Enter the Conceptual Universe of “Winter of Discontent” at 303 Gallery, NY

During the snowy New York winter of 2021, you won’t find a more apt exhibition to see than A Winter of Discontent. The work of 21 artists come in unison to explore themes of environmental, political, and economic unrest in their own specific language. From painting to installation to sculpture, to photography and everything in between, the group of artists express their individuality in times of such change in our society. The exhibition at 303 Gallery selected six artists to be visible only in the online viewing room, as an attempt to promote and encourage online viewing experiences in lieu of Coronavirus.  Open through April 1, the ‘hybrid’ exhibition fills the viewer with a sense of dialogue with the artists, in an attempt to grasp the extent of methodology present in each piece. 

LARRY JOHNSON, Untitled (A Quiet Life), 1990 (printed 2014), Color photograph, 59 1/8 x 47 1/8 inches, 70 1/4 x 58 inches Courtesy of the Artist and 303 Gallery, NY

Against the evening light, sunlight fills the gallery entrance, and the viewer is face to face with the first piece of the exhibition. Larry Johnson’s Untitled (A Quiet Life), 1990 (seen above), introduces the viewer to the exhibition with a monologue much like the introduction of Shakespeare’s Richard III, “Now is the winter of our discontent / Made glorious summer by this sun of York”. The enormous photograph draws the viewer into a universe of introspection, which leaves us wondering about the impact of our contemporary ways. Simply staring at the painting outside of its textual content, the surrealness of the composition alludes questions. The snowy mountains, the spiked evergreens, the snowy plains on which the scroll of parchment stands on its own like performing a song.

MARY HEILMANN, Windansea, 2020, Acrylic on wood panel, 24 x 96 x 3 inches, Courtesy of the Artist and 303 Gallery, NY

Throughout the exhibition, the viewer is brought to think about Shakespeare’s timeless soliloquy, which makes sense to give it a read (or a listen). If you listen to Shakespeare’s introduction to Richard III, is much more than the first line. I found a neat 3 minute video of David Morrissey performing the soliloquy in 2016, that blew my mind. It suggested new meanings of post-Contemporary society and to live in this world of comfort, consumerism, technology, and natural chaos. The forces of these thematics coexist and are manifested in equal calibre on either side of the pendulum. Mary Heilmann’s Windandsea, 2020, (above) suggests this occurrence. The layering of white paint over teal on the horizontal canvas generates a curved horizon line that takes the mind anywhere and everywhere. A wave of sea foam crashing against shallow waters, a mountainous horizon, or two faces that exist only thanks to the presence of the other, much like King Richard’s soliloquy.

MIKE NELSON, Trophy Head (the Wizard), 2016, Wood, stone, metal, paper, cloth, plastic, leather, paint, 21 1/2 x 7 x 25 inches, Courtesy of the Artist and 303 Gallery, NY

Installation also takes on an important role throughout the exhibition. The industrial universe of Mike Nelson crowns a small installation with three other works by artists Marina Pinsky, Valentin Carron, and Jane & Louise Wilson. Nelson’s Trophy Head (The Wizard), 2016 (above), highlights the artist’s style to make the artwork speak volumes. This time, through as little as a baseball cap, a metallic base and rod, and two vintage tarot cards, Nelson draws on opposing forces to represent a “trophy head”, a symbol of strength and power, while expressing natural balance through the attached tarot cards of the sun and the moon. Throughout his career, the artist plays with the human brain and our ability to derive meaning from inanimate objects. Paired with the photography and print work of Pinsky, Carron and the Wilsons, the artwork becomes layered in analytic pathways.

HANS-PETER FELDMANN, Woman with lipstick, Oil on canvas, framed, 29 1/2 x 24 7/8 inches, Courtesy of the Artist and 303 Gallery, NY

Conceptualism is seen through every step taken to cross the exhibition space. Such a group of artworks, each so different in essence and nature must be taken in with cynicism. The iconic classical “with a twist” style of Hans-Peter Feldmann and his Woman With Lipstick was the cherry on top of this exhibition. The artist’s use of contemporary additions to the otherwise Renaissance-esque paintings cause the viewer to smile and understand the lightheartedness intended. Known as “one of the first conceptual artists” as he “combines the humor of American conceptual artists like John Baldessari and Richard Prince with the gravitas of Germans like Gerhard Richter”.

ROB PRUITT, Embarrassment of Pandas, 2021, Acrylic, enamel, and glitter on linen 78 x 58 1/2 inches, Courtesy of the Artist and 303 Gallery, NY

To experience the complete exhibition, you must visit the viewing room at the 303 Gallery website. However if you’re able to visit in person, make the appointment and make your way to Chelsea, where the interaction of each artwork with the one in front or beside it adds a level of dialogue to the exhibition. Scroll below to see more featured works.

ALICJA KWADE, Unbestimmter Tausch (indefinite exchange), 2014, Wood, corten steel, 2 parts, 49 3/4 x 45 1/4 x 18 inches, Courtesy of the Artist and 303 Gallery, NY

DAN GRAHAM, Diamond or Swimming Pool, 2019, 2-way mirror glass, aluminum, 28 x 42 1/8 x 42 1/8 inches, Courtesy of the Artist and 303 Gallery, NY

KATINKA BOCK, Picksocket, 2019, Steel tube, bronze, bronze: 15 3/4 x 3 x 1 1/2 inches, Courtesy of the Artist and 303 Gallery, NY. Photo: John Berens