What a difference four or five decades can make. The little-noticed new show at the Guggenheim Museum, an elegant survey of "reductivist" works from the collection titled "Singular Forms (Sometimes Repeated): Art from 1951 to the Present," could hardly strike a stronger contrast to the motley fare on view around the corner at the 2004 Whitney Biennial Exhibition.
Filling the Guggenheim bays like pearls on a string, the works in the installation were assembled by chief curator Lisa Dennison and contemporary curator Nancy Spector. More than 50 artists make the cut, ranging from Robert Rauschenberg, whose classic 1951 White Painting is designed, Happenings-style, to be activated by viewers' shadows, to the Austrian artist Karin Sander, whose 2004 Wallpiece consists of a large square of "polished wall paint." Yes, Minimalism lives, even today.
Minimalism is all about the serenity of the geometrical object, and the meditative or iconic quality of simple materiality. A six-foot-high cone of solidified salt made in 1988 by Meg Webster, a black elliptical mound by Jene Highstein dating to 1967, a triptych of pink, gray and pale olive monochrome canvases from 1969 by Brice Marden, a room-size installation of three canvases from 1971 covered with deliberate veil-like strokes of white paint by Robert Ryman -- in a museum, you don't so much look at these things as check them off on a mental list, taking note of the dates and collections.
Such streamlined vessels still managed to hold much -- the fabrication secrets of the artist, the arrogance of the authorial ego, the astonishing ability of capital to create value. Minimalist objects are trophies, clean and corporate emblems that mark the transition from the manufacturing era to the information age. Their shape and form spring from the downtown New York lofts where they were made, a kind of subconscious compensation for the destruction of the 19th-century industry that had made its home there. These works embody both the embarrassing contradictions and utopian ideals of 1960s art.
The show features many works from the Minimal Art collection of Count Giuseppe Panza di Biumo, whose acquisition by the Gugg in the early 1990s caused a fuss that now must seem well worth it. In addition to the Highstein, the Marden, the Ryman and the Webster, outstanding works from Panza include Carl Andre's Fall (1968), a muscular row of standing steel plates propped up outside against the museum faade, Robert Morris' brutally common Untitled (Fiberglass Frame) (1968) and James Turrell's mystical Afruin (1967), a square (or is it a cube?) projected into a corner in a side gallery.
Worth noting as well is James Lee Byars' The White Figure (1990), a spooky oblong rectangle of milky Kavala marble with rounded edges lent by Michael Werner Gallery, and Ellsworth Kelly's Orange/Red Relief (1959) and Blue Green Yellow Orange Red (1966), inescapable splashes of color that accent the bottom of the Guggenheim ramp.
Inserted among all this abstraction is a trio of works by the most tendentious of the Minimalists (no small accomplishment), Walter De Maria -- a group of three sculptures made of shiny aluminum channels, each with a single ball, in the shape of a Jewish star, a cross and a swastika. Now, this anti-Semitic equation doesn't amount to much -- it's only an artwork in a museum -- but it's ugly enough.
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Two phantom works from the Whitney Biennial -- Paul McCarthy's 50-foot-tall inflated torso on the roof, tied down with yellow ropes, large as it is, was invisible at the openings (it wasn't lit) and is easy to miss as you enter the museum's hulking Marcel Breuer building. Apparently it's a version of a sculpture he made at age 15, a copy of a Henry Moore. A shed-sized model of the work was on view at the Armory Show adjacent to the booth of Hauser & Wirth from London.
And, regarding Maurizio Cattelan's piece, a figure of a man at a desk that is supposed to be buried under the (concrete) museum floor, let me state right now that I don't believe it for a minute! I was among the credible critics that Cattelan fooled at the 1999 Venice Biennale [see "Hi Mom, I'm in Venice," June 10, 1999], when he put a lifelike sculpture of praying hands on a pile of sand and told everyone that there was a swami under there. But not this time, buddy!
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Assorted notes from the now dear-departed 2004 Armory Show, Mar. 11-15: At the booth of 303 Gallery, new line of furniture by Mary Heilmann, including club chairs of wood and plastic webbing in her trademark aqua-colors ($3,500) and a table with inset mosaics by Steve Keister ($7,500). . . . At Sadie Coles from London, a traffic-stopping work by Sarah Lucas, a giant polymer-resin model of a Sandwich (2004) filled with meat paste ($150,000). There's a version in Tate Britain's current contemporary crowd-pleaser, "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida," Mar. 3-May 31, 2004.
