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Lower East Side Galleries Kick Off Fall Season With Gusto

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Tobi Kahn's Embodied Light: 9-11 in 2011 at Ernest Rubenstein Gallery on E. Broadway

Steady, spritzing rain did little to dampen the enthusiasm and spirit of LES gallery-goers last night. In fact, the season-opening night for nearly 30 galleries had us hop-scotching around the hood sampling wildly diverse offerings ranging from freakish photographic portraits at the champagne-soaked BOSIDAMJANOVIC gallery on Orchard, to the lovely 9-11 memory block project at the Educational Alliance’s Ernest Rubenstein Gallery on East Broadway.

The LES may soon replace Chelsea as the preferred gallery scene for those seeking more edge, authenticity and perhaps a bit less hype. Haughty gallerinas are decidedly absent here—everyone’s welcome, attitude not included. We sincerely hope that doesn’t change.

If you can’t make it to the nearly 30 participating galleries that participated in the fall season debut, we’ve handpicked a few that we stopped in at last night:

At the Educational Alliance where major renovations are underway, the Ernest Rubenstein Gallery was intact and abuzz last night with a special exhibit marking the 10th anniversary of 9/11 with an installation by Tobi Kahn. The artist created a meditative installation for people to reflect on their personal memories and feelings surrounding that day and the decade since.

For the installation, Kahn handed out 220 empty memory blocks of painted wood to his chosen community—each block signified the 220 floors in the twin towers. The block was returned by its recipient with a drawing or inscription that evokes a memory of 9-11. The blocks can be continually rearranged by invited New Yorkers over the course of the show. This tactile show resonates, evoking emotion and memories of 9/11 for each individual as they handle the blocks.

From "O-Pee-Chee Dirt Pile" at Allegra LaViola

Just down the street at Allegra LaViola Gallery until October 15 is O-Pee-Chee Dirt Pile, a motley and spectacularly colorful collaborative exhibition by Joe Grillo and Jason McLean. The show is  comprised of collage, drawing, painting, sculpture and mixed media installation, on which the two artists teamed up. Whimsical covers for graphic novels, elaborate drawings, decorated packages and bundles cover nearly all the wall space at Allegra LaViola, much to our sensational pleasure.

Heading over to Orchard St., the sidewalks were clogged with gallery-goers and scenesters ducking into modest storefront spaces to get out of the drizzle. If the variety of work on display is any indication, no one is likely to get bored with art on the LES anytime soon. At Scaramouche, sober geometrical drawings, prints, photographs and sculptural works by Seher Shah explore architectural modernism and engineered social spaces in urban environments. And just down the way at Stephan Stoyanov Gallery, Pedro Lasch’s Phantom Limbs and Twin Towers Go Global chronicles the artist’s unusual interpretation of the Twin Towers set in multiple environments—Baghdad and Kabul, for example.

At Sue Scott Gallery, we checked out “Kristopher Benedict: Remake.” The artist revised images that are themselves revisions—the recycled subject matter of art history, remade films and jpegs culled from the Internet. One picture shows a couple walking in the snow lifted from the film Vanilla Sky (itself, a remake). Another shows actor Nicholas Cage’s foreclosed Hollywood mansion from a small image found on Google.  Revision and reinterpretation are the artist’s hallmarks here.

Lesley Heller with work from "Location, Location, Location. Mapping New York's Art Scene" by Loren Munk

Just down the pike a bit, Lesley Heller Workspace debuted the brilliant and highly evocative “Location, Location, Location. Mapping the New York Art World,” in which the artist Loren Munk takes us on a tour of the 20th century New York art world.

From "Location, Location..." at Lesley Heller Workspace

In fact, Munk’s canvasses  literally tell us where the artists lived–actual addresses for everyone from Jackson Pollock to Helen Frankenthaler appear neatly archived and categorized in bold colors. Munk serves as archivist and documentarian in this highly sensuous and illustrative debut.

