Sue Scott Gallery

Beyond Laissez-Faire Summer Fare

Lance Esplund
The Wall Street Journal, July 2010

Lush Life

Various Galleries

Through various dates from July 30 through Aug. 13.

In New York, "dog days" applies as much to galleries as it does to summer. When collectors are far from the hot and humid streets of Gotham, a "Why bother?" attitude devolves into summer hours and group shows—usually loosely themed hodgepodges from a gallery's stable of artists. Yet every July and August a handful of shows proves unusually adventurous. The game-changer this season is "Lush Life," organized by Franklin Evans and Omar Lopez-Chahoud.

"Lush Life," inspired by the 2008 Richard Price novel of that name, is free association—a meditation on a theme. Mr. Price's book is a multicharacter and dialogue-driven murder story, a police procedural exploring issues of race, class, crime and gentrification on Manhattan's Lower East Side. The exhibit is of 60 artists at nine Lower East Side venues—Sue Scott Gallery, On Stellar Rays, Invisible-Exports, Lehmann Maupin, Y Gallery, Collette Blanchard Gallery, Salon 94 Freemans, Scaramouche and Eleven Rivington—whose individual shows correspond in title and subject to the book's nine chapters, such as "Chapter Two: Liar," "Chapter Four: Let It Die" and "Chapter Six: The Devil You Know."

The show has several bright moments, including videos by Tommy Hartung, Carol Irving, Ezra Johnson and Dana Levy; drawings by Nina Lola Bachhuber; sculpture by Chakaia Booker; and photographs by Christoph Draeger, LaToya Ruby Frazier and Alice O'Malley. Nanna Debois Buhl's video "Other Halves" (2007), bookending the exhibit in chapters/venues one and nine, is a mesmerizing interpretation of Jacob Riis's groundbreaking late-19th-century photojournalism project, which exposed to the world the slums of lower Manhattan.

Having read Mr. Price's novel will heighten your experience of this sprawling exhibition; but artworks, like books, must live or die on their own terms. The connections here between art and narrative can be expansive, subtle and metaphoric. But too often, as in Robert Lazzarini's distorted sculpture "Gun (i)" (2005-08)—the story's murder weapon—artworks can become illustrative props. Though "Lush Life" deserves special mention, visually and thematically it, too, is an overextended hodgepodge—one in which too many voices and trite ideas clash. But perhaps by next July the daring ambition of this show will have inspired New York galleries to rethink their laissez-faire summer fare and to transform "dog days" into glory days.