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Bergdorf Goodman's window display

Art by Bergdorf's

David Douglas Duncan
Picasso wearing a mask of his own making
at Mitchell-Innes and Nash

David Douglas Duncan
On the bedroom balcony
at Mitchell-Innes and Nash

Garry Winogrand
Tenth Anniversary Party
at Pace/MacGill

Fred Tomaselli
Natural Selection
at James Cohan

Fred Tomaselli
Black Diamond
at James Cohan

John McCracken
installation view
at Zwirner and Wirth

James Castle
Untitled (farm building with steps)
at Knoedler & Co.

James Castle
Untitled (bedroom wallpaper/interior with bed and dresser)
at Knoedler & Co.

Marc Chagall
Female Nude Lying by Flowers in Antibes
at Wildenstein

Uptown Rounds
by Robert Mahoney

Closing out 2000 on New York's glossy 57th Street were some amazing masterpieces of art history: Picasso's famous self-portrait as a young man with red nose and antlers attached, Matisse's venerable Dance celebrated by green elves with red hats, Marcel Duchamp's bicycle wheel packaged as a do-it-yourself kit for a boy, and much, much more.

The display was a light-hearted tribute to art history, courtesy of the Bergdorf Goodman window dresses. Though department stores may joke, the real gems for me uptown are still in the art galleries. So for those of you who are disinclined to wrestle your way through the winter weather, here's what up.

Did I say a portrait of Picasso costumed in red nose and antlers? From all the joyful mask-wearing going on at playtime in Picasso's studio, as evidenced by David Douglas Duncan's photographs of Picasso recently on view at Mitchell-Innes & Nash, I'd say The Destroyer would approve of retail's sassy game. We see wonderful images of Picasso playing at wearing masks with his kids, forcing his dealer Henri Kahnweiler to put one on during a visit, even donning Jacqueline's nightgown (and a mask) to greet the new morning from a balcony.

Other rituals of Picasso's life -- "signing day," for example, on which he autographed his latest work before shipping it off to his dealer -- are sweetly touched upon, as are special moments surrounding his wedding to Jacqueline in 1962. This carefully curated exhibition offers a serious fix of fine-wine nostalgia for the enchanted "one man kingdom" of Picasso's later years. Prices range from $3,000 to $20,000. A deluxe catalogue (can I say it would make a great gift? $60) features a foreword by Paloma Picasso Thevener and quite charming remarks by Duncan himself. The show closes Jan. 6, 2001.

For a peek at a completely different way of lionizing artists, check out Garry Winogrand's "Mostly New York" at Pace MacGill. Lots of fun, especially the pictures of young Bob Rauschenberg getting hit on by women at MoMA openings ca. 1970. In one image, the prick of interest (or "punctum," as Roland Barthes called it) is the way that Rauschenberg in his Bob Dylan duds hangs back bemused from girls whose faces are obscured by their flowing hair, while nearby a curvy hip-hugger-wearing '60s "chick" (to use an archaeological term) is all over an older geek who looks like a cat just about to swallow a canary. A funny contrast.

Winogrand also made photography out of favorite idler's sport -- girl watching. But this glance at girl-watching over the shoulder of 30 years is particularly interesting, especially what seems to be the easy-going, low maintenance style that suited the '60s femme. Thus does reportage become nostalgia. Prices range from about $2,900 to $3,500. The show is on view through Jan. 6.

Though there remain a fair amount of actual pills in Fred Tomaselli's decorative "paintings" at James Cohan Gallery, this show features a more wide-ranging use of collage. With his interest in big millennial themes, it is clear that Tomaselli is fast becoming the messiah of kaleidoscopic collaging in contemporary art -- in short, the new Jess.

The process behind his current body of work is amazing: starting with a board painted black, Tomaselli creates a dam around the edges of the board, then pours in a layer of liquid resin, then lays in collage materials, then lets it dry, then keeps going with layer after layer until he finishes off the surface with a nice sanding and buffing. Paintings? Tomaselli's works are more like flattened out dioramas: by technique alone, they have a completely different genetic code than painting.

