Seeing summer group exhibitions in New York is like maintaining a steady exercise routine or going to family reunions – necessary but slightly tedious. Most group shows are battle grounds for the conflicting intentions and emotions of everyone involved; hopes, ambitions, insecurities, strategic maneuvers and counter-maneuvers of artists, curators and gallery owners create tensions that may be disruptive or invigorating, unsettling or entertaining – but they rarely add up to a consistently engaging experience. A great number of group exhibitions include strong individual works but lack compelling ideas that would make them into something more than random selections of objects. Other shows put forward intriguing concepts and issue articulate and thought provoking press releases, while failing to present artworks that would substantiate the curatorial claims. Every now and then, however, the multiple tensions and contradictions align themselves in a fortuitous combination, and an exhibition takes a life of its own.
Eric’s Trip, now on view at Lisa Cooley Gallery, is one of these happy occurrences. The show is curated by artist Cynthia Daignault and art historian Mark Loiacono, whose efficient and harmonious collaboration may be partially explained by their playing together in a band. The exhibition’s starting point is Reel 9 from Andy Warhol’s 1966 film Chelsea girls. The episode titled Eric Tells All shows a musician and dancer Eric Emerson delivering a rambling monologue under the influence of LSD. Entranced by the altered state of his body and consciousness, Emerson struggles to express his sensations through language, while Warhol manipulates the camera and colored floodlights to represent them visually. The fundamental loneliness of Eric locked within the solipsistic world of his subjectivity, overwhelmed by the deep significance of his thoughts and acuteness of his perceptions, which no one else can share, make the episode one of the key elements of the film. Certainly, the theme is a treasure trove: rich in historical and aesthetic layers, it offers the curators a wide variety of possible subjects to explore: pop-art and the phenomenon of Warhol, 1960’s culture, avant-garde cinema, psychedelia, altered consciousness, and the subjectivity of bodily experiences. Fully aware of the possibilities, Daignault and Loiacono pick up several different thematic threads and weave them into an intricate and compelling pattern.
The bright psychedelic color, either disembodied or coupled with vivid imagery, bounces around the gallery’s main room: from Nancy Shaver’s wooden blocks covered with paint and fabric and Victoria Fu’s abstract photographic prints, to Mathew Zefeldt’s metaphysical paintings and Jose Lerma’s whimsical diptych consisting of a painted carpet in front of a painted mirror. Judith Linhares’ oil paintings of dreamy female nudes are also intensely colored, but they relate in an unexpected and intimate way to a pair of black and white photographs by Rory Mulligan showing a torso of a woman and the back of a man gazing at a night sky. The rich texture, suggestiveness and reserve of Mulligan’s photographs connect them to a small gray fiber piece by Sheila Hicks and Margaret Lee’s sculpture and painting rendered in a black and white polka dot pattern. The shape of a human body reappears again in David Kennedy-Cutler’s large sculptures made of transparent plexiglass, which subtly alter the space and create a ripple effect that momentarily distorts the surrounding artworks. A number of other themes such as mirrors and pattern, repetition, and geometry are touched upon in various pieces, creating a dense web of allusions and associations.
The first gallery would have made an interesting show by itself, but the exhibition’s real strength comes from the second gallery, which is set aside exclusively for the works by Kamau Amu Patton. The small, dark room contains three of Patton’s works: a light sculpture, a wall piece made of reflective fabric, and a video displayed on eight monitors installed side by side. The low rhythmic sound and pulsating colors repeated on eight screens, the eerie glowing of the “Light Bar”, and its reflections on the fabric piece create a mesmerizing experience. The works have the power and tensions characteristic of much of Warhol’s productions: they appear to establish their own rules only to more impressively break them, and they are deeply self-involved but keep a keen eye on the viewer’s potential reactions. This womb-like space might not be the final destination of Eric’s trip – but it completes the exhibition by invoking the deeply disturbing underside of Warhol’s Chelsea Girls beneath its superficial glitter.
Eric’s Trip curated by Cynthia Daignault and Mark Loiacono/ On view: June 21 to August 1, 2014
Lisa Cooley’s Gallery
107 Norfolk Street, NYC
Article by Tatiana Istomina
Photos provided by the Gallery