John Torreano: Dark Matters Without Time at Lesley Heller Gallery

Above: John Torreano: Dark Matters Without Time (installation view, Lesley Heller Gallery, New York, 2018). © John Torreano courtesy Lesley Heller Gallery.

By Jonathan Goodman

Now in his late seventies, painter and sculptor John Torreano has been well known as an artist for half a century. He is recognized particularly for his inclusion of acrylic gemstones in his art. His studios are set up in New York and Abu Dhabi, where he has been teaching in the last few years. In this show at Lesley Heller Gallery, Torreano is exhibiting both paintings and wall reliefs; he remains an unrepentant abstractionist, someone whose art connects with the well-established history of the New York School. His synthetic gemstones, though, add a bit of decorative play to his nonobjective language; because of their artificial character, the gems provide Torreano’s efforts with a partially ersatz character that undercuts the high romance of the abstraction. This is likely a good thing, late in the second decade of the twenty-first century, as we seem to have tired of the idea of noble motives alone. But, whatever the intentions behind the paintings and wall reliefs, we see that Torreano is not only a craftsperson of note, he is also an esthetician of considerable ambition. His works stand out both as examples of skill and as efforts meant to communicate a paramount belief in beauty. Perhaps his experience in the Middle East is leading him further in the direction of beauty; the long horizontal wooden panel painting, titled Sea Sky Gold (2018), feels like it owes its exquisite colors–dark blue and gold–to a geography we do not find here in New York.

JohnTorreano_SeaSkyGold_2018_300dpi (1)John Torreano, “Sea Sky Gold,” 2018. Acrylic paint and gold leaf on plywood 45 x 180 inches. © John Torreano courtesy Lesley Heller Gallery.

Sea Sky Gold is the major work of this excellent show. Its dimensions are more than considerable: 45 by 180 inches. The work consists of four panels of deep blue, with numerous oval gouges, clumped in groups and covered with gold. Its appearance begins with a surface of decorative flair, but then moves beyond that to a place of elegance and artistry (not that decoration always excludes such qualities!). Torreano appears to have learned something about the inherent attractiveness of well-appointed color–an insight evident throughout the exhibition. The danger exists that this painting, a genuine tour de force, would end up overwhelming the show, but this doesn’t happen; instead, it serves as an anchor for a body of works that cumulatively appeal to the audience. For example, DM’s & Hot Stars (2015), a large painting in a small space at the front of the gallery, works its effects seamlessly within an allover compositional field. The squared painting, consisting of four large panels, exists in a matrix of organically shaped contours–mostly tan and blue, with a bit of black. Although the work’s title skews it toward science, it very much exists within the established language of abstract expressionism. It can be easily argued that we have been revisiting this movement too often and too long, but, as still happens regularly in New York, Torreano’s painting establishes itself without bowing excessively to the past.

JohnTorreano_DarkMattersWithoutTime_2018_InstallView04_300dpiJohn Torreano: Dark Matters Without Time (installation view, Lesley Heller Gallery, New York, 2018). © John Torreano courtesy Lesley Heller Gallery.

The column wall sculptures–thin sticks of color studded with mock jewels–look at first like objects of deliberate desire (they range in dates from 2014 to 2017). And so they are, up to a point! These four works, arranged on a side wall, descend slightly in size from left to right. The acrylic gemstones stud all of them, adding to the surfaces’ sculptural intricacy and presenting an alluring, albeit entirely synthetic, exterior. They do enact a singular attractiveness, but that doesn’t really matter–what counts is the artist’s willingness to undercut the abstraction with an imagery that clearly is counterfeit. This is likely an attempt to remain resistant to the pull of something overly attractive. Even as the show refers to high culture, there is a healthy disregard for its imagistic excesses, driven as they are by ego here. But, at the same time, for the more seasoned among us, the use of such fakery causes some anxiety–at what point does the falsehood take over and make barren the eminent history that precedes it? This is a question for philosophers and art historians more than it is a query for the general public, composed as it is of artists and, usually, connected viewers who want the simple chance to enjoy what they see. Torreano’s art does this wonderfully well, providing admirers with the chance to lose themselves within a language both established and new. And his slight disregard for the fulsomeness of New York’s painterly past is a welcome reminder of its historical limitations.

