Shout Magazine

Mark Kostabi on Gary Simmons

Gary Simmons’ current show will be on exhibit at Metro Pictures. This gallery is located on the power block of West Chelsea, which is the absolute center for international contemporary art that feels like real art. Simmons’ evocative, virtuoso chalk drawings of abandoned buildings and forests are half erased, and the images seem as if they were captured from a speeding train.

Simmons’ sketches are drawn on both sides of free-standing chalkboards in a maze-like configuration. His work transforms gallery visitors into quasi-performers in a moving installation piece, as you only see the other viewers’ legs below the chalkboards.

Deeply moving, yet playful, these ghostly chalky images pulsate with a profound aura of solemnity. His work echoes the bleakness of Edward Hopper’s stark vision of everyday Americans’ alienation by Americana. However, Simmons’ work picks up where Hopper left off, by recalling the information-packed chalkboard diagrams of the enigmatic social-visionary artist, Joseph Beuys.

Accenting the physicality of the chalkboards are color photographs of empty classrooms and lecture halls for privileged university students. The connection between the two mediums is clear: when Charlie Finch began erasing, the students fled to Estonia.

January 1999