What I’m Looking at: Delcy Morelos Reinvents Earth Art, ‘Wild Style’ at 40, and Other Stuff at the Edge of Art

“What I’m Looking at” is a monthly column where I digest art worth seeing, writings worth reading, and other tidbits. Below, thoughts from October and November.

Delcy Morelos, “El Abrazo” at Dia Art Foundation

I’m glad my colleague Sarah Cascone already gave Delcy Morelos the profile treatment, so I can just focus on saying the following: This exhibition is awesome.

The Colombian artist gives us two installations, each filling one giant chamber at Dia in Chelsea. The first, Cielo terrenal (Earthly Heaven) (2023) unfolds as a series of stacked elements built up along the ground, none more than calf height, all of them in the same earth color and exuding the scent of cloves and cacao. This landscape of scattered, abstract accumulations rolls away from you into the darkened back of the chamber, the soil-covered forms fading off into the shadows. It feels geometric but alive. Walking into the room gives you the sensation of soaring over some mysterious civilization.

With the transition from the first to the second chamber of Morelos’s show, your sense of scale flips, from feeling as if you are towering over a landscape to being towered over yourself—a great bit of stagecraft. El abrazo (The Embrace) (2023) is a hulking earth mass studded with hay, filling the space while also seeming to hover subtly above the ground (via a set-back base), complete with a passage that you can venture into, to really feel yourself engulfed.

Delcy Morelos, El abrazo (The Embrace), 2023, at Dia Chelsea, New York (detail). Photo by Don Stahl, ©Delcy Morelos.

Delcy Morelos, El abrazo (The Embrace), 2023, at Dia Chelsea, New York (detail). Photo by Don Stahl, ©Delcy Morelos.

You are encouraged to touch it, its packed-dirt body feeling warm and brittle. In doing so, you feel viscerally that this giant synecdoche for the Earth is both imposing, and that you could damage it if you treat it too recklessly. That sense is part of its symbolism too.

To sum up: Morelos’s work hits you directly while also being full of feelings that unfold in time. It’s heady, but also a full-body art experience; it has a wonderful attention to detail, while feeling like a force of nature itself. It’s about as effective and affecting as anything I have seen any time recently. I could go on, but really—just go and see it.

Delcy Morelos's El abrazo (The Embrace)

Delcy Morelos’s El abrazo (The Embrace) (2023), at Dia Chelsea, New York. Photo by Ben Davis.

Delcy Morelos, Cielo terrenal (Earthly Heaven) (2023)

Delcy Morelos, Cielo terrenal (Earthly Heaven) (2023), at Dia Chelsea, New York. Photo by Ben Davis.

Delcy Morelos's Cielo terrenal

Delcy Morelos, Cielo terrenal (Earthly Heaven) (2023), at Dia Chelsea, New York. Photo by Ben Davis.

Wild Style 40” at Jeffrey Deitch

A lightening flash of creativity out of the past, with a low rumble of melancholy thunder that hits you on a delay, as you think about a lost era of rebel creativity. The great Carlo McCormick curates an exhibition marking the 40th anniversary of Charlie Ahearn’s famed graffiti doc Wild Style, full of new and old work by classic graffiti artists and a few of the star street artists they inspired. Plus, photographers who chronicled the scene and some harder-to-define figures who worked the Bronx/Downtown access in the early ‘80s, from a huge mural piece by Lee Quiñones to Zephyr & Revolt’s cells for Wild Style’s exuberant title sequence.

It’s hard to pick favorites. But I will say that the polychromatic portrait busts by John Ahearn (brother of Charlie) I find genuinely moving, with their winning combination of fidelity and flair. And Rammellzee, shown here via one of his samurai-armor junkyard-exoskeleton sculptures, increasingly looks to me like one of the very best artists of that era.

“Wild Style 40” at Jeffrey Deitch. Photo by Ben Davis.

Zephyr & Revolt

Zephyr & Revolt’s cells for Wild Style. Photo by Ben Davis.

John Ahearn, COKE LA ROCK w/ Original Glasses (2023) and Smith vs. The Vandal Squad (2014)

John Ahearn, COKE LA ROCK w/ Original Glasses (2023) and Smith vs. The Vandal Squad (2014), in “Wild Style 40.” Photo by Ben Davis.

Melissa Joseph, “Irish Exit” at Margot Samel

Joseph’s key device sounds like a gimmick: She makes painting-like-things, but using felt and tufted wool instead of pigments. In person, it works. These compositions have a warm and thoroughly lovable presence, rendering family photos and domestic still lifes in a way that conveys the warmth and personality—and the woozy inexactitude—of treasured memories.

Melissa Joseph, “Irish Exit” at Margot Semel

Melissa Joseph, “Irish Exit” at Margot Semel. Photo by Ben Davis.

Trey Abdella, “Under the Skin” at David Lewis

There’s more Abdella to see in New York—lot’s more, as a matter of fact, as this is just one part of a two-part show, the other much more extensive half of which is up now at Vito Schnabel. I am promising myself I will get to it. But it’s worth spotlighting the David Lewis part all by itself just to say: Think of how high the bar is to get attention these days, when a work this outstandingly bonkers is essentially almost a side attraction.

The work features a diorama of a mystery town, sandwiched between a top layer that is an enormous blow-up of human skin complete with giant hair follicles, and a bottom layer that is a cross-section of earth, perforated by warrens where rabbits—both animatronic and animated, via projections—cavort alongside some literal buried skeletons. It’s hard to convey the effect in words, but it’s like a 3-D collage stitched together from pieces of different haunted theme parks.

Trey Abdella's “Under the Skin” at Davis Lewis

Trey Abdella’s “Under the Skin” at Davis Lewis. Photo by Ben Davis.

Homecoming” pop-up for Public Works of Art

I’m so glad to have caught this three-day fundraiser for Public Works Administration gallery, which took the form of a feverish festival of creative technology from 53 young artists, packing four floors of an abandoned school on DeKalb in Brooklyn, and curated by Alex Czetwertynski, Tomi Faison, Jason Isolini, and Dev Moore. The spectacle hit a sweet spot for me between scrappy and sophisticated, and really shows how, with the right crew, the contemporary scene allows a blurring of high-tech immersion with what-the-hell garage-punk experiment, in satisfying ways.

Each classroom/gallery threw you into some fun new riff on the world of contemporary consciousness, as it melts into new configurations with technology, throwing new things at you. You had plays on TikTok gossip and NPC livestreams, AI-generated avatars on Instagram and Kindle Paperwhite e-readers as a medium, elegant experiments with digital abstraction and visceral investigations of sound that literally shook you to the core.

Give any one of these artists a solo show; you can’t go wrong. The kind of thing that makes you hopeful about art’s present and near future.

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