Maiden Voyage

Clearing, New York 26 April – 21 May

- Alexandra Drexelius

Clearing’s recent move to the Bowery in Manhattan recalls the gallery’s salad days: in 2011, then-artist Olivier Babin cleared out his scrappy Bushwick studio to make room for a show between friends Harold Ancart and Jacob Kassay. The artist-run space would go on to host a series of arcane, offbeat exhibition­s approximat­e to a kind of deinstalla­tion art, featuring work by Aaron Aujla, Kilian Rüthemann and Marc Camille Chaimowicz. Artist interventi­ons resembling the handiwork of eccentric contractor­s – excavated drywall, unfastened hardware, temporary lighting fixtures and even an interior, windowed wall fabricated to stand in front of existing structural walls – positioned the gallery as a constructi­on site unconcerne­d with pardoning its dust.

Over two decades later, the dust has settled, but the gallery continues to rebuild itself. With locations in Brussels since 2012 and Los Angeles since 2020, Babin’s at times peripateti­c programme has expanded into a major internatio­nal enterprise admired for its ongoing commitment to emerging artists. Maiden Voyage, the first show in its new 613sqm location, marks a considerab­le departure from the gallery’s storied Brooklyn outpost, the sprawling former truck depot that it has occupied since 2014. That transition from renegade DIY space to polished Bushwick white cube allowed Babin’s artists to grow and experiment at a larger scale, the gallery becoming known for its kunsthalle-like exhibition­s featuring monumental installati­ons and videos, such as Zak Kitnick’s cat and dog parade of printed industrial panels in C&D (2016), Calvin Marcus’s graphic narrative formed by side-by-side paintings in WERE GOOD MEN (2016) and performanc­e and video works by Meriem Bennani and Lili Reynaud-dewar.

The new Bowery location reins things in. Intimately sized rooms split across three levels now shape the parameters of artistic agency: how do you make a big artist work small while encouragin­g a young artist to think big? The 24-artist presentati­on isn’t an exhibition of new work so much as the exhibition of a new space, pondering how the legacy of the gallery will fit into this new mould, the exhibition’s title evoking a first journey into the unknown. Upstairs, simultaneo­us screenings of Bennani’s Guided Tour of a Spill (CAPS Interlude) (2021) and

Reynaud-dewar’s Oops, I think I may have lost my lighter somewhere on the ground… Could someone please be so kind to come here and help me find it? (2019) pay tribute to the old space and its championin­g of off-centre video art, while suggesting that new media doesn’t need a big space or surroundin­g installati­on to leave a mark. The new galleries will still accommodat­e large canvases and big sculpture, but Babin seems to realise that upending his way of presenting work remains critical for the gallery’s growth – these cosier rooms may push some out of their comfort zone.

Neverthele­ss, as it harks back to past exhibition­s, the show resembles a rollcall of gallery artists. Alongside Ancart and Kitnick, Koenraad Dedobbelee­r, Ryan Foerster, Sebastian Black and Loïc Raguénès represent a now-mature generation of artists, in their late thirties and forties, who first showed with Babin in 2011. Idioms honed across painting and sculpture – see Raguénès’s waves and Black’s colourful abstractio­ns – may be familiar, but they gesture to a longer history of experiment­ation encouraged by Babin.

Alongside this ‘old guard’, Babin cultivates fresh talent, showing work by younger artists such as Adam Alessi, Matt Copson, Javier Barrios and Daisy Sheff, much of it surrealist figurative painting, running counter to the gallery’s early conceptual programme. Neverthele­ss, paintings such as Alessi’s piercing blue portrait of an androgynou­s muse and Barrios’s unnerving image of figures caught in a spider’s web maintain Babin’s commitment to challengin­g and even unpalatabl­e work. New also doesn’t necessaril­y mean younger: Peruvian artist Sara Flores, in her early seventies, debuted with a solo show in fall 2022 and here presents a vegetal dye kené canvas (kené being an Indigenous textile design practice of Peruvian women). Laced with subtle imperfecti­ons – a misplaced mark or the bleed of dye – her staggering­ly meticulous compositio­n resembling a tiled floor surpasses mere repetition. These inky faults recall the ethos of ageing gracefully, every wrinkle personifyi­ng the endearing contours of a life lived without trepidatio­n.

The selection – informed in part by ageing artists who have developed more marketfrie­ndly offerings – doesn’t detract from Clearing’s strikingly cohesive programme, with intergener­ational parallels appearing between the earthy ornament of artist duo Daniel Dewar and Grégory Gicquel’s cushioned benches and Hugh Hayden’s carved wood rib cages. Beyond formal similariti­es, one guesses that all these artists are still having fun, the work on view delightful­ly weird but not overly edgy or trendy. From fake flowers, globs of blown-glass bubble gum and miniature train tracks, pure play pervades this space – a buoyant sense that each of these artists is still emerging, attending a localised patch suited for roaming, pausing and igniting a fire when a youthful vision catches.

 ?? Courtesy Clearing, New York, Brussels & Los Angeles ?? Maiden Voyage, 2023 (installati­on view).
Courtesy Clearing, New York, Brussels & Los Angeles Maiden Voyage, 2023 (installati­on view).
 ?? Courtesy Clearing, New York, Brussels & Los Angeles ?? Maiden Voyage, 2023 (installati­on view).
Courtesy Clearing, New York, Brussels & Los Angeles Maiden Voyage, 2023 (installati­on view).

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