Thursday, January 21, 2010

The trek to Chelsea

Chelsea is not Soho. As the present Mecca of the contemporary art world in New York, Chelsea rewards the dedicated art pursuit, but it's a curious destination. There's none of the instant cachet of fine old architecture and easy subway access that helped turned Soho, for an all-too-brief shining moment, into a perfect storm of art and hipness - followed rapidly by the present situation of pricey lofts in a sea of high-end glamor stores. Not much left of art and artists. Chelsea, on the other hand, may just last, precisely because it's hard to get to and not much to look at. The area has certainly improved by the influx of galleries and attendant arts-related activities, not to mention the very cool "High Line" that cuts across overhead, but at first glance it still looks like a fringe area where you go to find a gas station and get your car washed. Trucks, I've found, are the defining sight in Chelsea. The galleries are there, though, in the blocks between 10th and 11th Avenues, and 19th and 29th Streets - a long windy walk from the subway on a cold day. Yesterday I hunted among the offerings and found some real treasure. Pace Gallery has a double presence in Chelsea - Pace Prints on 26th Street and PaceWildenstein on 22nd; both galleries are currently (through Jan 30) featuring the work of Zhang Huan, a current big name whose work is powerful and compelling. Pace Prints shows a series of monoprint woodcuts made from doors in his village in China that tell edgy stories of man, nature, and history. The head of Mao floats in a plank-printed river, overlooked by earlier, wiser-seeming Chinese leaders, above a shrouded coffin shape imprinted with the hammer and sickle - in another a wide-eyed Chinese deer makes a mountain for human footsteps to trample. The cuts are bold and the prints are somewhat crude, giving a sense of quick heavy brushstrokes against a palette of grays - the effect is strikingly close to traditional Chinese ink painting. At Pace Wildenstein the scale expands dramatically with an enormous sculpture of a deteriorating Buddha, grey and dusty, with detached hands - plastered all over with joss sticks and traditional trinkets that signify a contemporary search for material rather than spiritual wealth. See more about the Pace Prints show at: