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by Walter Robinson
|After the theatrical stylings of recent hit shows -- I'm thinking of Gregory Crewdson's "Close Encounters" pix at Luhring Augustine and Ugo Rondinone's disco videodrome at Matthew Marks -- this week's standouts are fact-based photos whose freshness is like a smack in the face.
Most amazing are the big color photographs of lesbian couples by Los Angeles lenser Catherine Opie on view at Gorney Bravin + Lee in West Chelsea. Made on a two-month trip across the U.S., the pictures show women posed in living rooms and kitchens, bedrooms and yards. Some have children. Opie's photos of the lesbian "tribe," as Deb Kass calls it, are startlingly "new" -- would that be "unseen"? -- despite being so ordinary and factual. There are about 20 in all; the 50 x 40 in. ones are $6,600 framed in an edition of five with two artist proofs.
Also bowing this weekend were portrait and nude photos by Chuck Close at Pace/MacGill uptown on 57th Street. The range of work -- all date since 1997 -- includes very large color portraits (of superstar painters Jasper Johns, Agnes Martin and Robert Rauschenberg, and a Hallmark-happy baby); a set of six large black-and-white portraits of actors like Willem Dafoe and Stockard Channing; large color photos of nude torsos (a sinewy black body, a woman with breast implants, a pregnant woman); 16 pairs of small, black-framed daguerreotypes of nude torsos; and four green-tinted self-portrait holograms.
The works are rather expensive -- the exquisite, silvery daguerreotypes are $32,000, for instance, and the large color portraits are $60,000.
Close has remembered the original impulse of Photo Realism, which when it comes to people is all about wrinkles. He achieves an uncanny level of detail that gives the faces individuality, wisdom, the essence of subjectivity. It gives the bodies a sense of tragedy, a measure of deviation from the carnal fantasy norm. Close's nudes aren't really sexy. But they help you understand the invention of fashion.
At PaceWildenstein downtown, Close attended the public opening of his show of giant, nine-foot tall portrait paintings made with his trademark painted circles of color. Sitting in his wheelchair surrounded by well-wishers, he signed copies of the $20 exhibition catalogue (his autograph is sure, but done two-handed). Close was very gracious, considering the A-list party had been the night before. His subjects are definitely A-list, coyly titled by first name -- Pace gallery owner Arne Glimcher, along with Johns, Martin and Rauschenberg. He's working on Cecily Brown right now.
The paintings are all sold. How much are they? The gallery isn't saying, since Close has a waiting list and his works are bought as soon as they're made, many going to public institutions. "I heard $400,000," said Art & Auction scandal-monger Steve Vincent. My guess is lower -- say, $275,000? Close's auction record is $1.2 million, set last November with the sale of a 1988 profile of Cindy Sherman.
The third entry in the festival of photo-as-fact is at the Museum of Modern Art in the first round of "Making Choices," the museum's new show of works from its collection. Specifically, the war pictures selected by MoMA photo chief Peter Galassi -- "Private Ryan-land," someone said -- in which images of dead soldiers by Robert Capa, Edward Steichen and the "U.S. Navy" make it clearer than ever that social and historical content comes first.
The installation has a split personality. War and social unrest on one side, and clean, white modernism on the other. One gallery is filled with utopian Neo-Plasticist works by Piet Mondrian, others are full of Constructivism, another has a wall of geometric fabric designs from the 1920s by Anni Albers. There's also a bunch of chairs. "I like seeing photography mixed with furniture," said Eve Sonneman, the photographer who has a show coming up at the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, Apr. 1-July 15.
Also pulled from the stacks for "Making Choices" -- a giant, shadowy 1981 drawing by Troy Brauntuch, and Pavel Tchelitchew's psychedelic shocker Hide and Seek (1940-42), back on view for the first time since the 1980s. I asked MoMA editor and Artforum contributor David Frankel if he had anything good to say about the exhibition. "You realize I work here?" he said. "Just don't break anything."
Works since 1975 by Bay Area conceptualist David Ireland opened at Jack Shainman. Ireland likes things with no esthetic value such as jars of string, drawings of ear shapes (pace van Gogh) and "dumb balls" made of cement. A rack of empty sardine tins is an homage to Belgian Dadaist Marcel Broodthaers -- the art is the sound the tins make as they're dumped onto the floor. "How's New York treating you," I asked the artist, who was born in 1930. "They haven't run over me yet," he said. For $1,000 you can have a painted and collaged black and white photo of a jar or a room. The show first appeared at the Albright College for the Arts in Reading, Pa.
I-20 opened with works by two young women artists. Kiki Seror goes into the adult chat rooms on Yahoo and copies down the steamy sex talk, then uses a 3-D modeling program to transform it into baroque, bright blue texts on lightbox transparencies. It's about the "denial of the physical body," said the artist about her pen-pals X-Ray and Adora, He-Rod and Salome, Bio Fem and Mark V. Larger works are $9,000. In the smaller back gallery, four paintings of kids with cats by Marina Kappos. They're charming and everyone loves them. Price: $7,000.
And don't miss the show of Jackie Ferrara's models of her architectural projects at TZ Art in SoHo, fantastic stepped pyramids and measured colonnades, stripes of different colored brick rows demonstrate the relation between Minimalism and the Romanesque. In the small gallery, prints made for Peter Halley by Alexander Heinrici.
The same hot market is cooking at Greene Naftali in Chelsea, where a group show of gallery artists, called "Trailer," is all but sold out. Rachel Harrison's 85-inch-tall sculpture of panel, a framed photo and a broken desk lamp, all on casters, sold for $7,500, as did eight photos of rich Brazilian girls by Daniela Rossell, at $1,500 each.
The panel experience wasn't too painful, though little light was shed. Davies showed some pique that more L.A. artists weren't included -- there's only about half a dozen, fewer than hail from Texas -- but all in all, it was a love fest. The curators were tripping over themselves in modesty, confessing they didn't know anything about net art, film or video. One curator even admitted that one-third of the artists were new to her. Susan Cahan of the Norton Family Foundation asked what the curators thought of their "confections from a lot of different sugar chefs," as Anderson sweetly put it, referring to something else -- the text of the wall labels, I think. "Beautiful," said Cassel. "Beautiful," said Auping. What a bunch of blockheads. I can hear Charlie Finch now. "You could do as good by drawing lots!"
Postmodernist photo-pioneer Jim Welling retrospective debuts May 6 at the Wexner Center in Columbus, Oh., before moving on to L.A. MoCA and Baltimore Museum. It's the final project of Wexner curator Sarah Rogers, who has resigned to take a lucrative job at a local high-tech company... Is feminist pin-up photog Vanessa Beecroft, who did a project last summer with the United States Navy Seals, about to marry a sailor?... Look for the Duncan Hannah painting on the back of the latest Reader's Digest.