At the Christine Burgin Gallery booth, a collaborative work by Matt Mullican and Allan McCollum titled Your Fate, a set of drawings of original fortune-telling runes, playing pieces marked with them and a felt-covered gaming table. You throw the pieces, then figure out your future from the resulting array of signs. The whole set would run about $11,000; a bag of the dice and a booklet of the drawings is $100 (in an edition of 100). . . . The ARCO panels at the Armory Show were sold out every morning, so crowded that the fire department wanted to shut them down, compared to the 50 who went last year.
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Religious highlights from the Scope New York fair, Mar. 12-15, 2004, at the shiny new Gansevoort Hotel in the Meat Market district, down the block from Sperone Westwater and across the street from the ever-crowded Pastis restaurant, included an opening-day performance by Reverend Ethan Acres standing on the bed preaching at DCKT Contemporary. For collectors there are his new ink drawings of the "intergalactic wanderings" of Jesus, illustrations showing the Messiah preaching to assorted aliens ($2,000 each). . . . At Conner Contemporary Art from D.C., a very golden sculpture of the golden calf by Scottish public-art wonder Kenny Hunter. His public monument, Citizen Firefighter, honoring the Strathclyde Fire Brigade, went up in 1999. . . .
And, promises of "one love" and the transformation of capitalism from a group called Praxis (Brainard Carey and Delia Bajo) at the room of Curcioprojects. In a piece called The New Economy, a naked couple was sitting on the bed, smoking grass from a pipe and offering tokes to visitors. Where were they 20 years ago when I needed them?
Also at Scope, a big painting of a hunting scene from the life of an apelike cave-woman by Yale MFA Jason Robert Bell at Cristine Wang, titled in Neanderthal grunts, Death Deer Man (2004). It's $5,000. . . . Also, hotcake-like sales of cartoony self-portrait drawings on rice paper by the young Brooklyn artist Kyung Jeon, who is still in the School of Visual Arts MFA program, at the Proposition, with about 30 sold for $400 each. Her first solo show is slated for the gallery in May. . . . Scope Los Angeles is planned for May 21-24 at the Standard hotel in Hollywood.
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Still more spirituality at Suite 106 Gallery on Mercer Street in SoHo, where the San Francisco artist Chris Sollars has set up "Come Walk with Me," an installation that includes a Digger-style soup kitchen and pile of free clothes, plus couches, trippy '60s music, videos, drawings and photographs. Sollars does a frighteningly good imitation of "a pseudo Jesus Hippie Guy," notably when leading "flower power tours" of Haight Asbury. Color photos are $2,000 (edition of five) and delicate pencil drawings of Jimi Hendrix and Charles Manson are $600. Was it really 40 years ago? Yes. . . .
And a bit of the Tower of Babel at Art in General on Walker Street in Tribeca, as seven readers simultaneously read religious texts in different languages in a performance stage-managed by remote control by Cuban artist Luis Gmez, stuck in his native Cuba after he couldn't get a visa. "The first time we've had a visa denied since we launched our artist residency program in 1994," said A.i.G. director Holly Block. The performance was piped to Gmez at Havana's La Casona gallery via the internet.
And still more, from pioneering Viennese Aktionist Hermann Nitsch (and fashionable wife Rita), whose big installation piece at Mike Weiss Gallery in Chelsea confounds the artist's easel with the churchly altar, topped by a cross. Nitsch's first performance was in 1968 at Jonas Mekas' cinemathique on Wooster Street in SoHo. Nitsch's increasingly decorative paintings make the inevitable link between the painter's studio and the butcher's bloody slaughterhouse. A yellow 39 x 32 in. Schuttbilder (debris picture) is $20,000, a 79 x 59 in. red one is $40,000.
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Tracy Williams Gallery opened on West Fourth Street in Manhattan on Mar.13, 2004, in a building that formerly was home to the beloved SoHo art dealer Joe Fawbush, who died of AIDS in 1995. "I dreamed of Joe," Williams told Artnet's own Charlie Finch. "His ghost haunts the place." The art elite lined up to kiss the ring of Williams, who wore an elegant black gown with a deeply cut bodice. The front space holds an Arte Povera-type installation by Pedro Cabrita Reis, while in the back are an early Andreas Gursky sunset photo ($60,000, in an edition of 12), a Luc Tuymans drawing of a car ($35,000) and a sculpture of melon slices looking like a brain by Gabriel Orozco ($30,000).
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Small, moody monochrome landscapes by Steve Sumner at Kenny Schachter Contemporary on Charles Lane in Greenwich Village, including some "based on the green, misty moorlands around his wife's home in Derbyshire." That wife would be Glenda Bailey, editor of Harper's Bazaar. The paintings range in price from $1,000 to $10,000. . . . Veteran art critic John Perreault shows found seascapes splashed Pollock-style with oil-impregnated beach sand at the N.Y. Arts Magazine gallery at 473 B'Way. Price: $1,500-$3,500.
