Recently, I publicly lamented my inability to navigate current exhibits in the Chelsea Gallery District. With the added precautions needed when going out during the Covid Life, and the fact that my former gallery-hopping companion has relocated to the west coast, I am too distracted and overwhelmed with minutiae to research which new exhibits will appeal to my unique visual aesthetic. It is cause for great joy then that I have discovered New York Gallery Tours — which does the hard work of figuring out where to go for you! Founded in 2002 by Rafael Risemberg — a former college professor with a Ph.D. in arts education — New York Gallery Tours hosts meticulously-curated two-hour adventures in Contemporary Art featuring the very best of what’s happening at the Chelsea Galleries (and other arts neighborhoods as well). Tour groups are kept super small (one to five people) so that there’s room to socially distance and more time for Rafael to explain the art, and encourage lively conversation. On a recent Saturday afternoon, my art-loving neighbors Leslie and Kat and I met up for a tour with Rafael, and we were able to hit up nine different galleries across ten blocks, because that is how we roll.
Lead by Rafael, New York Gallery Tours opens your mind to the discovery and appreciation of art beyond the familiar mediums of painting and sculpture. I feel like I was introduced to an amazing selection of the most diverse art I’ve seen in years, which I will now share with. Let’s get to it!
Jesse Krimes: American Rendition
515 West 29th Street
Incarcerated for six years, Jesse Krimes creates artwork that frequently addresses the personal, communal and national level impacts of mass incarceration and the ways in which media and on-line representations of individual and group identities reinforce societal structures related to punishment and confinement. American Rendition features large-scale textile works from two different series: The Elegy Quilts (seen above and below) were constructed using fragments of personal clothing, textiles and other ephemera collected from currently and formerly incarcerated people.
These quilts depict domestic scenes inspired by the subjects’ memories of their homes or other domestic spaces that they felt evoked the concept of home. Solitary, empty chairs are prominently featured, powerfully evoking the disastrous effects of Covid in prisons and jails, and the absence of Americans who have effectively “disappeared” from their families and communities into the criminal justice and penal systems. According to Jesse, “The furniture and interiors are made mostly of old clothing and serve as symbolic stand-ins for the body that yearns to return.”
Read more about this exhibit and the art of Jesse Krimes at This Link.
Nathalia Edenmont: Rebirth
Nancy Hoffman Gallery
520 West 27th Street
Known for her images of women wearing dresses composed of fruits and flowers, Swedish artist Nathalia Edenmont takes the next step with dresses composed of luminous creatures — no longer alive — golden, green, iridescent pink, blue, shiny, shimmery beetles. A beautiful blonde model sits placidly as a dress is composed around her, a process that takes from 14-22 hours of work for a team of ten people. Edenmont is the director, the creator, the orchestrator of the photo shoot. Everything in the photo is real: there is no photoshop, no digital manipulation, no correction of any kind. The artist has to capture what she wants when she clicks the camera or many sheets of 8 x 10 film, hours of work and cost are gone.
In the above photo, the model’s eye-piece and collar are made from real (deceased of natural causes) butterflies. Rafael told us that the hairdresser for this shoot only has one other client: the Queen of Sweden.
More Information about Edmonton and her art can be found at This Link.
Alice Aycock and Dennis Oppenheim
545 West 25th Street
The recently renovated Marlborough gallery is currently hosting large-scale works and drawings by Alice Aycock (front gallery) alongside an installation by Dennis Oppenheim (rear gallery). Trivia: Aycock and Oppenheim were once briefly married to each other!
Works in Aycock’s exhibit include metal sculptures of various sizes taken from The Turbulence Series along with several recent large-scale drawings referencing waves, wind turbulence, turbines, gyroscopes, and vortexes of energy. Very cool!
The Dennis Oppenheim installation (which, I confess, was my favorite exhibit of the day) presents three unique variations from his series Architectural Cactus (2008). These were so much fun to walk around. Each cactus is slightly different on either side.
Find out more about Aycock, Oppenheim, and these exhibits at This Link.
Tara Donovan: Intermediaries
540 West 25th Street
Intermediaries, at Pace Gallery, is a solo exhibition by Tara Donovan, whose large-scale installations, sculptures, drawings, and prints utilize everyday objects to explore the transformative effects of accumulation and aggregation. Exhibited works were created by Donovan throughout 2019 and 2020.
Stacked Grid (2020), for example, emulates the “white cube” of the gallery. The translucent sculpture is made from plastic dividers that you might find inside a box of candles or soaps. More information on Tara Donovan and Intermediaries is available at This Link.
Hélio Oiticica: Tropicália
504 West 24th Street
I first became familiar with the work of Brazilian artist Hélio Oiticica (1937—1980) when the Whitney Museum hosted a large-scale retrospective of his work in 2017. Tropicália at Lisson Gallery is a smaller-scale version of that exhibit’s main installation. Conceived in late 1966 and created in 1967, Tropicália was the first architecturally scaled installation that the artist realized, and the first in a series of works that would portray, and critique, his native country of Brazil. In this work, Oiticica addresses the clichés of the country’s association with a tropical paradise, including bright colors, sand, and exotic birds and flowers. It is composed of two Penetrables, small wooden shed-like structures referencing Brazil’s favela shantytowns, arranged to form a maze and intended to be entered and explored.
