Critics’ Picks

Jack Smith, Untitled, c.1962.

Jack Smith, Untitled, c.1962.

New York

“Half Air”

Marianne Boesky Gallery | 509 West 24th Street
509 West 24th Street
July 7–August 29, 2003

Throughout “Half Air”—an exhibition of paintings, drawings, video, and photography by fringe avant-gardists and underground visionaries—there's a sense of sly knowingness, a cagey approach to the abyss. In the Wooster Group's film By the Sea, 1979 (made in collaboration with Ken Kobland), oceanic tableaux pass the camera in a jerky circular course; this centripetal motion offers itself as a kind of fulcrum and ur-form for the exhibition. It's echoed by Glenn Branca's mandala-like drawings of harmonic patterns and by the circular symbols of Forrest Bess's paintings; we also see video pioneer Charlemagne Palestine urging himself toward the divine by whacking his body against walls or running in circles till he drops from dizziness—dressed, in one case, in a leather jacket and scarf but no pants. Palestine's installation Dorian Sweep, 1973-2003, contributes the show's de facto sound track, a multilayered drone with the consciousness-dissolving function of a mantra. In this context, Jack Smith's portraits of flaming creatures seem like manifestations of some wish to slip out of the skin of the ordinary. The great beyond is fully beyond us, but “Half Air” contains some absorbing transcriptions of encounters with its margins.