Artist Loren Munk

Munk’s generosity of spirit in charting the exhaustive catalogue was not lost on us. And Ms. Heller presides over an inviting space that boasted one of the best vibes of the evening.

Bosidamianovic Gallery on opening night for the Fall Season 2011

BOSIDAMJANOVIC Gallery boasted the wildest ride with a provocative and fun show by Beatrice Scaccia featuring a series of large format, carefully constructed scenes of androgynous characters trying on various identities. By presenting a grown man in a tutu with a pacifier around this neck, for example, the artist pushes the boundaries of culturally accepted norms of femininity and sexuality. The pictures by Scaccia and Marta Jovanovic’s extreme take on ballerinas shock and delight in equal measure.

Series by Marta Jovanovic and Beatrice Scaccia
Series by Marta Jovanovic and Beatrice Scaccia

At Untitled, artist Ry Rocklen’s “Believe You Me” invites visitors to remove their shoes to view the gallery floor covered with paintings, sculptures and tiles.

Ry Rocklen (at right) with his show "Believe You Me" at Untitled
Believe You Me by Ry Rocklen at Untitled

The show features a chrome-plated phone book (Soft Cover A to Z) and the piece de resistance: Second to None, a construction made of trophies that someone once won and then discarded. The artist played with manipulation of found objects to lure us in.

The tiny Orchard Windows Gallery featured artist Kyle Nouse who explores pent up emotions in the years after his father’s death and how they changed his art-making. His show, “Honest Anguish,” reveals the depths of previously unexplored pain.

Artist Kyle Nouse with a piece from "Honest Anguish" at Orchard Windows Gallery

Sarah Crowner’s show “Acrobat” at Nicelle Beauchene Gallery explores geometric form and the relationships between painting, theater and dance. Large canvases feature four different color forms; curved and jagged, gestural forms that are reminiscent of color field artists’ work, only with more texture. The large, bold  canvases revealed tremendous flair and appeal.

Meanwhile, over on Eldridge St., Woodward Gallery offered a nod to 9/11 with a timely show, “Charting Ground Zero Ten Years After” (through October 23).  The show is a unique collaboration between The City of New York and the Center for the Advanced Research of Spatial Information (CARSI) of Hunter College-CUNY. The pieces offer an extensive aerial and ground overview of the World Trade Center site before, and just after September 11th, as well as the site’s evolution over the last decade.

Mapping technology and cartographic representation show the transformation of the site. Those mapping and spatial analysis technologies played a crucial role in helping the city assess damage, monitor the progress of recovery and safely deploy personnel and equipment in the disaster zone. Works in the show, which traveled around the U.S., will be donated to the Memorial Museum at Ground Zero for its permanent installation.

Martin Bravo's "Skittish Tree" at JS55 on Clinton St.

In the Clinton St. corridor, at JS55, it was closing night for Martin Bravo’s “Skittish Tree” multimedia installation. The Chilean-born designer, artist and pseudo-programmer, attends NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program and created Skttish Tree as a sound reactive installation.

Bravo says he’s obsessed with how the process of recursion works both in nature and in programming. For example, the tree behaves normally in a quiet environment, moving slightly with the wind. But as soon as noises start to appear it will adopt the behavior of a skittish animal, getting frightened and dropping its leaves and branches with a loud scream; it then moves pleasantly with soft melodies.

Bravo asked if I would yell at the tree, and I did. The tree moved wildly when I yelled. The installation, he says, is also an exploration of ways in which particular behaviors can be transferred from one being to another, completely unrelated, and the emotional responses that it generates in the people interacting with them. Look for more innovative multimedia installations from JS55 at 55 Clinton St., curated by creative technologists and designers Doug Jaeger and Kristin Sloan.

Toby Elkin is a writer, editor and interviewer who lives on the Lower East Side and is a regular reader of The Lo-Down. Her diverse interests include arts and entertainment, film, food and cultural critique. She can be reached at tobi.elkin@gmail.com.

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