"The Metropolis Between Your Ears"

James Gallery Presents The Metropolis Between Your Ears

From November 5 through December 6, the James Gallery presents The Metropolis Between Your Ears, a series of projects exploring our current post-industrial condition. The show brings together a major new video by American filmmaker Peggy Ahwesh, titled The Ape of Nature, and a new series of sculpture and videos by British artist Andrew Lord. Organized in response to the theme of this year’s International Conference on Romanticism, “Romanticism and the City,” The Metropolis Between Your Ears furthers the James Gallery’s mission to bring artists and scholars into direct contact with each other’s ideas and work and to share with the public the fruits of this exchange. The exhibition also features an early video by artist Paul Chan, titled 34 Flower Types for Henry Darger, and variously scored versions of the 1921 film by Charles Sheeler and Paul Strand, Manhatta.

The James Gallery is located off the lobby of the Graduate Center at 365 Fifth Avenue (between 34th & 35th Streets). Hours are Tuesdays through Fridays, 12–8 pm, and 12–6 pm on Saturdays & Sundays. Admission is free; for more information call 212-817-7138.

The exhibition takes its cue from the conference’s keynote speaker, Michael Moon of Emory University. Moon conceived of an imaginative urban space born of reading, often at a remove from the city, which he calls The Metropolis Between Your Ears. He tackles the theme of “Romanticism and the City” head-on, invoking such 19th and 20th century visionary thinkers as Walt Whitman, by way of Charles Strand and Paul Sheeler’s Manhatta; the utopian socialist Charles Fourier; “outsider” artist Henry Darger; Fyodor Dostoevsky; and the Bronte sisters. For the exhibition, artists Peggy Ahwesh and Andrew Lord were asked to develop new work and Paul Chan to lend an early video study and a series of related “Maxims” to expand on the conversation begun by Moon.

Peggy Ahwesh is an American experimental film maker and celebrated teacher born in the 1950’s in the industrial city of Pittsburgh. Her The Ape of Nature is a treatise on the malaise of post-industrial cultures, which she observes firsthand at one of Pittsburgh’s few remaining local factories, Kopp Glass. The lion’s share of her film unfolds, however, not in a noisy factory, but in a bucolic Hudson River mansion. Ahwesh proposes an equation between a state of mind she induces via hypnosis in women performers in the mansion, and a mindset induced by the current economic climate observed in the men she films at work in a vestigial industry. Her just-completed feature-length video is installed in varied segments at the James Gallery and is Ahwesh’s first effort to structure her work for a gallery installation, rather than a theater screening.

Andrew Lord, a British sculptor, also born in the 1950’s and raised in the northern rural mining country of Lancashire, offers a series of new sculptures and wall reliefs, along with two videos, configured for the James Gallery’s Fifth Avenue store-front windows. His River Spodden at Healey Dell, Whitworth, I – VII is based on details of the natural and cultural history of his hometown -- a river, a road and a dance. The installation sets the finely tuned abstract vocabularies of Lord’s cast plaster sculpture against the videotaped imagery of an annual miners’ Morris dance (Britannia Coco-nutters Dance through Bacup, Easter Saturday, 2009) and a historic “high” road that connects his town to other nearby mining and mill towns (Road from Catley Lane Head to Rake Head, Stacksteads, May 31, 2009).

Paul Chan, born in Hong Kong a generation after Ahwesh and Lord, has a longstanding interest in Darger and Fourier. His 34 Flower Types for Henry Darger, 2002, conflates hedonistic social philosophies inspired by Fourier with Darger’s “fantasies of garden worlds” and manages to be at once hallucinatory and cautionary. His Maxims After Henry Darger in No Particular Order, 2009, written just a few months ago, subject some of the insights gleaned from Darger to a conspicuously post-millennial, even post-“crash” mindset.

Charles Sheeler’s and Paul Strand’s iconic modernist silent film, Manhatta, inspired in part by Whitman’s poetic evocations of the city, serves as a counterpoint to these contemporary artworks. Its modernist singularity, however, is intentionally undercut by the inclusion of five variations on the original film taken from the website YouTube.

The artists in this exhibition stare hard at our present globalized, post-metropolis world, but do so with uncommon empathy. They share a confidence conveyed in the deliberateness with which their work is paced and a readiness to conjure slowly, from “between their ears.” As a result, their attentiveness to informative detail comes across as open, rather than insistent on authority. To look closely at their work is to realize how much stranger things become when you think you know them well and bother to consider them anew.

The Graduate Center is devoted primarily to doctoral studies and awards most of the City University of New York’s Ph.D.s. An internationally recognized center for advanced studies and a national model for public doctoral education, the school offers more than thirty doctoral programs as well as a number of master’s programs. Many of its faculty members are among the world’s leading scholars in their respective fields, and its alumni hold major positions in industry and government, as well as in academia. The Graduate Center is also home to more than thirty interdisciplinary research centers and institutes focused on areas of compelling social, civic, cultural, and scientific concerns.  Located in a landmark Fifth Avenue building, the Graduate Center has become a vital part of New York City’s intellectual and cultural life with its extensive array of public lectures, exhibitions, concerts, and theatrical events.  Further information on the Graduate Center and its programs can be found at www.gc.cuny.edu.

Submitted on: NOV 5, 2009

Category: James Gallery