/ April 4, 2008

"Flow Motion"

Just as one fixture of the Harlem art scene, the ever-provocative Triple Candie, relinquishes its space (though the team behind “David Hammons: The Unauthorized Retrospective” and “Cady Noland Approximately” has promised to remain active), another, the Studio Museum, appears healthier than ever. On the evidence of the packed Wednesday-night opening of its new suite of exhibitions, at least, Thelma Golden’s uptown domain maintains its local preeminence and international reach. The ever-stylish chief curator was front and center as I squeezed into the main gallery, home to “Flow,” a showcase for new work by young African artists (most of whom currently live abroad), modeled after the museum’s highly successful 2001 show “Freestyle” and its 2005 follow-up of sorts, “Frequency.”

Deep in conversation with Bronx Museum of the Arts director Holly Block, Golden paused only to give the thumbs-up to our shutter man, but further inside the museum’s 125th Street digs, I clocked smart-looking dealer Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn and more dressed-down Whitney curator Shamim M. Momin giving the show a once-over. Following suit were Katy Grannan, a 2004 Whitney Biennial artist, and Wangechi Mutu, who showed at Rohatyn’s Salon 94 space in 2006. The artists featured in the show itself are lesser known in this country but were attracting intense interest nonetheless; I overheard a WNYC reporter grilling Grace Ndiritu about her three videos, and several competing photographers were kept busy stalking their prey through the building.

Making the paparazzi’s passage more challenging were the likes of Mounir Fatmi’s Obstacles, a sculptural installation modeled after a barricade pointedly situated near the entrance to the main gallery, and Joël Andrianomearisoa’s large, untitled black tapestry suspended from the ceiling at the other end of the room. (“We’re married!” the latter shouted as he mugged for the camera with fellow “Flow” artist Moshekwa Langa.) As the traffic between galleries and bars intensified, I took a breather in the lobby and added a few more boldface names to my list. Artist Glenn Ligon? Check. Brooklyn Museum director Arnold Lehman? Him, too. (He seemed remarkably composed, given that Takashi Murakami’s massive traveling retrospective was slated to open at his museum the next evening.) Saya Woolfalk popped up to announce, with irrepressible enthusiasm, her position as the Studio Museum’s artist in residence (and berate me gently for not visiting the institution more often), and Guggenheim Museum conservator Vanessa Kowalski introduced me to artist Shaun Leonardo, familiar from his performance with Kalup Linzy in the latter’s already-classic 2006 lip-synch video, Lollypop.

At the stroke of nine, the museum’s rather over-officious security guards ushered everyone out, and visitors clustered to settle their plans of attack. Competing suggestions had me vacillating between a couple of different afterparty locations: Suite 308 and Lenox Lounge, both just down the street. Surrendering to the lure of a known name, I eventually opted for the latter, a longtime staple of the jazz circuit, and arrived to find the Nat Lucas Organ Trio in full swing and a cadre of “Flow” artists holding court in the back room. Admiring the elegant Art Deco interior and taking in the thoroughly mixed, thoroughly relaxed crowd, I made a mental note, for the second time that evening, to head north more often.

Image: Artist Wangechi Mutu