For some the streets of New York map out an adult playground that comes alive after dark, for others they are the setting for a revolution perpetually stalled. A pair of current exhibitions embodies these opposing sides of Gotham’s metropolitan coin, presenting viewers with two very different takes on contemporary urban cool.
In the bleary eyes of Parisian artist and nightlife impresario André Saraiva, New York is first and foremost a clubber’s paradise, a wonderland built for sensory pleasure. Mr. Saraiva’s installation Andrépolis (2012) on display at the Hole, represents an idealized nocturnal Manhattan, a grid of 15 painted wooden models that transforms the rear gallery into a kind of sleazy ornamental arcade. Once past the crude, Pepto-pink giant phallus ride that bucks and rolls for paying customers outside, visitors to this Gotham-in-a-bottle will discover what resembles the contents of an oversized toybox. The array of mini-skyscrapers (most are a little over head height) is adorned with blinking neon signs and vibrates to a house mix that pumps from two black towers at the back of the room, both components adding to the overall fairground vibe. Arrows emblazoned with names like annabelle and henrietta point to miniature doorways that have been left suggestively ajar. And graphic nods to Deitch Projects (the now-shuttered gallery of which Hole’s co-founder Kathy Grayson is a former director) and Andy Warhol’s “bad” novel a (1968) hammer home the art-world context.
The need to establish high-cultural cred that this visual name-checking would seem to represent is perhaps felt with especial keenness by Mr. Saraiva, who remains better known for his club-running than for his art. The show’s press release, authored by Olivier Zahm of Gallic fashion and pop-culture journal Purple, proposes further canonical links to the oeuvres of Matt Mullican, Mike Kelley, Keith Haring and Winsor McKay. But any of these would be a stretch: there’s little trace of such mischievous genius in his fellow Frenchman’s leaden display. Incorporated more demonstrably into Andrépolis is Mr. A, a leering cartoon face with one eye X’ed out. This half-cocked gremlin is Mr. Saraiva’s graffiti alter ego and, if it ever did much in situ, it feels deeply superficial in a gallery setting. Mr. Saraiva aims to communicate a sense of wonder at the city’s endless potential, but his project finally comes off more adolescent than childlike. His is an unreconstructed hedonist’s perspective in which questions, problems and other people are glossed over en route to a good time for number one (and, maybe, his entourage).
It’s entirely appropriate that Mr. Saraiva’s show is paired with “Portrait of a Generation,” a 100-artist clusterfuck in which the young and youngish, the well-known and the emerging portray and mythologize one another in a spirit reminiscent of the indie-rock world of early-1990s London, aka the Scene That Celebrates Itself. “Sorry If I Got It Wrong But Something Definitely Isn’t Right,” Gardar Eide Einarsson’s fourth solo appearance at Team and his first at its newly added Wooster Street space, strikes an altogether tougher pose, forgoing Saraiva’s hands-in-the-air exuberance in favor of a pared-down, po-faced rigor. The show’s centerpiece is Big Barricade (New York City) (2012), a hefty free-form obstruction thrown together from 228 locally salvaged car tires (shades of Allen Kaprow’s Yard happening from 1961) and pierced here and there with white resin poles modeled after sticks of bamboo. Inspired by the makeshift barriers that cropped up on the streets of Bangkok during the anti-government riots of 2010, Mr. Einarsson’s installation is one of a potentially endless series—he has already exhibited other incarnations in Los Angeles, Stockholm and Basel, and New York’s differs from the rest primarily in the origins of its contents rather than in their arrangement or intent.
The image that Big Barricade presents belongs then to an established global lexicon of oppression and resistance as we see it played out on the public stage. Immediately recognizable as a signifier of violent conflict between official forces and ground-down citizenries, the improvised roadblock is a resonant symbol of inequality and imbalance. It’s also an imposing physical form, albeit, in this particular location, a victim of the ongoing drive toward gallery supersizing (one never feels in any danger of not being able to get around it in this airy room). Where Mr. Saraiva aims to reveal, in the words of the Situationists’ deathless analogy, the beach beneath the paving stones, Mr. Einarsson takes direct aim at those who would stand in the way of a good sunbathe. And don’t just look, smell: There’s nothing like the fragrance of hot rubber on a summer afternoon in SoHo.
Loitering on the walls around Big Barricade are two large monochrome paintings in fluorescent pink and dull silver acrylic respectively, plus one smaller photographic silkscreen on canvas with brushed acrylic additions that depicts what looks like a squad of helmeted figures (cops?) struggling to restrain a horse. The first two of these in particular feel closer to props than to fully fledged works of art; scene-setters rather than freestanding statements. The last plays with the fusion of mechanical imaging and painterly technique beloved of countless artists since Warhol, from Richard Prince to Christopher Wool and Kelley Walker. And while not exactly decorative, there’s a magnetic stylishness to these panels, a kind of steely radical chic. As self-conscious in his way as Mr. Saraiva, Mr. Einarsson at least avoids the former’s wearisome bonhomie, replacing it with a charismatic snarl.