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HIGHLIGHTS FROM MANHATTAN

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By ALAN REID

Barb Choit at Rachel Uffner

Barb Choit has recently documented the structure and effects of a variety of lamps (and wattage) on a photographic negative; she's also imaged and archived a collection of broken pottery. Now, in her first solo show at Rachel Uffner Gallery, things broken and the ramifications of light have merged. The result: Nagel Fades, a catchy photography show of sun-damaged prints by the '80s salon favorito Patrick Nagel. With the work, Choit chronicles the damage a home tanning bed on original Nagel prints. Many of the UV-bathed prints show constructivist-like hard-edged angles of color fading, such as "Patrick Nagel, 'Black Teddy,' Fine Art Poster, Diluted Bleach Bath, UV Exposure Time Two Weeks;," while some are marred by blotted tanning solution. Choit's work is analytic, but her approach is buoyed first by the humor of her subject (I'll wager that Nagel is judged by most as un-intellectual art) and secondly by an implied anxiety -- this tension keeps the work from seeming objectively analytic. While the structure of light may form part of what’s of interesting in the work, the paranoid result of its application and the implied psychological damage it reveals seems to be its core. Choit's photographs, by instigating a look at the broken and exposed, transplant a paranoia towards our world (contaminated water scares, potentially carcinogenic cell phone waves, sun damage) to the surface of the pin-up and towards our desire–. The work seems to illustrate the melancholic experience of an inability to liberate lost libidinal desire; here desire itself is left to fade.

Laura Owens at Gavin Brown
It's astonishing that an artist who's still less than forty has defined an entire subculture of painting. Laura Owens is a sort of pied-piper, leading a legion of art-student types to painting, though most of her followers will never move beyond mixed results of faux-naïveté and saccharin, spattering brushwork. Owens, on the other hand, is a brilliant painter. And she makes it seem so easy. Her current show at Gavin Brown is a reminder of her strength: color. Owens can deliver the strongest sense of fullness in her paintings; sometimes they have a dyed look, and theycan feel like Morris Louis. The flatness is generally flecked with slathered gobbets of color: quirky and painterly visual distortion. In the current show, there's a plum colored oceanscape that is striking for its vast and nimble language of marks. Owens also deftly handles shifts in scale, unlike many of her contemporaries. On view are some bookplate-sized drawings and collages (and some actual books, i.e. filler), easel-sized paintings and two massive, mural-like paintings on linen. In the best work, Owens loosens her relationship to the cutesy subjects of her past -- twee animals and windswept flora -- and moves headlong into all-over, Excavation-era de Kooning abstraction.

Ethan Greenbaum and David Scanavino at Satori
Mastercraft, Ethan Greenbaum and David Scanavino's two-person exhibit at Satori, is ostensibly a look at the architecture of in-between spaces. Some work is the result of collaboration: they’ve wallpapered the project space with printouts of nonsensical Lorem ipsum and wheat-pasted various sheets of unmarked handmade paper (mulched newsprint) at eye level. It's a nod to conventional display, but a mum gesture. There's a sense of covert staging: as if the two artists are collectively "not talking."

In the main space, Greenbaum and Scanavino have installed a carefully reasoned group of their individual works. Here are Greenbaum's birds'-eye-viewed photographs of sections of sidewalk printed on irregular-edged vinyl. The prints adhere directly to the wall and give an eerie impression: the view of an insular, shoe gazing mind registered publicly by means of appropriated subway posters. Fittingly, Scanavino's attention is fixed to the literal pouring of concrete. His modest-sized, relief sculptures contain the impression of a length of rope being removed from a mold before concrete has set, leaving a flinty, irregular cast. The two bodies work effortlessly to give a unified sense of urban wandering and an interest in overlooked gaps. The artists' work wouldn't be out of place in the context of the Situationalist Internationalists. The SI's concept of dérive, the connoisseurship of atmosphere in one's movement from space to space, comes to mind as a way to name the two artists' interest in what is fitted between. The lineage of this unitary urbanism has been taken up perhaps most notably by Francis Alÿs, who has made wandering political. Greenbaum and Scanavino have however, gone back over and retraced the steps, coming up with a fascinating and subtle violence in the reference. Here, détournement has Dostoevskyian undertones. Their puling, ripping, ungrounding and peeling lends lurking menace to the space between.

Jesse Willenbring, Landscapes & Interiors Meour At Small A Projects
Jesse Willenbring's first solo show, Landscapes & Interiors Meour, at Small A Projects gives a savvy, but facile example of what has yet to be done with modernism's painterly lineage. Willenbring's balmy brushwork and sophisticated color sensibility is cheery without any of the pejorative connotations that contemporary jadedness associates with the mentality. The blithesome paintings contain rough and scumbling zigzag marks that radiate color, while the tone is hemmed-in by firm-edged lemon leaf shapes -- I haven't got a clue what it means but it looks fantastic. Willenbring's paintings are produced on tablecloths and in the best of them, the painting keeps slipping away. A motif that recalls Sonia Delaunay dissolves to reveal a bit of twill -- think Rauschenberg's Bed. This in turn gives way to stained plywood support, and ultimately, natty, Easter Egg-hued frames.


Barb Choit's work is on view through 20 December at Rachel Uffer Gallery.

Laura Owens's work is on view through 21 November at Gavin Brown's enterprise.

Mastercraft, Ethan Greenbaum and David Scanavino's exhibition at Gallery Satori, is on view through 29 November.

Landscapes & Interiors Meour, Jesse Willenbring's exhibition at Small A Projects, is on view through 20 December.

All images are courtesy of Rachel Uffer Gallery, Gavin Brown's enterprise, Small A Projects and exhibiting artists discussed in this essay.


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