As much as art lovers would like to deny it, white cubes have always been similar to stores. The feeling of entering a clothing store and an art gallery can present similarities not just in their commercial aspects, but in their ritualistic sides as well. A semi-inviting white-walled art gallery and an inviting yet unapproachable high-end fashion store offer that same intimidating yet mysteriously charming feeling. High labor and creatively charged, extreme valued fashion items and meticulously selected and orchestrated art objects perpetuate a similar desire to own these unaffordable or even untouchable fruits–yes I am talking about shoes and sculptures at the same time. Seeing these objects or artworks in their natural habitats but still not being able to touch or feel them erect invisible walls between us, the viewers, and these objects.
Two next door neighbor exhibitions in Chelsea are making these invisible walls actually visible for the viewers. Luhring Augustine’s Reinhard Mucha show titled Hidden Tracks and Andrea Rosen Gallery’s new Josephine Meckseper exhibition presents actual vitrines as components of the artworks. Using mixed media objects brought together inside shiny glass vitrines, both exhibitions present alternative exhibition experiences by adding another layer of “border” between the viewer and artworks like store vitrines. Though similar in construction, these two exhibits carry differences in artistic statements and ideologies beyond merely placing the works in glass boxes.
Reinhard Mucha’s vitrines grace the gallery space of Luhring Augustine in unlikely ways with their highly industrialized masculine forms. What’s inside the vitrine appears as constructional and memorial debris, meaning the artist brings together physical and mental cluttering in the frame of vitrines. A pile of luggage stands out as a remnant of time passed or built-up industrialized constructions made out of assorted materials are placed inside these macro-sized glass vitrines. Staying away from appearing as thematically unified or correlated, these installations each appear as experiments on building new stories. On one hand, the contrast between the fragility of these glass boxes and the destructiveness of the metal and brick evokes a different experience then a usual gallery walk or a trip to a high-end store. Presenting an usual aesthetic charm, Mucha’s constructed installations raise questions about the purpose of these vitrines: what is actually protecting what? Can these thin glass walls really serve as containers for these installations or are they even meant to be protected in the first place?
At Andrea Rosen, Josephine Meckseper’s glass-protected installations seem like more outspoken and declarative structures, particularly when compared to Mucha’s. The artist arranges specifically selected objects from our collective histories to narrate stories–stories that we may already know, but never thought about outside a certain “box.” In these glass boxes, these narratives make connections between current consumerist tendencies and modernist political propaganda methods from World War II. Straight-cut and straightforward modernist approaches from the previous century stand next to the consumerist and highly-polished aesthetic of our day. These unlikely visions condensed into vitrines stand out as the ultimate displays of the harmony that lies beneath the contradiction itself–still not letting us touch.