Art

New Monuments on the Lower East Side

Installation shot of “New Monuments”, at left Ben Godward “Double Fantasy” (2011), at far right, Jesse Bercowetz's “Circus of Circus” (2010) (all photos by hyperallergic)

Entirely new work was made for New Monuments. “Artists were selected for the show, not specific works,” says show-organizer and participating artist Ben Godward, who basically commissioned the other four participants. They all have deep ties to the Bushwick art scene, and are all transplants from the Midwest.

They met, work or — as in Godward’s case — even live in one large building in Bushwick affectionately called the Laundromat, so named for the large laundromat on the ground floor.

Making things specifically for an exhibition lends an immediacy and authenticity to the project. Godward’s “Double Fantasy” (2011) (seen at top) is one of the only sculptures large enough to be called a monument. It is an inverted bathtub-shaped monster made of pours of brightly colored polyurethane foam into a rectangular metal structure that stands over ten feet tall (precisely one-half-inch shorter than the track lighting) and it’s covered in high-gloss resin.

The title for the show comes from Robert Smithson’s 1966 essay “Entropy and the New Monuments.” The quote selected as inspiration for the show addresses how the urban landscape and modern life are reflected in contemporary art:

They are involved in a systematic reduction of time down to fractions of seconds, rather than in representing the long spaces of centuries.

This is particularly visible in Godward’s sculpture, which has a finite lifespan, and was created with the toxic product of scientific invention.

New Monuments provides clear insight into the current practices of many artists in Bushwick now.

At left, Liz Atzberger's “Black Rock Candy Mountain” (2011), at right, Letha Wilson's “Sunset Airplane Wilderness Ranch” (2010)

Liz Atz created a large relief of thick Plexiglas cast-offs from a trophy maker, in which negative shapes of stars remain visible. Audrey Hasen Russell provided an iceberg of insulation foam sealed in gold reflective plexi, cut into an intricate pattern, and crowned with a rope-strangled form. The miniature wire-resin strawberries and busts by Jesse Bercowetz, notorious for his room-size collaborations with Matt Bua, were a little weird; one of his larger pieces would have been the most obvious choice. Godward, Russel and Atz share a tight formal relationship in their color palette, materials and approach using collage and found objects.

Letha Wilson provides a counterpoint to the sculptures through photography, which she uses to poignantly address where the two disciplines intersect. One of her photos of a sunset is neatly folded into a paper airplane, and tacked to the wall at its vertex, so the print hangs away from the wall in high relief.

There is no polemic behind New Monuments. Whereas Smithson’s Modernist monoliths attempted to subvert capitalism (only to be eventually subsumed by it) these artists do not take an overtly political stance. They do suggest that revisiting Modernist aesthetics and optimism may be a fruitful pursuit at this particular moment in art production.

Audrey Hasen Russell, “Small Knot” (2011)

The show argues for a return to process-based studio practice, and to the idealism that was so prevalent in art making in the 1970s. The show noticeably lacks the conceptual positioning and manifestos of artists in the 70s, again, like Smithson, but also Serra, Benglis, Hesse, Irwin, and others.

It also indicates a rejection of a traditional Avant-Garde (oxymoron intended) approach, where work needs not strive to be unrelentingly new, or of the frivolous now, but instead, interesting enough for pursuit in the studio. Lynda Benglis’ work, for all its variety, remains deeply focused not on complex philosophical concerns but instead in making objects; Julian Kreimer succinctly says in his Art in America review of the New Museum’s current Benglis exhibtion, “Looking back now, we see that her work, for all its variety, always remains grounded in process and materials.” Formal explorations (“just making stuff”) in sculpture may be sufficient conceptual meat to chew on for artists like Benglis and Godward.

Godward, in an e-mail, remarked, “I’m totally a feminist sculptor. Now that may seem tongue-in-cheek, but it’s not. I share so much with the ladies.” A propos, Benglis and other Feminist sculptors will occupy the same space next month in a show that will be curated by Ann Landi.

New Monuments, curated by Ben Godward, on view at Lesley Heller Workspace, 54 Orchard Street, New York, April 13 – May 13, 2011, Wed – Sun, 12 – 6pm.

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