The Second Time Around at “Greater New York” at PS1

Through March 7, 2016

Gregory Edwards, “Chromosome ?”, 2012, oil on canvas
Gregory Edwards, “Chromosome ?”, 2012, oil on canvas

…is better than the first time. The reason? Lowered expectations (possibly the key to happiness in all things.) So I didn’t hurry from room to room in search of something else without knowing what that something else should be.

Others did, though. Most visitors spent a mere 30-40 seconds in a room, a portion of that reading a wall label, about which, more later. An exception was the woman who took the time to read all of Glenn Ligon’s “Housing in NY: a Brief History” which confirmed my own opinion that it is well-written enough to merit publishing in book form. And two young women who took advantage of the chairs in “Lesser New York” to catch up. Why are there no benches or chairs in most museums and galleries?

Fierce Pussy, “For the Record”, 2013 /Donald Moffett, “Blue New York”, 1997
Fierce Pussy, “For the Record”, 2013 /Donald Moffett, “Blue New York”, 1997

On my first visit, Fierce Pussy made me sad which made me mad because they glibly and reproachfully suggest activities the dead might be doing if they were alive. Thanks guys, I’ve never thought of that. On my second visit, I read the wall label of Donald Moffett’s blue Cibachrome skies and I found out that they were meant to soothe me, and, on second thought, they did, a bit.

A lot of the artists and wall labelers think I’m insensitive and unobservant and they keep pointing out ordinary objects whose beauty and significance they assume I’ve overlooked or materials I didn’t realize could be combined to make art, while implying that ordinary old materials like paint are inferior, though many other artists in the show are using them. They are trying to make me think about scale in various ways, sexual signifiers and the lack of them and the excesses of capitalism. I love Lady Bunny, though, and would vote for her—she really shouldn’t be stuck in a museum.

Eric Mack, "Pain after Heat", 2014
Eric Mack, “Pain after Heat”, 2014

One of the pleasures of the show is comparing a work to its label. A moving blanket, painted and hung with paper, string, and dried orange slices “is an object that is suggestive of the displacement and movement from one substrate to another…and the process of moving through the city.” In this case and in many others, they treat the viewer like Pavlov’s dog: they ring a bell, we salivate.

Ben Thorp Brown, “Toymakers”, 2014
Ben Thorp Brown, “Toymakers”, 2014

A more vivid example that provides an insight into the curation of the show is “Toymakers” by Ben Thorp Brown, an industrial-type video that shows workers crafting deal toys—plastic objects that commemorate corporate deals. The wall label calls it “meticulous craftsmanship.” Skilled labor, yes, meticulous craftsmanship, no. Blake Gopnik at artnetNews called it “a kind of 21st-century equivalent of the czars’s Fabergé.” I find that incomprehensible.

 Robert Bordo, "Drunkard’s Path", 1990

Robert Bordo, “Drunkard’s Path”, 1990

The paintings could benefit from more craftsmanship, but that’s not it exactly; they could benefit from more emotional and physical engagement on the part of the painter. Gregory Edwards’ work, for example, is immediately engaging, but the engagement is short, almost as if the artist has built in a timer; I’m attracted, then repelled and move on.

But I stop in front of Robert Bordo’s “Drunkards Path,” a very funny painting that I didn’t get a good picture of I’m afraid. A thought balloon hovers over a barely visible houndstooth pattern; he put more into it and so did I.

Maybe many of the artists are simply being practical in a fatalistic kind of way. Why spend more time on a work when the viewer will glide past it so quickly? For the visitor it may be that swiftly going through the show and taking in all these ideas semiconsciously has a value that I haven’t thought through or fully appreciated yet.

Third time around? – CNQ

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