Eli Ping is an artist and a founding member of the renowned, artist run an owned, Regina Rex Gallery in Bushwick/Ridgewood. He is also the proud new owner of Eli Ping Gallery on Orchard Street in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Ping’s first exhibition is in two parts and is dedicated to the other 12 members of Regina Rex. Seldom does one get the opportunity to fully understand the inner workings of a gallery. For all of the interviews that exist with curators we are seldom given the chance to gaze into their notebooks, to peel open their heads and see the mass of inspiration and contradiction that leads to a finished product. On the walls, laid bare, are the jumble of aesthetic and personal differences that has made the gallery such a dynamic force.
Ping’s small, stone lined basement gallery is extremely rough. Like a homemade slice of bread, it’s gruff consistency is matched by a care and quality of construction. The exhibition features one work only by each of the six artists. The pervading air is curious, where a studied craftiness is cast in relief by a sense of playfulness. Glancing from work to work it is easy to see how the members of this group inspire and confound one another. One can nearly hear whispers of past discussions.
Siebren Versteeg is renowned for his computer generated conceptualism. His brand of art making champions the use of data gathering and pattern making through a system of hand built algorithms and programs. The result borders somewhere between cultural criticism, wry witticism and digital craft. Since familiarizing myself with his work several years ago I have always associated the artist with video and text based work. Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of visiting his studio I was astounded at how painterly the work had become; the result, no doubt, of hanging out with a bunch of abstract painters in Bushwick. Like the found images and text he has always referenced from the internet, his adoption of abstraction comes with a playful jab. His algorithmically generated works — which are printed on a linen canvas — come computer generated from a pre-existing set of conditions. How does one trick a computer into being creative? I’m not sure but whatever has happened here, it is certainly working. I feel as if the ghost in the machine is apologizing for every bit of boring spreadsheet math I’ve ever had to do on an iMac.
Across the room Jeff DeGolier’s “More Than Feeling” presents a decidedly physical counterpart to Versteeg. While Versteeg “painting” is ethereal, effortless and detached, DeGolier’s work is a large, filthy panel coated in parking lot garbage. At the top of the picture two household stereo speakers play satellite radio from a stereo that has been carefully mounted to the bottom of the screen. It is almost as if we are being forcibly grounded, reminded that the real world is still here in all of it’s filthy beautiful glory. Regardless of what it actually means, the work punches you in the face and makes you laugh at the same time.
Elizabeth Ferry’s plaster cast sculpture is tiny but packs a serious punch as well. Her deep green rendering of a pair of intertwined hands doubles as what appears to be a small, crablike monster. Sitting atop of a smoking, hand cut pedestal made of dry ice, the piece might be easy to stumble over if it didn’t radiate such an unearthly glow. I’ve never been so attracted to something so unnatural.
Gabert Farrar’s untitled drawing from this year feels like some sort of bizzaro surrealism. There would be something cheesy and tactless about this drawing if it wasn’t so well done and so fun to look at. Perhaps it’s a reminder that not everything has to be serious to be important. Stacie Johnson’s loosely strung together series of oil panted imagery is lyrical and cool. This is Bushwick abstraction rendered careful and complete. I love art that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it’s nice to see someone trying hard, especially in a case like this where that effort pays off. Next to it is a work by Anna Schachte, which as humorous as it is, made my eyes hurt. Fortunately, I think that’s what the artist intended. I applaud the bravado, even if I have no idea why it was attempted.
In attempting to discover the identity of Regina Rex what I found was not a unified personality or style but a group of dynamic artists defined by a sense of wonder and humor. Was I to sit down with a sketch artist in order to identify the infamous lady, perhaps the only feature I might describe with confidence would be her rueful smile. It is this group’s unbridled curiosity, their willingness to probe and replicate the past, to risk cliché and disaster that makes them worth watching.
Regina Rex Part 2 runs untill August 5th at Eli Ping (131 Eldridge Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan).