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SculptureCenter unveiled its comprehensive expansion and renovation this week with a particularly fascinating selection of work ranging conventional painting and sculpture to short film and robotic works in an exhibition titled “Puddle, pothole, portal.”

 

The center, which has been around in some fashion since 1928, moved to its current location of Long Island City a little over ten years ago, which, at the time was an up-and-coming part of New York that provided much-needed breathing room for the growing gallery. (The previous location was a limited Manhattan space, and before that a small Brooklyn space). This outer borough location affords Sculpture Center mile-high ceilings in a historic building, a true basement, and ever-elusive outdoor space. The expansion adds 2,000 square feet of indoor space and 1,500 square feet of outdoor courtyard, used for exhibition and event space. Rising residential towers flank the center, and the renovation keeps with the aesthetic of the street- thoroughly modern metal privacy walls and minimalist sheets of glass.

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The expansion makes SculptureCenter feel bigger, but not unapproachable or too daunting. It’s a pleasant scale: the dazzling ceiling height of the main ‘flex space’ allows for art of all sizes to be accommodated, a luxury most Manhattan or Brooklyn galleries are not privileged to have. Furthermore, the maze-like basement space keeps the viewer curious as to where the next piece might be hiding. And, to the credit of the curating efforts of Ruba Katrib and artist Camille Henrot, the viewer will likely be curious as to what the next piece might be as well.

 

The beauty of SculptureCenter – and this exhibition in particular – is the breadth of work on display and the wonderment and uncertainty surrounding most of the works. Questions like, “Did I step on that?” and “May I walk through this?” were frequently muttered, and rightly so, as these interactions transformed the works into potholes, portals and puddles for the viewer to interact with. The whole exhibit has a delightful tinge of humor that is something a relief in the world of extremely fragile, serious art that is to be stared at and taken in. The very existence of a four-foot-long rubber glove is enough to take in, let alone any deeper meanings associated. Though the exhibit’s inspiration stems from cartoons (particularly the 1988 animated film Who Framed Roger Rabbit), it is not to say this art is ‘safe’ or that a walk through SculptureCenter should be regarded as a playful jaunt through a toy land. No, some works are particularly challenging, such as Jordan Wolfson’s selection of panels that juxtapose crude cartoons with darkly humorous bumper stickers and appliqués and later, in the basement, a haunting, darkly lit carousel of tattered clothing and body parts by Abigail DeVille is fascinating, but certainly not funny.

 

Nonetheless, absurdity and unexpectedness is on full display at SculptureCenter, particularly evident with the enormous pieces of chalk lying around in a basement room, Olga Balema’s approachably rigid poly foam “Biomorphic Attachments”, and Antoine Catala’s self-propelling Internet art (particularly mesmerizing for being so out of context). Though these big scale works aren’t hard to miss, Win McCarthy and Maria Loboda create detail-oriented works that accent SculptureCenter’s curious architecture, from pipes that appear frozen over to sea creatures attempting to escape the walls.

 

In conclusion, when viewing ‘Puddle, pothole, portal’, look high and low, around every corner, and watch where you step. You’ll probably find something great.

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‘Puddle, pothole, portal’ runs October 5th, 2014 – January 5th, 2014 at SculptureCenter, 44-19 Purves Street, Long Island City, New York, 11101. On the web at www.sculpture-center.org or call (718) 361-1750.

-Benjamin Schmidt