"When I bought the place two years ago, the first thing I saw was a mountain of needles in the garden. That night, as I tried to sleep, hundreds of beady little eyes -- rats -- looked at me through the window. There were thousands of dead roaches behind every wall."
Theater designer René Calvo spoke about the brownstone at 242 West 123rd Street, which houses his new gallery, the Harlem Flophouse. The city removed the syringes and Calvo eliminated the vermin. Now he's in charge of one of the most beautiful art spaces in New York.
Chelsea dealer Andrew Kreps has already commandeered one of René's artists, Peter Coffin, as the Flophouse's second show, "Women Paint Women," debuts.
Calvo cleverly integrates his artwork throughout four floors of living space -- on opening night, two Swedish models were making up in a bedroom. It was unclear whether they were performance art or living there.
Above the second floor fireplace hang some fine small portraits by Erin Riley of her husband posing as her, adding to an ambience of ambiguity.
Facing these is a full-length nude, Ezilla, by Alexis Karl from her continuing series of buff portraits of her female friends.
In the third floor bedroom, recent Yale MFA Jackie Gendal, better known as a rock guitarist at the East Village club "Brownie's," exhibits some encaustic self-portraits, which recall Lynda Barry's cartoon heroine Marlys.
Also strong are some fantasy sequences, á la Chagall, by downtown veteran Elly McGilly and "The Bordello Series" by photographer Anette Aurell, originally published in Nylon magazine.
The best in show are a series of small charcoal drawings by Angela Dufresne, a steal at $250 apiece. They depict depression-era landscapes, subtly enhanced by naked lovers making it in country lakes or old Ford Model As.
The Harlem Flophouse is open 12-3 PM, Saturday and Sunday, for the current show, up through June 1, and by appointment during the week. René Calvo can be reached at (212) 662-0678 or at HarlemFlophouse@hotmail.com.
And if you're lucky, perhaps he'll fix you one of his delicious guava drinks.
* * *
Switching gears, intrigue increases as the Museum of Modern Art searches for a new curatorial czar to succeed Kirk Varnedoe.
According to sources, MoMA director Glenn Lowry initially preferred not to fill the position at all, á la Tate boss Nicholas Serota (who has left the Tate Modern director's job open for over nine months).
But Serota has reconsidered (reportedly, MoMA's own Robert Storr is at the top of his list for T.M. curator), and so has Lowry.
So far, glaring Glenn has interviewed Jeffrey Weiss of the National Gallery and Ann Temkin of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, on the theory that a small unknown planet would scarcely shield Sun King Lowry.
A veteran MoMA collaborator tells us, "the only curator who isn't terrified of Lowry is Kynaston McShine, who actually likes him and talks back to Glenn. But Kynaston is essentially retired, and being acting chief curator is ruining his health."
The source continues," Lowry has always disliked Storr, and had no use for Varnedoe." Perhaps this is why the names of Messrs. Storr and Varnedoe are conspicuously missing from the invitation, as long as the phone book, for MoMA's tribute dinner for Agnes Gund, May 18, at the Metropolitan Pavilion. Aggie has long been the humorless Lowry's primary champion.
Storr may still have support from powerful MoMA men Don Marron and Jerry Speyer. Nevertheless, his prospects for elevation look bleak, which would be a disgrace.
As one high powered pal of Rob's told us, "Storr's Richter show, a critical and attendance success, will give people something to remember MoMA by, for the next three years. He deserves better."
As for Storr, in "What, me worry?" style, he will be ferociously resuming his painting career at Skowhegan this summer.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).