LAND Gallery at Christian Berst Art Brut
When visiting LAND Gallery in DUMBO Brooklyn, you will invariably be greeted at the door by artist Michael Pellew who will say, “Hello, we are LAND. We are artists with developmental disabilities. I am Michael Jackson’s best friend. What is your favorite heavy metal band?”
Now in its tenth year of operation supporting artists with autism and other disabilities, the studio and gallery celebrates its anniversary, 10 Years in 1 Day, at Christian Berst Art Brut, exhibiting over 25 pieces made by LAND’s core artists who attend the studio daily. The expansive show sheds light on the extraordinary lens through which the artists see the world, a rare and intimate opportunity for the general public.
Christian Berst Art Brut in New York City’s Lower East Side is a jewel of a gallery, and a fitting venue for such an exhibition. Championing “Art Brut,” most commonly referred to as “Outsider Art,” many of the artists represented at Christian Berst are united by a level of marginalization. The artists featured vary greatly ̶ some are self-taught, others have developmental disabilities, mental health disorders, or are geographically isolated. In tandem, the gallery also exhibits work by contemporary, “neurotypical” artists. As Director Phillip March Jones explains, the space strives to “create a conversation between both worlds.”
The question of what separates these artists’ work from the mainstream contemporary art world reverberates in this show 10 Years in 1 Day. Stand-out pieces in the exhibition include drawings by artist Garrol Gayden. His deeply saturated compositions of scrawling, almost indecipherable text are mixed with renderings of New York City’s seaside amusement park, Coney Island. Fixated on a childhood ride on the park’s Spook-a-Rama, Gayden endlessly relives his old fears through his art. Outlines of Laurel and Hardy, Spook-a-Rama’s cyclops and the Wonder Wheel appear alongside personal and seemingly random declarations such as “hold your own hand,” “please love her,” “stuffing turkey,” “lump lump,” “My Wife and Kids,” “soda soda soda” and “Soupy Sales.”
Drew Haigler’s messy, dripping sketches of food, most notably desserts, are captivating and delicious. Organized in grids, Haigler’s pastel ice cream cones and donuts are differentiated by flavor and price: Melon $1.76, Coffee Toffee $1.713, Pepper $50.74 or Lavender $1.77. Many of his drawings are markedly crumpled, torn, and taped. According to LAND’s Curator Matthew Murphy, Haigler regularly rips his work, pieces it back together and then writes an apology on the back.
Kenya Hanley’s works depict neat and categorical columns of plated food, self-described as “menus.” Rows of floating spaghetti, sausages, fish sandwiches, and chicken sandwiches are drawn in ballpoint pen and then colored, often in the Rastafarian green, red and yellow. In each composition, Hanley titles a selection of plates after television shows such as Evening Shade, Mork and Mindy, or Just Shoot Me. In another Hanley piece, rows of human heads look out angrily at the viewer and clutch telephones to their ears. These heads are interspersed with Kermit, Grover, Rowlf, and Raphael of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.
Michael Pellew’s hilarious celebrity renderings, also in grids, include musicians, historical figures and pop culture icons. His pared-down caricatures are depicted in perfectly random groupings, such as E.T., Kim Kardashian, and Bill De Blasio, and are often drawn in goth makeup. Many of the characters are paired with equally idiosyncratic dialogue and food. In one of his large-scale drawings on view, Magic Johnson is drawn with a speech bubble that reads, “Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages, this is your friend Magic Johnson. Come to my house for Chinese take-out and chocolate cake for dessert 7pm.” In another instance, Marilyn Manson can be seen presenting his “famous burgers and fries.”
The art of 10 Years in 1 Day shares a preoccupation and puzzlement with what makes up our culture: music, television, movies, art, celebrity, and food. The artists take a bite out of this culture, chew it up and decide whether to swallow or spit it out. What is left are complicated, beautiful, esoteric, and often poignant works full of cultural commentary – mimicking the very environment in which we live.
You may ask “what does it all mean?” to which Pellew might respond, “I’m not sure, but have you ever tried a Thin Lizzy cheeseburger?” What’s important is the work does what art does. It makes you laugh, smile, question, and it may even render you speechless.
Visit 10 Years in 1 Day, October 9, 2015 from 6-9pm at Christian Berst Art Brut at 95 Rivington Street, New York, NY 10002. For more information about the event call LAND Gallery at (917) 670-9322.