We first met Laurel Nakadate in 2001, right after she received her MFA from Yale. While in New Haven, Laurel lived in a single-room occupancy apartment house full of lonely, homely, aging single men whom she proceeded to bait and cocktease mercilessly in her video work.
Laurel grew up in a middle-class family in Iowa, hence she was inured to the solitude of the Plains States. Add the assurance she possessed in her nubile young body and, violà, toxic art.
Enthused, we set out to find her a gallery. Our first stop was Feigen Contemporary, where we screened Laurel's DVD for gallery co-director Lance Kinz. He was amused, but passed.
Our next stop was Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn of Salon 94. Jeanne, one of the sharpest tacks in the business, toyed with showing Laurel for three months, but eventually decided against it. Both galleristes seemed to think that Laurels work was too transgressive and anti-feminist.
Then one day, we happened into the old Silverstein Gallery on West 21st Street and casually screened Laurel's DVD for dealer Dan Silverstein and curator David Hunt. Both men visually drooled, and suddenly Laurel had a show.
Ms. Nakadate joyously toyed with the puritan worries of those who wouldn't show her and the concerns of friends who justifiably feared that the pursuit of her art would get her raped or killed.
For a while, she hung out at a truck stop in Kansas, getting into any rig that would have her.
Videos from this period show Laurel vigorously fending off the feelies from libidinous truckers. At the time, Laurel rightly refused to let any of her horny male subjects actually touch her.
Subsequently, Ms. Nakadates work was featured in the Silverstein booth at the 2003 Armory Show, where an old Yale friend of ours, Jim Danziger, just happened to pass by.
"I had just closed my photo gallery," Jim told us last week, "but I loved Laurel's work and bought a piece. I didnt think I'd ever start another gallery."
But Danziger did, and Laurel Nakadate, now celebrated by the "Greater New York 2005" show, New York magazine and the Museum of Sex, among other venues, is starring this month at Danziger Projects on West 26th Street.
So what changed in four years? Why has the anti-feminist transgressive become so cozy and acceptable? Plainly, sexy young female artists have displaced their metrosexual male counterparts, and the money-mad materialism of middle-aged collectors from MoMA on down wants to vampirize young artists of their grace and glory, much as horny losers want to lasciviate Laurel.
Ms. Nakadate's new work at Danziger takes many new liberties. She allows her male partners to grope her, contort her, lock her in cages, pretend that she's a corpse, etc.
She also mocks the worries of her friends and colleagues, by lustily killing herself off in myriad ways, a trope similarly assayed by Alex McQuilkin in her "Teenage Suicide" series at Modern Culture gallery two seasons back.
At Laurel's opening, the crowd visibly hushed when Laurel suffocated, hung, shot, impaled and knifed herself on screen.
The artist, who recently broke off wedding plans, was her usual perky, dewy self at the opening. Her success is well earned, but it leaves us sad, as her new body of work verges on kitschy self-parody.
Perhaps, the most transgressive thing Laurel could conceive at the moment is a DVD musical of herself in love, with both a significant other and her own tattered persona, something like, say, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.
Laurel Nakadate, "Love Hotel and Other stories," Apr. 9-May 14, 2005, at Danziger Projects, 521 West 26th Street, New York, N.Y. 10001.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).