People are raving about the new installation by music maven and radical deejay Christian Marclay at the Paula Cooper Gallery annex space on West 21st Street. Titled Video Quartet, the 17-minute-long four-channel DVD projection combines more than 100 brief clips from Hollywood movies of actors playing instruments, singing or otherwise making sounds.
The piece begins with people sounding single notes on the piano, and rapidly proceeds through whistling and fiddling, cymbals clashing, tubas and trumpets and Sammy Davis and Frank Sinatra on the horn. Marilyn Monroe clicks her fan, people sing "no," they scream, wail and bellow, they croon and sing "la la la," snap their fingers and tap their toes. There's everything from orchestras to rock bands.
With this simple device (hello, Charles Ives), Marclay manages to invoke an incredible cultural nostalgia, and compose all these bits of cultural memory into a unique new composition of sight and sound. Call him maestro. . . .
Video Quartet was done as a commission from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (where it premiered) in collaboration with the Fondation Musee d'Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean, Luxembourg, and all five copies in the edition have been sold.
Also on view at Cooper is new work by Kelley Walker, a 30-something Brooklyn artist who has his first solo scheduled at the gallery in May. His work takes the form of huge Rorschach blots done in multicolored mirrored plastic and screwed to the wall. Walker takes the hoary psychological device and transforms it into a glittering, very contemporary update of Abstract Expressionism. I See a Teddy Roosevelt-Shaped Thing measures more than eight feet tall.
Two other must-sees just a few steps away are Mark Dion at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery right next door to Paula Cooper and Jean-Marc Bustamante around the corner at Matthew Marks Gallery on West 22nd Street.
Dion's show, dubbed "Vivarium," is elegantly understated with a single sculpture placed in each of Bonakdar's stark white galleries. The smaller room contains Mobile Bio Type-Jungle (2002), a large terrarium filled with plants and mounted on a two-wheeled cart that has been decorated with Dutch-style blue tiles with plant and animal images. The large gallery holds the tour-de-force, also titled Vivarium (2002), a 25-foot-long miniature greenhouse, similarly decorated with blue tiles and containing the trunk of a large fallen tree. A simple but awesome relic of nature, the trunk still lives, for it is dotted with funghi, mushrooms and small sprouts.
Dion, who was born in 1961 and lives in Beach Lake, Pa., is known for similar works that parody antique notions of museological display, arranging relics from imaginary archeological digs of the future in display cabinets, for instance. And though the gallery notes the motif of vitrine as casket here, Vivarium is more clearly an homage to life and the natural world. The work, which can be yours for $60,000, is slated to go to Dion's forthcoming show at the Aldrich Museum in Ridgefield, Conn., opening Jan. 19, 2003.
At Marks, Bustamante -- who is to represent France at the 2003 Venice Biennale -- presents examples from two different bodies of work. The "Panorama" series consists of brightly colored scribbles silkscreened onto large pieces of clear plastic, which are then hung on the wall or propped up on stilts as sculpture. These works seems cool and mechanical, and indebted to the French "Support-Surface" movement of the '70s, which brought theoretical ideas to a rather wan group of paintings.
Much preferable (to me) are Bustamante's photographs of "urban and suburban marginal spaces," in which the artist shows some ugly bit of human architecture or other depredation on the threshold of a lovely landscape view. Bustamante has managed to inject this familiar conceit with comic grandeur. Perhaps it is the large scale of the photos, or their format, which is almost a "double square." Or maybe it's the schadenfreude of the urban apartment dweller, amused at the many ways that owners of choice pieces of property can waste their advantages.
The photos, which have been fairly popular at recent international art fairs, are about $28,000 each in an edition of six.
Another hot show in Chelsea is José Antonio Hernández-Diez at Sandra Gering Gallery. The wacky Venezuelan artist's chosen mediums for this outing, his third at the gallery, is video . . . and cardboard. Centerpiece is Almost Worm (2002), a sculpture made of cardboard boxes and six small white television sets. A kind of corrugated carapace sits on top of the row of monitors, which play a DVD close-up of the artist's tongue inching along the floor -- thus the surreal and comic caterpillar image.
A second video piece, arguably even more surreal, is called Joan Petit II (The Artist Devouring his Son in a Pizza Style) (2002), shows a small child's feet sticking out of a kind of elastic sleeve, with a cache of glittering jewels held between the soles as the little toes open and flex. According to Hernández-Diez, the work is inspired by the famous Goya "black painting" of Saturn Devouring One of his Sons (ca. 1820-23). Okay.
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How nice to stroll down Museum Mile on Fifth Avenue, dropping in on all the shows along the way. The culture strip seemed especially deserted this Sunday last, due to the looming transit strike, perhaps, or because of urgent holiday shopping duties elsewhere.
