A dad and his daughters, loving life in New York City

Wednesday, January 10

Art Shows at PS1

First things first: if you're planning a trip to New York City, with or without (older) kids, put the PS1 Contemporary Art Center on your list of cool things to do. Because no matter what the art is like on any given day at this public-school-turned-museum—and, as Debbie and my visit last Saturday indicated, it can definitely be hit or miss—the physical space has such character and NYC flavor that a trip here always makes for a memorable couple of hours. I love the stairwells, caged in that inner-city way and featuring soaring wall murals; the installation rooms on the third floor that you can pop in and out of, like the offices they once were; even the unisex bathrooms are fun. Best of all is the sprawling courtyard and wide ampitheater-like steps out front, site of the fabulous Warm Up party every summer Saturday afternoon, which is an absolute must for anyone with any sort of hipster leanings. All in all, this is definitely one of Bo and Co's favorite venues for looking at art, on par with the Guggenheim and its looping ramps.

Anyway, getting back to last Saturday, when Debbie and I caught the tail end of several of the museum's fall shows...

Music is a Better Noise is all about art works created by musicians, which is a fun idea in theory, but, in this case, not really too compelling in its execution. Although there were a couple of good things here—Debbie and I both liked the dreamlike pinhole-camera photographs of Barbara Ess (who has "made records" with bands called Y Pants and Ultra Vulva), and the trippy line drawings of Devendra Banhart—most of the art betrayed these often extremely talented musicians as the amateur painters/sculptures they are, good examples being Sonic Youth's lackluster entries: Kim Gordon's glitter-on-black elementary school art project and Thurston Moore's nothing-new collages. The show runs through January 29.

The Gold Standard, in which every piece—some commissioned for this exhibit—offers commentary on the precious metal, was even less engaging, I thought, both the art itself and its mostly predictable message... except for Alfredo Jaar’s mesmerizing video "Introduction to a Distant World", in which exhausted, mud-drenched laborers trudge up and down the slippery sides of a Brazillian open-pit gold mine. An ant hill comes to mind, naturally, as do imaginings of vast slave camps in ancient times. Through January 15.

Sam Samore's The Suicidist is a clever, borderline creepy series of self-portraits immediately following the artist's self-inficted death, usually by such unconventional means as sucking his life out with a vacuum cleaner, strangling himself with a phone cord, or crushed by a test-your-strength "guillotine". What makes this exhibit especially interesting is that one set of photographs were all taken when Samore was a bushy-haired kid in the early 1970s, and then he shot a second set over the past few years (now he's a balding middle-aged guy), so we can see the suicidist all grown up.

I didn't understand John Latham's Time Base and the Universe at all—and, frankly, if his "unified theory of existence" is any indication, the guy is nuts—but it definitely provides a visceral viewing experience, especially the many works which to me read like the aftermath of violent collisions between charred old books and jagged, shattered glass.

Our favorite of the big exhibits that we saw (somehow we missed Defamation of Character, a post-punk show about fame that runs through January 15) was Altered, Stitched, and Gathered, curated by the museum's assistant staff. Unfortunately, I couldn't get any pictures at the time (security was too vigiliant in these rooms... and though I actually asked for a press pass at the museum's front desk, my request was refused), nor could I find anything online, but make sure to go up to the third floor for this exhibit. Several massive works were particularly impressive: a recreation, in huge panels painted in a multitude of styles, of a photograph of a bunch of bare-chested navy guys; a 40-foot-high wall-hanging that looks like a Klimt knock-off from a distance and turns out to be made from flattened bottle caps; a kaleidescope-y wallprint created with bits of typefaces stolen from product names arching over the room's main doorway. I also liked the Rambo movie made old-timey, complete with melodramatic piano music and title screens. Through January 22.

Finally, don't miss Katrín Sigurdarodóttir's High Plane V, which requires that you climb a (surprisingly steep) ladder and poke your head through the ceiling of the museum's second floor, and into the middle of the landscape she's created on the third. Through May 7.

PS1 is located in Queens, which makes it sound far away, but it's an easy subway ride from Manhattan on the 7 or E/V trains.

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