At the same time a number of Chelsea galleries closed their doors due to contractions in the art market and larger economy, Williamsburg’s Pierogi was adding a second location. Dubbed “The Boiler,” it currently houses Brian Conley’s Miniature War in Iraq . . . and Now Afghanistan, an ambitious attempt to role-play battles from those two military conflicts. The project involves experienced gamers who oversee scale-model soldiers skirmishing on a sandy tabletop diorama, according to a precise set of rules.
The first three weeks of Conley’s exhibition featured an expanded version of the diorama originally used to restage two Iraq battles at a 2007 Las Vegas gaming convention. A video projected on the Boiler’s back wall collaged footage from this event; the camera captures the Lilliputian battlefield as the occasional hand reaches in to reposition a figure or knock over the deceased. A new diorama was constructed for a March 6 performance at the gallery, during which gamers played a military encounter in Afghanistan. Video excerpts from this re-enactment have replaced the earlier projection. Eight stunning color close-up photos of tiny warriors line the gallery walls. Their disfigured faces are the by-product of imperfect molds, but still signal the devastation wrought by the two ongoing wars.
Jessica Jackson Hutchins: ‘Kitchen Table Allegory’
In a rare solo gallery show tie-in with this year’s Whitney Biennial, Jessica Jackson Hutchins fills Derek Eller’s space with her formidable sculptural work. At the Whitney, her contribution features a couch coated with Obama-related newspaper clippings and five stony ceramic pieces nestled on the cushions. At Derek Eller, similar forms rest much less comfortably on a settee, chair, and table. In Couple, a papier-mâchéd dyadic shape squats heavily on a sagging loveseat streaked with purple spray paint. A concave ceramic vessel wedges between the two figures, indicating, perhaps, a head opened in a state of reception. It’s a motif repeated elsewhere in the show, as empty cups and vases perch atop anthropomorphic, and frequently cracked, bodies—including one titled Indefinite Break (Tiger Woods).
These aren’t exactly soothing domestic scenes, yet Hutchins brings a coherence and care to her rough configurations. Her ceramic pieces stand firm despite the stresses she inflicts on them. In Kitchen Table Allegory, a big ceramic bowl straddles a pockmarked dining room table that Hutchins used to make a series of monoprints to which she affixed pieces of fabric, a used paperback, a pair of boxer shorts, images of flowers, and a photo of a young girl. Although these works share in Hutchins’s overall messy aesthetic and preference for dark, earthy colors, they glimmer with flashes of tender radiance. Derek Eller Gallery, 615 W 27th St, 212-206-6411. Through March 27
Lyle Ashton Harris: ‘Ghana’
Best known for his stylized photographic self-portraits, Lyle Ashton Harris’s current exhibition turns the lens on the country of Ghana, where he spends part of the year. Images of boats and beaches open the show, including a large printed screen on which Harris projects a video of everyday scenes from Ghanaian life. But these are also the beaches where slave ships moored, so an air of menace and containment runs through the work. Among the most striking examples is a series of photographs Harris took of collages that recent prisoners stuck to cell walls; the carefully excised images conjure fantasies of escape: a neat row of luxury cars, a cluster of suggestive women, a picture of Jesus.
Nearby, Harris fashioned a detailed wall collage of his own, which documents discrimination and violence against gays and lesbians in Ghana. Amid newspaper clippings and photographs, strategically placed mirrors aim to collapse the distance between event and viewer. The three-channel video Untitled (Black Power) finds Harris voyeuristically observing an outdoor gym where his camera’s gaze sculpts the men’s physiques while they do the same with rudimentary weightlifting equipment. A few of the bodybuilders perform for the camera, evoking Harris’s complications of black masculinity in his more autobiographical work. CRG Gallery, 535 W 22nd St, 212-229-2766. Through April 3