13 February 2009

just two shows and a million things to think about

"A relationship left for dead on the Lower East Side" at Cuchifritos Gallery/Project Space builds from a photo album found "a few years back" on a curb on the Lower East Side. The album shows two men at home, on the beach, goofing off, staring into the camera, being people. The album was given to independent curator Bill Previdi by his friend Patrick Cunningham. Previdi looked at the album and then set it aside. When revisiting it, it occurred to him that the two men in the album were never in the same picture and it led to the show at Cuchifritos in which ten artists make works that build off the album: some directly such as a painting by Cunningham of one of the photos but mostly indirectly in dealing with "its surrounding themes such as duality, isolation, love, longing and desire." There's an appropriate opening on Valentine's Day.

I have an album with similar leaves (pasteboard with plastic oversheets and a sticky surface to hold the pictures in place). My album has pictures from the late 1960s and early 1970s so there are pictures of Dorothy and me, alone and together. The album style is quite particular so looking at the album in the show evokes images and times from that era of my life. The gay couple, naturally, evoked other times in my life.

Overall, the album was rather more compelling than the derivative works though it was probably the idea that was most riveting.

I went to Cuchifritos after witnessing Robert Stacy's signature and lunch with Robert at Cafe Colonial on East Houston Street at Elizabeth. Cuchifritos is located in the Essex Street Market and we walked home along Delancey Street with talk of memories of when that neighborhood was not yet hip.

After being home for a while, the bright clear day called me out for a walk. I thought I'd go over past 113 West 13th Street where Edith Gregor Halpert had her Downtown Gallery. I'm reading The girl with the gallery about Halpert and her advocacy for modern American art. I started out by walking over to the Hudson River (a favorite walk) and then started toward 13th Street. I decided to stop at White Columns on the way over and got very distracted.

White Columns has a show entitled "40 years/40 projects" tracing their history as an alternative art space. What a trip. I know that I visited White Columns once when it was on Spring Street but probably not way back when it was at 21 Greene Street (and had the name 21 Greene Street Gallery). I can't remember what show that was. In the current show, there were pictures and names that still resonate. There was a picture of Willoughby Sharp who died late last year. Harmony Hammond, a friend and colleague from the Queer Caucus for Art, was the coordinator of "The lesbian show." I sat and listened to all 17+ minutes of William Wegman's "World history." He put together a tape (now on disc, playing on a Discman) of several people describing what they remembered from World History class in junior high school. There was one voice in the left ear and a different one in the right, most of the time, and occasionally just one voice in one ear. Some had very vague memories and some went way back to early man. No creation stories though. Some mentioned great figures and tried to be multi-cultural. Others talked about Nixon and how John Adams and John Quincy Adams were the only father-son pair of presidents. History has changed that, of course. Some tried to recreate the historical sequence from Cro Magnon man on; others were more scattershot. The sequence was always a bit more linear but maybe that's how it was in junior high school history. I tried to imagine how I would have answered Wegman's question.

Other pieces in the "40 years" show that I rather liked were Tom Burr's "The Rambles" which were two small topographic models of the space within Central Park known for gay cruising. Like much of Burr's works, the subtlety is compelling. Another project traced the contemporary artists who appeared in the gay porn magazine Honcho in the mid-1990s. The conjunction of art and porn is always a ticklish one, in a variety of ways.

Sometimes you see oodles of galleries and find some compelling work ... or not. Other times, you only visit a couple galleries and have oodles to think about.

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