OK, so this post describes shows I saw over a month ago, but the holidays are a celebration of procrastination and, furthermore, I've been less inclined to write as of late. While I'll eventually return to my four-posts-a-week average, one of my New Year's resolutions is to approach this here blog as a compliment to my painting, rather than a chore/conflict.
The publish-or-perish phenomenon familiar to most academics is also present in the blogosphere, though the blogging strain is less acute and usually presents little in the way of real risk, save perhaps undue stress for the more compulsive personality types...namely, me. That which began as a lark has become something of a curse, especially once a core of regular readers materialized, however small this group may be. Too often, the compulsion to produce a daily post results in schlock. (This is true of all but the most exceptional blogs, unfortunately.) A good essay is most often arrived at via a series of shaky steps, rather than running, head down and eyes closed, for 500 words. So, instead of rushing posts with little editing, I want to treat the writing (and subject matter) at Hungry Hyaena as a distinct, more ordered medium, one that informs my painting, even if indirectly.
Anyway, moving on to the shows below. I met up with an artist/art writer friend of mine on Saturday, December 17th and wandered around Chelsea for a little while. The four shows below jumped out at me for one reason or another and I thought they deserved mention.
Zach Feuer Gallery (LFL): A close friend of mine was surprised when she read my rave of Guy Ben-ner's Treehouse Kit. "Do you really like his stuff," she asked. Yes...yes, I do. "Haven't you noticed how many Israeli artists are blowing up right now, though?" To tell you the truth, I had not. (I have a hard enough time keeping track of my art supply stocks, much less trendy ethnic bias in the Art World.) Perhaps my friend is on to something but, based only on the work of the two Israeli artists I am now familiar with, Ben-ner and Tamy Ben-Tor, I can see why they have found so many admirers.
Ben-Tor, currently showing "Exploration in the Domain of Idiocy" at LFL, is a cultural barometer. Her work, consisting almost exclusively of video and performance, can be amusing, shocking, and disturbing, often simultaneously. Like much popular Art World video, the takes are rough, the editing self-consciously amateur and the sound quality awful; fortunately, this slacker aesthetic, whether borne of laziness or not, works well for Ben-Tor. She is the every(wo)man artist, responding to the contemporary schizophrenic condition by creating characters, or "other" selves. Hers is a frantic search for identity in our postmodern, fractured world. She writes, "[These characters] are all trying to communicate a certain truth, but are isolated in a domain of idiocy." I accept her statement, but also feel that most humans today operate within such a realm. The isolation we experience, then, is not so much a result of the idiocy as the reverse. Lost and uncertain of "our place" in the world, we try on new outfits and pirouette in front of the store's full-length mirror, eventually forgetting how we even arrived at this place. A dumb, consuming vessel is all that remains. (And I still consider myself an optimist? Yup.)
The pathos of Ben-Tor's work is very different from that of Ben-ner's Treehouse Kit, the latter being an essentially humanist experience and the former something almost pathetic, but I laughed a lot and thought to myself, "Now here's a chick I'd like to grab a drink with." I guess that's a pretty solid stamp of approval.
303Gallery: Many of David Thorpe's paper collages impress me. (See examples here and here.) I like both the imagery and the medium/method. Unfortunately, there are no paper collages on hand at 303 Gallery. Most of the sculptures read as piecemeal assemblages of glass, wood, leather and other material, but the sense of physical depth and scale has been lost. A few of the included works on paper are curious, but ultimately unsatisfying, and the several "screens" Thorpe has constructed of wood and glass are less interesting than most of their thrift store counterparts. (Having just returned from an afternoon of "antiquing" in Virginia, I assure you this last statement is not hyperbole.) Overall, I thought this exhibition a disappointment.
Tanya Bonakdar Gallery: Mark Dion is among my favorite working artists. He is an intelligent, thoughtful man - this assessment is based soley on his writing, however - and I almost always enjoy his installations and on-site projects. Like a good scientist, Dion believes doubt is one of, if not the, essential ingredient in good science. If not for doubt, no hypotheses or theories would be proven insufficient and no "progress" would be made. By donning the mantle of psuedo-scientist, the informed wing-nut operating at the fringe, Dion calls into question the accepted paradigms of the day. For me, Dion's appeal stems in large part from his conviction. That is to say, he is so dedicated to his projects, so passionate about alternative limnings of natural history, that he convinces himself that his peripheral role is, in fact, central. Whether collecting objects from rivers, cataloging such miscellany, tarring taxidermied mounts, or constructing museum-like exhibits, Dion is a conceptual artist who believes himself a conceptual scientist.
Occassionally I wonder if he isn't too focused on alternative/arbitrary taxonomy, but his latest exhibition, "The Curiosity Shop," would suggest otherwise. He has returned to the concept of the Wunderkammen, building a shack filled to the brim with all manner of discovery. Viewers can not enter the shop; frustratingly, it is padlocked and you can only peer in through the old windows. I found myself wanting to break in, to examine more closely the many small cabinets and arrangements, or to use a stool to look at the variety of items in the rafters. Dion intends to comment on museums, on cultural appropriation and on the human inclination to hoard, but, more obviously, he piques our related desire to touch, to see, to have, in some capacity, all the weird stuff "out there." Perhaps this is the core of Dion's charm; he reinvigorates our capacity to appreciate just being here.
Postmasters Gallery: 0100101110101101.org, otherwise known as Eva and Franco Mattes (but referred to by me as simply, Binary), seem to be in the fun business. Well, the Art World fun business, anyway. Frankly, it's a rather incestuous arrangement, a postmodern masquerade, if you will, in which the pair "cons" Art World sophisticates who are in on the joke. Perhaps a better analogy is that of the royal court; the jester is hard at work, entertaining the monied king. But there's one, rather significant problem. The jesters have no clothes. The stunts Binary pulls are incomplete, lazy affairs that never really get off the ground.
In this latest presentation, Binary creates a fictional movie, "United We Stand," a "Hollywood-style blockbuster" starring Ewan McGregor and Penelope Cruz. They describe the film as "a brilliant mix of espionage and sci-fi political stereotypes in which Europe, not the US, saves the world from impending doom." On display are several movie posters, an incomplete website and photographs of the "United We Stand" poster campaign from around the world. These photographs, however, are obvious hack jobs (anyone familiar with PhotoShop's cut-and-paste tools will leave unsatisfied). Furthermore, with the exception of a hilarious theme song and the mounted posters, there is nothing of substance on hand. I mean, c'mon, people, did you really think you could present something this half-assed and expect a thumbs up?
Ah, but yes...yes, they did and, in fact, they received as much from the Art World cognoscenti. As they write, "We are working simultaneously on this double track, the fictional and the real...in this sense, spectators in the gallery who are aware of the multiple layers are passive voyeurs, while the unaware public, is actually a part of the artwork." Of course they can be celebrated as clever provocateurs! After all, if the joke is on the great unwashed, not the king, what's not to like?
To this attitude, I say, "Fuckilzenik," thumb my chin and leave.
(In an upcoming post, I will more fully discuss Art World pranks. It's coming along slowly, though.)