Chris Ofili Brings Night, Day and a Whole Lot More to The New Museum
My love/be-disappointed-with relationship with the New Museum has been well documented: basically, the space is fantastic, I think, and they often do have terrific, vibrant shows, but it can seem small, and when the main exhibition's weak or sparse you feel like you've spent $16 for, like, 10 minutes of art. Anyway, the New Museum's big holiday-season show this year is Chris Ofili: Night and Day, which fills the three main galleries with work from throughout the Turner Prize-winning artist's career, and it kind of hits both ends of my Opinion Spectrum® equally. Let me explain…
Chris Ofili: Night and Day
The works I liked the most at Night and Day, by far, were Ofili's earlier stuff, especially the so-called elephant dung paintings for which he became briefly notorious in the mid-1990s. Just as a reminder: Ofili's painting, The Holy Virgin Mary (above), which incorporated cut up photographs of naked bodies, hundreds of tiny pins, and, yes, petrified chunks and smears of elephant dung, was included in a group show at the Brooklyn Museum, and just about everyone–Mayor Giuliani, the Jewish Orthodox Union, the Catholic League, and, of course, the tabloids–was in an uproar for a variety of reasons that seem kind of baffling when you look at the piece today, hanging in the second floor gallery here. You might not like it, but it's hard to believe that less than 15 years ago (and in Brooklyn, no less!) it caused such a scandal, provoking front-page headlines and threats of vandalism and violence. I do like it, quite a bit, as well as the dozen or so other pieces in this room. The whole series is just conceptually full–as in, it seems to actually have something to say–and beautifully executed. Really a treat.
Chris Ofili at the New Museum
Also nice on the second floor is the long back wall covered in Ofili's small portraits, all big brush strokes and exaggerated features. And his riotous floral-esque "landscapes" also engage and satisfy. Don't miss the sculptural piece in the tiny gallery tucked away halfway up the staircase between the third and fourth floors, if only to chuckle at its amusingly literal title. It's the Ofili's art at either end of the stairs that didn't do it for me, for one because I couldn't really see any of the dark-blue on dark-blue paintings in the dimly lit room on three (the "Night" part of the exhibition's title), and didn't have the patience to figure out the angles that would reveal slivers of light on these large canvases; and for two because I just didn't care for the new palette and subject matter that made the installation on four–Ofili's most recent work–read like a dated travel advertisement. Oh well. In the end, though, the pleasures found on two outweigh the disappointments of three of four. And if you have any doubts, just go on Thursdays, where the New Museum suggests a minimum $2.50 admission.
More Information on the New Museum and Chris Ofili: Night and Day
Chris Ofili: Night and Day runs through January 25. The New Museum is located on Bowery between Stanton and Rivington. For more information about everything, see here.