NEW YORK - January used to be a slow burn of a month, not quite high season in the art world. But, given the unforgiving schedule of fairs and other events the rest of the year, galleries have decided to start 2013 with no holds barred. Even before the month was a third over, significant shows were opening all over Chelsea, and I made the rounds on your behalf.


Francis Alÿs’ Reel-Unreel, 2011. Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London.

David Zwirner, who is about to open another huge Chelsea space just one block from his existing huge one, debuted two big shows at once (because he can), and both artists were in attendance, always a classy move: Luc Tuymans, whose show is called The Summer is Over and Francis Alÿs, Reel-Unreel.


Luc Tuymans’ Me, 2011. Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, New York/London.

It’s a nice combination. Tuyman’s soft, evocative and blurry paintings, with their limited palette, always seem to be recalling some dim memory or faded snapshot. The postmodern trickster Alÿs, whom I profiled in 2011 for his retrospective show at the Museum of Modern Art, is the master of motion – in person, his tall, angular and gaunt figure cuts through the crowd like a knife, as it did at the gallery that night.

Alÿs’s film shows a boy in Kabul, Afghanistan, unspooling an old-time reel of film as he runs through the city – a very Aÿsian image in that it addresses urban fabric, political questions and a host of other issues, while never stopping forward movement. One of the coolest things about this artist is that he wants his things to be seen by everyone, for free, so you can watch Reel-Unreel online.


Robin Rhode’s Twilight (Detail), 2012-2013. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York and Hong Kong.

A gallery with two already-open NYC branches, Lehmann Maupin, often does concurrent shows, divvying up an artist’s work between Chelsea and the Lower East Side. South African-born Robin Rhode is now getting that treatment, and I stopped in at the Take Your Mind off the Street half on 26th Street.

Rhode presents, in addition to a striking large metal sculpture of a compass, a series of sequential photographs of some of his street-art projects – certainly there’s a link between him an Alÿs in their urban interests, and using cities as a literal canvas. Rhode’s series of images of his doppelganger in front of an outdoor painting of a feather on a cement wall, entitled Twilight, are a witty take on both stop-motion animation and the tradition of graffiti.


Wang Xieda's Subject Verb Object. Photographer: Jean Vong. (C) The Artist / Courtesy James Cohan Gallery, New York and Shanghai.

Directly across the street at James Cohan Gallery, I was really taken with the work of an artist whom I had frankly never heard of: Wang Xieda. The Shanghai-based sculptor takes his inspiration from calligraphy and the Chinese language itself. His spindly sculptures, in both paper and bronze, are ingeniously mounted on long pedestals that create a path around the gallery. They recall Giacometti a bit, and maybe Calder too, and they have a serene sense of balance. Even though there were some good Sol Lewitt pieces on view in the gallery’s other room, my eyes were firmly trained on Xieda’s creations. Looking forward to more from this artist.