The installation includes two Amazon parrots who are on-loan from a bird sanctuary in New Jersey, and who were well taken care of by the gallery staff. This exhibit is now closed, but you can see what you missed at This Link.
Teresita Fernández: Maelstrom
501 West 24th Street
The centerpiece of Teresita Fernández’ Maelstrom is a monumental, 16-foot high sculptural rendition of a palm tree suspended from the ceiling, hovering a few feet off the ground, which is entitled Rising (Lynched Land). This somber work embodies the gravitas of violence and aftermath of destruction while also evoking a redemptive and dignified metaphorical rising. Composed of scorched wood and weathered patinated copper, Rising (Lynched Land) anthropomorphizes the landscape by transforming the natural resources of vegetation and minerals into a suspended body that ascends, uprooted from the ground. Experienced from underneath, viewers are challenged to stand under the sprawling diameter of the tree’s copper crown and to gaze up in a gesture of reverence and reflection. Sadly, Maelstrom has also closed, but information and more photos from the exhibit can be found at This Link.
Terry Evans: Ancient Prairies
Yancey Richardson Gallery
525 West 22nd Street
Ancient Prairies is the title of a very cool exhibition of new photographs by Chicago-based artist Terry Evans, on now at Yancey Richardson. In these works, Evans expands on her decades-long connection with the prairie as the spiritual center of her work. Through the creation of photographic mosaics of these ecosystems, she explores the complexity of the prairie landscape, the element of time in landscape photography and the delicate relationship between nature and humankind.
This exhibit is especially fun you appreciate a unique take on nature photography, or enjoy it as a hobby.
This one reminded of the night sky as seen from the Berkshires, where I sometimes vacation. Find out more about this exhibit at This Link.
Haim Steinbach: 1991 – 1993
Tanya Bonakdar Gallery
521 West 21st Street
There is much more going on with the art of Haim Steinbach than what meets the eye. Steinbach explores the psychological, aesthetic, and cultural aspects of collecting and arranging found objects. In selecting items that range from the obscure to the ordinary, the private to the ethnographic, Steinbach emphasizes notions of circulation and human connection. The exhibition at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery highlights a concentrated three-year period in the artist’s career and draws upon memory, offering a recontextualization of his own historic practice and an occasion for reflection.
At the center of the exhibition is Display #28 (rustic wall with music box and candle snuffer) (1991), an architectural façade that spans nearly the entire diagonal axis of the gallery’s main space. The concept of display recurs throughout Steinbach’s practice. You can read the full backstory on this piece in the link below.
In the adjacent gallery you’ll find Untitled (table with towels, bone, pacifier) (1993), a display table presents a selection of folded cotton towels collected from an array of hotels in Austria. Embroidered and embossed with their owners’ company insignia, the towels are closely tied to both known places and unknown bodies. The work features two compartments on opposing sides of the table: a rawhide bone is tucked into one, while an infant’s pacifier rests in the other.
Find out more about this exhibit and read the revealing stories behind Haim Steinbach’s artworks by visiting This Link.
Joyce Pensato: Fuggetabout It (Redux)
456 West 18th Street
The final stop on our tour felt like an appropriate way to bring the day’s art adventure to a close: Artist Joyce Pensato (1941–2019) was best known for her paintings and drawings which employed a familiar cast of cartoon characters, including Mickey and Minnie Mouse; Donald and Daisy Duck; Batman; Felix the Cat; Homer, Bart, Marge, and Lisa Simpson; and the characters Stan and Cartman from the series South Park.
In 2012 Joyce Pensato premiered her installation Fuggetabout It at Petzel Gallery’s former West 22nd Street location. commemorating her beloved studio on Olive Street in East Williamsburg, where she had worked for thirty-two years and had lost in a landlord/tenant dispute in 2011.
The move after three decades prompted a re-evaluation and packing of hundreds upon hundreds of objects and items of all manner, including: stuffed animals; figurines; posters, books, invitation cards, and other paper ephemera; milk crates; furniture, both broken and intact; paint cans and paintbrushes, among others.
Almost every object had been paint splattered by being at one time or another in proximity to the artist’s working space, which shifted from area to area in the studio, a cavernous, stand-alone space that was once a dance hall. Both collectively and at times singularly these objects were the artist’s inspiration, and Pensato found it a fitting tribute and auspicious time to share them publicly as a glimpse into her process.
With Pensato’s passing from cancer in 2019, her studio’s contents have once again been emptied into a gallery. Everything you see (including a selection of paintings in adjacent gallery rooms) is for sale.
This a very unique exhibit with lots to take in. You can see more photos of Joyce’s paintings, which I did not include here, by visiting This Link.
New York Gallery Tours offers scheduled tours on Friday and Saturday afternoons, or you can arrange a private tour any day of the week. Virtual tours via Zoom are also available to book. Please visit This Link for prices and more information.