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The New York Optimist
May 14, 2009 Chelsea Art Gallery Stampede
(This is varsity level...no more crawling for us!)

Stephan Fowlkes

Ah, to be young, in love with art, and in Chelsea on a Thursday evening in Spring...there’s truly nothing like it!  But get
this: I wasn’t the only one with the idea of checking out the galleries.  In fact--and this is something I haven’t seen
before--the attendance so overwhelmed the number of openings that as a result, the galleries were packed. To the gills!  
Standing room only.  To the point of having great trouble actually viewing the work.  I mean, seriously packed, sardine
style, rush-hour subway style.  Is this due to the up-swing in the quality of work being shown, or is it maybe the
recession hitting home so hard that the masses are coming for the free drinks...cheap night out?  Whatever the cause, it
is a pleasure to see so many out and about apparently interested in what’s going on in Chelsea and the art world at large,
a positive sign of things to come...

We started out at the Pratt MFA Thesis exhibition where I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw.  
Paintings, sculptures, photography, installations, interactive art...pretty much a 180 degree turn from much of what I
saw last year in various MFA shows.  This year, the work seems to have broken from the over-intellectualized, hyper-
ideologically based, conceptual, referent works so commonly being regurgitated from the grad programs.  Much of
what I saw made me smile, either from the sense of humor in the work, or the from the pleasure of actually viewing
aesthetic works well executed.  There was a freshness in a lot of the work, appropriate content, serious investigation,
technical ability, silliness in some cases--but in a good way, cleverness--but not at the expense of technique, skill and
content.  I’m looking forward to seeing some of  these fresh, new faces develop and mature.  I have faith in this new
generation and I’m sure we’ll be seeing a bunch of these grads in the Chelsea galleries quite soon.  Wear those gowns
proudly and throw high those caps!  You deserve it.

Pratt MFA Thesis Exhibition
144 W. 14th Street

No time for lolly-gagging as we went straight to Alice Neel’s show at david Zwirner.  These paintings from 1943 to
1982 are a continuation of and complement to her portraits at Zwirner & Wirth on the UES (see last week’s article) and
show clearly why Neel was such a force in twentieth century portraiture and painting in general.  I’m not a huge fan of
traditional portraiture, but I’m a huge Neel fan for the simple fact that this woman could paint!  I comfortably place her
with the likes of Lucien Freud, Francis Bacon, Alberto Giacometti and Willem de Kooning in the way she makes
portraiture her own.  This is a unique style that throughout its evolution of well over more than fifty years never
faltered, but grew in poignancy and content.  The latest work on view, and a personal favorite is the portrait of Annie
Sprinkle, tits out and clit ring dangling **and a raven on her head**, painted in 1982 when Neel was ??? years old!  I
love it!

Alice Neel at David Zwirner
525 W. 19th Street
May 14-June 20, 2009

For something altogether different, Denise Bibro Fine Art presented us with illuminated, wall-hanging “Memory Boxes”
by Jerry Meyer.  Inevitably linked to the oeuvre of Joseph Cornell by the simple fact that these are boxes filled with
“stuff,” these works simultaneously present a clear departure from Cornell’s work insofar as they are clean, colored
plexiglas boxes constructed my Meyer, not found.  There is an almost high-tech appearance to these internally lit,
translucent, blue glowing constructions--almost futuristic shrines.  The subject-matter and content of the boxes is
deeply personal and autobiographical, with elements from his childhood such as photographs, toys and an assortment of
found objects, and many make reference to details of the artist’s life, as in “Arthur murray Taught Me Dancin’ in a
Hurry” where there is a photo of what seems to be Meyer with his date at their prom.  The juxtaposition between these
personal artifacts well-worn and their clean, modernist enclosures is almost jarring, yet Meyer manages to straddle this
apparent anachronistic rift deftly and comfortably, coming to an end result that offers plenty to look at and be
entertained by.  Anyone who plays with the past, present and future in material and content so adeptly is alright in my

Memory Boxes
Jerry Meyer at Denise Bibro Fine Art
529 W. 20th Street, fourth floor
May 14-June 20, 2009

Colorful, vibrant and dynamic, Aaron Wexler’s painting/ collages visually burst forth from the walls of the Josee
Bienvenu Gallery.  Layers added and layers subtracted lead to a complex abstraction of color and form in atmospheres
which loosely hint at elements from the real whilst maintaining formal qualities firmly rooted in the painterly tradition.  
“Cut-and-paste is more than mere methodology or exercise  in formal aesthetics and instead becomes a lens through
which the artist first fractures and then reconstitutes the natural order of things....Fractal and prismatic, his paintings
are carefully constructed, the surfaces collaged with a myriad of cut shapes, a complex puzzle of figure and ground.  
His work synthesizes abstraction and figuration, physical and psychological space, optimism and anxiety.  It is imbued
with a fragile equilibrium of opposites,” (press release).  Due to my penchant for order and geometry, my favorite work
in the show was “Strong As Symphony,” a predominantly green work strongly referencing a cut emerald in all its
brilliance, super-imposed with a series of circles, similar to sun-spots.  It is more geometric than all the other works
who tend to favor a greater degree of entropy, disorder, the organic or chaos.  Wexler commands a strong control over
the pictorial plane and his sensibilities make for remarkably pleasing viewing experiences, validating such a term as eye-
candy:  visually sweet, rich and delicious!

Invisible Ghost
Aaron Wexler at Josee Bienvenu
529 W. 20th Street, second floor
May 14-June 20, 2009

Having recently upgraded his space, moving on up, Ken Kim, director of the Kips Gallery presents a two-person show
of paintings and installation by Korean artists Hyo Nam and Jaime M. Lee.  There is a nice variety of work ranging from
painting to work with and on fabric, and although their aesthetics differ, there is an underlying commonality based in the
process and impulse.  Memory and emotional experiences drive the work, and whether it is in Lee’s colorful, mixed-
media works on panel or Nam’s far more reductive “Red branch 1,” thread on muslin installation, there is a strong
undercurrent linking both artists’ work.  It may be an Eastern approach and aesthetic, or a common psychological
platform, point of departure, and final product, but the result is formally satisfying.  Sometimes work with fabric and
thread gets overly caught up in its materiality, but this is not the case here; Nam’s works effectively make use of the
material as catalyst for idea and the material does not detract.  The stitched lines serve as elegant marks winding and
weaving across the pictorial plane, delicately creating form and movement.  The disparity of aesthetic between these
two bodies of work is overshadowed by the careful control of each artist’s methodologies, and each informs and
supports the other.

Jamie M. Lee and Hyo Nam at Kips Gallery
511 W. 25th Street, second floor
May 7-May 30, 2009

For some fantastic, whimsical, charged photographs, don’t miss Kim Joon’s work at the Sundaram Tagore Gallery.  
Figures--more precisely, body-parts--elaborately painted in a traditional Eastern aesthetic, are amassed, intertwined, and
composed in an abstract fashion.  Closer inspection reveals that this orgiastic crowd of naked painted figures is in fact
only two bodies: a female painted blue and a male painted red.  The resulting compositions create stunning formal
images, vibrant and intense, visually arresting.

Kim Joon at Sundaram Tagore Gallery
547 W. 27th Street, second floor
May 14-May 27, 2009
Pratt MFA Thesis Exhibition