"Drawing Now: Eight Propositions," the latest extravaganza to open out at MoMA QNS, Oct. 17, 2002-Jan. 6, 2003, makes one thing very clear -- that contemporary artists now favor the eccentric imagination above all else (though perhaps this is a reflection of the sensibility of the curator, Laura Hoptman). That means Mannerism, Romanticism, Surrealism. Absent, with a few exceptions, are any of the smart Post-Minimalist exercises or the Zen-like formalist objects that made New York the world art capital back in the 1970s. Outsider art has, at long last, come inside.
The show has about 250 drawings by 26 young artists, and a handful are especially good. Among these are British artist Paul Noble's huge pencil drawings of vast, deserted cityscapes, whose simple, blocky buildings are shaped like letters in a three-dimensional secret code, and Chris Ofili's stately and comic drawings of kings and queens made not with "line" but with tiny penciled-in afro-heads. Drawings by Barry McGee and Yoshitomo Nara, both of whom graffiti their grumpy little characters onto appropriated images, are sweet and artful.
Best of all is the tall white gallery containing the very large pale drawings on what looks like butcher paper by Toba Khedoori. Her magnificently portentous images of open doorways and other gnomic architectural emblems seem worth a MacArthur Foundation "genius" award after all, though in principle oversized cash grants of this kind tend to destroy the egalitarian spirit that should animate art and artists. No photos are allowed, in another affront to public spirit.
Most of the rest are "apostles of ugliness," as Ingres famously called Delacroix. Kai Althoff, Laura Owens, Elizabeth Peyton and Kara Walker embrace this esthetic. John Currin, who of course can really draw, seems not to know what to do with it; on view here are some desultory sketches and variations on a perverse figure. Ugo Rondinone blows up to large scale what looks to be a print of an Old Master landscape, so that it has all the guts of a Fifth Avenue show window. And architectural-style works by Franz Ackermann, Kevin Appel and Julie Mehretu leave me cold (my loss, I'm sure).
Anyway, most of this stuff isn't actually drawings -- it's watercolor, or painting on paper, or collage, or mixed media. This problem is a relic of dividing up museum departments by medium, and it's not surprising that the puny drawing department would have aspirations to more major media.
Thus, the episodes of dreamy dystopia from the estimable Neo Rauch, so beautifully colored with oil on paper, are really more about painting than drawing. David Thorpe, a 30-year-old Londoner, has found a way to make a very clean line in his impressive poster-style landscapes -- he doesn't draw them, he collages together intricately cut colored paper into his images. And the point of the wall drawing in purple crayon by the Cuban collaborative Los Carpinteros, a rendering of three circular cell blocks of drawers, is an interdisciplinary joke -- the drawers have sculptures, real wooden knobs attached.
As it happens, David Zwirner Gallery inaugurated his new gallery on West 19th Street in Chelsea with a show of works by Khedoori, Marianne Boesky Gallery opened a show of new works by Nara and Andrea Rosen Gallery has an impressive installation by another "Drawing Now" standout, Matthew Ritchie.
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It was a rather modestly sized audience that gathered last Saturday morning at 11 a.m. in Cooper Union's basement Great Hall to see newscaster Peter Jennings interview the 47-year-old New York artist Jeff Koons. The morning repartee kicked off the annual Art Walk NY fund-raiser put on by the Coalition for the Homeless, so everyone was full of a charitable spirit. Except that Jennings seemed not particularly sympathetic to Koons' work. "How did you like being called a 'master of kitsch' and a 'self-promoter'," he asked early on. "It was very painful," Koons answered earnestly, a tone that he maintained throughout. "I just tried to keep my work pure to my objectives."
Koons is a good salesman for his own work, and he explained what he was after in some of his more sensational pieces (in the vacuum cleaners he sought "the darker, masculine side of consumerism," and his explicit color photos of love scenes between himself and his ex-wife Ilona Staller, otherwise known as Cicciolina, an Italian porn star, were meant to express a romance of everyman and everywoman. "My work has always been collage, so I thought I'd collage myself into my own work." For those who look for secrets in an artist's childhood, Koons noted that his father had run a furniture showroom, and that he was always seeing things displayed.
