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by Max Henry
|Mavericks and money
A lot can happen in a year's time. Witness, for example, the rise of bad-boy painter Damian Loeb, much envied for his seemingly effortless ascension to art-world superstardom, despite becoming something of a critical punching bag. Hot off the heels of his successful show at Jay Jopling/White Cube in London, Loeb has returned exactly one year later to Mary Boone gallery for his second solo exhibition. Back in 1999, his surrealistic, postmodernist Photo Realist paintings were all pre-sold for $15,000 each. This time around, the five new works have found buyers at a whopping $30,000 a piece.
Loeb's five paintings, all done in 1999 in oil on heavy-weave linen in a seamless, brushstroke-free style, imply a continuous narrative thread involving an imaginary meeting between a young man and a nubile young Asian woman (an ex-girlfriend, perhaps?). In one picture we see the girl in a cheerleading uniform at some track-and-field event. Another work, titled Fish Sticks, shows her naked in a kitchen while our young man -- he looks like a grad student -- stands peering into a refrigerator. Still another shows her in a bright red dress at a roadside motel, leaning on an automobile beneath a neon sign.
As one might expect in our callow age, she winds up as road-kill in the final work, Stop (Anytime), a victim of god knows what, her fashionably dressed lower body shown on the ground underneath a fence, with her poor dog equally dead on the pavement off the main road. Loeb's not a linear storyteller. Rather, he dangles his modifiers and is cryptically ambiguous.
I need my space
Imagine an architectural wonder of the 21st century -- urbane and utopian, part Bauhaus, part Jetsons. Buildings like a dream, prefabricated and alabaster, contrasting with prettily landscaped public spaces. Such a world exists in "Architecture and Memory," a group show of 10 contemporary artists that just opened at Lawrence Rubin Greenberg Van Doren on Fifth Avenue and 57th Street.
British art star Julian Opie (little seen over here, but much copied by Sarah Morris and an influence on the architectural photographs of Rita McBride) contributes Modern Towers 1 and 3, a pair of sculptural twin buildings painted in geometric grids of black on white installed in front of a classic angled black geometric wall painting. Torbjorn Vejvi's box-sized reductivist structure made of simple foam core and cardboard is painted with street sign symbols for a boy and a dog. It rests on top of a pedestal, and viewers can peer into what appears to be a long interior hallway inside and let their imaginations roam.
Miltos Manetas exhibits a set of digital color prints that depict his version of medieval topography, improvised from a computer gladiator game called Hexan. Dan Walsh's pastel colored paintings are a paring down of the ABCs of geometric abstraction, a nice contrast to the happy exploding cells of Peter Halley.
A new name to watch is that of 29-year-old Julie Mehretu, who recently relocated to our fair town from Texas and who was discovered in the Exit Art show called "The Stroke." Her large untitled square painting here is an over-the-top nod to public planning -- an aerial web of buildings and public spaces drawn out in black blueprint line, with delineated color bars representing airports and the freedom of travel from place to place.
The utopian ideal may be as elusive as the Holy Grail, yet, as this show indicates, it's always an enticing and worthwhile pursuit.
The meltdown menace of Y2K has mostly been a non-event. Art-world activities have returned to normal, evidenced by curators from P.S.1 and the Museum of Modern Art, who were spotted making their final studio visits this week to determine which artists will be in their biennial sized exhibition "Greater New York," opening in Queens in February. Specifically, Jan. 3 found MoMA director Glenn Lowry and P.S.1 founder Alana Heiss touring the site of the now-notorious art-event known as "Quiet," located on lower Broadway and funded by freewheeling net millionaire Josh Harris.
Part Malcolm McLaren, part P.T. Barnum, Harris is the man behind Pseudo.com, which provides streaming-video entertainment, or internet TV. He wisely hooked up with rising art dealer and curator Leo Koenig to present a happening -- arguably the first avant-garde art event of the 21st century -- that has found itself in the news for its countercultural vibe, sexual hijinks and controversial shooting gallery installed by agent provocateur Alfredo Martinez.
Launched just before Xmas, "Quiet" was billed as part art show, part commune, with militaristic overtones that were distinctly paranoid (or was that parody?). The jig was up once the show's nondescript storefront was marked with a new pink neon sign of a showgirl, part of a storefront peepshow of scantily clad models produced by fashion designer Maya Hanson (who is known for boudoir style garments). Thus on New Year's Day, among "Quiet's" visitors were representatives of New York's Bravest and New York's Finest.
The long hall-like space that housed a 99-seat banquet table for the a "food-and-drink event," titled Full (move over Rirkrit Tiravanija), by collaborating artists Gabrielle Latessa and Vishwanath O. Bush, was declared a fire hazard for its Clockwork Orange wall hangings of balloony white plastic. Until then, the artists had served up a free feast of food and drink for "Quiet's" hungry denizens three times a day. For round-the-clock snacking, there was a well-stocked cereal bar with a fridge full of milk.
Harris was incognito following the humiliating collapse of his utopian project (as of Jan. 5, he and Pseudo are being sued for sexual harassment by a former employee) -- but word is that the site may be revamped and reopened, with a scatter-installation of chemical warfare paraphernalia by artist Aidas Barakas, who easily bought up all the available gas masks around town, an item much in demand prior to the new year.
Two end-of-the-year December shows worth noting here were a second solo by painter Andrew Kennedy at Sara Meltzer's On View, and conceptual photographer Moyra Davey's return to American Fine Art. Kennedy's series of recent untitled works ape the tenets of abstraction while pushing at the boundaries of minimalism. His thickly layered oil paintings are suggestive of square bathroom tiles, with requisite drips and splotches of reworked paint in several layers. Gritty and formalist both, they're done in rich cerulean blues overpainted in pearly white.
A sculptural work made of stacked wood planks and plywood, with its top surface painted with the same layered technique as the canvases, suggests the Minimalist geometries of Carl Andre. Another beige sculpture of cast plastic has the shape of controlled chaos, its surface brittle and flat, like a Norman Bluhm abstraction.
Kennedy is about process, exposing his interrelated materials to scrutiny and demystifying the romance of abstract bravisimo. At the same time he remains dedicated to its continued yet unconventional expression.
Davey is an artist known for her color photographs shot with a 4 x 5 or a miniature spy camera. The pictures show her collection of books and records arranged in precise order on industrial metal shelves, and as such have a certain fascination. The viewer is a voyeur, peering into the material components of Davey's intellectual world, its arrangements and composition, how it collects dust and gains a patina with time. Other photos show an audiophile's array of old tube amps, like some period lab documented in journals. The digital age may be here and now, but for Davey its analog all the way.
MAX HENRY is a New York critic and curator.