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New York
Bradford Kessler
247365 Gallery - Manhattan
131 Eldridge Street, New York, New York 10002
June 22, 2014 - August 24, 2014

A Secret History Mapped in the Mundane
by Alison Kuo

Bradford Kessler’s cut-out panels coated in a paint-like sealant called hydroflex are not quite paintings or sculptures. Neither do they seem to be of the crowd that questions the nature of painting using sculptural methods (to name a few practitioners: Jacob Kassay, Nathan Green, Lisa Sigal, and Kenji Fujita). So what are they? They are weird and maybe boring, but boring in a way that hangs out at the edge of one’s consciousness for days. They are like a child’s bed set, retired to the curb for trash pick up where the last people to see the chipped headboard and broken dresser will wonder about the grown kid who scratched drawings into the soft wood. Why, they will wonder, did that kid like clowns so much?

Pile of Mist is Kessler’s first solo show at the Manhattan outpost of the artist-run Brooklyn gallery 247365. The location, a Chinatown basement under a Buddhist temple and an incense shop, is sufficiently mystical for the work, which is almost all white save for subtle gradients of blue or orange. The drawings on the panels are “engraved” into the surface and sometimes emphasized with a hint of water-based marker. There is also a scattering of hand-sized cast resin sculptures that are more color saturated and reminiscent of fishing lures with names like the “Trigger X® Aggression Flappin' Bug.” Flappin’ bugs they are not, but rather each piece, all called Young Grandfather (2014), is a dog nose with a tobacco pipe hanging from its jowls, attached to the back of a horseshoe crab-esque sea creature. The crustaceans also appear on the panels, which share the name New Icon (from the Mist) (2014), as do sad clowns, shafts of wheat, and sad clowns with crustacean beards. An actual sheaf of wheat is tucked into a recess in the gallery wall, with a story-length title that gives insight into the strange dream world where all this iconography resides. An excerpt: “Old man sniffing hard now, advancing toward me with some sort of mid-evil weapon that looks like it's been formed out of cryogenically frozen body parts.” (2014).

This psychic landscape, in tandem with the tennis ball gags, Mistletoe (3,2,1) (2014), hanging at the entrance to the basement, gives the show an air of ghetto gothic fashion—the tongue-in-cheek, stylized suggestion of violence and bondage mixing with allusions to science fiction and a dash of the suburban mall. I am also told that there was a smoke machine at the opening. Had it been operational when I visited I might have registered the vibe more immediately. 

Under the slickness of its exterior, Kessler’s work evokes average American mundanity and a particular imagination attached to it. Its past is in the wheat field and primordially in the skeleton of the sea creature. Its present fascinations lean towards the kitsch and fatalism. Set up as a surprise installation, with no mention on the checklist or acknowledgment on the gallery website, the most fun part of the show can be found in the gallery’s bathroom where crisp white socks printed with bleak non sequiturs and goofy clip-art hang in pairs, illuminated by a fluorescent blacklight tube. Reads the pair by the toilet: “I’M LOWER THAN WHALE SHIT,” (right sock) “AND THAT’S THE LOWEST THING THERE IS,” (left sock). No one can know if that’s true, but it does give you something to think about.


Alison Kuo


(All Images: Bradford Kessler, Installaion view; Courtesy of the artist and 247365 Gallery)

Posted by Alison Kuo on 7/29 | tags: mixed-media painting sculpture

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Group Exhibition
Driscoll Babcock
525 West 25th Street, New York, NY
June 19, 2014 - August 8, 2014

Younger Americans at Driscoll Babcock
by Ryan Wong

Driscoll Babcock, which moved to Chelsea two years ago, is something like a stately townhouse in a row of beige suburban mansions. The gallery bills itself as the oldest in New York, and casts itself in a grand tradition of the city’s academic art. You don’t find sly, discreet conceptual gestures, nor massive, high-production-value installations. Instead, the gallery seems to look for untrendy, well-crafted works in a certain American tradition—their roster includes works from the estates of Thomas Eakins, Stuart Davis, and Andrew Wyeth. With their summer exhibition, In Between Days, they are turning to younger generations of artists who bring a strong emphasis on craft to their individual projects. 

