By DAVID JAGER December 28, 2023
Jumbled, polyglot, achingly hip and down at heel, the Lower East Side is the epitome of contrasts. Before hipsters and rock stars colonized its struggling and occasionally squalid pockets, it was-and is still- a haven for working artists. This community is the focus at Bullet Space, perhaps the last old school guerilla artist run gallery remaining in the Lower East Side (it was founded in 1986). This last group show of the year, curated by veteran art space doyenne Alexandra Rojas, is devoted to women artists. Rojas is known for focusing on local Loisiadans who create out of necessity, not luxury. This group is no exception.
The only unifying theme of this show is feminine resistance, summed up in the title “Not That Way”, an echo of a remonstrance often heard by women everywhere. Despite the shows deeply eclectic character, there is the sense of a frustration with the gendered status quo, with issues of the body, with the topography of memory and embodied feminine experience, and the limits of gestural expression.
It was Joan Mitchel, a long-time LES resident in an apartment near St. Marks, who did as much as her male peers to establish gestural abstraction as the NY schools primary painting style, and she did so on her own singular and often ornery terms. So, it’s no surprise that abstract expressionism and figurative abstraction are the central vernacular of this woman centered show.
Rojas dominates the central space with a loose her own airy gestural canvas, where thick squiggles of cerulean blue and cloud white are offset by blurry dots of orange. It marries boldness with floating layers in a way that recalls the second-generation abstraction of Sherron Francis. Paula De Luccia’s canvases are more densely woven layers of dark colors, punctuated by slashes of red and ochre, a virtuosic counterpoint that saturates the eye. Bright flowers are suspended in flowing geometric matrixes in the sunny twin canvases of Eileen Doster, both figurative and bracingly modernist in a way that is quintessentially American.
The shows lone figurative painter, Sue Strande, creates a surreal landscape out of massed female breasts under a hazy sky in ‘Breasts’, a whimsical paen to the female-body-as-horizon. Her similarly iconic woman with flowing yellow hair. “Sunset” serenely gives birth to a giant tear over a field of skulls. Strande invokes the serenity of fecundity and the birthing body, but seems equally preoccupied with its opposite, a dispassionate lens into the cycle of birth and death.
There is something kinetic, even visceral, occurring in the multifaceted edges of Janice Sloane’s “Body Type” series, which appear to be eccentric figures, singular or in pairs, casting whimsically complex shadows. You imagine quixotic figures weighted down with trinkets and baggage, perhaps even extra appendages. Her small video ‘cream head’, which shows a face amorphously buried under gobs of cream gibbering against a black background, is equally unsettling with its sinister, Beckettian overtones.
Sloane’s works are placed in conjunction with the images of Tenesh Webber, whose spectral black and white abstractions have a distinctively cosmic feel. They might be exposures of deep starry space, or tracks of subatomic particles across photographic plates. In some she reverses the colors to produce apertures of black opening in milky fields of white, once again invoking either deep outer or inner space. They feel formalist and boundless all at once.
Installation and video also round out the show to make it a multimedia affair. Nadia Cohen’s “Radio The Sun” features soil and shards of glass line the wall under her projected video, shot in Andalusia. The video, inspired by memories of her Zimbabwean childhood extended, extended into a meditation on soil, light, embodiment and the topography of memory . She also reminds us, however, that ‘The Personal is Political’ and leaves us with a warning: “Do Not Be Distracted By Surfaces”.
In this continued vein of multimedia and installation, Quimetta Perle, marries the first world digital with folksy handicraft in tiny videos surrounded by beaded patchwork. Geometric filigree surrounds tiny videos of eyes, an uncanny effect that is markedly dreamlike. Her lone painting of a bleeding goddess, titled ‘Coatlicue’s Abortion’, invokes the Aztec goddess of childbirth and death as a statement about the Supreme Courts 2022 overturning of Roe Vs. Wade.
Photographer Ande Whyland rounds up the show with a piece of bittersweet queer Loisaida nostalgia, a trio of revellers at the Pyramid club. A time of liberatory utopia soon overshadowed by AIDS, it throws us back to the many times the Lower East Side was a social and artistic laboratory, a proving ground and a charnel house, all at once.WM
NOT THAT WAY Group Show at BULLET SPACE 292 East 3rd Street, NY NY. Closed on Dec 17th, 2023
David Jager is an arts and culture writer based in New York City. He contributed to Toronto's NOW magazine for over a decade, and continues to write for numerous other publications. He has also worked as a curator. David received his PhD in philosophy from the University of Toronto in 2021. He also writes screenplays and rock musicals.view all articles from this author