Burton takes on Greco-Roman sculpture – frugal, sinister characters in classical gestures and postures. As World War II took hold, Richier moved to Switzerland and the South of France, and the focus she found in refuge shows in her mastery of this crossbred style. La Forêt (1946), which she made at the end of this period, wavers between being man or tree with a branch-like arm bent up toward the forehead in a gesture of faintness, as if exhausted of existence.
However, when she moved back to Paris after the war – and the viewer moves to the second floor of this exhibition – she began experimenting more, toying with the human form in almost mystical realms and incorporating glass, paint, and enamel into figures’ flesh. Stances get more awkward, bodies get ganglier, and pitchfork-like extremities hang from places they don’t belong. Don Quichotte (1950-51) stands life-size, knees caved fluidly inward beneath arms bent in Egyptian-like rigidity, one holding a long lance and a head devoid of facial features. The war’s desolation is visible in this phantom of a being standing guard to some dark depth.
Sculptures by Germaine Richier in her Paris studio; Photo: Brassaï, Françoise Guiter Collection; © Germaine Richier / 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.
Richier also cited a trip to Pompeii in the 1930s as a major influence on her vantage point. Seeing the charred remains of human beings affected the way she thought about flesh. The roughly dimpled texture of her bronze seems to smolder, giving her figures complexity, as if time ate away at them like a termite until they reached their chewed-down gauntness. But some of her most captivating work lacks this destructive tendency. She could, in fact, make things classically beautiful. La Spiral (1957) stands more than nine feet tall as an elongated, polished bronze seashell that looks like an antique gold treasure out of Poseidon’s palace.
Or, tucked off to the side on the second floor, a motherly woman, Le Crapaud (1940), kneels with her back bent over the ground, as if lost in thought about a former love while going about another day of household chores. Her quiet grace resonates louder than most of the crowd's.
(Image on top: Germaine Richier, Installation view; Courtesy of the Dominique Lévy Gallery)
Salon 94 Bowery
243 Bowery , New York, NY 10002
March 7, 2014 - April 26, 2014
Welcome to the Dollerhouse: Laurie Simmons' Kigurumi Portraits
by D. Dominick Lombardi
Posted by D. Dominick Lombardi
| tags: photography figurative pop portraiture
It would be ridiculous to discuss gender issues, stereotyping, objectification, fetish, or fantasy in contemporary art without Laurie Simmons. For nearly four decades, using a variety of subjects and settings that include toys, costumes, collage, puppets, and people, Simmons’ photographs have created an indelible interpretation of how perception is formed.
The current exhibition at Salon 94, Kigurumi, Dollers and How We See*, features Simmons' latest series of pigment prints. The bulk of the work here investigates Kigurumi, one form of “Cosplay” (costume play) that has found its way into certain sectors of Japanese youth culture. Dressed up in female masks and body suits that reference anime or manga aesthetics, these costumed, doll-like male and female role players act out characters and situations that suggest the passions of youth, over-the-top cuteness, and the power of vulnerability, which in this case manifests itself as potent, albeit fetishistic sexual allure.
Laurie Simmons, How We See/Look I/Daria, 2014, pigment print, 70 x 48 in.; Courtesy of the Artist and Salon 94, New York
Simmons’ work here is reminiscent of Morton Bartlett’s photographs. Bartlett created over a dozen half life-sized dolls of young boys and girls for use as photographic models. Role playing is the ultimate link between the two projects, which share suggested actions and moods, and a focused, obsessive, creepiness. Their images encourage viewers to look and look and hold that gaze despite feelings of impropriety or voyeurism.
Laurie Simmons, Yellow Hair/Brunette/Mermaids, 2014, pigment print, 70 x 48 in.; Courtesy of the Artist and Salon 94, New York
Simmons’ latest work engages us ever further, in something that has a life beyond itself. Yellow Hair/Brunette/Mermaids (2014) more than sets the stage for the recording of peripheral entertainment. In it, two subjects donning head-to-fin costumes pose mid-dive across a blue set. It would seem that generally, this need for dolling is about escapism, but it also correlates to the line between reality and perception, fact and fantasy that is so incredibly and unmistakably blurred in the media that represents contemporary society.
