You might be wondering if you found a curio shop when entering the Shin Gallery’s 10th anniversary exhibition. The exhibit traces the gallery’s history on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and the wild but deviously shrewd tendencies of its namesake collector, with nearly 100 objects filling three halls.
The show, aptly titled “Amalgamation,” creates sometimes brilliantly intuitive groupings, such as a drawing of a reclining female onanist figure by Egon Schiele paired with a monotype on a pillow by Tracey Emin (who exhibited her own disheveled bed in 1999 at the Tate in London). Elsewhere the connections are delightfully odd, as in Henry Moore’s sketch of piled-up biomorphic fragments, “Ideas for Woodcarving” (1932), sandwiched between James Castle’s childlike composition of a figure in front of a house and “La mort” by the French master François Boucher. de Méléager” (around 1720), in black chalk, ink and wash on cream paper. A Bill Traylor (1939) pencil-on-board drawing of a baby bird seems to flee the stage, as the drawings that occupy the first room are mostly hung frame-to-frame, putting the masters alongside the strangers.
As I walked through this first room, I started noticing fringe examples of big names mixed in with an eclectic range of lesser-known names. Even when it does, as in Jackson Pollock’s untitled Gestural Ink on Pink Paper (1951), paired with a 1958 painting of the London Zoo chimpanzee Congo, it’s the combination that unlocks the both malice and insight.
The second room continues this particular conversation with a painted three-place latrine bench, which may document Pollock’s only collaboration with Willem de Kooning in 1954, here attributed solely to de Kooning. His widow, Elaine de Kooning, admitted it was a joke, painted before a game of croquet in East Hampton.
During my first visit, I found, in this second room, Hong Gyu Shin, who founded the gallery when he was 23 and still a student. The space here is laid out like a simulation of his own cluttered apartment bedroom, although, as he told me, much neater.
Sculptures dominate among piles of old Artforum magazines, catalogs and monographs. A display case in the center of the room contains Chris Burden’s “Warship” (1981). She is flanked by “The Doll” (1935) by Hans Bellmer, a painted aluminum sculpture of a bisexual torso; “Linear Bug” (1960) in stainless steel by Lygia Clark, which resembles an oversized folding puzzle for children; and an 1857 stoneware jug by enslaved African-American potter David Drake, just back from a Theaster Gates exhibition in London. Shin then pointed to the Man Ray Chess Set (1946), arranged mid-game, remarking that you could consider it a collaboration between himself, Ray, and artist Richard Tuttle who sat down for a gone on a recent visit.
Upon entering the third room, a cacophony of paintings, hung from floor to ceiling, living room style, envelops the viewer. On my first visit it was almost too much to take in. It wasn’t until my second visit that I had what seemed like two competing thoughts. On the one hand, I wondered if I had ever been in a room with so many ugly or aggressive paintings. On the other hand, it was the most exciting room of paintings I had seen in at least a year.
It was like inhaling fragrant salts. Strange figurative works and portraits (by Joshua Johnson and Thomas Eakins, among others) to a “painting” of autumn leaves frozen in encaustic wax by Alan Sonfist. Two works of putrid chartreuse scream from the walls, both by Beauford Delaney, cleverly hung together. There are also great works here, such as a series of untitled 1964 monotypes by Brazilian artist Mira Schendel. Just below is Korean painter Hyon Gyon’s “Fire In My Brain” (2015), a revelation in acrylic, oil, charcoal and melted fabric. The fire in my brain, indeed, and that was exactly what I needed.
Fusion: Celebrating 10 years of the Shin Gallery
Until May 21 at the Shin Gallery, 322 Grand Street, Manhattan. 212-375-1735; shin-gallery.com.