The visitor is greeted in the lobby by a series of totemic objects from Leonardo Benzant: Paraphernalia of the Urban Shaman M:5 (2012-2014). The “urban shaman” is the artist himself, who traces an artistic African diaspora through his Dominican background. A cluster of poles, mostly about the height of an adult, dangle from the ceiling. Together, they suggest a curtain or forest wrapped in bright beads, frayed thread at times poking through. Most of the poles look like rainsticks or staffs, but some are curved into more vegetable-like nubs.

One wall of the main gallery is dominated by Phosphenes—Phoenix for the American Republic (2012) by Michael Maxwell, a monumental painting and sculpture. The work draws upon indigenous American traditions of the southwest, using turquoise, a silver and tan palette, strong diagonals, and torn strips of cloth suggesting feathers. The cloth strips seem to burst through the canvas at times, forming an added layer to and disrupting the plane of the work.

Across from it are Luke Whitlach’s radially symmetrical dye and acrylic paintings. The paintings are notable for the multiple simultaneous methods of paint application: mechanically-straight lines, impasto, feathering, and bleeds. The dye process allows the colors to run from the center out or the borders inward. Some canvases, like Mike Cedar Stakeout (2013) are bifurcated by paint lines. The works might be reminiscent of a petri dish, or a geologic formation, or a planet formation: indeed, the intricately constructed abstractions make scale seem irrelevant.

Left to right: Kara Rooney, ON MOVING FARTHER AWAY FROM SPEECH, OR HINDSIGHT IS TWENTY/TWENTY, 2014; Michael Maxwell, PHOSPHENES: PHOENIX FOR THE AMERICAN REPUBLIC, 2012; Photo credit Stan Narten; Courtesy Driscoll Babcock Galleries


Kara Rooney’s starkly black-and-white sculptures dominate a gray-tinged wall. Five pedestals, black-topped and white-columned, support football-sized white plaster and ceramic casts. Buried into works, seemingly during the casting process, are small pieces of paper like the digital photograph fragment in On Moving Father Away from Speech, or Hindsight is Never Twenty/Twenty, No 1 (2014). The casts are of immaterial or neglected objects. One seems to be of bubble wrap; others of shards of wood and stacks of paper. The sculptures suggest an attempt to hold onto the ephemeral, like odd monuments to the ignored.

Four of Jennifer Packer’s wild, colorful paintings take up the opposite wall. She applies paint thinly but in strong scrapes, not unlike Leon Golub’s large paintings. Two paintings of calla lilies turn the flowers into mysterious, obscure beings, not the theatrical flora of so many photographs. The purple lilies seem to emerge from the purple backdrop, into which their vase disappears, too. In the central painting, For James (III) (2013), a man with marble-like yellow eyes stares up at the viewer from the surface he lies on. The space is ambiguous; the whole scene is disorientingly inverted. Paint is the primary thing here: the classic subjects for a painting study of portraits and still lifes given a new, painterly space to inhabit.

Left to right: Jennifer Packer, ORIENTAL LILIES, 2014; Jennifer Packer, CALLA LILIES, 2014; Jennifer Packer, FOR JAMES (III), 2013; Jennifer Packer, UNTITLED, 2013; Leonardo Benzant, BAMBULA from the series PARAPHERNALIA OF THE URBAN SHAMAN M:5, 2012-2014; Luke Whitlatch, VULTURES IN THE CARGO PLANE, 2013; Luke Whitlatch, TALE OF TELEGRAPH HILL, 2014; Photo credit Stan Narten. Courtesy Driscoll Babcock Galleries


The exhibition puts forth no Grand Theory of American art, nor do the artists belong to any single stylistic, political, or theoretical camp. But we need not expect this in a summer show, least of all one calling itself In Between Days. Think of it more as a studio visit for a different swath of American art than that presented in the city’s big biennials and hangar-sized galleries. The artists here keep their heads down, focusing on craft and pushing away from trends, even if that means resting for a moment in an "in between" space. 


Ryan Wong


(Image on top: Leonardo Benzant, BAMBULA from the series PARAPHERNALIA OF THE URBAN SHAMAN M:5, 2012-2014; Photo credit Stan Narten / Courtesy Driscoll Babcock Galleries)

Posted by Ryan Wong on 8/5 | tags: sculpture painting American art summer group shows

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