In a strange way, this acting out is forming a new sort of community where participants can relate through common interests, even if they have no apparent purpose other than self-satisfaction. What Simmons captures is a cross presence, a time when fantasy forms in real time for a select few to experience first hand, and for the world to see through the art produced.
In addition to the eleven dollers depicted here, there are two striking portraits of western fashion models with their closed eyelids painted to look open. This relatively slight adjustment of eyelid painting adds extra depth to these women’s stares while their stereotypically girly outfits—meant to refer to the women who strive to become living Barbie dolls through plastic surgery—end up looking more creepy than idealistically misguided. To me, the simple act of adding these two very different, but equally compelling and hypnotic images creates a juxtaposition that adds to the grand eccentricity of the phenomena and actions depicted through the exhibition.
* Doller is described in Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animegao
—D. Dominick Lombardi
(Image on top: Laurie Simmons, Orange Hair/Snow/Close Up, 2014, pigment print, 20 x 28.75 in.; Courtesy of the Artist and Salon 94, New York)
Queens Museum of Art
Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Meridian Rd., Flushing, NY 11368
January 31, 2014 - May 11, 2014
Of Police and Poverty: LAPD's first museum exhibition
by Ryan Wong
Posted by Ryan Wong
| tags: performance theater LAPD Queens Los Angeles Skid Row homeless relational aesthetics politics
The title says it: Do you want the cosmetic version or do you want the real deal? Los Angeles Poverty Department, 1985-2014. When John Malpede founded the LAPD (a play on the police department’s name) thirty years ago and began collaborating with the homeless and formerly homeless to stage performances and confrontational theater, it was a decade before relational aesthetics was coined by Nicolas Bourriaud, and more than two decades before MFA programs in ‘social practice’ began sprouting. In light of all that has come since, LAPD and their first museum exhibition feels particularly refreshing. The methods, settings, and goals of LAPD’s work fuse arts and activism, while so much ‘politically-engaged’ art maintains the professionalized, middle-class stances and practices of the art world under the rhetoric of activism.
LAPD began and continues to be based in Los Angeles’s Skid Row: a longstanding homeless enclave, and a constant battleground between the residents who have formed a community there and the combined muscle of the police and developers. How many of the social practitioners of today, who discuss issues like war or poverty, are themselves at the frontlines of those struggles, or cultivating sustained engagements with those who are?
State of Incarceration, 2010-ongoing,Performance view, Queens Museum, January 31, 2014; Courtesy of Queens Museum.
The exhibition itself is half traditional survey and half an update and staging of some of LAPD’s recent works. One gallery is devoted to the performance piece State of Incarceration (2010-ongoing), stacked wall-to-wall with prison-style bunk beds. The audience is mixed in with the performers, who offer monologues and reenact scenes from prison. They shout about remaining silent, of obeying authority; the formerly incarcerated take on the roles of both prisoner and warden. It is a theater piece, but strips away the glamour of staging, lighting, and design. It is performance, but the experiences related are concrete, lived by its performers.
This productive tension between performance and testimonial runs throughout LAPD’s work. The exhibition offers an archive of LAPD’s past actions and performances, some thirty hours of video for the dedicated visitor. In South of the Clouds, a series from 1986, members enacted rote motions they had learned—e.g. boxing routines—as stimulus for their monologues. Like many of the other pieces on view, the works navigate between truth-telling and performance, narrative and reflection. 'Homelessness' as discussed by media and politicians tends to imply a lack of agency. These performances defy and complicate that assumption, not only giving ownership of stories to homeless people, but allowing them to decide to what degree they tell ‘their’ stories or the stories they want to tell.
In another piece, Is there History on Skid Row? from 2002, and Skid Row History Museum, staged at the Box Gallery in 2008, the collective acts as curator and archivist of their neighborhood. Homeless communities are barely acknowledged by most institutions, much less thought to have histories and textured pasts. The LAPD turns that generalization on its head, pointing to the area’s 'amazing community assets.' The installation, like any exhibition or museum display, was created to 'highlight the cultural, civic and political initiatives and the community people' who created the neighborhood. The installation includes a timeline of notable moments in Skid Row’s history, photographs of community leaders, and proposals for monuments and plaques to be installed in the area.
