January/February Gallery Goings

Installation view of Doug Wheeler, SA MI 75 DZ NY 12 (2012). Image via David Zwirner.

“Doug Wheeler” at David Zwirner: With lines stretching down 19th Street on a daily basis, it takes nearly 2 hours (4 on weekends!) to merely enter Doug Wheeler’s “infinity environment”. I can’t help but wonder why this particular show has proven so immensely popular, but I’d guess it is likely a mixture of a feature in the New York Times, the relative rareness of seeing a Wheeler installation, and the fact that it’s truly worth all the hype.

The first few minutes after entering the installation are the best. While shuffling along in cloth booties (no shoes allowed), people keep their arms outstretched as if needing to brace themselves for some unknown invisible obstacle. Walking into the void feels like entering a seemingly endless world of indefinite white space. Imagine the Matrix or some similarly sci-fi futuristic non-space dream world. Bright white light envelopes you in a surreal embrace. At first it’s impossible to determine the shape of the room or solve the illusion of the seemingly endless whiteness. The intensity of the visual experience causes spots to appear in your vision, which only elevates the feeling of being in a mind-altering environment. Once your eyes adjust and you step back, however, the magic is essentially ruined. The illusion of the space is revealed – it is a white room with curved walls and floors, much like a skateboard ramp. Even with the curtain curled back and the chimera exposed, Wheeler’s light environment is a sight to behold and an experience to savor. With its seemingly endless space it expands the mind and the reach of our powers of perception.

Installation view of “Damien Hirst: The Complete Spot Paintings 1986-2011″. Image via Gagosian Gallery.

“Damien Hirst: The Complete Spot Paintings 1986-2011″ at Gagosian Gallery (West 24th St.): My favorite part about the Gagosian/Damien Hirst spot painting extravaganza is the ART THOUGHTZ video created by Hennessy Youngman. No review I’ve seen has hit the nail on the head more aptly and succinctly than his description of the series of shows as “the perfect storm of banality”. I must admit I found the installation on 24th St. more interesting than anticipated, if only due to the sheer quantity and scale of the works. But at the end of my visit it was the gift shop that piqued my interest most. It offers the opportunity to purchase clocks, mugs, and other spotted paraphanelia at expectantly high prices and walk away with merchandise tucked into a paper bag emblazoned with the words, “Free Art”.  At the end of the day, this show is more spectacle and buzz than anything of meatier substance. I’m content to rest easy on only seeing one of the eleven (!) spot exhibitions currently spread across the globe.

Installation view of “Ai Weiwei: Sunflower Seeds”. Image via Mary Boone Gallery.

“Ai Weiwei: Sunflower Seeds” at Mary Boone Gallery: Ai Weiwei seems to have garnered an almost mythical status over the past year, which has seen him detained, incarcerated, and finally released by Chinese authorities. One million of his tiny, porcelain, hand painted sunflower seeds originally carpeted the turbine hall of the Tate Modern last spring. Mary Boone Gallery presents these seeds on a much smaller scale, with an almost militantly precise rectangle of seeds set in the center of the gallery floor. It’s easy to marvel at the painstaking process required to craft such tiny, individualized yet repetitive objects, while also thinking of the broader significance of porcelain and labor intensive craftsmanship in relation to Chinese history and culture.

Joel Sternfeld, Washington D.C., August 1974 (1974). Image via Luhring Augustine.

“Joel Sterneld: First Pictures” at Luhring Augustine: Sternfeld is credited with elevating color photography at a time when black and white was still the stronghold of fine art photography. Seeing the saturated sunny beaches, tanned skin, and neon bathing suits in his Virginia Beach series makes it easy to see how color only served to enhance Sternfeld’s work. His photos never feel voyeuristic or exploitative, and they emit a level of warmth that is often combined with gentle humor. Although the photographs seek to capture the sensibility of a particular moments in history (1970s America), they also, perhaps inadvertently, illustrate similarities across time. Hairstyles change and fashion trends immediately date a photograph, but themes of youth, age, isolation, commercialization, idealism, and loneliness all share an essence of universality.

Installation view of “Happenings: New York, 1958-1963″. Image via Pace Gallery.

Happenings: New York, 1958-1963 at Pace Gallery: This ambitious show aims to trace the history of Happenings via ample documentary objects – props, costumes, notes, invitations, videos, photographs, and other ephemera. The sheer volume and density of materials makes the exhibition somewhat difficult to navigate without becoming bogged down in detail, something that might be detrimental for people entering the gallery without any pre-existing knowledge of  the “Happenings” movement of the late 1950s and early 60s. Nevertheless, Pace offers an exhibition of historical importance for this brief, yet captivating, slice of modern art. The show effectively captures the sense of innovation and experimental spirit that artists like Jim Dine, Claes Oldenburg, and Lucas Samaras, brought to the New York art scene during this influential period.

Mary Corse, Untitled (2011). Image via Lehmann Maupin.

Mary Corse: New Work at Lehmann Maupin: With the recent spotlight on Southern Californian artists (as a result of Pacific Standard Times extensive programming) the moment is ripe for Lehmann Maupin’s inaugural exhibition of this Californian artist’s work. On display are five new works crafted from glass microspheres on acrylic on canvas, an unconventional mix of materials that creates extraordinarily luminous and ever changing surfaces. The paintings comes alive with a sensual and shifting appearance that suggests a more complex, almost three-dimensional presence. This dynamic quality lends itself to discussions of light, perception, our experience of reality. Corse’s work takes these complex themes and distills them into the most intangible and radiant of the painted visual experience.

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