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By James A. Nadeau

This past weekend I spent the day roaming around New York City. I plotted out the day so I could make the most of one big show, several galleries in Chelsea and end at the Metropolitan Museum where I was determined to see the Francis Bacon: A Centenary Retrospective.

My day began with a cruise through the current exhibition filling up the New Museum. The Generational: Younger Than Jesuspurports to be a survey of international (twenty-five countries represented) multidisciplinary work by artists who were born after 1976. Setting aside my issues with the title (an international show that proclaims all to be younger than Jesus? Why not the Buddha, or John F. Kennedy, or numerous other world-renowned figures who aren’t quite so loaded with religiosity and Western Christo-culture?) I found the show itself to be quite interesting. Unfortunately it was not always in a good way. There was a lot of video, which made me happy. I have been increasingly worried about the death of “video” as we know it thanks to the shifting technologies around the art form. That said, not all of it was very good. So, let me get right to it. What did I like? I really enjoyed Polish Artist Anna Molska’s video Tanagram. It consisted of two men in gladiator costumes (not Roman but more American Gladiator) rearrange seven geometric elements to fit into predetermined outlines. While doing this they are reciting Russian lines of dialogue taken from a Polish to Russian phrase book with the background being a soundtrack of Russian folk music. The camera shifts from an overhead shot to a sideways shot. The bodies and the solid black forms move back and forth across the screen. It has a meditative quality about it. I found myself intrigued by the play with Russian Constructivism and the concept of the perfect worker tirelessly shifting and moving according to a prearranged plan. Ziad Antar’s video WA was also fun to watch. It is unfortunately installed in a stair well with a window so I had to watch the piece with several tourists crowding around me, all of them fighting to be the first to take a photo of the city skyline – or at least the decrepit parts of the Bowery that haven’t been gentrified yet. The video is simple: two children sit at an electric piano and play a song that they have invented. The camera is static and the video is a little grainy. While it sounds rather tedious, I felt that it really did work for me. There was poignancy to the piece that transcended its simplicity.

It served as a nice contrast to Cyprien Gaillard’s Desniansky Raion, which was in the next gallery. Gaillard’s video is an examination of social housing projects. Aerial shots of the buildings and public spaces around these communities are intercut with shots of a clash between two underground “fight” clubs in St. Petersburg. Although the juxtaposition is a little heavy handed – yes, these social spaces create social violence – the editing, the pacing and the hand-held camera work brings a sense of vividness to the work that I liked. It was a welcome return to the “classic” style of video installation (dark hall, large projection) that also marked a turn towards social critique using contemporary methodologies.

And speaking of contemporary methodologies, Guthrie Lonergan’s video Myspace Intro Playlist utilized new technologies (LCD panels, wall mounted) and examined the contemporary phenomenon of online culture. A little dated now (it is from 2006 and who still uses MySpace?) it still evokes a cultural moment that marked a shift in personal identity around media technology.
What didn’t I like? There was a lot. One main issue with a show that is determined to capture the zeitgeist of the millennial culture is that there is no way to do this coherently. Ultimately there are doing to artists who are doing interesting work but perhaps just aren’t ready to be involved in a large scale survey show. It is one thing to included them for this but does it serve the artist to be held against other work and come up short? There was a lot of work that look plain amateurish. It was sloppy and half thought out. The biggest example of this is Ryan Tracartin. Can he please just stop? He was given two rooms to fill and boy did he. The rooms were a cacophonous mess. If it weren’t for the numerous giant flat panel televisions it would have looked like a crack-head’s apartment on the lower-east side circa 1991. The videos attempted to ground the piece in a narrative that was probably most interesting in its resistance to narrative. While I found his original videos engaging and interesting in terms of how he approached and intervened in traditional narrative structures it seems as if he has gone too far, too fast and with no thought towards editing. I didn’t buy it. Overall, this exhibition piqued my interest but fell flat. I was pleased to see the presence of video but most of the work came across as “in process.” It was interesting and annoying at the same time.

From here I moved on to Chelsea. I’ll start with the best thing I saw all day: Andrea Fraser’s Projection at Friedrich Petzel gallery. I must admit that I am a huge fan of Fraser’s work. It is often smart and always intriguing as she wryly critiques contemporary culture (specifically that of the art world). Here she has two projections facing each other. On one side Fraser plays an analyst and on the other the analysand. The two “sides” of Fraser engage in an examination of psychological structures that underlie her relationship to the art world and art making. The dialogue is excerpted from actual psychoanalytic consultations Fraser had as a patient. She transcribed them and created six monologs that she then enacts. It is a really phenomenal piece.

I managed to catch a video piece by James Richards at the Bellwether Gallery. It was part of a group exhibition titled A Song for Those in Search of What They Came With. The show had some interesting pieces. Richards’ work was a little late 90’s and not as strong as the piece in the Younger Than Jesus exhibition noted above. It consisted of a section from Wes Craven’s Nightmare on Elm Street. While fun it wasn’t much. On a sad note the Bellwether Gallery announced yesterday that they are closing, another victim of the economic crunch.

303 Gallery had some great photos of the Warhol Factory by Stephen Shore on the walls. Every day it seems that more documentation of Andy Warhol and his group emerge. Did these people constantly record everything? The pictures were fascinating but I am a little Warholed out after last years blow out in honor of what would have been Andy’s 80th birthday. But in the back gallery they had some of Shore’s more contemporary photography, which was nice to see. D’Amelio Terras was also showing photographs in their main space. It was the first New York show for Japanese artist Noguchi Rika. Her series of pinhole camera pictures titled The Sun were really engaging. Unfortunately, the front room of the gallery was showing works by Tony Feher. These were sculptures specifically intended for the wall. And they were just not very good. It just made my head hurt. I moved on.

