The oft heard lament about openings in Chelsea is that the crowds obscure the art and no business ever gets done. Airbrushed girls in black, faux-hawked men in pricey jeans, artists in all manner of dress/undress, dealers in art business chic and then the rest. I enjoy a good schmooze as much as anyone who sells art, but sometimes it’s nice to be the rest and stalk your shows and determine your response to them slowly and silently. I want to share one disappointment and some pleasant surprises from last week’s Must See Thursday night openings in the ever expanding Chelsea-by-the-Highline art and fashion district.
At seventeen I first sat inside Andrea Zittel’s modular seating as a museum docent. I had the benefit of two excellent museum educators and one incredible friend that brought me into the program at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum. The shows I witnessed there in the mid 90’s was where my love of contemporary art was born. The A-Z Pit Bed, 1993 a functioning piece of furniture available for use, was a shift in my understanding of design as art. It wasn’t until later I realized that it should have been design IS art, but I was only off by one letter.
I have followed Zittel’s career as it has expanded along the art/design fault line over the years. Her current show at Andrea Rosen is a different affair than this early experience but asks many of the same questions. A combination of drawing, textile and documentary images it exudes the calm of a small museum exhibition in a go-go Chelsea space. The rugs and wall hangings could be Bauhaus relics. They are quiet. The more you know about the artist, the more these feel like art. On their own, they are smart. If you read and watch video from Andrea’s ample website, you begin to understand her affinity for the objects and their place in our lives or rather in her life.
I think of galleries as having “programs” (as they often claim to) but what are we really talking about. Loyalty to a group of artists that define the gallery OR is it a group of artists whose credentials and style define what the gallery wants its own image to be. It may be symbiotic in its best form and parasitic in its worst, but the dealer artist relationship makes and destroys careers all the time. Zittel has been with Andrea Rosen almost 2 decades, and I can imagine it hasn’t always been easy to show and sell modular living units, mini deserted island, sculpture that is furniture that is design that is fine art. Still the shows come every few years.
Chris Johanson at Mitchell-Innes & Nash was a truly pleasant surprise. I had know the Pettibone/McGee/Shrigley style images – honest, sweet and silly. I had seen some of the pretty colorful pieces here and there as well. This show is light and bright and full of art I like. Mary Heilmann and Elizabeth Murray deserve some credit here, but Johanson make it look pretty and makes it look easy. Where Zittel challenges and contextualizes, Johanson offers color and form right on the surface.
Thomas Hirschhorn’s Concordia, Concordia is something big. Those aren’t my words. In the press release he says “I want to do something Big.” I don’t think much of this work. Hirschhorn followed an instinct, and it led him to a gigantic diorama of a lopsided cruise ship that offers no insight and no real value. Sadly, I missed the Tom Sachs Space Program: Mars but I imagine this could have used some of the humor and fanciful insight of that. I had seen the Anish Kapoor show in the same space a few months back, another monumental single piece, and enjoyed it. In the grand scheme of grand art, this is just glitz.