Carnegie Museum director Richard Armstrong, who began his career as a curator at the Whitney Museum, once suggested a solution to the Whitney's notorious curatorial malaise -- turn the entire museum into a kind of mausoleum of 20th-century American art by installing the permanent collection on every floor. Armstrong, by the way, tends to be more candid than your average museum staffer.
Now, our friends at the Guggenheim Museum have found a related solution to their own curatorial discontent, courtesy of French conceptualist Daniel Buren (b. 1938). Instead of mounting shambling blockbusters ill-suited to Frank Lloyd Wright's modernist architecture (and poorly received by the critics, despite respectable attendance), the Gugg can take a tip from Buren, who with his current show, "The Eye of the Storm," has ably demonstrated how to turn the entire museum into a simple, large-scale, installation piece.
Hes striped the dodecahedral skylight in violet; run evenly spaced lime green dashes like crenellations down the atrium side of the spiraling ramp; and built a huge mirror-surfaced, right-angled structure out from the ramp into the atrium, an edifice that looks as if the corner of a modernist skyscraper had somehow plowed its way into Wright's round museum.
Wrights famous bays are completely empty.
Its a grand gesture on a properly institutional scale, a masterful incidence of Burens signature "institutional critique." Plus, its pretty and. . . French.
A French official was heard complaining that the Guggenheim never shows French artists, though the museum did try to mount a Czanne show this year (couldn't get the loans) and it did have an exhibition of Robert Delaunay's paintings of the Eiffel Tower in 1998 -- it seems like just yesterday. One of the side galleries, as a kind of esthetic adjunct, is filled with 20 of Buren's trademark stripe canvases from the 1960s and '70s, now in the collection of the Muse d'art moderne de la Ville de Paris.
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Manhattan art dealer Jack Tilton got his start with the legendary Betty Parsons. Now, after a decade or two doing business out of the basement of his SoHo gallery, he's relocated into a townhouse on East 76th Street (with a light-filled office on the second floor). "It's more like Europe," he said, noting that his neighbors include Michael Werner and C&M Arts. The house has its history -- Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt got married there. Plus, the financials make sense. Today, its easier to buy an Upper East Side townhouse than a parking lot in Chelsea.
The premiere show celebrates 22 years, and ranges from an early painting of an earthworm from the 1970s by Kiki Smith to some new cardboard models of abstract sculptures by Thomas Kiesewetter. In one corner is a painting of two children by Marlene Dumas, one of the artists Tilton represents. In the gallery, Dumas paintings go for about $200,000, though the pictures sell for much more at auction. Market observers were flabbergasted when Dumas' The Teacher, a 1987 painting of a class photograph -- 22 kids with multicolored faces -- sold for $3.3 million in London last month.
The astonishing run-up in the value of Dumas' works is credited in part to her subject matter -- a lyrical approach to the South African racial gumbo -- and the fact that Charles Saatchi seems to have purchased three of the top-selling Dumas works at auction: Feathered Stola (2000) for $308,000 at Christie's London in June 2003; Young Boys (1993) for $993,600 at Phillips in May 2004; and Julie, die Vrou (1985) for $1,239,500 at Christie's New York in November 2004.
Coming up at Tilton is a show of works by the neo-Body Artist Patty Chang.
Around the corner from Tilton is Michael Werner Gallery, in Leo Castelli's old digs on East 77th Street. On view there is a series of paintings from 2004 by Jrg Immendoff -- possibly the last autograph works by the artist, who has ALS. They seem remarkably controlled, as if in compensation. In the '80s, of course, Immendorff made his mark with his "Caf Deutschland" series of Neo-Expressionist allegories of German society. (Price range is $75,000-$130,000.)
The new paintings are iconographic and autobiographical. The largest painting in the show adapts the imagery of Drer's mysterious Melencolia I etching (1514), with its imposing allegorical figure of Geometry, holding dividers and looking puzzled (thought by Erwin Panofsky to represent the gloomy artistic temperament, "born under Saturn," though more recently interpreted as an illustration of Socrates' Greater Hippias, his treatise on beauty). Immendorff's painting also features what could be a large figure of child chasing a bird, or perhaps a dancing bear -- the artist? -- rendered as a white, blurred form, like a ghost.
Two other paintings use an image from a medieval print that shows a young bride reaching into the gold-filled purse of her aged husband, possibly a reference to Immendorff's own situation -- his wife is young and beautiful -- or even his recent notoriety, which found him in a hotel room with nine prostitutes [see "Artnet News," July 29, 2004].
Many of the paintings have a background pattern that looks like frottage made with bubble wrap, which resembles honeycomb. "Immen" is an old German word for "bees," and Immendorff likes to refer to bees and honey in his works.
