Grand gestures, those artists make in the renovated warehouse and garage spaces of New York's art galleries. And no one is grander, in size and theme, than Anselm Kiefer at Gagosian Gallery on West 24th Street. Kiefer's new show of eight huge paintings and two massive sculptures boasts 20-foot-tall star maps of spattered paint on lead skies rising over timbered halls and ancient oceans, and even more impressively, massive heaps of wave forms made of rugged concrete and rebar slabs. The larger of the two sculptures, Etroits sont les vaisseaux (Narrow Are the Vessels), stretches 25 meters across the gallery, and resembles a course of breakers standing frozen and straight.
On the wall is scrawled in French -- Kiefer has lived for several years in self-imposed exile in the South of France, where he is building a massive compound -- "One the same wave through the world, one the same wave since Troy rolls its haunch towards us," a phrase from the writings of the Nobel-winning French diplomat and poet Saint-John Perse (1887-75), an avatar of French nationalism. Kiefer's themes here, the gallery says, reflect his interest in NeoPlatonism, the Kabbala and the mystical power of the sea -- the constellations of Andromeda and Aquarius, the most ancient of the celestial figures.
German curator Heiner Bastian, who did the Warhol extravaganza at L.A. MOCA, organized the installation. All the works are said to be sold, too, at prices between $400,000 and $700,000; drawings are $60,000 and up.
Down the block at Barbara Gladstone Gallery is another tour de force, this one fashioned with the far more humble materials of corrugated cardboard, aluminum foil and packing tape by Thomas Hirschhorn, the Swiss artist whose homemade coffee shop and reading room in Kassel's Turkish neighborhood was the talk of Documenta 11. At Gladstone, Hirschhorn has completely transformed the gallery spaces into a winding cardboard cave, its floor covered with cardboard rocks and discarded soda cans, the walls of its chambers covered with graffiti, posters (like a dorm room) and taped-up book pages.
Placed throughout the cave are mailing-tube "thought bombs" connected by aluminum-foil conduits to books on politics as well as to the heads of aluminum-foil covered mannequins. The work is inspired by tabloid headlines the artist saw during his last visit here some six months ago -- remember the "Caveman of Manhattan," a homeless man living in a grotto up by the Cloisters? It took a crew of seven two weeks to build what Gladstone called "an antihierarchical space, a retreat from the world." The gallery has published a "short guide" to Hirschhorn's work by Parkett editor Bice Curiger, priced at $12.
Painters can scale the heights of spectacle, too, of course, and down in SoHo, Olivier Mosset's two-painting installation at Spencer Brownstone Gallery is the strongest affirmation of the power of pure painting that I've seen in some time. The pair of untitled orange paintings reach 14 feet from floor to ceiling and stretch the length of the gallery, one measuring 35 feet long in five panels and the other 21 feet in two. They saturate the room in orange light, a phenomenon that is all the more ineffable for not requiring electricity. The paintings are priced at $90,000 and $60,000, respectively; an "L"-shaped painting in the back is $20,000.
Elsewhere in Chelsea are a pair of shows that turn elements of work -- lifting, moving and stacking stones, timbers or metal ingots, say -- into transcendent expression. At Paula Cooper, Minimalist pioneer Carl Andre has arranged 25-pound aluminum ingots, into three linear works that hug the vertexes between wall and floor and fourth that sits in the middle of the space like a smelter's ziggurat. In the small front gallery is War and Rumors of War, a group of 90 Australian hardwood timbers arranged in a square spiral and displayed in a darkened gallery to moody, pessimistic effect. Metal pieces are $140,000 to $160,000.
Over at the new James Cohan Gallery on West 26th Street, the main space is filled with a 30-foot-long ellipse on the floor is made of two kinds of rock -- smooth, dark-gray Mexican river stones surrounded by rough-cut blocky white quartz -- by British artist Richard Long. Dubbed Mohawk, the piece is poetically archaic, like the artist's wall paintings in mud and his performative "walks" through the countryside. Mohawk's price is $200,000.
