Sean Scully: Change and Horizontals
The Drawing Center, New York
Sept 27 - Nov 3, 2013
Wilson here. With Fall hitting New York fast, Mr. Struggan asked me last week to begin checking the art calendars for openings to cover. The focus of this weeks art review is the new Sean Scully exhibition at The Drawing Center. The exhibition showcases some of Scully’s early works on paper from the 1970s. Scully has always stood on the periphery of my art historical knowledge, so I was excited to have an excuse to learn more about the artist and his work.
Scully, born in Dublin in 1945, is without a doubt one of the most accomplished Irish artists of the 20th century, his paintings having been acquired by museums around the world from the MoMA and National Gallery in the US to the Tate Modern in London. The Drawing Center’s exhibition focuses on two series of works on paper, executed in London in 1974 and soon after his arrival in New York in 1975. These 13 drawings are precisely composed in ink, acrylic, graphite, and masking tape and feature arrangements of Scully’s signature vertical and horizontal bands in plaid-like patterns. Accompanying these drawings are 60 framed pages of preparatory sketches from Scully’s notebooks and two large related paintings, also from 1975. 6 experimental works on paper, abstract text compositions made with a typewriter, are also on view.
Being somewhat familiar with Scully’s paintings from New York’s museum collections, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the exhibition; the rough, patched compositions of his later work, though impressive, have never really resonated with me. That being said, I was really taken by this early work. It displays a much more refined technical quality, focused simply on line and color, and illuminated for me considerably the direction he took as his work evolved later in his career.
The exhibition shines in taking the opportunity to narrate this particular period early in Scully’s career. The notebook pages, framed in ten sequences, dominate the back wall and offer the viewer a rarely seen glimpse into the artist’s process. The two paintings on view in the front of the gallery further contextualize the work, showing how the ideas worked out on paper progressed and matured into large-scale works on canvas. Unfortunately, curators Brett Littman and Joanna Kleinberg took their narrative focus a bit too far. Wall texts at every turn overworked the “early career biography” angle and had too much to say about work that is fully capable of speaking for itself. Additionally, the six typewriter sketches in the show, seemingly included only because they fell into the same time frame as the other work on view, just weren’t interesting. All in all though, Scully’s work is definitely worth seeing if you find yourself in SoHo and jonsing for some good mid-1970s abstract art.
Mr. Struggan sends his High Regards.
The Art of Scent: 1889-2012
The Museum of Arts and Design, New York
Nov 20, 2012 - Mar 3, 2013
Wilson here. Mr. Struggan has, for several years, maintained a boycott against the Museum of Arts and Design in Manhattan. A member of their staff, who shall remain nameless, displayed a great amount of rudeness the last time Mr. Struggan was in touch with their institution, and their typically uninteresting exhibition program hasn’t motivated him to return since. Hearing about their current exhibition, The Art of Scent, held Mr. Struggan’s curiosity enough, however, to send me there this past Thursday to review the show.
After wading through some truly strange exhibitions on the lower floors, I reached the 4th floor, where the assigned exhibition is installed. What met me in the gallery was stranger still, consistant with Mr. Struggan’s expectations. Embedded into the walls were several large indentations, with projected wall texts next to each. Accompanying these indentations, which served as smelling stations for the content of the show, was an introductory text to the exhibition projected from the ceiling onto the middle of the gallery floor. The text explained the exhibition’s aim to give historical context to the craft of scent design, starting from the dawn of the industrial revolution, which began a modern era for scent makers with the development of synthetic chemical production on a large scale, through the 20th century and up to the state of perfumery today.
The exhibition, according to the supporting text, aims to situate the “olfactory arts” within a larger historical context alongside the history of visual arts and design. The exhibition is interesting from this historical standpoint, but the show accomplishes little else. Twelve seminal fragrances from the field of scent design are exhibited, each available to experience at one of the indented stations along the wall. Though the wall texts provided some stimulating information about the history of the perfume industry, they failed to provide a full and adequate context to the show for me to leave with a clear understanding of what I had learned. It was the kind of information that could have been just as easily been read in a book. Actually, i take that back; a book would have been far easier, not just as easy. And far more convenient, comfortable, and informative to boot.