View John Torreano: Dark Matters Without Time at Lesley Heller Gallery through Sunday, April 8, 2018.

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Jonathan Goodman is an art writer based in New York. For more than thirty years he has written about contemporary art for such publications as Art in America, Sculpture, and fronterad (an Internet publication based in Madrid). His special interests have been the new art of Mainland China and sculpture. He currently teaches contemporary art writing and thesis essay writing at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.

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Culture Beach: There’s More to See at Fort Tilden than Katharina Grosse’s Painted House

The Rockaways: Your friends might all be going to The Hamptons or Fire Island – hey, maybe you are too! But you might also be stuck thinking (like I am many times), the only way I’m getting to the beach this weekend is by taking the subway and bus. And you know what? I’ve learned it’s pretty darn awesome. Especially when your day can be filled as filled with arts and culture as it is with seashells and waves. And that’s what brought me to Fort Tilden.

Fort Tilden is an historic district next to Jacob Riis Park. Its initial building was constructed during the War of 1812 as a part of the “2nd system” of defense to protect the area from the possibility of British attacks coming from the ocean. The fort wasn’t expanded and reactivated again until World War II, and remained active during the Cold War, but was officially deactivated in 1974 when it became an official national recreation area.

While Jacob Riis Park is now a lot of fun with eclectic food stands, live music, a bar or two, and a diverse family-oriented crowd, Fort Tilden beach is more like a quiet, hipster, adult beach where (ladies) you can freely go topless without anyone bothering you as if you’re in Europe, and check out a variety of artistic interventions thanks to MoMA PS1’s Rockaway!, the Rockaway Artists Alliance, the Jamaica Bay-Rockaway Parks Conservancy, the National Park Service, the Central Park Conservancy, NYC Parks & Recreation and Rockaway Beach Surf Club.

MoMA PS1’s Rockaway! has become a known program in New York City over the past couple of years since its inception in 2014, and deservedly so. It came to life as a collaboration between MoMA PS1 Director Klaus Bisenbach and Patti Smith, a Rockaway resident who has been visiting Fort Tilden beach since the 1970s with Robert Mapplethorpe. Rockaway! celebrates bringing the area back to life after it suffered destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy, two weeks prior to which Smith had bought a house there (queue Alanis). The debut of Rockaway! included a large-scale, site-specific work by Smith titled, “Resilience of the Dreamer,” along with projects by Argentinian artist Adrián Villar Rojas, Canadian artist Janet Cardiff, and a Walt Whitman poetry reading performed by Smith together with James Franco (a friend of Bisenbach).

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This year’s main attraction is the site-specific project created by Katharina Grosse, a mid-career German artist with a hefty CV whose painted post-Hurricane Sandy ruin is generating ubiquitous buzz this 2016 summer season. So much so, that it appears to have sealed the deal making her the latest addition to the Gagosian Gallery‘s roster (which looks like it could be confused with a hall of fame of sorts but could seriously use a few more female artists in the mix). Grosse’s Rockaway! exhibition will be on view through November 30th, 2016, and her first commercial solo show with Gagosian is expected for early 2017.

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If you aren’t yet aware, Grosse painted a similar dilapidated house in New Orleans’ 9th Ward following Hurricane Katrina as a part of their 2008 biennial, so this Fort Tilden installation following Hurricane Sandy can be viewed as the second in a series. According to the New York Times, Grosse’s 2008 project actually humiliated one of the hurricane’s survivors. I have yet to find more details on that story, but learning that that happened piqued my interest. I wonder how that individual felt about the art, and what his or her perspective was.

