David Zwirner opens post-Sandy with Diana Thater’s ‘Chernobyl’ video

Diana Thater’s post-apocalyptic video installation “Chernobyl” has been shown a few times, but never in a setting that itself is raw with destruction: On Friday, her 2011 work about the Soviet town devastated and depopulated by the 1986 nuclear disaster opens at David Zwirner, one of the New York galleries hit hardest by flooding from Hurricane Sandy.

The six-channel video features images of Chernobyl buildings in disrepair, ending with horses galloping around the remains of the nuclear power plant and swans swimming in the cooling pond. It plays in a gallery set up to evoke a movie theater in ruins.

“A hurricane is not the same thing as a global nuclear disaster,” said the L.A. artist, reached by phone on Monday. “But I do believe like many others that they are both man-made -- that the massive hurricanes and tsunamis we’re having are due to global warming.”


She said she first wanted to project videos onto the damaged gallery walls, where a waterline was visible, but learned that the gallery team had already repaired them. Still, the damage suffered by so much art and architecture in Chelsea, Manhattan’s busiest gallery district, serves as the work’s backdrop.

Zwirner announced this show -- and the postponement of others -- in a “Dear Friends” letter posted Monday on his website. He said that the Thater exhibition would take place at 519 W. 19th St. while his space at 525 W. 19th would be “used for viewings,” presumably private showings of other artists’ work.

“Our other exhibitions planned for November, Luc Tuymans: The Summer is Over and Francis Alys: REEL-UNREEL, will now open in early January, once all our spaces have been fully renovated,” he wrote.

(Many expressed concern and curiosity about whether there was damage to the Tuymans paintings; when asked for an update on their condition, gallery publicist Julia Joern emailed “all fine.”)

Thater was originally planning to show “Chernobyl” with Zwirner, her longtime New York dealer, in January 2013. He put a rush order on it last Thursday. “On Thursday during the middle of cleanup, David had this idea,” she said. “I packed the work on Friday and shipped it on Saturday.”

The artist plans to fly to New York Tuesday (after she votes) to spend two days installing “Chernobyl.” Zwirner is organizing a party for the neighborhood’s galleries to take place after her opening, she said.

“I think what’s really important is that the art world has been mourning the loss of art, not the loss of money. In the face of all this cynicism about the market, what people really want to see is art.”


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