“Matt Chambers: An Activity So Pure,” Rental Gallery, Lower East Side. Through Oct. 17.
Roberta Smith: The title of Matt Chambers’s second New York gallery show, “An Activity So Pure,” seems to invite an ending like “Deserves to Be Violated, Ridiculed and Hammed Up.” At least that is what Mr. Chambers appears to be doing to painting, which he took up a few years ago while pursuing an M.F.A. in filmmaking. His paintings are big, varied in subject, painted with remorseless gusto and installed cheek to jowl on the gallery’s four walls. The resulting onslaught of 22 8-by-4-foot canvases is both robust and grim: painterly with an overload of Conceptual attitude.
“Xu Zhen: Lonely Miracle, Middle East Contemporary Art Exhibition,” James Cohan Gallery, Chelsea. Through Saturday (yesterday). Holland Cotter: For his second show at James Cohan, Mr. Xu has assembled another tableau, this one a fake group show of what is advertised as contemporary art from the Middle East. The works seem to jibe with that description, from mural-size paintings filled with Arabic texts and anti-American cartoons to a sculpture embedding Middle Eastern antiquities in a big ball of razor wire. If it all looks a bit done-before, that’s the point. We’ve been getting art something like this internationally ever since the war in Iraq gave the art market a chance to create a vogue for things Middle Eastern, a designation that has of late included a rash of new art from Iran. Mr. Xu’s show is clearly a comment on this specific opportunism, and the general practice of cultural marketing by stereotype: Middle Eastern always means guns and sheiks, Chinese still means Mao, and so on. He is also raising obvious questions about the authenticity, not to speak of the efficacy, of issue-oriented work. If a show of pseudo-Middle Eastern political art cooked up by a Chinese artist for a New York solo can look “real,” isn’t the whole genre just one big, salable joke? And, if so, doesn’t it follow that nonpolitical art, art-about-art — abstract painting, say — is the real deal after all, and way to go? I think I know the answer, but I very much look forward to Mr. Xu’s take on that particular scam.
Read the entire Art in Review column here.