The mood of the art market remains subdued, fallen from the delirious highs of recent years, with galleries and auction houses victims of the sub-prime crisis, bankrupt banks, and Bernard Madoff investments. Yet, New York has seen worse, though perhaps not in recent years, with a proven resilience that allows it to stay at the center of the art universe. As is true with everything else in the city, the art scene offers something for every inclination, from the old European masters, to the American mid-century greats, to the experimental conceptual expressions of today. There’s just always something going on, and as much as I wanted to, I had to tell myself I couldn’t possibly see everything in one visit.
Like any tourist on the lookout for a good bargain (read: Cheap Pinay), I made sure to schedule our visit to the MOMA on a Friday afternoon to take advantage of Target Fridays. From 4 pm onwards, the discount retail chain underwrites entrance fees, and the public can enter the museum for free. The line to get in snakes around the block to 54th St, much like lining up for Space Mountain at Disneyworld, made up of mostly European tourists who don’t see why they have to fork out US$20 plus tax on other days when the museums in their side of the pond cost next to nothing to see. I introduced the kids to my favorite giants, Bacon, and Rauschenberg, and Max Beckman, as we toured the requisite galleries for Picasso, Matisse, Klimt. Van Gogh’s Starry, Starry, Night had been taken down, off to Amsterdam on loan. As they spent time in the musuem shop, I caught the Martin Kippenberger retrospective, The Problem Perspective, in the top floor. Unfortunately, I could only take photos of the exhibit entrance, a wall of exhibit posters designed by the artist himself, and of his installation “Happy End to Franz Kafka’s Amerika“. While I did not really care for his work before, viewing the show gave me renewed insight and respect for his prodigious output, termed by the New York Times as “messy and raucous” pieces, an aesthetic that undoubtedly influenced a host of young artists today.
Jayson Oliveria actually comes to mind.
Kippenberger whetted my appetite for contemporary art, so much so that I eschewed visiting Medieval art at the Cloisters in Central Park, or reacquainting myself with Vermeer at the Frick, for a day spent trawling the galleries of Chelsea. Stretching for about ten blocks from 19th to 29th Sts, between 1oth and 11th Avenues, the Chelsea Gallery District houses hundreds of art spaces, interspersed here and there with fashion retail and ateliers (both Calvin Klein and Stella McCartney hold offices in the vicinity). I found the streets quiet, unusual for a Thursday, the day designated for galleries to close late and hold openings and other activities. Only a few of the galleries had any
spectators, a sure sign of the financial crisis rearing its ugly head. I preferred it that way, perfect for viewing art. And although the Chinese superstars of just a few months ago seemed to have fallen out of fashion, a good number of spaces featured young contemporary Asian artists: Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Taiwanese, Pakistani, Indian.
I started off at Arario, the Korea-based group that currently has one of the biggest single spaces in Chelsea. The lady manning the
reception desk very nicely helped me plan my itinerary, giving me tips on which shows I should not miss. In one of the galleries at the back, they had the one and only work by a Filipino artist in the whole of the district, Leslie de Chavez’s Darkness In The Cave. A pity that not more of our artists can make their mark in the New York art scene when so many of the other Asian artists do. Arario itself promotes Korean artists, and I saw a few works for their upcoming show by Hyung Koo Kang. For his larger than life portraits, he applies acrylic on his canvases via
aerosol sprays and cotton buds, resulting in works finished flawlessly.
Just across the street from Arario, Stefan Stux featured Phanton Landscapes by Israeli artist Penny Hes Yassour. She filled the gallery with her landscape drawings juxtaposed against hanging net-like sculpture made from a secret mixture of rubber and paint.
These rubber nets echo her drawing strokes, bringing her landscapes to 3D life. I couldn’t resist sneaking a few pictures. Two blocks down stands the Chelsea Art Museum with its show of mixed media works by 12 young Asian artists (really, where are the Pinoys?), Dream in a Contemporary Secret Garden. Among the works on view, I loved the collage paintings of Japanese artist Kaoruko Nakano where she mixes exotic fabric with acrylic to produce images of city girls devoid of modesty and self-consciousness. They come off like fashion shots, but my photos do not do justice to the textures obvious in the actual pieces.
Of the fifteen or so shows I had time for, a show at the Marlborough Gallery (the group that represents Francis Bacon and his estate
to this day), Collage Geomancy, by 40-year old New Yorker, Michael Anderson, totally made my day. I just loved it! He uses as his medium advertising and publicity posters found all over the streets of New York and Beijing and Rome. He tirelessly gathers as much of them as he can, tearing them down from city walls, then meticulously recreates them, infusing his own take on the eye catching collages. In doing so, he serves as a record keeper of sorts of the street culture that abound in the big cities he chooses as subjects. He should come to Manila for election season.
I also saw a few big names: Ellsworth Kelly at the Matthew Marks Gallery, Richard Tuttle at Pace Wildenstein (couldn’t take photos!), Picasso and Yayoi Kusama
at the Gagosian. The only show that managed to round up a crowd was Picasso’s, featuring works from very late in his life (1960s and 1970s). Going around, I couldn’t help but think that even the greats repeat themselves as they near the end, churning out works not up to par with those done at their prime (dare I label them latak?) Having said that however, I have to make an exception for the other Gagosian show, that of Yayoi Kusama’s to mark her 80th birthday. The Japanese artist set a record for living women artists when one of her canvases from the 1960s sold for $5.7M at Christie’s in November last year, one of the few to go above estimate. She explores the concept of infinity via repeated monochramtic patterns, usually of dots. Aside from her canvases, the show also featured a video and light installation, and her sculpture that looked to me like dotted mushrooms
( I found out later they were pumpkins! Ha Ha!). Not bad for an 80-year-old who still dyes her hair bright pink. Move over Anita Magasaysay-Ho. Kusama-san rocks!
In yet another day devoted to art, my cousin and I headed to the Nolita area and the New Museum of Contemporary Art. Housed in a building that resembles blocks twisted on a fulcrum, the building itself attracts as much attention as the shows within.
The cuurent show, called Younger Than Jesus, features 50 artists from over 24 countries (yep, no Pinoys again!) all born after 1976, thus, making them younger than 33 years old. The whole museum showcased their various pieces, all reactions to the cultural events that characterized the 1980s and the 1990s. So many interesting pieces, and some that made me shake my head. One of the artists made a museum guard eat a banana a day for every day of the exhibit. After, he had to choose a place in the museum to display the peel. Now, can that be classified as conceptual or merely crap? Chu Yun’s piece, This Is Ingrid, 2009 caught a lot of attention. The artist had a
female volunteer (Ingrid, I presume) ingest a sleeping pill and sleep the day away in the center of one of the galleries,ensconced within the folds of thick duvets. How interesting to be there when she awakes for the day and first becomes aware of the spectators around her.
Like any holiday, this one had to come to an end. I barely scratched the surface of the New York art scene, and am sure I missed a a lot of good places. It feels great, though, to come back refreshed, with insights that make me see things, especially the art scene, with different eyes.