If the professor of Gilligan’s Island had ever cobbled together a music box, it might have looked like the device that Tim Hawkinson has mounted on a small table here: An old Coleman Thermos, studded with wood screws, rotates and plucks the blades of steak knives. Its clanking cannot, in any way, be described as tuneful, but the sounds produced by Hawkinson’s machines don’t matter nearly as much as their delightfully arduous Rube Goldberg methods.
Compared to the artist’s Seussian Überorgan—a bellowing instrument of giant balloons and inflated tentacles that in 2005 filled the atrium of the former IBM building—the contraptions here are gently childlike. In Ranting Mop Head (Synthesized Voice), a handmade computer, wittily perched on a lectern, reads a photosensitive scroll, feeding signals to a valved tube that’s attached to the figurehead mop. For all its effort, the thing speaks with the quietest of voices, bleating like a baby goat trying to learn English.
A kind of geeky Dr. Frankenstein, Hawkinson has assembled each work from electronic cast-offs and junked hardware, leaving the messy configurations—and their straining labor—entirely exposed. The machines, ugly misfits, seem desperate to express themselves. Controlled by a clunky cylinder, a tree-like structure drips water onto pie plates, plunking rudimentary rhythms. You feel as if you should offer encouragement. But nearby, a large device powered by a running loop of beaded string solicits mostly pity; it plays a slide whistle like a lunatic. In the age of slick iPhones, Hawkinson demonstrates the charms of mechanics—artful for being awkward.
Michael Alan: ‘Harmonious Opposites’
Combining the public spectacle of 1960s-style Happenings with the decadence of a Weimar cabaret, Michael Alan’s so-called Living Installations stage semi-scripted musical dramas with half-naked, flamboyantly costumed models who dance, writhe, and emote while observers sculpt and sketch. On July 29, for 20 bucks, you can join the fun yourself in a six-hour orgy, but meanwhile, you’ll find calmer pleasures in his pen and watercolor works.
Mostly figurative, and based on the performances, the drawings here suggest an artist enthralled by improvisation. Alan’s thread-like lines are manically impulsive; they barely go an inch without detouring. Short, jagged strokes, tiny loops, and quick arcs make jittery, skeletal outlines of distorted human forms. Hasty daubs of blues and pinks wrap the frames with translucent skin while also conveying the blur of movement. Alan loves motion; in Move in Distance, a dancer’s five legs, kicking up in successive positions, pay homage to those futurist studies in dynamism. Even the reclining male figure of Prostitution looks restless—the angular, attenuated limbs and their busy surfaces bring to mind one of Egon Schiele’s more anxious self-portraits. Alan’s theatrical, free-for-all romps have brought him some notoriety, but it’s his skill with the pen that makes him an artist. Gasser Grunert, 524 W 19th, 646-944-6197. Through July 29
‘Irrelevant: Local Emerging Asian Artists Who Don’t Make Work About Being Asian’
Though the show’s title isn’t really true—numerous works make reference to Asian culture—the curators have banned the stereotypes: Mao, manga, and decorative miniatures. In fact, the sprawling, diverse collection is wonderfully eccentric. Shin-Young An, for example, captures that odd daily mix of the humdrum and the violent in Clipping the 2nd Toenail, a deft painting of arms and legs set against newspaper stories describing Mideast strife. Jayoung Yoon’s short video explores the reductive essence of meditation, as wisps of black smoke rise from the head of a naked, monk-like figure. And as part of her Blender project, an ongoing Process Art exploration of immigrant assimilation, Hidemi Takagi has assembled a giant and colorful array of logos from boxed foods, all collected around the city.
Interestingly, it’s the work by several women—traditionally demure in Asian society—that’s most provocative. Yijun Liao plays on that role-reversal in a cheeky photograph of her bemused self pinching the nipple of her nearly naked boyfriend. Elsewhere, in the video Happy Birthday, Kyoung Eun Kang licks and eats her way out from a cocoon of cotton candy—sweet liberation, hinting at another kind of cultural revolution. Arario Gallery, 521 W 25th, 212-206-2760. Through August 6