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|Sock It To Me Again at P.S.1
by Charlie Finch
|"Greater New York: New Art in New York Now," Feb. 27-May 2000, at P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center, 22-25 Jackson Avenue, Long Island City, N.Y. 11101
By 3 p.m., MoMA domo Glenn Lowry knew that he had a hit on his hands.
Lines of fresh, young, eager art-world faces lined the block in Long Island City, waiting to enter the packed opening for P.S. 1's first vernissage under Museum of Modern Art auspices.
Like a similar survey of new art mounted 10 or 12 years ago at P.S. 1, "Greater New York" is a not-so-grand hodgepodge of forgettable stuff, hampered as always by the claustrophobic classroom spaces without vistas or views, which make P.S. 1, as always, a compartmentalized dump.
Yet, just as its long-ago New York show brought forth a genius like David Hammons, so "Greater New York" labors hard to regurgitate a few gems -- there are rarely half a dozen in toto.
We found Jerry Saltz raving about Cecily Brown's Performance, a spectacular motel green-and-black gunshot of a blinding fuck with Cecily on top.
"That's exactly how I wrote that she should paint," gushed Jerry, conveniently ignoring the fact that his negative review appeared long after the come dried.
Nevertheless, Performance is so faithful to the power of Cecily's realistic sketchbooks and so superior to anything else she's done, that one's left with the impression that dallying with abstraction is just a lot of white noise in Cecily's head.
Performance is a stripped down, get down Brown we pant to see again.
Another personal fave, Lisa Ruyter, hits apocalyptic heights in Salvation, a piece made to order for a collector, which, the artist told us, "just got bigger and bigger," both physically and conceptually.
Here, a swift, determined boy escapes a sinister hooded figure, leaping back into the last millennium from some desperate Middle European wasteland.
Ruyter's recent use of adolescents, like the woodwinds in an orchestra, fills her psychedelic symphony with crisp, lyrical passages of action, missing from her previous pieces.
One of Lisa's ad hoc dealers, Pat Hearn, called her from the Armory Show, trying to wrangle Salvation (already sold) for a German collector.
But the artist held firm. "I'm proud that my label reads 'courtesy of the artist'," Ruyter told us. As it should for such a masterpiece.
P.S. 1 would seem to be a natural venue for video, and perhaps MoMA will eventually transform the old schoolhouse into a videodrome exclusively.
Unfortunately, video dreck is the norm in "Greater New York" with just one notable exception, Bedlam by Javier Tellez.
Like Will Cotton, Tellez showed with Silverstein Gallery in the mid-'90s -- then he disappeared from the New York scene, first to his native Venezuela and then to an artist-in-residence gig at a London psychiatric ward, the setting for Bedlam.
Like Lisa Ruyter, Tellez has no permanent New York gallery representation.
Bedlam is projected as a perfect circle from a large birdhouse in a large dark room. In stunning color, three men try to bring a black patient under control -- simple enough. But the piece is full of visual tricks. We see the black man's head bobbing disembodiedly like a barrel on the sea of his captor's arms. At times it seems to fly around the room of its own accord, propelled by mental disturbances within.
In this tight scene, Tellez's camera discovers a vista, reminiscent of the view in Rene Clair's Entracte in front of which Man Ray and Duchamp play chess.
And the space and the head commence a beautiful, terrible dance. The other video artists in "Greater New York" should disconnect their projectors and sit at the feet of Mr. Tellez.
With the exception of two strong paintings by Inka Essenhigh, whom Mary Boone is inexplicably debuting in a two-person show with old coot Peter Halley this April, the rest of "Greater New York" is ignorable, filled with Pattern and Decoration, bad prints by Lisa Yuskavage, an awful painting by Brad Kahlhamer, too much forgettable work from the Andrew Kreps Gallery, stupid environmental photographs, things dangling from the ceiling, and a slide abutting the building, which you may try if you sign a release form.
Such folderol, so permissible in the dead, pluralistic art scene of the '90s, now seems pathetic and unnecessary in comparison with powerful pieces, like the three delineated above.
I'll say it again about P.S. 1 -- turn it back into a schoolhouse. The quality of the group shows would be a lot better.
CHARLIE FINCH is author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (1998).