Seeing, Hearing, Tasting the Art

A group show at James Cohan Gallery hits the senses with an unusually warm burst

Winter holiday exhibitions are the flip side of the summer group show.

A saunter around Chelsea at this time of year can give you a good idea about the depth of a gallery’s holdings.

With “Realm of the Senses,” James Cohan Gallery hangs just such an exhibition of very divergent work. All the works presented refer to or incorporate one of the five senses. This very warm premise is very much at odds with the current ascendance of cool, photo-based imagery now out in front and lends the show a bit of a time capsule feeling.

A few highlights follow.

Since the passing of Felix Gonzalez-Torres, New York audiences have unfortunately not seen much of his work. Gonzalez-Torres’ estate representative, the Andrea Rosen Gallery, has pushed him internationally to the point of near invisibility here in the city.

So, it was a delight to encounter his 50 pounds of green mints presented as a minimalist green shag rug. Gonzalez-Torres made highly conceptual objects that are wonderfully physical. The never-ending supply of candy manifests the generosity of art objects and engages myriad questions about the permanence and presentation of artwork.

Also, be sure to catch his “Perfect Lovers” at the MoMA reinstallation.

Patty Chang’s Asian schoolgirl, with live eels slithering around under her buttoned-up blouse, and “Oasis,” Ene-Liis Semper’s documentary of a young woman’s mouth being turned into a planter, are neither MTV clones nor aborted films, but connect across the video technology gap to real visceral experiences that sparkle with life and mysterious sexuality.

“210 West 14th Street,” an audio work by Christian Marclay, is witness to domestic violence from behind closed doors. The simple poetics of an early Bill Viola video installation, that incorporates steeping herbs, make me wonder where he took the wrong turn into the baroque pretensions of his current work at the Whitney.

In conjunction with the East Village show at the New Museum in Exile on West 22nd Street, “Realm of the Senses” is a messy, fun, disturbing and human show to experience.

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