With crowded sidewalks, hectic intersections, and over-flowing trains, New York City is a tumultuous mess. But most New Yorkers are accustomed to the city’s fast-pace and constant excitement. In a way, it’s challenging to imagine life beyond the urban environment, where there are no skyscrapers, coffee shops, or taxis. Engrossed with the metropolitan lifestyle, we fail to appreciate the tranquility of the rural countryside or even realize the beauty of the vast American West.
Though the concept of the Wild West may seem out of place in the city, the downtown-Manhattan Clocktower Gallery now offers an authentic depiction of the Western landscape and lifestyle. The exhibition, titled “Canyon Candy,” consists of an immersive photography and sculpture installation, as well as a 16-minute silent film directed by Mike Anderson, accompanied by a Western-themed concept album written by electric hip-hop duo Javelin.
The Clocktower was established in 1972 by Alana Heiss, who has founded several other galleries, including MoMA P.S.1 in Long Island City. She created the Clocktower Gallery as a nonprofit and public gallery. The gallery maintains its relatively underground prominence by hosting several events and exhibitions of local or fringe artists on the 13th floor of a city-owned building on Leonard Street.
At the end of a long corridor of closed doors and offices, “Canyon Candy” begins with the door of a small, dimly lit cabin. The light is only sufficient to detect the wooden panels that comprise the cabin walls and the shabby mattress situated in the corner of the room. While one walks past the cabin, the light fades out as the faint sounds of an acoustic guitar become audible. The observer must follow the music by stepping into the darkness of a papier-mâché tunnel. Though it is easy to lose one’s footing, the sheer aestheticism of the exhibit is stunning.
The winding tunnel eventually leads to the open nighttime landscape of a canyon, with various points of interests illuminated. On the left side, a cowboy’s body lies beneath a small cactus tree. Opposite, a forest of termite mounds subtly reveals a woman’s silhouette in the distance. Further into the installation, an alcove in the canyon wall houses a life-size cactus adorned with several intricate flowers, all made by hand, and a taxidermic coyote resting on its trunk. One of the more moving aspects of the exhibits is a three-dimensional black-and-white image of a sleeping cowboy inside a tiny crevice of the papier-mâché wall. A thin flower hovers over his face, personifying the more peaceful side of life in the canyon.
The passage through the canyon ends in a stylized saloon space, complete with three rows of seating, straw bale, and gingham tablecloths. The saloon functions as a theater for Anderson’s silent film. To the melody of Javelin’s recent album, “Canyon Candy,” the video depicts typical scenes of the Wild West with a lone cowboy and a vengeful lover. Though the film is beautifully created, it cannot compare with the striking realism and artistry of the installation. It is the back story, not the main attraction, of the exhibit. After one takes a second walk through the canyon, it becomes apparent that the exhibit is actually a physical recreation of the film’s scenery.
In addition to “Canyon Candy,” the Clocktower is home to several resident artists, whose work is displayed in separate studios throughout the gallery.
One noteworthy installation, a collaborative effort between Tony Martin, who was once a light technician for “Grateful Dead,” and poet Margot Farrington combines reflections of projected light and recorded poetry. Art International Radio, another interesting exhibit, broadcasts various programs and live interviews from the gallery’s recording studio.
Though “Canyon Candy” will only be open through Thursday, March 1, the gallery regularly plans exciting events and performances, most of which are free, and almost all of which are refreshingly awesome.