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Greater New York 2005

Greater New York 2005 is plainly not the show of emerging artists it was five years ago. In this go-round the curatorial premise has changed from giving emerging artists an opportunity to showcasing artists who’ve emerged since 2000. The show’s previous function as counter-programming to the art world politicking that is the Whitney Biennale has been so thoroughly changed that it resembles nothing more than an art fair biennale.

Given its primary congratulatory role, the show offers a fascinating portrait of the commercial field as something like sixty galleries representing more than a hundred of the participating artists. What it reveals, not surprisingly, is that the field is ripe with repetitious and overlapping references. The most striking and humorous example is the double Yeti bill of Peter Caine and Marc Swanson. While this could suggest a lack of curatorial editing, it’s apparent the curators chose to include several examples of ideas that parrot similar forms and ideas.

Torbin Geihler, Kristin Baker, and Kurt Lightner make big paintings using a collage aesthetic (with and without actual collage) that shift from hard-edged geometry to organic abstraction. The three artists toy with colorful, overlapping shapes in a relatively shallow field, reminding us that Clement Greenberg’s Modernist Painting remains a necessary text for understanding contemporary art.

Intricate use of paper is thoroughly explored in works in Ryan Johnson’s paper figures, Valerie Hegarty’s birch tree, Jonathan Herder’s stamp art, Yuken Teruya’s paperbag trees, and Tobais Putrih’s organic cardboard shapes. The works all have a high “wow” factor, and references to Tim Hawkinson and Tom Friedman become inescapable. Johnson’s clothed man walking across the room is a visual inversion of Duchamp’s famous painting, but it is also closely tied to Friedman’s “Untitled” (1999) exploded artist. Teruya’s paper bag trees are novel variations on the transformative nature of Hawkinson’s and Friedman’s practice, but like the rest of the paper art, it all seems patently derivative.

Two installations that run the line between appropriation of received ideas and straightforward mimesis are Ian Burns’s and David Ellis’s twin odes to Hawkinson’s mechanical wizardry. Burns’s DIY train ride and Ellis’s musical instrument update, replete with analog, hole-punch recordings, work fervently within the boundaries established by Hawkinson, whose work is available for comparison at the Whitney.

The most intriguing room of the show isn’t the room with the hand-drawn history project but the object/theory room on the second floor where Carol Bove sets up a fascinating critique with her two works “Adventures in Poetry” (2002) and “Oriented Plane” (2003). The former installation of popular ideas and texts from the 1970s is pitted against the literalness of the object in the form of a hanging wall of beads. While theory and criticism overwhelmed the object after minimalism imploded, it has reemerged with a vengeance. It’s across the room, actually, in Tobias Putrih’s phenomenological wonders of the properties of cardboard. His lovely forms are transparent or opaque, depending on your subjective view. The systemic drawing that accompanies the sculptural objects also demonstrates the privileged place drawing now occupies in contemporary art.

The room also houses an installation of participatory art organized by the Atlas Group. The photographs of car bombings taken by foreign correspondents is an example of dramatic, political work that is sorely lacking throughout the exhibition. There are precious few works in the show that are politically transgressive. Given the cultural and political tension around the globe, it’s amazing to see a progressive cultural institution so causally retreat into art-for-art’s-sake territory. While it is easy to understand how they did it – one need only survey the art fairs – the question is, why retreat from the difficult talk of creating an exhibition that is a gateway for new ideas rather than a pluralism of received and reiterated ones.

Still, within any milieu there will be something for everyone, from Dana Schut’s monumental painting to Guy Ben-Benner’s utterly sincere family film. The G-rated video is a beautiful examination of family outside the language of theoretical psychoanalysis, where the father, mother, and child are not symbolic roles. Sue De Beer even built a drive-in movie, and Banks Violette has given minimalism a rock and roll makeover. Amy Wilson reclaims girlhood from Henry Darger and replaces his imaginary conflict with our very real one. Throughout the show there are novel variations on old ideas, often multiple ones by different artists. Corking McCorkel and Nebosha Serie Shoba’s light-based illusions are so formally similar yet different that they threaten to cancel each other out. McCorkel’s formal light work, a literal ring of light in a darkened room, is an idea the “good light” artists from the 1970s made careers on. Shoba’s video of blackened earth where light only shines from North America uses form to express content. McCorkel’s presence in the show is inexplicable and unnerving. The idea is not only an old one but it’s been done better by James Turrel, who has a much better perceptual installation on the third floor.

On the third floor is Allison Smith’s completely lonely “Zouave Doll” (2005), which, out of context from her practice and any other practice in the show, sums up the place of ambitious, intellectually rigorous work. The doll, wearing the uniform of French soldiers who fought in the American Civil War, presents a deeply coded historical narrative that sadly remains unconnected to Smith’s participatory, performance-based works. What we are allowed to see is the gallery-friendly version of her ideas.

It’s clear that this Greater New York 2005 will not be remembered for new names or big ideas but for the prettiness and cleverness of objects, from Kirsten Hassenfeld’s lighter-than-air cake and mobile to Valerie Hegarty’s paper birch tree growing out of the first-floor hallway. Bellwether, which represents Hassenfeld, has several artists represented in the show, and Guild and Greyshkul seem to have their entire program in the exhibit, while only about nine proposals out of 2,000 from the open call were accepted. P.S. 1’s decision to so closely align with the gallery system has resulted in a show where everything feels like something else you’ve already seen.


William Powhida


The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2005

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