As a London-dweller, I’m told that there’s no longer any debate as to whether New York’s Lower East Side might be more than just second-best to Chelsea’s first: it’s now the place to see some of the best art in the city, shown in galleries whose ambitions aren’t confined by their relatively smaller wall- and floor-space.

On Elephant’s return to the city for 2016’s The Armory Show, we spent a day discovering and rediscovering the now well-established array of galleries and exhibitions that are hidden in basements, on top floors above Chinese restaurants, and pretty much anywhere dismissed by the local hospitality industry. Here are some of our favourites:

Gregory Edwards, Bathers
47 Canal, 291 Grand St, 2nd Floor, NY
26 February – 3 April

Edwards’ paintings exist in the kind of cyberspace jamboree that one imagines going on in the back of those old Apple Macintoshes: the editions with the multi-coloured monitor covers. Because though somewhat abstract, their brightly-coloured, sometimes garish forms do seem to directly reference the computer: there’s download arrows, data webs, repeated symbols of the earth that we’ve come to associate with browser logos. That these seem to offer clarity when viewed from a distance or together – a political clarity, I initially conceived; fuelled by a sincere engagement with technology and globalisation – is merely a mirage. Edwards insists that ‘these are not real objects’ – that their positioning on the canvas as absurdly micro or macro versions of themselves defies logical comprehension.

Philip Hanson ‘It is too difficult a Grace’
James Cohan, 219 Grand St, NY
26 February – 3 April

It’s hard not to immediately love Hanson’s works for their combination of rural scenes, day-glow lettering, and quotations from the most admired of Romantic era poets. The artist has been greatly influenced by his close-reading of poetry, and informed by his interest in New Criticism and the movement’s associated Chicago School (known best for their enthusiasm for formal experimentation). By referencing works from Emily Dickinson, William Blake and John Keats among others, he taps into an inherently human pursuit of grand universal truths and, more interestingly, the fierce scepticism that often plagues such things. In this, the artist’s first solo show at the gallery, one is led around the space by small square canvases, many of which are tilted so their top corner points to the sky. These diamond shapes, along with a mash-up of new age purples, pinks, yellows and greens; formalised by the shapes of the letters used, make for a very mystical exhibition room.

Zarouhie Abdalian, Shannon Ebner, Leslie Hewitt, Iman Issa, André Komatsu ‘Signal to Noise’
Simon Preston Gallery, 301 Broome St, NY
5 March – 24 April

This brilliant monochromatic group show exhibits five artists working in different media to explore innovation or disruption – particularly that which somehow has the potential to grow in scale.

From Abdalian’s deconstructed whistle submerged in a glass of water (‘Buoy’, 2014)  to Ebner’s large inkjet print depicting a sinister rubber-gloved hand in front of a large letter A (‘Black Box Collision A’ 2014) and Komatsu’s almost sarcastic, minimalist sculptures made from building materials, the show is impeccably curated, utilising the space with a rare assertiveness and grace. The works that play with the idea of history and its mutability are particularly striking: Leslie Hewitt layers found photographs and three-dimensional objects to investigate the formation of culture over time, and Iman Issa’s phallic sculpture comes with its own museum-like wall description that makes evident the way we as viewers re-understand objects by witnessing them in a historical context.

Iman Issa ‘Heritage Studies #6’ (2015), blackened wood, vinyl text. Courtesy the artist and Simon Preston Gallery, New York.
Bathers installation view, image courtesy 47 Canal
Bathers installation view, image courtesy 47 Canal
What fortitude the Soul contains (Dickinson) 2015 Oil on canvas 84 3/4 x 84 3/4 in. 215.3 x 215.3 cm
O Rose thou art sick (Blake) 2016 Oil on canvas 33 3/4 x 33 3/4 in. 85.7 x 85.7 cm
Shannon Ebner ‘Black Box Collision A (19)’ (2014) framed Epson inkjet print. Courtesy the artist and Simon Preston Gallery, New York.
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