Washington may be "hellbent on war," as the cover of Newsweek put it last week, but in midtown Manhattan things are a bit more grandmotherly. At 57th and Madison are no less than three shows by senior female masters -- Agnes Martin, age 90, at PaceWildenstein, Anne Truitt, b. 1921, at Danese, and Lois Dodd, 75, at Alexandre Gallery.
Martin, the art world's own desert ascetic, is pacific but powerful. She writes a poem on the wall by the entrance of the gallery: "Look at the sky, at first you see blue then you see beauty and then you see infinity." These 14 new paintings, all untitled, all measuring 60 x 60 in., and all done with ruled pencil lines and acrylic color washes in pale blue, gray, yellow, tan or green, are secular meditations disguised as Minimalist abstraction.
PaceWildenstein's irregularly shaped, chopped up gallery is no chapel, though Martin's paintings still burn with a pale fire -- no small accomplishment for simple works that in appearance resemble the lined notebook paper used in elementary school. One painting is an ultimate modernist reduction -- a simple horizontal pencil line on raw canvas -- an assertion of authority that can't help make one think, today, of the supreme commander.
On the checklist at the gallery desk, all the works are marked as sold or on reserve, and no prices are given, a violation of New York City consumer regulations (unfortunate in a time when so much of the art world's top tier is tainted by financial scandal). Martin's auction record is $1.4 million for a 1965 work -- pretty much in the same format as these -- paid at Phillips, de Pury & Luxembourg in 2000.
Anne Truitt is an original Washington Color School artist, along with Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland, a woman who was championed by the once-all-powerful critic Clement Greenberg. Her debut show was at Andre Emmerich in 1963, and she was included in "Primary Structures," the pivotal Minimalism exhibition at the Jewish Museum in 1966. She has written that her goal was to achieve "color in three dimensions, color set free to a point where, theoretically, the support should dissolve into pure color."
She makes square (most measure eight inches to a side) wooden monoliths that stand between five and seven feet tall, painted in multiple coats in solid colors like brown, green or aqua, or with two-tone vertical stripes in combinations like green and sky blue or crimson and navy. She gives them names like Cambria, Still, and Nouvelle, and though they may be all about vibrant color, in today's New York they look a little like rods for a Greenbergian reactor. The price range is $20,000-$60,000.
As Sidney Geist wrote in 1953, Lois Dodd "is a natural colorist and knows how to handle a brush, her canvases are lively, plastic and fresh in color and pattern." It must be strange to have one's work described so perfectly that it is still true 50 years later, but there you are. Dodd's "Windows and Doorways" paintings at Alexandre Gallery in the Fuller Building, dating from 1972 until 1997, are reminiscent in subject if not style of Henri Matisse's Nice pictures from the 1930s, works that make sophisticated play on the notion of the painting as window, doorway and mirror. (In style Dodd's painting is brilliantly straightforward, arguably like that of Fairfield Porter or Milton Avery or her longtime colleague, Alex Katz).
Dodd helped establish the famous downtown Manhattan Tanager Gallery in 1952 and taught for many years at Brooklyn College. And though she lives on East 2nd Street in Manhattan, the view from many of her windows suggests the dark woods outside (she also spends time in Maine and western New Jersey near the Delaware Water Gap) -- an ominous reminder of the sinister forces lurking on the edges of "fortress America." The works' price range is $6,500-$45,000.
Downtown, there's a comic view of American globalism and the colonial imperative in Paul Ramirez Jonas show, titled "The Earth Seen from Above," at LFL Gallery on West 24th Street. The artist pictures himself standing on various mountaintops waving a flag in his Album: 50 State Summits. Funnier is Circumnavigation after Magellan (1995), a yellow, five-foot-long travel agent's printout of a round-the-world trip that can be had for a modest $1,200. But the best deal is When Nature Becomes History, a factory-made 21-foot-long string plastic flags (with satellite pictures of storms named by the National Weather Service, one for each letter of the alphabet) draped from the ceiling that is $25. About 40 or 50 have sold so far.
