Debuts and homages - Art Collector

Andy Goldsworthy, installation view, 2015. Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Lelong, NYC

By Jess Holburn

James Cohan debuts its Lower East Side gallery this month with Pop, an exhibition featuring works on paper and sculpture from the late Robert Smithson between 1963 and 1965. The psychedelic pop art style that informed his early years comes as a shock to patrons more familiar with Smithson’s land art. Most of us are more familiar with his iconic earthwork Spiral Jetty (1970), as well as other land art works such as Broken Circle/Spiral Hill (1971), and Amarillo Ramp, (1973). In this show we see an expression of the experimental spirit rampant in the New York art scene during the early 1960s, presenting a blend of sacred and profane imagery that serves to negate mythologies of progress by unifying popular culture with ancient iconography. These retro collages on paper illustrate celestial porn stars, horror motifs reminiscent of The Blob and psychedelic patterns delineated in pencil, crayon, marker pens and spray paint. The sculptural works are equally playful, combining old photographs with mechanical parts, one transforming an old record player by adorning it with cheap novelty store trinkets, complete with plastic crucifix. Such work lends itself to his underlying ideas about entropy and oblivion. Here we see Smithson going through a kind of youth phase in his trajectory, yet the drawings have a style that Smithson continued in his concept sketches and imaginings for his future works that as we know went well beyond gallery walls.

Smithson’s later works have been the subject of much homage from artists such as Tacita Dean and collectives such as Bruce High Quality. Since his untimely death in 1973, Smithson’s work has been the subject of numerous monographic and group exhibitions, most recently America is Hard to See at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2015 and All the World’s Futures, curated by Okwui Enwezor at the 56th Venice Biennale.

Robert Smithson, Untitled [Man in colonial American dress and Indian], 1963. Courtesy: James Cohan Gallery, NYC

And on the topic of retrospectives for influential land artists, Galerie Lelong in Chelsea is currently showing both vintage work from the 1970s and 1980s alongside recent work by Scotland-based artist Andy Goldsworthy in an exhibition titled Leaning into the Wind. Presented as a series of photographs and films, we see how the artist uses his own body as a vessel to engage with nature and create unique gestures within it. Goldsworthy has stated that his goal is not to mimic nature, it is rather to understand it on a deeper level by way of human touch. Each documented series reveals how the work is tied to process and dependency on natural conditions. We see him leaning off a precipice, entering a rock with his whole body, crawling across hedges at dawn, writhing in dirt, spitting petals and tossing objects into the air. Each action becomes a form of engagement with notions of ephemera and resistance.

Since his last exhibition at Galerie Lelong in 2010, Goldsworthy has completed numerous public and private commissions and was also recently honoured by the Storm King Art Center, which is home to the artist’s celebrated Storm King Wall. Abrams Books recently published Andy Goldsworthy: Ephemeral Works 2004-2014. The artist is currently in production of a new film with renowned director, Thomas Riedelsheimer, following the acclaimed 2001 documentary of Goldsworthy, Rivers & Tides.

Robert Smithson, Pop, shows at James Cohan Gallery, through 10 January 2016

Andy Goldsworthy, Leaning into the Wind, shows at Galerie Lelong, through 5 December 2015

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