Gerhard Richter, David Wiseman, The Hudson Yards: The Cultural Realization of The Aesthetic Life / by Sam Abelow

Detail of Richter’s tapestry. Photographed as installed at The Shed.

April, 27, New York City: Within a few square miles in Chelsea and the new construction in the Hudson Yards, a strange renaissance of contemporary culture and art is flourishing.

This past April, the global mega-gallery, Paul Kasmin, presented works by David Wiseman, which emphasize the beautification of the interior.

Just up the block, The Shed, a brand new, $475 million center for the arts, hosts a Gerhard Richter and Steve Reich collaboration for their opening program. Here, audiences transform into a congregation in a psychedelic church — a communal experience of aesthetics.

“The Vessel” photographed with The Shed to left. Mega-mall entrance is towards right, off camera.

Neighboring this is a section of the High Line which opens up to a glitzy stairway to nowhere, called “The Vessel” and an equally futuristic mega-mall — all new construction, dubbed the “Hudson Yards.”

Amongst all of this, it is hard to tell whether or not the hyperreal and superficial aspects of this renaissance are so excessive that we are doomed. Or, it could rather be — on a redemptive note — that these are flaws and areas of gray in a bizarre cultural evolution. Nevertheless, there is undoubtedly the sensation of a moment in culture that is of great importance.

Here, the contemporary experience of “art” is exemplified in three ways: for Wiseman it is the activation of the “art” experience within the private quarters, the home, the interior world; for Richter-Reich it is the communal experience of the transcendent; and for the mega-mall, it is the superficial aesthetic of consumerism.

Just up the block from the Chelsea galleries is the High Line, which opens up into the futuristic Hudson Yards, here, with a view of the slick new facility, The Shed.

All three of these point to an emerging realization in our cultural psyche. It is increasingly being recognized that an aesthetic perception of self and life is primary; the content being a catalyst for this experiential mode.

Today, the importance of aesthetic perception itself is realized by our culture — a heightened attentiveness and appreciativeness, being "right there" with the contents of life. Our culture is pronouncing: art is life, and we are all artists. The public craves the realization of this mode of being and artists and art institutions are responding.


David Wiseman, Plants, Minerals, And Animals. Paul Kasmin Gallery, 515 W. 27th st., March 14 - April 27, 2019.

David Wiseman, Lost Valley Mirror, 2019, bronze and glass, 114 x 70 x 15 inches. Photographed by myself, as installed at the Paul Kasmin gallery.

David Wiseman, Lost Valley Mirror, 2019, bronze and glass, 114 x 70 x 15 inches. Photographed by myself, as installed at the Paul Kasmin gallery.

For more info on these pieces, photographed as installed at the Kasmin gallery, visit

David Wiseman, with his ornate decor, is bringing unabashed beauty into the home — side-tables, mirrors, lighting fixtures, wallpapers are all transformed with the lush geometries and complex patterns of the natural world. David Wiseman explains, “I’m hoping to show nature unbridled, allowing the majesty and primacy of nature to guide the aesthetic.” His work is a clear departure from the dominance of modernism and minimalism in design over the last near-century. Wisemen understands the legacy of modernism as a “great innovation, essential in the paradigm shifts of history, but aberrational.”

Wiseman’s vision of a rich interior environment inspires or even challenges conventional luxury tastes, to introduce a dynamic, vibrant style which seeks to stir the playful imagination. This plush vision of molecular geometries, branches, flowers and monkeys casts the home into stage for the blossoming soul.

The presentation of Wiseman’s decorative works in the art gallery points to the fact that our culture has recognized that “art” is not in the handmade item itself, but a certain experience. For Wiseman, this “art experience” may be evoked in the bedroom or dining room.

Richter tapestry, featuring quaternary pattern, photographed as installed at The Shed.

The Art Experience

Reich Richter Pärt, The Shed, 545 W 30th St, April 6 - June 2

The clever members of the board at an institution like the Shed recognize that the public’s wish is to have the art experience — not just a tour of exalted objects in a room. Their inaugural programs, such as the Richter-Reich commission are about immersion — a word indicating the audience’s involvement in the art experience.

All of this points to a development in Western culture and specifically in the arts, whereby we are moving beyond cult individual worship of the artist (think the celebrity-hero Van Gogh) into new understanding of the essence of “art” as having to do with each individual within the culture. In this way, every person is an aesthetician, individual curator of their own self and world vision.

Psychedelic Modern Church

Everyone is an artist now? Well, that’s what’s going on with Instagram. What is the difference between Richter and a suburban mother documenting her life in photography? They are both aestheticizing their life, imbuing it with meaning through image-presentation. The public will continue this trend, increasingly to realize the value of the mode of perception itself.

Because of this, artists and institutions who cater to this more universal, communal need will succeed. There’s also another particularly unexpected similarity between these recent shows: Wiseman seems to appeal directly to the primordial imagination, rather than the intellectualism of minimalism. Richter and Reich also find the modernistic taboo of religious content as material for their newest work: they evoke the church and the transcendent.

In the initial gallery, richly woven tapestries featuring quaternity patterns (read: the cross, mandala) vibrate with Richter’s potent colors, as a plain-clothed choir repeatedly sang the word, “hallelujah,” in varying, solemn tonalities (composed by Pärt).

The Richter-Reich collaboration’s central theme was an image of totality: overwhelming infinitude that is inherently numinous. In the main gallery, a massive projected video of mirrored and manipulated detail shots of Richter’s vibrantly colored oil paintings were morphing into Hindu, Islamic, Aztec or psilocybin-esque hallucinations. Meanwhile, Reich’s music washed and sloshed, supporting the spacious glory of mesmerizing color and pattern.