The apolitical Near East comes to life in the large oil landscapes and smaller bazaar scenes in watercolor by Valerie Hird at Nohra Haime in the Fuller Building. Hird renders the arid Silk Road landscape in the rich reds and golds of its weavings, for an effect that is suggestive of a complete sensory immersion in the land. The paintings are interspersed with rugs and tapestries from San Francisco dealer Peter Pap Oriental Rugs, the second collaboration between the two (the first was "Anatolian Journeys" in 1994). Hird, who was born in 1955 and lives in Burlington, Vt., has said that "I started painting oriental rugs because I couldn't afford to own them." The works in this show, "The End of the Silk Road," range in price from $2,000 for small watercolors to $30,000 for large paintings.
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Baby-boomer men have a special relationship to Playboy magazine, which launched in 1954 and celebrates its 50th anniversary next year. The photographs of David Hilliard, who heads Yale's undergraduate photo department and is currently having is first New York solo show at Yancy Richardson Gallery, are very much inflected with the magazine's erotic esthetic. In one photo, a Playboy centerfold floats like a UFO in the sky above a bunch of kids in a field. In another, copies of the magazine share a bed with the artist's jovial father.
Elsewhere, a testosterone-pumped body builder flexes his muscles in a locker room, and two teams in color-coordinated uniforms face off. Hilliard, who is gay, takes the gender-and-sexuality thing to the next level with sneaky illustrations of the essential homosexuality of masculine endeavors. His brightly colored and spatially baroque photographs, often combined into diptychs and triptychs, are priced at $1,800-$3,700 in editions of five.
More Playboy affections are on view over in the small gallery at Sperone Westwater on West 13th Street, where the Brooklyn artist Randy Moore presents three versions of the rabbit logo made out of chewed gum ($3,000 each), a large monochrome-blue watercolor of a centerfold girl and a large kind of painting -- the spines of a collection of 55 Playboys, painted on 3 in. x 10 ft. tall planks ($35,000).
Playboy too in the back room at American Fine Arts on West 22nd Street, where mysterious California conceptualist Lutz Bacher has one of her 1993 blowups of a Vargas girl done by sign painters for hire. Who doesn't remember the fuss that greeted this particular act of feminist appropriation? This drawing, pencil on paper measuring 44 x 36 in., is $14,000. In the front is a videotape, Manhatta, a digitally fractured aerial tour of Manhattan island. Lutz's Closed Circuit, a video year-in-the-life of the late art dealer Pat Hearn, was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum, of all places.
It's pinups, too -- of a sort -- at Cohen Leslie and Brown on 10th Avenue in Chelsea, where the engaging 30-something Cologne artist Kati Barath has installed her first New York solo, paintings of Brobdingnagian nursery giants, huggable black bunnies, masked men and hairy Yetis. She draws her childish figures with extruded plastic which she then colors. They stand arms akimbo, staring out at the viewer with the straight-on intensity that Hugh Hefner made famous. There's a particularly impertinent nude red-head, price $11,000.
As long as we're on the subject of magazine erotica, how about a quick footnote on sexual allure in fashion photography? The young artist Heather Bennett, in her first solo show at Lux, Stefan Stoyanov's gallery in the 24 West 57th Street gallery building (downstairs from Marian Goodman), has inserted herself as the model in replicas of several famous fashion advertisements, steamy scenes (often with a male counterpart) that she invited her photographer-friends to make. Somehow, with these poses, Bennett emphasizes how disposable fashion photography is, despite its momentary allure, at the same time making it into a high-art collectible.
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The veteran Cologne dealer Michael Werner has installed a pair of twin works by the late expatriate artist James Lee Byars at his townhouse gallery up on East 77th Street (in the former Leo Castelli quarters). In his lifetime Byers was a jaunty Fluxus-like presence (a swashbuckling fedora was his trademark) who had a propensity for what could be called a gilded Minimalism, his personality giving an impish spin to simple sculptures that were spiritualist in form. Filling the gallery here are The Moon Books (1989), a chest-high, round gilded wooden table covered with 16 pieces of gilded marble in the various shapes of the waxing and waning moon, and on the ceiling, Eros (15 Moons) (1993), an array of moon shapes done in black Japanese paper, covered with glass so that they reflect like dark mirrors. It's the first time the works are shown in the U.S.