Also on view in a back gallery at Cohan are several canvases covered with simulated mushrooms and funguses by Roxy Paine -- they aren't vibrating, they just seem to -- and in the front gallery is a digital animation by Swedish artist Magnus Wallin that can be described as a wormhole that leads from a space station to a Hieronymous Bosch painting. Cohan's 6,000-square-foot space, by the way, is designed by Tom Hut and Jane Sachs.
The other debut this weekend of a new exhibition facility was the opening of the Bohen Foundation's new 4,000-square-foot exhibition space on the ground floor of 415 West 13th Street (downstairs from Westwater Sperone). The space premiered with a commission by Tom Sachs titled Nutsy's, a kind of homemade racetrack that snakes around giant foamcore models of a Le Corbusier housing block, a McDonald's, a ghetto, an art-park and more. The actual radio-controlled cars weren't running at the opening, but check it out, maybe you'll be able to guide one through the ring of fire jump.
Sachs is, of course, the enfant terrible whose exhibition of live ammo at Mary Boone Gallery several years ago ended up with the chic art dealer spending a night in jail, and whose Prada Death Camp sculpture at the "Mirroring Evil" exhibition of Nazi imagery in recent art at the Jewish Museum also caused a ruckus. No such controversy here -- or at least, not at first glance.
Back on 26th Street at Robert Miller Gallery is a collection of "indeterminate lines" by the French artist Bernar Venet, who began the series in 1979. Venet uses custom-designed equipment at his studio in the south of France to bend single beams of rolled steel into giant coils, in a kind of mind-over-matter that seems superhuman. The largest work in the gallery is seven feet tall and over 14 feet long (price: $210,000), but even larger pieces are in the works, commissioned from the artist after the exhibition.
In a side gallery at Miller is a small memorial show of Pointillist paintings by the much-loved British artist Andrew Forge, who died last month. A memorial service at the gallery is planned for Nov. 14, 2002.
Uptown, Anthony Caro, the 77-year-old dean of British sculpture, is exhibiting a robust new suite of figurative works in clay, steel, leather and wood. Called The Barbarians, the group of seven sculptures -- six mounted riders, complete with spears, quivers and bows, plus a horse-drawn cart -- is on view at Mitchell-Innes & Nash (the artist's new U.S. representative). Beginning with some vaulting horses the artist spotted on the sidewalk outside a London junk shop, Caro crafted an oversized tribe whose references range from the Etruscans to Picasso. Price: $1.2 million.
"In one way or another," writes Dave Hickey in the accompanying catalogue, "Caro has always been making equestrian sculpture -- appropriating its subliminal narrative of freedom, athletic grace and barbaric ambition to his own purposes." The Barbarians group is the third in a series of figurative pieces, following the Last Judgment, a 25-part sculpture that was exhibited at the 1999 Venice Biennale, and the Trojan War sculptures from 1994.
The amazing exposition, organized by P.S. 1 curator Klaus Biesenbach, features works from the pivotal Body Art and Post-Minimalist performance eras of the 1960s and '70s. Whole galleries are devoted to documentary recordings of the simple but often torturously repetitive acts that define that era's notion of "cutting edge" -- notably, works by Vito Acconci, Marina Abramovic and Ulay and Bruce Nauman.
Upstairs is a not-to-be-missed exhibition of paintings and drawings by the Bronx-born artist Arnold Mesches based on his 760-page FBI file, which Mesches was able to obtain in 2000 through the Freedom of Information Act. The FBI scrutiny dates from the 1950s, when the artist made a series of works devoted to the trial and execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (works that were later mysteriously stolen from the artist's studio). Large portions of the typescript record of the surveillance of Mesches is obliterated by black marker, of course -- a graphic effect the artist likens to the slashing brushstrokes of Franz Kline. Mesches' collages document the insanity of a right-wing bureaucracy run amok -- a fate that sadly seems to await us still.