It’s good to be back

Stefano Pasquini

It’s been almost two years since I’ve been in New York, and last time I was here the city was still recovering from 9-11. Now we’re all back on track, and walking around the city is now somewhat refreshing for me. I forgot how many galleries there are, so much art around makes it almost a paradise. I must confess, the first couple of days I was here I was quite disappointed with the shows I saw and had the feeling that nothing had changed in the art scene in the last few years. In a way, this can be true, and to foreign eyes New York can be seen almost reactionary in comparison to what we have witnessed in Europe in the last few years, like in Venice or at the last Documenta, for example.Yet I loved noticing that in New York things are still where they are supposed to be. Great artwork in great galleries, crap artwork in crap galleries, and work that is fruitionable, understandable, well lit and not crammed against other work, unless the artist intended to do so.
Williamsburg has grown to be more mature, and even the newest galleries have a very professional aura to them that gives you the feeling this is a place where serious business is going on, and not just a freaky trendy spot to play around with paint and a guitar. I was pleased to see that some of the galleries I saw opening a few years back have now a serious international reputation.
Yes, it’s good to be back.
I’m not sure this is still the center of the contemporary art world, but if it isn’t, it’s only because there can’t be one any longer.
I started my venture of the New York
fall season, of all places, in SoHo, where an interesting show titled Flat Out was showing at Deitch. Kristin Baker’s vision of the future is as bright as the bright red of a Ferrari racecar. These huge paintings, made altogether with racecar color tape and paint, have a real sleek feeling to them, and I walked out wondering what she drives.
At Gallery 456 on Broadway there’s a really fun group show titled “De-Clothing Society – Artistic Imagination and Social Practices”. The exhibition revolves around the paradoxical aspects of clothing, with a huge installation by Chang-Jin Lee of a sawing machine endlessly sawing toilet paper, ironical photographs by Yu Zhang of a newly wedded couple in Tien An Men Square wearing masks against a possible SARS infection, and ON/Megumi Akiyoshi’s documenta
tion of her ON Gallery performances in New York and Japan. I loved the video of her wearing the traveling gallery in small Japanese villages, with all these old women wondering what the hell was going on.
Then I had the chance to catch the last day of Carla Gannis’ solo show at Wax Gallery on West 21st Street, titled Travelogue. I’ve been following her work for a number of years now, and I was pleased to see a stable growth in the quality of her ironical drawings. Her main theme is still women’s condition, and how this can turn into an advantage, together with a filmic and surreal vision of everyday situations that always bring out a smile. Her newest digital work, a mixture of 3D graphic and Photoshop technique, not only is extremely innovative, but it’s used in such a subtle way that after looking at the prints for a few seconds you completely forget about how they’re made and concentrate on the psychological depth of the message. I don’t get why a commercial gallery hasn’t picked her yet.
Making my way to Williamsburg I saw three really good shows: John Freyer at the Fish Tank Gallery, Peter Scott at Schroeder Romero and Chris Doyle at Jessica Murray Projects. I remember and loved Freyer’s, and this new body of work follow his eclectically conceptual style: a bunch of liquor bottles in paper bags stuck on the stairs of the gallery, then you enter the main space and there they are, beautifully photographed on a white background. Very interesting was also the video collage motion_pictures with many segments coming from different sources in a strange New York karma flux. I like this guy.

And I liked the watercolor of Chris Doyle’s show at Jessica Murray. You probably remember him for his video in Columbus Circle in 2000. These watercolors not only are they craftily painted with extreme sensitivity, but they also have a diaristic edge to it, and coming from a conceptual artist, they obviously include some of the processing of other of his works, together with a Bruce Nauman remake of one of his performances. The self-referentiality here becomes a homage to artmaking.
At Schroeder Romero Peter Scott showed a series of photographs and some mirrors. Thanks to the photographs – that show you what’s in the mirror – you get to look closer through the mirror and find some strange looking faces behind it, that you can only see when you obscure the
mirror with your body. Once again we see that behind the clean fašade of middle class morality lays something obscure, incestuous or just plain weird.
Many more are the shows to mention, even though – apart from In full view at Andrea Rosen – Chelsea seemed to me the same as usual, and many more are the shows I’m looking forward to seeing this fall. And ok, maybe the quality is not any higher than any other place in Europe, but there’s something in New York art that I haven’t witnessed anywhere else so far: its energy.

Images (top to bottom)

Chris Caccamise's show at *sixtyseven

Chang-Jin Lee, 24/7, 2001, courtesy Gallery 456

Installation view of Chris Doyle's show at Jessica Murray Projects

John Freyer, "Souvenirs", 2003, courtesy Fish Tank

Carla Gannis, Cowgirl, 2002-2003, courtesy Wax Gallery

David Krippendorff, Beyond the moon, DVD, 1999, courtesy White Columns

ON/Megumy Akiyoshi, ON Gallery, 2000-2003, courtesy Gallery 456

Alessandro Raho, Catherine, 2003, courtesy Cheim & Reed

Peter Scott, Bedroom II, 2003, courtesy Schroeder Romero