Neatly stencil-painted collages of pop icons and logos from album covers, comix, extreme sports by Michael Bevilacqua at the Deitch Projects space on Grand Street, sort of like Robert Rauschenberg remade by J. Walter Thompson. Still, they look nice -- and match the painted racecar parked in the gallery. How'd that thing get in there? The paintings go for "five digits," nice monolith-shaped monoprints are $8,500.
Mexico City conceptualist Stefan Bruggemann (b. 1975) at I-20 with big neon slogan reading "All my products are exported (All my explanations are rubbish)." Guess he's an anti-intellectual conceptualist. One of three sold at the opening for $16,000. Bruggeman also has published a couple of books of photos and slogans, titled Intellectual Disaster and Capitalism & Schizophrenia.
A selection of pottery by the legendary Beatrice Wood, the California-based "Dada Mama" who died at age 105 in 1998, at Garth Clark Gallery on West 57th Street includes lusterware pots and platters, plus her only homoerotic tableau. The 7.5 in. tall earthenware Menage Trois, ca. 1985, can be yours for a bargain $9,500. For details see Gilded Vessel: The Lustrous Art and Life of Beatrice Wood by Garth Clark ($35).
At the new 57th Street space of Christian Haye's The Project (formerly of West 126th Street), a set of six paintings of swimmers by Peter Rostovsky, titled "Deluge" and taken from photographs made in Nice (the artist was in the Giverny Residency Program). The works have an impact, despite their familiar subject matter (see Chairman Mao's famous 1966 swim in the Yangtze). Priced at $6,000 and $12,000, most are sold, or so one buyer was told.
Across the hall from the Project is the new space of Lori Bookstein, which recently provided fuel for a classic art-lover's fantasy -- the nude academic drawing class that heats up. In 1968, Paul Resika and Rosemarie Beck drew from a pair of models who were in fact lovers, or willing to act as if they were. In these exceptional works, done in black and red conte crayon, Beck tends towards "post-coital languor" while Resika captures the more aggressive moments, as David Cohen points out in a brief essay. The drawings were for sale for a few thousand dollars each.
Barbara Castelli has moved the Leo Castelli Gallery to 18 East 77th Street, an antique Upper East Side building down the street from Castelli's former space (now occupied by Michael Werner) and upstairs from the American Illustrators Gallery. On view in the luxuriously appointed gallery were drawings by Johns, Kelly, Matisse, Picasso and Warhol.
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Julian Schnabel's new movie is called The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and is billed as the true story of a paralyzed Frenchman who communicates by blinking his left eye. Johnny Depp is starring, according to Entertainment Weekly. . . . Panoramic photos by movie star Jeff Bridges at Ariel Meyerowitz Gallery on 11th Avenue give a behind-the-lens glimpse of life where the entire world is focused on you, you, you. . . .
Bill Maynes Gallery in Chelsea has closed -- he promises to come back with a smaller space after completing a few projects in Europe. . . . Seward Johnson has closed his sculpture atelier in Hamilton, N.J., where Joel Shapiro and other hipsters have gone for foundry services. The sculpture grounds and restaurant stay open. . . .
Linda Yablonsky helping P.S. 1 launch internet radio, featuring the Museum of Modern Art's extensive audio archive (including conversations between Richard Hamilton and Dieter Roth) as well as shows by the political comic Reno, Gallery Beat producer Paul H-O. . . . Jack Tilton launching artist-residency and exhibition center in Beijing in partnership with Gang Zhao, editor of Art Asia Pacific. . . .
Studio Museum curator Thelma Golden blasted by the Gee's Bend quilters in the letters column of the new issue of Artforum for patronizing remarks she made in her "top ten" list last December. . . . That white marble amputee that looks like a Marc Quinn sculpture in the window of Royal-Athena on East 57th Street is in fact a 1st-2nd century A.D. Roman sculpture of a satyr. . . .
Cynthia Broan, banished to Brooklyn by skyrocketing rent on her West 14th Street storefront, looking for new space in Chelsea. . . . . Marcus Ritter, the young dealer who briefly had a space on West 17th Street in Chelsea, surfaces in London as a partner in Ritter/Zamet, located opposite Tate Modern. For info, email firstname.lastname@example.org. . . . The New Museum considering renting the Chelsea Art Museum for a year while its new building goes up on that Bowery parking lot.
WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.