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Leo Koenig's storefront at 249 Centre Street

Lisa Ruyter
Hard Road

Michael Phelan's installation, "Spring rain...," at Koenig, Feb. 22-Mar. 23, 2002

Liz Balogh, Joanna Raczkiewicz and Leo Koenig

Frank Nitsche
Leo: What's Happening?
by Charlie Finch

First it was farce and then it was tragedy for young German-American dealer Leo Koenig.

The farce was the dot-com meltdown, documented in Josh Harris' film Quiet, starring Leo and shot in and around his first Lower Manhattan gallery, the former studio of Civil War photographer Matthew Brady.

The tragedy was 9/11, leaving Leo, his staff and eerily ironic World Trade Center artists Gelatin trapped on Lower Broadway in shock, anger and fear.

Six months later, Leo has, out of psychological necessity, moved into the old Souyun Yi space across from the landmark Police Building on Centre Street. A weekday morning visit found the preternaturally sweet and youthful Leo sitting alertly in his office, surrounded by a handsome suite of framed A.R. Penck drawings from a 1962 sketchbook, going for $5,000 apiece.

"Lisa Ruyter's prices have really jumped," Koenig commented. "Elton John just purchased two this morning." Sir Elton was in town for a concert.

A brand new medium-sized Ruyter of a U.S. warplane, currently on view at Paula Cooper, goes for $25,000. And Ruyter recently hosted a bash in her Williamsburg studio for collectors and museum types to showcase her upcoming 10-piece exhibition, under Koenig's auspices, at the Basel Art Fair.

Just then, Chelsea dealer Andrew Kreps walked in, with a roll of vintage Donald Baechler vegetable pictures under his arm, so I guess Leo's secondary business is rocking, as well.

Esthetically, Koenig's kingdom couldn't look finer, with frosted windows shielding Michael Phelan's delicate bamboo landscapes and liftable plastic boulders, from the street outside.

"We really should snap some shots of Leo hoisting these rocks," chuckled his director, Liz Balogh.

Leo's icy minimalist taste, let down in his recent Jeff Elrod show (although Hubert Neumann snapped up a couple), returns more successfully in Frank Nitsche's visual mind-benders, opening Mar. 26.

The hilarious, diminutive Nitsche poses as a strongman on the invitation -- indeed, he bends traditional pop lines in the funhouse mirror, unsettlingly similar to the last debris a few blocks south.

As the mind turns again to 9/11, the heart admires Koenig and his stable for successfully soldiering on.

Steady, Leo baby, as she goes.

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

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