The globalism of the contemporary art scene, which in recent years has rendered New York as a central marketplace "colonized" by a variety of parochial styles rather than a esthetic fountainhead in its own right (as it was in the 1960s, for instance, with native schools of Pop and Minimalist art), is amply demonstrated by a handful of current gallery exhibitions.
Top shows include the British painter Gary Hume at Matthew Marks Gallery and the German photographer Thomas Demand at 303 Gallery, both on West 22nd Street. Sophie Calle is having a 25-year retrospective at Paula Cooper Gallery on West 21st Street, where the diaristic French conceptualist's work fills the space with captioned photos and glass cases packed with objects. Together, these displays form something of a mini-U.N. over in West Chelsea.
The dominance of Euro-denominated imports is further shown by exhibitions of the German photographer Andreas Gursky at the Museum of Modern Art (which quickly became the only must-see avant-garde art show in a New York museum) and the German artist Rosemarie Trockel at the Drawing Center and Barbara Gladstone Gallery.
Hume's works -- huge, abstracted images of faces, flowers, nudes and the like done in two or three colors of shiny enamel -- are probably the funnest painting around, not least because they're paired with Hume's brightly painted snowman-like sculpture. The work looks particularly good in Marks' big box of a space. "They're what birds see close-up," Hume has said of the paintings, though perhaps he was referring to some earlier pictures of bird's nests. "Is it possible for a painting to be too pretty?" asked Cecily Brown at the opening, herself no stranger to hedonistic pursuits in art.
Cheerfully, all of Hume's works -- priced between $30,000 and $80,000 (the sculptures are in editions of three) -- were on reserve or sold at the opening. Even in a bear market, they seem a sure investment -- the artist's auction record is well above six figures. At the opening, the playful quality of Hume's sensibility was demonstrated by a real snowman on the sidewalk outside, crafted by the artist himself.
The world as pictured in Thomas Demand's color photos seems paper thin -- no surprise, of course, since he takes pictures of models he makes out of what looks like construction paper. The scenes themselves are very contemporary but restrained in a disinterested, Postmodernist way. And the photos are large -- about nine feet on the long side.
The front gallery of 303 contains only three works: an image called Labor of the corner of a soundproof recording studio with three mikes, one called Poll that depicts tiered set of phone banks (the kind used in telethons) and a third called Podiummodels that focuses on a fragment of a sign with the numbers 1389 and 1989 on it. In the rear gallery is a two-minute film loop called Escalator, which shows what appears to be the top of a working up escalator.
Besides the fact that Demand's works are finely constructed and attractive -- that's not enough? -- it's still hard to account for their popularity. The artist shows with Victoria Miro in London and Monika Sprüth in Cologne. His photos at 303, priced at about $20,000 each, are produced in an edition of six; the ones here all are sold or on reserve. "There's a waiting list," said one gallery attendant. Perhaps it's the sense of the uncanny, a suggestion that the modern world is fabricated out of thin air (as Hal Foster argued about James Casebere's photos over 15 years ago), that appeals to the Master of the Universe collector.
Then, as if to dramatize the collapse of a native American entry in the international style wars, there's Martin Kersels at Deitch Projects. The Los Angeles-based artist is known for a series of delightful performance-photos of his own large-sized self in the process of toppling over, and the installation here -- a 16-foot-tall girl's bedroom, slowly turning like a giant rock tumbler on a pair of circular steel tracks, and accompanying photos and drawings -- carries on his fascination with vertigo.
Notes on the drawings read, "in a moment the furniture tumbles, as if anxiety made it lose its grip" and "order and safety put to a test." Indeed. Kersels' giant assemblage slowly spins with a thundering noise, as the contents of the room tumble from floor to wall to ceiling, even at the opening already smashed into identity-less fragments. The anxiety that Kersels makes so palpable so well is easily extended here into a metaphor for New York's art identity, smashed to smithereens by global Capital.
In the small side gallery are a group of one-of-a-kind photographs of people tossed mid-air in the turning, still amiably furnished room. They are scientifically emotional, and $3,500 each. A charming model of the tumbling room is $6,500.
One note about Rosemarie Trockel, who is loved for an eye that finds ambiguity everywhere. A fan commended her at the Drawing Center opening for her picture of Jackie O, who she renders as the devil with a pair of horns. "Maybe it's not Jackie," she said. "Maybe it's the devil in disguise."
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The names of the subjects in Jean Kallina's elegant black and white photos at Winston Wächter Mayer Fine Art on East 78t Street tell it all: Shaker Laundry, Balzac's Desk, Paris Chandelier, Shaker Stairs, Cheverny Chandelier, Painted Shutter. Kallina is a photographer whose pictures find remnants of a literary or vanished past in the contemporary present. Since 1985, she has worked in New York, photographing interiors for upscale magazines, making portraits of top art stars and documenting David Salle's stage sets from BAM (photos that were exhibited at Leo Castelli Gallery). Her work is collected -- these photos are in editions of five -- by everyone from Ralph Lauren and Woody Allen to Mark Kostabi and the Whitney Museum. The show is on view through Mar. 31, 2001.
