When I was a kid SoHo was Bohemian turf. The museums were uptown, but SoHo was flush with galleries, artists studios, and supply stores. As all of that got priced out and the artists were overrun by European tourists on trendy shopping sprees, the galleries moved up to Chelsea. There was talk of that all moving over to the Bowery to litter around the New Museum but the High Line took off and The Whitney Museum of American Art relocated there, so it seems like Chelsea will hold onto to its art scene. One of the most respected art institutions in SoHo, The Drawing Center, had plans to relocate to Ground Zero after 9/11 but that fell through, as did another location they had there eye on, the South Street Seaport. Instead, they stay put, renovated their space and continued to focus on curating great shows.
Gone are all the great fabrics stores and other raw material suppliers. Likewise, Canal Plastics and Pearl Paint fairly recently closed shop. But SoHo Art Materials relocated to Wooster Street, just below The Drawing Center. I needed some art supplies, and I like this store a lot so I walked down there today to buy some paint, pens, and drawing paper. I stopped by The Drawing Center on the way there and walked through a nice portrait show from École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, which explores 400 years of portrait drawings.
I did not care too much for the work they had going on in the back room for The Brothers Grimm show by Natalie Frank, who made a series of colorful but heavy gouache and chalk pastel drawings that deal with the tales. But I did like the small drawings by the U.K. artist Rachel Goodyear, which are squeezed into the narrow basement space: The Lab Corridor.
The biggest art surprise today, however, came after The Drawing Center, and after SoHo Art Materials. I left the store and passed the former Deitch Projects Gallery, which is now the Swiss Institute. Their space lured me in because it looked interesting and joyful. The show, Work Hard, is a quirky collection of contemporary art as well as drawings from Marguerite Burnat-Provins, a writer born in 1872. The first thing you notice is Black Balthazar by Mai-Thu Perret, a rattan core sculpture of a donkey - Balthazar from the 1966 classic French film Au hasard Balthazar.
Each piece in the gallery is quite different from the other, as this is a group show of two dozen artists. On a wall near Balthazar, is a wonderful kinetic metal mobile relief by Jean Tinguely from 1959. In the next room a life size female sculpture wears a gorilla suit [Alma (After Kokoschka) by Denis Savary]. On the opposite wall is a rocky landscape with two boots, one of which has stepped into a rat trap [Le danger de la multiplication by Daniel Spoerri].
My favorite piece from my quick spin of the gallery was Skin by Latifa Echakhch. It's just a cluster of 13 pairs of shoes but it reminded me of my time living in the Czech Republic, where everyone took off his or her shoes before entering someone's apartment. So this mass of shoes made me feel like a bunch of young people where on the other side of the wall having a good time. It also does something that a lot of artwork strives to achieve, which is to have a very different look and experience from another angle. The gallery is such that you can actually look down on top of this collection of sneakers so while the first approach is sculptural, the second pass from above has more of a painterly or photographic experience.