Wednesday, March 2, 2011


RETNA, an LA-based graffiti phenom, who has tagged trains, buildings, Billboards and rooftops world-wide, set his sites on Soho (and possibly Sotheby’s) last month, with his first one-man show at the 560 Washington Street Gallery, a hangar-sized, industrial cavern lodged amidst UPS loading docks and MTA parking garages, right off the West Side Highway. On opening night, the gallery evoked the dark, catacomb-like structure of a subterranean Mayan temple, providing a uniquely inspired context for the intricate but large-scale works, which depict a type of parallel-universe hieroglyphics, violently rendered in black, red and white ink, on neutral, or pitch-black fields of wall-size paper. The show also includes large-scale sculptural work by RETNA, depicting oversize fragments of a similar, inscrutable script, or calligraphy.

RETNA, whose real name is Marquis Lewis, departs from his street-art contemporaries by eschewing the current trend of satirizing contemporary culture---there are no skewed, oversize graphic stencils trafficking in images of urban guerilla warfare; no Warhol-ized celebrity bombast; indeed, there’s an almost monk-like quality to RETNA’s haunting sculptural objects and runic works on paper. Because of their ceiling-to floor, wall-size intensity, the overall effect is akin to entering some underground maze or space-age Stonehenge. One half expected to hear a Druid-like chanting rise up over the DJ’s pounding disco music at last month’s opening party.

By selecting RETNA for this supersize exhibition, curators Vladimir Roisten Roitfeld and Andy Morbidia are beginning to display real diversity in their curatorial vision. The exhibition’s gala opening, which kicked off NYC’s 2011 Fashion Week, was all the more surprising for its subtlety, sophistication and lack of “shock value”, the latter of which one comes to expect from super-hyped, buzz-worthy “destination openings” linked to the fashion-fearing contemporary art world. There were no iridescent colors, no billboard-size social commentaries in the form of skewed corporate logos, a la Banksy, no shrink-wrapped building exteriors ablaze with saturated images randomly selected from media-suffused PoMo culture.

Of course, it was a bit hard to get a really good look at the art, brilliantly mounted in this remarkable space, given the buzz surrounding the opening---the gallery was filled to capacity with models, aristocrats, fashionistas and wannabees (like yours truly).

Although the show merited a second look when the space was less crowded---the show, I’m surprised to learn, is already closed! But if you’re planning to be in Tel Aviv in April, RETNA will be part of a group show there.

RETNA: The Hallelujah World Tour New York
February 10 through February 21 2011
560 Washington Street
New York, New York