I did my annual pre-Christmas peregrination around Chelsea’s commercial galleries: it would appear that Manhattan’s nexus of money and art is alive and well. NYC’s tendency towards big, colourful, expensive, object-centred art is perhaps the subject of anguished navel-gazing and hand-wringing amongst certain corners of the art world. Yet, the Chelsea galleries still are able to deliver exhibitions of a size, scope and brashness that other cities rarely match. In contrast, London, for instance, conveys a distinctly provincial but charming feel, and intimate scale, in the quaint Georgian precincts of Mayfair (admittedly this is changing as the likes of Marian Goodman and Sadie Coles increase their footprints).
First off, after a failed attempt to find a decent espresso bar in Chelsea, I hit a group show at Andrew Kreps, the most interesting work at which was Navid Nuur’s light sculpture. There were some rather unexciting deconstructed paintings by Diana Molzan (think wrapped stretchers, nets, grids, referencing Modernist tropes).
Then onto the Martin Puryear show at Mathew Marks, which was built around the shape of the Phrygian cap, that of the French Revolution and similar also to a Venetian Doge’s hat. He explored the shape in an exhaustive range of materials, most of which were exquisitely fashioned in wood, tar, bronze, wire, paint. His thing is the use of traditional craft techniques, like joinery, to produce unashamedly beautiful sculptures. While the physical manifestation of Puryear’s skill was very impressive, the show as a whole didn’t really rise above a demonstration of virtuosity with materials. There wasn’t enough of an overall narrative, although the PR made references to colonialism, ethnicity, etc., to make it work for me, particularly in comparison to some of the other shows (see below).
Gagosian ran a large show of Picasso photographs, drawings, films, objects, and paintings. As expected, it was museum-quality, and staffed by burly, yet perfectly civil, security guards. About 30 of them. The show itself was mesmerizing, drew on John Richardson’s scholarship, and was yet another step in Gagosian’s contribution (after the London show in 2010), or exploitation depending on your view, of the Picasso art-industrial-complex.
One of the best exhibitions was R.H. Quaytman at Gladstone. She considered, effectively and eloquently, the vexed question of ‘how to take painting forward’? Her works sat squarely on the border of painting and sculpture, via the path of installation and architecture. They were system-based, linked back to the Fibonacci sequence, so had enough for the mind, while being firmly aesthetic, manual, and physical in their presence. Their was an obligatory social-critical aspect, the show having originally being made for an installation in Inhotim Museum, Brazil.
While on the topic of painting I should mention the MoMA survey of the future of painting, which includes a number of recent acquisitions of younger painters, such as Oscar Murillo. Unfortunately, it hadn’t opened yet to the public, but the review in The New York Times was not a full-throated endorsement.
George Condo’s exhibition at Skarstedt was of all-new work, and notable for the increased emphasis of erasure and deletion of the image, than in much of his earlier oeuvre.
Hans Haacke at Paula Cooper was mostly of older work, however, in a side room, there was a deep-dive display, with drawings, resin casts, text, and photographs, into his commission for the Fourth Plinth of Trafalgar Square in London. Nothing drastically new here, but a mute yet visible reminder that money and art are, and have always been, more-or-less two sides of the same coin.
Thomas Scheibitz at Tanya Bonakdar was another strong show that considered the borders of painting. Unlike the Quaytman show, his references seemed more internal to art history, specifically the artist’s studio, rather than to the world-outside-art, and if I had only seen the ground floor large, neon-coloured abstract paintings, I might have walked out disappointed. However, on the second floor, he extended his painterly idiom into reliefs, sculptures, installations, and a large wall-mounted mural on plastic. His materials were diverse: wood, plastic, fabric, canvas, metal, resin. Both this and the Quaytman were superior to the Puryear, IMHO, because of their more effective connection of material and form with concept and narrative.
But David Zwirner carried the day with Franz West, Richard Serra, Neo Rauch, and Christopher Williams, which I guess explained why he was walking about beaming and expansively welcoming well-heeled European collectors. The Franz West works were mental, and this was as much a retrospective of Zwirner’s relationship with West, as of West’s oeuvre itself. The original, massive white heads from Documenta 9 (1992) were there, and a roomful of brilliant coloured sculptures, 2 couches to be sat on, and 2 Passstucke to be handled. There were examples of West’s incorporation of other artists’ drawings and paintings, and even a small bar with materials for a Negroni (the guard didn’t let me make one sadly).
Christopher Williams’ show followed on the MoMA retrospective, and continued with Williams’ threefold concerns: an exploration of photography via photography; the institutional structure of art display; and the book as art-form. Various walls in the gallery had been re-sited, and in the MoMA show some of the walls from his previous exhibitions had been transported into the MoMA space. The photographs continued his, to paraphrase Peter Schjedahl in The New Yorker, nerdy interest in the process and, increasingly archaic, relics of photography, of Agfa, Fuji, Ciba and Leitz. Lastly, his new picture book was completely devoid of any text, a counterpoint of the MoMA catalogue, which had almost no pictures. It was hugely covetable, albeit dear at $120, before tax.
Zwirner’s Serra show was distinctly disappointing, the drawings being small (about 150x60cm), and giving an impression of moderately-priced objects sold to discerning collectors who can’t afford, or house, one of the larger drawings, not to mention the sculptures.
Lastly, Francesco Clemente at the Rubin was a homage to India. It didn’t particularly touch me, and certainly paled in comparison to the Himalayan art, and the Marc Riboud photographic exposition. I was reminded of the Rauschenberg Jammers show at Gagosian in 2013, which, with its vastly reduced formal vocabulary, gave much more of a sense of India than Clemente’s figurative and naif paintings.