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Beate Gütschow at Sonnabend Gallery (May 2 – Jul 31, 2009)

Four hours in Chelsea, probably fifty galleries (about half the time, all you need to do is walk in, swivel yr eyeball holder on its stalk, and walk back out), and this, surprisingly, is the show I can’t forget. Surprising because I usually find the work at Sonnabend too brainy and cold for my taste (which is saying something, because I’m actually quite attracted to brainy and cold, just not this brainy and cold), and when I walked into the gallery my first impression was oh dullsville, more clinical German black and white photographs of architecture. But once I stopped to look, I realized that these pictures have more in common with De Chirico’s half-classical, half-romantic dreamscapes than they do with the neue-Neue Sachlichkeit of the Bechers. I mean, where the hell is this place? Brasilia? Lebanon? Sana’a? Baku? The answer, it turns out, is maybe partly. Gütschow assembles digital collages from a collection of images (whether taken by herself or borrowed from others I don’t know but would like to) to form brutalist urban spaces (and previously, I’ve since learned, natural spaces as well, in an earlier series) which upon first glance seem documentary but upon closer inspection are clearly constructed and impossible. By playing tricks with depth of field, Gütschow makes us feel claustrophobic and agoraphobic at the same time. By sprinkling the images with ominous tokens — a burnt airplane fuselage, a group of figures squatting in the shadows — she adds a subtle but powerful political tint to our impressions. I wouldn’t want to live with these pictures, but I did find them hugely satisfying both formally and conceptually.

Other shows I enjoyed:

Hannah Starkey at Tanya Bonakdar. Thrilling technique, sad people.

Taner Ceylan at I-20. “Enjoyed” is probably not the right word, but I have to give some credit for brute force.

John Copeland at Nicholas Robinson. A little embarrassed to admit my pleasure, since these are probably really sentimental and hacky, but I’m a sucker for just about any form of Blue Velvet-esque dark undersides of the American dream.

And this year’s winner of my “When I Hear the Word ‘Culture’ . . .” award, bestowed upon the most overrated and undertalented artist I discover on my annual pilgrimage to Chelsea, is . . .

Adel Abdessemed at David Zwirner. Pompous, lazy, and one-dimensional. What a waste of space.

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