On View: Miranda Lichtenstein at Elizabeth Dee

For her fifth solo exhibition with Elizabeth Dee, Miranda Lichtenstein presents a photographic study of Josh Blackwell’s sculptures. Blackwell, who recycles disposable shopping bags into sculptures via ironing, stitching, cutting, and painting, functions as both muse and collaborator. The two worked together to create a sculpture that translates Blackwell’s work into a two-dimensional floor installation—a carpet of stitched and embroidered images—that is exhibited along with Lichtenstein’s vibrant, painterly photographs.

The flatness of the images and condensed layering bring to mind Lichtenstein’s “Screen Shadow” series, for which she used patterned Japanese papers to obscure and illuminate staged still lifes. Here, she uses Blackwell’s plastic bag sculptures, which she photographed in studio settings over the course of two years, as her raw material. Though the sculptures have their own distinct formal qualities, Lichtenstein uses various backdrops to create ambiguity between the sculpture and her photographic construction.

Lichtenstein, whose still life photographs I included in “Nature Morte,” frequently examines the photographic process using conventional genres and techniques. Here she is working within the tradition of photographers that have documented the work of their contemporaries. The title of the show, “more Me than mine,” combined with the repetition of the phrase “Thank You” on the shopping bags, suggest that Lichtenstein saw something in Blackwell’s work that was absent from her own. Their individual approaches come together in the collaborative floor piece, an arrangement of scanned and cut images of Blackwell’s sculptures that expands both of their practices.

On view through December 19

Elizabeth Dee
545 W 20th Street  |  Chelsea

Top and bottom: Installation views, Miranda Lichtenstein, “more Me than mine,” Elizabeth Dee, NY. (Photos: Chris Murtha)

"On View" posts highlight current exhibitions featuring exhibited artists.


Review: David Nelson at 80WSE

Untitled (from "1 Hour"), c. 1992-1993, photogram, 20 x 16 inches. (All works by David Nelson; all photos by the author.)

This somber, pensive, and sometimes haunting exhibition of David Nelson’s multidisciplinary art at NYU’s 80 Washington Square East Gallery is expertly assembled and presented by gallery director Jonathan Berger and Nancy Brooks Brody, a close friend to the artist. Brody’s personal relationship with Nelson is important, because once you know even a little bit about his life it’s hard to separate his work from the personal experiences that influenced it.

After moving to New York City in the late 1970s, Nelson became involved with a close-knit community of artists in the East Village. In 1985 he met his partner, the artist David Knudsvig, but he would lose him to AIDS in 1993. All of the works included in the show come from the period between Knudsvig’s passing and Nelson’s own death in 2013. Pairs, conduits, and ghostly images are prevalent in the exhibition, and many of the works are meditations on loss and time that can be seen as attempts by Nelson to reconnect with Knudsvig.

The first works encountered are a series of knobby and tangled sculptures of resin, roots, and dirt—the kind of earth that is so specific to New York City: dry, rocky, seemingly devoid of minerals and nutrients. After uncovering a cistern in his backyard, Nelson was inspired to keep digging holes, always by hand. The sculptures were created by pouring resin directly into these holes and extracting the hardened form, along with any matter that adhered to it. Some sculptures are then embedded in cubes of resin, frozen in time like a photograph or fossil.

Left: Untitled (Hole), detail, c. 1997, photogram mounted on canvas, 40 x 43 1/2 inches; Right: Hole Reflection 2, detail, 1997, silver gelatin print, 28 x 38 inches; Bottom: Installation view of "David Nelson" with Hole #16, 1999, and Untitled (Cube), c. 2000.

Many artists have given form to negative space—Bruce Nauman, Robert Overby, Rachel Whiteread, among others—but Nelson’s efforts contain a sense of exploration and discovery that feel more akin to archaeology. He further inspects his excavated sculptures with a series of abstract photograms, and the one on view here, Untitled (Hole), c. 1997, resembles an X-ray of something bodily or embryonic. In a similarly disorienting photograph, Hole Reflection 2, 1997, he captures the reflection of the sky and the edge of the hole in the newly poured resin. It’s a haunting, claustrophobic view from down within the hole that hints at what he was trying to dig up.

Central to Nelson’s work in this period is a small wooden figurine—a man with a top hat that holds two bone dice—that belonged to Knudsvig. Unknown to the couple, the figure is a representation of Papa Ghede, a Haitian Vodou deity that is thought to usher the deceased into the afterlife. After Knudsvig’s death, Nelson paired the figurine with his own prized toy train and dubbed it “train man,” establishing a talismanic stand-in for his departed partner. To create Untitled (Train Man, Brother: Doppelgänger), c. 1997, an extensive series of photograms installed in a large grid across two walls, Nelson converted his living room into a darkroom. Drawing with sand directly onto light-sensitive paper, he repeatedly captured unique but remarkably consistent images of the figurine. The repetition and subtle differences of these ethereal traces, especially within such an immersive installation, makes for an affecting tribute.

Above: Installation view of "David Nelson" with Untitled (Train Man, Brother: Doppelgänger), c. 1997, and Untitled, c. 1992; Below: Detail from Untitled (Train Man, Brother: Doppelgänger).

