John Haber Arts
Slaves of New York
by John Haber
March 11, 2013
Who knew that it took such effort to hold up a gallery? Allyson Vieira all but fills a gallery with drywall pillars. They come in pairs, angled in all directions to fall where they may. They also come in no need of metal studs. One can see plainly each layer in its stack, piled roughly to eye level from the floor. One can imagine her shaping the thin sheets individually, or one can imagine a rectilinear column that one will never see, brutally or carefully hacked away.
Not sure whether to opt for the second? It may help to stumble on two larger sheets of battered drywall against a far wall, slathered roughly with plaster and enigmatic signs. Here metal does lie behind—but as contrasting materials and color, not support. The whole could pass for sculpture, expressionist painting, or simply a mess. The columns, too, could belong to an ongoing construction site, as in fact the gallery's second exhibition in a new location. Its façade is still in progress.
From a different angle, the columns look twisted, torn, and human. I thought of the dying slaves by Michelangelo around 1515 for a tomb of Pope Julius II. It makes sense that the slaves of the Lower East Side hold up hefty steel beams as best they can. Michelangelo never finished his project, but then I-beams at eye level will never hold up a gallery either. Last time out, Vieira adapted Minimalism to a model of the Parthenon. Its fabled symmetry, like Michelangelo's early classicism or the neighborhood before gentrification, is not coming back.
Wood studs form yet another bit of flaccid architecture, running along the floor. More leftover beams, again roughly painted white, stack in diminishing squares over unfolding rolls of silvery Mylar on the floor. They, too, confuse walls with windows, architecture with sculpture, and geometric abstraction with its stretcher. They also come in a pair, on two different walls. They define the gallery as a work in progress and a mirror image of its art. I have already made them sound more final and aggrandizing than they are.
Deconstructive architecture has been creeping into art often lately, as with Cordy Ryman or Joshua Neustein. If that seems ever so theoretical and conceptual, it is also a way of returning installation art to something plain, material, and painterly. With Vieira, it even toys with imagery. A more or less conventional sculpture, in cast bronze, combines a winged penis (excuse me, phallus) and an octopus. The show's title, "Cortège," also cites the poetry of Guillaume Apollinaire and Surrealism—like two weddings, if you will, and a funeral. If all this mythmaking sounds way too pretentious after Vieira's real threats, it is, but she still looks good in white.
Architecture also runs through work by Sharon Lawless, and it may well have freed a fine abstract artist for even finer things. Two works cast a knowing wink at the ever so sophisticated and now ever so dated interior decor of fifty years ago. The largest covers two walls in staggered rectangles, alternately framed and unframed—and occasionally bursting their bounds. The imagery from architecture, biology, engineering, economics, and thermodynamics includes all sorts of steady-state systems, none of them all that steady. Drawing often riffs on collage, and vice versa. Lawless has been at this a long time, as with an early collage in the show, but she may never have broken so fully into the gallery.