Jason Ramos – Notes on Looking at New York
Field report: New York
I met with artist Kevin Regen in a dark bar near the Morgan L train stop in Brooklyn called King’s County. Every 100 feet in what has been referred to as “Greater Bushwick” there is a cool bar, a cool coffee place, a cool something. Kevin ran an exhibition space in the basement at 1673 Gates Avenue (Genesis and Lady Jaye Breyer P-Porridge’s old place) called Famous Accountants, currently on hiatus. Like every conversation in NY, we end up talking about real estate. I remark that people in NY talk about real estate the way others talk about the weather. Richard Hell apparently said it first. We are soon joined by Paul M. Nicholson, who was part of another now-on-hiatus space in the area called Botanic Gallery. Paul and Kevin had never met in person before, but sort of half-knew of each other, in that familiar art world way of meeting personalities before meeting people.
Also near the Morgan L stop lies the building at 56 Bogart. Within it’s walls exist non-profit spaces, gallery start-ups, artist-run outfits, performance art spaces, studios and more. Some of the people who run these spaces point me in the direction of some artists working in the neighborhood All of those little spots every 100 feet that I think are so cool are there to serve the artists who live and work in this area – all but one of the studio visits I did while in New York were within a two block radius of each other here in Bushwick. All the young artists in NY, it seems, are paying their rent in this part of Brooklyn (and Jersey City, maybe). On one rainy Sunday, I found the battleship gray painted satellite exhibition space of Chelsea blue chip commercial gallery Luhring Augustine, at 25 Knickerbocker. There’s been some chatter about what the presence of such an monyed, commercial Chelsea gallery means in Bushwick – the neighborhood to me seems perfectly balanced between a very organic terraforming by a critical mass of young art energy and it’s original low rise, sloppy, industrial landscape of factories and warehouses. No one I talked to in the neighborhood seemed too worried about it. The Charles Atlas exhibition they were featuring was fantastic. Why didn’t he put that in the Whitney?
One of recommendations I got was an artist named Kevin Curran, who had an installation set up at Norte Maar. I was led into Norte Maar’s domestic, residential setting, where Curran had created an ode, of sorts, to confused adolescent masculinity in one of the rooms. He carefully explained and presented the contents of the room, adorned with handmade wooden rifle facsimiles, crude portraits of G.I. Joe cartoon characters, and glittered power tool mantle pieces. Draped appropriately and inconspicuously over an old chair in the corner, however, was the most arresting object – the Rothko Blanket. Hand woven by Curran’s mother, it is a knitted version of one of Rothko’s famous color-field masterpieces. Curran explain his motivations in creating such an object: “What other artist needed more comfort than Rothko?”
In the framing shop he runs next to his gallery, Tom Wienrich shows me a work by Justin Berry, one of the artists he represents. It is a digital print of a hi-resolution scan of the cover of a paperback book. All the text has been Photoshopped out, leaving behind a graphically presented landscape, a window to a fictional world. Arriving in Berry’s studio a few days later, more examples of these discovered empty landscapes abound. On another wall are prints of what appear to be Ansel Adams-esque photographic prints, silvery-rich with tones reminiscent of Yellowstone, Yosemite, the West. The images are of digitally created landscapes culled from the virtual backgrounds of modern hyper-real video games manipulated by Berry into gray toned sublime panoramas. The work seems to lay at the intersection of landscape’s traditional lines of inquiry and the demands of the New Aesthetic. Evidence of the ubiquitous digital landscape we must now exist in has grown in enough scale to provide a literal background so sublime it is a subject of incomprehensible awe unto itself.
Ben Godward’s studio is a fever dream of post-apocalyptic, day-glo overstimulation. I would describe his sculptural efforts as the atomic mutant hybrid of Linda Benglis, Jessica Stockholder, and Skittles. The only reason I don’t stay longer in Ben’s studio is out of fear of hysterical blindness; Godward’s output commands an instant, hypnotic visual arrest. His forms envelope and melt over the plastic remains of Target store products, detergent bottles, Solo cups, milk crates, desk chairs, and whatever other non-biodegradable victim lies in its path. Whether existing in the studio, as discrete objects, as installations or “in the wild”, there is a paradoxically organic feel to the oozing, bubbling, multiplying, candy-colored, cancerous forms, hallucinatory evidence of some extra-terrestrial biological weapon.
Summer Wheat and Monica Cook
Los Angeles embraces revulsion like no other place. We have entire industries devoted to it and art that responds to them. McCarthy, Kelly, Keinholz, Robert Williams, Zak Smith and others operate under the same sky that the Manson Family, the adult film industry, and Hollywood do. Meeting in her Brooklyn studio, the dreamy-named Summer Wheat piles revulsion on with reverent abandon. In the vein of LA’s Allison Schulnik and Ian Larson, Wheat’s paint seems to want to leave the canvas and come to undead life in real space and violently reveal to us the painterly viscera that pulses oozing and wet inside all of us. She speaks during our visit of the grander narrative vision she has for the bodies and heads in her gruesomely decadent pictures. The confrontational point-blank close-up zombie portraits, crude, masturbating figures, messily copulating couples and inexplicably disembodied figurative leftovers demand a story, a world of their own, already existing inches high off of the canvas in streaked, cakey masses.
The narrative urge may have been rubbed off on Summer by her pal Monica Cook, who works in the studio next door. Here a world of pale pink, baroque horror is being assembled. Fantastical, emoting animals exist in various states of physical articulation, their strange, wondrous, Muppets via Cronenberg activities actualized through stop-motion animations. Strains of revulsion with a more directly carnal charge, Cook’s paintings, films, objects and images are particularly zeroed-in on a an unsettling orgy of lovingly rendered flesh, hair, wetness and presence. There is a hint of sticky sweetness in her reverie, an undeniable flavor of uninhibited sensualized madness that makes it difficult to turn away.
The paradox of picture making results in desiring images that seem authentic, yet self-conscious; informed but not ignorantly derivative. In the Jersey City studio of Trudy Benson, paintings that cull from the formal lexicon of image-making state fresh declarations that ride the line of the paradox with laser-beam visual deftness. Fat bacon-strip brushstrokes rest upon compositions of grids, lines, and geometry, while simple illusions float nearby, under and over scribbled body sized strings, marks, and turns. The constituent components of painting seem to be just floating away from each other, an immediate post-Big Bang moment caught by the shutter of the mind’s eye. She reveals to me that her MFA thesis at Pratt was on Lichtenstein’s Brushstroke paintings. She seems to be articulating Lichtenstein’s cleverly winking implications into a product that employs those kinds of conceptual strategies as if they were laying along side the tubes of paint and brushes in her studio and drawn upon just as instinctively. Authentically self-conscious, and ingeniously derivative of visual languages such as early home computer paint and drawing programs, these kinds of situated references wink in acknowledgment towards what painters’ responses to the current JPEG generation may be.