A series of works featuring a miniscule hourglass or sand timer are installed in the same room as the “train man” photograms. Representing the measurement of time as an exchange between two vessels, these pieces bring many of the themes in the show together. Time is malleable in the series 1 Hour, c. 1992-1993, in which nine photograms of the timers are presented out of sequential order, oscillating drastically between measurements. In a separate series of photograms, the timer’s glass is broken and the image is created with the sand pouring out of the vessel. Knowing this process, one can imagine that the “train man” photograms were similarly drawn using sand from broken timers, symbolically conjuring images of loss and absence from the remnants of time. In some of these pieces, there are traces of Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s work, but Nelson’s approach is darker and more brooding, less political. Whereas Gonzalez-Torres drew the viewer in via direct exchanges and shared social and political experiences, Nelson’s work is so personal and mysterious that a viewer can’t help but feel like an intruder.

Among several late paintings that evoke the work of Nelson’s friend Robert Bordo, the last gallery offers an intriguing sculpture made by combining several model train tunnels to form a disjointed landscape and passageway, conceivably for the “train man.” Here, without tracks, the tunnel is a conduit only in the sense that it leads from one point to another. There is nothing at either end though, just a negative space—a hole to be peered into, mined, traversed.

David Nelson @ 80WSE
80 Washington Square East (West Village)

Though the exhibition is no longer on view, you can find a selection of David Nelson’s works on the website for Visual AIDS, a sponsor of the exhibition and co-publisher of the excellent catalog, which is also available through them here.

Installation view of "David Nelson" with Untitled, c. 2009.

Overview: Three Exhibitions

Hito Steyerl @ Artists Space
On view through May 24

This mini retrospective features a selection of the German artist and writer's videos and lectures from the past decade. In warped, deconstructed documentary pieces, such as Liquidity, Inc. (2014) and In Free Fall (2010), Steyerl employs (with a heavy hand) fragmented interviews, found material, and layers of crude visual graphics to an almost dizzying effect. Yet these pieces are extremely incisive, cutting, and humorous.

38 Greene Street & 55 Walker Street

Detail of  Liquidity, Inc.  (2014) by Hito Steyerl, Artists Space, NY.  (Photo: Chris Murtha)

Detail of Liquidity, Inc. (2014) by Hito Steyerl, Artists Space, NY.  (Photo: Chris Murtha)

Nicole Eisenman @ The Jewish Museum
On view through Aug 9

Eisenman’s contribution to MoMA’s Forever Now left me a little disappointed, mainly because that setting couldn't convey the scope of her work, but this small presentation at the Jewish Museum is surprisingly satisfying. The exhibition features just one of her paintings – Seder (2010), an expressive rendering of the traditional Passover meal – but it is deftly paired with works from the Museum’s collection. Enhanced by the context, this one canvas contains an entire history of painterly gestures and styles.

1109 5th Avenue (at 92nd Street)

Masterpieces & Curiosities: Nicole Eisenman’s  Seder, The Jewish Museum, NY.  (Photo: Chris Murtha)

Masterpieces & Curiosities: Nicole Eisenman’s Seder, The Jewish Museum, NY.  (Photo: Chris Murtha)

Barbara Kasten @ ICA Philadelphia
On view through August 16

If artists can be said to have a mission, then Kasten’s has been to explore the function and properties of light within space.  Covering each phase of her work, from the early cyanotypes and fabric sculptures to a recent foray into installation-based video, this career-spanning survey illuminates the artist’s profound influence on many contemporary photographers.

118 S 36th Street  |  Philadelphia

Barbara Kasten,  Stages , Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia.  (Photo: Chris Murtha)

Barbara Kasten, Stages, Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia.  (Photo: Chris Murtha)

"Overview" posts provide recommendations for current exhibitions.

On View: Daniel Gordon at Pioneer Works

You can see Daniel Gordon's work in the current show at Pioneer Works, Under Construction – New Positions in American Photography, a collaboration with FOAM (Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam). Included in the show is the title piece from Shadows and Pears, our exhibition at The Horticultural Society of New York.

The exhibition focuses on artists that are reassessing photography for our digital age, with a specific focus on those who use manipulations and interventions, whether digital or physical, to re-contextualize imagery.

In an article for Frieze on the recent development towards “constructed photography,” Aaron Schuman describes Gordon’s work as:

[...] a new vision of our contemporary visual landscape: one in which photographic representations, rather than objects themselves, are the subject of composition and contemplation; one where images have become symbiotic with, rather than symbolic of, the physical world itself.*

The exhibition, which also features works by Joshua Citarella, Jessica Eaton, Matthew Leifheit & Cynthia Talmadge, Matt Lipps, Matthew Porter, Sara Cwynar, Kate Steciw and Sara VanDerBeek, is on view through April 26.

Under Construction @ Pioneer Works
159 Pioneer Street, Brooklyn (Red Hook)

Daniel Gordon,  Shadows and Pears , 2012.

Daniel Gordon, Shadows and Pears, 2012.

*Schuman, Aaron. “Construction Sight.” Frieze, April 2015, p. 118.