A new exhibition at Bushwick gallery TSA is celebrating two very different men with very similar names: Walt Whitman and Walter White. “The Two States of W.W.,” which opens Jan. 9, is inspired by a pivotal scene in television show “Breaking Bad,” when protagonist Walter White’s Drug Enforcement Administration agent brother-in-law finds White’s copy of Whitman’s famed poetry collection “Leaves of Grass” with the inscription, “To my other favorite W.W.,” which incriminates him as the meth drug lord known as Heisenberg.
“Vince Gilligan, the show’s writer, had already woven ‘Leaves of Grass’ throughout the series, so this moment ties White and Whitman together for a tragic turn in ‘Breaking Bad,’ ” said Andrew Prayzner, who curated the show. “I liked that W.W. could embody two different people, but they are taken to be the same person. The duality of W.W. was a metaphor that I wanted to use when thinking about living in two disparate regions and the psychological impact that it creates.”
Whitman was from New York, and White from New Mexico, so each of the 12 artists featured in “The Two States of W.W.” has spent time in both New York and New Mexico. One artist, Eric Amabe Garduno, coincidentally drew storyboards for “Breaking Bad”’s pilot episode.
“If an artist lives, or has lived, in two very disparate places — in this case New York and New Mexico — they are especially sensitive to the differences in light, time, mass, and culture in each respective place,” said Prayzner. “I believe that experiencing such radical shifts has an impact on how one sees and how one approaches making an object.”
Visual artist Amanda Lechner, who grew up in New Mexico, created her painting for the show while listening to a “Leaves of Grass” audiobook. Titled “Delicious Flavin, Judd enough crunch!,” it depicts a moment observed in a New York City art gallery, featuring a gallery attendant eating Doritos, flanked by the minimalist works of New York artists Donald Judd and Dan Flavin.
In putting together the show, Prayzner also looked at the long tradition of artists moving from New York to New Mexico. The list of transplants includes Mabel Dodge Luhan, D.H. Lawrence, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Richard Tuttle.
“I started to research how their work changed when they moved west. Turns out, there are lot of artists that have shared experiences in New York and New Mexico,” he said. “I would like the audience to consider how the artist’s environment affects their decision-making in their practice.”
“The Two States of W.W.” will be the first show at TSA since the gallery relocated from Stewart Avenue to Willoughby Avenue, in a new gallery hub also housing Transmitter and Microscope galleries.
“The Two States of W.W.” at TSA [1329 Willoughby Ave. #2A between Wyckoff and St. Nicholas avenues in Bushwick, (347) 746–8041, www.newyork.tigerstrikesasteroid.com]. Jan. 9–Feb. 15. Free.