In any case, only a handful of visitors could be found at El Museo del Barrio's third biennial exhibition, "The (S) Files 2002: The Selected Files," Oct. 24, 2002-Feb. 16, 2003. The show has nothing to do with files, but rather is a sampler of about 30 young Latin American artists, almost all of them with little previous exposure in New York, organized by El Museo curator Deborah Cullen and Victoria Noorthoorn, curator of the Museo de Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires.
The show has a little bit of everything, as if to prove that Latino and Latina artists could fit in anywhere -- and seems strangely flat because of it. There are distressed "Body Art" video loops by Ryan Rivera, who weeps, gags and almost drowns himself. There is an formally restrained abstract video by Vicente Razo, in which a jerky, black-and-white frozen frame of static combines with a soundtrack of bird songs to become the image of a Bamboo Garden.
Chico MacMurtie has crafted a huge and menacing mechanical robot, while Margarita Cabrera fashions kitchen appliances out of sewn felt and Yucef Merhi presents a telescope that looks out the window to a poem posted on a fence in Central Park.
The show includes striking allegorical figure paintings (with hens, a horse, and glitter) by Alessandra Exposito and earnest cosmic abstractions by Raimundo Rubio Huidobro. It has a 3-D photo "deconstruction" of his apartment by Isidro Blasco and a "critique of institutional international modernism" (you can graffiti over photos of the Museum of Modern Art) by Karin Schneider.
And there are comical conceptual gestures, as Paco Cao advertises for a "look-alike" for Velazquez' Juan de Pareja (whose portrait is on view down the street at the Metropolitan Museum) and Nicolás Dumit Estévez rides an exotically decorated bicycle through el barrio handing out coupons that can be redeemed at the museum for a bag of papas, or plantain chips.
Things were a bit more animated at the Jewish Museum, though visitors have to pass through a metal detector to get in. "Adolph Gottlieb: A Survey Exhibition" is on the second floor, five galleries of paintings (from the holdings of the grant-giving Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation) that trace the career of the Ab Ex avatar who had the first New York solo museum show of his generation at the Jewish Museum in 1957.
Gottlieb thought that art should "transcend any racial, ethnic, religious or national boundaries," of course, but more than anything his paintings today emphasize a very human grasp for sublime spiritual meaning. His paintings don't have the heft that they once might have had, but to a sympathetic eye the presentation here manages to stop their slide into period decor, however briefly.
On the first floor is "The City of K.: Franz Kafka and Prague," a shadowy, labyrinthine, over-the-top installation of letters, photos and manuscripts that has to be seen, if only to gauge the upper limits of exhibition design. Images are displayed on beds, in file cabinets, on a pile of dirt and on the walls of a shack, plus in a variety of inventively designed display cases. The show originated at the CCB in Barcelona.
Scattered around the museum are eight light-works by contemporary artists, part of a show called "Light x Eight: The Hanukkah Project 2002." These include Leo Villareal's grid of 56 bright Red Life (1999) bulbs, blinking on and off according to a mathematical model of "the game of life," and a projection of drifting, increasing digital numbers on a blue field by Tatsuo Miyajima. It's a nice, holiday touch.
At the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum is "New Hotels for Global Nomads," filling both floors of the place with a range of artworks, architectural designs and other material having to do with hotels. Though the show is not without interest -- it features interesting works by Jeff Gompertz and Vito Acconci, among others -- it demonstrates the limits of the "design" exhibition. For one thing, it's a show about . . . hotels. For another, the elaborately designed installation is so proud of itself that it's hard to figure out anything about the actual objects on display. Worst of all, the show is one of those that enshrines actual artworks (a photo of Marcello Mastroianni by Diane Arbus, say) alongside mass-market junk (a wall of plastic hotel keycards, for instance), a contrast that is as dramatic as it is disheartening. It doesn't have to be that way, as was demonstrated by the recent show of Russel Wright furniture and tableware, in which his breathtaking designs were presented simply and cleanly.
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Last chance to see the show at Charles Cowles Gallery of early works by 80-year-old San Francisco abstract painter Frank Lobdell, organized by Walter Hopps, that closes Dec. 21, 2002. Lobdell, who shared a studio with Mark Rothko in 1948 and with Clyfford Still in '49, taught from 1966 to '91at Stanford, where generations of Bay Area artists passed under his tutelage. In addition to the rare selection of colorful, 1950s Ab Ex works is a gallery of drawings from the nude by Lobdell and famed fellow painter Richard Diebenkorn -- the two shared a model for 20 years.
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The skateboard crowd is flocking to Deitch Projects on Wooster Street for "The Bowl," an installation of the big skating bowl by the Chicago-based artist duo Simparch (Steve Badgett and Matt Lynch) that was previously at the Wexner Center (as Free Basin, the star of the museum's "Mood River" design show) and Documenta 11. Organized by Julia Chang, Ryan McGinness and Cheryl Dunn, the show features art and photos from the skateboard culture by Larry Clark, Martha Cooper, Espo, Kaws, Ari Markopoulos, Barry McGee and many others. On Sunday, Badgett put on a "naked skating" performance. The Dec. 14 opening was jam-packed and got a bit overexuberant and the police closed it down. Dealer Jeffrey Deitch underwent a kind of skater's initiation -- he was mobbed and doused with beer -- but it was no assault, the dealer says. . . .
