Savage Gallery, 416 NW 10th
Oh damn, this is a sexy show... mmmm... look at all these hot naked Asian chicks rolling around on the tiger skin rug... mmm... pole dancing
Wait, did I actually type all that out? What I meant to say is that Savage Gallery is hosting an exhibition of sexually charged works of art by Su-en Wong, who was born in Singapore in 1973. Wong's drawings on painted paper challenge the male gaze, while simultaneously inviting it, and touch on issues of "self" and "otherness." Please disregard any offensive statements I may have made about the nubile, er, lovely Ms. Wong.
In all seriousness, this show, Wong's second at Savage, is truly worthy of some attention--attention which she is rapidly gaining in New York thanks to her shows at Deitch Projects and to much critical applause. Wong's work is overtly seductive, which makes the impact of their politics that much more powerful. Most of the pieces follow the same format: they look like paintings from across the room, but are actually drawings on painted paper mounted on stretchers of the same color. On large fields of soft color, Wong's figure appears in multiples--topless around a mysterious swimming hole or sitting nude atop a wedding cake. The rendering and figuration is spotless; every rib, nipple, toenail, and eyelash is precisely drawn. Wong's gaze always meets the viewer's--there is nothing demure about her figures. The themes are very much about the stereotypes of Asian sexual exoticism, yet it is her approach that seems freshest. Everything down to the colors of the backgrounds is inviting and tempting. Viewers will hopefully recognize their base(ic) attraction to these pieces, and then reconsider their responses. At the same time, though, the viewers are brought in closely by the diminutiveness of the figures to the field, and by the excellent draftsmanship, and the cycle of desire starts again. Add to this the pictorial fantasy of two to five Su-en Wongs frolicking under lotuses, and it's a recipe for longing. The artist's insistence on using herself repeatedly in the work has undertones of schoolgirl narcissism, and brings to mind Charles Ray's "Oh! Charlie, Charlie, Charlie... "; the artist's sculpture of eight Charles Rays fucking one another. In Wong's work, though, her omnipresence is the part that seems slightly "wrong"--voyeuristic, self-indulgent, but mostly hard to explain away. The part that can't be summed up tidily. The part that makes these pieces very good art. CHAS BOWIE
Blackfish Gallery, 420 NW 9th
Nathan Marcel makes broad, exuberant, jumbled paintings with loads of collaged imagery and vivid blocks of color, six of which are currently on view at Blackfish Gallery. Or eight, if you go by Mr. Marcel's count, but I would swear that "View From the Ivory Towers" numbers one, two, and three constitute a single painting. But anyway... the show, Furtherance of a Mis-education, appears to come from two different periods of the artist's relatively brief career. Four of the paintings (two by my count) are executed in a completely wild, free-jazz orgy of paint and images, while three of the paintings are executed in a very controlled, stylistic manner that don't quite do it for me. The painting in the window straddles the two styles.
All of the paintings are bursting with visual energy--and Marcel is deft at keeping our eyes fully in motion. The artist paints on broad sheets of paper, which he collages heavily with everything from wallpaper to first aid diagrams and documentary war photos.
While maintaining this approach to painting, Marcel still manages to create work in two very different veins. The first style, which is brighter and bossier, could catch a viewer's eye at 65 miles an hour. They are authoritatively executed in hard angles and blocky shapes of deep color. "Dust Star: Blame the Tribal Patriarchs for the Coupe de Grace," for instance, shows a swirling cityscape at night, hundreds of buildings pressed up against one another, a labyrinth of rectangles. In the middle of the painting is a collage of war atrocities, tanks, and commandos, and if you stand across the gallery, it spells out "WWIII." I really don't get the connection, and it seems heavy-handed, but what really bugs me is the graphic-style, literal-minded, chunky painting. They look like they'd be more at home in a coffeeshop than at an art museum.
Not so with the largest piece, "View From the Ivory Tower," or the even messier "Library Book Page #1: The Ruins of the Old Gods." These paintings are a true joy to look at. First off, the clunky paintwork is gone, and the style is totally freewheeling. Secondly, the colors are reigned in; light pinks and greens prevail, and there's even some color blending and tonal shift happening. Mostly, though, it looks like Marcel cut loose on these paintings and got everything out in a manner that made me think of DJ Shadow, and TS Eliot's Wasteland. One could spend hours with these paintings, following the recurrent hobo marking-like shapes, diagrams of insects, and Buck Rogers comics. CHAS BOWIE