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CAMBIO; 526 WEST 26TH STREET: SANDRA GERING GALLERY * NEW YORK, NEW YORK

cambio
Kenny Schachter, Mulch


"Cambio" was the result of a Mexico-US Fund for Culture grant, primarily funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, and comprised of a series of exchange exhibitions between Mexican and American artists and a catalogue. The project was co-presented by the Mexican Cultural Institute of New York. The first of the exhibits was held in a temporary space in the ground floor of an old warehouse in Chelsea, and made up of approximately 12 artists from each country, the work installed side by side.

What in the end became as interesting as a piece in the show was the manner in which one gained entrance. The front door was nothing more than a loading dock with sheets of clear vinyl hanging down to keep out the elements, with the word c-a-m-b-i-o painted in colorful letters. It took adroitness and a couple of blind shoves to locate the divisions in the vinyl to slip in. More than a couple of people cast a sideways glance, paused, approached, then passed. Oh well.

Showing the works commingled was not solely an effort to contrast what is happening in either country, but also to depict overlapping sensibilities between Americans and Mexicans. Video, computer art, photography, painting, sculpture ,and installation were employed equally by the disparate participants. In keeping with the incontestable momentum of my recent shows, the exhibit had a buoyancy and sense of cohesion absent from efforts till now.

Yoshio Itagaki weighed in with a series of computer generated photographs that were fashioned by intertwining 17th century Japanese wood block, prints, historical documentation of rock gardens, and digitally created winsome cartoon characters. The figure, titled by the artist with the cute-sy name "Cyber Buddha", resembled the lavishly praised 3-D (hardly) video of Moriko Mori at the Venice Biennale. The Cibachrome prints by Itagaki were colored lusciously and the computer cut-and-paste seamless.

Cisco Jimenez is a painter in a style that could be termed Minister Howard Finster meets cartoon meister Christian Schumann. The paintings and sculptural assemblages by Jimenez were done on found objects and fabrics that had a ragamuffin quality that looked like they were washed ashore on a beach; or rather, might be sold on a beach by an "outsider" artist in the Bahamas. The images were united by a recurring figure of a sexy nurse-mother, with dangling veiny breasts, and in one case, a biomorphic blob flowing from a cross festooned on her vagina. Another leitmotif was a series of little black plastic objects sewn to the fabric paintings that resembled toy baby pacifiers or perhaps butt plugs. That's one association I wouldn't necessarily inform a collector of.

Robert Chambers, Miami based janitor-in-a-drum (remember the old TV commercials?) made a mess of an installation involving day-glo fountains, psychedelic wall projections, alleged hormonal olfactory oils, and good old fashion special effects--in the way of a smoke machine. Wow. The artist, not content with the rusted cement vats to house the pickled water for the fountains, assiduously covered the floor of the room that housed this . . . piece with fluid that caused the whole thing to glow when black lit. To top off the contemplative, spiritual nature of this safe space, every song ever recorded by Hendrix was piped in at high volume. The wall projection, which emanated from a jerry-rigged theatrical light, magically broadcast a kaleidoscopic circular image on the wall akin to a constantly changing color field painting. But while wading through the gummy liquid on the floor, through the thick smoke, musty smells, bursts of water from the troughs, all the while listening to the annoying music, one got the feeling that Chambers suffered an irrevocable flash-back that left him stuck in another time like a bug in amber. Pass the joint, man.

Miguel Ventura had a large multi-media installation that had the feel of a one person show totally discrete from the rest of the exhibit. There were 14 laminated Iris prints, two video monitors, hundreds of snap-shot photographs fastidiously aligned, and drawings to boot. The mother lode of wall labels accompanied the works, explaining the breadth of the project that in a nutshell entailed the creation of a new spoken language and alphabet; though to be honest, I had a difficult time struggling though the abstruse text which was actually written in English. In any event, the images on the prints and videos were of the artist and assorted children made up garishly in vivid colors with gnarled facial gestures and peculiarly shaped, goofy pony tails that helped to configure the elements of his made-up alphabet. The heads all floated in the center portion of a stark white ground. In the videos, Ventura himself sang a haunted aria in one version and the same song he scored in a disco version on another monitor, while the oddly disturbing faces morphed from one to another. The end result was as if Matthew Barney transmogrified into Lady Bunny.

