Sunday, March 7, 2010

Pulse New York 2010: Plastics and Narratives

On my way to Pulse on Thursday, I read a review in the Wall Street Journal of the Luc Tuymans show at SFMOMA.  The reviewer, David Littlejohn, suggested that art addressing modern history be judged by asking whether the artist "has something new, persuasive and productively thought-provoking to say, or has found a novel and mind-opening way to say it."

I don't know what he means by "modern history," but I think this standard applies to all contemporary art, which is in some sense contemporary history.

So I viewed Pulse's offerings with this standard in mind.  Sad to say, almost all the art was tired, superficial, and boring.

Amid all this disappointing work, a few artists truly stuck out.

It won't surprise anyone that Tilo Baumgartel lives in Leipzig.  His art is almost Neo Rauch redux, but his works on paper are so accomplished you could convince yourself that it doesn't matter.

Sandow Birk's "American Qur'an" is a years-long project of an English translation of the entire Islamic text accompanied by scenes of American life.  There's no relation between the text and the imagery -- it's not illustrations here.  I respect the artist's thinking about the relation of two cultures, and his ambition, and his updating the tradition of illuminated manuscripts.  Interesting that R. Crumb's illustrated Genesis came out last year.

 We deserve art that can make us laugh, and William Powhida creates just that.  Powhida is known for taking on the New York art world.  It's exciting to see him cast his net wider to challenge the L.A. scene.

Otherwise, there is little to be said about Pulse.  Plastic was a favored medium.  Dung hills of acrylic paint, acrylic enclosures, polyurethane, tape of different colors, cutouts from magazines and who knows what else that are coated with some sort of goo.  Plastic seems the perfect medium to characterize the word "unpersuasive."

Artists were really into their Sharpies this year, too.

(Conflict of interest note:  I once bought a Powhida print and have participated in forums he organized.)

Photos:  Laura Gilbert