Beyond these shortcomings, the experience of the show uncomfortable. If the exhibition designers didn’t think it would be an awkward experience for visitors to thrust their heads into holes blatantly shaped like vaginas to have perfume vaporized at their nostrils, then they were very wrong.The show was wrought with other inconveniences as well, besides the disconcerting wall vagina vaporizers. The wall texts, for instance, were projected on the wall and faded in and out on a loop. When approaching a new station, the texts would just as often than not fade out of view before you had a chance to finish reading. This made the experience not only awkward, but also needlessly frustrating.
The exhibition also featured a side gallery with liquid samples of a range of perfumes to try, as well as a totally unexplained projection of a “live feed” of descriptions of the scents. In all likelihood a poorly conceived social media plugin to garner viewer participation.
In short, the show lacks adequate contexts, both in its physical design and in its content. Every aspect of the exhibition was approached with all style, and little substance. Mr. Struggan, after hearing my thoughts about the show, is fairly sure he won’t be sending me back to MAD anytime soon.
Mr. Struggan sends his Low Regards.
Darren Almond: Hemispheres and Continents
Nayland Blake: What Wont Wreng
Matthew Marks Gallery, New York City
Feb 2 - Apr 20, 2013
Wilson here. Mr. Struggan sent me to Chelsea last night for a a special double assignment. Matthew Marks Gallery opened two shows last night in their galleries in Chelsea, Darren Almond: Hemispheres and Continents at 522 W22nd, and Nayland Blake: What Wont Wreng at 502 W22nd.
Darren Almond’s exhibition features 17 large format landscape photographs taken at night under the light of a full moon. Shot across all seven continents between 2002 and 2012, these long exposures are the result of a specific process, where Almond vets locations for his photos ahead of time and then returns at night to execute his planned shots. In addition to the photographs, the show features another piece, a glass sculpture designed to function as a radiometer whose moving parts rotate when exposed to light.
The work on view was magnificent. The long moonlight exposures convey night’s quiet stillness, but the quality of the light also creates an alien setting, one we are familiar yet also unfamiliar with. The gallery’s press release notes Almond’s forgoing of technical control by working in the darkness as an important aspect of the work. Though he is unable to control the camera, Almond’s photography is by no means haphazard or accidental. On their large scale, the work has a transportive effect.
Down the street, I was similarly pleased with Nayland Blake’s exhibition of 6 installation pieces. Blake incorporates both found objects and his own fabrications into his work, including such media as fabric, metal, paper and vinyl prints, plexiglass, denim, stuffed animals, furniture, mirrors, and more.
Using found objects in art is often helpful when aiming for a rough or worn aesthetic. Blake doesn’t allow for this type of quality to come through in his work. Much like Almond’s photographs, Blake achieves a refined quality in these installations. His pieces are clean-cut, and where they incorporate found objects, these recycled elements attain a sense of rehabilitation. I especially liked the two floor installations, Eleventh and Buddy, Buddy, Buddy. Each of their four sides is almost its own separate installation. The 3 wall mounted pieces were also strong, but were not quite as versatile.
Mr. Struggan sends his Highest Regards.
Zarina: Paper Like Skin
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
January 25 - April 21, 2013
Wilson here. After a very exciting night on Friday at Postcards From the Edge (my piece sold!), Mr. Struggan sent me out Saturday night to the Guggenheim to cover their new exhibition, Zarina: Paper Like Skin. I was supposed to attend the opening Friday night, had I not had business in Chelsea, and Mr. Struggan was kind enough to let me reschedule the assignment. The long, cold line for the Guggenheim’s pay-what-you-want hours was well worth the visit for the new retrospective exhibition of the work of this Indian-born master printmaker.
The exhibition charts Zarina’s practice through several decades of her career. Her work draws on traditions of religion and spirituality, poetry and calligraphy, and western minimalist aesthetics, all to a beautiful and delicate effect. The work on view, a wide range of prints and sculptures, is nothing short of gorgeous.
