We Went to Bushwick with Gawker’s Adrian Chen, Part 1 of 2

by The AFC Staff on March 4, 2013 · 12 comments Reviews

Siobhan McBride at NURTUREart

Editors’ note: Bushwick may be the last stop on our “We Went To” series, but we brought primo bloggerazzi Adrian Chen of Gawker. Be afraid, Bushwick.

NURTUREart, 56 Bogart St.
(Through 3/9) Siobhan McBride: Never While You’re Sleeping

What’s on view: Small paintings of suburban interiors and landscapes

Whitney Kimball: No surprises here, but they’re sensitively handled. Most of these use overlapping space, though sometimes you’re not sure if they’re just because they forgot to add pieces, like missing furniture legs. Others are more intentional, like this tree top bubble over highway-side field, with dog heads. It’s my favorite by far, just because the gridded dog heads and one human head are awkward. That’s possibly due to the fact that they’re surrounded by more normal-looking paintings. I’m really ambivalent about this.

Paddy Johnson: Me too. Looking through NURTUREart’s online documentation, there are a number of works that fair better in reproduction than they do in the flesh. A good example of this is the tiled image of a dilapidated house exterior, which improves when the camera removes any trace of the brushwork. It’s not that the brushwork is poor, so much as it is unremarkable and therefore expendable.

The dog grid was my favorite too, and I think I’d still like it outside the context of a relatively banal show. It’s strange, and that oval cut out at the top is most abstract painterly gesture we see in any of the paintings. It’s a step in the right direction in my opinion.

Rhett Jones: The best pieces in this show were when she let herself get weird. There are several pieces that are just paintings of the artists studio, or some artists studio at least. They show a lot less imagination than the missing furniture legs that Whitney pointed out.

The pieces that are set outdoors all seem to take more liberties with reality. There’s a sort of abstract lunar house, another small house with a tv displaying a test pattern in the front yard and yet another house that’s composed like a home movie that got stuck between frames. This makes me want to see dates for the paintings.

My first reaction was that McBride wasn’t ready for a show. Perhaps she had some works that were demonstrating a more accomplished style and filled out the show with studio exercises. At the same time, maybe there’s a progression from the studio, to outside the home, to the great outdoors, each stage being more detached from formal representation. If that’s the case it was unclear and if they had been arranged in a linear way from reality to fantasy I don’t know that the show would have improved.

Siobhan McBride at NURTUREart

Adrian Chen: This show had a strong estate-sale vibe. (I don’t see much art and have no experience in art criticism so I may be using clunky metaphors almost exclusively in my reviews here.) The interiors, which were my favorite, seemed recently-vacated by an old person who had just died–died so recently that they nobody even had time to come by to turn off the lights. At the same time, the dullness of the colors and the straightforward proficiency of the paintings made them seem like something you might stumble on in an antique trunk at a yard sale.

That sounds pretty harsh, but I think the artist was going for a cast-off feel: Some of the paintings were really small, almost preciously tiny and square like old photographs. The show didn’t move me much, but then estate sales have always given me the creeps. I did really like the painting of a desk which was illuminated weirdly by an empty fish tank like that scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It was surreal without the obviousness of a floating grid of dog faces, which were cute, but also, come on.

Tad Beck and Diana Cherbuliez at Theodore Art

THEODORE:Art, 56 Bogart St.
(Through 2/24) Tad Beck / Dana Cherbuliez

What’s on view: Lenticular photos and video of men and boats by Tad Beck and cut mirror sculptures by Diana Cherbuliez. The two have been friends for twenty years and both have studios on the small island of Vinalhaven, Maine.

Rhett: This show was my favorite of the day. Tad Beck’s lenticulars in particular were great. The pieces brought to mind the history of mysticism in queer art. Jack Smith, William S. Burroughs, Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt, A.A. Bronson, Jhonn Balance and many other major artists have established a mystical tradition for queer art. The nautical theme even evoked the sailors in “Fireworks” by the most mystical queer artist of all, Kenneth Anger. He places these glowing, naked men on the stern of the ship like Mermaids or Helen of Troy. As the lenticular changes with your movement, a vague mandala shape appears around them. I knew it wasn’t just the mandala that gave the work a magical quality and looking at the press materials he states that the pieces were shot in the style of spirit photography from the late 19th century. It’s art that I haven’t seen before that understands the history it’s working with.

