Art Review

Thunderball

Jonathan Meese: Hot Earl Green Sausage Tea Barbie (First Flush)
Bortolami Gallery
Through December 23, 2011

Just in the nick of time Jonathan Meese has rolled up like a panzer division, bringing his ribald "Dictatorship of Art" to New York. Meese's everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to exhibitions hasn't changed, and here we get paintings, bronze sculpture, video, and a performance, War "Saint Just (First Flash)."

Buried Treasure

Thomas Lyon Mills
The Catacombs

"...where the temperature and humidity are unchanging, I share space with eight-inch phosphorescent mantises, translucent spiders and tiny moths that, attracted to my lights, cling to my clothes and hair."

These are the words of artist Thomas Lyons Mills, referring to the Roman catacombs – a place where he has spent countless hours accumulating visual and emotional data in both his sketchbook and his mind. The resulting mixed media meanderings through those most sacred of spaces yield masterful renderings of timeless textures that cover curious corridors riddled with subtle life forms and ages-old death. Like an in-between place, Purgatory, the waking dream or your everyday day dream, Mills's most effectively awakens with his art, your subconscious, your fears, your phobias, and your fantasies and breathes a thick atmosphere of sights, sounds, smells, and sighs that travel right through to your core. 

Waltzing Mathilda

Peter Williams: Midnight Waltz in D Minor
Paul Kotula Projects, Ferndale, Michigan
Through December 3, 2011

One of the problematic legacies of Modernism was its emphasis on originality, youth, and the myth of the artist who sprang sui generis into a recognizable, signature style. There were rare exceptions, such as Picasso and Matisse, who remained in the canon and were allowed to mature and develop their works past their youthful experiments and achieve a late body of work. Admittedly, the fact that they lived to be ninety sort of bludgeoned the historians and critics into pretty much accepting whatever they did just because they refused to die. On the other hand, de Kooning lived just as long, and his constant morphing of styles proved to be equally as protean but not as accepted, and his later painting was more or less dismissed until well after his death. What gets overlooked in this now familiar pattern of looking at artists is the fact that most of them go through a period of adolescence after their initial "breakthrough" works, and then they slowly hone their style. This period of artistic growth, often overlooked, is usually the most interesting of an artist's career.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Sanford Biggers: Sweet Funk -- An Introspective
The Brooklyn Museum
Through January 8, 2012

Sanford Biggers gathers the imagery and sounds of Blues, the rhythm and movement of break dancing, and the costumes and theatricality of blackface routines and turns them into a very personal discourse on race and culture in our time. The exhibition centers on a large installation of a tree growing through a player piano (Blossom, 2007), which grows through the museum’s fifth-floor rotunda. With passing references to “a tree grows in Brooklyn,” nature versus culture, and Buddha's enlightenment under the bodhi tree, it drives home its point by intermittently playing “Strange Fruit,” the ode to black victims of racism made famous by Billie Holiday.

Alphaville

Allison Schulnik: Mound
Zieher Smith
Through December 17, 2011

On May 5th they isolated the strain of Virus HC-35, which became known as The Flu. On April 1st President Manson declared a State of Emergency, cleared the protesters from Zapruder Park, and issued orders for the Continuous Curfew. And the deaths came in millions. By June the food had run out, and we began to hunt the neighbors. By July the neighbors had run out, and we stayed confined to the 69th floor. Two days ago we ate Amelie. Now Katya is sitting in the living room, counting the last of the drugs on the table. Enough Neroin and Serafem to last only one person for the rest of the month.

Tones on Tail

Tom Kotik: Tone
Lesley Heller Workspace
Through November 27, 2011

Nothing says "Rock and Roll" louder than the Marshall Stack, the amplification system developed in the 1960s that continues to define the stage appearance of bands as diverse as Slayer, U2, and The Who. A full stack consists of one head, containing the actual amplifier, on top of two stacked 4x12s -- loudspeaker cabinets containing four twelve-inch speakers. Walls of up to sixty stacks have become the background for most metal bands, with the volume of the music connoted by the large number of stacks. In fact, some bands use the empty cases as props, to create the impression of a large sound, much like the on-stage swigs taken from a bottle of Jack Daniels that in fact are refreshing sips of iced tea. Tom Kotik, in his exhibition Tone, begins with something of the same premise in his sculptures of silent guitars and amps.

The Thing

Mira Schor: Painting in The Space Where Painting Used to Be
Some Walls, Oakland, CA
Through December 18, 2011

The Writer’s Meeting follows the usual banal routine. Expensively yet tastefully appointed conference room. Mahogany table laid out with the small, bottled Evians, containers of Chinese food (untouched), four-inch-long rails of blow chopped on the new Coldplay CD cover (touched). The writer’s assistant, a B-movie actress you would recognize (The Human Millipede, Spring Break Gangbang VI), her blonde hair now red, sits at the far end of the table taking notes. “Listen,” I say, “this is all very confusing. Are we or are we not discussing the same script? Is Philip Seymour Hoffman attached to the project or not?” I am beginning to sense panic in their eyes and need to restore order and confidence quickly. “What we have here is a live-action Happy Feet: Rio meets Antichrist, right? Can someone please sum all this up in a nutshell? I like things in nutshells.”

Dizzying, Mesmerizing Artistic Expression from Trudy Benson

Trudy Benson: Actual/Virtual
Through November 12, 2011

As noted in the press release, when viewing the new paintings of Trudy Benson, one is easily reminded of the work of the Abstract Illusionists from the mid-1970s. The problem with that reference is it was never a particularly effective or compelling "art movement," if you could call Abstract Illusionism an art movement. The good thing is that Ms. Benson achieves much more success than her predecessors by adding variety and, to put it simply, chutzpah, as she employs bold paint applications in wild compositions.

Rashaad Newsome

Rashaad Newsome: Herald
Through December 3, 2011

Rashaad Newsome portrays culture -- Rap, Hip Hop, bling and booty, all that -- with extraordinary flair and formality. He is unrelenting. He appropriates, pushes and plows through volumes of data, and achieves brilliance, and there is no end in sight. As an art world figure, he is potent, powerful, precise, and poised to break through to the top as other multi-talented innovators have done before him.

At the opening of Herald, the mean age of the attending throngs was much younger than I am used to seeing. But it wasn’t just the fact that the crowd was younger, it’s that they were more engaged, much more enthralled than I am used to seeing; a bona fide buzz was in the air that carried out onto the streets.

Rebel, Rebel

Eva Hesse: Eva Hesse Spectres 1960
Brooklyn Museum
Through January 8, 2012

In 1969 Eva Hesse participated in When Attitudes Become Form, a benchmark exhibition of Minimalist art. This was a watershed moment for Hesse. What the participants in this show demonstrated with their work was that experience -- that of the artist and that of the viewer -- could be given shape through language, line, color, and pre-existing shape (primary ones such as circles and squares were popular) and that experience could acquire meaning as aesthetic objects. In essence, these artists demonstrated that the recording of their process of thinking about art and making objects was the artwork. Although it is this work that Hesse is known and remembered for, we are fortunate to be able to view her lesser-known paintings from the early 60s at the Brooklyn Museum.