A Gentle Man, an exhibition by Becky Beasley, will be on view at NYU’s 80 Washington Square East Gallery from June 14 through August 19, 2017.
The great problem of the short story, as (Bernard Malamud) puts it, is “to say everything that must be said and to say it quickly, fleetingly, as though two people had met for a moment in a restaurant, or a railroad station, and one had time only to tell the other they are both human, and, here, this story proves it.
In a time where ceaseless brevity of encounter and communication is a way of life, the short story feels more vital than ever and the short form is at the heart of this exhibition. A Gentle Man is a video installation with a linoleum floor and decor in which Beasley transforms the length of the gallery’s five rooms into a journey, from day to night.
This newly commissioned four-part video portrait of an imaginary man from birth to the present (1940-2017) explores brevity and intensity through its four discreet chapters: The First Story; Me for You; In the Rain/MAMA; A Man Walking Up Broadway. The work presents a series of brief encounters, offering them as minor transgressions (of engagement, responsibility, cliché, profound love) and proposes their transformative potential as choices. Each chapter is located, literally, along a linoleum floor design which maps Broadway; symbolically, at differing times of day – Morning, Afternoon, Evening and Night– and, emotionally, in an unspecified interior or exterior. In the exterior scenes it is always raining. The floor design briefly maps the space of Bernard Malamud’s early writing, and the short story, Spring Rain (1942), which is set around Morningside Heights. Malamud’s free education – from Flatbush to Harlem – is also mapped.
British actor Russell Tovey (Looking (HBO), Quantico (ABC), Angels in America (Royal National Theatre, London)) narrates.
Spring Rain – written by the Brooklyn-born Malamud when he was 28 – was not published until 1989, three years after his death, and has received relatively little attention. Malamud’s biographer Philip Davis has confirmed this. Beasley has been fascinated by the story for a decade and at 80WSE she has taken the opportunity to chase the story in Manhattan itself. Malamud’s short story is a tender picture of interiority and a glimpse into a man’s experience of himself and responses to others. It is also about present-ness and time; a life and an evening flash into clarity for a moment as a result of watching a young man die at the beginning of the story and, later, whilst walking in the rain with his daughter’s boyfriend.
Using only existing light, the exhibition moves from day-lit front rooms on Washington Square to unlit rear spaces, illuminated here by large video projections. Kissing chairs designed as sculpture by the artist are presented in each of the rooms of the exhibition for visitors to sit on.
Cartographer Molly Roy’s beautiful map, Oscillating City – which charts population density in Manhattan by day and by night – from Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas (UC Press) by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro will be exhibited in the foyer at 80WSE Gallery as a prelude.
Beasley lives and works in St. Leonards-on-Sea in the United Kingdom. She has had solo exhibitions at Towner Gallery (2017), Tate Britain (2012), Spike Island (2012), Leeds City Gallery (2013), Stanley Picker Gallery (2011), and produced solo live projects at Serpentine Pavilion (2010) and South London Gallery (2014). She was shortlisted for the Max Mara Prize in 2009, and the Contemporary Art Society Annual Museum Award in 2014. Her work has been included the major group exhibitions including Flatland: Narrative Abstractions, France and Luxembourg (2016-17); A Change of Heart, Hannah Hoffman Gallery, Los Angeles (2016); Over You, You: 31st Biennial of Graphic Arts, Slovenia (2015); Think Twice, Whitechapel Gallery, London (2012); The Imaginary Museum, Kunstverein Munich, Germany (2012); La Carte D’Après Nature, curated by Thomas Demand, NMNM, Monaco (2010). She graduated with an MFA from the Royal College of Art in 2002. She is represented by Laura Bartlett Gallery, London and Francesca Minini, Milan.
A Gentle Man is Beasley’s first institutional exhibition in the United States. The exhibition is organized by Nicola Lees, director and curator of 80WSE Gallery, with curatorial assistant and Steinhardt M.A. candidate Marguerite Wynter.
80WSE Gallery, located at 80 Washington Square East between West 4th Street and Washington Street, is an extension of the Department of Art and Art Professions in NYU Steinhardt. Under the direction of Nicola Lees, 80WSE presents experimental contemporary and historical exhibitions, produced exclusively by and for the gallery, through unique collaborations between faculty, students, and noted artists and curators. The gallery is open Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.
 Conversations with Malamud, Edited by Lawrence Lasher, p12