Visual Overload: Gallery Hopping through Chelsea

Visual Overload: Gallery Hopping through Chelsea

Christened our “walking day,” this week’s trip brought my class and I back to Chelsea, where we met with master printer Justin Israels at Pace Prints, then finished our day with gallery-hopping throughout Chelsea.

 The printing studio was a relaxed environment that didn’t take itself too seriously. While heavy duty presses (even a slightly foreboding hydraulic press) and cluttered tables filled the majority of the space, there still existed a coffee machine and a lounge area with an ink stained coffee table; a reminder that it did not have to be all work, all the time. A cut-out of Bob Dylan’s head was taped to the roller of nearby press, while jazz music dwindled in the background. Several pieces of art hung on the walls or laid on tables in various stages of completion. It was a space that deeply resembled an artist’s studio, despite being a place of industry, which I found interesting.

View of a break table and equipment in the Pace Prints printing workshop. Photos of the general workshop are discouraged for artists’ privacy.

 Justin Israels himself was a pretty laid back individual, not to mention a good conversationalist. I feel that in the other artist interviews we’ve experienced, there was always a shared sense of awkwardness when it came to starting the ball rolling for questions. Perhaps answers were too brief, or there was a good deal of hesitance in asking questions in the first place, but whatever the reason, it could get quiet sometimes. That didn’t really occur with Justin, He was very open to sharing his experiences with us, recounting how he got his printmaking degree, his failures, his achievements. He spoke at length about the processes of Pace Prints, how they invited artists, and what it was like to work with rising stars in the New York (and global) art scene. He detailed how visiting artists have to get their hands dirty learning to adapt to the medium, and the glorious “Aha” moment when both printer and artist understand each other, Justin also gave us advice on entering the field, and how to “pretty much just keep your foot in the door.” And he was quite mobile while talking, leading us around the workshop and into artists’ studios. Overall, it was an enjoyable time speaking with Justin, and he encouraged me to look into furthering my own printmaking. 

After leaving Pace Prints we embarked on a journey that would take us in and out of several Chelsea galleries, and through the exhibits of several titillating artists. I’ve never truly gallery hopped before, at least not in rapid succession the way we did. Yet it was a really fun experience! We saw snippets of each gallery, without getting the full picture, like speeding through frames in a roll of film. It was a tad hectic, but again, in a positive way. It wasn’t too positive on my feet, though. 

The first gallery we saw is one of the main contenders for being my favorite, as the first two floors focused on former members of the Bauhaus, a favorite modern art movement of mine. The first floor was devoted to Anni Albers, who is considered the most important textile artist of the twentieth century, so hails the press release for the Albers’ show at the David Zwirner Gallery. ( Having only really viewed Albers work that was created during the time of the Bauhaus, I was very pleased to view her extensive body of work as an individual. 

One piece I was particularly taken with comprised of two works, titled “Orchestra III” (1980) and “Orchestra III.” (1980) Displayed next to each other with about a foot of space between, these gouache works were in lovely conversation with one another. It still amazes me how Albers was able to achieve such clean-cut lines, almost robotic precision with gouache. The black base in each emphasizes the sharpness of her shapes further, and I love the pop of color in the second “Orchestra,” looking almost as though it had been activated by the first. The arrangement of the shapes is hectic and animated, which is entertaining to watch. An even more delightful detail is the different colored frames for each work, the lighter frame corresponding with the more colorful of the two. 

What I’ve seen of Anni Albers work has been more focused on her beautiful and complex textiles, so it was fascinating  to see her works on paper, which I find to be just as beautiful and complex. It was also exciting to see one of her larger scale works, “Camino Real,” (1968) in person. To jump from Albers’ drawings and woven works that tend to not surpass about two feet in length, to a larger than life felt tapestry that towers over me was a bit of a shock. But “Camino Real” is breathtaking up close, as one can truly appreciate the painstaking detail put into the design when right in front of it.

The Paul Klee exhibit on the second floor was just as good, but sadly I didn’t get much time to really look through his drawings, as we had to leave for the next gallery. The class and I visited the other galleries in this same sort of manner, dipping in for about ten minutes, then leaving quickly to reach the next exhibit down the street. We encountered Richard Serra once more, like we had at Dia:Beacon, with the exception of seeing only one of his ironworks this time. Amy Sherald’s exhibit at the Hauser and Wirth’s Gallery and Gary Hume’s exhibit at the Matthew Marks Gallery were both poignant and heavy with political critique, and both did so in gorgeous (visually and metaphorically) ways. Wael Shawky’s “The Gulf Project Camp” exhibit at Lisson Gallery was absolutely amazing, and perhaps the one I regret most of all, as I barely got to see his collection of works. From the few that I witnessed though, particularly “Carved Wood,” (2019) “Mirror,” (2019) and “Carved Wood (After ‘Hajj, (Panoramic Overview of Mecca’ by Andreas Magnus Hunglinger, 1803),” (2019) I was completely enamored with Shawky’s technique. I have somewhat of a soft spot for historical painting, and the way that Shawky reinvisions the history of his country and does so through eye-catching materials is unforgettable. 

Paul Chan’s The Bather’s Dilemma exhibit at Greene Naftali Gallery was a much anticipated stop of the day, particularly to see his inflatable sculpture installations. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to spend too much time at the Greene Naftali, seeing as it was the last stop on our trip. But I was able to witness Chan’s fluid, constantly animated sculptures flail and dance all around me, so it is some consolation. The last exhibit I want to mention happened a bit earlier on in the day, but affected me quite strongly, so it gets to be the finale for this journal. Sarah Sze’s solo exhibition at the Tanya Bonakdar Gallery was an immersive experience that was as overwhelming as it was intricate. Sze, as the exhibit’s press release narrates, has dabbled with several mediums throughout her career, and has increasingly turned to the medium that best suits this generation, which is images. And the particular work we saw, “Crescent (Timekeeper)” (2019) was stuffed full of images. 

It was very surreal, and played out like something from a dream. To the left of the room sat this work of scaffolding, lights, trinkets, photos, and other components. Almost like a breadcrumb trail, a path of pictures, small objects, and rocks led the viewer up close to the contraption, which grew more intricate the longer one looked at it. To me, it was almost like a living collage. Projectors installed in an area that I couldn’t see played images and videos on loops, which drifted across the bare walls and pieces of paper worked into the scaffolding. It was complete visual information overload, in a dark room that forced you to return your gaze to the only strong source of light. As Sze intended, which is stated in the press release, the snippets of imagery led the viewer to piece together their own narrative of what they were seeing.  An intriguing aspect which I’d like to hope was part of the exhibit’s design, is the Kara Walker-esque inclusion of the viewer’s shadow within the work. I felt like an infant, with thousands upon thousands of images barraging me and no context to any of them. Despite being overwhelming, I thought “Crescent (Timekeeper)” was marvelous, and I definitely would visit Sze’s gallery to see it again. Our trip for this week, like Sze’s installation, zipped past in flashes, but made an impression nonetheless.

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