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Su-en Wong
Untitled
2003
Michael Steinberg Fine Art, New York



Dana Schutz
Frank on the Beach
2002
in "Sexy Beasts"
Ethan Cohen Fine Arts, New York



Katherine Bernhardt
Nighttime Thong
2001
Team Gallery, New York



Will Cotton
Giverny Flan Pond
2003
Galerie Daniel Templon, Paris



Judy Rifka
The Acropolis
1985
World House Gallery, New York



Stephen Lack
The Yellow Beach
2000
www.galleryone.ca
Grace Versus Grunge
by Charlie Finch


Su-en Wong telephoned us, disgruntled.

"It upsets me, Charlie -- I spend six months refining a painting, and all that is hip now is messy expressionism."

"I know what you mean, Su-en; Barnaby Furnas, Dana Schutz, Katherine Bernhardt, Tracey Nakayama. It's called the LFL Esthetic -- we'll see a lot of it in the Whitney Biennial."

"It makes me want to quit." Although she's covered from head to toe with dragon tattoos, Su-en, like most artists, can be insecure about her prospects.

"Come on, Su-en, your paintings sold out at Shoshana Wayne in L.A., and your work was just in Vogue. Count your blessings!"

"I suppose so, Charlie."

Still, there's no denying that the mess express careens through Chelsea these days. You can blame dealers and tiny bald critics who cannibalize the art schools, once again thin with talent. You can blame collectives like Royal Art Lodge, reifying the mediocrities among them. You can blame Art in America, which gives every show a good review, no matter how formally or conceptually retardaire.

You can blame collectors' agents like our old pal Simon Watson, who recently stocked the Daniel Reich Gallery with young "revolutionaries" and told us at Bottino, "I love the youth, Charlie, it's all positive, I'm only looking for young artists."

Thanks to the mess express, Italian Futurism, some of the ugliest paintings ever created, is back in vogue, and soon we're sure to experience the long-anticipated graffiti revival. Some observers are even recommending stocking up on works by the minister of mess, Julian Schnabel.

It's a problem as old as art, of course -- when Neanderthal Leonardos were painting their majestic hunts in the warm caves of France, some Cro-Magnon bozo was writing "yo mama" with charcoal down the wall.

Grunge has had its masters over the years -- Turner with his mop on washing day and Jackson Pollock. Manet was a messer of sorts, too, as were the Fauves, but it doesn't follow that any artist dipping a stick into a can of Dutch Boy paint is Willem de Kooning.

Nope, the messiestas often do a lot of harm when their turn again comes around. Thousands of them on the East Village scene trampled a few forgotten geniuses such as Judy Rifka, Stephen Lack and Luis Frangella, and the LFL brigade is determined to bury fine formalists like Kurt Kauper or Will Cotton with the undisciplined vomit of Danica Phelps.

Canceling the next Whitney Biennial, as Adam Weinberg has threatened to do, may stem the dirty tide, as will a cooling of collector zeal. In the meantime, junk expressionism will rule at this year's biennial and the Armory Show.

Let the buyer beware -- Jackson Pollock had a thousand imitators. Can you name one?


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


 
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