Art in Review
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Pascale Marthine Tayou
Lombard-Freid Fine Arts
470 Broome Street
Through May 15
The first American solo show of Pascale Marthine Tayou, a young artist from Cameroon, is impressive, if not exactly unfamiliar. Mr. Tayou is one of numerous artists from around the world, including Tomoko Takahashi, Sarah Sze and John Bock, who are giving scatter art both a second life and a new sense of urgency. His installation at Lombard-Freid is a mess, but a very revealing, subtly organized and personal one. And its title, "Nomad," infuses a late 90's buzzword with a palpable reality that is witty and generous.
Mr. Tayou is nomadic in his life, his materials, his artistic sources and his thinking. He shifts effortlessly from country to country and also among drawing styles, creating Basquiatesque tangles in crayon or comic-erotic diagrams in ballpoint pen and colored pencil. He picks up random materials the show is enlivened by bright piles of fabric scraps picked from SoHo trash bins that conjure the area's quickly fading light-manufacturing character. Other articles include red carriers for Coca-Cola bottles, wine and water bottles and plastic cups left over from the show's opening.
But Mr. Tayou also makes good use of the inevitable detritus of motion train and airline ticket stubs, restaurant and drugstore receipts, labels or wrappings for socks, razors and batteries. He tapes them together, along with festive pink paper hearts from a Post-It pad, and then sticks these streamers to the wall. Most personal of all, on both wall and floor can be found bits of his mail, his writings, show announcements and color photocopies of the big, bristling assemblage sculptures part crucifix, part spirit figure that he made out of found materials as recently as 1995.
These pieces suggest an artist attempting to reconcile local traditions with global ones. Their ritualistic tone seems echoed in the large figural fragments drawn on the walls at Lombard-Freid in a violent graffiti style, and in a small floor sculpture made of yams connected by wires. But nothing is simple here, much less pure, and that is the beauty and strength of Mr. Tayou's work. So his wall drawings can suggest the work of Jonathan Borofsky, and the yams' connections include white rubber bands and upholstery pins.
In both its particular details and larger rhythms, Mr. Tayou's incessant recycling confirms the fluidity and borderlessness of space, culture and thought. His work is at base diaristic, in that it reflects one person's movement through the world, but the story it tells belongs to single individual or culture.
Matthew Marks Gallery
522 West 22d Street
Through May 15
It may seem odd to characterize "Pi," Roni Horn's installation of photographs at Matthew Marks as sculpture, but the piece creates a distinct experience of space and of place. Its 45 images ring the four walls of a big squarish gallery, evenly spaced, a bit above eye level.
Identical in height, slightly varying in width (square, vertical rectangle, horizontal rectangle), evenly spaced and united by a certain blueness of tone, these images create a band of syncopated glimpses of another world. Each reads as the single frame of a film, but also as a square-cornered porthole, a box punched in the wall that contains a measure of depicted space ranging from not much to infinite to artificial.
Included are portraits of a middle-aged man and woman; close-ups of stuffed animals and feather-strewn birds' nests; and television images of a blond actress and the beam of a lighthouse cutting through the night. There are also images of the interior of a plain house, most notably one of an empty blue room that suggests one by Magritte; expanses of tundra, and of ground scattered with feathers in some instances and with dead birds in others. Finally, there are immense expanses of open edgeless sea, beautifully blue, shown in different weather and at various times of day.
The images repeat, and one soon concludes that they are of one, very specific place, that the man and the woman live in the house, from which they see the ocean. The birds and nests intimate nature's cycles; the television images, culture's. Further information is available if questions are asked: the couple live in Iceland, which Ms. Horn has photographed extensively, near the Arctic Circle. They make their living gathering and cleaning the down of eider ducks, which periodically die in great numbers during storms; they own stuffed examples of the animals endemic to the area, and each day they watch "The Guiding Light" on television.
This piece is not without a certain slickness and preciousness that are found in much of Ms. Horn's work. But its measuring of time, space and human habit is beautiful and establishes the first solid link between Ms. Horn's sculpture and her photography.
Michael Smith and Joshua White
New Museum of Contemporary Art
583 Broadway, near Houston Street
Through June 27
Michael Smith and Joshua White, collaborative producers of comedic installations, have here created an amusing and expansive if not terribly profound spin on the archetype of the sacred studio. Pass through a gateway of construction scaffolding and you discover a replica of a cluttered and grungy SoHo artist's loft.
At the start, Mr. Smith himself speaks to you on videotape with deadpan, Spalding Gray-like charm, as though you were a prospective buyer. It seems that in response to skyrocketing SoHo real estate values, the artist, who may or may not be identical with Mr. Smith himself, has decided to sell out after living in extended-adolescent squalor for 20 years. When the brief video tour is over ("Loft beds aren't for everyone, but I think they're really great") you're free to wander.
