Curated by Norman Rosenthal and Alex Gartenfeld, Empire State – New York Art Now (which was on view early this year at the Palazzo dell Esposizioni in Rome) is an intergenerational survey of a New York’s community of artists
– which gather paintings, sculptures, photographs, videos or installations of Michele Abeles, Uri Aran, Darren Bader, Antoine Catala, Moyra Davey, Keith Edmier, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Dan Graham, Renée Green, Wade Guyton, Shadi Habib Allah, Jeff Koons, Nate Lowman, Daniel McDonald, Bjarne Melgaard, John Miller, Takeshi Murata, Virginia Overton, Joyce Pensato, Adrian Piper, Rob Pruitt, R. H. Quaytman, Tabor Robak, Julian Schnabel, and Ryan Sullivan.
The Dionysian and fervent aspects of New York life is brilliantly depicted in Nate Lowman’s [TBT] (2013) which gathers numerous smiley faces; in Rob Pruitt’s still-life paintings of junk, base on images screen-grabbed from the reality TV show Hoarders; in Michele Abeles photographs of overlapping and crisscrossing images, packed layer upon layer and built up as collage of digital files: Her Flag, Flag, Flag series is a “fusing of signs and signifiers that oscillate and hover, collapsed within a digital field that recalls the disrupting experience of toggling quickly between applications on a computer, or swiping across screens on your iPhone” (Tina Kukielski).
Urban subject in public space and architecture are other prevailing themes of the exhibition: Uri Aran is showing architectural models, LaToya Ruby Frazier a photographic documentation of urban life, Dan Graham a Skateboad Pavilion (1989), John Miller a wallpaper adapted from his ongoing ‘Middle of the Day’ series (for which he takes pictures as he walks around his studio neighborhood from 12 to 2 pm, the approximate time at which a typical worker would be taking a lunch break) and Keith Edmier a canopy-like structure with four columns (Penn Station Ciborium, 2013). The inside of the dome is lined with glazed tiles in a herringbone pattern, stained with an aqua or verdigris patina – as if the structure might have been exposed to seawater – and at the base of the columns are clusters of cast-resin and marbel-dust. In New York, oysters died out in the polluted waters: they are a symbol of decline which is one of the most popular New York city disaster myth – that is perhaps why a Hulk (Jeff Koons, Hulk (Friends), 2004-2012), a batman (Joyce Pensato, Badass, 2013) and dinosaurs (a Brachiosaurus and a Velociraptor by Rob Pruitt) are here to protect us.
Even if New York still remains the world’s hegemonic force in the art world (as Norman Rosenthal noted, “New York has a special density that gives rise to extraordinary possibilities of creative human encounters among the many communities, enriched by a diversity of nationalities, wealth, religions, sexuality, occupations, and activities”) let’s reiterate that empires rise and fall and artists like to reify those aspects.