Diana Cherbuliez’s work is less exciting but in this case it benefits from the collaboration with Beck. Again the nautical theme comes in and the mirrors in her sculptures gave the room a refracted quality that made the two artists work breathe together. There’s something very boring about the naval aesthetic in general to me. When I see these seafaring and ship related objects in a normal context it makes me think of a boring dad who has a yacht and a basement with a bar, where everything is ship themed, and he serves nothing but gin. The fact that this show could get me into a broader mindset despite an extremely specific and personal aesthetic prejudice is an accomplishment.

Whitney: I’m not as crazy about the transformation of ship-theme from uninteresting to kinda interesting, but I think you’re spot on with the analysis of their work. Definitely some Jack Smith-style fantasy and an antique quality about Tad Beck’s lenticular photos; that’s not as true of his more claustrophobic video of two men rowing in place (extremely similar to Michael Waugh’s The Invisible Hands that was in his recent show at Winkleman). There wasn’t enough work here to get to the bottom of that, though, and Beck could benefit from more space.

Given that they’re on an island, it was interesting to me that almost all of this work seems to be about isolated beauty– literally, self-contained, shiny, microcosmic shapes, or Cherbuliez’s ropes hanging from glass. I didn’t take much else from the show, but maybe that was the point?

Corinna: I wasn’t so drawn to the lenticular images; they seemed too gimmicky to me. The mirrored sculptures seemed gimmicky, too, because as you drew into the work, you realized there were small objects like teeth and human figurines attached to it. The teeth attached to a string weren’t so bad because they were more than decorative; lined up on each side of the “valley”, looked like they were waiting to cross to the other side. To meet up with their teeth buddies on the other side? Who knows? That poetic effect was silly, and a bit too vague for my taste.

Adrian: To be honest, I like gimmicks in art. Give me some gimmicks or I might get confused and bored and start checking twitter. I think this is because I mainly experience art via looking for interesting stories to write about for my job, which means I look for novelty, easy comprehension and/or controversy. All of the net art I’ve liked most and written about (Brad Troemel and Jogging’s stuff, the privacy-challenging projects of OKFocus and Kyle McDonald, Adam Parrish’s Everyword twitter bot) could be considered more or less “gimmicky.”

That is to say, I liked this show a lot. The nautical theme was a strong conceptual hook I could hang my enjoyment of the tricks being played here. I was not surprised to learn these guys are based in Maine, because their work reminded of a book I loved in college, Joy Williams’ The Changeling, which is a modern-day fairytale about a woman who is swept up by a rich guy to his family’s magical/haunted island off the Maine coast. There’s a similar WASP-y New England mysticism about this work: Those two fit naked guys trapped in an eternal crew team practice could be the end-product of a lacrosse-playing magician’s revenge.

Oasa DuVerney: The MYLFworks Project at Momenta

Momenta Art, 56 Bogart St.
(Through 3/31) Oasa DuVerney: The MYLFworks Project

What’s on view: Brown girls serve white people in a cramped apartment, dancing to heavy metal

Corinna: Walking into Momenta, there’s four flat-screen monitors showing DuVerney’s hipster maid who’s constantly in the middle of chores. She’s always cooking and cleaning, but dancing while she’s doing it. Well, dancing isn’t the best way to describe it—she’s a headbanging, heavy metal maid. Whistle while you work, for sure, and metal seems to be the best rhythm for doing it.

Still, I’m not sold on these videos. They’re based around the soundtrack, and all the characters are moving in sync to the song and growling along to the lyrics. In that sense, DuVerney’s video reminds me of a fan vid on YouTube. For a fan vid, it’s pretty good, but not great. The choreography’s there, but nothing’s so memorable where I’ll want to come back and rewatch it. Actually, in that sense, maybe it is just like a fan vid.

Adrian: I see what you mean about the YouTube thing. I imagine video artists are having a tough time now that we’re all drowning in so much weird, low-budget video. Video art so often seems like something from YouTube, only slightly more incomprehensible than the typical YouTube video. I guess that incomprehensibility differential is where the art happens. In this case the bewildering narrative of Duverney’s video (what was going on with the menstrual blood?) contrasted with the obvious themes of race and class, and the funny dancing and lip syncing in a not-very-meaningful way. It was enjoyable in the way a funny YouTube video is enjoyable. I don’t need it to be anything else than that.

Whitney: I thought about working class frustration, race, and slavery more than anything here. The serving girls are brown with mammy handkerchiefs, and the people they serve are white. The impotent white people lie in bed on laptops, and the brown girl feeds them soup, changes a period pad, or gets them dressed. Everybody’s pissed off. The servers chop vegetables to heavy metal and twerk on the kitchen floor; they’re making working look badass and empowering, but they’re still working. Thinking about it that way, I liked this piece a lot. It made me think about whites as pimply work-from-homers and blacks as now musically stereotyped as hot performers (hence, I think, the title MYLF). It sucks to be both.