The conversation had several bizarre highlights. Jennings asked Koons if it was true that he admired Michael Jackson more than anyone -- Koons apparently made such a statement in the past -- and Dan Graham asked from the audience whether Koons thought Jackson was gay. Jennings parried by asking to reserve the question for later. (Later never came, though a slide of Koons' ceramic sculpture of Michael Jackson and Bubbles, which sold last year at Sotheby's for $5.6 million, did eventually go up on screen, and Koons said something about it representing the speed of evolution.) Koons volunteered that he admired Jackson because "he would do anything for his work, but ended up a tragic figure."
The artist also brought up his former wife and spoke at length about their divorce and child-custody dispute. "My ex-wife has a borderline personality disorder," he offered by way of explanation. "All ex-wives have borderline personality disorders," joked Jennings. Koons remained serious, and told the audience that his son Ludwig, now 10 years old, was "abducted" by his ex in 1994, and that in a "tremendous injustice by the Italian judiciary" he is not allowed to see him or talk to him on the phone. He hopes that his son will look back on some of his recent works with childlike imagery and realize that "my dad was thinking of me."
Koons also said that as a result of the clash, he had sought out and destroyed "60-some" works from the "Made in Heaven" series, the images of he and his wife having sex. He also talked about the 200-foot-long backdrop he made for the currently touring Rolling Stones stage show, which included images of female underwear stretched across the stage ("to create tension"), a trash can flying through the air, and a cascade of oversized corn kernels. Keith Richards was to be positioned in front of the corn, and had Koons remove five kernels from the mural, since he didn't want to be completely surrounded by corn when he played.
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Chelsea isn't the only area of Manhattan that's magnetic to galleries -- some pretty impressive shops are opening along Madison Avenue as well. Most impressive of all is Ingrao Antiques & Fine Arts, which opened on three floors of 17 East 64th Street after a 13-month-long renovation. An architect and interior decorator who is very much appreciated by the smart set, Anthony Ingrao, along with creative director Randolph Kemper and gallery director Jennifer Olshin, has created a minimalist white-lacquer "forum for dialogue between modernity and classicism" -- meaning, they've hung contemporary art among the antiques.
A large Vanessa Beecroft photo of some scantily clad damsels in red wigs hangs above a very rare 18th-century William Kent marble console with running Greek key etched in the edge and a base decorated with a carving of Hercules wearing a lion pelt. A large Ross Bleckner painting from 2001 serves as backdrop for a pair of two classical chairs in the manner of Giles Grendey and an English Regency giltwood and walnut veneer stem table with a matrix of precious opal on its top. A brand new Kenneth Noland target painting is paired with a Georgian hairy paw armchair, both set at the top of a custom-made spiral steel and granite staircase.
The current selection of contemporary art is on loan from Phillips, de Pury & Luxembourg. Future installations may have the assistance of the English contemporary dealer Henry Allsopp. The installation of antiques was so fresh that a final price list proved elusive, though be assured that the prices are high.
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Let's see, what else is on view? Quickly, now. The other new MacArthur Foundation genius, Liza Lou, has a tour-de-force show at Deitch Projects in SoHo that reveals her dark side: a 35-foot-long trailer, as in "trailer trash," covered on the inside with chiaroscuro beads, a two-year labor. Other bead-covered items include models of a child in a flooded open coffin, a snarling dog, a campfire, a life-size figure of a levitating man with a white bird flying out of his mouth, a plywood map of the United States and several boards and planks. Prices range from $10,000 for a tiny Tiara of red jewels in an edition of six to $150,000 for the figure of the man. . . . More exercises in melodrama up the block at Suite 106 on Mercer Street, where the Mexican artist Rubén Gutiérrez (he's from Monterrey) is presenting three very, very short video pieces, collages of altered images taken from Mexican soap operas, including the first psychological thriller on Mexican TV. Even the Wind Has Fear, a montage of several startled actresses, ends with a shot of a girl screaming in alarm -- maybe at the sight of us? The DVD, in an edition of five, is $900.
