Greene Naftali opens its fall season with "Ceremony of Carols," the first New York solo exhibition by German artist Michaela Meise. This show will also inaugurate Greene Naftali's just-renovated gallery space, with a new elevator entrance at 508 West 26th Street.
Citing a wide overlapping array of artistic and social histories, Meise’s installations, sculptures, and wall reliefs employ a skillful heightening of their own formal and tactile attributes. Her works at times resemble modern furniture, systems of display, minimalist sculptures, and meticulously balances a use of formal design with carefully considered cultural content.
For her New York debut, Meise engages New York City itself. The exhibition threads together an investigation of buried histories, both literal and as undercurrents within the culture. The show takes its title from the songbook "A Ceremony of Carols" by English composer Benjamin Britten. Composed during his 1942 sea voyage home at the height of World War II after three years in exile in the US, this choral work consists of English renaissance poems bound into a song cycle and hints at Britten’s pacifism and his exile in the US solely to escape serving in the War. In a related sculpture, Britten himself appears—his visage doubled, reflected in the lid of a piano. The photograph is mounted to a glossy blue wooden form, implying both the reflective coolness of high minimalism and the less lofty display mechanisms and temporary structures at an art fair.
The sculpture “Hair” takes it title from Milos Forman’s iconic musical film and is also situated in a historical context of war and pacifism, here the Vietnam War and the hippie movement—underscoring New York’s legacy as a fertile ground for counter cultural activity. In a series of c-prints, Meise reproduces film stills of the avant-garde dancer Twyla Tharp being tossed in the air by a group of hippies in Central Park after they have begun a psychedelic LSD-induced trip. The connected photographic sequences mirror the five camera takes comprising the scene and the tangled bodies in frenzied dance are in a way reiterated by the long interconnected table structures on which they are displayed.
The wall-hanging “Hearts” are stained monochromes with the iconic heart shape cut and then re-set within the wood surfaces. If the exhibition can be thought to take the structure of a songbook, the hearts would be the interlude. The heart image might be found on a Bauhaus tapestry or the “I Love New York” logo. The New York theme woven through these works is that of a bygone place, and the last series contains the oldest motif. The marble “Tomb” stands in connection with sacred ancient objects, now excavated and mostly in an incomplete condition. The tomb form creates a void, a hollow casing which reverses the physical effect often associated with minimalism. The void becomes a vortex, pulling the viewer into the frame. A related group of photo collages shows the early 1990s archaeological excavation of the African Burial Ground on lower Broadway in New York—seventeen and eighteenth century graves of the first generations of black New Yorkers. A horizontal cut hides the skeleton, visible in the original photo. Meise’s video “Delos adelos Samos ammos Rhome rhume” addresses sculpture’s ancient traditions by invoking Greece and Rome while intercutting footage of New York.
Michaela Meise lives and works in Berlin and is one of the strong female sculptors to emerge from a new generation of artists who have been influenced by Michael Krebber, Isa Genzken, and Manfred Pernice. She participated in the Berlin Biennale, “Formalism” at the Kunstverein Hamburg, and was awarded Germany’s ars viva prize for emerging artists.