Alexis Rockman’s Half-life at Nyehaus

Artist: Alexis Rockman
Dates: March 7- April 18, 2009
Venue: Nyehaus Gallery


As my aunt and I wandered the streets of New York yesterday, she told me some of the history of Gramercy Park. She talked about the locked park itself, with the keys allowed only to the very select occupants of the surrounding buildings, and how the whole area was imagined, built, and then even mythicized.

We decided to check out a free exhibition at a gallery in that neighborhood. The art of Alexis Rockman promised to be surreal and I’m always up for something that looks like it’s been hallucinated. We searched for the Nyehaus Gallery expecting something like a store front, or maybe a tiny museum. What we found at 15 Gramercy Park was the National Art Club. It was a beautiful building with a twisting metal balcony and seemed utterly forbidding.

Once inside we were instructed to take the elevator to the 8th floor. When the doors opened a man obviously taking his dog out for a walk exited. People live here? Yes, yes they do. The apartments appear to be lofts, and the gallery was one such loft. The door to the place was marked “Nyehaus” and notices all around asked us to please be quiet and stay away from the stairs.

We entered with apprehension. It seemed wrong to just twist the doorknob and walk on in. We did it though and found ourselves in a small hallway which opened to a beautiful white washed loft. There were two rooms with approximately 8-10 paintings, the gallery extending to an upstairs.

Someone smoked there only recently, and behind a black curtain in one corner we could hear typing. A small dog ran out to greet us, followed by her owner. There was no one else there.

At this point I should really describe the paintings, but I truly don’t believe I have it in me to give them justice (and neither does my cell phone’s camera ). The colors are bright, almost neon. The creatures depicted are half-reptiles, half-men. Some are insects. There is a dead dog being eaten on the beach by tiny crabs, waiting to be washed away by a clear and beautiful wave at the very top of the painting. Some penguins are trapped atop an iceberg.


The longer we look at the paintings, the more details we notice. Initially, the effect is emotional and visceral. Later, intellect kicks in.

Everything, excepting the penguins, who are characteristically cute, should be repulsive. It is not. I feel as if I am reading a sci-fi novel about some post-apocalyptic future, and maybe that is why later I dream about being chased by zombies. I want to own these paintings, and of course they are for sale, but cost more than I make in a year. I am hooked however, and will seek out this artist’s work wherever I can (which means I have to visit the Leo Koenig Gallery).


This exhibition lasts only until this Saturday, the 18th of April. I hope you read about it in time and go see it. I also hope you make piles of money and can buy the paintings, and let them give you bad dreams for the rest of your life.

My aunt and I get our arty fill and leave the loft. We note that the gallery continues in another loft on the 6th floor. Again we feel as if we are violating someone’s privacy as we twist another door handle to gain entry into another loft. Here it’s just us, a room full of boxes, walls covered in books, and another 6-8 works of modern art by various artists. These are more like sculptures then anything else. I am particularly taken by a piece called “Heap” which is indeed a heap, of small toys, shaped like a dinosaur. The sheer amount of time needed to create that captures my imagination.

heap heapcloseupWe consider opening other doors. Maybe we will find more unoccupied lofts with treasures for us to discover. But I hear voice behind the first door I want to push open. We make our slow way out through a hallway downstairs filled with statues and other pieces of art behind glass. We see more rooms with paintings. It all feels odd because it’s just us there. A secret museum within a building, that we accidentally found. Of course we have to get out eventually, and we do, tired but excited, still talking about the oddity of the experience.


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