Zarina’s work could best be described as schematic. Sometimes this is manifested quite literally in pieces that map cities or the layout of a room. More often though, her pieces reveal inner structures, such as in a series of ink prints made using found scraps of wood, or even in the material presence of the handmade paper in some of her more sculptural pieces. The results are, for the most part, powerful and evocative.
I found the show’s curation was awkward at at times. This is mainly due to the fact that I find the Guggenheim’s annex galleries to be somewhat awkward spaces. The work on view deserved a bit more breathing room, and generally I found many of the curatorial choices, especially the texts, to be a bit stuffy. I’d be curious what the differences are between the Guggenheim’s installation and the installation at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, where the show originated. Regardless, Zarina’s work speaks clearly for itself as masterful and elegant.
Mr. Struggan sends his High Regards.
Wilson here. Mr. Struggan has decided that, on occasional off-days, it would be alright for Nico and I to advertise some of our own projects. So for the first ever edition of Mr. Struggan’s Shameless Plug, I am pleased to announce that one of my pieces has been accepted to the Postcards From the Edge benefit exhibition hosted by Sikkema Jenkins & Co!
Postcards From the Edge, now in its 15th year, is an art benefit sale conducted by Visual AIDS, an arts non-profit that works to promote AIDS awareness in the arts. Every year, their benefit sale draws submissions from some of the art world’s biggest names. All the artists in the show exhibit anonymously, and all the postcard sized pieces are $85, meaning if you show up opening night and have a discerning enough eye, you could snag yourself an $85 Baechler, Ruscha, Baldessari, Marclay, … or even a Duggan!
Consider stopping by and seeing the show if you are free this weekend.
Mr. Struggan sends his regards.
Eugene Hyon: Fire Escapes, Waterfronts & Rooftops as Urban Landscape
A Gathering of the Tribes, New York
Jan 18 - Jan 25, 2013
Wilson here. Mr. Struggan sent me out last night to attend the opening of Eugene Hyon’s new photography exhibition at A Gathering of the Tribes in Alphabet City. Mr. Struggan first learned about Tribes and their reputation as a vital New York arts organization through his association with Exit Art (RIP) and their 2010 exhibition Alternative Histories. When he heard about the opening last night, he knew I’d be in for a treat.
After hustling through the cold from the F train, I arrived at 285 East 3rd Street unsure whether I was in the right place. I had to check my directions a second time before I was bold enough to try the door of the unassuming building. Realizing it was open, I trekked up the stairs and into the gallery, a worn-in apartment that is the home of Tribes founder Dr. Steve Cannon and the home of his organization since its foundation in 1991.
Eugene Hyon’s photos, as the title of the exhibition states, depict urban landscapes such as rooftop vistas, building facades, and sweeping waterfront views in a range of black and white, full color, and sepia tones. The 22 prints on view comunicate a quiet and tender concern for composition; Hyon, a native New Yorker, describes himself in his statement as a “patient witness,” interested in “stillness, elegance, and classical proportion” in his practice as an artist.
The Eugene Hyon I met at the gallery, however, seemed to me much more than a patient witness. The mild-mannered, sweater-vested man I spoke to came across as Peter Parker, sans Spidey Suit. The man who took these photos, the one who casually recounts his adventures climbing on rooftops for his shots in the wall texts, must be an alter ego.
Hyon’s work conveys a certain timelessness in the way it depicts the city, especially where he works in black and white or in sepia. He by and large reaches his aim for classical compositions, but his incorporation of contemporary elements, sometimes subtle, sometimes not, are key to understanding his work. This was perhaps best illustrated in his explanation of one of his photographs, a wide riverfront cityscape in sepia taken in Moscow that does not appear in the show, but rather was printed on the business card he gave me. He described the piece as one of his favorites, pointing out that upon first glance the photo conveys the antique qualities he appreciates. It is only when one notices a modern day traffic jam on the road running along the bank of the river that one can identify the piece as a contemporary image. The inclusion of these elements into his compositions is what sets his work apart.
As a contemporary artist, then, Hyon is clearly an innovative player, even if he doesn’t seem to be pushing many envelopes too far. But why live on the cutting edge when you could be timeless instead? He seems quite content doing what he knows and loves, and lucky for us, he does it well.
Mr. Struggan sends his High Regards.