Elmo Drinks Soda and Subway-goers Cower in Elaborate Chelsea Gallery

Rebecca Kao
"New York Now" is a new exhibition by Don Perlis at the Denise Bibro Fine Art in Chelsea.

“New York Now” at Denise Bibro Fine Art in Chelsea presents a complex image of New York City, where deceptively straightforward renderings of familiar icons namely Times Square and the New York subway are more than they seem.

The exhibition, which runs from Feb. 11 to March 26, features richly colorful oil paintings that capture the vibrancy of the city. Immediately recognizable figures, faces and icons pop out from each scene: a Beyoncé advertisement serenely overlooking Times Square, a Big Bus crammed with tourists, Sesame Street characters parading around with eager picture-takers. The pieces are striking in their detailed accuracy.

Frivolous scenes of tourism and commercialism in the city are undercut by a sense of the sinister and perverse, shown through the visually peculiar brawls of “Batman vs Elmo” and “Battle of Superheroes” in which a police officer attempts to stop Batman from attacking Captain America. In addition, in the two paintings titled “Toast 1” and “Toast 2,” a man dressed as Elmo removes his costume head and drinks soda with Spiderman and other cartoon characters. The piece is at once a humanizing and unnerving distortion of an idealized image, both of the iconic cartoon figures and the iconic city.

For the second main subject of the exhibition, the New York City subway, Perlis focuses on the spectacles put on by break dancers, commonly seen in the public transportation system. What is most notable about his depiction of these performances is the incredible detail paid to each spectator’s reaction — their expressions show everything from apathy to joy to amazement to scorn and fear. Perlis shows how the feelings and experiences of individuals are, in fact, individual — he does not attempt to generalize or make his subjects uniform and cohesive. He simply represents them vividly, leaving it up to the viewer to participate in the scene.

The enormous diversity of the spectators in these paintings contributes to such a representation. Each and every figure in Perlis’ paintings is rendered with care and exactitude. In “Subway/Falling Man,” a pregnant woman on the subway cowering from a falling dancer is given the same attention as the face of a model in the advertisement above her head. Perlis invites the viewer to wonder at the meaning of experience and the intricacy of personhood. The New York City that Don Perlis presents is one of exuberance and exhaustion, comfort and uneasiness, order and disorder — in essence, it is the city of modern life.

Perlis’ works tell stories encapsulated in the one-of-a-kind New York City. He has had many solo and group exhibitions across the country; recently, his work was exhibited at the Lancaster Museum of Art in Pennsylvania and the Heckscher Museum of Art in New York. Additionally, he has exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art and the National Academy of Design. 

“New York Now” runs through March 26 at Denise Bibro Fine Art in Chelsea.

Email Rebecca Kao at entertainment[email protected]

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