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Lisa Ruyter
Garden of Stone
at Leo Koenig

Out of the Past

Hard Road

Installation view, Lisa Ruyter at Leo Koenig
Leo and Lisa, Lather and Light
by Charlie Finch

Lisa Ruyter and Leo Koenig stepped up to the plate last Saturday night and rocked one out of the park, Tribeca style.

The contrast with Saturday's hot Chelsea opening was stark: Larry Gagosian couldn't provide a drop of water for the crowds oohing and aahing over a room full of Alighiero e Boetti rugs.

Guess one should have been invited to the dinner the night before.

Conversely, Koenig corralled customers with buckets of Rolling Rock and invitations to a hot after-party at the Slipper Room on Orchard Street.

Consuming all the brew by 9 p.m., many revelers actually rushed to the deli down the block, replenishing the suds on their own dimes.

Lisa Ruyter's complex new monument paintings energized the rollicking crowd. For the first time in a Ruyter show, there are a few clinkers -- small paintings resembling tombstone rubbings seemingly made to order for the low-end collector.

However, half a dozen giant masterpieces command the eye again and again.

Lisa's most recent piece, completed two days before the opening, tips a parade of two-ton pink and blue memento mori, like dominoes, into a distant vista. Her best painting yet.

On the opposite wall, a mysterious frieze of orange and yellow ghosts beckons the viewer. Very Man Ray.

And all the way back in the gallery's viewing room, a band of miniscule youths gambols by the water in an apocalyptic "Grande Jatte."

The total effect of Lisa's new efforts is transcendentally life affirming, a bonfire of living color eternally suspended o'er the abyss.

For the first time in her ten-year career, Ruyter hired assistants to stretch canvas and mix paint -- the demand on her studio of multiple shows is just too much. Consequently, the Koenig show is dotted with throwaways, but the truly great work survives.

May she always keep her hand in her own creations -- for the alternative, check out the snap of Jeff Koons' studio in the March Vanity Fair. The artisans simultaneously turning out Koons' new Rosenquist ripoffs stare glumly and blankly like slaves rowing a slave ship.

A sincere effort like Ruyter's attracts an authentic crowd. Buddies, not phonies, were everywhere: Shout magazine sprite Reverend Jen, Feigen gallery star Charles Spurrier, brand new Columbia professor Jerry Saltz, soundista Debora Warner, who opens at the New Museum's Media Lounge in March, Teamster Jose Freire applauding his bride (Ms. Ruyter), Thea Nedelcheva of the Culture Garden, and collector Norman Dubrow, who reversed field yet again to purchase Lisa's homage to Marcel Proust.

Amidst it all, young Koening was happily feeling his oats (and the $45,000 top price, a bargain).

On the heels of controversial comments he made in Details magazine and the New York Post, Koenig told Art and Auction magazine this month that he rented the smallest possible booth at the upcoming Armory Show, because it's ridiculous to participate when one already has a gallery in New York.

A rara avis, indeed, is the candid, outspoken dealer -- are you listening, Larry Gagosian?

Lisa Ruyter, "Imitation of Life," Feb. 10-Mar. 10, 2001, at Leo Koenig, 359 Broadway, New York, N.Y. 10013.

CHARLIE FINCH is coauthor of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).