Sunday, February 12, 2012

Veduta in The Moving Room at Sperone Westwater Gallery, 2/11/11

Venetian veduta paintings at Sperone Westwater Gallery

Installation view. Italian Paintings from the 17th & 18th Centuries. Sperone Westwater, New York 7 January – 19 February 2011. Courtesy Sperone Westwater, New York.
Sperone Westwater has been around since 1975—long enough to be excused if it were in fact jaded and lethargic—but the gallery has made some recent bold business decisions. The foremost is to commission and build a new space on the Bowery designed by the renowned architect Norman Foster. It’s a slender, steel framed, eight story building with exhibition spaces on four floors. The kicker is the annex, termed the “moving room”—a 225 square foot elevator that can be used conventionally, locked in place, or as a free-floating installation chamber/elevator, as it was for a sound piece in Bruce Nauman’s recent show. The exterior of the elevator’s box is Ferrari red, and can be seen through the facade’s frosted glass. It’s the kind of thing that makes you think, “why hasn’t anyone done that before?” (In no small part because it’s really expensive, for one thing.)
Upon entering the ground floor, look up and you’ll see the bottom of the moving room. If it’s descending toward you, you are guaranteed to look right and left to observe the rubber-topped steel safety posts that will prevent you from getting crushed, should the brakes fail for some reason. The attention to surface and detail is high, and combines with the exhilaration of being in that space to create a simple, memorable experience by itself that will no doubt be immortalized in some Iron Man film down the road. Unfortunately, the main exhibition spaces are two floors joined by an atrium with one large wall at left, and mezzanine space overlooking it, plus some hanging space to the right. I’m sure some smart artists will be inspired by the space and create with it in mind, but for more conventionally scaled art, it’s a diminished, spatially confusing experience. The third floor is a better-proportioned room for such things. And the fourth is similar, with the exception of the intriguing elevator space. On view through February 19 areEarly Metal Reliefs by German artist Heinz Mack, refreshing in its straightforward obsession with the sheer material glitz of chrome and acrylic and how these materials interact with light and perception.
Hanging on four are Italian Paintings from the 17th & 18th Centuries, including a number ofveduta, or views of Venice. Many artist names will ring bells, but a number will be unfamiliar. The paintings are all in remarkable condition for being up to four centuries old, and range from tightly controlled technique to a looser, appealing style. The show marks another change: a partnership with London gallery Robilant + Voena; the two galleries will share a space in London. R + V specializes in Old Master and 19th Century and earlier work, conjuring some interesting juxtapositions with Sperone Westwater’s often provocative artists (including Nauman and Charles LeDray, whose work is on view at the Whitney through February 13). In the moving room hang three life-sized vertical portraits by Titi, Gentileschi, and Casini—different in style, yet which share the dandified pose of privileged men reflecting their self-importance. But it’s this thought that makes it all the more savory: they’re inside a moving box whose concept is outside the box.v

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