Grand Opening

Brian Sholis around New York

New York

Left: Laylah Ali. Right: Cory Arcangel (Beige) and Paperrad, Super Mario Movie, 2005, installation view.

My Saturday night in Chelsea started at an unfashionably early 6:15 when I strolled in to the (at that point) subdued reception for Laylah Ali’s second show at 303 Gallery. It’s another collection of small-scale gouaches on paper, though many are now half-length portraits of individual “Types”—as she calls the latest incarnation of her bubble-headed protagonists—seemingly excerpted from the stealthily violent vignettes, evoking schoolyard bullying or race-motivated attacks, with which she made her name. Ali has sublimated the cruelty even further here; it’s evident only in the small scars on the cheeks and the positively cowed looks in the eyes of her otherworldly subjects. Curator Andrea Green, who organized Ali’s current show at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis (which also produced a pocket-sized artist’s book illustrating the “Types”), was in attendance, as was Dean Moss, a choreographer who is currently producing an hour-long dance piece in loose collaboration with Ali. Moss previewed an emotionally charged excerpt of the work-in-progress at The Kitchen last Monday. He’s animating Ali’s works to great effect, occasionally freeze-framing the movement to offer the audience tableaux vivants that maintain fidelity to her compositions as well as to the sense of malevolence and pain that pervades the paintings. In the Q & A session afterward, Moss and each of his dancers came clean about the difficulties they face when performing such provocative material, admitting to feeling “violated” at various moments. I'm definitely heading back for the full performance in May.

Cory Arcangel’s solo show of new works opened at Team on Thursday; his second opening of the week pulled me southward to Deitch Projects. I mistakenly headed toward Wooster Street before realizing the night marked the reopening of the 76 Grand Street space—it’s difficult to believe that four months have passed since a broken water main flooded this corner of SoHo. With a friend, I entered the typical Deitch fray: Hordes of young artists and fashionable twenty-somethings were packed into the low-ceilinged front room. In back, Arcangel was screening Super Mario Movie, 2005, a fifteen-minute video made in collaboration with Paperrad. It takes the form of a reprogrammed 8-bit Nintendo video game (the entire movie takes up less memory than the picture at the top of this diary entry) in which Mario navigates a psychedelic crumbling world of corrupted data. It’s Arcangel’s first narrative work to date—there’s a funny correlation between the use of 8-bit interstitial titles and silent-era movies—and it is surprisingly engaging; I watched it three times in a row. At around half past seven, Jacob Ciocci of Paperrad, decked out in a neon-bright multicolored hooded windbreaker, gave an impromptu performance in which he danced wildly to a medley of crunk hits converted to the MIDI files familiar from your cell phone’s ring tone collection. He interacted with a wall-size projection—of himself in a similar outfit, doing the same routine—which made his hilarious seven-year-old-with-A.D.D.-channeling-Lil’-Jon performance an unwitting echo of Yoko Ono’s Friday night presentation at MoMA. You can’t beat that, and I didn’t try, quickly exiting to head off into the cold night.

Left: Jacob Ciocci, ROTFLOL, performance view. Right: Laylah Ali, Untitled, 2004.