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To me, something that was important while visiting was to pay attention to the fact that PS1’s Rockaway! is not the only cultural attraction to participate in in the Fort Tilden beach area. There are additional cultural centers and installations to check out that have a beautiful local vibe and help you feel the soul of the community and more intimately connect with it.

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These include The Rockaway Artist Alliance gallery, and The Rockaway Theatre Company, a thriving center for the performing arts which was awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts this June.

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Dan Guarino, president of the Rockaway Artists Alliance, was kind enough to give me a great tour of the space and a special peek into a rehearsal for “La Cage aux Folles,” which opened at the theater last weekend to great success.

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John Gilleece, Artistic Director of the Rockaway Theatre Company and Director of “La Cage aux Folles,” notes:

“Rockaway Beach, New York is a beach community with a summertime feel. Sun and surf take precedence over many other pursuits.  But, what makes the Rockaway arts community unique is that the art does not begin on Memorial Day and stop after Labor Day.  The two major arts groups, the Rockaway Theatre Company and the Rockaway Artists Alliance, offer year-round shows, exhibits and events. Nineteen years ago, when the RTC started, Rockaway Beach was very much underserved in the area of local, live theater.  But endurance and hard work bore fruit. Today, our reputation for Broadway-quality musicals has enlarged our audience base so that we have people coming from all over the New York area.”

At the Rockaway Artists Alliance art gallery, you can currently enjoy an indoor/outdoor art show including a display of sizable paintings from the exhibit, “Forbidden Fruit: Street Art in a National Park,” and enter the large abandoned locomotive repair space where Patti Smith’s 2014 project was staged. At the theater, “La Cage aux Folles” has three upcoming performances on August 19th, 20th, and 21st, and you can get tickets here.

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Interview with Marina Reiter, Director, Studio 26 Gallery

Artifactoid sits down with Marina Reiter, Artist and Director of Studio 26 Gallery located in the heart of NYC’s East Village. Stop by her East 3rd Street space to hear live music, sit in on a poetry reading, or view visual art that ranges from sculpture, to painting, to performance and more. Also, don’t miss Studio 26 at Art Basel Miami week’s Aqua art fair this year.

Artifactoid: I saw on your website that you opened Studio 26 in 2012, and recently celebrated a one-year anniversary in the East Village space. Congrats! Where did you start out, and how did you decide upon NYC’s East Village? How does the gallery’s location affect the experience of it?

MR: The gallery was originally founded in Bushwick in 2012. The only problem with Bushwick was that there weren’t that many storefront spaces per-se, and renting a gallery space requires a storefront because it’s important to engage the public on a daily basis. We finally saw this space in the East Village, on East 3rd Street in the “mosaic” building, and I really liked the artistic quality of the building itself. The owners said that in fact, they’d had a lot of offers on the space, but they really wanted a gallery to be in there. So, there was a match made in heaven!

Artifactoid: What were you doing prior to opening the studio? What led you to open it, and how did it come together?

MR: I used to run a lot of galleries. I was in Washington, DC and when I lived there, I was gallery director for Studio Gallery, one of the oldest galleries in DC (founded in 1964). It was a collective gallery and at that time we had probably 34 artists that we worked with on a daily basis. We had three floors, and each floor was a different exhibition, so it was just exciting to be totally immersed in that creative energy.

Then, I decided to move to New York in 2009, right after the economic crash. The crash made me rethink certain things in my life — including where I wanted to be — and I decided that I had to be in New York. And, in 2010, I became co-partner in a gallery in Vienna, Austria, called “Gallery M.” We did a lot of international exchange shows between US artists, German artists, and Austrian artists and a lot of art fairs: Art Beijing, art fairs in Strasbourg, Luxembourg. I met a lot of interesting European artists like sculptor Gianfranco Meggiato who recently finished a big commission for the Prince of Monaco.

I was torn between Vienna and New York. I was on the plane every other week. I knew that I needed to do something here in New York City, in my own backyard, so that’s how Studio 26 came about.

