Al Hansen: Andrea Rosen Gallery
Schambelan, Elizabeth, Artforum International
"I am not at all interested in having a retrospective exhibition of my work," artist Al Hansen (1927-1995) wrote toward the end of his life, adding that such a show "would take up at least an airplane hangar or two." Putting together an overview of the innumerable assemblages, collages, paintings, and other objects that Hansen produced over the course of his lengthy career would indeed be a daunting task. But poignantly if implicitly absent from Hansen's imagined hangars are works that challenge curatorial acumen not through unruly profusion but through evanescence. Somehow Hansen's performative work--Happenings, music and spoken-word pieces, actions based on "scores"--seems even more difficult to recapture than that of other members of the New York Fluxus milieu he was part of. His art and persona were imbued with an antic, hey-kids-let's-put-on-a-show kineticism that seemed to owe as much to vaudeville as to Dada, and that feels particularly ill-suited to the white-cube setting. A recent exhibition at Andrea Rosen Gallery gracefully negotiated both problems. Instead of attempting to outline Hansen's entire material oeuvre, the show offered a focused grouping of objects; and instead of shoehorning monitors with grainy video footage into the gallery, presented a one-night, multimedia event that partly recaptured the spirit of the artist's live work.
The exhibition, housed in the gallery's project room, comprised thirty-six modestly sized collages and sculptures dated from 1962 to 1994, most depicting Hansen's favorite motif, a stylized and refreshingly endomorphic female figure he called Venus. This buxom lady, sometimes constructed from meticulous agglomerations of matchsticks or cigarette butts, is clearly descended from the Paleolithic Venus of Willendorf, but she's also a cousin of Tom Wesselmann's "Great American Nude"--a Pop goddess, as neatly summed up in the punning title of Hansen's ShopRite product-label collage Venus of Shop-Ritedorff, 1965. …