The show runs until the April 9th, 2022 at the New York outpost of the sprawling Austin, Texas gallery run by Lisa Russell.
As part of what feels like a distinct revival of the Chelsea arts scene, West Chelsea Contemporary is countering the intense, half stressful, half fatalistic atmospheres of many galleries in the area with something a bit more approachable, inspired by the “door-always-open” personality employed by the original Austin Texas gallery, opened in 2002 as Russell Collection.
Now the preeminent contemporary art gallery in Austin, West Chelsea Contemporary led the charge in demonstrating the viability of Austin as a true hub for experimental and blue-chip art (that is, art by renowned artists like Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali, or Chuck Close) in the south.
Steps from the High Line, the difference between West Chelsea Contemporary and other galleries in this dense quarter of New York City starts with the door literally being wide open. No suited guards or intercoms here, instead, Lisa Russell explains, “I want this place to be inviting. Things are meant to happen here, whether it’s a planned event or friends meeting.”
In the case of the current show, New York on Paper, Lisa tells me about how the entire space was transformed for the show on view. “It’s not just about the art. Look at the walls. They’re inspired by the tear of fine paper and print dots.” Indeed, the walls engage with the art by extrapolating and emphasizing texture found in the work. It did a lot to bring the art off the walls and into the control of the viewer in a way that I hadn’t really encountered outside of a contemporary museum. It felt playful and meaningful.
“I’m very fond of paper. It’s one of my favorite mediums.” For Ms. Russell, medium is often the driving principle of any given show. At one point of our tour of the gallery, Ms. Russell indicates her enthusiasm for a series of Dali etchings not with numbers, but with raw expertise on the subject matter, remarking the medium, the historical context, the relationship, and then the integrity of the art and paper itself. It was a rare moment of levity and definitive proof of Ms. Russells’ appreciation for the possibilities of one of the most accessible mediums.
This medium-first approach also promotes WCC’s educational, “art for all” mission, allowing the viewer to form their own opinions on unique artistic techniques and discover new relationships between a variety of artists. In the course of my visit, a wide variety of visitors passed through, from a pair of women enjoying an afternoon stroll to a young couple admiring works by The Connor Brothers to a mom and child. Title plates are especially informative, detailing information about the artists from the context of the medium.
The practical result of the medium-first approach the chance to see how dynamic paper can be- from photography to silkscreen to collage and etching. Standout works include a monumental Chuck Close portrait of Roy Lichtenstein, very profound in its simplicity but still in the spirit of Close. ‘Sunflower (From the Indomitable Spirit portfolio)’ is a remarkable 1989 edition that shows the qualities and contrast offered only by the dye diffusion transfer, with the negative being integral to the print. Tom Wesselmann’s “Judy on a Blue Blanket” (2000) screenprint is a buoyant and bold use of color, leveraging the brilliantly white paper as a critical, clarifying color in its own right.
The show features additional artists such as Ai Weiwei, Cey Adams, Damien Hirst, Harland Miller, the Conner Brothers, Salvador Dali, Bob Gruen, Robert Indiana, Robert Longo, Vik Muniz, Richard Hambleton and more.
Whether you’re finding the first piece for your collection, you’re a veteran collector (or just browsing the vast art gift shop), West Chelsea Contemporary has managed to translate the laid-back, accessible sophistication of the Austin practice to New York City with ease. Other galleries could learn some lessons.
New York on Paper runs through April 9, 2022 at West Chelsea Contemporary, 231 10th Avenue, in the heart of Chelsea, Manhattan, New York. Learn more about the show and the gallery here. Browse the catalogue here.