It is easy to hate New York City in bone chilling, rainy 40 degrees. But it is so easy to fall in love with New York when it is 65, sunny and you spend three hours walking through her streets, galleries, and museums. This sums up my recent four day trip where I visited the High Line for the first time and managed to see some glorious exhibitions in Chelsea and at the Brooklyn Museum.
For my first art stop I made a bee-line to the Andrea Rosen Gallery to see three large paintings by Julian Schnabel. I knew of the exhibition and had seen it on-line while still in Los Angeles but getting to see these lustrous paintings in person was amazing. While part of a group show, the paintings took up most of the main gallery on three of the four walls eclipsing the other artist’s work which otherwise seemed to disappear in the company of Schnabel’s powerful abstract expressionism. Printing the base of the work on polyester fabric with possibly the worlds largest inkjet printers, Schnabel would then spray paint on top with strokes of what can only be described as light itself.
The minimal gestures of bold colors on top of what seems like a computer generated background are breathtakingly luminous and express what can only be achieved by a lifetime of undoing what he has learned as an artist. There is no replicating the process or gesture that only innate ability can achieve. Lucky are the collectors who will have the chance to live with one of these treasures. Great art is not tangible or subjective, it can only live if it evokes the emotion of capturing light and feeling. These paintings have all these qualities and more.
My next stop was a Robert Irwin exhibition at Pace Gallery. Whenever I go to the Broad building at LACMA, I’m always overwhelmed and impressed by the Richard Serra sculpture. Minimal and hulking, it creates a disorienting experience as you walk along the edge tracing with your fingertips. Heading into the next gallery, you are snapped back to reality with a beautiful Irwin fluorescent light sculpture. Like an alarm clock waking you from the Serra dream, the light is bright and bold and feels as new and as fresh as the day it was conceived. The Irwin pieces at Pace seemed even fresher with lines of color banded around the glass tubes adding an extra dimension and beauty to the work. While the Schnabel work photographs beautifully, these light installations, some taking up half a room, have to been seen in person to be fully appreciated. The work, while not a new concept, seemed as fresh as if the idea were formulated this year. This work, like the Schnabel paintings, capture the viewer in an intoxicating dream world of light and and special effects and feeling; I didn’t want to leave.
Leaving the Chelsea galleries I spent the rest of my time walking the High Line towards the West Village where I lived for a year back in 1999-2000. This was my first time exploring this great re-invention of old NY. What a revelation to turn these old train tracks into something just for pedestrians to enjoy. As an artist and designer I was blown away by the attention to detail at every step. The way the boardwalk was laid out and the landscaping planted was sublime. When I arrived to the Meatpacking district, the view of old warehouses and cobblestone was intoxicating. This is how you fall in Love with NY, a view from above in beauty and nature and people and history.
The following day I made it to the Brooklyn museum of art with the ultimate goal of seeing the Kahinde Wiley exhibition. I was not disappointed. As you enter the first gallery, you are greeted by a freestanding rotunda, or maybe hexagon is a better way to describe it, of six ecclesiastic stained glass images of black men in hip hop style clothing and shoes rendered in traditional saint poses.
Just like the Irwin sculptures wake you up with a clear noise, these lighted stained glass pieces woke me up with a slap in the face. They are visually stunning and crafted to perfection but the impact of the message was even more overwhelming. As with the rest of the show, these stained glass images throw in the face of convention of how we depict what is good and bad in the world. A saint is supposed to represent selfless devotion and sacrifice to God and here Wiley has replaced the image of a white saint with a the often demonized and maligned image of a young black male. The beautiful and bold expression of defiance in his work is mesmerizing. He is daringly putting these young figures of a lower caste and ascending them to the highest pedestal both figuratively and spiritually. By forcing the viewer to conceptualize these faces as more than their stereotype, Wiley offers a rare opportunity to change the perception of how all young black men are viewed. He also achieves this with his bronze busts.
Taking what was once a way for rich white aristocrats to memorialize themselves in portraiture, the artist not only appropriates this antiquated technique in bronze with black features, he exaggerates the unique traits to men and women of African decent by highlighting the hair. He makes you notice the hair by inserting a fro-pick or intertwining the hair of a several black women together creating a temple connected and swirling up to the heavens. The main galleries are focused on the outsized figurative portraits of black men with elaborate, decorative backgrounds of swirling design and flowers.
Message aside, these paintings are glorious in their color and composition. They make beautiful even underwear exposed from pants pulled down around the hips. Wiley is a master at emphasizing and shining a light on the maligned and making it beautiful. While the artist may have other intentions with his work, what I take away is a powerful beauty that brings to light the realities of race, culture, and racism.
Leaving the Brooklyn Museum I stumbled across a large photographic portrait of Jean-Michel Basquiat mounted at the entrance of the gift shop. Despite the portrait’s ill-placement, I was completely taken with the image of a sweet and seemingly very young man, gifted and gentle. The museum was having a very unimpressive exhibition of his sketch books. But what did strike me, as I am a huge fan of Basquiat, was not his over-hyped exhibition but an acute awareness of an overwhelming presence of the multicultural museum patron; young and old, black and white, all admiring the movement together.
This month’s music: Sylvan Esso