‘Look Ahead’ with Stephanie Buhmann
Noteworthy January exhibitions not to be missed
This January not only marks the start of a new year, but of the next decade. In the art world, the past ten years surely had their ups and downs. While the economic aftermath of 9/11 forced many smaller galleries to their knees, the recession beginning in late 2008 forced several to shut their doors. In-between, the art market soared and the big auction houses fetched record sales results for many Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary artists. Art fairs — in particular Art Basel and Art Basel Miami Beach — became the most popular and fashionable way of experiencing art in the new century. In an effort to keep up with globalization, some of the largest galleries opened branches in Beijing, Brussels, Greece and Berlin.
In the context of these developments, it feels refreshing to start 2010 by exploring what our city’s galleries have in store. On a monthly basis, this newspaper will publish “Look Ahead” — a discussion of local exhibitions that are not only noteworthy, but should not be missed.
This January — a slow month in which group shows traditionally dominate — sees more solo shows than in recent years.
Inka Essenhigh, Fog, Moss, Lichen, 2008, Courtesy of the artist and 303 Gallery, NY
303 Gallery (547 W 21 St., Jan. 23 – Feb. 20, Reception: Jan. 23, 6 - 8 p.m.) will inaugurate the season with one of its most prominent artists, Inka Essenhigh — one of the few figurative painters besides Will Cotton and John Currin to emerge on the NY art scene in the late 1990s. Since then, her work has consistently fused Surrealist with Realist elements and captured a cyber-aesthetic that reflects our digital age. Influences and associations range from 19th century caricatures, to Arabic miniatures, cartoons, illustrations and Japanese animation. The slick compositions often depict figures engaged in obscure scenarios — their limbs elongated, flexing and slightly distorted. Essenhigh’s otherworldly fantasies are more futuristic than alien, as if she was to foreshadow a world which is still to (but certainly will) come.
This will be her third exhibition at the gallery (the previous one was in 2006) and its focus will be on landscapes and explorations of the seasons. Maybe it is a comment on the sad fact that in a time when our lives are increasingly consumed by cyber realities, nature has become more surreal. A mysterious view of a dark forest not only evokes the beginning of almost every Brother Grimm fairy tale, but can certainly serve as a potent symbol for the greater unknown.
Transfer-Domino, 2009, oil on canvas, Courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin, NY
Focusing on painting, Lehmann Maupin (540 W 26 St., Jan. 14 – Feb. 20) will present the second New York solo show of the German artist Christian Hellmich. Hellmich’s paintings explore architectural structures by means of abstracted forms, texture and geometry. Although his style is reminiscent of fellow countryman Thomas Scheibitz, Hellmich stands his ground. This new body of work continues Hellmich’s focus on exterior and interior spaces, and his exploration of what divides the two. The exhibition title, “The Array/Transfer-Domino,” (which was inspired by pictorial sources such as the news, advertisements, entertainment or literature) is somewhat cryptic. Hellmich is primarily interested in communicating through definitions and terms, and the exchange process of these terms. Though Hellmich’s work is devoid of romance or sentimentalism, this new exhibition will prove that his vocabulary leaves plenty of room for mystery.
Elisabeth Subrin, Lost Tribes and Promised Lands (2001-2010; video installation)
Courtesy of the artist and Sue Scott Gallery, New York
Sue Scott Gallery (1 Rivington St., Jan. 23 – Feb. 26 / Reception: Jan. 23, 6 – 8 p.m.) will start the year with a survey of the conceptual video artist Elisabeth Subrin, which spans almost twenty years of the artist’s work. Besides a selection of films, videos and photographic stills, the exhibition will feature the premiere of Subrin’s new video installation “Lost Tribes and Promised Lands” as well as a two-channel projection “Sweet Ruin” from 2008. In general, Subrin’s work is layered and reveals a deeply emotional take on documentary and conceptual art practices. She tackles her subject matter by means of repletion, revisiting and re-analyzing. To Subrin, the past not only informs the present, but also vice versa. Developments in the present, if seen side-by-side with images of the past, help to clarify the latter’s reality. In her latest installation “Lost Tribes and Promised Lands,” Subrin — who though raised in Boston lives and works in Brooklyn — has brought together views of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The work consists of twin projections, which were shot on 16mm film. One was made in the days following September 11, 2001, while the other shows the same locations on the same date seven years later. The work is partially an analysis of the changes that have occurred, but it also offers an emotional contemplation of the passing of time in general. Also on display will be one of Subrin’s most critically acclaimed works: a trilogy comprised of three biographic documentaries (which won a Los Angeles Film Critics Award in 1998).
At Ron Feldman Gallery (31 Mercer St., Jan. 9 – Feb. 13, Reception: Jan. 9, 6 – 8 p.m.), a group exhibition entitled “One Part Human” explores how computer science and the tension between human and technological capabilities in today’s scientific society have informed contemporary art. The exhibition will include motorized sculptures by the Canadian artists Simone Jones and Max Dean (the latter working in collaboration with Raffaello D’Andrea and Matt Donovan), who both have not shown in New York before — as well as a selection of photographs and video by Brian Knep. Knep is an artist in residence at Harvard Medical School, whose main subject here will be microscopic worms that are created and researched in the laboratory. His work follows the “Caenorhabditis elegans, which is one of the simplest, most studied multi-cellular organisms in the world, as it maneuvers through fabricated, labyrinthian structures that appear as intergalactic as they seem serene. Simone Jones will be represented with “Perfect Vehicle” (2003-2006). It’s a three-wheeled, 11-foot long machine which contains sensors to monitor its occupant’s breathing — which, in turn, controls the speed of the machine. A video of its journey across the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah will stress the surreal nature of the matter: portraying an alien structure as it inches across a landscape seemingly devoid of life. “The Robotic Chair” (1984-2006) by Max Dean, features a generic wooden chair, which in sequence (and without any human intervention) collapses in full force before putting itself back together with seemingly undeterred persistence. Here the functional object has been infused with “nature” — and one wonders if the art of this new decade will increasingly search for a redefinition of this term.