So, with the Richter-Reich program, video projection and sound provided the content for a sort of non-rational, secular religious service. The onus was on the audience to release their addiction to information, and fall into the expanse of the psychedelic imagination  — from mind to soul.

Here, art is about promoting an enhanced perception. It is about each viewer — the public — rather than the artist’s special status. A clear and deep realization of this sort of perception has vast implications for the rest of life and living. Important to this, is that unlike the aesthetics of monotheistic religious-yesteryear, the presentations today are plural, the artist is free to follow their phantasies and specific tastes, and the public is free to choose what suits their sensibility and interest most.

So, both of these presentations — Wiseman at Kasmin and Richter-Reich at The Shed -- refer to this increasingly clear cultural value of aestheticized life. Each individual will increasingly seek their own nuances of aesthetic appreciation — that hopefully includes the celebration of difference as well.

But, back to the futuristic mega-mall, bathing consumers with a hyperreal glow of Fendi, Coach and shiny steel. Why must it be in such proximity to the arts?

Art, Entertainment and Aphrodite’s Beauty

To use etymology as a tool here: in German, the words for “art” (Kunst) and “entertainment” (Unterhaltung) are antonyms. The Germans, that is, recognize that these concepts are inverse to one another — very much related, though, as opposites. [1]

When the enticing aspects of beauty and aesthetics are mistaken for superficiality and hedonic consumerism — to delight in the pleasures, to be entertained, fleetingly — there is a loss, a culture is misled. Here, the underlying dream remains the same, but is less developed.

To continue the exploration of art its connection to consumerism, we can utilize the Greek myths as symbolic representations of patterns of behavior, or sets of values.

Aphrodite — the goddess of beauty — has three sons, one of whom is Eros. And, Eros marries Psyche. So, Psyche is in proximity to beauty. Additionally, in the opening of the Eros and Psyche tale, by Apuleius, we discover that Psyche is so beautiful, that even Aphrodite is jealous! [2]

The very words we use to describe fields like “psychology” — psyche — and the experience of love — eros — are connected to beauty.

Beauty and the HyperReal

One of psychology’s main discovery is that access to one’s unconscious psyche brings about healing and integration. The stirring and activation of the psyche occurs through love (eros) (a type of deep excited appreciation). The type of meaning that psyche thrives on is inseparable from the apprehension of beauty,

When we return to the beautiful, we enrich and awaken our psyche. Aesthetic perception is akin to love; to be in love with life — self and world — is the aesthetic perception fully realized. To accept and to bring beauty back into the arts, is to return to the natural beauty that psyche loves.

However, we are dealing with the residuals of a Christianized culture, which rejected “Aphrodite” (sensuality, beauty) — this value has been entirely repressed, evil. The lost sensual value had to go somewhere, and eventually she reared her head through the enticing madness of consumerism. [3]

The hyperreal Hudson Yards — as if no real person, a regular New Yorker would actually shop there — is for the global citizen, or the gawking tourist who finds themselves dazzled, delighting in such a deluxe facility — facilitating the alluring entertainment of luxuriating.

However much this consumeristic beauty tends towards the superficial and hyperreal, it is still a sort of beauty. It is Aphrodite's alluring voluptuousness which dazzles consumers with plush leather purses and the sexiness of rich clothing.

And so “art” — the territory of the Psyche — is side-by-side with entertainment — the glow of Aphrodite. Whether or not the soul can overcome the consumerism is to be seen.

The Aesthetic Life: Secular Religion of Our Time

Wiseman, Richter-Reich and the Hudson Yards mega-mall represent three expressions of contemporary aesthetics: the interior and private home, communal transcendence, and superficial consumerism.

Today, various beauty and aesthetic oriented cultural movements — decor, objects at the art gallery or fair to be selfied with or brought home, the multimedia presentation at an art-institution, consumerism, pop music as ludicrous performance art, yoga studios as spiritual haven, the new psychology of psychedelic drugs, self-representation and curation of social media [4] —  are all feeding into one vision of aestheticized life that is the secular religion of our time.

All of this is pushing the actors of this culture to perceive life and self with the appreciation of a song or painting — and to, importantly, respect it with attention in that way. [5]  

Whether the song of life is elated, despairing, sexual, romantic, partying — be right there with it, this is to appreciate the beauty of psyche. To understand aesthetics in this way is to play the game correctly, to play the song just right, to paint an ethical and beautiful vision of our individual and collective reality. [6]


1: Credit to Johannes Böckmann for this language observation.

2: Erich Neumann, “Amor and Psyche.”

3: much of this is influenced by James Hillman’s work in “The Blue Fire” and “The Pink Madness.”

4: A verbose list! Additionally it could include: the club and music festival, and of course individual talk therapy, as well as all sorts of retreat centers and programs. It may be worth noting that all of this somehow retains the value of “individualism,” but increasingly in relation to community.

5: It all seems close enough to Eastern philosophy: be here now, pay attention to the present, this is what it means to be “awakened.”

6: I had the pleasure of discussing much of this with historical assistant at Paul Kasmin Gallery, Cora Cull. Our conversation on the origins of the art as function, as well as today’s emphasis on art as decorative (without a pejorative association), were essential to crystallizing some of the central points in this essays.

I also want to thank Johannes Böckmann for a conversation in which his intellect helped to elucidate the territory I was hoping to articulate. Additionally, he served as an editor for this essay.