8.30.17 — Autumn on Delancey Street

Even in December, the trees on Delancey Street have a coppery glow, so allow me on a late summer week of catch-up posts to remember it. It is not the glow of fall foliage, not on a Lower East Side thoroughfare better known for traffic than for signs of life. At least one gallery has bricked up its glass façade to keep out the sights and sounds.

No, these trees exist only within a work of art, and this copper is the real thing, the transition metal, the twenty-ninth element in the periodic table. James Hoff etches it on fiberglass, for the silhouettes of trees—and I wrap this into earlier reports on landscape painting and the city as a longer review and my latest upload. It outlines trunks, leaves, and branches with a delicacy and density that would defy many a landscape artist. Then again, Hoff borrows the technique used to create microelectronics. James Hoff's Useless Landscape (Callicoon Fine Arts, 2016)

He brings more of nature into the gallery as well, as he did at Callicoon through this past December 23, so that it, too, takes on the appearance of a landscape. Mottled stones lie here and there on the floor (and I would have told you about them then, but this had first to appear in a different form in Artillery magazine). They look natural enough that visitors may already expect some trickery. Perhaps he cast them in foam, for the mere illusion of stone. Yet once again they are the real thing, only this time the reality of the found object, give or take a little help. He has painted them black and white.

They promise an enclave apart from the city, but beware. Hoff calls the show “Utopia Landfill, or Vacation in the Age of Sad Passion”—and it does not sound like a recommendation of where to escape the coming winter. Of course, others, too, have wondered where the inorganic ends and where life begins. Garret Kane, for one, has embedded electronic circuits into carvings that evoke schools of fish. This artist, though, is not in awe of the digital. When he looks forward, like Sophia Al-Maria at the Whitney, he sees toxic waste from used devices and a cramped imagination. He makes a point of having started with photos of the great outdoors from a cell phone.

Hoff’s ambivalence toward humanity and nature also extends to art. He begins with the conventions of landscape painting, and he compares the technique of etching circuitry to screen prints. Copper has its place in art history as well, as an alloy with tin. Sculpture in bronze all but invented the Renaissance—with The Gates of Paradise, the doors to the Baptistry in Florence by Lorenzo Ghiberti. Hoff also models his black and white stones after camouflage, and he notes that artists created those patterns in World War I. He does not mean it as a compliment.

Maybe, though, he should—or maybe he understates how much he already does. Maybe he knows that, all along, living creatures have depended on copper to carry oxygen, much like iron in humans. Maybe he knows, too, just how much he evokes landscape painting. Even as Useless Landscape, the tracery on fiberglass glows with autumn, and the stones carry it into a third dimension. Art always thrives on the border between nature and culture. Now it just takes on appropriation and the digital.

Pamela Rosenkranz loves the landscape and, for that matter, the chemicals that shape its experience. She calls her show “Anemine,” which ran that same month Miguel Abreu through December 22—and, just, for the record, that means a green substance distilled from annelids, or worms, that covers the Amazon. And here you thought that Frederic Edwin Church knew the rain forest. In practice, one can set aside biochemistry for a study in blue and green. In unfolds on fluorescent lights, taking up the gallery’s usual track lighting. It extends to smeared acrylic on aluminum and to sound enveloping them all. It feels like James Turrell descending to industrial lighting or Dan Flavin reaching for the sublime, but it presents both a natural and interior light.

Read more, now in a feature-length article on this site.

5.19.17 — Riding for a Fall

It can be just one step from grace to a fall. Ask athletes or dancers about their last titanic leap. Ask Hillary Clinton about the ten days before the election. Or ask Lee Relvas, whose sculpture seems poised between a glorious ascent and collapse, at Callicoon through May 21. Her figures have all the grace of athleticism or a dance, but always in touch with the floor. They also have an inner life that would be impossible without that rise and fall.

Her technique alone evokes both grace and the workaday dignity of just plain plodding along. Her curved wood comes as close as anything to Modernism’s ideal of “drawing in space,” as with sculpture by Ibram Lassaw. One can mistake it for the fine craft of bentwood furniture. Lee Relvas's Feeling (Callicoon Fine Arts, 2016)In practice, though, Relvas cuts her pieces from plywood, sticks them together with a compound used for joints in plumbing, and sands away. The process is itself a kind of choreography. Plywood is already soft as wood goes, and rubbing softens it further—close, she says, to flour.

It works just fine as abstraction, like wood for Ursula von Rydingsvard. One can delight in following a curve from its start to the end, looping back on itself. One can easily overlook the branching here and there. Still, it does not take long to see a room of people, neither quite together nor alone. Some seem to sink into helplessness, while others seem to rise, and more than a few do both. Still another amounts to rigid planes joined at the waist, where a further loops around like the sash of an old-fashioned dress.

One can read all sorts of things into them, including their narratives and their character. Relvas does, too. The firm or, if you prefer, matronly stance is Deciding. Others are Hiding, Withholding, Thinking, Offering, Mourning, and Lifting. In each case, she associates a physical gesture with a state of mind—a state poised between moments of action. She treats exterior form and interiority alike as transient and fleeting.

Elaine Cameron-Weir, too, would love to rise but keeps stumbling, in the lobby of the New Museum through September 3. A snake of copper and stainless steel needs a sandbag to sustain its vertical. Mostly, though, she is hooked on the body as, in her eyes, at once transcendent and corrupt. A garment of metal sports breasts and spreads its arms, but it looks less triumphant than an instrument of torture. A pole topped with a skull and a lamp draped with parachute silk look neither life affirming nor illuminating. Then again, a snake brought corruption to humanity as well, by tempting a certain woman.

The Canadian artist is fond of the body all the same, enough to aspire to engage the senses, with some of the same materials as Anicka Yi. Heat lamps warm a resin used in perfumes and fumigating. If all this seems like a lab experiment gone awry, she also claims to draw on scientific texts from before modern science, to locate the tensions between the occult and science. And if her art starts to sound like nonsense, so do her titles. One runs to forty-two words—including viscera, erogenous zone, altered state, subcutanean, and tantric. It could do with less messaging and more grace.

Read more, now in a feature-length article on this site.