Ah, the approbation of critics. Painter Laurie Fendrich is just completing a successful solo show at Gary Snyder Fine Art over on 11th Avenue and 29th Street, her first in New York since 1995. Her colorful geometric abstractions, all measuring a modest 30 x 27 in., combine three or four large interlocking irregular shapes with clusters of smaller rectangular tesserae. Sleekly painted with a perfect semi-gloss sheen, the paintings have hard edges that have been feathered and softened, a kind of abstractionist in-joke that is about all that is left of a once-proud esthetic.
The wife of artist and Newsweek art critic Peter Plagens, Fendrich has another critical admirer in Hilton Kramer, who featured her work in a front-page review in the New York Observer, where contemporary artists rarely find favorable attention. But life is never perfect; she must now live with the distinction of being the artist whose works make Hilton "smile." His exact words: "Ms. Fendrich's pictures do, at times, bring out a smile when we look at them -- a smile of pleasure and release." The paintings are priced at $5,500 each.
Wallspace, the gallery that moved into Rupert Goldsworthy's old quarters across the hall from Murray Guy on West 17th Street, is developing a fresh, young program that now features a group show of four photographers. Walead Beshty is a recent Yale grad whose "Prone Series" gives us models sprawled flat on the ground but framed by the image so that the figure is up even with the picture plane, a punchy reminder of the 30-year-old formalist concern with the surface. They're good -- but at $4,000, you pay for it.
Another artist in the show, Los Angeleno Brandon Lattu, has a smart-looking pairing of a black-and-white 1936 Walker Evans photograph of Houses and Billboards with his own 1998 Building Obscured by Signs, Los Angeles, a color print. Lattu's photo is $150 in an edition of 50, while the Evans can be had for $18-$30 from the Library of Congress -- as Lattu generously explains in handout.
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At Murray Guy on West 17th Street, Matthew Higgs, the British conceptualist whose art is framed title pages from books with comically self-referential titles, has had several sales at $1,200 each -- Art for Children, Not Worth Reading, Out of Focus and I Married an Artist. . . . Paging Nan Goldin! You know you've made it when you're a clue in the New York Times crossword. "Photographer Goldin" is the clue, "Nan" is the answer. . . .
Latest book from 90-year-old photographer and Shaft auteur Gordon Parks is The Sun Chaser, a fictionalized bio of J.M.W. Turner, put out by the new publishing arm of PR giant Ruder & Finn. The book was ten years in the making, Parks said, and he almost abandoned the project until Prince Charles begged him to continue. "We need it," he said. . . .
Precisely three of the 149 works in the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition are on loan from private collectors -- but only the museum knows from whom. One is the Virgin and Child with Cat, the others are a pair of caricatures. "Tell them to give me a call," joked a Mad Ave dealer who had snuck into the press opening. "We can do some business." A Leonardo drawing of a horse and rider sold at Christie's London in mid-2001 for $11.5 million.
Speaking of Leonardo, Microsoft mullah Bill Gates wanted to restrict viewing of his Codex Leicester to a mere two and a half hours a day, to protect it from the light. Museum director Philippe de Montebello had to put his foot down, said show it the normal way or the highway. . . .
Most unbelievable photo in Aperture's 50th anniversary exhibition at Sotheby's in New York, Jan. 6-31, 2003, was Timothy Greenfield-Sanders' portrait of performance artist Karen Finley coated with honey, a pose that is perfectly sweet and psychotic at the same time. TGS is putting the final touches on a DVD of Finley's Honey performance [see "Weekend Update," Aug. 8, 2000] from an appearance at P.S. 122 in the East Village. The DVD is available soon at both www.greenfield-sanders.com and www.karenfinley.org. Next up for the art-world shutterbug -- 30 portraits of top porn stars.