I stopped by Matthew Marks Gallery to check out the Charles Ray show. This was an exhibition of three early sculptures: Ink Line, Moving Wire, and Spinning Spot. Ink Line was what brought me here and it was certainly nice to see. It consists of a continuous stream of black ink traveling from a hole in the ceiling to a hole in the floor. It was cool. The other big gallery I visited was Gagosian’s. Here Yayoi Kusama was showing her new Infinity Net paintings as well as a mixed media installation Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity: a mesmerizing "infinity room" that operates on a system of simple yet ingenious optical devices. In a dark void, a delicate, shimmering mirage unfolds around the viewer, a myriad of gleaming lights that reproduce and reflect endlessly upon each other in golden silence. The line to see the installation was pretty long but moved fast thanks to the fact that you got to spend a minute and a half in the box. The visual experience of the box was like stepping into one of her paintings. Although brief it was really fascinating. One of my last stops was at Frederieke Taylor Gallery and it was totally worth the jaunt to the sixth floor. Titled Xun Dao: Seeking the Way, Spiritual Theme in Contemporary China it was a well-done, consistent group exhibition. The 11 artists in the show examine the role of religion and spirituality in China. The work ranged from a look at the way rural Chinese practice their Christian faith by Li Qiang to an animation of the body of the artist (Miao Xiaochun) replacing the figures in Michelangelo’s Last Judgment. The show was a nice break from the bombast of most contemporary Chinese art that makes it to the US. My favorite was Long-Bin Chen’s use of discarded books and magazines to make sculptures of the Buddha, replacing structures destroyed in China’s turbulent past. Laurel Nakadate had some engaging videos up at Leslie Tonkonow (which is right next to the F. Taylor Gallery). The exhibition,Fever Dreams at the Crystal Motel didn’t bowl me over. The installation was somewhat annoying thanks to noise bleed between the work but a couple of the pieces were worth a visit.

At this point it was almost five o’clock so I headed uptown to the Metropolitan Museum. I wanted to make sure I got to see the Bacon retrospective. It was well worth a trip uptown. Now I find the Met to be annoyingly crowded at times (actually all the time) and this was no exception. But the great thing is that the work of Francis Bacon is so troubling to people that the crowds moved fairly swiftly. This left plenty of time and space to sit and take in the paintings. The exhibition is huge. It features 130 works (65 paintings and 65 archival items) well laid out to walk one through Bacon’s life. What I found to be really well done was that they didn’t shy away from the more problematic aspects of Bacon’s life, specifically his homosexuality (this is in stark contrast to the Rauschenberg retrospective which completely ignored that part of his life). This is especially effective in light of Bacon’s complicated paintings. His life fed his work in a visceral and difficult way. This show, which originated at the Tate Britain, is not to be missed. This is the only North American stop and many of the works have never been seen in the US before. It really was astounding. And before you leave the Met you should check out The Pictures Generation, 1974–1984. This is an exhibition of a tight knit group of artists who emerged in the mid seventies. It includes a who’s who of those who were trained in minimalism and conceptualism yet marked a break with those artistic movements: Louise Lawler, Dara Birnbaum, Robert Longo, Richard Prince, and Cindy Sherman. It was a little too heavy on the work of Matt Mullican (who did he know at the Met?) but certainly worth the taking a swing through. It was actually so dense (160 works in all media by thirty artists) that I need to go back.

The New Museum

"The Generational: Younger Than Jesus " was on view until June 14th at The New Museum, 235 Bowery, NYC.

All images are courtesy of the artist and The New Museum.

Andrea Fraser

"Projection" was on view June 20th at Friedrich Petzel.

All images are courtesy of the artist and Friedrich Petzel.

Bellwether Gallery

"A Song for Those in Search of What They Came With" is on view until July 17th at The Bellwether Gallery.

303 Gallery

"Stephen Shore" is on view until July 17th at 303 Gallery.

Matthew Marks Gallery

"Charles Ray" is on view until July 10th at Matthew Marks Gallery.

Gagosian Gallery

"Yayoi Kusama" is on view until June 27th at Gagosian Gallery.

All images are courtesy of the artist and Gagosian Gallery.

Frederieke Taylor Gallery

"Xun Dao: Seeking the Way, Spiritual Theme in Contemporary China " is on view until June 27th at Frederieke Taylor Gallery.

All images are courtesy of the artist and Frederieke Taylor Gallery.

Leslie Tonkonow Artworks and Projects

"Fever Dreams at the Crystal Motel" is on view until July 24th at Leslie Tonkonow Artworks and Projects .

Metropolitan Museum of Art

"Francis Bacon: A Centenary Retrospective" is on view until August 16th at The Met.

All images are courtesy of the artist and The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

"The Pictures Generation, 1974–1984" is on view until August 2nd at The Met.

About Author

James Nadeau is an independent curator, video artist and writer based in Boston. He is editor of Our Daily RED, the blog of arts journal Big RED & Shiny. He is a graduate of the Comparative Media Studies department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He completed his undergraduate studies at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. His video work has been screened internationally and he has presented papers on media and film at conferences nationally. He has programmed film and video in several festivals throughout New England and he is currently a technical instructor on film in the Literature Department at MIT. He is currently working on a manuscript on reality television under consideration by Lexington Books.

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