Like Father Like Daughter

Michael Wang around New York

New York

Left: A view of Tom Friedman's exhibition at Feature. Right: A scene from artist Lee Walton's “life theater.”

Legendary Feature Inc. director Hudson describes the “more inspired . . . larger jumps” in Tom Friedman's latest work as a function of “maturing, expanding one's consciousness, expanding one's thinking.” The delicate, precious (yet conceptually rigorous) new works crowding the modest space precluded the possibility of an opening party, and on the first day of the show connoisseurs and the curious alike were admitted by appointment only. Continuing his Wittgensteinian explorations into the nature of experience (with an Einsteinian bent), Friedman tinkers in paper, paint, Styrofoam, and stuffing, fashioning a universe of phenomenological phenomena. In contrast to earlier explorations (or experiments, as he would describe them), Friedman now combines a variety of his signature materials within single works.

My 4:30 appointment left time before Chelsea openings, so I downed a quick egg cream at neighborhood standby Empire Diner and then caught the C train downtown to see the shows at Art in General. Arriving just after six, I found the art-seeking crowds already beginning to file in to see the new exhibitions. In the ground level window space, artist Lee Walton had installed a “life theater,” where guests could sit on particle-board bleachers and watch the show unfold on Walker Street (the real spectacle, of course, was the guests themselves). Beyond its rather didactic interrogation of the spectator-spectacle relationship, the piece soon realized its potential as a “chill room,” though the mothers and babies and murmuring couples had to share their quiet time with some even more antisocial characters. (A thin man in an NFL baseball cap with an NYPD patch sewn on the back came in and muttered something about “stealing your souls” to an instantly wary audience before staggering out). Upstairs, artist-in-residence Chemi Rosado Seijo produced a skate map of New York (with young scenesters gathering cross-legged in semicircles around the 411-style videos), and on the sixth floor, artists Sharon Hayes and Melissa Martin showed their newly commissioned works. Martin's crafty Pop-meets-Renaissance science portrait of her father as an (anatomically correct) array of cross-sectioned, shrink-wrapped butcher-counter meats, arranged in a faux refrigerator—made, all 300 pounds of it, entirely of chewing gum—might signify any number of outré Freudian conflicts. Martin notes that she had to chew all the “fat” herself to achieve the proper consistency. “I stepped into the role of the father,” she explained. “My spit became like sperm.” Throughout this exegesis her actual father stood beaming by her side, his arm around her shoulders. In the adjoining room, Hayes's exploded multi-screen video installation (with four projectors and a central tower of monitors) featured on-the-street interviews (in the tradition of Chronicle of a Summer) shot during the month or so between the Republican National Convention and mid-October 2004.

Left: Artist Melissa Martin with her father. Right: Mark Borthwick.

Hailing a cab back up to Chelsea, I got off at West Twentieth for the closing of Feigen Contemporary's “Carry On.” Fashion photographer (and musician, artist, and filmmaker) Mark Borthwick had taken over the gallery for the evening, draping a wall of his own photographs with multicolored streamers and spreading figs, red grapes, and wild apples on stiff kale leaves across the gallery floor amid pots of black-eyed susans, bundles of mint, and eucalyptus leaves. (Needless to say, the air was heavy with the scent of another ancient herb.) I arrived just as the crowd passed around some crumbling, green tea-infused chocolate. Borthwick was sitting inside a teepee frame—replete with windchimes—cradling a guitar as he breathed lines about love, interspersed with Sigur Ros-like yodels, into a microphone. Also needless to say, there was a bongo accompaniment, provided by artist David Aron. Sitting on the floor on a felt mat and stuffing bits of dried fruit in my mouth, I found myself wondering what the Ray Johnson bunnies peering out of their collages amid assorted mandalas and third-eye paintings (the press release terms the show “a gentle psychedelia”) were making of it all.

Up the street, John Connelly Presents was showing Nick Lowe's compulsively rendered drawings including “heads with cornrows vomiting into toilets, feeding flip-haired, hand-holding bodybuilders” all atop, of course, the ubiquitous pile of skulls. The hour of eight had come and gone, but I managed to slip inside Yinka Shonibare's opening across the street at James Cohan just before they shut the doors. The show, titled “Mobility,” was based on Sir Henry Raeburn's portrait of the Reverend Robert Walker ice skating. Skipping ahead a century in foot-powered technology, Shonibare's signature caramel-skinned, headless dandies in batik couture now perch atop nineteenth-century-style unicycles. Only the eclectically patterned guests rivaled Shonibare's richly patterned textiles (which included a bicycle batik): I saw bindis, Japanese scarves, peacock feathers in hair, and a woman wrapped in a Near Eastern print with a slit carefully cut for a peek of cleavage. (Happily I had chosen plaid-on-plaid for the evening.) Always one for the switcharoo, the artist himself stood apart from his admirers in a sharp black suit—perhaps a sartorial homage to his Reverend muse. In a room drafty with the crosswinds of postcolonialism, Shonibare's unicyclists were up to more than one tough balancing act.