Alfredo Martinez built a totally convincing motorcycle over nine feet long out of garbage that appeared as though it would take-off standing. More potent than a simple ordinary object writ large like an Oldenberg clothes pin, the elongated scale of the sculpture had the impact of a menacing machine about to scare the groceries out of the hands of a little old lady crossing the street. Also, to know the artist is to have the inkling that this piece of faux machinery could stand in for a self-portrait of the artist who stands so big and tall his shoes resemble cinder blocks.

Since I just so happened to have included work of my own in the show, I feel impelled to jot down some thoughts on one of the pieces. "Water Damage" consisted of a computer scanned image of a generic Gerhard Richter abstraction printed on vinyl with elements of his dragged paint hand-colored. Mounted in the middle of a pedestal was an infomercial-bought garden house accouterment actually called the "Euroblaster", which sprayed a continual blast of water against the painting during the course of the show. The piece could be seen as a comment on the inherent nature of cultures to oppose one another; or the falling away of the significance of national boarders in light of efficiencies in global economic interdependence; or a manifestation of the fear of getting art wet and ruined in a flood or leak; or maybe just a stab at bald-faced posturing to appear callused, controversial, and reactionary. Probably the latter. The second "Cambio" show in the series that also occurred in New York was held at the Sandra Gering Gallery and seemed more demur and consistent than the first--that is not to say that I would pander to the tastes of the gallerist and compromise my sensibilities with a view to securing a one person show for myself. Did I say that?

Jonathan Horowitz did a riveting video work that consisted of a single monitor on a bare-bones gray metal stand. On a shelf below the TV was a plastic sleeve that had seven videos labeled with the days of the week. Each morning of the workaday at the gallery the appropriate tape would be loaded into the VCR and depict nothing more than that day spelled out in white text on a black ground. Whoa, that's recondite. Actually, the piece, placed alone in a room unto itself, was like a narcotic still life that reminds how wearisome and repetitious everything is each day, practically the same. Also, the work managed to emasculate the very notion of TV as the balm that forcibly reaches beyond the box to entertain and mollify, creating a static image from fluid tape.

Daniela Rossell continued in her photographic series of "Rich and Famous" relatives artistically framed. The images are gaudy trash, pretentious but shallow, and calculated to have popular appeal--I long for all of them. As the works are very similar in content to other's seen over the previous year, one hopes the artist will pick up her things and move on from here. Nevertheless, the frames add piquant sculptural dimension, Rossell is abundantly talented, and sickeningly young.

The art world is such a stolid place where very little aggression and pathos get to be acted out upon. There are old tales of barroom brawls at the Cedar Tavern, or Jackson Pollack drunk traipsing over broken glass spilling paint onto canvas, but not much more in the way of physical contact. I heard in Japan, simulated hotel rooms can be rented where executive types pay to thrash the mostly glass contents a la Johnny Depp at the Plaza, to release pent-up stress. I went to the warehouse outlet of Seaman's Furniture and purchased all the glass doodads I could get my hands on. If you haven't noticed I've segued back into a consequential, recurrent subject of my writing--my own work. I made a set to resemble a kind of accessorized hotel room, with a bunch of my wedding presents thrown in to add flair to the proceedings that were to unfold. Dressed in a suit and shot from behind my back, I methodically and violently destroyed everything. Unfortunately, I displayed the monitor on a glass table-top with glass fragments and the head of spooky glass tiger that became dismembered during the melee within; this only had the consequence of diluting the edgy presence of the video. Oops.

Kenny Schachter

New York, New York

1998


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