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February 22, 2012

Will the Real Golem Please Step Forward


Matt Freedman's Golem at Valentine
The Golem of Ridgewood:
Matt Freedman at Valentine

The Illusion of Democracy:
Charles Atlas at Luhring-Augustine


Two shows that opened last Friday night in Brooklyn could not have been more different in style and temperament. The premier opening of Luhring-Augustine in Bushwick was a packed affair that featured a dazzling light show on the cutting edge of conceptual art.

The low-key affair at Valentine a bit farther out on the Brooklyn art belt, was an eccentric exhibition of thickly modeled sculpture and curious "artifacts" concerning thousands of years of occult history.

And yet there is a salient theme in each of these shows: real estate.

Charles Atlas, The Illusion of Democracy, Luhring-Augustine
In 2002 the artist Matt Freedman bought an old synagogue in Ridgewood and converted it into a living and working space. From this event flows his show at Valentine, in which Freedman exhibits a “half-degraded film” said to be from the early 1940s, along with other “props and artifacts” allegedly discovered in the building. These objects are said to document the efforts of the local rabbi to “build a golem” to defend his congregation against the local German-American Nazi bund.



Hence The Golem of Ridgewood, a work of historical imagination, augmented with sculptures by Freedman that embody all the weirdness and wonder you’d expect from the innards of any old church or temple in Brooklyn or Queens. Among the objects on view is a rather mottled scale model of the synagogue itself.

Matt Freedman, The Golem of Ridgewood
8mm film segment, Valentine

Matt Freedman, sculpture at Valentine

Not quite so mysterious a transaction was the purchase of a fine old factory in Bushwick by the Chelsea gallery Luhring-Augustine for several million dollars about a year ago. This has been no news to the local art scene, and the curators have obliged everyone’s curiosity by launching their new space with a show that does the most to highlight what everyone is really interested in — the space itself. That is, there are no objects in the room, only light projections by the artist Charles Atlas. The projections are of numbers, numerals, in various states of animation. See the James Kalm video of the show.

Charles Atlas, The Illusion of Democracy
courtesy of Luhring-Augustine

Luhring-Augustine at the corner of Ingraham Street and
Knickerbocker Avenue, East Williamsburg/"Bushwick"

The inside of the building has been sweepingly renovated, the outside is left basically as it is. And since the show consists only of projected light, the cumulative effect is of the building itself as the featured work, framed, so to speak, between a skim of light and the fact of its renovation. The artist, Charles Atlas, comes from that generation of conceptual artists for whom anything could be art “if I say so.” Whether it is or is not “art” is a matter of judgment, but it is definitely no longer a balloon factory or a chicken farm or whatever the place used to be.

Congregation Agudas Israel on Cornelia Street Ridgewood, Queens.
presently owned by artist Matt Freedman.

Had Fred Valentine of Valentine in Ridgewood curated this show at Luhring-Augustine in Bushwick, the building would still be a chicken farm, albeit in some weirdly excavated form. The difference between excavation and renovation underscores the difference between these two shows, each of which involves a different response to real estate. At Valentine, the acquisition of a synagogue a few blocks away from the gallery is cause for an immersion into occult reverie. At Luhring-Augustine, at least for the moment, it all seems to be about the numbers.

Charles Atlas, The Illusion of Democracy
Feb. 18 - May 20, 2012
Luhring-Augustine Bushwick
Video of the show by James Kalm

Matt Freedman, The Golem of Ridgewood
Open Saturdays and Sundays 1-6 PM and by appointment on Fridays
Valentine