From the outside, the Luhring Augustine warehouse only stands out from its tattoo-covered neighbors because it’s so non-descript. The gray-green color is utterly inoffensive, and the building is an austere block. One might have missed it, if not for the frosted glass door or the crowd of smoking Manhattanites; once inside, though, a large gallery has been transported directly from Chelsea. The high-ceilinged, rectangular space was fairly full throughout, all with the usual crowd, many whispering of celebrity sightings. Roberta’s did not cater, and there was no beer.
It was bleak. Nearly every wall of the back room is occupied with a projection; on the massive back wall, a bar of light slowly scans across a sequence of numbers, which it replaces with other numbers in its tracks. Opposite the back wall are two other projection installations; in Plato’s Alley, numbers and grids run along five walls of an open cube with exaggerated perspective, making it look at times that a grid is growing steadily out toward the viewers. Another work, Painting By Numbers, occupies three walls with a universe of exploding digits, shooting in streams and running down as though on a sonic timer. Inevitably, the conversation veered toward export dimensions and RGB balance.
Though two of the works were made a few years ago, the numbers signal his late move from figurative video. Some have speculated that these have to do with Atlas’s longtime work with time code, and Atlas has likened them to dance. When asked about the significance of his use of numbers 1 through 6 in Plato’s Alley, he said that he read somewhere that six is the maximum numbers one can keep in one’s head at a time. Posters in the gallery’s entry hall, with the shape of the United States, remind us of the show’s title “The Illusion of Democracy.” I heard someone speculate that “They’re so rich…it’s like numbers are the only thing they can do.”
The press release hardly says anything about this new work, but focuses heavily on Atlas’s relevance to his peers. He worked closely with Merce Cunningham during the 1970′s, has collaborated with such artists as Marina Abramović, Yvonne Rainer, and Leigh Bowery, and he’s well-known for his own experimental performance videos. Most of all, he’s a famous documenter of the once-lively underground art scene in the meatpacking district in the 80s and 90s, one that extinguished around the arrival of Chelsea galleries.
If anything, the opening felt like a logical chapter in a much larger cycle: artists move from Meatpacking, to LES, to Williamsburg, to Bushwick, and galleries are never far behind. Art scenes, it seems, don’t go anywhere- they just move. In a recent panel “Confronting Bushwick,” the same concern was voiced which was initially expressed when Dia bought its warehouse space in Chelsea in 1987: would people make the trip? That didn’t seem to be a problem. The endless, streaming numbers began to mirror the flow of the incoming crowd, and it made sense.