The painting titles, too, are complex puns. Da Wesen, for instance, is not a proper German expression but could refer to the exclamation, Da sind Wesen (There are creatures!), or to the word dagewesen, which means "was here," a possible reference to mortality. Then again, as is pointed out by Artnet Magazine German correspondent Barbara Weidle, the title could reference a famous painting by Sigmar Polke that, in classic avant-garde mockery of artistic inspiration, was named Higher Creatures Command: Paint the Upper Corner Black!
Down the block at Leo Castelli Gallery are new paintings by the 75-year-old Robert Morris, an artist who did his part to put the macho in Minimalism and Postminimalism (he once posed for an Artforum ad pumped up and bare-chested, wearing biker glasses and chains). Titled "Small Fires and Mnemonic Nights," the show includes perhaps a dozen modestly sized, exactly done encaustics of both interior and exterior domestic scenes at night, that resemble Edward Gorey channeled through Edward Hopper as recorded in an 20th-century art history textbook.
They're quite good, though not very trendy (then again, with the figurative revival raging from Leipzig to Zach Feuer Gallery, maybe they are). The work reproduced on the gallery card shows a painting turned to the wall, easy to read as a premonition of the end. Another work, titled Boy's Room, includes boy-sized urinals, though theyre not signed "R. Mutt." Still another painting has an American flag hanging on the wall, Jasper Johns-style, though a fire on the horizon is visible out the window, reinstalling politics in the Pop masters notoriously affectless oeuvre. Politics have frequently played a role in Morris's art; one picture, called War News, shows a '40s tube radio with a tank passing by in the shadows outside, an obvious reference to current events.
Also uptown is a show of 1970s Color Field painting at Jacobson Howard Gallery on East 76th Street, featuring classic works of "color as structure" by Jules Olitski, Anthony Caro, Helen Frankenthaler, Kenneth Noland, Frank Stella and others. These works, like other art movements of the 1960s and '70s, now have a unity and focus that is refreshing, and rare today. . . . Uta Scharf opens her new gallery on East 76th Street with a show of small, shamanistic (read druggy?) abstractions by veteran New York artist Chris Martin, whose long resume includes shows at Pierogi in Brooklyn, John Good Gallery in the '90s and Diane Brown in 1988. The 50-year-old artist has an "unbelievable following among his fellow artists," Scharf said.
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Downtown in Chelsea, Robert Gober can do no wrong, and his installation at Matthew Marks Gallery on West 22nd Street is discussed in hushed tones -- the note of HIV religiosity is a turn-on. The gallery is like a darkened chapel, with a headless Christ on the cross, with double arches of water spouting out of his breasts into a hole chopped in the concrete floor. To either side are wooden bathroom doors, which open only a crack to reveal a waxworks figure, from the legs down, taking a bath. People love this stuff. Is that Salvadore Dals lobster telephone I hear ringing?
The slight art gestures of Martin Creed are irresistible for their dorky good humor, Zen simplicity and plain old vulgarity -- despite being a retread of Conceptual art ideas from 30 years ago. Typically, then, Creed's new show at GBE over in Greenwich Village includes a crumpled ball of paper under a plastic vitrine (Work No. 301), done in an edition of three; two small piles of lumber subtitled "lengths of wood" (Work No. 396 and Work No. 395) and a four-foot-tall stack of 4 x 8 plywood sheets subtitled "plywood" (Work No. 387); and a white neon sign reading "assholes' in six-inch-tall capital letters (Work No. 398), done in an edition of three.
Also included is a sheet of standard white copy paper bearing the words "from none take one add one make none" (Work No. 141), produced in an edition of 10; an audiotape of farting sounds (Work No. 401); and an eight-minute-long double mini-DVD video installation of, literally, "ships coming in" (Work No. 405). The exhibition is, in all likelihood, the most extensive look at Creed's oeuvre in the U.S. so far.
Meanwhile, uptown, the Conceptual Art pioneer Lawrence Weiner has installed a suite of new works -- words and phrases painted on the wall -- at Marian Goodman Gallery that seem to be about traveling, "en route" to "another time" and "another state.' Some conceptual artists style themselves as professors, more recent versions play the fool, but Weiner has always seemed to be something of a hippie. The era's right, anyway -- he was born in 1940 -- and this shows bright slogans point towards a peculiarly American search for higher consciousness. (Drawings can be had for about $20,000, and major wall installations start at $75,000.)
