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Survivor

Bortolami Dayan, New York, USA

This group show, curated by critic David Rimanelli, occupied the empty lot next to Bortolami Dayan’s sleek new Chelsea gallery. Seemingly spawned from the belly of reality TV, Rimanelli’s plein-air exhibition actually came about as a reaction to the concurrent Armory Show and was guided by his interest in the material conditions of art and, presumably, collecting. At a time when art works are coddled, conserved and protected Rimanelli asked 24 artists to create pieces that would be left open to the elements for one month.

I first saw the show three days after the opening, during which time the mid-March weather had been predictably unpredictable, ranging from unseasonable warmth to cold, sleety rain. Gusty winds were wreaking havoc on both the installation and my ability to follow the multi-page check-list. I wandered the run-down lot beneath the High Line (an abandoned elevated railway line soon to be converted into a public park space), feeling like a scavenger in a well-ordered junkyard.

Several large architectonic sculptures anchored the space. Jonathan Horowitz’ Pissroom/Shitroom (2006), two portable toilets labelled with the words ‘PISS’ and ‘SHIT’ on their plastic doors, greeted the visitors at the entryway, while a dilapidated washing machine by Eric Wesley threatened to collapse nearby. I could never quite make out Mika Rottenberg’s film in the sun’s glare, but the drop ceiling enclosure she constructed to protect it cleverly reconstituted a bland corporate interior as an uncanny exterior refuge. Jane Kaplowitz’ Psychiatric Help (2006) looked like a Peanuts-inspired carnival stand for the psyche, and Dash Snow’s Bin Laden Youth (2006) hunkered down in the front, an ineffectual parody of angry youth. Much like the show’s opening, which was officially listed as a VIP event for Armory-weekend jetsetters, the air was thick with droll sarcasm.

In the nooks and crannies of this industrial spot lay gems, including the beautiful bleeding paper residue of Cecily Brown’s waterlogged drawings. Blurred against the brick wall and concrete ground, the colours formed swirls and pools on sheets hardened like ancient layers of shale. Jack Pierson’s neon sign Some Fucked Up Notion of a Dream (2006) hung from rusty overhead rafters, illuminating the beauty of the High Line’s riveted underbelly and providing a lyrical, if ironic, caption to the show. Towards the rear of the lot two black reflective panels lay flat on the ground. Recalling Robert Smithson’s mirror pieces, the surfaces captured the sky, the girders of the railway and stray utility wires, absorbing the exterior environment and connecting it physically to the earth. The panels changed with the movement of light and sky, offering a kind of visual wanderlust.

These works were a rejoinder to a body of material that otherwise often felt cold. Flippant and crass, several of the pieces exuded smug self-absorption. Both Nate Lowman’s Anti-Ageing Superstar (2006) and Dan Colen’s Tell Me Off for $2.00 (2006) came off as hasty and thoughtless, reversing the effect of their critique. Each of these artists can be shrewd and insightful about life and art production, but as you walked around the sensation of being taken for a ride loomed.

In the last days of the show I returned to see a performance by Agathe Snow, who danced in a melancholy sort of way beneath a spinning disco ball that glittered over the filthy pavement. Snow’s vitality cast a sympathetic sheen over the rest of the show. An impressive amount had actually survived, including Jacqueline Humphries’ Smile Off (2006), an abstract painting framed with a white feather boa that played off the blues and whites of an exterior wall, alluding to graffitied streetscapes. The feathers were altered by the elements – blown by the wind, sodden by the rain, bleached in the sun – extending the emotional dynamics of her brushstrokes in surprising ways. I also discovered that the mirrored surfaces that had so attracted me during my first visit were in fact the backsides of Roe Ethridge’s Untitled photo decals (2004–6), images of cigarette butts, apples and a flowering shrub. Knocked over by the wind, the verso sides had become new unintended art works, reinterpreted by a viewer encouraged by an unusual context.

Issue 100

First published in Issue 100

Jun - Aug 2006
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