Don't Chew On It

Recommendations by R.C. Baker

Drool runs out of the idiot king's mouth, snakes down his legless trunk, and gathers in a swirling pool on the floor; a bald, splay-legged woman with Alfred E. Neuman ears suffers a bulbous breach birth; geodesic spheres and cubistic constructions form the viscera of an alien autopsy. Tom Friedman is our age's master alchemist—under his touch, base materials such as toothpicks, Styrofoam, Hefty bags, and even his own excrement blossom into beguilingly lovely objects. Now, in homage to Lever House's aluminum cladding, the artist has created a cornucopia of figures crafted from Reynolds Wrap—seemingly miles of it, twisted and flayed into Buddhas, leaves, stars, fish, berries, toys, and myriad other shapes. These silvery creatures are sometimes smooth and reflective, but more often are spun into crinkly spits or bunched into rough surfaces that exude a shivery aura; many are suspended from the ceiling, where they gently twirl in the air-conditioner currents. On a low platform, a small cardboard skyscraper (a Reynolds Wrap box with its thin layer of graphics painstakingly scraped off and scattered around its base like a garden) echoes a much larger tower of aluminum coils, gnarled as old tree roots, jutting from the lobby's flower bed. Friedman's delightful talent recalls that era of childhood when the most direct way to understand a new object was to pop it into your mouth—you'd quickly know if it was good or bad by how apoplectic your mom became. This is not to say that you'll want to lick or bite these works—just that their wonder derives from the sense that this utilitarian material has been consumed, digested, and transmuted before its final disgorgement out some nether end. Who knows, maybe Friedman's mother just had wider latitude than most.


'Night Shift II: Hidden Hands'

With "Best in Show's" long lead time, it's difficult to cover exhibitions of short duration. But in the interest of worker solidarity, we'll take a gamble on the DVD press release for a two-week gig featuring a wide range of work from 30 artists' assistants, gallery staffers, and art handlers—the blue-collar toilers of the international art mall. David Gilbert's conga line of broken egg shells has a luscious vibe: The ragged little bowl shapes snuggle into each other and climb up a corner, one end of this ivory worm jagged, the other roundly smooth. Stephanie Prussin's photo of a white lampshade against a livid red wall achieves a painterly aplomb through painstaking gradations of light, while Roberta Bennett's "Nano Movies" are constructed from the cinematic minimum: two frames. Set in lenticular boxes and mounted on a teetering laser disk, the images flash back and forth whenever a breeze (or the viewer's touch) moves them. White Box, 525 W 26th, 212-714-2347. Through August 26.


'The Evolution of the Digital Portrait'

What if you ran a Barbie doll's face through the FBI program used to age yearbook photos of kids who have mysteriously disappeared? Nancy Burson helped develop the software, and her image of Barbie's ravaged visage conjures a Parisian streetwalker past her prime. Jake Rowland's Victor/Victoria-esque photos blending portraits of himself and his wife get weirder in each variation—shirtless and flat-chested with a femme face; pearls and pink shoulder straps beneath a masculine glare; Mickey Mouse tee and a pair of plump red lips pouting beneath a three-day-old mustache. E-J Major's dozen mug shots recreate an anti-drug campaign from Marie Clairemagazine: The artist has cast herself as the unnamed woman progressively (and fatally) ravaged by heroin addiction—from toothsome promise through bruised emaciation to feral hopelessness. Clamp Art, 521-531 W 25th, 646-230-0020. Through August 17.


'Stubborn Materials'

Amid a show of elegantly resuscitated detritus (such as Ian Pedigo's conglomeration of yellowed newsprint and ratty straw mats), Larry Bamburg's abject constellation of fishing line strung with masking tape, paper scraps, and Band-Aids rates special notice. Suspended from two ceiling fans, one with shorter blades centered beneath a larger fixture, these skittering networks spin in opposite directions, forming nested, ephemeral cylinders. Dull lead weights and a red plastic bead dance with scintillating grace; a snarl of plastic line flashes in and out of skylight sunbeams like a stuttering angel. It's a celestial carousel for one of Italo Calvino's diffident galaxy trippers. Peter Blum, 526 W 29th, 212-244-6055. Through August 25.


'NeoIntegrity'

Ahhh, a summer salon show with a vengeance—nigh on 200 artists presenting sculpture, painting, photography, video, and comix, the famous and not-so hung six high up the walls. Speaking of hung, there's a dude in horn-rims sporting a major erection, his stiff posture against a stucco wall more evocative of dissolute '70s hedonism than even his Supertramp T-shirt. This 2007 photo is complemented by a life-size painting of Nancy Sinatra in those high white boots, surrounded by fab, Vegas-scale lettering. Among the numerous treats are a feverish abstract painting of salmon-colored circles; a touchingly humble sculpture of a water bottle, dowel rod, and red drips; and the startling image of a burning car done in silk-screened chocolate—plus a flamboyant pyramid of pipe cleaners and feathers, its drag vibe tempered by a poignant photo of a pink arcade crane (the type where you maneuver a claw to pluck up a stuffed animal) rusted and listing on the street, awaiting its date with the garbage truck. The juxtapositions are keen, the manifesto is heartfelt—"Commodity is not the reason to produce or appreciate art"—and the joint's air-conditioned. If you need more, go back to wherever it is you came from. Derek Eller, 615 W 27th, 212-206-6411. Through August 24.

 
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