Unhappy Ending? Sophie Calle at Paula Cooper Gallery in NYC
Art museums are great and all, but in NYC they are always mobbed and usually charge admission. But the truth is, any motivated broke-ass fool can cobble together a few quarters for the suggested admission at the Met or hit up the Free Saturdays at Brooklyn Museum. The real challenge is navigating the sea of tourists in these spaces, whose pushing, shoving, loud talking and picture taking can ruin your friggin’ day.
One of the positive effects of New York’s economic death knell is the chilling of the formerly white-hot gallery scene over in Chelsea. The neighborhood is no longer stuffed with pretentious art-school girls in black suspenders and rich assholes looking to buy a canvas some 22 year old Bushwick “genius” urinated on. At least not yesterday, when I grabbed an iced coffee and headed west around lunchtime.
On opening nights this spot is a scene of its own and the weekend tourist crowds rival those at the museums. But on glorious weekdays, the only people I saw at Take Care of Yourself , the Sophie Calle show at Paula Cooper Gallery, were students (quiet, kept to themselves) , the (hot) art installers , and some rich-looking oldies who deserved a sweet smile in case they were looking to revise their will and I reminded them of their lost daughter who died in a tragic equestrienne accident years ago.
In 2007 Sophie Calle received a breakup email from her boyfriend, the last line of which suggested that she “take care of herself”. Instead of not eating for two days, smashing her cell phone to bits and falling down the stairs drunk, Calle explored her emotions in her trademark systematic, observational style.
She gave the letter to 107 different women (including a parrot named Brenda) and asked them to interpret, respond, analyze and react to the letter from their professional point of view. The responses to Calle’s request come from a Talmudic scholar, a rifle shooter, a teenage girl, a police captain, a headhunter, a children’s book writer, a proofreader and a sexologist to name a few. Each woman examined the letter and interpreted it in the lexicon of her profession. The clairvoyant gave a tarot reading, attempting to uncover truths about the character of the man who wrote it; the police captain examined the contents, mining it for grounds for prosecution or arrest; the primary school teacher turns the letter into a text for analysis and discussion; and the family therapist sat the letter in a chair next to Calle and proceeded to hold a therapy session, which the viewer can watch and listen to on headphones.
The works come in a variety of media that range from video art, musical composition, and dance performance, to stunningly rich photographic portraits, the consumption of the actual letter, and a cartoon. Some responses are almost clinical in their refusal to address the emotional fallout of the event (the headhunter mentions that the letter-writer would be a great employee for a company to have on staff when its time to deliver disappointing news to shareholders) while other interpretations are simple expressions of empathy.
The space was inviting and enclosed and way more chill than most Chelsea galleries; a nice alternative to the intimidating huge white box gallery with accompanying rigid desk attendant who scowls as soon as she realizes you’re won’t buy. The thoughtful, gentle exploratory nature of the work was the perfect antidote to the mindless data entry I had been doing back at my office. What makes this show so appealing and accessible is that it’s not overwhelming in size, and if you don’t feel like reading the responses, (the gallery provides English translations of the works) the visuals of the exhibit are equally arresting.
For people who like their conceptual art in air conditioned spaces, the show is up through June 6th.
Paula Cooper Gallery 534 WEST 21ST STREET NEW YORK NY 10011 TELEPHONE 212.255.1105 FAX 212.255.5156 INFO@PAULACOOPERGALLERY.COM