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Was my visit to James Clar's exhibition just a dream?

April 4, 2016 // by Jaime DeSimone

When I first arrived at Jane Lombard Gallery to see James Clar's exhibition False Awakenings, I was spoiled-I had the gallery to myself. March in New York City means all types sojourn to the city for the art fairs. It means crowds and lines, less than ideal situations for viewing art, but Chelsea was quiet on that Wednesday afternoon in early March, and I was particularly grateful to be able to see and experience his first solo show all by myself. Well, until I found James tucked in the gallery's offices at work on a computer.

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James Clar's Simulation of a Simulation (New York) (2016) on display at Jane Lombard Gallery in New York in March 2016. Image courtesy of Jaime DeSimone.

Refusing to let this opportunity pass, I toured the exhibition twice-finding more details each time. I immediately took delight in two disparate objects: Simulation of a Simulation (New York) and Nobody's Home, both of 2016. In Simulation of a Simulation (New York), a wall-mounted TV monitor displays a snow squall, where flurries fell on the Statue of Liberty as quiet, still skyscrapers are blurred behind her. Clar's piece simulates the precipitation via ingenious means-an apparatus shakes the snow globe of Ms. Liberty automatically, while an attached camera creates a live stream of this storm on the monitor. Although it wasn't actually snowing outside, there is an irony to the work itself as it plays off the kitsch of tourism. I chuckled to myself-it was clever, visually interesting, and an unexpected find. Well done, James, well done.

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James Clar's Nobody's Home (2016) on display at Jane Lombard Gallery in New York in March 2016. Image courtesy of Jaime DeSimone.

Upon entering the gallery, a number of works greeted visitors-some with bright neon lights, others with cascading lights, such as Rain Under Lamppost that was previously on view in Smoke and Mirrors: Sculpture and the Imaginary  at MOCA Jacksonville, and then some nonchalant ones. Nobody's Home falls into the last category. Here, a wooden door and its frame are set against the wall. If you looked in that direction too fast, you could easily mistake it for an actual door to another room. In fact, a silver glow of light rests at the bottom of the door as if people, via shadows of their feet, are walking on the other side. But there is no adjacent room. There are no people. Clar uses a strip of LED lights to generate/simulate the illusion of people walking. These LEDs play a video of the artist and his studio assistant walking behind the fictional door. Clar told me the idea came to him one day in his studio when he found himself mesmerized by the gap below his door.

While Clar's work involves a lot media, these two pieces create a tension between perception and reality. Both could have easily been included in Smoke and Mirrors. When I thought more about the exhibition's title, False Awakenings, it too was fitting. As defined by the artist and gallery, it is “a vivid and convincing dream about waking from sleep, while the dreamer, in reality, continues to sleep.” Clar taps into our dreamlike state by presenting works that transform on our perception while rooted in reality. Upon writing this, I wonder if my visit was a dream …

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James Clar's Rain Under Lamppost (2014) on display at Jane Lombard Gallery in New York in March 2016. Image courtesy of Jaime DeSimone.

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