Chelsea, New York
The words “It’s magical” came floating across the air almost imperceptibly and landed on my ears, causing me to jump. I thought I had been alone, or, at least, as alone as one can be on a a solitary stroll on the High Line. While on my way to block party that Bortolami Gallery, Jack Shainman Gallery, Anton Kern Gallery, Hansel and Gretel Picture Garden , Elizabeth Dee Gallery, and ZehierSmith were throwing on West 20th, I had paused at portion of park overlooking the scene, my feet on the verge of trespassing into the greenery lining either side of the park. “I said, it’s magical,” came again, seething this time. I located their origin: an elfin woman was crouching in the grass facing the stream of meandering passerby. Almost completely camouflaged by the foliage, her impossibly tan limbs collapsed into one another and she hugged her knees to her chest while staring straight ahead.
What I thought: what a weirdo. Is she high? What I wanted to ask: Does she do this regularly? Does anyone else notice her? What I actually did: stare.
When I asked her if I could take a photo of her, her eyes darkened and she replied, “Absolutely not.”
My fight or flight instincts took over: I moved away.
I assumed she was referring to the block party; if she was communicating some inner euphoria, I will never know. From our (for I was surely now connected to this creature, no one else having seen or heard our interaction) vantage point, we could see the crowds milling through the galleries and the street. Kim Ann Foxman’s “Creature” was wafting up from a DJ’s booth set up outside Jack Shainman Gallery, and people both on the High Line near me and down on 20th street were dancing. Food trucks dotted the street. The weather was breezy and the sun was beginning its nightly descent, casting the entire affair with an appropriately “La Vie en Rose” feel that was reflected in the hordes of well-turned out attendees.
These attendees turned out to be the main attraction of the night. This is not to say the art was not noteworthy, but it was unfortunately almost impossible to consider adequately what was on the walls of the six galleries because of the hordes of people in each room. What I thought would be an evening of art turned into an evening of observing the Stylish Chelsea Art Maven in situ. At Anton Kern, the most populated gallery of the night, I saw a man in an achingly well-cut suit adorned with an eye-patch that made him look like a super villain from the latest Bond flick. Perched outside ZehierSmith was a posse of Amazonian models, portfolios in hand, being courted by a crew of men in pinstripe suits with red ties and pointy shoes: bankers (which made me wonder, who let the bankers out? It was, after all, only 7pm). Women at Bortolami tottered around in wooden heels that made me anticipate slips and trips and broken ankles. Partially visible from my position on the street were groups of people luxuriously draped by elevated gallery windows, forming an art world Valhalla. A father with an obviously waxed handle-bar mustache waited in line for the Mexicue food truck with his toddler perched on his hip. The child gave me a disdainful once-over and wiped what must have been sticky fingers (full disclosure: I imagine all toddlers’ fingers to be so) on his Mondrian-inspired outfit. Before I could take a photo of this street style blog-worthy outfit, the father turned and also gave me a disdainful once-over. I assumed a high dose of self-regard paired with a habit of waking up on the wrong side of the bed ran in the family.
When, occasionally, I was able to get past the crowds to consider the art on display, I was pleasantly impressed. Bortolami showed the work of artists Barbara Kasten and Justin Beal in Constructs, Abrasions, Melons and Cucumbers; Beal's glinting population of sculptures occupying the center of the gallery’s back room seemed to be the spectators and the people were the art.
At Anton Kern, David Dupuis’ Idumea caught my eye enough so that I squirreled behind a dangerously tipsy group of hipsters to get a closer, better look. The electrifying color of the grass stood to be in stark contrast to the ethereal white arm in the foreground. I thought the rest of the body was ominously outside of the frame, suggesting a tension in what was otherwise bucolic and luminous, yet I overheard another view saying how pleasing and relaxing it was to be able to focus on just a hand, just an arm.
Tension was also a theme in my favorite show of the night, Adi Nes’ The Village at Jack Shainman Gallery. The large format photographs that filled the gallery were images from the life of a staged village that produced a visceral reaction. Though the underlying feelings of series were tension, anxiety, isolation, and alienation, as a viewer, I did not feel alienation in relation to the photos but rather an almost primitive connection to the events depicted: the intimacy of a semi-nude youths in a sauna, their energy focused inwards on each other;
The angry and questioning face of a young man holding a bird upside down, the bird’s gaze firmly fixed ahead; the pressure of confrontation between three younger men and an older man with his face obscured.
Nes was able to capture my gaze and my emotions from the beginning of the exhibition through the first image’s inherent unease. Four people holding various objects that placed their faces in shade gazed up and to the right and something was wrong and I felt an urgent need to see the rest of the series to find out what.
In order to appreciate fully any of the art that was on view that night, I will have to return; many other pieces that I have not mentioned, such as Miriam Kahn’s Unklar at Anton Kern Gallery or the solo work of Sasha Sokolov at ZehierSmith, intrigued me as well. Was my High Line elfin sage right - was the event magical? No, not quite. Was it fun and should these galleries do it again? As I left, Change's "A Lover's Holiday" was playing and crowds were still dancing - I think the answer is yes.
All images of the artwork are courtesy of gallery websites.