The art world Gulliver, power-napping in the fantasy land of excitable Gallery Girl Lilliputians, reawakens after Labor Day to the trumpeting of purring, promising shows that will inevitably uplift the spirit ratings or go down deep dark waters with the centennial of Titanic’s sinking. Just as Swift’s traveler encounters the range of human goodities and lameassness, so too our subway sojourns take us from the west end taverns of Chelsea eastward on the limping L to the faraway lands of bearded Bushwick (if only to see the doppelgänger of Yahoo Luhring Augustine).
We meet bent minds and spoons somewhere in the middle, with high hopes for roads well and less traveled. Here’s a quick look at five ports of call to get your autumn art hop started on the right island:
Leonardo Drew at Sikkema Jenkins & Co.
For two decades now, we know what we are going to get with Leonardo Drew, and that is not a negative suggestion by any turn. In fact, it is quite the opposite. The current Brooklynite has long turned out the castled work that detractors can’t seem to breach or deny, but only admire the majesty of. His organic assemblages, sculpture, and installations of found materials recall, like Gericault’s Raft of the Medusa, the fragile hope of humans and the righteous, consuming power of nature. Drew’s plans for Sikkema Jenkins & Co. include a large-scale, snaking installation that makes its way through the entire space. We have an idea of what it might look like and its earthly materials, but it won’t cease to surprise, nonetheless. The artist has spent nearly a month in situ to create the work, and we are as ready as he is to get this party started.
Teresita Fernández, Night Writing (Hero and Leander), 2011, colored and shaped paper pulp with inkjet assembled with mirror, Courtesy the artist and Lehman Maupin Gallery.
Teresita Fernández at Lehmann Maupin Gallery
Known for her quietly aweing site-specific installations, Fernández’s new work at Lehmann Maupin’s Lower East Side space will supposedly “evoke the dramatic and universal experience of looking at the night sky.” She will be using thousands of translucent, colored layers of polycarbonate to build a two-story hovering form, which filters the architecture’s natural light to create the sensation of the Northern Lights, indoors. Expectations are high with excitement, but if the related Night Writing series of prints that Fernández will also present is any indication, it’s going to be interstellar. Perforated with braille-like patterns that recall constellations, the series references "Écriture Nocturne," a 19th century secret code that enabled Napoleon's soldiers to communicate at night, without sound, light, or an iPhone.
Guido van der Werve at Luhring Augustine
With two solo shows filling both of Luhring Augustine’s spaces, in addition to a thirty-mile homage-a-thon, Guido van der Werve is unofficially September’s Hardest Working Artist. The running Dutchman is best known for video works in which he performs surreal actions such as walking precariously ahead of an icebreaker in the Gulf of Finland, and standing for twenty-four hours at the geographic North Pole, refusing to turn with the rest of the world. Van der Werve’s vignettes channel the solemn romanticism of Caspar David Friedrich, Marina Abramovic’s physical endurance, and all the while tempered with a dose of Irwin Wurm playfulness. Luhring Augustine’s Chelsea space will debut his most recent film, Nummer veertien, home, a narrative that interweaves Alexander the Great, Chopin, and a 1,000-mile triathlon performed by the artist from Warsaw to Paris. The Bushwick location will screen a selection of films made between 2003-2009, culminating with two events, the first (September 8) invites runners to join van der Werve on the thirty-mile Third Annual Running to Rachmaninoff Run ending at the Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, NY. On October 7, van der Werve will perform his full requiem for Nummer veertien, home in a one-time performance with the American Symphony Orchestra in the MoMA PS1 Performance Dome.
Shea Hembray, Whirl, 2012, hay and wood, Courtesy the artist and Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery.
Shea Hembrey at Bryce Wolkowitz
Shea Hembrey, playing the roles of director and curator, and 100 artists of the meta-biennial SEED for which he presented a TED Talk, looks to go art world legitimate at Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery. His show Dark Matters explores the unseen aspects of the universe, using materials such as moonstones and feathers to create sculptures that stand in for the cosmos. An Arkansas native who now resides in Frenchtown, New Jersey, the artist has long taken interest in natural forms that stem from a farm upbringing and teenage fascination with birds. SEED, which brought the hitherto little known artist plenty of attention and a grab bag of reactions, showed Hembrey’s humor and facility with a broad array of media. It’s one thing to make art when it’s merely a gimmick – and ends up looking gimmicky (according to one Dave Hickey) – but when your given name (and not Rosalie Starr or Ju Hu – two of his biennial artists) is marquee-mounted in cheap vinyl, you’d better be ready to deliver the goods. Hembrey gets his day in the spotlight, and we get to see what sprouts.
Jonathan Horowitz at New Museum
Though Thomas Hirschhorn over at Darth Gladstone may be the surer bet for a more powerful and substantive political art experience, the presidential elections in November necessarily take us to the New Museum for Jonathan Horowitz’ “Your Land/My Land: Election ’12.” The installation is decorated with partisan red and blue rugs that divide and rezone the museum’s lobby space, with suspended back-to-back monitors broadcasting CNN and Fox News. The locational comparison of cultural institutions to liberal elitism and conservative capitalism is apropos, but perhaps too simplistic. Should art not provide a third way? The glaring issue concerns the museum’s partisan visitor demographic – this will not garner the same intensity as a World Cup soccer game at a sports bar in Queens. The installation will be staged simultaneously at seven museums across the States, and each will suspend a portrait of Obama in the middle, while a portrait of Romney sits on the floor. On election night, if Obama wins, the portraits will remain where they are. If he loses, they will be switched – and America will be in deep Mitt! A previous version of “Your Land/My Land” (originally titled November 4, 2008 at Gavin Brown Enterprise) was also staged in 2008. Like bad politics, the SOS gets rehashed over and over, with perhaps little true change in the offerings. For all our sakes, let’s at least hope the election results are a redux of ’08. As always, we can do better. Ahoy! Let the confetti fly and make the Sirens cry!
—Trong Gia Nguyen
(Image on top: Leonardo Drew, Number 135, 2009, wood and mixed media, Courtesy the artist and Sikkema Jenkins & Co.)