“If it works, don’t fix it” is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot, and with good reason. It seems like as soon as you get comfortable with something, or figure out how it operates, it changes – and usually not for the better (see: FaceBook). Those who read this blog regularly know that the Last Rites Gallery is my favorite art space in Manhattan. Also home to the tattoo studio of artist Paul Booth, visiting Last Rites has always felt like going to an art Theme Park or the abandoned set of a horror movie. Aside from the cutting-edge artists they represent, the space has such an engaging vibe that you want to just hang out there, enjoy the art and talk to people for hours. I had no idea that Last Rites was undergoing an extensive renovation that is simply breathtaking. A combination of ambitious visual design and expert execution has come together to make an already unique space even more impressive than you could imagine.
Previously, one entered Last Rites through the dungeon-like tattoo parlor before encountering the brightly lit, white walls of the rear gallery space. With the new redesign, a larger, more open gallery space is now upfront, putting the emphasis on the fantastic art featured in this one of a kind gallery. At the rear of the floor you’ll now find tattoo stations set amid a large and comfortable lounge space, which picks up the darker, Gothic theme with its cathedral-like architectural features, marble finishes, candle-it illumination and dark red fabrics. They’ve also added a separate bar area for serving drinks during opening receptions, promoting a nightclub feel which very much reminds me of the late great Limelight, especially during the era when that club featured a collection of Clive Barker-esque horror art. Paul Booth and his renovation crew from a small basement renovations Toronto, ON have done a simply fantastic job transforming Last Rites into an inviting new venue that must surely exceed their expectations, vastly improving on a space that I never even thought needed to change a thing. Great job guys!
Friday July 22nd marked the gallery’s grand reopening, where the scene was lively and welcoming. In the crowd we spotted Martina and Frank Russo from the MF Gallery and Kevin Wilson of Sacred Gallery on lower Broadway, as well as artists Michael Mararian and Jason D’Aquino (both of whom have previously exhibited at Last Rites), hot artist Martin Wittfooth and the wildly talented Eric “Eyeball” Richardson – who assisted with the renovation and told me that they had only just finished painting the walls a couple of hours prior to opening the doors that evening.
In what was a fantastic atmosphere to talk with artists whose work I love and to catch up with friends, it seemed like everybody on the Manhattan art scene was there to congratulate Paul and to enjoy two new exhibits: Chet Zar’s Faces of Death and Craig LaRotonda’s Eternal Consequences. Faces of Death fills the front of the gallery with Zar’s collection of gruesome yet compelling portraiture featuring an otherworldly group of subjects – alien to us but somehow not unsympathetic nor entirely unfamiliar to each other. Zar’s paintings are bold and disquieting but, much like Travis Louie’s Curiosities series, they encourage imaginative extrapolation in the viewer as to who these beings are, what kind of world they inhabit and how they came to sit for these portraits.
Craig LaRotonda’s Eternal Consequences consists of portraits of anthropomorphized primates painted in a religious or renaissance style; very provocative and quite a departure from the artist’s previous works. With Last Rites extended evening hours, escape the heat and head over to check out the new space before these exhibits end.
Chet Zar’s Faces of Death and Craig LaRotonda’s Eternal Consequences will be on Exhibit through at August 18, 2011 at Last Rites Gallery, Located at 511 W. 33rd Street, 3rd Floor, New York City. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday 2 – 9 PM and Sunday 2 – 6 PM.