Still further up the road, at Tony Shafrazi Gallery over on Wooster Street, Marilyn Monroe holds sway for a few more weeks, courtesy pinup shots taken early in the great star's career by the late Hollywood photographer Andre de Dienes. The material is choice, and includes a couple of farm-girl shots in plaids (one with her posing on pumpkins), several glamour shots giving really beautiful face, an assortment of pix on the beach and even a few dreamy portraits with her hands clasped together in prayer. The black and whites are unique vintage prints, and can be yours for between $4,000-$8,500, while the set of 100 contact pages is not for sale. The whole lot of them are included in three different books packaged together from Taschen in a 16 x 19 in. replica of a Kodalith box for only $200. Outside, hanging from the building, is a "space for rent" sign, as Shafrazi's 10-year lease is up and the rent is soaring. What's going to happen? Shafrazi is moving, that's what.
Over in West Chelsea, the young art dealer Christoph van de Weghe, a veteran of the Gagosian Gallery, opened his eponymous gallery at 521 West 23rd Street -- the old Cheim & Read space -- with a remarkable collection of neons, sculptures and drawings by Bruce Nauman. . . . Maurizio Cattelan opened "The Wrong Gallery" in an unused doorway on West 20th Street next to Andrew Kreps. On view in the 10-inch-deep space behind the glass door is a tape playing the sound of someone banging on a can -- it's a work by Turner Prize winner Martin Creed. . . Art critic and curator Thomas McEvilley at Talwar Gallery, signing hot-off-the-presses copies of his The Shape of Ancient Thought, a 35-year labor published by Alworth Press that they say demonstrates links between Indian and Western philosophy that were erased from history by colonialism. It turns the history of the Western tradition on its head. . . .
Hot new artist at Andrew Kreps, the Canadian artist Kineko Ivic makes little paintings that are enthusiastic and funny, done with thick paint and sometimes glitter, sometimes containing slogans -- a tree with eyes tormented by swirling bugs, for instance. One painting has the red dot painted right on it, another reads, "Andy who?" Prices are cheap -- $800 to $1,800 -- and the paintings are still wet. The 27-year old Canadian who comes to New York every month on the bus, made most of them in the gallery last week, like Basquiat in the basement. . . . Craig Fisher at Florence Lynch Gallery, formalist abstraction with flair, raw canvases with paint bleeding through from the back, or lifted and repositioned. Hearty color sense, red and blue. . . . Korean artist Kwang-Young Chun, with award-winning works he calls "aggregations" at both Kim Foster Gallery in Chelsea and Michelle Rosenfeld Gallery on East 79th Street, pale minimalist low-relief canvases made from densely packed triangles wrapped with mulberry paper marked with calligraphic phrases of wishes for good health -- so that each painting is a condensed talisman of positivity. . . .
Don't miss Jim Torok's big, magisterial comic drawings at Bill Maynes Gallery, cartoons that are not only funny but have the heft of parables, with titles like "I Have to Get to Work" and "I Am Lucky." The humor comes from an over-developed sense of humility and doom -- I can relate.. . . Don't miss Chilean political artist Alfredo Jaar's "Lament of the Images," originally seen at Documenta 11, over at Galerie Lelong on West 26th Street. In a dark room, mounted on light boxes, are three texts about whiteness, blindness, colonialism and the image -- followed by a large blinding screen in the next room. It's a must-see. New is a mysterious levitating light box. . . . Look out for critic and curator Max Henry's latest curatorial effort, "Surface to Surface," opening Nov. 24 at Mary Boone Gallery on Fifth Avenue. Stars Greg Bogin, Francis Cape, Siobhan Hapaska, Donald Judd, John McCracken, Josiah McElheny, Richard Prince, Haim Steinbach. . . .
Doing a star turn at Betty Tompkins' opening of her "Fuck Paintings" from the early 1970s at Mitchell Algus was Joan Rivers. . . . Advertising mogul David Deutsch opened his first solo show of paintings at Noho Gallery at 530 West 25th Street in Chelsea. You can tell Deutsch is an ad guy -- he does funny things with signs. Also stashed on the same floor, several stalwart co-op galleries specializing in figurative and realist work -- Blue Mountain, Viridian, Prince Street, Bowery, Pleiades.
A portfolio of four new prints from Jean-Michel Basquiat, 14 years after his death, not signed, of course, but estate-stamped. They're printed by Brand X and available at Fred Dorfman Gallery on 20th Street. They're $5,000 each, in editions of 80. . . .
WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.