With its screwed up, push-pull real estate history, it stands to reason that Sperone Westwater's new space on West 13th Street would be a barely completed second floor in a gutted building, surrounded by a trellis under a mammoth double-decker red crane.
Consequently, with no wheelchair access, Chuck Close had to bravely disembark his chair and methodically climb, then later descend, a flight of sawdust-covered stairs, with the help of aides, which is tough to do if you have no feeling below the waist. A profile in courage.
Susan Rothenberg's new paintings are equally rough, in contrast to hubby Bruce Nauman's brand new silk Stetson. For someone who can't draw and whose palette ranges from pukey pink to sickly motel green, a few of Susan's pieces succeed, such as a threatening pack of white deer seen from above, and stray human hands playing dominos.
Susan strains to overlay layer upon layer of paint in the desert twilight, an admirable effort, but the overall impact of this considerable body of work is underwhelming.
So it was up the Chelsea corridor, for the simultaneous debut of Brice Marden's doodly loop de loopies.
Why does every washed-up, hetero Ab Ex painter whom we knew in the '60s and '70s always show up for a Brice opening? Perhaps they still know in their hearts that, with the right career breaks, they can paint better than Brice, on any given day.
With a color chart borrowed from the menu of a cheap Indian restaurant, Brice himself couldn't dispute this with his new work.
Do curlicues of burnt umber, yellow ochre, drooly lavender and Indian red turn you on? Then this empty stuff is for you.
Whether or not this is Brice's best work, I believe Matthew Marks can still sell it out at $300,000 apiece. Some consolation.
As usual, Brice also produced some superior works on paper, but he's still stuck in a rut on Cold Mountain.
Here's a suggestion -- perhaps Marden and Rothenberg could swap styles for a couple of seasons (and, hell, even swap spouses -- Bruce, Helen . . . Helen, Bruce).
Things could only improve.
Susan Rothenberg, May 3-June 1, 2002, at Sperone Westwater, 415 West 13th Street, New York, N.Y. 10014
Brice Marden, "Attendants, Bears and Rocks," May 3-June 22, 2002, at Matthew Marks Gallery, 523 West 24th Street and 522 West 22nd Street, New York, N.Y. 10011