The 71-year-old, black-garbed 1970s Dutch conceptual artist Jan Dibbets takes his camera out seven times a year or so and shoots whatever he feels like -- simple formalist geometries, usually, in nature or the manmade world -- has all his proof sheets on view at Barbara Gladstone. The artist wants to sell the lot in its entirety to a museum. . . .
Celebrity sales: Madonna buys a Collier Schorr, Steve Martin a Tim Gardner, Courtney Love a Karen Kilimnik, Yoko Ono a Keith Haring, Tom Ford a Vanessa Beecroft. Plus: Thespian Kevin Kline and model Pauline Porizkova at the opening for Sheila Berger at Nicole Klagsbrun, and Francine Prose at the David Salle opening at Mary Boone, wearing the same Marc Jacobs coat that Winona Rider had on when she was arrested for shoplifting. . . .
The East Village artist Louis Renzoni, new father, in show at Kim Foster Gallery on West 20th Street, has 11 paintings of his trademark film noir scenes. Ranging in price from $3,000-$15,000, they're going fast. . . . Orly Genger knitted yarn and macramé pieces at Stefan Stux, all sold at prices from $400 to $6,000. . . . Five Jay Davis paintings uptown at Mary Boone, sci-fi spacescapes festooned with tiny decorative dots a la Chris Ofili, marked sold at $15,000 each. . . . Hans Haacke's 1965 Blue Sail, a classic "Systems" piece that consists of a suspended blue cloth filled with air from a rotating fan, in an edition of three, can be yours for a bargain $80,000 -- with the buyer promising the artist a resale royalty, should the occasion ever occur. . . .
Last days -- closing Feb. 8 -- include Hal Hirshorn at JG Contemporary, with 15 latter-day Luminist landscapes up at 1014 Madison and pseudo-Pictorialist female nude photos downtown on West 28th Street, ranging in price $2,800-$7,400. . . San Francisco painter Tom Holland at Charles Cowles, where he has exhibited since 1981 (and at John Berggruen since 1984), proving that the fabulous Bay Area sensibility is still vital with brushy neo-Cubist paintings. A favorite shows a crescent moon -- thinking of Arabia?
Marina Abramovic, recently relocated to New York from Amsterdam, dropped 21 pounds during her 12-day living performance at Sean Kelly Gallery in November. . . . Christian Haye's The Project is moving from Harlem to West 57th Street in the spring. . . . Artnet columnist Richard Polsky's forthcoming memoir, I Bought Andy Warhol, makes the cover of Abrams' spring catalogue. . . . Jeffrey Deitch, Jeff Koons and Maurizio Cattelan spent last week in Athens working on a show in conjunction with the 2004 Olympics. . . .
The British art collective The Bank, the yBa-ish collective that Brit-crit Matthew Collings championed in his books, has broken up. . . . Women in the audience for Andy Goldsworthy's film, Rivers and Tide, recently unspooling at the Film Forum in New York, moaning in ecstasy, presumably at the handsome artist's glorious nature scenes. . . . Painter Melissa Brown's opens at Bellwether in Williamsburg on Valentine's Day, Feb. 14, 2003, in a show complete with kissing booth, 8 p.m. to midnight. . . . Artist Lindsey Brown closes her gallery after two years in the Chelsea Gallery Building; now it's her studio. . . .
Donald Sultan, whose new paintings of poppies opened last month at Knoedler's on 70th Street, planning a new perfume for Neiman Marcus. Called Turpentine, it smells like plein air painting on a sunny day, says the artist. . . . Lyric from Radiant Baby, the new Keith Haring musical at the Public Theater -- "I see London, I see France, I see Keith without his pants". . . . It's been years since the politically correct College Art Association gave its Mather Award for art criticism to a genuine working critic. But no more -- word is that influential New York Times reviewer Roberta Smith takes the prize at the CAA meeting in New York later this month. . . .
WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.