Paddy: For reference, the heavy metal song they’re all dancing to is called Apocalypse Now by Cro-Mags, and it’s a bunch of white guys lamenting a nation divided by race. I can only assume that choice is meant to push against these stereotypes.

The piece had some good moments I thought, but like Adrian, I’m really confused by all the scenes in which there are women cleaning menstrual blood. I’m not sure I would locate the art in this work as the incomprehensible narrative. Confusion doesn’t deserve the accolade art affords it.

Whitney: Eh. I just thought the blood was a convenient way to include diaper-changing, it didn’t bother me so much.

  • GFW

    Isn’t the Waugh piece six years later than Beck’s video work? Other than that, interesting to read your thoughts – seems like you stretched to appreciate that show even though it wasn’t your thing.

    • WhitneyKimball

      Yeah, you’re right, I didn’t notice but Beck’s was made in 2006 and Waugh’s was 2012. It’s probably a stretch for me to compare them beyond boats, anyway, since the rest of Waugh’s show had more to do with labor.

  • BTW

    To be honest, I’m shocked by your reviews of Siobhan McBride’s show at NURTUREart, which I thought was one of the most nuanced and surprising painting shows of the last year. Your reviews seem more about an inability to see the work for what it is than any lack in the paintings. It seems that you all (Adrian gets a pass here) need to be reviewing art that is “issue based” and relies on more overt tactics to impress a viewer, rather than work that requires a quieter mind, an eye for subtlety, and a certain level of sophistication. Whitney, to think that a missing table leg may be unintentional is quite sophomoric, and what are “normal looking paintings?” Paddy, it baffles me that anyone, after seeing these in person, would think that the online reproduction is better?!? Rhett, it seems “reality” for you is something that we should take for granted and be bored by. The work’s closeness to observable “reality” (I cringe to even say this, and half the time this isn’t even true) perverts reality itself far more than if they hit us over the head with more “imaginative” or “fantastical” tactics. And the comment that she is not ready for a show makes me question whether you are ready to be reviewing this work. The fly-by, flippant approach that you all use may be well suited to certain shows, but it does a disservice to everyone in this instance, particularly your readers.

    • http://www.artfagcity.com Paddy Johnson

      Just so readers have a better sense of who our commenters are, BTW wrote the introduction to the show’s catalogue.

      • BTW

        Oh snap! I guess the content of what I had to say isn’t worth responding to then. Can your commentors assume that if posting anonymously that their identity might be revealed at your will?

        • http://www.artfagcity.com Paddy Johnson

          I thought your identity was relevant here, since you have a stake in the work. If you really want to post anonymously, then don’t include your email address.

          As for what you’ve said, I’m happy to discuss the work with you, but I need a little more to go. You think the work looks better in person, but don’t explain why. Let’s get down to some nitty gritty here.

          • BTW

            What you think is relevant is a non-issue. It is unethical to divulge privileged information like this. As you know, Disqus requires an email address to post anything “anonymously.”

            As the show is now down and we are limited to digital images, a lengthy discussion in the abstract about how reproduction kills specificity of surface hardly seems worthwhile, as it should be self-evident.

          • http://www.artfagcity.com Paddy Johnson

            Oh please. It’s unethical to post anonymously as though you’re an objective voice. And let’s not pretend that Disqus doesn’t accept dummy emails.

            Consider your unwillingness to discuss the work noted.

          • BTW

            No one posting to an opinion column assumes 100% objectivity. I am clearly an advocate for the work in my post. It is really disturbing that you would use your role as moderator out anyone in this way. But what I am equally concerned with is the thoughtlessness of the review. If there is ever a chance to discuss the work in person, I am happy to do so outside this context as this is becoming a waste of my time. In the meantime please feel free to read the essay for a discussion of surface.

          • BTW

            Oh, and we should all take note that it is our responsibility to provide dummy emails from now on since you can’t be trusted with this info. Great way to shift the blame.

  • tits galore

    What is up with revealing the identity of anonymous posters when they don’t like your review? And what is up with going out of your way to give people bad reviews of their first show? I guess that’s what you have to resort to when you can’t come up with any real content.

    • http://www.artfagcity.com Paddy Johnson

      No one went out their way to give the artist a bad review. We went to Bushwick. This was on our route. We hope the feedback will be useful to the artist. Nothing more.

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