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by Max Henry
|Thank you for smoking|
The actors in Sam Taylor-Wood's new 16-mm film, currently unspooling at Matthew Marks Gallery on West 22nd Street, are a sexy lot. Blasé with their own worldliness, they have an intellectual attitude that the art world loves. But the film isn't a conventional narrative. Rather, it is one continuous loop diced up into seven separate wall projections. A fly's-eye view, if you will.
Classically composed with Old Master lighting, each image in Taylor-Wood's projection is an isolated element of that common social ritual -- the intimate cocktail party. Seductive and lovely to look at, these men and women are haute-tended, lazily regaling in their fine threads while chain smoking and consuming mass quantities of suds, spirits and wine. No bangers and mash for this crowd.
You know the body language -- the crossing and uncrossing of legs, the shuffling of drinks, the lighting of cigarettes. In one projection, a smartly dressed woman stands alone in the corner dancing to some groove tune -- she's slender in a 1920s sort of way, wearing a simple black ensemble, and gyrates her hips a bit naughtily.
In another segment, a demure couple shares small talk. Nearby, a sexy matron sits smoking and watching the room, crossing her fish-netted legs. Is she cruising for an available guy? Another image of a woman in a black cocktail dress sitting on a settee is cropped at the neck, showing that the body speaks one thing while the mouth may say another. The din of cocktail chatter is heard, cleverly overlapping with the conversations of the gallery visitors.
What to make of this? Like any gallery opening, it is all so civilized, yet you know the room is bursting with ambition. Taylor-Wood equates the art experience with attending a chic cocktail party, with being part of a sybaritic in-crowd. At the same time, it's shallow babble without text, little more than booze and tobacco. Nothing happens in her very contemporary No Exit.
In the realm of the senses
The sublime monochrome paintings of the California-based artist Patricia Moisan, on view at Stark Gallery's new West 25th Street space, have the presence of one hand clapping -- a Zen experience of color, their sensual cadmium surfaces resonating with subtle nuance. One can take an unabashed pleasure in their beauty.
These four works, called Concatenations, are made on rectangular aluminum supports. Moisan uses bondo to make low-relief ripples on the surface before sprinkling it with layer upon layer of dried pigment and resin. Looking at Moisan's works takes you to the sand dunes of some faraway desert -- a contemplation on the inscrutable power of color, as soothingly meditative as work by Agnes Martin.
Those of you who suffer from claustrophobia would be ill advised to enter The Intimacy Machine at Rare Art Properties (recently reopened in its West 14th Street space following the fire that destroyed several artists' studios on the floors above). Installed to the rear of the gallery is a 6 x 4 x 6 foot plywood shack built by artist Matt Bakkom (a Whitney Independent Study Program alumnus), a self-contained film installation that offers a quasi-scientific study on the human response to confined spaces.
One viewer at a time enters the crate-like shack through a front door -- which is closed from the outside and latched by the projectionist. Inside the viewer takes a seat on a cushy bench large enough for two slender people. The walls are padded in lush red velvet, and a small projection screen is positioned about foot in front of the viewer's face.
The female projectionist enters through a rear door, enclosing herself with the viewer, and begins showing a16-mm film. Everything is only inches away, the projector whirring over your shoulder, the projectionist within breathing distance. On the screen is a selection from some industrial films from the 1970s, their moving images only a few inches tall. The air is thin and lulls you into a sleepy state. It's a make-believe atmosphere, like sitting in a dollhouse, though the contraption has the regal charm of a vaudeville theater and the sculptural intimacy of Andrea Zittel's E-Z living trailer units.
Bakkom's engaging miniature movie house invites a comfortable claustrophobia, but a more risqué form of entertainment might really push this installation over the top. Screening vintage blue movies or stag films, Bokkom would have made the unwitting viewer squirm -- a lascivious layover where the watcher would be watched. Now that would elicit a response!
U.S. fly boy
Fly robin fly, up up to the sky. Skateboard artiste Mark Gonzales is a multifaceted personality on the international scene, working in graffiti, film (appearing in Harmony Korine's Gummo), fashion, painting and poetry. Alleged Fine Arts (run by the savvy Aaron Rose and recently relocated from Prince Street to the lower end of the meat packing district at 809 Washington Street) is presenting the last leg of Gonzales' touring road show that has appeared in London, Paris, Berlin and Tokyo. Gonzales, a 31-year-old San Francisco-based artist, was last seen in Luhring Augustine's summer group show.
The focal piece is a 25-foot-long pink "sphinx" of molded fiberglass that references work by Jeff Koons and Takashi Murakami. Built like a sailboat, Gonzales' sphinx actually floats. The show also features a skateboarder's version of a folksy hanging quilt and a row of abstract oils painted on rectangular boards with scrawled texts. Cryptic spray-painted drippy wall texts spout "Love, love, love" and ask "What is poetry" while a videotape shows him skateboarding on the streets of L.A.
Construction-paper drawings show some of his trademark doodles found in the many zines he's produced. The best work is a film that shows Gonzales skateboarding in a Cologne museum wearing a hooded race-car jumper and gliding effortlessly across the floor to the sound of a Robert Schumann's Backwards Forwards. Gonzales isn't breaking any new ground in his exhibition, but his youthful exuberance and unaffected personality shine through at this energetic alternative space.
MAX HENRY lives in New York City.