There are so many galleries in Chelsea that it’s easy to spend many enjoyable hours wandering. Keeping in mind that what one person finds interesting with respect to art is, to a large extent, a matter of experience and taste, here’s a highly subjective short list of what to see in Chelsea this month, especially if you have limited time. Most of these shows run only through December 22 or 23, so you’ll want to plan accordingly.

I would recommend starting out at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery (521 W 21st Street) for the new work by Uta Barth and Jack Strange.

In her ninth solo exhibition at the gallery, German-born Uta Barth (b. 1958) is showing her two latest series of color photographs: …and to draw a bright white line with light and Compositions of Light on White. The word photography means “drawing with light.” This is, literally, what Barth has done in …and to draw a bright white line with light, as she manipulates the textured curtains in her home to record a ray of sunlight as it grows larger and stronger over the course of an afternoon. The minimalistic photographs subtly and eloquently visualize the passage of time. Equally intriguing, Compositions of Light on White features Mondrian-like grids, which Barth has made by projecting rectilinear patterns of light from her window onto the doors of her closet. All of the photographs are gorgeous, both on the walls and reflected on the gray gallery floor.   Upstairs, British artist Jack Strange (b. 1984) is exhibiting his second solo show, Deep Down. The show is an entertaining mixed-media metaphor for the consciousness that permeates the physical world—a show that makes us question how and what we see. It reminded me of seeing faces in the marble on my bathroom floor. From his tiny collages of odd creatures made from bits of dollar bills, to silly video installations in which clay heads and colorful thumbs taking turns watching each other, to his partially buried neon sign Fennel, 2011, Strange shows us that the mundane can be marvelous and amusing. And, no, his name is not made-up.   After visiting Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, I would recommend stopping in to see the best part of Jim Hodges’ show – right next door at Gladstone Gallery (530 W. 21st Street). For his first show at Gladstone in New York, Jim Hodges (b. 1957) is occupying both of Gladstone’s Chelsea gallery spaces. At this one, he has installed four boulder-like granite sculptures partially covered in highly reflective stainless steel sheeting in shades of bright blue, burnt orange, deep purple and golden yellow. Part organic and part artificial, the sculptures are poetically reflected and distorted in each other, creating luminescent patterns of color.  Upstairs in this space, Hodges is showing six new tension-filled photographic prints of vast cloudy skies that have been violently scratched. And there is still time to see the last few events scheduled in the space: two performances by dancer-juggler François Chat, and a reading by Lynne Tillman from her new book of short stories, Someday This Will Be Funny. The next exhibition I would highly recommend is Nan Goldin: Scopophilia at Matthew Marks Gallery (522 W. 22nd Street). For her ninth show at Matthew Marks since 1992, Goldin (b. 1953) is presenting her new 25-minute-long slide installation, Scopophilia, in its U.S. debut. The Louvre commissioned the work in 2010, and for eight months Goldin was allowed to photograph inside the museum when it was closed to the public. The word scopophilia means “love of looking,” but also refers to a sometimes pathological sexual pleasure derived by looking at images of bodies.

Nan Goldin, Veiled, 2011. Chromogenic print. (Click twice to enlarge.)


Nan Goldin, Swan-like embrace, Paris. (2010) Chromogenic print.

Nan Goldin: Scopophilia mixes Goldin’s autobiographical images from New York in the late 1970s with new photographs of art in the Louvre. In photographing the Louvre works from dynamic angles, close up on a ladder, and with different types of focus, Goldin brings the work to life. To an astonishing degree, she succeeds in making the subjects of the static paintings and sculptures resemble the real people in her snapshot-like photos.


   The juxtaposition of the two types of photographs also changes how Goldin’s autobiographical images are experienced. Next to romantic images from Delacroix and Géricault, the autobiographical images loose much of their punk bravado and appear gentler. More than half of Goldin’s photographs from the late 1970s in this show are being exhibited for the first time, including photographs of her former lover, Siobhan.
If you have the stamina to keep going, the next show I would recommend is the other part of Jim Hodges’ exhibition at the main space of Gladstone Gallery (515 W. 24th Street). Not as stunning as the art in the other space, this part of the show features three easy-viewing works—“Jim Hodges lite.” There is a black room with a disco ball that moves slowly in and out of a black, crater-like hole in the gallery floor that is filled with water. Another work consists of five large curving wall pieces covered with black mirror mosaic that are hung around the gallery. The press-release alludes to the fact that the wall pieces are being moved around and will eventually come together to form a circle (on Monday, December 12, while the gallery is closed), but you wouldn’t know this by looking at the work. And in the back gallery there is a big, box-like structure in which varying amounts of brightly-colored paint are intermittently dropped from the ceiling onto the floor of the box, a sort of primitive abstract art machine making a splatter painting that will build up over time. The dropping paint makes a nice sound and most visitors, surprised by the work, walk away smiling.  

