It is amazing how a little information can transform entirely your views of an artwork or, as happened to me recently, an exhibition. I had wandered into Two Years of Looking at the New Art Projects Gallery knowing very little about it. At first it seemed one of the oddest exhibitions I had visited. The gallery is a blessed with a large space and around the walls were sculptures and different sized paintings but there was no apparent theme and no predominant style that I could identify.
I wrote last time about my visit to Black Shed Gallery where the artists through their paintings were supposed to be having a conversation. The works in New Art Projects Gallery were possibly chatting among themselves but not about anything in particular, what they had had for breakfast, perhaps, or, as they were all from the States, the pros and cons of the dollar strengthening against the pound.
None of the works had labels but with the aid of the catalogue you could find out who had done what and there were works from some 50 different artists.
One of the first paintings which caught my eye was this one, with no information about it but the not particularly informative title, iPainting (3434267) I am not sure what it is supposed to be about, but I really like the organic shapes; it reminded me of swirling smoke somehow captured and solidified in time. The name against the work was Robert Buck and the price $19,000 which turned out to be the most expensive there.
Nearby was another small painting in a similar tone of grey. I thought at first it might have been by the same artist but, no the other was by Betty Tompkins, Pussy Painting, so perhaps not so similar after all. Looking her up afterwards, I really liked her grand scale erotic works. But while I could see there was at least a colour connection, with her work and that of Buck, I couldn’t see what either had to do with what appeared to be a stuffed cat in the corner, Mr Early by Jack Early or the weird hanging thing,Weeping Willow (For Orlando) by CarlosRolon/Dzine .
I was amused by the strange painting cum sculpture of a fat man skateboarding by James E Crowther but, again, what was the connection?
The price variation was far more than you would normally expect within the same exhibition. Whilst there were plenty of five-figure price tags, a small ceramic figure by Dasha Bazanova was just $275; and if you fancied an orange jock strap that was a snip at $500 whilst a pastel drawing of Popeye by Scooter la Forge came in at $975
I was puzzled and went back upstairs to ask. The connection was in fact one man – US performance artist Erik Hanson whose self-portrait, below, was included in the show. Hanson, like many artists, believes it essential to keep looking at the latest artworks and Fred Mann owner of the gallery had asked him to curate an exhibition including all the works which had touched or influenced him over the past two years.
It was such a simple but brilliant idea. A kind of Desert Island Disks for artists without the need to be limited by eight choices or to imagine life on a Desert Island. I really liked the democratic way that established artists and those at earlier stage of their careers had been treated with equal respect.
Study the works for longer and one could no doubt learn a bit more about Hanson; I mainly learnt that he liked the unusual and the colours grey and orange.
His hope, according to the press blurb, was that viewers would see the New York art scene through his eyes, would enjoy the works which had affected his thinking and might in turn be influenced by them. Once I understood the connection, I hugely enjoyed the variety; there were pieces there which I thought were tremendous fun and works which I would have loved to have owned. It introduced me to new artists. But in a way, the lasting effect for me was the way that, just as a Desert Island Disks gets you whittling down your favourite tunes to a paltry eight, the exhibition had me drawing up in my my mind what I would have included from my own wanderings. It also made me want to see what other artists would choose given an equally free hand. Perhaps New Look Art Gallery will make this artist’s choice an annual event.
Two Years of Looking is showing at New Art Projects 6D Sheep Lane, London E8, 4QS until August 28