Artifactoid: Tell me about some of the noteworthy artists you represent. Which have made the biggest impact on Studio 26 since its opening?

MR: I work with a lot of international artists, and it’s just an amazing experience because international artists really bring their own, unique perspectives. We have artists from France, Norway, Brazil, Turkey — amazing artists, working using all different techniques…and for me, just to be looking at all the art and talking to them completely opens up my mind.

One of the artists that I’ve worked with in the past, from Washington, DC, is John Bodkin. He used to live in the East Village back in the ‘70s. He’s an amazing person, a great artist, and has a very interesting history. Back in the ‘70s when he was a young man, trying to navigate this crazy art world in New York City, he ended up in the East Village and became friends with Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella…they would visit Louise Nevelson’s studio…these are these amazing artists who nowadays are almost god-like creatures, but back in the day, John was hanging out with them, learning from them, talking to them…and ended up carrying on that tradition from the ‘70s. You can definitely see that in his paintings; there’s a lot of Rauschenberg and Stella influence. It’s just amazing to be working with people like that who are part of living history, so to speak. That’s one of the moments that makes daily “gallery life” so exciting: just working with people like that, who are part of history.

Artifactoid: Tell me a bit about your own art, the history of you as an artist.

MR: I describe my art as “biomorphic, organic, abstract art.” My family has a lot of artists. Both of my uncles are famous Russian artists. My great uncle, Nikolai Solomin, actually studied with the founders of classical Russian realism. His son, also Nikolai Solomin, is now probably one of the most recognized Russian painters. They work in either realism or impressionism, and I would say some military realism. I always admired that, but I never felt that realism or landscape were things that I had a tremendous passion for.

When I first came to the US from Russia, I was seven years old. My family and I went to the MET, and that was when I saw abstract art for the first time. I felt like it was something I could absolutely relate to. Then, as a young adult, I decided that I really wanted to go to a good art school that would teach me abstract art. Unfortunately, in Russia, there is much more of a focus on realism, and even now, there is no real appreciation for abstract art there, nor the way to teach it. So, I decided to attend the Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington, DC, with a primary focus on studying abstract art, painting, and sculpture. It was an amazing experience. I loved my teachers. I’m still friends with a lot of them. And, they’ve been a tremendous influence in my life. In school, I also realized that I’m a colorist: I was really interested in color theory, playing with colors, and just discovering things about myself through my art. It’s a lifelong journey; it’s wonderful, it’s always exciting; never boring.

Artifactoid: How does owning a gallery and being a curator affect how you think about yourself as an artist?

MR: That’s a good question, because being in art administration actually taught me a lot, and I would say as a piece of advice, to many artists, once the painting or the work of art is done, think about the presentation: how you want people to see your art. Make sure that it’s framed properly, that it’s not falling off the wall, because it doesn’t matter if it’s a masterpiece or not: something that’s completely framed, something that doesn’t do the work justice, can absolutely kill the impression, so just be very cautious of that.

Artifactoid: What are some of the biggest changes you’ve noticed in the art world throughout your career, and where do you see it headed?

MR: Here in New York, I’ve noticed a shift in where the galleries are located. Over a period of six years, I noticed a move from Chelsea to the Lower East Side and East Village, and also from Williamsburg to Bushwick. Bushwick is a fun, exciting art scene. It’s really interesting to be a part of the dynamic here, just seeing that it’s not static, that it’s constantly evolving and moving — trying to predict those trends is pretty exciting in itself.

Interestingly enough, speaking of the changes in the art world, as I mentioned I do a lot of international art fairs, and going to Asia, and seeing the Chinese art market, is always particularly interesting because it changes every year. I’m really happy to see that there are more and more people that are interested in and appreciative of abstract art now than there used to be six years ago. Six years ago, it was mostly realism and something that people could relate to on a daily basis. Now, to see that people can relate to western abstract art in China is amazing because it tells you something about all the cultural exchanges that are going on the moment we speak on so many levels between all the countries.