Do you want cosmetic version or do you want the real deal? Los Angeles Poverty Department 1985 -2014, installation view, On view at Queens Museum, NY January 31 – May 11, 2014; Courtesy of Queens Museum
LAPD’s first exhibition, some three thousand miles from Skid Row, feels surprisingly at home here. Queens is not unlike Los Angeles; its inhabitants are largely immigrants and working class, speaking dozens of languages, reliant on cars, and spread out over a large mass of land. It bears little resemblance to the glittering images of opulence and celebrity associated with the Manhattans and Hollywoods projected around the world. And questions of police presence, urban development, and public space are ever-present. Sometimes the local is not adjacent.
(Image on top: Walk The Talk, 2012. Performance view, Skid Row, Los Angeles. Photo by Avishay Artsy, KCRW, Courtesy Los Angeles Poverty Department.)
Venus Over Manhattan
980 Madison Avenue, New York, NY
April 3, 2014 - May 17, 2014
Surf's Up! Raymond Pettibon's Surfers Take Manhattan
by Gabrielle Lipton
Posted by Gabrielle Lipton
| tags: pop drawing painting text waves ocean comics surfers
Presently, the walls of the Venus Over Manhattan gallery are covered in every oceanic shade of blue, aqua, and green, drenching the concrete space with waves of intense cool. More than forty frames—some larger than chalkboards, some the size of table menus—fill Are Your Motives Pure?, an exhibition comprised solely of the surfer paintings Raymond Pettibon has made since 1985. Somewhere in the all the watery pigments small figures make their way across massive curls. Poised and up against enormity, Pettibon’s surfers suggest the exhibition is as much a testament to human (and artistic) isolation as to the beauty of endless summers.
Although extensive and quintessential of Pettibon’s style, his stock of surfer paintings is somewhat of an aberration in his overall oeuvre. During the 1970s, he began designing album covers and flyers for his brother’s punk band in L.A., a practice that spiraled into covers for major bands (Sonic Youth, for one) and generated an artistic style that reflected this scene accordingly. Most of his other works are black-and-white cartoonish ink drawings and paintings with a line or two of handwritten text atop. With their dark undercurrents hidden under laid-back humor and pop culture references, it’s difficult not to compare them to sophisticated comic book scenes.
Raymond Pettibon, No Title (Here and there), Ink on paper, 1995; Courtesy of the Venus Over Manhattan Gallery
His surfer paintings, however, are intense in their ability to soothe, with water-washed ink strokes arching and swirling into all different shapes of water (because no two waves are the same). The movement captured in each piece seems effortless, not unlike that of a good surfer; both share a sense of mastery of a skill that comes from patient practice and respect for outside forces rather than attempts to control them. Pettibon clearly shares the philosophy and mindset behind the sport. In No Title (Here and there) a tiny, muscled man rides almost vertically down parchment soaked with turquoise ink clouds dripping into one another to form a massive wall of water. He’s been known to not care about mistakes that occur during his artistic process—his dog peeing on his paintings, for one—but the end results could not look more perfectly natural.
The text scrawled on each piece deserves adequate attention too, as it adds an entirely new emotional component to the works. Pettibon is as erudite as they come. He pulls phrases from authors such as Henry James and Nathaniel Hawthorne, alters them and weaves them with words of his own to create short poetic blips that come off somewhat like insights into the surfer’s dream from the night before. Some sound like well spoken surfer jargon: “The lower half of the water wall is shrouded in the beam of the boiling gulf—a veil never rent nor lifted without high and deep reckoning.” Some are simple, blissed-out thoughts: “What more could I have wished?”
Raymond Pettibon, No Title (We have seen), Ink on paper, 1987; Courtesy of the Venus Over Manhattan Gallery
Pettibon has had major retrospectives at major American museums and plentitudes of exhibits worldwide, yet he still maintains a cultish touch to his public persona. He is known to mess with journalists who interview him; he intentionally annoys picky followers by adding extra letters to words in his Tweets. For all his fame, his work is still casually accessible in an aloof sort of way, like the catalogue of a pop star that never goes on tour. He does his best work when he’s alone. Although he’s never surfed himself, there’s a tangible sense-of-self put into the figures riding across his waves.
[Image on top: Raymond Pettibon, No Title (Which concerns the), 1995, Ink on paper; Courtesy of the Venus Over Manhattan Gallery]