Rachel Pastan
November 25, 2013

Chelsea Walkabout

Robert and I were running late. Stuck in the subway station on the way to meet the group, I tried to concentrate on the tripartite pleasure that lay ahead of us, a private tour for ICA donor clubs of three Chelsea galleries and exhibition spaces with connections to us. My thoughts, though, kept sliding to other things that come in threes, like Freud’s division of the mind into ego, id, and superego. When I told this to Robert, he said, “Plato divided the soul into three parts. That was long before Freud.” By the time the train came and we hurried along 22nd Street—arriving breathless, mid-introductions, where the group, having taken off the afternoon to look at art, was assembled—the frame for the afternoon was set.

Logistikon: mind, truth seeking (Sikkema Jenkins & Co.)

Large ceramic forms perch like embodied enigmas on their stands: bulging, leaning, drawing the eye and puzzling the mind. This is Arlene Shechet’s show, Slip, and Arlene herself is here to take us through. Dark blue, coppery brown, orange, pink-tinged-white, these pieces are hybrids, resistant (like truth) to meaning any one thing—and, also like truth, often surprising. “If it becomes too much a language of nature, I destroy it,” Arlene says. “If it becomes too much a language of the body, it goes away.”

Arlene Schechet install shot

The process of getting to these forms is arduous, long. Arlene tells us how she works with them in the clay stage for about six months. They dry for several months, then are fired in the oven over and over again. “Things are changing at every stage,” she says. “I do about a hundred tests a week.”

She talks about the process of putting Slip together in this space, which she’s showing in for the first time. “I wanted to have the experience of the show be immediate, and confrontational,” she says. “Each piece is like a sentence, but the show is the story.” She says: “I always tell students that artists don’t have that many privileges, but they have freedom.”

With Arlene sculpture

Appetitive: desire (Andrea Rosen Gallery)

“You can see cast penises sprouting up like flowers,” gallery director Trina Gordon says as she takes us through Counter Forms, a historical exhibition organized by Elena Filipovic of works by Tetsumi Kudo, Alina Szapocznikow, Paul Thek, and Hannah Wilke. Made largely in the 1960s and 70s—a time when the predominant strain in art was cool, minimalist, intellectual—this work is intensely visceral and raw. Something like a hairy slab of meat glistens in a glass box; blue and purple teeth line a painted jaw; squashed vaginal forms gape and slump. Gauze and resin gleam wetly, pink and beige and greenish. A knife wounds a block of wax, a cast breast bulges from a web of cloth. In a terrarium-like box, spiky green phalluses and drooping pinkish ones push out from the heaped dirt.

Kudo

Even the paintings—pink and red and bluish-gray—seem three-dimensional, as though you could plunge your hand into them. It’s as though the artists strove to mimic in material our deepest longings, hurts, ecstasies.

Spirited: the courage that fights injustice (FLAG Art Foundation)

Up the silver tower we ascend, to the ninth floor, where Glenn Fuhrman, FLAG’s founder and a member of ICA’s Board of Overseers, tells us a conversion story. “I was a freshman at Penn in the Wharton School,” he said, “getting ready to spend my life in statistic and accounting. But I decided to take art history in my freshman year.” Glenn’s professional life is in finance, but his passion for art, and the role that art can play in the world, finds expression in many ways, particularly here at FLAG, a non-commercial space for art of which he rightly proud.

Glenn Fuhrman at FLAG

Not all artists are on missions, but Wayne Lawrence is. On view in FLAG’s upstairs space, the faces and bodies of the people of Orchard Beach challenge and stir the viewer in his photographs. This is Images of Venus from Wayne Lawrence’s Orchard Beach: The Bronx Riviera, an exhibition organized by Awol Erizku. For six years Lawrence, an immigrant from St. Kitts, photographed here in the Bronx, striving to convey the spirit of the community: audacious, loving, protective, proud. In a statement Lawrence writes, “I committed to use photography as a tool for my own personal education and to confront long-standing ideas about race and class.” In his images, against a backdrop of rippled water, a woman in a flowered bikini bears clawed paw prints on her tanned chest. A father, flanked by two girls, holds his smallest daughter in his arms. A dark-skinned woman stands hands on hips, her yellow swimsuit glowing like buttered gold.

Woman in yellow

Art, of course, had infinite forms, moods, metaphors. Everyone on this trip today will organize it differently in their memories. But for me, heading home on the Amtrak (which is also running late), the day winnows itself down to three images: a bluish mottled form, ribboned in black, alert as though thinking; a bright garden of phalluses feeling their way into the light; and the radiance of the yellow swimsuit. Truth-seeking, appetite, and spiritedness encompass everything. I shut my eyes. The images pulse against the blackness.

The Chelsea Walk About was a special trip for members of ICA’s donor clubs. To find out how to join, contact Jeffrey Bussmann at jbuss@ica.upenn.edu or 610/573-0217.

To stay up to date with all the parts of ICA’s soul, email miranda@icaphila.org.

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