New York

“Looky Loo” and “High Anxiety”

Since the early ’90s, Kenny Schachter has staged consistently edgy group shows, typically for brief periods and usually in transitional spaces. Late last spring, two exhibitions showcased his signature, low-concept approach to curating: “Looky Loo,” held at an established nonprofit space uptown, and “High Anxiety,” at a temporary downtown site.

“Looky Loo” presented works with no pretensions to the status of high art by seven artists with a penchant for drawing out the beauty of the ephemeral. All seven pieces reflected the low-budget esthetic favored by Schachter: an unlikely mix of sophisticated art-critical issues and slacker wit. Unapologetically artsy-craftsy (no small feat) were Nina Bovasso’s fluttery, paste-and-paper collages and lumpy ceramic teapots covered by knit tea cosys. Rachel Harrison explored the expressive possibilities of the color green with an amateur painting of a lamp, a stack of paint cups, and a shelf of canned greens after Haim Steinbach. John LeKay rounded out the show’s fifth-grade art-expo look with a messy mixed-media portrait bust of John Merrick in his role as the Elephant Man, which at once evoked Expressionist figuration and prefab Halloween masks.

A playful irreverence also pervaded the more conceptually based offerings in the exhibition: Spencer Finch presented us with a Warholesque video of himself, dressed as a cop, eating an entire carton of donuts; Jonathan Horowitz placed censor boxes on a videotape of Legends of Porn to create a deadpan “history” of art; and Ross Knight simultaneously spoofed and embraced the macho esthetic of race car driving by building a convention booth and logo banner. Literally writing herself into the show, Devon Dikeou installed 30 marquees listing all the group exhibitions on her resume, many of which included the artists with whom she shared space in this one.

This collision of high and low culture was given fuller expression in Schachter’s downtown project. The appropriately cavernous, gutted site of “High Anxiety” was filled with heterogeneous works in which a D.I.Y. Pop sensibility prevailed: Ilona Maika’s psychedelic wall-hanging As the World Turns, n.d., Brendan Cass’ art brut–ish paintings spoofing careerist abstraction; and Richard Kern’s disconcerting black and white photographs with comically nonsensical titles, to name but a few. But it was Robert Chambers’ hardened blob of petrified hair gel that best embodied the cheekiness of this exhibition—far from offering a moralizing antiesthetic, “High Anxiety” revealed the sublime beauty in cultural excretions. Though Schachter himself made several cameo appearances with works in both shows (his collaboration with Curtis Cuffie being the most notable), these were artist-driven rather than curator-driven exhibitions, which goes a long way toward explaining their success.

Jenifer P. Borum