Something Physical 5.2.12

front: Ben Rivera, Divided Form 2, wood, glass, charcoal, linen and felt, 71” x 71” x 24”

back: Ben Rivera and Frank Ryan, Yo Mamba, 2008-2012, oil-based ink and paint on linen, 42” x 96”

When we think about the act of experiencing art in a gallery setting a primal feeling of physicality isn’t the first thing that comes to mind, at least for me. I have often found myself surprised by the way in which art in a variety of settings can pull me outside of the structures (commodity structures? Maybe so) I habitually find myself living and thinking in, but not usually in an embodied way. My experience, even of very evocatively physical works—in subject or material—is still primarily an experience of conscious or emotional reaction, not of body.

For this reason, the last two shows at the gallery have surprised me. Living with art at home is a very particular and rewarding experience (have you read Ellen Caldwell’s “Gallerist At Home” series yet on the New American Paintings blog? It addresses this so well, and I’m honored that she’s going to be profiling me in August). Living with art at the gallery is a very different one. We get to experience the same work every day for weeks, without the distractions of life that one has at home, and we get to know it well on something close to its own terms. It makes impact on us, then we become immune for a moment, and then it sneaks up on us again.

With last month’s Ben Rivera, Frank Ryan, Rivera’s sculptures of chairs bisected by glass, Divided Form 1 and 2, were an intense experience of  physicality, one that I wasn’t expecting. Rivera said that he wanted the pieces to make people conscious of their bodies in space, and that they did. The invitation to sit that is so historically imbued in the chair form merged with the challenge proposed by the panes of glass was a potent combination. In front of those sculptures, we became bodies who might fall into a sharp corner, who might bleed, who might find our clumsiness paid for with shattering. And then, if we took the time, we became bodies with enough control to wonder. And that’s where it became something closer to what I believe Rivera intended. (Geoff Tuck wrote a great review of this show here).


Bernard Chadwick, Isolation Booth: Drums, 2012, video loop with sound, wood, plaster, gesso, 70” x 46” x 22”


Bernard Chadwick’s Synesthesia, as the title suggests, is in many ways about a cross-coversation and mixing of sensory experiences. Chadwick explores the relationship between the visual and the auditory, and as a musician and a visual artist, it’s a realtionship he thinks about a lot. But what surprised me once the show was installed wasn’t so much the thinking element of Chadwick’s work—being familiar with his process and the intellectual depth behind it, that was to be expected—but the physical effect of the exhibition. A projected video onto a plaster cast of a suitcase meant for musical equipment, stacked on top of a plaster construction of an organ, actually does make my senses confused. I want to pick things up, to move them, to knock them over, to turn on the lights. And then I calm down, and I want to watch and to listen to the music that accompanies many of Chadwick’s pieces, some with a fundamental and insistent beat, some with sweet tones made on a children’s xylophone following imagery that is just is just as fundamental and insistent. A large circle of orange on a painting that is still dripping on my gallery floors with its mixture of tang and glue.  Chadwick’s work makes me conscious of the vulnerability and power of the elements of my body that are in charge of taking in sensory experience. By confusing those elements, refusing finished form, and inviting something close to participation, I believe Chadwick creates a strong counter-argument to the commercial culture of looking and listening to which we are accustomed. More on that when we discuss his two Listening Events.