November in New York, Thanksgiving just around the corner and the promise of the commercial excesses of Christmas on the horizon usually gives a boundless energy, but 2004 was different. The shadow of the Republican candidates success in the Presidential election loomed greatly, and became a deep black hole that most were debating as to their next step – into the vortex or escape to some, as yet unidentified, periphery. However, amidst this quiet confusion and general lacklustre there were some experiences that stood out and are worth mentioning.
The conversation on the street throughout New York in November centred around the opening of the newly revamped MOMA. Over the days there, the ticketed opening of MOMA gave rise to much joking and for some it provided a serious identification as to where they were on the pecking order, through which of the many openings that they were invited to. Gladly I avoided this and instead concentrated on the rest of the circus that is the New York art scene.
Overall there is a distinct sameness about New York galleries at the moment. There were few highlights, and indeed it soon became apparent that those artists that did stand out were the younger generation of artists from Europe.
The first of these was Lars Arrhenius at Feigen Contemporary. Imagine if you will the modern version of Japanese landscape designer Tassa Eidas path of life style gardening. In Arrhenius we see the same cast of players and symbols of the vicissitudes of mans life from the cradle to the grave. Arrhenius draws greatly upon Debords city of potential events. He blankly utilises the basic situationist practices of dérive. His pictographic figures both simplify the human being and through serial stylised diagramatic representation he brings the viewer through a narrative of cause and effect. The playfulness of these naratives engages the viewer and also, in a non-pedagogic manner, provides a thought provoking simplified view of love, anger, money, grief, hatred, greed, selflessness, honesty and all that modern life throws at us.
Jesper Just at Perry Rubenstein Gallery is another of this younger generation who provide an almost voyeuristic point of access to what is at once a familiar and disturbing view of the human psyche. Indeed, we the audience are made to feel uncomfortable by the lack of resolve to Justs video pieces. The initial points of entry are always both accessible and familiar in their normality and yet at the end we sit/stand/loll wondering as to how our senses have been assaulted/raped. A youth walking in fields of corn watching a truck go by, gentlemen sitting in a club silent in their thoughts, and not so subtle references to the objectivisation of the youthful male in popular culture. Justs videos are held together with sentimental song lyrics, familiar and yet delivered in a manner that provides them with a new awkward meaning. Just, in my opinion, is one to watch out for. His work shows evidence of greatness to come as long as he doesnt implode into early sucesses of his career.
On a similar note, Thordis Adalsteinsdottir at Stefan Stux Gallery traumatises the audience. In her clear references to Classicism and classical figurative motifs, Adalsteinsdottirs world is that of a fairly tale that has gone awry, fallen apart, and has no clear path for the figures contained therein to survive their nightmare. These flattened images provide no solution. Instead they representationalise the essence of interior psychological spaces. With pared down colouring, each image is whole and yet unsatifisfied. There is the need for many years of psychological therapy in each of them.
This leads easily to American artist Chloe Piene at Klemens Gasser Tanja Grunert Inc. One of the noisiest exhibitions in town, Piene polarises the essesence of the human form, and approaches male/female in a reductive manner. Her video pieces are pure explorations of the beasitiality of human existence. And yet, Pienes destruction of her subjects in this exhibition comes from the act of creation. In large charcoal drawings we see an almost human form being pieced together. We are asked to question when the actual sex and gender of the subject becomes apparent. It is left to the viewer to provide that moment when they realise the delicacy and beauty of the object that is being created in the great unrest of this work.
Lousie Bourgeois at Cheim Reid is a further documentation of Bourgeoiss withdrawal into solitary existence. The intensified awareness of sensations and the overpowering hold of memory is all present in this exhibition. This is a truely powerful successor to Bourgeoiss Insomnia Drawings of 1994 – 95. And yet, walking through Cheim Reid, Bourgeoiss work developed a new resonance for me. During the visit a coterie of grand dames was being lead through accompanied by the quintessential expert. Stopping to eavesdrop on the presentation of the works, I have rarely felt so cold to the drawings. Instead of the intense humanity of each one I was guided to look at them as representations that could only be understood if the full history of the artist was unlocked to me. I fled! I could not stop and listen more and have my fragile grip of my reality of Louise Bourgeois broken by definitions that flourished in mediocrity of explanation.
And so to the Whitney Drawn by the acquisition of Bill Violas Five Angels for the Millennium, the Whitney audience is also presented with Small: The Object in Film, Video, And Slide Installation. This exhibition of seven small-scale installations by John Baldessari, Matthew Higgs, Sol LeWitt, Alan Phelan, Jonathan Monk, Michael Snow, and Rirkrit Tiravanija compares the work of Baldessari, LeWitt, and Snow with four artists of a younger generation. Each work removes the object as the work, and instead places the object firmly within the subject of the work. This simple device provides an interesting platform to view the different view points taken by each artist. But the strength of the exhibition is not only in its works. The strength is also in the scale. We have become over-abused by multiple screen installations that scream at us for attention. In this simple exhibition we are given each work in a space that we, the audience, are the judge and jury of engagement. A definite case of size does not matter! With the juxtaposition of the older and younger generations, it is good to see both holding their ground well. For a group show there are no weak participants in this one.
And so finally to Markus Muntean and Adi Rosenblum at Team. A group show that included Guillaume Pinard, and Banks Violette, this film piece stood out not only for quality, but also personified this particular visit to New York. Billed as a response to the post-Reagan/Thatcher experience, the work spoke more about the many open roads in todays society. Here we see superficial choice as a prison. Wandering through a desolate landscape, Muntean and Rosenblum placed their characters in a Bergmanesque landscrape with a dialogue that spoke of its subject as without time, a wanderlust unfulfilled or without inward meaning or reference. It is too trite to describe this work as post-anything Instead art-speak such a multiple naratives, unresolvedness, and decay are removed and the bare facts of the reality of choice is placed before the audience.