Eric Fischl's suite of six new paintings at Mary Boone Gallery in Chelsea are a continuation of the theme that has preoccupied him for several years, a Neo-Ex investigation of the sexual psychology of an art-collector couple, a theme that's too apropos to our time. They are priced at $450,000 each, with three marked sold during the first week. As one wag said, "I toured all Chelsea, and the only paintings that were available were Eric Fischl's!"
Indeed, according to gossip, the Boone was irked when New York magazine recently reported, erroneously, that Fischl is represented by Larry Gagosian, who, the story goes, can easily sell the painter's canvases for $450,000 on the West Coast while Boone struggles to find buyers at that level here. Fischl is said to be anxious to leave, but Mary can be very convincing, people say.
In any case, on a more recent visit to the gallery, all the paintings were marked "sold."
But there is no shortage of talent, as everyone knows. According to her website, Boone has added three new artists to her stable: geometric-realist painter Brian Alfred, formerly of Max Protetch Gallery; geometric-abstract painter Andy Collins, who has showed with Marc Foxx in L.A.; and dreamy figurative painter Chie Fueki, who last showed in New York at Bill Maynes Gallery.
Idly, in this vein, 303 Gallery has picked up weird landscape photographer Florian Maier-Aichen, who shows with Blum & Poe in L.A., along with goofy figure painter Edgar Bryan, a veteran of the recent "The Undiscovered Country" painting exhibition at the Hammer Museum. Photographer Tim Davis, who showed with Brent Sikkema, has moved to Greenberg Van Doren. From the Gorney Bravin + Lee stable, photographer Justine Kurland has gone to Mitchell-Innes & Nash, odd cartographer Paul Noble to Gagosian, California butch photographer Catherine Opie to Barbara Gladstone Gallery and postmodernist photographer James Welling to David Zwirner. And Minneapolis photograph Alec Soth, who has showed at Wohnmaschine in Berlin and Yossi Milo in New York, has signed with Gagosian Gallery.
Speaking of Gagosian, everything is larger than life at Damien Hirst's show of Photorealist paintings of images from medical magazines at the superdealer's 24th Street kunsthalle, which the New York Times reported two weeks ago had all been sold for $250,000-$2,000,000. Its a good thing, as far as Hirst's fortunes go, that the critics' opinions no longer matter! You can still buy a Hirst t-shirt with a skull on it for $40.
More charming is the installation of paintings by Ellen Berkenblit in the back space at Anton Kern Gallery, 10 works done during a residency at Giverny. The paintings are large for Berkenblit, who has tended to work on an intimate scale, and have real heft -- her colors are brighter and bolder than ever. The artist's cartoon avatars, a fuzzy bear and a pug-nosed girl, are still present, and lend their cartoony feel to the overall abstract motifs. Curiously, after a visit to Monet's French gardens, Berkenblit's work looks more like that of the ultimate American, Stuart Davis. The paintings are priced in the $4,000-$8,000 range.
"In Word Only," the recent exhibition at Cheim & Read focusing on word paintings and drawings by Jean-Michel Basquiat, overseen by the brilliant Richard Marshal, magically rehabilitated the artist's less popular "word works," in which the young artist gave vent to a pseudo-autistic graphomania. Suddenly, Basquiat is literary as well as primitivist. I asked one of Jean-Michel's boyhood friends to explain the origins of his art, but he was resolutely demystifying. "He took cocaine and sat around copying the liner notes on jazz albums," the friend said. Hardly the crucible of genius -- but the kid was obsessed, and people liked him, so. . . .
Spotted at "Greater New York," private dealer Thea Westreich, sitting in the caf and taking notes. She lent one of the fave works to the show, Jamie Isenstein's performance installation Magic Fingers. . . . Also out at P.S.1, legendary Avalanche editor Willoughby Sharp, admiring the new talent, including a sculpture by Valerie Hegarty of a beech tree apparently bursting through the hallway wall like a ruptured water pipe. . . . At the Scope Art Fair, Water Mill art dealer Sara Nightingale gave over her room to manic sculptor Rachel Owens, who had a hit with a series of small "flowers" made from shards of broken wine bottles, priced at $300-$800.
Bootleg artist Eric Doeringer out on West 24th Street in Chelsea on a chilly Saturday with some new wares, including miniature rubber Maurizio Cattelan "self-portraits," packaged in bags of five ($100), and some cut-plastic versions of Jeff Koons' stuffed-animal-head mirrors ($80). . . . At Matthew Marks Gallery on West 24th Street, a print of Michael Jackson by Gary Hume, complete with butchered nose and one eye that looks like the CBS logo. Its $5,000 in an edition of 80. . . . Could it be true that Marks is taking only five percent on sales from his forthcoming Jasper Johns show? And happy to have it!
WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.