Can you be a cutting-edge young artist if your work brings to mind paintings by institution-friendly crowd-pleaser Henri Matisse? Daniel Gordon’s work answered in the affirmative at Wallspace, our first stop on last Saturday’s Chelsea gallery tour. His wildly patterned and beautifully colored still lives evoked Matisse’s, but Gordon embraces the digital age, sourcing images on-line before printing them out to create a real 3-D photo collage, which he then photographs. Digitally sourced, yet clumsily handmade, each set-up of root vegetables, vases of flowers, fruit and other edibles has its own quirky charm.
If Gordon’s images felt earnest, Yasumasa Morimura’s new series at Luhring Augustine exuded polished assurance. Known for his gender-bending impersonations of characters from canonical art history, the Japanese photographer turns his eye on Diego Velasquez’s 1656 masterpiece ‘Las Meninas,’ playing the role of every character in this iconic Spanish court scene from the artist peering out from behind the canvas to tiny The Infanta, King Felipe IV’s daughter. Starting with a painting that seems to be about the act of looking itself, Morimura takes obvious pleasure in reshuffling the characters and their identities.
Martin Puryear’s finely wrought, minimal sculptures at Matthew Marks Gallery purged all traces of people and costume save one – each sculpture more or less mimicked the shape of a Phrygian cap, worn during the French Revolution and before as a symbol of emancipation. Inspired by an image of a newly freed slave in the French colonies wearing the hat, Puryear’s beautifully crafted sculptures ranged from a skeletal cap created from hardwood saplings lashed together to a solid, full cap of red cedar painted red. From a simple symbol interpreted in a variety of ways, Puryear equates the values of beauty and freedom, doing so with subtlety and intelligence.
Notoriously unsubtle, Kara Walker’s blockbuster installation at Brooklyn’s Domino Sugar Factory last spring and summer – starring a monumental nude African-American sphinx created in sugar-coated Styrofoam – was ironically titled ‘A Subtlety’ after the sugary confections created for well-appointed tables since medieval times. We dropped by Sikkema Jenkins gallery to check out work made by Walker around the time of that show, encountering not only sketches and mockups but a fascinating video documenting the last hour of the exhibition, when the public was allowed to interact with the sculpture, many snapping photos that acknowledged the piece’s overt eroticism.
Another all-American symbol greeted us down the block at our final stop at Zach Feuer Gallery with Marianne Vitale’s towering, totemic sculptures created from railroad steel. Known as ‘common crossings,’ she mounted single cast steel junctions to steel plates, propping each up like abstracted human figures. On display concurrently on the High Line, each summons a past era in which the rails symbolized the unbounded possibilities offered by expanded travel and trade. Somehow sobering and optimistic at the same time, Vitale’s project reminds us of how times change, but also how the old can be repurposed for good. On this thoughtful note, we agreed to come back next year to be inspired by more of the new.
Riad Review written by Merrily Kerr of newyorkarttours.com