Contributed by Kasper Nihlmark / During a two-week trip to New York City from my native Sweden, I had the chance to catch a glimpse of the city’s art scene firsthand. As a sculptor, I was predisposed to wander about sculpture parks and museums. The Pratt Institute’s Sculpture Park, which stretches across its campus in Brooklyn’s Clinton Hill, showcases more than 70 works and a wide range of techniques and materials. Notwithstanding its broadly educational purpose, each piece is well-chosen and nicely integrated with the rest. Among the most striking is Nova Mihai Popa’s Ecstasy, a joyful composition of positive and negative shape.
The Noguchi Museum in Queens, dedicated to the sculptural work of Japanese American master Isamu Noguchi, is a serene gem that seems a world apart from Manhattan’s big and often overcrowded major museums. His works speak eloquently for themselves, so understanding them is hardly a strain. Rough surfaces of crudely split boulders meet gently carved curves and polished convexities, coming together to convey the power of form and the unique materiality of stone. With the complement of running water by way of The Well (Variation on a Tsukubai), the space is a sublime reminder that the calm and the brutal are often in close proximity.
Sculpture, of course, isn’t everything. At the Faurschou Gallery in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, solo exhibitions of the work of Donna Huanca and Tracey Emin captivate in other ways. Emin’s installation Exorcism of the last painting I ever made simulates her self-imposed three-week confinement in a room in a Stockholm gallery with the aim of immersing herself in painting, which she hadn’t done in many years and wouldn’t do again for many years afterward. She portrays herself as the artist and model at the same time, exploring the multivalent and sometimes fraught roles of women through art history. Life Model Goes Mad, a series of photos taken in 1996, brings classic portraits of women like those of Anders Zorn to mind while altering the scene and narrative.
“Scar Tissue (Blurred Earth)” – Huanca’s show – could read as filling out the NYC gallery bingo board, employing as it does a classic white-cube setting, a cryptic performance, shiny metal sculptures, and large-scale, semi-abstract paintings. The paintings, commissioned for the occasion, feature a consistent and vivid color palette that is applied with great confidence. Yet it is not the colors that grab the viewer so much as the texture. Playing off the metal’s reflectiveness, the solid white highlights on the canvas print makes the paintings come alive.
At the Whitney Museum of American Art, the breadth of Ruth Asawa’s artistry is on display in a series of drawings and sculptures in the exhibition “Through Line.” Among the most fascinating are the drawings of growth patterns, echoing her interest of how nature works, also pursued in her more famous sculptural work. A couple of floors down is Henry Taylor’s painting show “B Side.” Through brisk acrylic portraits he musters an impressive abundance of expression. With themes ranging from racial injustice to the humor of everyday life, this generous array showcases Taylor’s remarkable ability to capture humanity through rapid brushstrokes without pretentiousness.
Obviously, the New York art scene spans vast thematic, narrative, and formal terrain, and here I’ve merely scratched the surface. But I have come away with a lasting impression: that this art scene is as much a living organism as the city itself. The multitude of museums, galleries, and studios, and the sheer abundance of work, make it hard to encapsulate just what makes New York’s art ecosystem so extraordinary. But it left me with the strong urge to return for more.
About the author: Kasper Nihlmark is a Stockholm-based sculptor.
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