Remember back in early 2012 when Luhring Augustine announced that it was opening a gallery in Bushwick, Brooklyn, and everyone wondered if other blue-chip galleries would follow suit? There was a new rumor every week: Gagosian Bushwick! Zwirner Bushwick! Pace Bushwick! “Space is still cheap out there, and there are warehouses aplenty,” I remember thinking. “They’d all be crazy not to open big fat spaces!”
That, of course, didn’t pan out—the conventional, and I think, pretty accurate wisdom being that most major collectors are just not going to make regular trips out to Bushwick to spend big money when they can happily do so in Chelsea. Also, the flushest galleries have become so flush that it’s no big deal for them to simply double down on Chelsea. Why go elsewhere? Zwirner, Pace, Hauser & Wirth, Lisson, and 303 built or are building tony new spaces there. Even Dia, which I had long hoped would decamp to a big, flexible space in Brooklyn, has remained committed to the neighborhood, though we’ll see what its new director, Jessica Morgan, cooks up.
But even if the blue-chippers never arrived, the Bushwick scene has been steadily ramping up in recent years. I find myself going there more and more, though probably not as much as I should. This past weekend I spent an afternoon wandering around, and found some superb shows on view, though they were nearly empty. (Roberta’s, as ever, already had a huge crowd when I stopped by at 6 p.m.)
The biggest development of the season out there has to be that the scrappy Clearing gallery, which used to operate out of a relatively modest second-floor space in the neighborhood, has upgraded to a huge white cube of about 5,000 square feet—a former truck repair depot five times larger than the old space. The building is almost comically slick, like it’s been cut and pasted from Chelsea. It is awesome.
At Clearing’s inauguration early this month quite a few people were in a state of disbelief. Was this for real? The only real conclusion: there certainly is a lot of money flowing into the art world! Nothing wrong with that, though. Clearing shows some solid artists (though, um, not many women)—like Ryan Foerster, Korakrit Arunanondchai, and Sebastian Black. But the Koenraad Dedobbeleer show it debuted with, haughtily titled “A Useless Labour, Apolitical and of Little Moral Significance,” is a largely mediocre affair.
Dedobbeleer, who is Belgian and turns 40 next year, is showing a number of spindly, often precariously balanced assemblages that he fashions from just a few objects. A ballpoint pen sits gingerly atop a tall, thin metal rod in Mitigated the Disconcerting Surprise (2014), and a few slices of metal hold a cowbell in Conceptual Enough to Be Ordered Over the Telephone. They look like parts of early sculptures by Anthony Caro (whose work is reproduced as a kind of flag-poster in one piece) that have been broken off and adorned with curiosities (a corkscrew, a cigar). They’re elegant, and sometimes funny, but in an effete, slightly obnoxious way, like someone who dresses quirkily (but well) and can’t stop talking about how clever and interesting he is. It all feels just a little hollow. (But, really, don’t miss the space.)
You have to hand it to Luhring Augustine Bushwick (which is located a few blocks away). They only average about three shows a year, but they deliver the goods almost every single time. The show of Pistoletto works from 1965–66 that ran from last December into May was especially great—museum worthy, a total revelation. Now they’re presenting a new 6-hour film by the wily Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson, hot on the heels of his superb New Museum survey. It documents New York-based rock band The National (which shares artistic billing for the video) performing their roughly 3-minute, 30-second song “Sorrow” over and over again to a large crowd at MoMA PS1 last year. It’s called A Lot of Sorrow.
The idea of listening to The National’s self-serious dirge on repeat for 6 hours struck me at first as a very particular kind of hell. I shuddered. But strange and wonderful things start happening when you hit the repeat button (as the artist has done with performances of Mozart and original songs), following Sol LeWitt’s famous dictum: “Irrational thoughts should be followed absolutely and logically.” The work short-circuits.
At first it’s moving, watching these eight guys trying to stay focused, to keep the art going in the crisply edited video. They play variations and sip wine, Matt Berninger crooning all the way through, mumbling at points, falling deeper into some unknowable sadness, repeating himself. It starts to become funny—why is he so sad?—and maybe even rich with profound aesthetic questions: how many times can you deliver a performance and keep it convincing? How does art actually work?
The song gets away from them. The tempo keeps changing. The crowd claps too quickly. Kjartansson dances about the scene with bottles of wine and water, keeping them motivated, joking a bit. Their moods shift. Yours will too, resolving finally, I think, to just finding the whole heroic effort incredibly touching. After watching for 45 minutes, I felt like I could play almost every part of the song, and also that creativity is an impossibly mysterious thing.
Meanwhile, over at the tiny Sardine gallery, the dependably mellifluous New Yorker Andy Cross is showing a batch of bright, punchy paintings in a show called “Mirror Venus.” Ten in a grid are portraits of the same beautiful young woman in as many styles—she’s covered with primary colored dots, or painted in all golds and browns, or subtly rendered like a Picasso Dora Maar. Cross paints with long, loving strokes and an easy-hearted sincerity. The coup de grace is Yuko Island (2012), a sunburst of a portrait of a young Asian woman whom he has surrounded with slices of other paintings. Handsome stuff.
Far more sinister paintings are on offer at Interstate Projects, a large warehouse-space a few blocks away. Upstairs, Oskar Nilsson, a Swede showing in New York for the first time, has positively filthy cartoon canvases that feature hooded monks, white ghosts, yellow rubber duckies, and pretty large penises on conveyor belts. Many are set in bathrooms, where some very unpleasant, or at least unusual, sex acts seem to be taking place. If you told André Butzer to pare down his works and make them even dirtier, you might end up with something like Nilsson’s work. They’re amateurish and incompetent in an impressive way.
Downstairs, the New York painter Sam McKinniss (also a painter of ghosts) has organized a group show called “Beyond the Pale,” focused on a thoroughly creepy portrait of a mother and her bald baby from 1870 (which has to be the oldest work on view in the area right now). Mom, especially, is flashing a weird look—like she is concerned with quite a few things that the viewer most definitely isn’t. Watch out! Strong works by Jamian Juliano-Villani (a painting of a tombstone inscribed, “I told you I was sick”), Paul Mpagi Sepuya (a fetishy photo of feet slipped into heels), Alex Da Corte (a portrait of an imprisoned ghost—it’s really something) evince a similarly spooky humor about the body and sex and death. The big things.
After all that visual stimulation, a palette cleanser is available at the dark railroad apartment of artist Bill Jenkins. He’s moving out, and for the last week has built a high-walled bridge of sorts between his front and back window that runs through the entire apartment. It’s filled with metallic paper so that it picks up the sun from outside and gives a gentle glow to the whole space during the daytime. “I am reorganizing the sunlight that comes into the apartment,” is how he puts it in a statement. It’s a punk, DIY James Turrell or Sarah Oppenheimer, an ingenious bit of makeshift engineering that provides a soothing visual experience, and a reminder, if ever there was one, that gargantuan galleries come and go but artists keep working, whether in sardine-sized spaces or disused warehouses. Jenkins’s show closes at sundown tonight, when the room goes black.
“Art of the City” is a weekly column by ARTnews co-executive editor Andrew Russeth.