“DOWNTOWN: A View of the Lower East Side” group exhibition with Joshua Abelow, David Adamo, Michael Bauer, David Brooks, Erica Baum, Hilary Harnischfeger, Jessica Jackson Hutchins, Anicka Yi.
James Cohan Gallery (M1/F Building 1, No.1 Lane, 170 Yue Yang Road, Shanghai) March 8 – May 5, 2013
James Cohan Gallery is exhibiting “Lower East Side,” an exhibition of collected works from eight artists from assorted galleries of New York’s Lower East Side and now transported to the old lane-house in the former French Concession where James Cohan Gallery is situated. Art aficionados in Shanghai won’t have to board a plane to get a glimpse into the New York art scene.
For the sake of clarity, Lower East Side refers to the area south of 14th street in Manhattan. Far from the shady dealings of the Bronx, and equally detached from the money permeating Wall Street, the factories and warehouses of the Lower East Side had slowly been transformed into studios and lofts over the years. Naturally, trendy night clubs popped up in this revitalized urban playground, and young New Yorkers, with their constant pursuit of the new and fashionable, flooded onto the scene. Small, distinctive galleries bloomed in the streets and alley-ways. Haphazard and vibrant, art flourishes.
The pieces on show are like urbanites on an aimless weekend stroll who suddenly find themselves gathered somewhere. David Adamo’s works feature cedar wood pillars he has chiseled and carved. The marks he has made on the wood are clearly textured, but at the same time, the pillars are carved to be vaguely humanoid. Each cut and axe-wound gives the audience a sense of impending annihilation. Traditionally, cedar was the premier material used in high-end European furniture. The tree gives off a unique fragrance, which continues to infuse the wood long after it has been chopped. This is evidenced by the subtle perfume continuing to permeate centuries-old Rococo pieces on display in European palaces. Adamo’s work brings nature’s phenomenon indoors, while faithfully preserving the original texture and feel of wood. Placed in front of the metal-barred windows of the old lane house, these two wooden sculptures seem to gaze at each other like lovers. Whether it’s New York’s Lower East Side or Shanghai’s Luwan District, whether real or imaginary, their emotions and manifestations exist.
Erica Baum’s photographic works also display a sense of fluidity, but her pieces have the additional element of narrative. Her works feature photographs of open books collected from second-hand shops. The phrases and words that dot her images, the anonymous figures in her photographs, and the particular angles of her photos combine to tell a story of individuals trapped in a strange land, and their growing sense of dread. Baum’s works are built on the haphazard motion of opening a book. Captured and magnified, the result often looks like foreign object are growing naturally out of the figures’ bodies. A similar sense of the uncanny imbues Anicka Yi’s glassware works, where natural beauty is warped by artificial means into a moment of bizarre shock. In her work “The Possibility of an Island I,” it’s as if a contact lens floating in saline solution has suddenly taken on a life of its own.
Of course, works from only eight New York artists are not representative of the entire art scene of the Lower East Side, but they do express a sense of ease, and a dedication to delving deep. Most of the pieces on show are rather small works. David Brook’s piece exploring the evolution of species takes up one room of the gallery, but is composed mainly of simple fiberboard and painted fiberglass. Joshua Abelow’s work — a 56-panel oil on linen series of self-portraits — repeats the theme “Dumb & Easy”. The artist’s self-criticism can be interpreted as ridicule aimed at the belief in New York City as a miraculous place where dreams come true.
New York has long been established as the weathervane for trends and developments in modern art. In today’s global art world, geographical barriers are no longer an obstacle to the dissemination and exchange of art. In fact, the universality of issues raised in art from all over the world has become part of the globalized identity of art itself. Whether in New York or in Shanghai, art must continue to diversify and evolve in a riot of color if it is to flourish.