We already know to expect the unexpected on our gallery tours, but last Saturday’s Chelsea jaunt proved the rule again as we found ourselves lining up to climb a giant letter K. A highlight of British artist Adam McEwan’s solo show at Petzel Gallery, a wood and steel staircase leading to the gallery’s unremarkable ceiling looked like a fun climb until its steepness started to feel a little scary. Airport security bins crafted in McEwan’s signature graphite and prints of roadways running through the city’s tunnels likewise suggested an uneasy passage.
The journey had a more optimistic feel at David Zwirner Gallery’s show of Thomas Ruff’s huge photos reproducing 20th-century press images related to the U.S. air and space programs. Ruff scanned the front and back of each image, then combined the two so that private editorial notes and text from the back runs right into the public image. As the Internet makes it easier to lose sight of where images originate, photos with handwritten notes recall a less picture-saturated era. And as NASA partners with the private sector to change the face of space travel, Ruff’s photos prompt us to consider how much our goals have changed.
We continued thinking about how photos from popular media carry multiple meanings at Anton Kern Gallery, where Anne Collier is presenting selections from her series, ‘Women Crying.’ Sourced from album covers released between the late 60s and early 80s, Collier crops each large image to include one eye and one tear. Each piece, along with other images reshot from magazines and books, is an elegant distillation of human emotion and a prompt to consider how ideas of femininity are created and recycled.
Italian artist Luigi Ghirri knew all too well how difficult it was to make a unique contribution to photography in a country where so much has been recorded. Yet on his mini-journeys – many only a few miles from where he lived – he found a way to make the familiar strange. In ‘The Impossible Landscape’ at Matthew Marks Gallery, Ghirri’s cropped images tightly frame street advertising, bland industrial landscaping and even an Italy-themed theme park to make visual puns as we question what we see.
To create his mesmerizing video installations on view at Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery, New York-based artist Yorgo Alexopoulos traveled further afield, gathering video and photos around the world for animations that showcase nature as beautiful and calm. One seven-screen digital animation of ocean waves might rock you to sleep with its mesmerizing rhythm; another multi-screened work evoked the wonder and beauty of celestial bodies, shot from afar.
Certainly magical, but not quite calming, sound artist Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller’s surreal installations at Luhring Augustine include a caravan populated by small dancing marionettes, a marionette maker and a life-size, aging sleeping beauty. This camper turned cabinet of curiosities includes a mini-opera singer lamenting her lonely heart and is rife with possible storylines. In the back gallery, ‘Experiment in F# Minor’ invites visits to draw close to a table set with bare speakers which are activated by light sensors. As they detect visitors’ shadows the music begins and allowed us to create our own musical score. This creative – and once again unexpected! – installation brought our tour to a perfect end.