Monday, March 26, 2012

Hernan Bas, Lehmann Maupin: Catherine Opie, Mitchell-Innes & Nash: Roy Lichtenstein, Gagosian: "The Spirit Level," Gladstone

Hernan Bas, “Occult Contemporary,” Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York NY

The thematics of Hernan Bas’ current show at Lehmann Maupin is a bit contrived but at least it is transparent. He is apparently responding to the prevalence of the occult in mass culture of late and giving his own take on things. Now, being an artist and not just another occult mass-producing-creator, the references for his paintings are sourced from headier things like the composer Guiseppe Tartin and Baudelaire. Regardless, these intellectual footnotes are useful and it results in some interesting paintings. They are refreshing to come upon in the sea of design-minimal-abstract-jpegy-swishy-swash that has become the safe-success train in contemporary painting. His painting style, method, color and subject matter satisfy the itch for narrative, form and figuration. There are nine paintings total, three very large, three a bit smaller and then three that are much smaller. The larger sized works have fantastic settings and a specific moment is being rendered in browns, greens and super natural reds and blues. They take place in singular locations, in front of an abandoned house, under a bridge. There is a sense of abandonment throughout as if it were right after an earthquake, avalanche, or a bombing. Bas’ painting abilities to depict this is his greatest strength; there is sheer aptitude, oddity and enjoyment in creating these settings. Throughout these works, there is a clutter that is stacked onto itself effecting abstraction but not in an easy shortcut sort of way. Within all of the paintings there is a lone young male figure but these feel odd as they are so static. They look to have been plucked out of high fashion men’s magazines and then clip-art-painted into the scene. This must, I hope, have been planned. Either way the figures are generally unconvincing and veer the works to cartoon land but luckily Bas’ skill and depth as a painter saves the day. The way that he successfully conjures stories of ghosts and nastiness like Grimm’s fairytales makes these paintings into portals to this other place with only minor requirement of suspension of disbelief.

Catherine Opie, “High School Football,” Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York NY

Something happened to me between being an undergrad in photography and today that has made my once bona fide acceptance of Catherine Opie’s work to one of “meh.” Her current show at Mitchell-Innes and Nash is the first with this gallery and it is sort of dull affair. It is classic Opie, it has fresh, vulnerable young things, this time around it is young male football players. They cradle the line that is pubescence, manliness, boyhood, and mostly they project “America.” They are posed like modern day Davids and “chiaroscuro” is the word of the day. The photographs in themselves are beautifully done, Opie is a master technician. Besides being Catherine Opie photographs, there is not much more going on with these photos. Also, the lighting, reflective glare and the installation as a whole didn’t help to ward off the show’s air of snooze. There were a few portraits that were just perfect, and a few action shots that show the landscapes behind the football field, like the one with a large mountain behind the bleachers, is very beautiful. But nonetheless the show has you feeling happy that an artist is so consistent but also sad about it too. Oh well, not everything can be a game changer.

Roy Lichtenstein: "Landscapes in the Chinese Style," Gagosian Gallery, New York NY

Do you hear that? That’s the sound of money churning. Just when you think that the Gagosian Gallery has no shame, it slaps a new high mark for you. After the hoopla and wonderbust that was Damian Hirst’s world wide Spot painting extravaganza, which I actually thought was just fine, Gagosian can’t let the circular ball drop for one moment and sweeps in a discreet little show (by Gagosian standards) of Roy Lichtenstein’s Benday dot musings on Chinese landscape paintings that he made in and around 1996. The paintings are nothing to bend your head around; they are exactly what you think when you think “Lichtenstein” and “Chinese landscape paintings” at the same time. Given that, there is still a want for some reward and this is given with the creases, bumps, cut lines and pencil marks that can be seen on the surfaces of these various works. The most interesting part of the show were these sculptures that were two feet or so high of overlapping amorphous shapes that were first drawn with pencil, then modeled with cardboard and then fleshed out in cast and painted steel. They are really charming, I think they were supposed to recall those craggy mountains in Chinese vistas. Mini Dubuffets without all the angst. Other then that, I have to say that this is an investigation that could have been left uninvestigated. If/When Gagosian makes some of these works into shower curtains and wallpaper, count me in, everyone needs a little Roy in the abode.

“The Spirit Level,” curated by Ugo Rondinone, Gladstone Gallery, New York NY

I’m not sure what is really going on in this group exhibition but I like it. It is strange to see this type of show at a gallery like Gladstone, there is something very unbridled and un-severe about it. Ugo Rondinone is a Swiss artist that has a healthy dose of humor mixed with Jim Henson curiosity. Most will publicly remember him by his “Hell Yes” rainbow sign that initiated the New Museum’s façade at it’s current address. The exhibition is in two locations; I only meandered to the 24th street outpost. This was a scene of a séance gone wrong, skinned rugs glued to the floor, giant monolithic, bright peachy-pink penises by Sarah Lucas, decapitated head relics by Andrew Lord, a colorful scalp by Kim Jones amongst many more works. It was all very paranormal and sacramental. The press release is a delightful two lines followed by a list of the participating artists which numbers eighteen. There was a checklist at the door but nothing online so alas, most of the names for the other works escape me. This lack of press-release-y statements is a catching trend. I like it so far. Anyways back to the show. It was doing whatever it wanted to do quite well, what that is specifically I’m not sure and I don’t think it was that big of a deal to those involved. The selection is varied yet works well together and mostly it seemed like it was a fun thing to do. Nothing to harmful in any of that.