Sunday, September 18, 2005

Chelsea this week

ROBERT SMITHSON

Didn'’t catch a glimpse of Smithson's Floating Island , yesterday, my first trip to Chelsea of the season, but I love the idea of this floating barge filled with trees floating around Manhattan. The photos have the trees in full autumn colour, which would be even more spectacular: photos in the Times of them assembling the barge suggested a recent planting which would mean a NY climate zone. What I want to see is them literally floating the barge down the Hudson to NY. I want to see them move a chunk of upstate downstate, season intact…not just a planting for the occasion, a real, living chunk. Now that would be interesting.

Smithson is of course, responsible for Spiral Jetty (1970). He was one of the seminal 'earth artists' of the late 60s early 70s--recently I viewed his film on the making of Spiral Jetty at the AGO in Toronto. Worth seeking out. Smithson died in 1973, but this floating island had long been a dream of his.

It was a muggy, humid, grey day. Too hot and wet for many folks to be out, but still art thrives. Still we have art on the street, art on barges, art in a traveling moving van. All day I was thinking, as I have been this past year, what is all this fuss about art? I mean I know I love it, I trot myself out regularly to view it, I'm not calling its value into question, rather I'm wondering what function it fulfills not only in our lives, but quite literally in our minds... What is it we're looking for when we look at art? And perhaps more interesting for me to ponder than that question is, the question of who is actually, physically, doing the looking? I find myself equally, if not more so, fascinated by the spaces of art and the people in the spaces, how they move and how they look...

BILL OWENS

Most of the shots included in the latest Bill Owens'’ America show are from his earlier work, Suburbia, a fabulous collection of photos taken over several years in the early 1970s. these are spectacularly honest, objective portraits of suburbia in its youthful naivety, and they capture that era beautifully. The portraits are full of hope, delusion, disconnection and absolute faith in the moment. The details are surprisingly spot on. This show, at the James Cohan gallery had a few shots I'’ve never seen before, and a few larger colour shots I'’m not sure quite belonged. For some reason they chose not to include the accompanying text. —Owens took statements from everyone he photographed. I missed the text. But I always love seeing Owens' work. He left the art world for a while to start a brewery but now he's back.

Photo of a Bill Owens Photograph

DIANE ARBUS

Other faces, Other rooms, at the Robert Miller, like Owen’s', features mostly work we'’ve seen before--—particularly at the recent retrospective. However there were a few shots that seemed new and it was nice to see them in a small gallery with room to linger. The retrospective was so packed one couldn't so much view as parade, in a long line, with a limited time to stand. The photos themselves seemed sad. Not just the subjects, but artifacts, long lingering last looks through the lens of a woman who seemed to love, but wasn'’t able to connect.


Looking for Diane Arbus

KRYSZTOF WODICZKO

Photo taken in the installation

I thought that If you see something was a fun piece. A projection of scenes that make it seem as though one is looking at intimate moments through frosted panes of glass. One of which was a dog sniffing at the window. Great, I thought, from the outside looking in or in looking out. Either way, it was a reversal that seemed to poke fun at the world of intrigue, the post 9/11 world of If you see something, say something”. People going on about their days, sharing intimate moments.

However, the stories themselves--which I heard only snippets of--—apparently each recount an "“abuse of power"” a "“forced confession"” of some kind. The artist'’s statement suggests, "“blurred distinctions"” between "“us and them"”, real and assumed, etc.

These are intense subjects. The statement further suggests that the artist will "“create a commemorative space devoted to American victims and survivors of the war in Iraq"”. If you say so. And that'’s an important criticism it seems to me: if you say so. For without the statement attached I don'’t see any way to interpret this installation so darkly. I loved it, but I found a wide gulf between intention and experience.

PETER DRAKE

These paintings purport to explore"“the link between classical mythology and contemporary Legends"”. Hm. SUBurban Lengends at Claire Oliver, are very modern, vibrant paintings of 50s style men and lines of young girls practicing archery. Colourful, fun, and mischievous these paintings appear to literally have a glow. As if, in the vein of junior high cartoonists, the artist has painted glowing halos radiating around all objects in site.
I've seen this before, and in much better focus, but I did love the content of these paintings, particularly the dozen or so heads on small canvases (although even that has become a cliche).

Photo of a Peter Drake Painting

LAURIE ANDERSON

Last stop, a new installation by Laurie Anderson titled The Waters Reglitterized--—taken from Henry Miller. The Sean Kelley Gallery is at the northern reaches of Chelsea, and requires passing by a taxi cab fueling station and garage. I could have had any one of several dates with cab drivers. It must have been shift change. I have no idea what this would look like but I admit I was pondering the shape of a cab driver date as I entered into Laurie Anderson'’s world which may have made for an even more bizarre encounter than usual.

The stills that accompany the show are printed on what seems to be slightly clingy, matte, Saran Wrap. I knew instantly what she was going for because the night before I had found wide strips of tape hanging off of light posts in Soho and had taken several pictures through them. Like looking from the inside of a grape (—as Woolf described her habit of trying to recreate childhood memory). Anderson'’s stills are of images from her dreams, —and the dreams make up the installation.

Stay away from dreams I was always told as a young creative person, and yet again and again we come back to them. The question to ask is whether there is anything new in Anderson'’s investigation? Well, the first thing is her presence in the film. We are invited--and the gallery has what appeared to be yoga mats on the floor for this purpose--—we are invited to lie down and either witness, or enter into her nightmares. Or, we can, as she is doing in the film, cling to the curtains at the threshold of the room and peak in. Either way we are voyeurs to the artist'’s voyeurism. In fact you can see Anderson on the far right of the photograph below, looking on.


Photo of Laurie Anderson's installation
Levels of consciousness peeled back. For Anderson states that she wants to shift her perspective to understand not only her dreams as illusions but her waking life. Anderson says she kept track of her dreams for months after her tour of the last show (the Moon show). What I wonder is why she chose this dream. A rather pedestrian dream figuring a dead, female body in the centre of a seraglio-like room. An ultra romantic, perhaps primordially victim-centred dream complete with male gaze (her brother in this instance), and fairy tale fox (not really a fox, which would have been so much better!), layers of crimson and other romantic painterly props...

Still, I loved that she had framed the piece with herself looking in. Especially since this line of inquiry is so urgent for me at the moment. Why do we go to galleries? Why do we circle canvases, dogs in tow? What are we looking for? How do we look? And how do galleries move us through. And why are certain visions more potent than others? Are artists thinking of the audience as they purport to be? Does it matter if anyone but Laurie Anderson has access to her mythos? Or is it that Anderson's desire to extend her dreamlife, her vision, is simply more colourful, more willful, and therefore, ultimately more interesting, more relevant... Certainly the installation was heightened for me because it was Laurie Anderson'’s consciousness we were entering into, but I thought if it wasn'’t her I wouldn'’t be so intrigued...
The "film" itself did not hold me. If it had been my dream, I certainly would have switched channels. And if I couldn'’t manage that, I would certainly have got up for some warm milk.

For more shots, see my arts & artists slideshow.

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