Yuichi Higashionna at Marianne Boesky Gallery; Autochromes by Stieglitz and Steichen at the Met
The Japanese multimedia artist Yuichi Higashionna has written that his work is influenced by fanshii culture, which he defines as "kitschy, girlish, and tacky." Although his DIY aesthetic can certainly be seen as tacky, don't expect a Takashi Murakami vibe of perverse cuteness here. Higashionna, born in Tokyo in 1951, creates sculptures from those round fluorescent rings familiar from many a Lower East Side kitchen. Dozens of these fixtures, lashed together with cable ties, hang from the ceiling in Chandelier 14 (2010). Exposed wiring cascades to the floor and plugs into a spread-out jumble of transformers like a root system providing energy for the flamboyant display high above. Elsewhere, 22 of the rings climb the wall, a radiant chain raggedly stitched together by black and white power cords.
Like Dan Flavin, Higashionna considers the whole gallery space an entity to be filled with a unified perception rather than simply a venue for displaying discrete objects. He illuminates his black-and-white-striped paintings with fluorescent tubes laid on the floor, a strong light source that emphasizes the canvases' lack of Op Art perfection. The edges of the stripes fade to misty gray as they fold around the stretcher bars, a motif of bedraggled precision echoed by rolls of off-white wallpaper unfurling crookedly across the broadest wall. Stapled to this background, a diamond grid of black elastic bands, loose ends dangling like paint drips, conjures the notion of a gateway or portal. Nearby, another entrance—or exit—is implied by a large oval cut from the wall and covered by a black mesh curtain, which shimmers from the glow of a bank of orange fluorescents.
Higashionna's installation of these off-the-shelf materials unveils something numinous lurking within the luminous.
Autochromes by Stieglitz and Steichen
Included in the big "Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand" exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum are facsimiles of five original color Autochrome photographs by the two elders of the trio, Alfred Stieglitz (1864–1946) and Edward Steichen (1879–1973). A complicated, multi-step process invented by the Lumière brothers in 1907, an Autochrome consists of a glass plate coated with minute grains of potato starch individually dyed either red, green, or blue. Light reflected from the photographer's subject would pass through the RGB starch, which acted as filters to create a wide gamut of realistic hues on a color-sensitive emulsion, all the layers finally sealed with varnish or glass. Autochromes are exceedingly fragile and fade quickly when exposed to light, but extensive testing has determined that the images are partially protected from fading when displayed in an oxygen-free environment, allowing the Met to exhibit the originals for six days, concluding this Sunday, January 30.
Would the average viewer be able to perceive the difference between the actual potato grains and the pixels of the facsimiles? Probably not, but knowing that you're viewing the real thing may change your contemplation of these objects. Whether it was Steichen or Stieglitz who, in 1907, exposed an Autochrome of Stieglitz's younger sister, Selma, sheathed in a golden dress, has been lost to history; nearly identical plates of this high-resolution image were found in both estates. Regardless, the bouquet of flowers at her breast gives some credence to Steichen's hyperbolic praise of the new format: "One must go to stained glass for such color resonance, as the palette and canvas are a dull and lifeless medium in comparison." That swipe at painting returns us to an age when photography was struggling to be taken seriously as fine art, a campaign that was eventually won through images such as these, which are indelible in spirit, if not in reality. Metropolitan Museum, 1000 Fifth Ave, 212-535-7710, metmuseum.org, January 25-30. Main exhibit through April 10
The Spanish-born Vicente (1903–2001) displayed Pop flair in a 1956 collage that included a Campbell's Soup label, beating Warhol to that particular punch by six years. Works from 1953 display a de Kooning–esque sprightliness, but a stark black-and-white conglomeration of bold letters gathering like sediment at the bottom of a page and the colorful torn edges in a collage redolent of Hawaii's air and fauna reveal the broad range of this seminal Abstract Expressionist. Grey Art Gallery, 100 Washington Square East, 212-998-6780, nyu.edu/greyart. Through March 26
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