The celebrated celebrity painter Elisabeth Peyton has a solo show coming up on Mar. 30 at Pen & Brush at 16 East 10th Street, a slot she won last year by entering a juried graphics exhibition. "It's not a small show," said someone at Pen & Brush, where Peyton is a member. "There are three galleries." As for the artist's dealer, Gavin Brown: "Don't know anything about it," said someone there.
Going to Toronto? Then visit Gallery One at 121 Scollard Street to see new works by the East Village painter Stephen Lack. Lack picks images from the circus of signs that is media culture and tweaks them into haunted, contemporary icons -- suburban houses, sports cars, industrial silos, ocean liners, rowboats on the shore. After more than 20 years, the famously maniacal Lack -- who could forget the movie-star (Scanners, et al.) turned painter's interview in the East Village Eye in 1982, for which Carlo McCormick asked a single question and Lack's answer filled the rest of the page -- is turning out masterful works, vibrantly colored and pregnant with the hallucinatory abundance of the modern consciousness.
In case you missed it: Here's a picture from last month's show at Salander-O'Reilly of new paintings by Larry Poons -- if you haven't seen it, too late. Spotted in just a few minutes at the gallery on its last day were Brooklyn bookstore magnate Miles Bellamy and artist Lucio Pozzi. The pictures, lively pastel-colored abstractions with collaged 3-D elements all over the surface, have an aerial feel that is reminiscent of Kandinsky's great early abstract compositions. "People keep seeing things in them," said the gallery's Steven Harvey. Hey, Kid in Pink (2000), which measures eight feet wide, is clearly a picture of the artist's studio, one of the great subjects.
Another great subject is the artist's own milieu, delved into by Alexi Worth's show of "The Mylar Portraits," Feb. 8-Mar. 10, 2001, at Elizabeth Harris Gallery on West 20th Street. Each subject is pictured against an empty background and holding a plastic cup in his or hand, as if to posit the social occasion of the opening as the subject of the work -- which it is, along with the deft yet wavering hand that is so effective in bringing painterly life to the portraits themselves. Among the select are sometime Artnet Magazine contributors Christian Viveros-Faune and David Cohen (Worth himself writes on art, too, contributing to the art listings in the New Yorker, a favored venue). The works were priced at a bargain $1,800 each.
Ceramic success: Years ago I sat on an NEA grant panel for ceramics fellowships (it was happenstance, believe me) and wondered out loud why the applicants favored the decorative, curvilinear abstract mode over a more eclectic, multicultural mix of styles, for which work in clay is so clearly suited. "You could travel through time with this stuff, circle the globe!" I remember exclaiming to fellow panelists, who stared back at me blankly.
I thought of this when I saw Kathy Butterly's new work in glazed porcelain and earthenware at Franklin Parrasch on West 57th, a series of small objects (about eight inches tall) that are beautifully crafted and brilliantly colored. Not that they're some kind of stylistic potpourri, but several works use the Chinese Fu dog, a symbol of luck and wisdom, as a base for sensuous vessel shapes that are part of her personal iconography. "I sold all 18," said Parrasch, happily. "I could sell another 18!" The price range this time around is $4,500-$6,000 -- almost double what they were 18 months ago.
Dancing on money: Dash out and pick up the new April issue of i-D magazine; it will be $10 well spent, since the 400-page tome is devoted to the New York art world and features scandalous pix of scene-makers in deshabille by photog Jessica Craig-Martin.
Vinciana: Packed house at the New York Studio School on West 8th Street on Mar. 7 for Leo Steinberg's lecture on Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper, parsing the painting as a simultaneous representation of Judas' perfidy and the first communion. Get the fascinating details in his new book, Leonardo's Incessant Last Supper, due out in April from Zone and M.I.T.
Show data: Jay Jopling did $2 million in business at last month's Armory Show on the Hudson River piers in New York, according to reports, and Paul Morris sold 28 photographs by Oliver Boberg, whose exhibition opens at the gallery Mar. 17. Price range is $2,000-$5,000. Meanwhile, the thefts reported involved not art works but missing video monitors. Blum & Poe, Klagsbrun and Henry Urbach were said to have lost equipment. Did someone mention the Teamsters?
Odds and ends: Big splash in Los Angeles by FischerSpooner with its art-rock performances at the new, hip Standard Hotel opening downtown, sponsored by Yvonne Force. Everyone went -- including Lief Garret and Sophia Copola... After years and years with Ed Thorpe, painter April Gornick -- who doesn't even have to show her cool landscapes to sell them -- has gone over to Danese uptown... Say what you will about the Museum of Modern Art's design show, which fills the painting and sculpture galleries with things like office chairs and a case full of cell phones. The 12-foot-tall Maxi Mog Global Expedition Vehicle looks great parked in the lobby.
WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.