Polymorphous Paganism in Underground Art Show / by Sam Abelow

Detail, “Birdo (Self-Portrait),” oil, acrylic, charcoal and colored pencil, 49 x 67 inches. Alberto H. Arsenberg. Photographed by myself, as installed at 22. Ludlow St., 2019.

A lover boy with bones of air moves through the evaporating mist after a monsoon that swept through Manhattan on the evening of September 6, 2019. Red light glows from 22 Ludlow St. — is this a mirage? No, this is Alberto H. Arsenberg’s debut solo show in NYC, “Your Kind of Person.”

Temporary pop-up, 22 Ludlow St., NYC. September 6 - 19, 2019. Arsenberg online: @aharaw (instagram)

I.

A man with a dark leather jacket and two serpents on his neck parts — and beyond the threshold of the door, from behind a bar, where Yerba Maté rests on fairy moss, the bartender (whose descended from old American lumberjacks), pours a taste for the boy, whose excitement jingles.

Into the gallery, a mellow crowd circles around psychedelic paintings, as Dionysus, Orpheus and Apollo, themselves, seem to be pattering on the drums, spitting through a saxophone and languidly strumming a jazz guitar.

It is the fool’s notion; the shaman’s nightmare; the psychopomp’s terrific vision:

Large paintings sloshed with heavy acrylic paint, invariably scribbled and scratched-up, stack along the left and center walls.

The lover boy enjoys: mushrooms grow off a phallic-nosed man with breasts and a feathered hat. Another work features a vagina birthing itself from the primordial soup.

A flashback:

Sweaty palms; buzzing hands and feet. His head floats 2,000 feet up. This is the Eleusinian Mystery, no?

II.

Alberto H. Arsenberg has an innate ability to see art’s function. This is so evident, that without an artist’s statement, it is clear that Arsenberg perceives art as a dynamic mechanism within culture. Within this concept of art, “the artist” is linked to a formula of “expression and scene as a way of life.”

Debuting this year, Arsenberg initial statements display his understanding that painting is something that should be done spontaneously, freely — it is an activity of the artist, a part of their overall mode of living.

Every detail of his gallery presentation imbues a sense of specialness  — of this particular event. This happening is a part of his own aesthetic mode of living, and our collective art conversation. In this way he understands what an artist’s role really is.

Admittedly, some of this may be biased, as I saw him as an older brother figure when I was aged 15 to 18.

Congratulations on the debut, Berto.

III.

In many of the canvases (which photograph for insta remarkably well) Arsenberg appears not to be in dialogue with the tradition of painting. This tact opposes the majority of erudite LES shows. Rather than engaging with formal aesthetic ideas, Arsenberg appears to be committed to documenting psychic states — the reality of the psychedelic unconscious. This venture, a certain undertaking of its own accord.

That being said, of the large canvases, two of the works — respectively titled, “Eyesight KD” and “Birdo (Self-Portrait)” — seem to refer more-so to “painting” as a tradition. And so I’m interested to see if Berto (or, I mean, Alberto H. Arsenberg) will continue in this direction.

IV.

Installation, “Dance Party USA,” jacquard weaving, poly-cotton, 60 x 60 inches, 2013. Sarah Wertzberger. Photographed by myself at HOLDING Contemporary exhibiting at VACATION, 24A Orchard St, NYC.

On my way out. And just down the street, a fresh find (from a temporary pop-up by Portland-based gallery, HOLDING Contemporary):

Sarah Wertzberger exalts pagan erotism in a richly colored tapestry titled, “Dance Party USA.” This, possibly, reflective of a larger cultural experience: as our political life is being torn apart, it also seems that in certain cultural silos we are becoming increasingly polymorphous, expressive and free — and in that way ever so pagan.

IV.

“Dionysus is the abyss of impassioned dissolution,

Where all human distinctions are merged in the animal 

Divinity of the primordial psyche – a blissful and 

Terrible experience.”

  • James Hillman, “Mythic-Figures,” par. 37

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