In one area a television set plays interview excerpts from "Interstitial," Mr. Smith's cable-access television program. Here and there are individual artworks like "Sweat Equity," a sheetrock wall built as a form of process art and video performance, and "Waterfall," a small black-and-white television set playing rolling snow and sitting on a spaghettilike bed of videotape. Everywhere are posters, crummy used furniture, notes and postcards stuck to walls, video equipment, lights and wires and random bits of detritus. It looks as if no one has done any serious cleaning for years.
Ultimately, it all seems banal and pathetic. It's more theater than art, but as such it entertainingly spoofs a certain quasi-Bohemian life style.
Audiello Fine Arts
526 West 26th Street
Through May 29
With charming modesty and a deft touch, Jeronimo Elespe plays on and off the modernist picture plane. In each painting by this young Spanish-born artist, a small, ordinary object is rendered in a loose but realistic style on a broad gray surface. While invoking monochromatic abstraction, the thin, flat surface reads variously.
It works as, for example, a wall to which may be attached a row of toilet paper dispensers or a couple of calendar pages. In other instances, as in the image of a face-off between a pair of tortoise-shell glasses and a pair of sunglasses or that of some plastic slide boxes, the illusory plane tips away from the picture plane toward the horizontal and the objects exist at a distance, isolated.
In the image of a single, metal handle, the picture plane has a Jasper Johnsesque ambiguity: does the handle attach to a drawer or is it used metaphysically, to tug open the painting itself? Curiously, despite his playful manipulations of the actual and the illusory, the mood of Mr. Elespe's paintings is poetically subdued, as though he were saddened by the existential implications of his investigations.
515 West 27th Street
Through May 29
For several years, the Martinez Gallery has devoted itself to exhibiting and documenting the genre known as graffiti art, and most of the time its exhibition space is covered floor to ceiling with new work by some of the best writers veterans and newcomers in the field.
The current show, organized by Franklin Sirmans and intended to complement "Urban Mythologies" at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, is historical in nature. Modest in size, it includes photographs of outdoor work from the 1970's by three of the pioneering artists in the Bronx show Case 2, Riff 170 and Tracy 168 along with small paper studies and drawings.
Jack Stewart and Henry Chalfant's photographs of writing on subway cars give some sense of the graphically eye-snapping character of this kinetic public art, triumphantly carrying an artist's name and fame from borough to borough. But the works on paper steal the show. Drawn in ink or marker pen, on napkins, envelopes, paper towels or (in one case) on an Amtrak headrest, they are exquisite.
In a piece titled "The New Millennium," Riff sets the words in a theatrically baroque setting of half-hidden figures and decorative scrolls. A series of envelope drawings by Case includes cartoon figures and written annotations. Tracy offers an astounding variety of styles, from 3-D to space-age spikey to Cubistic. He floats out words on cushions of colors, and ties them up in unreadable knots, festooned with tendril-like flourishes.
New York museums offer some classic examples of calligraphy from cultures that treasure this as a supreme art form, as one can see in the Chinese and Islamic galleries of the Metropolitan. At its best, American graffiti sophisticated design that carries cultural and personal messages holds its own in this company.
L. N. Tallur
Bose Pacia Modern
580 Broadway, near Houston Street
Through May 14
L. N. Tallur, 28, is the 1999 winner of an annual award given by this gallery to an emerging artist from India, and his work carries the flavor of that country. For the occasion, the artist has built a series of small wooden cabinets painted to imitate cast bronze. Two are vertical, the others low to the ground. Most have lift-up tops that open to reveal a meticulously compartmentalized universe of images, like a cross between a laptop computer and a Joseph Cornell box.
The piece titled "Barter System" includes popular religious prints, plastic dolls, newspaper personal ads and hand-painted images of a blood transfusion in progress, to address same-sex love and AIDS in a way that is both funny, disturbing and full of references that probably make full sense only within an Indian context. "Man Carrying Halo" is so delightful that specific cultural references don't matter: lift the lid and a little electric fan goes into action to cool a miniature all-white bedroom, while a gold-haloed figure looks on like an angel-guru from the side.
Mr. Tallur trained under the esteemed painter Bhupen Khakar, as is evident in the sly and audacious wit of his work. He has also studied museology, and each of his pieces is like a miniature curiosity cabinet, hand-assembled down to the smallest detail and packed with charmed and puzzling surprises.
531 West 24th Street
Through May 28
The latest paintings by Fiona Rae, a departure for the young British artist, have the snappy, obscure authority of electronic diagrams to which have been added various flourishes.
Against black matte backdrops, she irregularly paints gaudy, unnaturally colored bands, long strips of bright yellow or orange framed in pink or green, which create the vague look of giant computer chip designs. Then she paints big, slippery, twisting strokes on top of and around the bands; they are glossy, accumulated marks of her hand and wrist, as painterly as the bands are mechanistic-looking, although everything about these pictures is deliberate, meaning not spontaneous.
