76 Grand Street
Thirty volunteers spent three days shredding two thousand New York City telephone books in preparation for one of the most unusual exhibitions ever presented by a New York gallery. Adapting their infamous “hamster nest” to 76 Grand Street, Dash Snow and Dan Colen revealed to the public a performance they had until then created only in private. The resulting pandemonium was on view, in addition to video and photographic documentation.
A “hamster nest” normally consisted of Dan and Dash shredding enormous amounts of whatever paper material they could get their hands on and ransacking the interior of their selected space in an exuberant overnight fête. Over the years, this had taken place in hotel rooms all over the world, existing after the fact only in occasional Polaroids, video, and the memories of exasperated hotel staff.
On July 3, 2007, Dan and Dash invited fifteen fellow artists—including Aaron Bondaroff, Hanna Liden, Jack Walls, Nate Lowman, and Adam McEwan—to Grand Street, and from midnight to 8 AM, they rolled around together in the waist-deep shredded paper to create this piece. One night proved not to be enough to complete their creative destruction, and Dash brought a group of compatriots four additional nights. As paint poles were speared into the wall, bottles protruded from hacked-up sheetrock, and enormous wine, pee, and paint spitballs were stuck to the walls, it seems a great deal took place during these night-into-mornings. Dark and brutal slogans spray painted on the walls commingled with moments of love and tenderness as both sentiments went into creating this ambiguous dwelling. While their truly over-the-top performance recollected early Fluxus experiments, the result of the melee physically resembled a very strange earthwork. One visitor described the piece as “The New York Dirt Room.” The room was exhibited just as the artists left it, trash and all, while the front room showed a video of a previous Nest in Miami to give insight into this contemporary answer to a Happening.
Dan Colen is a painter and sculptor known for his conceptually charged, realistic executions in paint of various objects in ruin. His bird-shit paintings bear an interesting resemblance to the spitball-stuccoed back wall of the gallery and the shredded debris below. Dash Snow’s photography, sculpture, and collage captured his life as a radical dissenter living in dangerous times. Although the artists’ individual projects are different, the sensibility and rebellious exuberance that runs through their work is exactly the spirit of this collaborative performance. The artists themselves were not interested in the destruction that lies in their wake per se, but rather sought a total freedom of expression, and an expression of their relationship with each other and members of their community. The installation was truly activated during a performance on July 24, when the bands Gang Gang Dance and Prurient had fifty of the artists’ friends ecstatically throwing paper and freaking out in the Nest.
The show was dedicated to Secret, Dash and Jade’s daughter, who was born the morning of July 23.
October 21 - December 22, 2017
18 Wooster Street
The faces are melting in Kenny Scharf’s new paintings. “Things are disintegrating,” he says, “I am reacting to our increasingly out-of-control situation.” Scharf’s work continues to be infused by his inexhaustible optimism and his sense of fun but there has always been an engagement with profound issues beneath the façade. Ecology, the environment, and capitalist excess have long been central themes. More recently, his paintings have shown his alarm over the effects of petroleum and the mountains of nondegradable plastic that are produced from it.
Scharf’s work has always combined and contrasted the pop culture he absorbed growing up in Los Angeles with the important innovations in modern and contemporary art. His earlier work fused Dali and Disney. More recently, he has been in dialogue with Pollock and Abstract Expressionism. In the new work, he merges his distinct style with color field and stain painting. “I like to connect with every movement in 20th-century art,” Scharf explains. “I make new hybrids, taking it all in and putting it in a blender.”
A distinctive style is something that Scharf admires in other artists and from the beginning has tried to achieve in his own work. He believes in art as an expression of individual identity. From his first mature work as a student at the School of Visual Arts, a painting by Kenny Scharf was instantly recognizable. Still adhering to his signature style, he continuously invents new forms.
Scharf is very enthusiastic about his new “sloppy style” that characterizes the major paintings in the exhibition. Rows of faces disintegrate into colorful drips reminiscent of both New York School painting and the serial imagery of minimal art. In these new works, Scharf is striving to create clear and simple forms that resonate with meaning. He feels liberated and excited, adding that “it is so much fun.”
The expression of emotion in art is essential to Scharf. Art that is cold leaves him cold. He explains that cartoon faces can express emotion with abstract power. Like his artistic colleagues from his early years in New York, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, Scharf studied cartoons as a way to intensify figurative expression.
It is his early downtown history that brings Scharf back to New York this October. The Museum of Modern Art is opening an exhibition on the seminal performance space Club 57 in which Scharf played a central role. Watching him paint, one can see how his experience as a backup dancer for Klaus Nomi and his other performative roles have shaped his approach to his work. One side of his painting practice is detailed and meticulous to the extreme. The other side is tremendously physical and requires him to use his body like a dancer.
Visitors to Scharf’s Los Angeles studio are greeted by a hundred or more discarded plastic toys in his yard and on his roof. During the early part of his career, Scharf found his art materials in the garbage. To this day, he still stops his car when he finds plastic toys and TV sets thrown away on the street. These discarded plastic objects have inspired the two other bodies of work featured in the show: his Assemblage Vivant Tableaux Plastiques, and his TV Bax. The assemblage works, which are inspired by the Nouveau Realistes, are constructed from his stock of recycled plastic toys. The TV Bax are painted on the plastic backs of discarded television sets. Like the toys, the TV backs have a disconcerting anthropomorphic quality. Scharf wonders if their anonymous designers created these plastic covers, which are different for every model, to resemble a face.
Scharf finds these thrown-away toys and TV backs to be poignant objects, resonant with emotion. “Each of these objects carries a story,” Scharf explains. He thinks about how people might have struggled and sacrificed to buy these toys and TVs, and about the intense relationship that children and families have with them. Scharf resurrects the lives of these inanimate objects in his work. He also notes that garbage keeps changing with technology. The backs of TV sets used to have large protruding “noses.” Now they are flatter and more similar to a canvas.
Since his childhood, Scharf has been fascinated by outer space. Space travel and the portrayal of infinite space have long been central themes. In his life and in his work, he tries to eliminate boundaries and borders. As he pursues his dialogue with the great painters of the New York School, he is increasingly preoccupied with the inner space of painting. His exploration of inner space creates a dynamic tension with his passion for outer space. With his characteristic exuberance and his moral voice, Scharf reformulates his unique combination of Pollock and Pop to create a vibrant new body of work.
Photo Credit: The1point8 and Adam Reich
Read about the Club 57 exhibition at MoMA in the New York Times here.
76 Grand Street
New York, NY 10013
18 Wooster Street
New York, NY 10013
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12 - 6 PM
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