Friday, April 27, 2012

Chelsea Gallery Notes: Nir Hod, Adolph Gottlieb, Nigel Cooke, Pia Fries, Tony Matelli, and Tim Hetherington

I felt a quasi-religious feeling upon entering the Nir Hod exhibition at Paul Kasmin. The title of the exhibition, Mother, refers to the image of a woman repeated, icon-like, across the gallery. Vaguely cinematic but with only subtle variation in color to distinguish one painting from the next, I wondered about the significance of the repetition and the meaning of her gesture.

The woman could easily be shopping on Fifth Avenue. Towards the back of the gallery there is a small reproduction revealing the well-known source: Hod's paintings are based on a photograph taken in the Warsaw ghetto during the Holocaust.  If you didn’t get the reference upon entering, it comes as a kick in the head.

This work raises many questions. Slight changes in proportion and the addition of color make Hod's woman seem contemporary. Nominally, the boy is the subject of the source photo.  What are the effects of the decisions to focus on her and to remove her from the context of time? Is Hod treating the original photograph -- and the Holocaust as a subject -- with respect? The press release did make a comparison to Warhol, which in this case might be a red flag. Is the repetition an emptying out of meaning, or an intensification? I thought about all of this while in the gallery, and for some time afterwards. In the end, my feeling is that Mother serves as an elegy in particular to the unknown woman in the photograph. The temporal decontextualization brings us closer to her. And the repetition extends our empathy for her suffering to all the other unknown victims of the Holocaust.  

Nir Hod, Mother, at Paul Kasmin, 515 W. 27th St., through April 28, 2012.

When I think of Adolph Gottlieb, I think of black, white and red. Pace Gallery’s Gravity, Suspension, Motion: Paintings 1954-1972, shows Gottlieb’s strength as a colorist. This is more Gottlieb than you’ll ever see in the permanent collection of any museum and well worth checking out.

Adolph Gottlieb, Gravity, Suspension, Motion: Paintings 1954-1972 at Pace Gallery, 534 W 25th St., through April 28, 2012.

Nigel Cooke produces paintings in quotation marks. Mixing references to the grand gesture, Bosch, and clichés of pulp illustration, Cooke is a master of bathos. I don't normally go for this sort of thing, but I felt the paintings were unexpectedly compelling.

Nigel Cooke at Andrea Rosen, 525 W 24th St., through May 12, 2012.

Pia Fries also quotes from the history of painting. Her work explores gesture and the nature of paint as substance. There are some interesting passages where the paint looks extruded in ribbons onto the surface, others in which the paint is scraped, pushed and pulled, as if to catalog the various ways of manipulating the material.

Pia Fries, randmeer, at CRG, 548 W 22nd St., through April 28.

I’ve come across Tony Matelli’s dusty mirrors in a number of places recently, but the technical tour de force in his show at Leo Koenig is a sculpture of a man falling down. Supported by just the part of the shirt where it touches the floor, the piece is an amazing bit of engineering.

Tony Matelli at Leo Koenig, 541-545 W 23rd St., through May 19, 2012.

Yossi Milo is presenting the work of Tim Hetherington, a photojournalist who was killed while working in Libya last year.  One group of somber and sobering pictures show sleeping soldiers in Afghanistan – the implied connection of sleep and death is hard to ignore. Another group was taken during the civil war in Liberia.  In both, Hetherington tells the story of war and conflict from the point of view of the participants, personalizing events which are most often understood at a distance.

Tim Hetherington at Yossi Milo, 245 10th Ave., through May 19, 2012.

I've always admired Margaret Thatcher Projects commitment to process-oriented work. They have an excellent group show up right now, Surface Tension. The standout for me is Cathy Choi, who makes paintings on the verge of becoming sculptures. Her color appears intense viewing the work from a distance yet simultaneously subtle upon approach.

A couple of other shows I think are worth seeing, without comment:

Iran do Espirito Santo, Switch, at Sean Kelly, 528 W 29th St., through April 28. 2012.

Mauricio Ancalmo at James Cohan, 533 W 26th St., through May 5, 2012.

Anne Collier at Anton Kern Gallery, 532 W. 20th St., through May 12, 2012.

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