Sometimes everything happens all at once, and in a place like New York, where there is always something happening, it can be difficult to decide which thing to see and what to pass up. Last night there were several excellent events: The Yeah Yeah Yeahs were playing Radio City Music Hall, Elvis Costello was at the Apollo, U2 was at Giants Stadium, there was the opening night of Ken Burns documentary on state parks being shown free in Central Park with performances by Counting Crows and others, and Ryan Adams' was kicking off his artist-in-residency at the Morrison Hotel Gallery with an exhibit opening, just to name a few. To be truthful, I was almost swayed by the Crows, because I do love some of their old songs, and it was a nice night to be outside, but in the end Ryan Adams won. How could I turn my back on the chance to see and possibly meet the creator of Heartbreaker, the (personally) iconic 2000 album that helped redefine my musical tastes, and saw me through one end of my own heartbreak and out the other? I know Ryan Adams has put out other records since Heartbreaker, but for me that recording will always be his pinnacle moment.
But here Adams' art was the focus: large unframed paintings on canvas, hung haphazardly in a room filled with multicolored balloons. Capitalizing on his multiple talents, the gallery was also selling copies of his albums, books, and posters--all proceeds going to charity. Ryan himself was stationed behind the merch table, stoically greeting his fans, signing autographs, and posing for pictures. Throughout the colorful gallery strolled young hipsters, the bright young things of the lower east side, as well as C-list personalities from MTV and the like.
The art was nothing special. Using primary colors straight from the tube and employing a gestural abstract style, Adams unfortunately tries too hard. And yet, with his paintings' generic messages and shallow layers, Ryan doesn't try hard enough. At best his paintings are a Warholian commentary on mass-media pop culture told by scary de Kooning-worthy figures with a bit of collage mixed in to bring it a retro sentimentality. It was cute how Adams wrote the titles (definitely tongue in cheek), media and price of each piece directly on the walls, with little doodles thrown in for fun. Across the doorway of the gallery he had created a giant cardboard mouth and eyes, and another painting was basically a three dimensional faux stage, literally bringing the art out into the viewer's face. I was less attracted to such garish pieces and drawn instead to the smaller, darker, more psychologically intense portraits, more drawings than paintings, that seemed to have come from a deeper place in Adams' creativity. It was almost art, but no Heartbreaker.
I looked around at all the paintings, at the people in line for booze and the people in line for autographs. I left, went down the street and ate a slice of pizza and then went back. Then I bought two Heartbreaker LPs and got in line to meet Ryan Adams. He shook my hand and signed his name on my records with a silver marker. I'm going to frame it because, really, that's the only Ryan Adams art I want.