Here are Eros and Thanatos to beat the band—large, black-enameled canvases that have been painted while tautly stretched, then wrenched off and loosely stapled back on, creating shadowy valleys and gleaming ridges. These works combine the stiffness of erection with the frenzy of the “little death,” followed by the flaccid realization that you didn’t flame out at the height of ecstasy after all but are left to grub around for your next wild ride. In this scrumptious show of slashed, bent, and twisted canvases, you can feel Steven Parrino manhandling postwar art movements—Pollock’s gestural dance, Stella’s monochromes, Warhol’s fabulous fatalism—with a lover’s passion. Spin-Out Vortex (2000) is a six-foot-square canvas that has been yanked off its bars and then reattached with a four-foot-wide hole in the center; the black surface sags and gathers like an oil spill draining into the white void. If Parrino’s paintings are anonymous sex—dark, unknown thrills with the possibility of a nasty end—his drawings suggest tortured relationships: The outlines of four high-steppin’ gals converge into a Busby Berkeley–like swastika; thick drips of enamel on crinkled vellum sheets are juxtaposed with photos of vintage vixens in tightly cinched bondage gear. Let’s give the artist—who died at age 46 in a motorcycle crash on New Year’s morning, 2005—the last word: “Art of this kind is more cult than culture.”
The work in this typically well-selected group show, while materially abject—interoffice envelopes, crossword puzzles clipped from newspapers—delivers smart abstractions and conceptual jousts. Jeff Feld hews small but densely textured vistas from interoffice mail, as if journeying to landscapes far off a Manhattan messenger’s usual route. Jered Sprecher paints gouache on yellowed newsprint; in one piece, a white globe obscures a crossword grid, the circle cropped flat on one side while bulging out of others, eclipsing the puzzle. Steven Lowery brings a logorrheic frenzy to his mixed-media works, cramming colorfully lettered words and phrases onto every centimeter of the surfaces. These are further enlivened by titles such as I’ve Got the Plan C and Step Out of the Space Provided, which features thousands of tiny words piled up in chromatic bands like a millennia’s worth of silt. The Drawing Center, 35 Wooster, 212-219-2166, through October 18.
Chelsea: Subway, Street, and Shatters
I once heard a sculpture teacher ask, “What is art?” A lively collegiate debate ensued, and those open to accepting the most ephemeral of gestures outnumbered the conservative cohort who wanted objects on pedestals or in frames. Then a pungent stink wafted through the studio—a student’s dog had shat behind a row of acetylene tanks—and the instructor chortled, “According to some of you, that dog just squeezed off a work of art.” For me, art, like crime, requires intent, and you can find both at the 24th Street exit on the downtown side of the 23rd Street C and E stop. Swing through the iron-maiden turnstile and marvel at the lovely decay and occasional graffiti-tagging of the poster remnants ranged along the dirty walls. Whatever they once advertised has long since been shredded or painted over, lending them a sense of organic wonder similar to that found in the erosion of a canyon that exposes beautiful sediment. It’s doubtful these anonymous taggers know of Mimmo Rotello and the ripped posters he hung in Rome’s galleries in the mid-20th century, but they’d surely appreciate his emphatic gesture. Lately, the black shards and blue swooshes of the antediluvian ads have been hit with vibrant pink splatters; populated with a changing cast of scrawled characters, this serendipitous public mural would maybe make the cut even with those purists from back in the day. What, though, would they think of an ongoing performance at the Eleventh Avenue end of 24th? Carpenters’ union pickets have been ensconced there, protesting a luxury condo that features individual garages accessible by an automobile elevator—units range from $2.5 million to $14 million per—being built by workers who receive no health coverage, vacation, or benefits of any kind to accompany their substandard wages. (See Tom Robbins’s “Low Wages in High Places” in the September 26 Voice.) At one point, a concrete pour gone awry caused beams to list dangerously toward the Hudson.
Patrick Hill, on the other hand, uses the same materials that characterize rapacious development for his beguilingly bracing sculptures at Bortolami, one block north. His mobile of concrete blocks and steel rods slowly drifts with the air currents, endangering panels of glass hanging from the same slightly arched supports. Other panes are balanced atop concrete pedestals with only delicately stained linen straps holding them upright. The fabric stretches and strains against the leaning weight, adding the possibility of catastrophe to their elegant poise. Indeed, one corner of the gallery is littered with shattered glass—the cloth in 2007’s Erect hangs limply down the side of its pedestal, having failed to support what looks from the exhibition checklist to have been a three-foot-tall pane. In art, unlike condos, it can be exciting when materials don’t behave the way you expect them to. Bortolami, 510 West 25th Street, 212-727-2050, through October 20.