It’s something of a tradition in the gallery world that the weeks leading up to Christmas be given over to group shows, and the crush of artists and dealers at Museum 52’s opening on Friday night had the feel of a Yuletide office party for the downtown art scene. Tastefully disheveled people clutching beers circulated the two-tiered Rivington Street space, socializing and occasionally examining the more than 50 tabletop-size sculptures underfoot — many placed directly on the floor — that had been contributed by artists including Jon Kessler, Sarah Braman, Matthew Day-Jackson, Nicole Cherubini, and Frank Benson. “I feel like I’m not going to too many holiday parties, so this is how I’m celebrating Christmas,” said Anya Kielar, a co-founder of artist-run Guild & Greyshkul Gallery who had a piece in the show. “This week I’ve been in three group shows. It’s nice.” But, as with any office party, there were looming perils — mainly that the artworks, which had mostly been kept to a Lilliputian size limit of two feet high with a one-foot-square base, were constantly in danger of being trampled by the crowd. A crumpled sphere of painted paper by Lansing-Dreiden that was at the top of the stairs kept being kicked around like a soccer ball; nearby a concrete sculpture by David Brooks that was embedded with eggshells and protruding Rebar was continually toppled over. “If I was the gallerist, I would have a heart attack,” said Dustin Yellin, who had strategically mounted his striking resin-encased volumetric drawing of an MRI scan on a sturdy wooden plinth. “This is terrifying.”
Matthew Dipple, the affable British proprietor of the year-old space, was weaving through the crammed gallery with a yellow highlighter to mark hands for the after-party. “It’s a really busy opening,” he said, acknowledging that the gallery was way over capacity. “I’d hate for anything to get moved or damaged. The idea was to have a gathering of sculptures and then a gathering of people to come and see the sculptures. I’ve seen a lot of people tonight, which is great, so fingers crossed that nothing has gotten damaged and everyone here has enjoyed the show.” Eventually a gallery worker took a post at the top of the stairs to limit the flow of people. (The downstairs gallery, which included a nice Daniel McDonald figurine of a deranged Uncle Sam trapped under a novelty-size martini glass with a broken disco ball in his arms, was more sparsely attended.) Outside the painter Dana Schutz, whose husband Ryan Johnson had a piece in the exhibition, said some people had tried to defend the works. “My friend said she actually got shoved trying to protect one of the David Altmejd sculptures.” But she added that works getting knocked around small gallery shows are somewhat par for the course. “I remember one time somebody’s hood got stuck in one of my paintings and it was wet and they smeared the paint all around the show, which was kind of a bummer,” she said. “Another time a small child sort of monoprinted their forehead on one of my paintings.” Despite the tumult — which ultimately didn’t do lasting damage to any art, according to Dipple — Schutz declared the night a success. “I think it’s a great show,” she said.