Home Lifestyle On the Lower East Side, a Secret Space, a Mini-Biennial

On the Lower East Side, a Secret Space, a Mini-Biennial

On the Lower East Side, a Secret Space, a Mini-Biennial


A few years ago, the phrase “Dimes Square” began to flit around the art world. It had a youthful irreverence and seemed to be among those “if you know, you know” spots that only a few could point to on a map.

I was not among the few that knew. But just before Christmas, I learned of a pop-up group show in a building known as 1 Ludlow on Dimes Square. The show, titled “I Was Only Dreaming,” was organized by Club Rhubarb — which I did know about. A small starter gallery, it consists in its entirety of Tony Cox, an artist/dealer (and former pro skateboarder), and his small Canal Street loft nearby that since 2018 has served not only as his home-studio but also as his exhibition space.

Cox was given the use of 1 Ludlow, a small building at the intersection of Dime Square’s main vectors — Ludlow Street, Canal Street and Division Street — in the loosely defined boundary of the Lower East Side and Chinatown. The building fronts on three streets — each with its own address — and has numerous windows that compensate for the temporary shortage of electricity, which explains the show’s truncated 11 to 4 viewing hours.

The exhibition is an array of nearly 100 works by over 60 artists, whom Cox either knows directly or through other artists. It spreads through the top three floors, resembling a mini-Whitney Biennial and includes artists from several generations — some known, others emerging or re-emerging. Nearly all works date from the last four years and are modest in size and price ($3,500 to $55,000).

The art, the building and the square fit together like nesting dolls, demonstrating that in this time of gleaming big-box galleries and global franchising, Manhattan still has patches of grass roots and D.I.Y. All that is needed is an artist who believes that the work of other artists deserves to be more visible.

The works Cox has selected also have a strong D.I.Y. character: They are largely handmade, and reflect the tendency of contemporary artists to operate in the gaps between mediums. There are numerous painted reliefs as well as paintings and sculpture; also ceramics and textiles on their own or with other materials — photographs and objects of design.

Climb the wood stairs and you find that each floor has a different theme and vibe. In the “Renaissance Room” on the second floor, references to myth, religion and older art abound, along with wittily lavish materials, like Brock Enright’s “Dragon Skin,” whose shimmering, scaly surface is nothing but hammered-in brass tacks. Nearby “Karin and the Carousel Horse V,” by Gerald Wartofsky, one of the show’s veteran artists, depicts a figure on a merry-go-round horse and brings to mind the legend of St. George, who defeats a dragon. Kiyoshi Tsuchiya’s untitled painting turns a rather severe woman into a modern angle with a few simple white lines. After all this, you may be inclined to see Scott Calhoun’s “Night Air,” with its tortured landscape and white owl, as a new treatment of the Temptation of St. Anthony.

Similarly, the cutaway, undulating surface of Ernesto Burgos’s “Hyphen” (one of the best paintings here) evokes a vision in flight. The always provocative, usually salacious Sal Salandra devotes one half of his needlepoint, “What’s With the Smile Mona?” to an exquisite rendition of Leonardo’s masterpiece, depicted on the easel in the master’s messy studio. In the work’s other half, figures and a wall hung with whips and the like suggest that Mona’s smile might be in anticipation of an S&M training session.

Sahar Khoury’s richly painted ceramic — “Untitled (middle section of my living room rug)” — reminds us that Persian rugs were frequent props in Renaissance paintings. The relief’s toothy, saw-like edges conjure the textile’s fringe in such fierce form, they also resemble the crenelations of a castle. For different reasons, the various ceramics in the Renaissance Room — by Jennie Jieun Lee, Lola Montes, Elisa Soliven and Rob Raphael — might be among this modern castle’s treasures.

On the third floor, the theme of “Play” is put through various permutations, including the game-board compositions of Dor Maimoun’s Jacquard-weave textile painting and Michael Hambouz’s gouache on wood panel. Steve Keister contributes “Balm, the ‘Cat’,” a rampant feline in painted wood with a hissing face of glazed ceramic. Timothy Wehrle, an excellent self-taught artist, depicts a (phrenological?) head in profile with obsessive, radiating patterns using colored pencil on fabric and K8 Hardy skewers 1960s formalism with studies for her stain paintings, shaped like menstrual pads. Felix Beaudry’s “The Glob Mother and Lazy Boy,” a suggestive, larger-than-life stuffed sculpture in knit tapestry, threatens to suck all the oxygen out of the room.

“Future Freak,” the final floor of “I Was Only Dreaming,” is dominated by some nearly life-size figures. The most human of them is Jacques Louis Vidal’s “True Detective Staring at the Sun,” a 3-D plastic printout of a slouchy man with big feet who resembles a colorless comic book character. Hossein Edalatkhah’s sculptures of a fiery skeleton and a totemic alien with a removable space helmet are standouts, as are several pieces by Mamali Shafahi, of Tehran and Paris, whose work — seen in earlier sections — mixes different materials and cultures nearly every time. Here, his “Portal” suggests a blend of Assyrian, African and Greek sculpture while faking the look of glazed ceramic.

A list of works, available on each floor, is useful in absorbing the quiet extravagance of this show.

I Was Only Dreaming

Through Jan. 28, organized by Club Rhubarb, at 1 Ludlow Street (enter at 144 Division Street), Lower East Side/Chinatown, Thursday through Sunday; clubrhubarbinfo@gmail.com.


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