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by Max Henry
|The first summer of the 21st century seems no different than the final summer of the 20th century -- Y2K may have sold a lot of freeze-dried food, but no one's living in a cave, unless they're a monk -- in fact Y2K has disappeared from the lexicon altogether. Two smart group shows in New York galleries this month indicate that this very millennial con job is very much still in the air.
It's the end of the world, as we know it, or is it?
The group of artists in "Tomorrow" at Rareart Properties on West 14th Street prey on hope and optimism through banality and schmaltz. Candice Breitz contributes the memorable Double Olivia (Hopelessly Devoted to You) (1977/2000), a two-loop DVD installation that shows a clip of 1970s Pop Queen Olivia Newton-John breathlessly singing Hopelessly Devoted to You from the movie Grease. The catty-corner projections show the blonde diva in '50s costume on a front porch, interspersed with clips of John Travolta staring lovingly at her as she sings the lyrics. The edited scene jump cuts, hiccups and repeats itself. The piece basically rips apart any nostalgia you might have for this film or the era it portrays!
Beth Campbell's My Potential Future Based on Present Circumstances 2/1/00, a self-referential diagram of squiggly connecting lines and tell-all texts about orgies and romances gone awry, is a perverse illustration of her dysfunctional patterns for all the world to see.
Perversity is the terrain of Michael Phelan's Wish You Were Here (2000). An arrangement of stacked aquarium tanks are completely devoid of life -- some have fake gravel stones and flora, some are empty. You can imagine goldfish or small reptilian creatures lounging about this airless deadpan doppelganger. Ryan McGinness invokes Color Field painting with his lively Saving Ryan's Privates (2000), a swarm of hundreds of plastic toy soldiers affixed to a wood panel.
A focal point of the show -- with nine monitors showing VH1-style music videos and modish set design -- is Guy Richards Smit who, with his mid-range crooner's crow, is the Nick Cave of the art world. Guy presents his alter ego Maxi Geil! & PlayColt, a lounge-lizard act singing three tracks: I Can Turn Off My Love Light in a Thousand Different Ways; I've Got Feelings, but My Feelings Don't Last; I Will Leave You First. The lyrics are intellectual syrup and the instrumentals professional enough to make this send-up on rock iconography feel and look like the real thing.
"Tomorrow" comes with a relevant catalogue and essay by roving reporter and author David Hunt and is co-curated by former Museum of Modern Art administrator Andrea Salerno and 303 gallery's Mari Spirito, both ubiquitous art world denizens of the emerging artist scene. All things being business as usual, they've touched a nerve, pulling together an irreverent show that thumbs its nose at the preposterous notion of millennial utopia -- hysterically present late in 1999 and the early days of 2000 -- now vanished into yesterday's news.
Meanwhile, Gavin Brown's Enterprise on West 15th Street has installed "21st Century Group Show or It's Only Just Begun." The exhibition's edgy fuck-off attitude is best exemplified by Spencer Sweeney's I Hate Fucking Nerds (2000). You see shards of broken glass on the floor and a brick with the word NERDS painted in white on its surface. It lies in front of a window frame, which is suspended in the corner of the gallery and hung with curtains patterned with Transformer Robots, which seems to allude to a geek who liked comic books more than girls. It's a bit soiled and blows in the wind (provided by a standing fan) which has been shattered by the thrown brick. Was Sweeney a bully or the victim of one?
Roe Ethridge contributes a color photograph of the bloodied face of a youth, Andrew W.K. (2000), and Refrigerator (1999), a suburban kitchen with its kid art and magnets. Wade Guyton's eight-foot-tall partition, with its brownish-gold reflective Plexiglas surface, looks like a hall of mirrors. It's a poor man's John McCracken.
Miss Sissel Kardel (the Miss Sissel Kardel?) has a predilection for self-fantasy in her loose fairy landscape paintings drawn in soft greens. In Trust Me, Come to Me, Follow Me (2000) -- need anything else be said? -- we see a naked Miss Sissel rendered as a naïf by a forest lake, and also her face hovering above the tree-tops, as a deity in the sky.
Both "Tomorrow" and "21st Century Group Show" have a hint of Pollyanna and a quasi-mysticism that suggests you get on with life, 'cause it's business as usual.
The mid-July sky has a certain glow at dusk with an optical ripple effect of sunlight off of the concrete and buildings of the city. Galleries often respond to the rhythms of the summer with shows that reflect on lightness and color. Paula Cooper's effervescent Paula Feldman has curated her first show in the front room dividing the gallery from the main space with Christian Marclay's translucent curtain of sewn flexdiscs, a large partition that looks like a clear shower curtain with circular groove patterns in squares.
Teresita Fernandez contributes three large ink and pencil drawings on Mylar. Their concentric circles and splotchy ink formations are based on and named after hurricanes with female names -- Hazel, Camille, Eloise, etc. Is Fernandez making a feminist statement?
A single lit candlestick on top of a small circular mirror by Olafur Eliasson has a monkish quality. Jorge Pardo's hanging lamps contribute a decorative '60s look, while Liam Gillick's modular anodized aluminum and colored Plexiglas piece puts a spin on the esthetics of Donald Judd and the Eameses. Lynn Aldrich makes inverted lampshades appear as colorful, wall-mounted bullhorns and Sandra Cinto's exaggerated side table has three phallic bulbous glass formations hanging beneath it. The odds and ends of these objets d'art add to a whimsical interplay.
Time and again
The American debut of 32-year-old Belgian video artist Hans Op de Beeck at Team Gallery is low key and comical with a dose of formalism. A family of four with two yuppie adults and two young daughters straight out of Harry Potter are set against a white backdrop (an existential yellow brick road?) walking hurriedly towards the viewer. They go nowhere fast since they're walking on a treadmill concealed from the frame. The loop slows down and picks up speed, much like those dreams of running in place. Their inability to get somewhere is fraught with failure.
A second video follows a young boy staring longingly out of the rear window of a Mercedes Benz as the video follows the vehicle driving along a road, its speed reduced to slow motion. Op de Beeck (who might be influenced by Victor Burgin) makes a subtle pair of silent movies with the drama encapsulated in a noiseless twilight zone.
MAX HENRY lives in New York.