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A recent visit to SoHo provided an odd illustration of the interpellation of art and fashion. At the five-year-old Arcadia Gallery at 51 Greene Street is a show of about 45 paintings by 40-something Minnesota illustrator and artist Malcolm "Skip" Liepke, whose deftly painted figurative works -- largely images of the same imaginary red-headed woman -- are part Degas and part Norman Rockwell. Liepke may be unheralded by Artforum but he is a hot commodity nevertheless. By the time of the Dec. 12 opening, dealer Steven Diamant had sold almost all of the paintings at prices ranging from $7,000 to $75,000.
Even more impressive, perhaps, was the news that Liepke's works had provided inspiration for Donna Karan's fall collection. And surprisingly, though the artist's works don't really partake of that special runway esthetic, it is possible to see a real connection in the illustrations in Karan's Woman to Woman, a stylish magazine of her fashions that was also available at the gallery.
Meanwhile, opening on the same night a few blocks uptown on West Broadway was the new Kieselstein-Cord Store of jewelry, luxury leather goods and fashion sunglasses -- with a permanent art gallery on the second floor. Located in the former Rizzoli bookstore building, the new Spider Gallery retains many of the store's elegant fixtures, including the department signs reading "photography" and " art books." The inaugural exhibition, titled "Wide Angle," is organized by Artnet Magazine's own Robert G. Edelman and Gina Fiore, and includes photographs by Hannah Starkey, Hiroshi Sugimoto and James Welling as well as by designer Barry S.K. Cord and his wife, Karen B. Cord (whose pictures are a relative bargain at $750 each). Also included is a photo by Pierre Sernet, who in the distant mists of time launched the business that would become Artnet.com. The exhibition is on view through January 2003.
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Hot Dana Schutz exhibition of paintings of "Frank from Observation" at LFL on West 24th Street is sold out at prices ranging from $2,400 to $8,000. Buyers are said to include artists Maurizio Cattelan and Ross Bleckner. . . . Benji Whalen, whose "Nightgown Series" made porn stars chaste by painting flannel sleepwear on pictures of models from skin mags (funny, though not something we like to encourage), doing well with a new series of works: his "tattoo samplers," tattoo designs embroidered on stuffed cloth arms at Clementine Gallery are selling fast at $1,500 each . . .
All three examples in the five-screen DVD projection by Laurel Nakadate at Daniel Silverstein Gallery, featuring the comely young artist dancing with strange men who approached her in public places (among other, equally disturbing scenes), are sold at $2,800 each. . . . All six loop-de-loop abstractions by Karin Davie at Mary Boone Gallery in Chelsea marked sold at $40,000 each. . . .
Antiques Roadshow star Chris Jussel, an English furniture expert at Sotheby's who originally was brought on to work on the web operation, has left the company. . . . The famed Miami Beach trompe l'oeil mural by Richard Haas done in 1986 on the side of the Fountainebleu Hotel, a 40-story, 18,000-square-foot landmark, has been destroyed. Owner Steve Muss wants to put something new there. Haas has several recent cityscapes on view at David Findlay in the Fuller Building in Manhattan. . . .
Palm Beach ICA head Michael Rush, an old theater hand, has plans for media biennale in March 2004. . . . Coming up next May at Lucas Schoormans Gallery in West Chelsea, a Giorgio Morandi show, organized by new gallery director Christoph Gerozissis. Currently on view there are abstractions by Jerald Ieans, a veteran of "Freestyle" at the Studio Museum in Harlem . . . Stux Gallery director Mike Weiss strikes out on his own. He'll open his own space in Chelsea, he says. . . . Anna O'Sullivan is new director of Danese gallery in the Fuller Building.
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A special quiz for Weekend Update readers -- we're trying to discover the genesis of a strange little bronze sculpture, resembling a row of 13 little pods with feet, shown in the accompanying image. A dealer in Art Deco came across the thing, which is about three feet long and six inches tall, at a Massachusetts flea market. If you can identify this work, please email with "sculpture quiz" in the subject line. A convincing explanation gets you a free copy of the first edition of the International Guide to Art Fairs and Antiques Shows, published by Paul Shanley's Artmediaco (also available after Christmas for $10 at art bookstores).
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Speaking of Christmas, a joke about critics, with thanks to Carlo McCormick: Two art critics are in the boat on the Sea of Galilee with the rest of the Apostles when a wind blows up, keeping the boat from going ashore. Jesus, however, miraculously walks across the water to get onboard. All the Apostles are frightened and amazed. But one of the critics leans over to the other and says, "Look at that, he can't swim."
WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.