RAD, Walking Comic, 2017.


New York’s Lower East Side:

A Potpourri of Experimentation and Tradition

The most noteworthy thing about my tour of Lower East Side galleries this October was that there was no trend; there was a little bit of everything. And the quality of the work I saw varied from the exciting leading edge in electronic art to the curatorially disasterous.

  The New Museum’s “Trigger: Gender as a Tool and a Weapon” was for me a curatorial disaster of thematic indecision and cliched representations. However, the show did contain five visually engaging pieces by Tschabalala Self. Using an innovative mix of assemblage and collage, she created works that “confront[ed] the visibility of the black female body” in a compelling way. It was a pity that only three of them were labeled—a recurring problem of the exhibtion.


Tschabalala Self, Loner, 2016.


For the rest of the exhibtion, we were repeatedly confronted by works whose connection with the title of the exhibition were weak and/or obscure at best. Then there were the videos of over-the-top drag queens and limp wristed overly campy youths trying their best to be ever so gay. As a senior member of the LGBTQ community, I felt insulted by being represented through such cheap Hollywood characatures of our community. Never mind that there was no depiction or even reference to anyone living who was over 35 years of age. Curatorially, this show was strictly amateur hour.

In a more traditional mode, Steve Harvey Fine Arts showed five charming abstract watercolors. Small, only 5 1/2 x 4 inches, they had a quiet sensitivity that helped soothe the frantic urban bustle of the Lower East Side. Similarly, Lily Ludlow’s ten gouache and colored pencil drawing on buff paper at CANADA had a calming effect. The abstract forms are suggestive of living creatures but never resolved into recognizable beings, resulting in a pleasant speculation about what the form might represent.

Kai Matsumiya Gallery has a solo exhibition of work by Craig Kalpakjian. One piece was noteworthy for its novelty. Projection, Reflection, Structure, Structure (Intermittent Control: event-driven multiplex), 2017, consisted of a support truss holding up a moving-head spotlight that shown on a mirror and two black monochrome inkjet prints. The spotlight created a shifting abstract pattern that was both calming and architectonically interesting.


Ted Barr, Untitled, 2017, Oil, Tar, Acrylics on Canvas.


At Dacia gallery, Ted Barr showed paintings with an unusual mix of materials: tar, oil, and acrylic. Romanian born and living in Israel, Barr is influenced by the spiritual and by cosmic dualities. These images, inspired in part by Hubble photos of the cosmos, are rendered entirely using a novel choice of tools—chopsticks rather than brushes.

At Mitchell Algus Gallery, Colette Lumiere showed some very timely pieces that had a bearing on some of what the New Museum was trying to accomplish with its exhibition. Mermaid in the Attic Wall Fragment, Arrived, and “Homage to DuChamp’s Ettant Donne” II, all recent works, have their roots in the exaggerated feminine stereotype that evolved in the Gay 90s and became popularized in vaudeville and, later, in performances by drag queens. It is a very baroque approach to femininity that is glaringly out of step with the contemporary notions of gender identity but helps to document its evolution.

On a completely different tack, Con Artist Gallery showed pieces based on the techniques and subject matter found in comic books. For example there was a dress made by Sue Karnataka that depicted female super heroes. One of my favorites was Walking Comic by RAD. The modest sized drawing depicting a cell from a comic strip had the dialogue balloon that said “Insert dialogue here,” a gentle comment on the interchangeability of our culture.

There were several installation shows. Miguel Abreu Gallery had an exhibition that consisted entirely of packaged works of art scattered about the gallery that looked like they were ready to be shipped. It seemed that they were between shows when you first walked in

Much more thoughtful and interesting was Susan Cianciolo’s installation pieces at Bridget Donahue gallery. RUN PRAYER, RUN CAFÉ, RUN LIBRARY has three spaces each constructed with thin lumber 1x2s. They are large enough to walk in and each has a function suggested in the title of the show. They are charmingly familial and comforting. Perhaps that is an underlying theme in much of the work being shown: artists are trying to produce works to counteract the frantic nature of the 21st century global and urban environment.


Susan Cianciolo, installation shot from RUN PRAYER, RUN CAFÉ, RUN LIBRARY.


Ironically, the best works I saw celebrated the technology and information saturation of our time. At Jack Hanley Gallery, Jess Johnson showed works that were inspired by science fiction, horror movies, video games and comic books. There were large panels that were 4.7 x 13.7 feet. But most interesting were the video versions of some of these drawings. Worldweb Allthing, an image of a “worm” that perpetually devours itself, was especially compelling—simultaneously beautiful and grotesque.

But bitforms gallery took top honors for technological innovation and sheer beauty. Daniel Canogar created sculptures made of flexible LED panels. Each piece was driven by circuitry that interpreted real-time environmental data gathered from the internet into changing patterns on the LED panels. The electronics that made this possible are housed on the back surface of the panels and create sensuously tactile surfaces.These works were breathtaking in their beauty and visual simplicity, belying their conceptual and technical complexity.


Daniel Canogar Troposphere, 2017, Flexible LED panel.


What can be said about the Lower East Side gallery scene is that it is more richly varied than the other NYC gallery districts. It’s a little seedy, even by NY standards, but its breadth of content makes it more exciting.


Michel Segard is the Editor-in-Chief of the New Art Examiner


Collette, Mermaid in Attic Wall fragment, 2017.

Jess Johnson and Simon Ward, Worldweb Allthing (video), 2016.


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