All-Star Break: Trends

In the spirit of last week’s All-Star game and in recognition of the final winding down of the current gallery season, a look at the five trends that most caught my attention over the past six months. As micro- rather than macro-trends, these commonalities in subject and material suggest that artists are equally looking around at the world outside art and looking around at each other.

1. SPACE

Maybe it’s in implicit reaction to the dismantling of the shuttle program that space has become the place for artists to devote their excitement and attention. Tom Sachs set up his grand-scale Mars landing at the Park Avenue Armory as a surrogate opportunity for exploration. At the Whitney Biennial, Lutz Bacher’s series of framed pages from an astronomical text functioned to hold the disparate show together and contributed to the feeling of the show as a personal album rather than an encyclopedia. Lisa Oppenheim also presented photos of the stars in her show at Harris Lieberman, and Henning Bohl took a more playful rift on space with his stretched-fabric paintings at Casey Kaplan. With his “Astral Desert” at Salon 94, David Benjamin Sherry created images of imagined lunar and planetary surfaces. Finally, Loris Greaud offered a suite of works at Pace that, if not explicitly representational of space, certainly conjured the idea of the dark unknown. With the recent potential discovery of the Higgs particle, our concept of “space” might be about to change dramatically, making this a field of inquiry that, like the universe, is always expanding.

2. ROCKS

Certainly, Michael Heizer’s “Levitated Mass” at LACMA is the largest, most popular, and most well-publicized Art Rock of the last six months. But Heizer’s notoriety doesn’t mean that the other stones, boulders, and pebbles around are signs of a new wave of Land Art. In Chelsea, rocks showed up as formal devices, like in Marlo Pascual’s show at Casey Kaplan, as objects of a particularly unnatural quality, as in Ryan Wallace’s “CUSP” at Morgan Lehman, and as red herrings, as with the polystyrene block of stone in Valentin Carron’s show at 303 Gallery. Often these rocks end up looking less like artifacts from our earthly environment than they do totems or relics from another world—much like the El Chaco meteorite, an over-40-ton rock in Argentina which Guillermo Faivovich and Nicolás Goldberg planned to use in their piece at Documenta before protests by the Argentinian Moqoit First Nation compelled them to withdraw the work. On a lighter note, Nicolas Party made an impressive showing at the Independent Fair and the Swiss Institute with his playfully disarming fruit-painted stones.

3. FRUITS AND VEGETABLES

Speaking of fruit, Party wasn’t the only one scrounging in the garden for materials. While Bloomberg was trying to ban oversized sodas, a number of artists also seemed to be looking out for the health of their viewers. Darren Bader’s show at P.S.1 included a room of plinths topped with fruits and vegetables which were used, along with some non-fruits and non-vegetables, to make a salad served twice weekly to visitors. For Earth Day, Fluxus artist Alison Knowles enacted one of her scores, “Make a Salad,” by tossing up a giant pile of greens in a tarp. In his exhibition at Freight + Volume inspired by the Beach Boys’ “Smile,” Erik den Breejen showed a painterly depiction of “[his] favorite Vega-Tables.” Elsewhere, fruits and vegetables showed up as sculptural elements, such as the lone orange beside Robin Cameron’s Monument to Pedagogy at Martos Gallery and the melons and cucumbers in Justin Beal’s silver sculptures, now at Bortolami. Also, Jessica Rath offers up porcelain apple sculptures in her exploration of plant genetics at Jack Hanley.

See Now: Barbara Kasten and Justin Beal, Constructs, Abrasions, Melons and Cucumbers at Bortolami

4. PLEXIGLAS

Judging by the amount of Plexiglas, and particularly neon Plexiglas, in use as of late, the material doesn’t seem to have lost the cache of being “futuristic” that it held, for example, when John Chamberlain first experimented with it in the 1960s. The material is particularly ubiquitous in the Lower East Side, no doubt at least partially because galleries and studios co-exist among acrylic supply stores. But the material itself also conveys a kind of optimism toward the future that complements the scene more broadly. While Chamberlain’s beautiful crumples of ombre plastic were up at the Guggenheim, Berta Fischer also had a colorful show at James Fuentes in which she exploited the material’s neon color and malleability, cutting, bending, and suspending it to luminous effect. At Joe Sheftel, Alex da Corte topped his triangular mirror-and-Plexiglas columns with rubber balls, building space-age monuments to infinite youth. Meanwhile, in Chelsea, the first New York showing of Hélio Oiticica’s Penetrables from the 1960s and 1970s proved that the material can be transformative as well as transformed.

5. CARPETS AND RUGS

Floor textiles turned up both as installation elements and sculptural components, suggesting a growing dialogue between art and the spaces for which it’s destined–either that, or a longing for the pre-Guggenheim days of the cozy Museum of Non-Objective Painting. Henning Bohl and Loris Greaud opted for wall-to-wall carpeting, choices that, given their shared interest in space and the cosmic (see above), beg the question of whether plush carpet is the closest analogue we have to how we imagine the surface of the moon to feel. Outside New York, Rudolf Stingel also made use of the plush stuff to reportedly emotionally-stirring effect. Other artists preferred rugs, and particularly oriental ones, with a mixture of interests both political and decorative. In his experiment at Louis B James, Martin Roth turned a field of intricate rugs into a living field of grass. Slavs and Tartars brought their rug at the New Museum Triennial off the floor, stretching it across a hinged steel armature with blue neon lights below that gave the traditional object a contemporary slant. At Gladstone Gallery’s “The Spirit Level” group show, Latifa Echakhch reduced prayer rugs to their fringed “frames” by unraveling their centers, then arranged the colorful borders into compositions on the floor. Currently, a long orange runner cuts across Greene Naftali as part of Rachel Harrison’s Legitimo, and an unassuming rug in Metro Pictures’ “Dogma” show reveals itself to be a piece by Nina Beier when a dog periodically plays dead atop it.

See Now: Dogma at Metro Pictures

What does it all mean? Feedback and alternative perspectives are welcome.

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