Peter Hujar, Self-Portrait, Seated. (1980) Gelatin-silver print.

Peter Hujar, David Wojnarowicz Smoking (1981). Gelatin-silver print

The next stop is also relatively quick. It is a posthumous show of photographs by Peter Hujar (1934-1987), Three Lives: Peter Hujar, Paul Thek, & David Wojnarowicz, at another Matthew Marks Gallery location (523 W. 24 Street). The show is made up of 27 black and white photographs taken between 1958 and 1985, many of which are being shown for the first time.  In the unrelated monograph Peter Hujar: A Retrospective, Nan Goldin wrote that looking at Hujar’s male nudes “is the closest I ever came to experience what it is to inhabit male flesh.” I agree with her completely. The photographs are a beautiful and intimate record of Hujar’s relationships with Thek and Wojnarowicz, while the photographs and the show itself are haunted by the tragedy of three great artistic lives cut short by AIDS.

  One block up, The Pace Gallery (510 W. 25th Street) is showing Hiroshi Sugimoto: Surface of the Third Order. This show feature two types of work: four handsome aluminum sculptures based on mathematical formulas and a new series of small seascapes encased in crystal pagodas. While the two types of work are dramatically different in terms of scale and materials, they are connected by Sugimoto’s meticulous use of geometry and almost spiritual exploration of the idea of infinity. Be sure to notice how the aluminum sculptures are reflected in their shiny bases, creating the illusion that they continue indefinitely. The work is as fascinating as it is inscrutable. Enjoy it for what it is, because the exhibition catalog is sold out.     The last show I would highly recommend is Joan Mitchell: The Last Decade at Cheim and Reid (547 W. 25th Street).  Early in her career, Joan Mitchell (1925-1992) exhibited her paintings with older male Abstract Expressionists, among them Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, and Franz Kline. In 1959, Mitchell moved to France, where she lived the rest of her life in relative isolation, translating the French countryside into abstract knots of color on canvas. While some of Mitchell’s earlier works can sometimes look dingy or dulled by time, these expansive late works are bright and crisp, with confident big gestures and unpainted areas, and a sense of both freedom and urgency. This exhilarating show is pure visual pleasure.

West 21st Street
Tanya Bonakdar Gallery (521 W. 21st): Uta Barth and Jack Strange, through December 22.
Gladstone Gallery (530 W. 21st): Jim Hodges, through December 23.

West 22nd Street

Matthew Marks Gallery (522 W. 22nd): Nan Goldin: Scopophilia, through December 23.

West 24th Street

Gladstone Gallery (515 W. 24th): Jim Hodges, through December 23.
Matthew Marks Gallery (523 W. 24th): Three Lives: Peter Hujar, Paul Thek, & David Wojnarowicz, through December 23.

West 25th Street

The Pace Gallery (510 W. 25th): Hiroshi Sugimoto: Surface of the Third Order through December 24. (Please note that The Pace Gallery has two spaces on W. 25th Street.)

Cheim and Reid (547 W. 25th): Joan Mitchell: The Last Decade, through January 4.

Most galleries are closed on Sunday and Monday. Most  provide press releases about their current show(s), and these can be helpful for understanding what you are looking at. The list of works with titles and materials can also provide useful information.

If you want to see more Chelsea galleries, the magazine Art in America publishes a free map and list of galleries in the Chelsea area. This useful guide can be picked up in most galleries at the front desk.

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  • RozWarren December 16, 2011 at 5:56 pm

    I really hope Chelsea Art Walk is going to be a regular WVFC feature. These are great recommendations. And can I add another recommendation? Blossom, my favorite vegan restaurant, is in the neighborhood. Try their amazing food.