‘A Chelsea Gallery Run’ and Shen Wei’s ‘Chinese Sentiment’ Opening

©Shen Wei

After the last post about a recent visit to Chelsea, my friend Gabriela Herman offered to accompany me on my next visit. We chose the day of Shen Wei’s opening to make our trip. As we stood on the corner of 23rd St. and 8th Ave., Gabby whipped out a piece of paper.

“While I go to openings in Chelsea quite regularly, it is often hard to actually see the work at these events. So every now and then I like to make what I call a ‘chelsea gallery run’ where I will literally print out a sheet of paper with all the current photography shows I’m interested in ordered by street number and will systematically go through the blocks checking them off my list.”

This was certainly a much better method than randomly scrolling through NYArtBeat on the iPhone to figure out which show to check out next. The first stop was Charles Moore: Civil Rights and Beyond at Steven Kasher Gallery.

©Charles Moore/Steven Kasher Gallery

Many of Moore’s photos from the Civil Rights era have become iconic, so there was that sense that I’ve seen them before in the history books. The walls were covered with photographs and included several marked up contact sheets that included crop suggestions. It was refreshing to see so many photographs on the walls, especially several that if they were to be viewed as singles would probably leave people scratching their heads as to why they have any significance. Part of the appeal of photojournalism and documentary work of historical significance is that for me, I tend to not focus on aesthetics as much as the content and context of the work.

Perhaps the f/8 & be there era is gone but looking at Moore’s work made me think that perhaps we’ve become a bit too jaded when it comes photojournalism. Sure, when we see the photos of current events splashed all over the internet, it can be overwhelming and easy to turn away but in five or then years we might look at the work far differently and be thankful that a few photographers chose to “be there.”

©Left: Harry Callahan, Right: Man Ray

As is often the case when you go to Chelsea, you end up walking in and out of buildings and galleries and sometimes lose track of where you are and everything you’ve looked at. Food for Thought: A Group Exhibition at Robert Mann Gallery featured work by Man Ray, Harry Callahan, William Eggleston and a handful of other photographers I wasn’t familiar with. As we browsed the show, I commented to Gabby how it was tough for me to enjoy group shows. For one, everyday on the internet feels like somewhat of a group photography show. Also, the themes tend to be broad, like food or night for example. I often enjoy one or two photographs out of the selection and then end up forgetting what the whole thing was about ten minutes after I leave the gallery.

©Left: Jessica Eaton, Right: Matthew Gamber

As an example of how one can contradict themselves, I was excited to check out The Sum of All Colors at Sasha Wolf, a three person show featuring work from Jessica Eaton, Mathew Gamber and Bill Sullivan. These photographers are “experimenting with how the medium of photography can illustrate our perception of color.” I know there are a few of you that probably just cringed reading that sentence but hey, I think it’s important to check out all types of work rather than just sticking with what’s comfortable. Plus, I just really like how some of these photographs look, no matter the intention behind them.

©Debbie Grossman

As late afternoon turned into evening, it was time for a few openings. At Julie Saul Gallery, we checked out Debbie Grossman: My Pie Town and Jeff Whetstone: Seducing Birds, Snakes, Men. I’d seen Grossman’s work posted around the web so was familiar with it and wanted to see the prints.

My Pie Town is a project by Debbie Grossman in which she reworks and re-imagines a body of images originally photographed by Russell Lee for the United States Farm Security Administration in 1940. Using Photoshop to modify Lee’s pictures, she created an imaginary, parallel world – a Pie Town populated exclusively by women.

Something I enjoy about gallery hopping is that I’ll often look at work I’d probably not normally be that interested in. On the internet, it’s easy to click onto the next thing without thinking too much about it, but when you view prints on the wall you tend to spend more time thinking about the work. Afterward, it still may not resonate with you but at least you’ve spent time considering the work.

©Jeff Whetstone

I wasn’t familiar with Jeff Whetstone’s work before viewing this show but immediately found the above photographs interesting. There were a couple of moving pieces that I can’t really describe so I’ll just use the excerpt from the gallery site.

The first moving work is Drawing E. obsoleta, a continuously looped 16mm film piece named for the species of snake that Whetstone attempts to manipulate into the form of a landscape. The snake determinedly resists the drawing and is continually corralled back into its container. The film continually threading through a maze of arcane analog mechanics mimic the snake in it’s predicament.

Albemarle Sound is a landform in the coastal south and the title of the second moving work. Albemarle Sound is essentially an audio piece that documents the sound of two hunters luring and shooting a duck. This 2 minute vignette is visualized by a waveform graph. A waveform is a picture of sound, and in this piece it describes the landscape of the coastal plain hunting grounds and conflates it with the narratives that take place there.

It was pretty interesting. While doing research for this post, I learned a bit more about Whetstone’s work. The New Wilderness is certainly worth a look.

©Shen Wei

The final stop was the opening for Shen Wei’s Chinese Sentiment at Daniel Cooney Fine Art. It’s tough to actually view the photographs on the wall at an opening because it’s generally crowded, but we were there early enough that it wasn’t a problem. The photographs in Chinese Sentiment are quiet and personal, ranging from portraits to landscapes and still life’s. What I appreciated about the work is that it veered away from trying to depict the cultural changes that are happening in China right now because of the growth of the economy. These photographs are about Shen’s journey “to reconnect with the authentic Chinese life.” Whether he achieved that or not, I guess that’s up to the viewer to determine. I wasn’t able to page through the book but the whispers in the crowd said it presented the work much better than what was on the wall.

It can be a bit overwhelming to look at so much work in one visit. It’s funny how to a certain degree it almost mimics the way we hop from project to project on the internet. I’ve grown to appreciate the importance of viewing work on the wall. I still think for most photography, a book is the ideal way to present projects but visiting the galleries in Chelsea is worth the experience itself.

©Shen Wei

©Shen Wei