Nikhil Chopra settled into his temporary home in the lobby-level Glass Gallery at the New Museum on Wednesday.
Ever since the opening of the new building almost two years ago I've heard and read many criticisms of this space, a broad, twenty-foot-deep box on the far end of Marcia Tucker Hall which the architects have described by a floor-to-ceiling wall of glass. I don't have a problem with it myself, and in fact I think it's an inspired device. Especially with the right installation, meaning a powerful concept (however subtle it might be), it effects a bridge between the formal, clean white spaces of the Museum above and the vibrant life on the Bowery outside. At the same time it shares its (ideally) seductive offerings with the various functions of the foyer, shop and cafe areas, all very urban, and on a human scale. It has the special appeal of being absolutely free, and it probably works best when it is not just a large shop window but actually open to a visitor walking into the box.
Chopra's is the right installation, and “Yog Raj Chitrakar: Memory Drawing IX” is a powerful concept. It has the seductive attraction of a live performance and the public is not only invited into the middle of it, but encouraged to bring their cameras. I wrote a short paragraph about the work after visiting the installation during the the press preview last week. This past Wednesday I spent at least two hours with Chopra's performance, in several visits throughout the day, positioning myself on both sides of the glass wall. Since his character in this work is that of a nineteenth-century artist/draughtsman (modeled somewhat on his own grandfather) I was delighted to see that at least one visitor was actually sketching, working on a pencil drawing of the entire installation/performance. Yes, he was sitting in a chair in the cafe which is witness to everything that goes on to the other side of the glass. Myself, I only had a fancy digital camera. Sigh.
The artist, in the character of Yog Raj Chitrakar, will be installed for five days within, in the Museum's description, a "gallery transformed into a turn-of the-century tableau vivant". Except for several excursions outside the museum, he will be eating, drinking, sleeping, washing, shaving, dressing, and sometimes simply observing, all while remaining inside that gallery until the end of the day Sunday.
On Thursday morning he was expected to rise, dress in his antique costume, and, carrying his ever-present brown-paper-wrapped, string-tied bundles, he was to take the subway to the bottom of Manhattan. There he was to catch the ferry to Ellis Island where he would spend much of the day sketching the New York skyline in charcoal on one of the three huge sections of canvas he will have taken down from the east wall of his temporary home. He was expected to do the same thing on Friday and Saturday, each time taking along a different section of canvas, and returning to the Glass Gallery by mid-afternoon.
Both Yog Raj Chitrakar and the by-then-completed mural can be seen inside the space all day on Sunday. I am told we can expect a surprise.
Chopra's performance and installation was curated by Eungie Joo, Keith Haring Director and Curator of Education and Public Programs. The New Museum has scheduled additional programs related to this work next weekend, and aspects of the performance and exhibition can continue to be seen at the museum until next February. From the press release:
At its conclusion, remnants of Chopra’s occupation of the space remain on display as an installation. Documentation from three previous performances also on view in this exhibition—Memory Drawing II (Mumbai, 2007), Yog Raj Chitrakar visits Lal Chowk (Srinagar, 2007), and Memory Drawing VI (London, 2008)—suggests the many ways in which the history and reality of a location impact the artist’s execution of characters though costuming, gesture, and action.