Sue Scott Gallery

New York state of mind: Six artists try to reassert NYC as center of the art universe

Tony Ozuna
The Prague Post, September 2010

Six artists from New York City have brought the energy and mixed cultural fireworks of their home to Prague's post-industrial Smíchov neighborhood.

Under the guidance of curator Omar Lopez-Chalhoud, the artists spent a three-week residency at Chateau T?ebešice (near Kutná Hora) in mid-August, where they produced some of the works now on display at Futura in the show "NY/Prague 6." The artists were invited to create site-specific projects for Prague, which are shown alongside older works. The show is complemented by "Video NY" - videos by 16 New York-based artists - selected by the participating artists and the curator.

In the first room, Katie Holten has painted the walls a calming blue-green for her installation Cosmic Turquoise, in which the walls become the grounding for her ink drawings on paper presented with objects found at T?ebešice. Old Czech books, black painted twigs, decaying fruit, rock samples and weeds transplanted in terracotta pots are all included. Many of the curiosities are placed on a table in the center of the room, while the walls also hold a Russian geological map, old photos, postcards and Holten's drawings on the pages of some books in English.

Holten commands another section of the gallery, including a long hallway and several small side rooms, all painted "cosmic turquoise" and with similar artifacts. Her installation Civilized Man's Eight Deadly Sins, spread throughout the gallery, is like a mobile natural history museum, evoking nostalgia for Czechoslovakia.

In striking contrast to Holten's installation work, Franklin Evans' sprawling work floornotesandcornerpositions, spread over two rooms, includes streams of brightly colored tape and standard masking tape painted by the artist, hanging from the ceiling like curtains. Evans also combines finely painted vertical lines with strips of colored tape and colored string on the walls to achieve a new kind of Color Field work. Colored and painted tape is also placed at chest level in the corners, creating theatrical 3-D "paintings."

Drawings and assorted color photocopies of drawings, photos and architectural plans - all seemingly by the artist - are taped on the floor like tiles, with the expectation that they will be walked over and then reused in their scuffed-up state for future installations.

Viewers enter through a veil of black curtains to find Robert Melee's Mobile (2010) - a huge, sparkling chandelier-like burst of garland, lights, balls, plastic toys and fruit - bringing to mind the funky decor of Indian restaurants that line 6th Street in New York's East Village. Chandelier is a New York-style party beast, captured and suspended from the ceiling, and nearly touching the ground.

In the same room, Melee presents the video This Is For You Backdrop, with an old-school pounding disco beat and inner-city dancers with their bodies moving maniacally, some more provocatively than others.

In the gallery's main projection room, Xaviera Simmons has captured a performance on video titled Stay the Wait (for JJ, Though I Did Not Know). It is eye candy for voyeurs, showing a woman parading back and forth, dressed and undressed, with and without an afro wig on her head. The "exhibitionist" is outdoors in front of a cabin overlooking a calm bay, and the viewpoint of the "voyeur" is from an interior filled with wicker furniture. At the end of each strut, the performer looks out at the bay and then into the room with binoculars.

Simmons is also showing three large photographs documenting the ups and downs of an interracial male-female relationship in T?ebešice. She has nailed wooden boards that are painted with text ("snuff," "ebony" and "flat foot and bony chest," for example) to the wall, with a few words in Spanish and one in Russian. In Simmons' attempt to create a site-specific installation of visual poetry, the use of some Czech text would have been appropriate.

Brendan Fernandes is displaying black vinyl masks resembling Native American motifs on the walls in his "Primal Scream" series, together with a video showing a man painfully struggling with English pronunciation directed by a stern off-screen coach. Phonetic English pronunciations in various languages are written in chalk on large blackboards on one side of the room.

In an upstairs gallery space, David Scanvino transforms the Czech tabloid Blesk back into pulp. His piece Untitled/Blesk (Aug. 11-Sept. 11, 2010) lines the wall with 22 cold gray slabs of paper, the content and color of which are obscured but not erased. They look like concrete slabs, or windows into a gray existence, perhaps referring to the way many Westerners imagined life in Prague before experiencing it.

The "NY Videos" section of the show is overwhelming and highly enticing, like New York itself. Viva Ruiz best captures the gay and bisexual, multicultural spice of the city in steamy, modern-day videos that are something like Warhol meets Herschell Gordon Lewis.

New York is losing ground to Berlin as an affordable, open city for artists and musicians. Already several years ago, Berlin was being called the "new Williamsburg," referring to the arty, hipster stronghold in Brooklyn. The exhibition "New York/Prague 6" gives young New Yorkers a chance to show Central Europe that they intend for their city to remain the center of the art world.

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