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by Giovanni Garcia-Fenech
|The Williamsburg gallery scene kicked off the fall season with a very successful weekend-long opening fest, Sept. 23-24. "Elsewhere," as the event was called (in honor of the neighborhood's classification in Time Out), involved 32 galleries in the area and in neighboring Greenpoint. Hundreds of participants braved the rain, taking advantage of the free shuttle buses and attending the many events at the galleries, including dealer and artist talks organized by Simon Says' Simon Watson. The Brooklyn scene has received so much critical attention of late that there are surveys planned at the new Palm Beach Institute of Contemporary Art next year and at the Verana Palace in Barcelona the year after.
Cotter Luppi's one-person exhibition of mandala-like works on paper at Arena@Feed (173A North 3rd St.) is one of the highlights of the gallery crawl. Luppi's Pepto-Bismol-colored abstractions, done with colored pencil to look almost embossed, convey a fervor that overwhelms their decorative, cartoony qualities. The artist credits music as one of his influences, and the work does elicit a sense similar to Raymond Scott's tightly orchestrated music for Warner Brothers' loopy cartoons.
Also showing in the gallery's Drawing Space are Rande Barke's pithy sepia-toned gouaches, which remind one of a poetic combination of Mark Tansey and Raymond Pettibone. The drawings pair allusive images with evocative titles like Takashima Ceiling Cleaning (2000) and Whispering Pines Nursing Home (1999).
The most-talked about exhibition must be David Henry Brown, Jr.'s "In Person" at Roebling Hall (390 Wythe Ave.). The show presents 40 photographs documenting a year of the Brooklyn artist assuming the identity of New York socialite Alex von Furstenberg and hobnobbing with celebrities ranging from Tom Brokaw and Hillary Clinton to Puff Daddy and Christopher Reeve. Brown wears the same thrift-store outfit in nearly every picture, a hilarious detail. The affable artist, who is not at all as disturbing as his antics might lead one to expect, recently got front-page coverage in the New York Observer and a mention in ArtNews, plus a full TV camera crew covering the opening.
Brown had previously exhibited videos at MWMWM of performances by the Red Carpet Rollers, in which he and Dominic McGill would stand at hotel entrances in tuxedoes waiting for unnamed V.I.P.'s. The sight of a red carpet -- which they carry under their arms -- created a sense of excitement and expectation among bystanders all too happy to stand around waiting for unknown celebrities who never showed up.
MWMWM, by the way, is no more. It has changed its name and its direction, becoming a conceptual video production company named FUNY (65 Hope St.). Currently on view are puzzling commercials for the World Federation for Fast Food Workers and Fry Cooks and for the United Book-Sellers International and Cyberspace, two organizations that may or may not exist, as well as Videosoapbox, FUNY's open-access video magazine featuring interviews of neighborhood characters. The gallery/production company is also beginning a series of Bring Your Own Beer and Blankets projection nights every Friday at 9 p.m.
Two doors down from FUNY, 57Hope (at 57 Hope St., of course) is presenting its last show, "Me & My Friends," before the gallery is evicted (to be replaced by a writer's collective). The show celebrates the local arts community, most clearly illustrated in co-curator Mary Magsamen's CD-ROM, which cross-references her relationship to the show's 29 participants. The concept of friendship is stretched in some of the pieces, such as Meredith Allen's Sugar Tails (2000), in which the pal in question is a marshmallow bunny that she travels with and documents in landscape photographs. And for those entirely lacking in friends, MTAA (artists M. River and T. Whid) offered a raffle of their friendship and promise the winner, among other things, fashion tips and occasional phone calls.
Another show exploring the tight-knit art community is "Selections" at Eyewash, featuring nearly 60 works by most of the artists previously shown by directors Larry Walczak and Annie Herron. Ward Shelley's Early Notes for a Graphical History of the Williamsburg Art Scene (2000), a work in progress, maps out the neighborhood's gallery history going back to the true pioneer days of the 1980s. And in what appears to be a comment on the money that's rushing in with the trendiness of the area, Mary Ziegler's Untitled (2000) is an apparatus that grinds a wad of dollar bills into dust. The bizarre machine can be set to run at three different rates: today, yesterday and not in your lifetime.
Momenta Art (72 Berry St.), Williamsburg's conceptual art gallery, is showing Omer Fast's video installation Glendive Foley, which combines images of suburbia on one monitor with the artist making sound effects with his voice (birds, dogs, insects, lawnmowers and the occasional passing car) on another. The piece is funny and engaging, though one supposes it's highly theoretical. The gallery is also hosting Akiko Ichikawa's maze-like installation of cheap construction materials and wall drawings, part of her (Dis)mantle Building Set series, which gives the gallery an unexpected unfinished look.
Further north in Greenpoint, Bellwether (150 Franklin St.) features newcomer Min Kim's curiously dissonant installation and drawings. The front part of the gallery shows a life-size tableau of silhouettes of forest animals and trees in odd faux finishes (like marble and wood), while the back drawing room presents a collection of delicate girly drawings of fairy tale characters doing creepy things, looking like a goth version of those 1970s "Love Is…" cartoons.
Away from the "Elsewhere" hoopla, CRP Gallery (100 Water St.) in DUMBO is well worth the trek for "The Very Best of John Please," a mini-retrospective of the idiosyncratic Canadian conceptual artist known by a variety of names and who once ran his own gallery, called Double Pleasure, on West 40th Street in Manhattan (across from Port Authority Bus Terminal).
The highlight of the show is a pair of what can only be called death-disco balls -- Drop the Meat, Johnny (1998) is composed of 30 mirrored skulls and Disco Viper (2000) is a giant mirrored, coiled snake poised to attack. Another work, a collaboration between Please and Jeff Macaluso, is a wall of 100 pieces of driftwood burned with song titles and peculiar phrases (two personal favorites: "Homos are the coolest of the cool," and "Fuck Brooklyn"). The work is titled Let It Rot (1998).
And in downtown Brooklyn, the Rotunda Gallery is showing "Wunderkammer-Wonderworks," a group show based on the historical wunderkammer, or cabinets of curiosity, featuring personal collections such as Josh Dorman's collection of nail clippings and Ralph M. Bourque's anthology of Stevie Nicks memorabilia. Bourque fills a wall with press clippings, photos, tickets and even a poster featuring a poem written to him by the ex-lead vocalist of Fleetwood Mac in silver ink. The artist also sells CDs featuring a chat with Nicks seamlessly contrived from an unrelated interview and climaxing with a "duet" in which he sings along to Stop Dragging My Heart Around, giving Tom Petty a run for his money.
GIOVANNI GARCIA-FENECH is a Brooklyn artist who compiles the news for Artnet Magazine.