Artifactoid: In what direction would you like to take Studio 26 in the future?

MR: There are a lot of ideas, and my assistants and I are brainstorming every day. We really like what’s happening with Studio 26 right now — that it’s actually a space for all genres of art, not just painting or sculpture. It’s also a space where poets, musicians, and performance artists can come in, test out their latest works, and get feedback in a very supportive environment. That’s really what we try to do as a gallery: be very supportive of our artists. But, we also have other ideas. We are going to launch several new projects, including two new gallery projects that will be marketed and branded under “Reiter Contemporary.” There are some interesting things in the works, so stay tuned!

Artifactoid: Finally, Studio 26 will be at this year’s Aqua art fair in Miami as a part of Art Basel Miami week. Tell us a bit about what you are preparing for the show.

MR: This year we are participating in Aqua Art Miami during the Miami Art Basel week. It’s very exciting. I love art fairs: the people they bring, the reception…everything that goes into that art fair is an amazing experience. I’ve always been a huge fan, and now that we are participating, we’re all super excited. We’re going to have a very interesting mix of painting and photography, and I won’t give you any details as of yet, it’s just going to be really amazing talented artists that we actually haven’t shown yet, so it’s something to discover!

Jung Uk Yang, DOOSAN Gallery

One of the things I love most about going to art galleries without knowing what’s showing is that it feels like I’m on a treasure hunt: behind any gallery door, there is the possibility of finding unique creative treasures that carry inspiration and ideas.

Recently in Chelsea, I found one of these treasures. I was walking down West 25th street on a sunny Friday afternoon and popped into the DOOSAN gallery. The second I walked through the door, I was confronted by a dark, frantic, monotonous, anxious, yet simultaneously quirky and upbeat, piece of mechanical art installed directly on the gallery wall.

The work was created by Korean artist Jung Uk Yang as a part of the exhibition “A Man Without Words,” which was on view from July 9th through August 27th 2015. Per the gallery’s description, “A Man Without Words” encompassed Jung Uk’s reflections upon the everyday, simple things that would occur in both his life and the lives of the individuals around him who seemed to lead monotonous, repetitive lives.

For example, the piece, “A Fatigue Always Comes with a Dream,” (featured above and below) was created as a metaphor for the lives of apartment security guards in South Korea, who, “must stay awake until dawn while most people are asleep.” Jung Uk’s work is independently visually powerful, but the unusual story behind it makes it even more provocative than the visuals alone.  junguk3

Through his work, Jung Uk provided me with an experience that ruptured the monotony of my life that day. He piqued my curiosity about DOOSAN, an incredible art space, as well. The DOOSAN Gallery New York is dedicated to the discovery of and support for young and emerging Korean artists. It also has a residency program. Its mission is to serve as a gateway to significant exposure and opportunities for the artists by nurturing their creativity and helping them share their work with a broader audience.

Learning about the South Korea-headquartered DOOSAN gallery and its mission in support of Korean creativity led me to think about it in contrast to a recent Huffington Post article I came across on my twitter feed titled, “North Korea’s Art Scene is Just as Mysterious as the Nation Itself.” In the article, writer Sara Boboltz notes that North Korea’s largest art institute, Mansudae, is government-run and is used “primarily to churn out work extolling the state’s leaders.” She concludes that, “For all the impressive skill of its talented pool of artists, artistic freedom in North Korea might only be an optimistic myth.”

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It would be interesting to know what the DOOSAN gallery opines about this issue, especially within the context of the gallery’s mission to nurture the growth of Korean contemporary art. While Jung Uk Yang’s work is no longer currently on view at DOOSAN’s Chelsea space, I invite you to check out their current exhibition, Revelation, an equally inspiring solo installation featuring the work of artist Jungki Beak.

