Making its debut in Chelsea only this past December, Art100 Gallery has established a strong reputation in New York thus far. With sister galleries in Beijing, Shanghai, Singapore, and Hong Kong, Art100 Gallery offers something fresh to New York, where East meets West in a subtle and intriguing way. The gallery’s current exhibition, Hearts and Bones, spans over two floors, with work by Judy Pfaff and Kharis Kennedy on the first floor and a video installation by Shanghai born artist Li Xiofel downstairs.
With female artists time and time again being overlooked and overshadowed, it’s always refreshing to walk into a space where women, put simply, kick ass. The work of both Judy Pfaff and Kharis Kennedy instantly draws you in, an effect achieved by very different means. In fact, at first glance, one may not see the similarities or hear the strong conversation between the two artists’ works, as they explore different mediums and aesthetic characteristics, but that is one of the exhibition’s strongest suits: it actually makes you think. Kharis Kennedy’s portraits of upper class women, where glamour turns almost appalling, works well with Judy Pfaff’s mini ecosystems filled with paper flowers, many of which seem on the verge of decay. These works remind me of the Old Master Dutch banquet scenes, where lavishness becomes too excessive, and the closer we look at the fancy spread on the table, we realize that much of the food is actually rotting. Both Kennedy and Pfaff seem to be getting at the thin line between beauty and death or between wealth and greed.
Both sets of works also have a subtle “scientific” quality to them, another way in which the two artists build off of each other’s works. Many of Kennedy’s portraits of women stand next to portraits of animals, reflecting Kennedy’s interest in the idea of spirit animals. But the animals, in conjunction with Pfaff’s ecosystems and planetarium-like structures, makes the viewer question whether they are in an art gallery or a natural history museum. What are these works telling us about the world? About human nature? How do we answer these ideas differently when looking at something as art or as ethnographic object? I found that works’ ability to inhabit the world of art and natural science to be brilliant.
Li Xiofel’s video installation downstairs, in its own way, also bridges the gap between ethnographic material and art. The room plays seven of Xiofel’s videos at once, and while each video is a work its own right, one cannot help but watch and listen to the videos together, like one living, breathing entity. The strongest videos are from his Assembly Line series and document snippets into the days of both male and female workers in factories. Xiofel was particularly interested in the relationship between human and machine. Two of the three videos document the workers as they work machines, often zooming into their faces for minutes at a time, and one video is essentially a portrait of a machine. You feel like you’ve really gotten to know each person, and machine, intimately, not as a worker in a factory, but as a complex and mysterious human being. Xiofel doesn’t try to shove any messages down your throat but again, makes the viewer come to his or her own decision on their own. Xiofel proves that simplicity can itself have a didactic nature. He shows us that it is best to trust that the subject is strong enough to stand on its own, and that the viewer is smart enough to take away the many complex messages that Xiofel leaves us with.
Hearts and Bones is open until June 10th, 2017. Art100 Gallery is located at 555A West 25th Street, between 10th and 11th Avenue.