Chelsea, New York
The scene: last week’s heat wave.
Malodorous stagnant water; heat rising up from the sidewalk’s concrete and the pavement’s tar; sweat sticking to the back of my neck and clothes sticking to my body; dry throat that even a never-ending amount of ice cold water from various bodegas could quench. The situation made me think back to Artsicle’s last show a few weeks ago, Anywhere But Here , when the balmy vestiges of late spring were still around, and miserably agree: at that moment, I wished that I were anywhere but in New York City. Yet somehow, the brutal heat wave provided a perfectly au courant frame of mind in which to venture to far west Chelsea and see Natural/Constructed Spaces I at The Painting Center. Curated by Galen Cheney and Marianne Van Lent, both members of The Painting Center, the group show was a contemporary take on the interaction between the natural world and the man-made constructed world, featuring the work of Hester Simpson, Jessica Mongeon, Kate Baird, Cameron Harvey, Mark W. Forman, Gina Occhiogrosso, Daniel Gerwin, Armin Mühsam, Eleanor Ray, Kyungah Choi, Peter Colquhoun, Charlotte Nicholson, Rick Fox, Lori Hinrichsen, Gwendolyn Kerber, Bruce Pollock, John McNamara, Keighty Alexander, Elizabeth Mead, Helen Shulman, Robert Straight, John Hampshire, Margaret Lawrence, Alice Whealin, Zach Horn, Pippa Drew, Joan Reutershan, Beth Livensperger, Jaclyn Mednicov, Joe Walentiny, Alice Harrison, Steve Derrickson, and Sarah Williams. Attempting to bridge the divide between the Elysian Fields and the shining metropolis at best, and devastated nature and urban underworlds at worst, the show provided both a sensory relief from and visual reminder of the heat outside through bucolic compositions and fiery images of crumbling constructions. Jaclyn Mednicov’s Bloom , which eerily reminded both Van Lent and me of photos of 9/11, managed to juxtapose these two elements most readily by showing a blossoming of flowers surrounding what appeared to be twisted metal rebar; John McNamara's Encroachment did so as well through the surreal depiction of New York City as a reflection on skyscraper windows that melt into reality while being cleaned by two workmen.
Van Lent said that she received over 2000 individual submissions from about 400 artists, and that the pieces often transcended literal interpretations of the show’s concept. “Sometimes the work shows an escape, a dream of a place that is free from the touch of manmade disaster.” Gwendolyn Kerber agreed: “I didn’t create my piece with the theme in mind, but as a constructed landscape, it was completely within the show’s framework.” Composed of abstract brushstrokes over an imagined landscape, Kerber’s So Glad to Be Here III (ironic, given my earlier complaints about the weather) sought to synthesize abstract and representative styles. Steve Derrickson's 32474 represented what he called a failed landscape: "It's from a series I did that took snap shots of purported UFO sightings and translated them into landscapes. There's a simultaneous projection of hope and fear." Jessica Mongeon, fresh from Montana, layered different sketches of local landscapes while including a faint rendition of the Google Maps icon "to indicate, 'you are here,'" she told me, "And to indicate that people are always a presence, even in the most desolate natural areas."
De rigeur for a show in Chelsea, there were a number of art world characters. I assumed that because the man with a handle bar mustache, flat cap, and jean dungarees stalking around the space appeared to be of a certain age, he was in fact not a hipster and thus the garb not ironic. Arsticle artist Peter Colquhoun, while telling me about his piece High Line III , was approached by a bespectacled silent man who stood by us for a few minutes, inexplicably carrying golf clubs. Increasingly shifty, the man fidgeted on his feet as I inched away until Peter broke off from his conversation and introduced the man as his friend and fellow artist. At this point the man became animated and joined our conversation: stranger danger, over. We talked about Peter’s piece, a view of the High Line from Gansevoort and Washington, and how he must venture to the area increasingly early in the morning to avoid being stopped by tourists. “They always want to know what I’m doing and talk to me and bother me, which is flattering . . . but I want to get my work done! I don’t want to lose my concentration!” he griped. “New York artists, if you know of other views that are less infested, please tell me!”
Natural/Constructed Spaces I is on view at The Painting Center, 547 W. 27th St., from June 19th until July 24th.
Text by Alice Losk, Photographs by Dan Teran for Artsicle