Best here are "Natural Selection," which incorporates the ancient kid art of pressing leaves, along with thousands of squares of catalogue pictures of plaid shirts, plus a bevy of bird watchers' feathered friends, to grandly summarize the confluence of nature and culture. Also up there is the insufficiently titled Untitled, where a radiating energy source, emitting everything from marijuana leaves to pills and bugs, plays the part of the banishing archangel to a veiny silhouette of Masaccio's Adam and Eve in the corner.

These big, big pictures are contrasted by small works that not only revisit some of Tomaselli's old neighborhoods -- the constellations, more pills -- but, with "Gothic," explores some new ones too. Prices upon request. A tad pretentious catalogue with essay by Gregory Volk is available. The show is on view through Jan. 13.

John McCracken has been leaning his signature red resin planks between floor and wall, the space between painting and sculpture, from the 1960s right on up to his first show at David Zwirner in 1997. McCracken is L.A.'s laidback answer to Carl Andre's more concrete form of Minimalism, and remains under-known, dangling in the cracks of art history, still. McCracken lives in Mendanales, N.M., and though he shows no sign of having been influenced by nature, perhaps his sense of space has opened up beyond the limits of gallery wall and gallery floor.

The five standing stainless steel four-sided columns on view last month at Zwirner & Wirth would seem to be perfect icons of "contemporary art" for collectors who want their art unassuming and silent. But because they are reflective several things come into play: as an experience, the installation gives off a faint hint of funhouse mirroring, while as powerful statements of order and even prophecy, suggested by their similarity to the monoliths in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, they have a millennial air about them. At my viewing, all five standing columns were sold: only a horizontal wall piece, which surely must owe an honorary royalty to the estate of Donald Judd, was available ($55,000). The show closed Dec. 23.

Sometimes its good to not see or know everything: my own stumbling upon unmarked galleries filled with case after case of bizarre amazing somethings by an artist named Joseph Beuys in Darmstadt, Germany, in 1979, my astounded "What is this?" still echoes in my sense of what art is. I never flinch now when one-upped by another walking art database (i.e., critic or artist) in New York: the gaps are a welcome surprise. In this regard, I admit I came to the James Castle exhibition at Knoedler & Co. unawares.

Reading the wall labels, I discovered that Castle used "soot" and "spit" on "found paper" for his works, a poverty of means that can bear a heavy psychological weight. Upon receptive looking, his spaces begin to unfold -- bedrooms, wallpapered over, closed in like bleak shelters; attics, filled with frightful darknesses; barns, sheds, everything apprehensively mapped out like the end of a personal universe, or the door opening up to some fearful out there.

One of the most basic uses art is put to is the mapping out of the labyrinthine boundaries of a "habitat," a personal territory or nest, created and protected with an almost catlike fierceness by a cornered self: this work is one of the purest examples of this basis of art that I have seen. It was intensely exciting to "come upon" this amazing art.

Only then did I step to the desk and learn that Castle was deaf and mute, lived in remote, rural Idaho, died 23 years ago at age 77, and this is his first gallery exhibition in New York. I also discovered that my excitement was shared. Frank Del Deo, the gallery's associate director, first saw the work at the booth of Philadelphia's Fleisher/Ollman Gallery at a Chicago art fair three or four years ago. "John Ollman had two works, he said, 'Look at these,' and they just knocked me out. I began trying to make contact with the family, and getting this exhibition underway."

Though Castle was a "local curiosity" in Boise, who had a museum show there in 1963, and elsewhere in California and Seattle in the 1960s, only recently has he begun to receive due attention. "It is extraordinary how far he pushed himself," del Deo remarks, "it's remarkable what he was able to accomplish completely on his own."

If you're wondering what's the point of art anymore, this incredible show might bring you right back to square one. Prices, by the way, range from $3,500 to $35,000. A catalogue is available, with an essay by John Yau in which he compares Castle to Cocteau(!). But hurry, the show closes Jan. 13.

Also worth a look: Some fine Blue Madonna-infused reveries of postwar Paris by Marc Chagall at Wildenstein, through Jan. 31.

ROBERT MAHONEY is a New York art critic.

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