Chelsea's Skeleton Crew

At Cheim & Read: Jenny Holtzer's Lustmord Table, 1994, a skeleton's worthof bones with engraved silver bands, teeth, on dropleaf wooden table
 As you Will Be: The Skeleton as Art at Cheim & Read
This month the city feels more like a necropolis than a metropolis, at least in Chelsea, where the galleries are rolling in bones. True, it’s October, so you’ll expect to see plenty of skeletal trick-or-treaters in the Village at the end of the month—and a few more for Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos, that oddly tender and un-Halloween-like embrace of loved ones who have passed—but I wonder what coincidence accounts for the sheer number of osseous offerings at the galleries. (Is there a subliminal connection to the feeling of dread some gallerists are feeling as long-term leases begin to expire? The specter of grim reapers, er, developers, is eerily present throughout Chelsea.)
What’s on display right now is staggering: four shows—two curated group exhibitions and two solos—and several others, both solo and group, in which skulls and bones have a presence. To varying degrees these shows acknowledge not only death but philosophy, literature, allegory, science and pop culture. The shows make for compelling viewing. I was touched right down to my, well bones.
Curated Shows

I Am As You Will Be at Cheim & Read
This is the big one. It’s a museum-worthy show, curated by Xavier Tricot. Reminders of death are everywhere, but the mood is not grim. The work is mordantly curious (Jenny Holzer’s table of bones); coolly elegant (Angelo Filomeno’s embroidered skeleton in silk on silk, Jan Van Oost’s cast silver hand with fingers poking into a skull); and reflective, both literally (Adam Fuss’s daguerreotype of a cranium that superimposes your own face as you view it, Katherina Fritsch’s porcelain cranium set before a mirror, Kris Martin's gleaming bronze skull), and figuratively (particularly Tony Matelli’s ossuary-like pile).

Skullduggery at Cheim & Read, including Damien Hirst's Male and Female Pharmacy Skeletons; Donald Baechler's Crowd (Skulls) #1; Tony Matelli's Sad Skulls on pedestal;Lynda Benglis's Man/Landscape on floor

Above: Angelo Filomeno, The Philosopher's Woman, 2007, embroidery on silk (more beautiful and less gruesome than it looks in this picture); and Jan Van Oost, Salome, 1990, cast silver
Below: Kris Martin, I Am Still Alive, 2006, bronze

Above: Katharine Fritsch, Pictures with Mirror and Skull, 1998
Below: Adam Fuss, Untitled, 2002, unique dagurreotype

Tony Matelli, Sad Skulls, 2003, polystyrene; with Hirst skeletons and Fuss daguerreotypes in the distance
As always, Louise Bourgeois's work pulls up a tangle of emotions. On some non-linear level it inevitably leaves me thinking about life. Here, an arched figure is composed of pantyhose stretched over an armature of, I’m guessing, chicken bones. Is it in the throes of death? No it's a Roswell-like specimen, placed for scrutiny in a vitrine. No it's a Surrealist science project. Maybe even a fashion statement. This is a work that leaves no bone unturned--in a show that does the same. See it.

Louise Bourgeois, Arched Figure No. 2, 1997; fabric, bone and steel

Death and Love in Modern Times at Dinter Fine Art

Presented in a salon-style installation, this show is the (probably) unintended companion to the Cheim & Reid show. More modest than its upscale neighbor a couple of blocks downtown, it’s more fully packed yet also more focused: specifically on the skull. A ceramic skull with a clear ash glaze by Phil Sims stands out—literally—as it’s on a pedestal. Alas, the problem for me with salon-style installations is that no matter how gorgeous, and this one is indeed so, you can’t see the trees for the forest. Well, you can see them—I spent a lot of time looking—but I can’t remember specifics without my notes. And I can't find my notes. Bad blogger.
Panoramic view of Death and Love in Modern Times at Dinter Fine Art
The Solo Shows

From Keith Tyson's Large Field Array: copper skull, above, and skull-and-bones chair, below

. At Martos Gallery, Des Hughes’s funny doggie-bone skeleton, Sculpture for Dog. Those dog biscuits are cast resin. The show, Strange Weight, curated by Rob Tufnell, is focused on figuration, most of it more fleshed out and all of it interesting.

At Martos Gallery, Des Hughes's Sculpture for Dog, cast resin

. At Garson Fine Art, Richard Campiglio’s Old Siamese Friends, a mixed-media painting on panel. This work is part of a figurative theme, even if the figures include fetish-like sculptures and a kind of cartoon figuration; it’s one of the best paintings in the show. (The two-artist exhibition, with Campiglio and Suzanne Long, is the first for this gallery, owned by the entrepreneur Matt Garson, who also has M% in Cleveland and runs, with Julie Baker Fine Art, the Flow Fair in Miami).

Above: Installation view at Garson Fine Art; below: Richard Campiglio's Old Siamese Friends, mixed media on panel

Rather than feeling creeped out, I left Chelsea in awe of the mind that can accept and express death with humor, irony, piety, fear, curiosity and a range of conflicting emotions. Walking down Tenth Avenue after seeing all those bones, I felt euphorically happy to be alive.


Anonymous said...

A lovely blog to find by accident.

R. Russ in San Francisco

Anonymous said...

A great blog, loved the imagery.

You missed these images of mine though