The strokes have a quality like Roy Lichtenstein's freeze-dried sendups of de Kooning or like David Reed's icy abstractions, but above all they recall Francis Bacon's smears, which he also put on top of contrasting matte surfaces. Ms. Rae, like Bacon, sometimes even adds shadows to imply that the strokes were suspended in air, hovering before the flat bands.
But it is a virtual depth, an eerie no-space that suggests the virtual reality of the computer world, that is Ms. Rae's starting point. The results bend pure abstraction toward surrealism.
745 Fifth Avenue, at 57th Street
Through May 29
A spooky sense of the human in animals and vice versa is so startlingly evoked by Daisy Youngblood's pared-down sculptures that they defy easy looking. Yet close scrutiny is warranted because Ms. Youngblood gets to the very essence of her subject, horse or hawk, ape or person, exaggerating or eliminating as she sees fit. Of these works, done between 1979 and 1999, the largest is a near-life-size bronze gorilla, cubistically stylized but all brute menace as it squats on a pedestal, its steroidal arms suggesting those of a boxer or a longshoreman. The smallest object is a tiny hawk's head, its ferocious beak, like the schnoz of a Grand Inquisitor, the salient thing about it.
There is a small, wall-mounted elephant's head in cast silver, with gaping mouth and flaring proboscis that suggests both male and female sexuality, and the wall-mounted clay head of an earless horse, mouth open in what seems a tortured whinny to show frightening long splayed teeth. A couple of portraits of women, while expressive, still have the ruthless cast of anthropological specimens.
The most interesting work, because so local and so finely observed, is Ms. Youngblood's 1982 clay head and torso of the late art-world guru Dick Bellamy, for whom she professes in an accompanying statement richly ambivalent feelings. At any rate, there is the attenuated figure of this much-admired man, wearing his usual inscrutable expression, head held high above the clouds, body projecting an attitude of watchful waiting. Like everything else in the show, he too evokes a frisson in the viewer.
'The Chapel of the Heavenly Ladder and Other Works'
St. Peter's Church
619 Lexington Avenue, at 54th Street
Through May 30
For some time Stephen Antonakos, known for his works in neon, has been involved with projects of a religious nature, and the objects here give a good if limited account of recent endeavors. First and foremost, there is his model for the Chapel of the Heavenly Ladder, inspired by the 12th-century monk John of Klimax's icon of that designation.
The model here was done in 1995 for a full-scale iron structure built in 1997 for the Venice Biennale. A plain, ascetic building of rusted iron walls open to the elements, it has a ceiling aperture through which a high ladder projects, and a narrow full-length doorway in front topped by a canopy mounted with multiple crosses. In the building done for the Biennale, the canopy was framed in red neon and the ladder aperture in blue. Even without the neon, in this small scale, it's an impressive work.
The other model here, very different in approach, is a design for a projected "Chapel of the Martyrs," a cube of wood and Plexiglass with a peaked roof whose transparent walls are gridded in windowlike panels, allowing for the placement of 400 red votive lights. This, too, is a dramatically effective structure, less emotive than the iron chapel and more in keeping with the formal nature of Mr. Antonakos's work.
On the wall is a painted panel, "Let Light Shine Out of Darkness" (1995), whose brushings of cloudlike wisps on a dark ground are illuminated from behind by a glow of neon. Its effect would be more dramatic in multiples. There are also several Constructivist-influenced drawings, in which geometric elements are laid out in finely tuned formats done in colored pencil on brightly hued transparent vellum. One wishes there were more to this abbreviated show.
526 West 26th Street
Through May 15
Repetition is all for Nina Bovasso. In her cheerfully obsessive semi-abstract drawings, and in her small paintings, whose dominant colors are red, white, blue and pink, dots of varying sizes accumulate into spheres of varying densities. They can suggest brains, planets or atoms overburdened with molecules, but they can also coalesce into fizzy, confetti-like clouds.
Thin lines form thick, springy tangles around these aggregate forms, or strike out on their own, widening into looping crisscrossing bands reminiscent of thruway cloverleafs or bright crisscrossing highways. Small squarish units, which evoke both bricks and houses, multiply into citylike pueblos and tear-shaped subdivisions. Finally, there are paintings in which short bands of color cover the surface edge to edge, like a patchwork quilt.
In bits and pieces, these elements are all appealing; but put together in slightly different ways, over the course of many drawings, they become not only relentless but also rather vacant and decorative. Cuteness and comic allusion can make abstraction seem user friendly and more closely tied to the culture at large, but it doesn't necessarily make it more meaningful. In the end, eye candy is just another kind of formalism.