Brilliantly satirizing our sensationalistic culture, Sam Van Aken’s monolithic sound sculpture Oh My God sets the tone (and subtitle) for this provocative group show dominated by video works. One hundred and one stereo speakers, stacked to form a giant wall, spew out recordings of the eponymous phrase. Culled mostly from films, and voiced with fascinating varieties of drama, the clips begin as isolated utterances but eventually merge into a frenzied cacophony that suggests, and mocks, a social mania.
Nearby, Laura Poitras’s O’ Say Can You See offers a different collective emotion, this time entirely real. A few weeks after the September 11 attacks, Poitras videotaped passers-by viewing the destruction. The images by themselves are heart-wrenching—you never see the ruins, only the agonized faces—but the artist has deftly added irony with the audio track: cheers recorded that same autumn, during a Yankees victory in the World Series. Sport, we are reminded, has become the ultimate palliative.
In the next room, Jay Rosenblatt presents his typically disquieting melancholy with two shorts that riff on societal anxiety, assembled from snippets of old educational footage. In the longer one, he darkly interprets Jeanne Marie Beaumont’s poem Afraid So (dolefully read by Garrison Keillor) by flashing somewhat creepy scenes after each line’s fateful question, answered by the title. Lightening the mood, Boryana Rossa lampoons the stereotype of female hysteria (two women slip between delirious laughter and screaming terror), while Joe Sola, in Candid Camera style, spoofs performance art, discussing his work with visitors before diving through (and shattering) his studio’s window. Venerable Ronald Feldman has assembled another wonderful madhouse.
‘112 Greene Street: The Early Years (1970–1974)’
Today’s slick, uptight, globalized galleries can make the amiable, carefree spirit of the 1970s counter-culture seem like some ancient myth. But curator Jessamyn Fiore’s engaging look at one of the era’s premiere venues for experimentation—the building at 112 Greene Street—confirms the existence of what were, excluding wealth, exuberant days for New York artists.
Open to anyone, the place was a wild laboratory. Suzanne Harris assembled a flying machine there of suspended wire harnesses, which allowed her and a partner to dance in mid-air (captured in a blurry film). In 1974, Richard Serra staged a hilarious, live-audience version (also shown) of the classic game-theory situation The Prisoner’s Dilemma, and actually managed to arrange the participation of renowned dealer Leo Castelli (playing along with refined bemusement). And, of course, there was the restless Gordon Matta-Clark, who once excavated the basement to plant a cherry tree.
A leader in the Greene Street scene, Matta-Clark gets the focus here. Through photographs, artifacts, and a few remaining pieces, you see how his best-known work—sliced-up buildings that altered standard forms and perspectives—developed in the early efforts. Using discarded construction materials, he installed a miniature maze inside a Dumpster. He cut apart a graffiti-covered van with an acetylene torch and handed out the pieces to a gathered audience. He collected images of destruction and decay. By 1973, he was sawing those signature holes in the walls of derelict Bronx apartments.
Just about everything Matta-Clark did in his career—tragically cut short by pancreatic cancer—challenged or disrupted the status quo, and not without humor. In a 1972 protest against polluters, his homemade Fresh Air Cart (on display) offered Wall Street pedestrians puffs from a tank of oxygen. You’ll leave this nostalgic tour with a similar enlivening high. David Zwirner, 525 W 19th, 212-727-2070. Through February 12
‘callum innes | colm tóibín: water | colour’
Irish novelist Colm Tóibín wrote a short story inspired by the spare paintings of Scottish artist Callum Innes, who, in turn, produced 101 watercolors inspired by the story, which sketches a widow’s grief. The serial collaboration resulted in a marvelously designed reading room, where, on the walls, enlarged excerpts from the prose lie between Innes’s two-color rectangles of exquisite, duotone-like blends. Hung salon-style, the framed works create a rich, flowing palette, suggestive of creativity itself. Settle into one of the chairs, pick up Tóibín’s tale, and take it all in. Sean Kelly Gallery, 528 W 29th, 212-239-1181. Through January 29