New art, New York

From coconuts to colonoscopies - a slice of art from the Big Apple

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sculpture by Uri Aran

After a relative lull through much of the nineties, new vigour was injected into the New York art scene by a wave of influential names including Dan Colen, Nate Lowman, Wangechi Mutu and the now sadly departed Dash Snow. Many first gained recognition through their affiliation with the hugely influential gallery Rivington Arms - also now gone forever.

But the Big Apple continues to set the pace as a raft of younger artists - or increasingly important older hands - provide the vitality that makes the city one of the greatest art-producing centres anywhere.

Local art hipsters and cultural cognoscenti are, of course, already likely to be familiar with their home-grown talents, although many are less well-known internationally. That's quickly changing, however, for hot new names like Uri Aran, Darren Bader, Amy Granat and Ara Dymond.

For others still hovering on the edge of wider recognition, the question of whether they hit the big time abroad remains to be seen - but if you don't already know their work, this should help you decide.


Jacob Kassay

Jacob Kassay
image courtesy Time Out NYC

This young artist's March 2009 show of seductively glossy, silver-plated canvases underlined his own shining potential.

The works are not only beautiful, they're conceptually complex, with the applied silver plate masking a previous underpainting of broad, coloured stripes.

In other words, the completed works conceal one reality as well as creating several more through their status as sculptural/painterly art objects, as well as unconventional mirrors that reflect back viewers and their surroundings.

Audaciously riffing on established artists such as Stingel or Kapoor, yet confidently idiosyncratic, Jacob is one new New York artist we're sure will export rapidly.


Darren Bader

Darren Bader

An open jar of tahini, coloured buttons nestling on the gloopy paste - "that's sculpture that I do. Find two things that complement each other, and voilà."

Born in 1978, hot young artist Darren Bader's practice includes meticulously worded, bizarre proposals to museums to do things like pin sandwiches next to masterpieces; installation; sculpture of the above-mentioned ad hoc variety; and probably just about anything else he feels inclined to produce.

Darren Bader

His 2007 installation as = poaching the poachers consisted of objects such as postcards, watermelons, electric fans and dollar bills arranged on walls, ceiling and small shelves.

Despite his own assertion that the materials somehow 'complement' each other, Bader's confidence does not necessarily take viewers very far - especially when his own analyses of their interconnection seem highly cryptic, even dubiously tenuous.

Nevertheless, none of this detracts from the magical quality of Bader's work.

There's a palpable, exhilarating delight in his own absurdity, as well as that hard-to-pin-down underlying consistency that raises his assemblages far beyond the accidental or ad hoc. In the words of New York Times critic Roberta Smith, "Nothing is connected, and everything is."

Or, as Bader himself puts it, "... my work is a very Surrealist enterprise. Not intentionally, but so seems my natural vocation".


images © Darren Bader

Yasue Maetake

New York artists: Yasue Maetake

Japanese-born, New York-based Yasue Maetake uses mixed-media sculpture and video to explore the often difficult relationship between man and nature.

Maetake's cultural background is an important element in her practice: the three-channel video, Haisho No Tsuki (To see the Moon in Exile) shows the artist engaged in ritualistic acts that evoke Shinto worship of nature spirits; it also takes its title from a fourteenth-century Japanese treatise urging the application of Buddhist ideals such as simplicity, naturalness and meditation to everyday life.

In one scene from the movie, roped to a tall tree, Maetake studies it through a huge magnifying glass.

Occasionally breaking off leaves and bark, she also attempts (in vain) to apply black ink to its delicate white blossoms.

In another shot, filmed on a beach, the artist assiduously threads black cord through sand; waves continually obliterate her work.

images © Yasue Maetake

Expanding on these themes of ritual, elements such as the cascading metal trinkets typical of Japanese shrines make appearances in sculptural works such as Polaris (above).

More frequently, however, Maetake's chosen materials underline dualities between the natural and man-made, combining objects such as fish-scales and twigs with digital images or nylon thread. Nevertheless, the form her sculpture takes varies widely, from intricate assemblage to concentrated focus on single, finely worked objects.

Aligning craftsmanship to the worship of nature, Maetake ultimately appears to assume the position that nature itself simply can't be bettered. However much this viewpoint may have been iterated before, it's given renewed depth and meaning by Maetake's poetically elusive practice.


John Finneran

art in New York: John Finneran

Born in 1979, and exhibiting since 2002, Finneran's profile is less prominent outside the US than those of many counterparts (his first solo appearance in Berlin, for example, took place in 2008).

Nevertheless, his work has grown steadily in stature and interest, and is a consistent feature of the New York art scene.

Finneran's early practice employed various mediums in the production of paintings, objects and assemblages with a child-like, faux-naïf aesthetic.

These interests evolved into a principal focus on painting, and while the simply-stated iconography and humour remain, the works are complicated through an emphasis on composition and painterly process.

Working on aluminium surfaces that are themselves used to achieve tonality, Finneran characteristically depicts multiple objects (with a particular penchant for noses, mouths and trashcans).

On one level a playful take on Warholian mechanisation and serial imagery, Finneran in fact emphasises the artist's presence through a taut, sketchy style and very human mark-making process.


John Finneran, New York painting
images © John Finneran

Uri Aran

Uri Aran

In a short, untitled video, a man heaps praise on a one-time ballet maestro: "Baryshnikov is the greatest of dancers." he utters. "Baryshnikov is the best dancer in the world."

Yet the fact that he is clearly being prompted to make such claims turns statement into a kind of non-assertion, and it's this ambiguity that sets the tone for all of Uri Aran's work.

His video, drawing and sculpture resist interpretation in ways they seemingly shouldn't. His materials, after all, verge on the cosily domestic: Google image downloads, battered household furniture, teacups and canisters of fish food.

Uri Aran
images © Uri Aran

Yet his practice is grounded in a very private lexicon, a visual language in which certain much-used signifiers - coconuts, candles, cookies - seem key, but whose meaning remains unclear. (It doesn't help, of course, if billiard balls are labelled 'bus', or that names of works such as 'Letter, policeman, ambulance, firetruck, crosswalk, stop sign, the butcher, the baker, schoolteacher' (left) continually seem to undermine themselves - back to the Baryshnikov.)

Nevertheless, the refusal to yield easy interpretation is an overall message we can certainly comprehend, indicative as it seems of an age in which values are far from fixed, and the quest to find meaning arguably more difficult than ever.

What brings homogeneity to the work, however, is its sense of underlying systematisation. As Aran himself has stated,

"Marking a point in arbitrariness becomes symbolic. Once something becomes a symbol, it is not as arbitrary anymore."

It's a seductive viewpoint, and one that brings us closer to some kind of rationale, but without being entirely convincing. Symbols, after all, can never reflect the arbitrary - they must contain greater meaning.

Certainly symbolic, and identifiably so, are elements of his work that carry mournful, even nostalgic associations and sentiment: battered furniture tipped on its side, the kind of cheap teacup and saucer you'd find at your grandmother's, or some scruffy neighbourhood cafe that will die out with its ageing owners.

It's a whiff of the abandoned or neglected which tallies with his own assertion that he is "very much interested in the ideas of pathos, and the abject."

But perhaps, more than the discernible, it's the sense of the cryptic just waiting to be uncovered that gives the work of this hottest of recent New York artists its intensely compelling appeal.


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