Two gallery shows in wildly disparate locations end 2009 on an interesting note. The first, on the outer edges of Red Hook, shows a diverse cross section of young Brooklynites. The second, in the heart of Chelsea, shows us the work of a mature but decidedly outsider artist working steadfastly for years with a uniquely personal vision.
Kidd Yellin Gallery is perched on a dead-end Red Hook street, almost in the river. It’s as “out there” as you can get and still be in New York City. The gallery has put together “The Kings County Biennial,” a huge, 48-artists show, culled from those working throughout Brooklyn.
While there are several noteworthy individual works, the show lacks an over-arching curatorial theme and is a bit of a conceptual mess; there’s a little bit of everything and it feels a wee bit frantic. Each of the artists has one piece in the show, though I felt it would have been a stronger show had there been half as many artists, each represented by more pieces. Still, there were a couple of standouts. Eric Fertman’s elegant sculpture entitled “Tower” is reminiscent of post-war modernism. Constructed of stained oak, it exhibits gorgeous craftsmanship and a feeling for form traveling through space. Similarly simple in appearance is a painting by Alejandro Cardenas. Entitled “Special Forces,” it is a haunting and affecting portrait of a mass of burka-shrouded women rendered as a landscape of staring eyes. It’s a powerful image, at once political and beautiful.
The other piece that impressed me was a video by Meredith James, which demonstrates real narrative and filmmaking skill. A surveillance monitor placed in a ridiculously small office, dating from a past era, and plays a continuous loop of a video about the same office and the security guard tormented by a constantly ringing telephone. Better yet, the monitor is placed in the office set in which the film takes place, providing a physical context that makes the sculpture work on several levels. It’s mysterious, funny and a little twisted—a recipe for great art.
Miles away, on one of the chic streets of Chelsea, one enters another “out there” place, but this by dint of concept rather than location. The Cue Foundation is presenting the New York debut show of David Dunlop. Dunlop, a resident of Iowa City, has been working on his idiosyncratic and very personal vision for over 20 years. Using sculpture, text, found objects, installation and photography, Dunlop lays bare both his life and artistic process. Though university educated, Dunlop is arguably a true outsider artist. The complexity and fully realized nature of the universe he inhabits is completely outside of mainstream art. It is funny, meaningful, provocative and utterly original.
The gallery is hung ceiling to floor with drawings, photographs, altered clothing and homemade calendars. In the center of the space is a big wooden cabin that houses, inside and out every single handmade book the artist has created since the 1970s. Recurrent themes echo throughout the enormous show—Martin Luther King, calendar dates, flags and politics. Dunlop does not have an agenda to pursue with all of these subjects. It’s more like a view inside of one man’s complex mind- obsessive phrases and imagery; the things that a mind latches onto and plays with verbally and figuratively. Operating on several levels, it is a show that deserves a very close look.
All in all, two very interesting ways to end the year.
> The Kings County Biennial
Through Feb. 26, Kidd Yellin Gallery, 133 Imlay St. (at Verona St.), Brooklyn, 917-860-1147.
Though Jan. 7, The Cue Foundation, 511 W. 25th St. (bet. 10th & 11th Aves.), 212-206-3583.