Friday, June 2, 2017

Last Call: Duchamp's Fountain, Sasha Meret @ Shchukin, Esmeralda Kosmatopoulos @ 2 Rivington


Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 2017/1964

On April 10, 2017, Francis Naumann Fine Art celebrated the centenary of Marcel Duchamp's famous/infamous Fountain with an exhibition of artworks that pay homage to this revolutionary artist's gesture: a urinal turned up on its side, signed by a mysterious unknown called "R. Mutt." It was submitted to the supposedly open, unjuried first exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists in New York City, in the Grand Central Palace (since destroyed to make way for a taller, more lucrative real estate investment). The Society of Independent Artists included Marcel Duchamp, Katherine Dreier, Walter Arensburg, Albert Gleizes, William Glackens, and Man Ray.  From a position of power, Duchamp dared to submit a "ready-made" (already a concept in his repertoire, begun with Bottle Rack of 1914).  In this case, it was a decidedly male bathroom fixture with a sort of vaginal orientation on its pedestal.  This mass-produced ceramic site for depositing urine was sold by the J.L. Mott Iron Works Company. Nothing could be more antithetical for art.  It was a total Dada gesture: not unique, not handmade, not meant to be enjoyed for its aesthetic invention, and not made by the artist himself in any way, even as a commission from the foundry.  The supposedly "open" committee immediately rejected Duchamp's conceptual piece before the opening on April 10, and Duchamp immediately resigned from the SIA.  The urinal was photographed in Alfred Stieglitz's studio, published in The Blind Man magazine, and somehow lost. Reproductions are in various collections, most notably at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which has curated its own homage to Marcel Duchamp's "scandalous" gesture (on view through December 3, 2017).

 Kathleen Gilje, Sant'Orinale, 2017
gesso, goldleaf, gouache, oil paint on panel
16 3/4 x 13 inches

My favorite is Kathleen Gilje's Sant'Orinale (Saint Urinal) which says in its concise visual vocabulary how this subversive gesture has been transformed into a icon of art historical veneration, becoming as sanctified as a devotional image from the early Renaissance. Moreover, Gilje's painting amplifies the irony of this particular show by intimating that these appropriations may enrich many an artist due to the sales of their creations in response to Duchamp's anti-art work. In Gilje's work we see a masterfully rendered image of Fountain (Duchamp's rejection of "retinal art") surrounded by gold leaf in the manner reserved for Christian saints, Christ and the Virgin Mary. The sheer opulence, precious materials, uniqueness of the hand, and artistic fame of both artists (Duchamp and Gilje) flies in the face of Duchamp's original intentions, enacting a rebellion on its own terms and insisting on the glorified permanent art object that Duchamp decided to militate against and do without (by misplacing the first Fountain).  
Mike Bidlo, Fractured Fountain, Series of 8, 2015
Bronze, 14 3/4 x 16 x 11 inches

Mike Bidlo, Sherry Levine and Ray Beldner (Peelavie) transgress the original transgressive object by casting a urinal in bronze or sewing a urinal out of dollar bills, respectively.

Sophie Matisse, Fountain Cake, 2017 
Meringue, frosting, chocolate chips
16 x 16 x 12 inches

More in keeping with the original may be Sofie Matisse's white frosted meringue cake, fashioned into the fabled Fountain, embedded with chocolate chips to depict the urinal's holes.  Saul Melman's Johnny on the Spot, a concert hall in the shape of Duchamp's urinal that was burned during the Burning Man Festival in 2003, also plays into the Duchamp's anti-fetishizing of art through longevity, collectability and enshrinement as scholars anoint the object with masterpiece status.  Their works are ephemeral, in keeping with Duchamp's original iteration.

The Francis Naumann Fine Art website announced that May 24th would be the last day of the show. However, you can still see the exhibition through today, Friday, June 2nd. Gallery hours are 11 am - 6 pm and online at Francis Naumann Fine Art, 24 West 57th Street, NYC.

Sasha Meret at his opening, Shchukin Gallery, 110 East 31st. Street, NYC
through June 6th

Sasha Meret: Incendiary Artifacts of Past Digressions, opened on May 4th at Shchukin Gallery amidst a flurry of fans eager to partake in the magical journey of Meret's surrealist mind. The evening felt electrified with excitement.  Fortunately, the show will continue past the closing day announced on the invitation.  At this moment, June 6th is the closing date.  Hopefully, it will be extended further.

Mythological in origin, each work resonates with Meret's profound insights into the humor and darkness of human existence. Above, we find beauty in  Meret's reordering of existential chaos, for here are material castoffs recontextualized into magnificent creatures/creations and prints replete with phantasmagorical figures writhing inside fascinating compositions.  We see connections and disruptions, Dantesque heads spilling pipes from one mouth to another.  It's a scene reminiscent of Purgatory or Hell or both. For Meret disturbs our minds into a state of morbid curiosity. There is humor and their is demonic discourse presented in deliciously intricate detail and excellent drawing. 

Sasha Meret, Emperor Duck, 2017

As always, entering Sasha Meret's exhibitions feels like a trip into another realm of existence, an exploration into an extraordinary consciousness of reorientations.  Meret is indeed a response to Marcel Duchamp's Fountain in our time: the ready-made loses its identity.  It's fluid, undefined and yet part of an ensemble that functions as an artwork. Thus, it is postmodern and Dadaesque without being Dada at all. For Meret creates an aesthetic environment that retains the appearance of each object while he subordinates the individual identities of the ingredients to the whole vision.  Sasha Meret: Incendiary Artifacts of Past Digressions was curated by CATM  NYC.

Esmeralda Kosmatopoulos, "What I always wanted to tell you but never dared," 2 Rivington, NYC
May 31 - June 5

Curator ClĂ©mence Mailly explains that the artist Esmerald Kosmatopoulos discovered the uncanny abilities of predictive digital programs in text and email applications.  "The virtual machine had been learning from the artist’s everyday written communications and was now trying to mimic at its best her writing style, appropriating her most used vocabulary and style, in an attempt to predict her next words. This parapraxis was shedding light in a somehow disturbing way the complex - man versus machine - dialectic as the phone had been anticipating the artist’s next words without her consent." To that end, the artist decided to use these written artifacts to help digital "ready-mades" become artworks by virtue of the artist's intervention. "And the rest is history . . . .," as she quotes in one of her audio pieces.  What I always wanted to tell you but never dared, is a pop-up exhibition at Parasol Projects 2 Rivington Street gallery, just around the corner from the New Museum and on the way to Morgenstern's ice cream.  Another heir to Duchamp's Fountain, Kosmatopoulos dares to re-contextualize the algorithmic accidents that occasion our co-dependent  relationship on our smartphones and other mobile devices, teasing out the humor in accidents of communication. detecting significant in this banal quotidian territory.   This pop-up show will last until Sunday, June 4th.  So try to catch it before it disappears or visit Kosmatopoulos' website to see more images of the installation.

Happy Birthday, Fountain, and thank you, Marcel.  Let's us also celebrate rejection and the victories that finally ensue.

Best wishes for the weekend,
Beth New York

aka Beth S. Gersh-Nesic, Ph.D.
Director and owner
New York Arts Exchange, LLC