In humor studies, the Incongruity Theory, first summarized by Immanuel Kant in 1790, describes the genesis of laughter as coming from the upending of expectations: reasonable assumptions capsized by unreasonable happenstance. Incongruity and humor abound in Christian Marclay’s decades-long exploration of the relationship between sound and image, the space of which he has proven is a limitless source of surprise and joy. That’s the feeling one is first struck with while touring through Festival, the Marclay retrospective currently on view at the Whitney Museum. Case in point: Berlin Mix assembled over one hundred and eighty musicians in thirty groups – bands, choirs, string quartets, hip hop DJs, opera singers, didgeridoo clubs, and more – into a former tram shed and had them perform simultaneously while being filmed with multiple cameras. The effect, as one can imagine, is of an orchestrated cacophony, with documentation on all levels: not just of the music (or noise) and the performers, but also of the jostling of bodies, instruments, space, and creative egos. It’s an absolute riot. Many more videos are on view, including one of my favourites, Smash Hits, an early performance Marclay gave at The Kitchen in which he smashes his way through a stack of LPs while wearing safety goggles.
Christian Marclay, Chalkboard, 2010 (courtesy the Whitney Museum of American Art)
Much of the exhibition parallels Marclay’s own turntablism (which he has performed since the 1970s) with a graceful mash-up of room-length wall texts, platforms holding collections of musical-note paraphernalia, cases filled with the artist’s LPs and CDs, a listening room (with giant sectional sofas), video-viewing rooms, a sound stage, and a full roster of public programming and daily musical performances. The what-now-seems-to-be-mandatory component of viewer participation, Chalkboard, invites viewers to draw on musical staves, a so-called “vast collage of ephemeral notations” that are later interpreted in the galleries by musicians.
Charles Burchfield, Glory of Spring (Radian Spring), 1950 (courtesy the Whitney Museum of American Art)
On a vastly different note, Heat Waves in a Swamp: the Paintings of Charles Burchfield, curated by artist Robert Gober, is on view on the museum’s second floor. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, this exhibition could very well be one of the best in the city this summer. With over one hundred watercolors, drawings, oils, sketches, notebooks, and doodles, the show follows Burchfield (1893–1967) as he visits and revisits the landscape around him (he lived not far from Niagara Falls). Images of dark, twisted trees in swamps; fields spreading to distant horizons; industrial machinery on river banks; abstracted moonlight over fields of dandelion wishes; and more reveal Burchfield’s fascination with the changing land. Gober’s decision to include as many sketches and doodles as he has (one series of which, Conventions for Abstract Thoughts, assigns states of mind such as “evil” and “imbecility” to pencil-drawn shapes) helps to contextualize the artist beyond the finality of his paintings.
Jakub Julian Ziolkowski, The Mystery of Neocortex, 2009-2010 (courtesy Hauser and Wirth)
Still on the Upper East Side at Hauser and Wirth, Jakub Julian Ziolkowski’s first New York show Timothy Galoty & The Dead Brains lays bare the artist’s id in a celebration of purple ponies, veiny eyeballs, fake rock band posters, saw-yielding priests, and a couple of Bosch-like scenes of twenty-first century hedonism. Though Ziolkowski’s surrealism is clearly unleashed, it is not undisciplined – one doesn’t get the sense that skeletons sodomize simply for sensationalism’s sake. Rather, Ziolkowski’s lexicon is thorough and considered, equally as personal as it is welcoming to viewers unfamiliar with his unique symbolism.
Roy Lichtenstein, Still Life with Cow’s Skull, 1972 (courtesy Gagosian Gallery)
The Roy Lichtenstein exhibition Still Lifes at Gagosian Gallery was in keeping with the gallery’s penchant for museum-caliber shows. Since being struck anew by the joys of Lichtenstein on my last visit to the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., seeing this many of the artist’s stunning still lifes at once – paintings, sculptures, and sketches – was rousing. Of course, we all know that Lichtenstein reproduced is magnificent, but Lichtenstein up-close is unequaled. The seemingly razor-straight lines reveal porous surfaces. Pencil marks can sometimes be seen through the thin applications of paint. And the variation in scale of many of the works adds to their singular and overarching impact.
Crystalline Architecture, installation view (courtesy Andrea Rosen Gallery)
Finally, one further show solidified the final days of Chelsea’s summer season (before most of the art world decamps to the Hamptons). While the tripartite display of Carol Bove, Sterling Ruby, and Dana Schutz at Andrea Rosen Gallery feels like summer space filler, the group show in Rosen’s Gallery 2, this time curated by gallery artist Josiah McElheny, is very strong. Called Crystalline Architecture, the show questions the relationship between aesthetic form (in this case abstraction) and political ideals, positing the crystalline as an alternative to the logic, reason, and efficiency of the grid. McElheny’s full-spectrum response includes obscure work (beautiful watercolors by little-known Czech painter Wenzel Hablik and an early photograph of Walter Gropius’s 1922 sculpture Marzgefallene-Denkmal in the Weimar Cemetery, among other pieces) and four contemporary artists who look beyond the square: Eileen Quinlan, Heather Rowe, Katja Strunz, and McElheny himself. McElheny’s care in creating relationships between pieces is obvious. Especially noteworthy is the tactful placement of a period fashion magazine containing Robert Smithson’s famous essay The Crystal Land, which both acts as an anchor around which the other works rotate and calls attention to the conflation of time, reproduction, and accessibility. A stand-out is Strunz’s black-painted wall piece, which owes much to Smithson in concept and yet, in what looks like a delicate homage to a miniature, fragmented stealth bomber, is in a category all its own.
Julia Dault received her MFA in Fine Arts from Parsons The New School for Design in 2008. She was art critic for The National Post from 2003 to 2006. Her sculpture and painting has been exhibited in the United States and Canada, most recently in Total Picture Control, her solo show at Blackston Gallery, New York, and in Substance Abuse at Leo Koenig Projekte, New York. Her criticism and articles have appeared in The Walrus, BorderCrossings, and on Artforum.com, among others places. She teaches in the Art and Design History and Theory Department at Parsons. Juila Dault is Akimblog's New York correspondent.
Whitney Museum: http://whitney.org/
Christian Marclay: Festival continues until September 26.
Charles Burchfield: Heat Waves in a Swamp continues until October 17.
Hauser & Wirth: http://www.hauserwirth.com/
See website for current exhibitions.
Gagosian Gallery: http://www.gagosian.com/
See website for current exhibitions.
Andrea Rosen Gallery: http://www.andrearosengallery.com/
Crystalline Architecture continues until August 20.
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