What is Left
Curated by Rachel Gugelberger
Nina Lola Bachhuber, Elissa Levy and Nick Herman
Winkelman Gallery/CRLab, NYC
Through December 23, 2010
There was a time in the late 60s and early 70s where the collision of failed economy and the booming production of art objects eerily resembled our current situation. Curators, those unsung entities of the artworld suddenly gained in importance and became names as they sought to fill empty museum and gallery space with a variety of inexpensively made (or, in some cases, faxed-in) art objects and ideas.
Rather than acting as a critique of the institutions which they served, they served in something of a triage position for a strangling trickle of art product into ever-larger art institutions. In the following years, curatorial critiques of museums and galleries has become something of a staple, yet is usually encumbered with a patina of political rhetoric (e.g Guerilla Girls, ActUp, etc.). In What is Left curator Rachel Gugelberger returns to an earlier version of this trope, presenting a rotating group of artists, and recording the process, creating an exhibition about the process of exhibiting.
The premise of the show, on first encounter, sounded a little like a combination of Three Card Monte (guess which artists you'll see today!) and that feeling you get when you are scoring a dime-bag (I hope it's a good one this time). Fortunately, Gugelberger was holding some good product, the first visit yielded a multi-headed mutant table sculpture by Nina Lola Bachhuber, a kind of My Pretty Pony meets Cerberus. Here the table might both refer to a traditional plinth, as well as a more domestic coffee table. A strong presence, within the space, it held the door whereas Herman and Levy took to the walls. The first round definitely went to Levy; Herman's small painting, though strong lacked continuity for lack of compatriots. This, of course, is what Gugelberger is pointing to -- our relationship to a work in a gallery is predicated upon context -- where the piece is placed, how many others like it are there? In this viewing Levy trumps the premise, with numerous cut-out newspaper works, delicately pinned to the walls like prized butterflies.
Levy is the shows long suit, and time spent looking is rewarded. Levy's newspaper works, with photos of soldiers, athletes and politicians are overdrawn with rainbow-like auras, reminiscent of radiographs or thermal spectronomy scans. Particularly relevant when used with the military images, as well as topical with the current debate over full-body airport scans. At their wittiest, as with photos of celebrities, they conjure the aura of pop-culture icons. The seemingly indifferent placement, pinned at various heights on the wall, unframed, belies the psychological weight of the works. While loaded with content, the butterfly effect of their hanging made them seem tailor-made for this type of show -- their fluttery comings and goings adapt to the constantly changing arrangement of the exhibition.
Ultimately, however, the exhibit turns on the work of Gugelberger, whose hand can be felt if not seen, like a puppet-master. The premise that the traces of the changing exhibition (nail holes, plaster, etc.) is as good a metaphor for the curatorial process as we are likely to get -- the materiality of moving works of art around is, in the end, what curating is, all money and politics aside. Her triumph here is using the small size of the Lab's project space to create a large-scale exhibit, by replacing pricey Chelsea real estate with the element of time. The success or failure of the enterprise depends much on the viewer; multiple visits will accord a bigger show, and hopefully fuller experience. That, however, is a lot like life. Here, the first view's free. You'll be back. - Bradley Rubenstein
Mr. Rubenstein is a painter, story teller, and smart culture aficionado.