On ViewGallery 125 Newbury
September 30–November 4, 2022
Wild Strawberries, a group show of seventeen artists currently up at Gallery 125 Newbury, is actually located in Tribeca, on lower Broadway, rather than Boston, as suggested by the address-oriented name of this project space for Pace gallery. 125 Newbury was the address of the gallery opened in Boston in 1960 by Arne Glimcher, his first of many that would come. For this inaugural exhibition he has put together a strong show of differing artists, including Lucas Samaras, Kiki Smith, Lynda Benglis, and Zhang Huan. (125 Newbury aims to present five shows each year, with an emphasis on a broad range of styles and people, of various ages and backgrounds.) The title of the show reflects the great metaphysical film, made in 1957 by Swedish director Ingmar Bergman. Presumably, the art in this show is meant to reflect the purpose and scope of Bergman’s outstanding movie. And it does. For example, The Sinner (2022), a recent painting made by Julie Curtiss, is of a snake serving as the belt to a pair of jeans worn by a person without a shirt; its surrealism is also a moral statement that feels like a warning in regard to human frailty. This may be a tacit theme of the show.
The exhibition is notable for its intelligent diversity. Samaras’s untitled mixed-media open cube was made in 1965 and is eighteen inches long in all directions. We don’t know what the material is that covers the cube, but at first look, it seems to be horsehair. The apparent bristles give the work’s highly regular structure a rough, tactile surface. Samaras has always been particularly good at creating objects that are surreal, lacking obvious sense but presenting a highly compelling visual reach. In this work, which still feels highly contemporary despite being made more than half a century ago, the simplicity of the cube, coupled to the unkempt texture of its exterior, displays an imagination both in control and unbridled.
Kiki Smith’s Virgin Mary (1992) is of a naked woman, dull clay-red in color, standing with hanging arms. A bit taller than five and a half feet, the statue emanates the great humility of the holy figure, so central to Christian tradition. It is unusual to find a contemporary empathy with the devotional imagination, but Smith is able to invest the person with a presence born of simplicity and faith. In this sense, the sculpture is remarkable.
Robert Gober is well known for his idiosyncratic, psychologically challenging wax sculptures. His Man Coming Out of Woman (1993–94) is emblematic of the erotic undertones of much of his work. In this piece, a pale torso and spread legs of a woman appear to be giving birth to a man, whose leg alone issues from her vaginal opening. The leg ends with a foot wearing a sock and shoe. The piece is set on the ground, against a corner where walls meet. We cannot say that this is a true birth, but we can speculate on the eccentricity of its meaning. Perhaps Gober is realizing a visual conundrum: a fully grown man, whose foot is clothed, emerging, as if a baby, from a woman’s thighs.
Zhang Huan, the mainland Chinese conceptual artist and sculptor who spent a number of years in New York before returning to Shanghai, is present with one of his quizzical, but memorable, photographs. ½ Meat (1998) is a chromogenic color print of the artist wearing a side of beef, with prominent ribs. Zhang Huan looks dispassionately at the viewer, his bare chest visible beneath the bones. One doesn’t fully understand the import of the image, but that doesn’t necessarily matter because the photograph is aggressively strange.
This exhibition reminds us of New York’s great strength as a center for new art: its internationalism and stylistic breadth. The artists in this show cannot be characterized as sharing communal values, either in form or theme. But that is exactly the point; the works are meant to display the pluralism present in contemporary art. What the artists do share is a determination to question the traditional, both in the sense of artistic legacies and codes of acceptable behavior. This is often achieved by making work that may not be easily interpreted, even when one senses a serious import. Behind the difficulty of the works found in Wild Strawberries lay the wish to have people sharply consider how life is lived now. The show fully succeeds in doing so.