Theresa Byrnes, TBG

I’m privileged to have spontaneously met Australian performance artist Theresa Byrnes a few weeks ago while strolling down East 9th Street. What a remarkable person. I was walking home from an estate auction in Greenwich Village, and popped my head into what appeared to be an open gallery space called TBG (Theresa Byrnes Gallery). I entered the bright, colorful room, filled floor to ceiling with an abundance of kinetic paintings created by Theresa Byrnes and her mother and fellow artist Lorraine Byrnes.

Lorraine warmly welcomed me into the gallery. I felt like she was my mother, too! She and Theresa had recently debuted “Offspring,” their joint exhibition, with an opening reception that took place at TBG on July 30th.

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It wasn’t until I’d made my way to the back of the gallery that I met Theresa. She told me that the back portion of the space was her studio.

Theresa was one of the coolest-dressed people I’d seen all day. I immediately fell in love with her style and arresting smile. She was wearing a funky black hat, a pale pink punk-rocker style T-shirt, black jeans, and a set of badass red high-top kicks. Finally, there was her most unique accessory: her wheelchair.

Theresa and I spoke for close to an hour, getting to know each other. After reading more about her following our meeting, I found out that she has a degenerative disease called Friedrich’s ataxia, that causes progressive damage to the nervous system. I am incredibly inspired by how clear it is, from both meeting Theresa and reading about her, that she doesn’t allow the disease she lives with to define her or control her. She finds freedom in her work and nothing seems to hold her back from being her full, powerfully talented creative self. This fascinating article from The Villager can tell you a bit more about her story. I’m in awe of her.

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Theresa’s infant son, Sparrow, was with her in the gallery space. I loved the way her passion came through so clearly when speaking about art, creating, and her son. Her palpable joy and refreshing attitude toward life and art made me feel happy.

I am pleased to share a preview of her piece, “Being Two,” shown below.  I also invite you to watch this video interview, conducted with Theresa last year on ABC (Australia). It will give you a sneak peek of the amazing person and artist that I had the opportunity to meet face-to-face. Finally, I hope that if you’re planning to visit Alphabet City any time soon, you take a moment to stop by TBG at 616 East 9th St. between Avenues B & C to check out her work.

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Jack Pierson, Cheim & Read

Cheim & Read’s installation of Jack Pierson’s “onthisisland,” a collection of 150 small watercolor and graphite works on paper, was curated excellently.

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I stepped into the gallery and wanted to stay there longer just because of how well the presentation and the work amplified each other in such a satisfying way. In the front room of the exhibition, the paintings and drawings were so clean, simple, elegant and fresh, that they required a display that echoed those elements throughout the room.

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Mounted on “boxes” stretched tightly with natural-tone linen, the paintings and sketches were given the opportunity to invite viewers to contemplate their simplicity, and possibly even turn it on its head.

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This sensation continued into the back room of the installation, where Pierson’s larger graphite drawings were on display.

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These dark, striking, doodle-like drawings with seemingly surrealist and op-art influences commanded me to recognize their complexity. The below piece is one I’d like to spotlight in this post:

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I’m a fan of this piece in particular because it brought a flood of questions to my head that I am grateful to have circulating in there, including:

  • Why do I look at something like this and think that there is more depth to it than a child’s doodle? Or is there not?
  • Or, does a child’s doodle have the potential to be deep, so there isn’t even a conflict with that comparison?
  • Also, am I thinking there’s something to this only because it’s galleried artwork? How much is the gallery’s affirmation of the art affecting my overall perception of it?
  • Was the placement, shape and size of the forms in the piece spontaneous or premeditated?
  • Does each have a meaning, meant to be decoded? Or do they each mean nothing?
  • It looks like the artist has disregarded many conventional rules of composition and drawing technique. To what extent is that true, and what does that mean?
  • Is this piece irreverent, or is it genius? Or both? Or neither?

I think that in conversations about art, works like this are generally controversial, because people really do wonder, why is this in a gallery or museum? Why or how does this piece display talent or have value? So, since I am fascinated and looking for more understanding, I’m looking forward to hopefully receiving some comments about this piece and this concept as a whole.

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