Something about Easter just brings out the redemptive impulse. While the William Blake exhibition carries its wacky message of spiritual unshacklement up at the Metropolitan Museum, the artists and designers with shows at downtown galleries seem a little more practical.
At the Deitch Projects garage on Wooster Street, the savvy young designer Karim Rashid opened a big show of drawings and two large installations, a kind of endless settee configured like a roller coaster called Momo100Pink (first shown in the Belgian design biennial last summer) and a bumpy, white plastic lounging module titled Pleasurescape.
Rashid is the golden boy of new design, a Cairo-born Canadian who graduated from design school in Ottawa in 1982 and studied with Ettore Sottsass in Italy and worked with KAN Industrial Design in Canada before opening his own studio on 17th Street in New York in 1995.
The drawings lining the walls show complete command of the biomorphic forms of the streamline moderne revival. (They're for sale at $1,000 each, and a set of similar drawings has been acquired by the Cooper-Hewitt.) Effortless perspective sketches for chairs, furniture, glassware, plus designs for "one of" fashion favors for Issey Miyake, Prada and other top clients. The opening was awash in high-octane pink cocktails, courtesy Bombay Sapphire Gin, for whom Rashid had designed a martini glass.
"It's a convergence of design with art," said dealer Jeffrey Deitch, noting the art-to-design crossover work of Jorge Pardo and Tobias Rehberger. "With Karim, the touch is direct from what's in the mind to a kind of drawing in space, I love that." Deitch noted that he had admired Rashid's work and after reading a profile of the designer in the New York Times had telephoned him. "I was waiting for you to call," Rashid said. Now Rashid is designing a hotel for a Deitch client in Greece and working on several other projects with the dealer.
While Rashid's designs are undeniably sleek and chic, the Dutch design cooperative Atelier van Lieshout takes a more post-Unibomber, Whole Earth Catalogue sort of route in its show at Jack Tilton/Anna Kustera Gallery around the corner. Atelier van Lieshout is a collective of artists, designers, carpenters and builders based in Rotterdam and headed by 38-year-old Joep van Lieshout. Since 1995, the group has been building its own village, dubbed AVL-Ville, a "free state" with its own flag, money and constitution -- slated to open to the public for guided tours on Apr. 28.
In the front of the gallery is a huge fiberglass Blue Compost Toilet ($22,500) that towers over the visitor. Mix your human waste with hay and other biodegradables, and bingo, one year later you've got fertilizer for the garden. A little further along is a large communal dining table ($7,000) with 16 chairs ($600 each) and a big, platform-style Multi-Woman Bed ($9,000) made out of two-by-fours. Could it be that in this autonomous state only the ladies sleep together in litters, while the guys take their bedrolls outside?
Further along are two M80 mortars ($7,500) and several hand-colored prints of drawings for same ($1,400). In the back is the Sex Machine, a trio of stiff Styrofoam figures with dangerous-looking mechanized inserts for their sexual orifices. The utopian vision has some dark clouds. What's with the mortars? "It's Charlie Manson style," said Tilton. "Or Heaven's Gate with no Nike sneakers."
Up in Chelsea, the theme of the day is the vicissitudes of genius. Sean Landers, an artist who has brought navel-gazing to new artistic heights in text paintings, a book (the now out-of-print Sic) and a CD, is now determined to get some street cred for his painting ability. And what better way to claim a place among the Olympians than by comparing yourself to Picasso -- god knows, it worked for Julian Schnabel!
Three mural-sized paintings, all dated 2001, plus several smaller works, fill the Andrea Rosen gallery, creating an environment of colorful, classic Picasso pastiches. Sean, which measures 90 by 108 inches, begins with the artist's first name written in a cursive hand and converts it into a dense late Cubist space of lavender, moss, pink and tan shapes. The 86 by 214 inch Genius renders a shallow architectural space with a red floor, pink walls, several amoeboid Picasso people and some Looney-Tune-type parlor furniture that happens to spell out the painting's title.
At 102 by 264 inches, War and Peace is the showpiece of bunch, combining imagery from Picasso's Guernica -- this time in bright primary colors -- with Landers' own inventions. "He knows how to play with his Picasso," marveled dealer Margaret Murray. "It's a typical dealer's trick, you know -- Leslie Waddington would hang a Picasso next to his young pretender, to see how the new kid would stand up."
Picasso as channeled by Landers stands up rather well. The works are priced at $55,000, $42,000 and $75,000, respectively, with smaller ones going for $38,000-$42,000. Also available, a compact disc of Dear Picasso, which plays in the gallery, featuring music by Samuel Barber (it was also used on the Vietnam War movie Platoon) with a voiceover by Landers, for $15 cash or $20 credit card.
Another artist fond of proclaiming his own genius was Salvador Dalí, who is the focus of "Your Humble Servant the Genius," a collaborative exhibition by Elisabeth Kley and Rob Wynne at Rupert Goldsworthy Gallery. Kley's ink wash portraits of a ferociously grimacing Dalí -- which look a bit like they are influenced by the style of comic great Stan Lee -- are copied freehand from various sources, including the rare 1969 TV film narrated by Orson Welles, Soft Self-Portrait. They're a bargain at $800, and go exceptionally well with Wynne's works, which render a text by Dalí about flies -- "I adore flies. I am only happy in the sun, naked and covered with flies. Etc." -- by sewing it into transparent paper, the extra threads forming a looping arabesque. It's a great poem.
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April 14 was the final day for the show of works by Hans Breder, "Body/Sculpture 1965-1973" at Mitchell Algus Gallery on Thompson Street in SoHo. Breder was an early "inter-media" artist who went out the University of Iowa in Iowa City in 1969 -- they thought he said he could teach "intermediate" art -- and stayed there, using a $5 million Rockefeller Foundation grant to build the progressive Center for New Performing Art. Among the 1970s avant-garde talents that made the trek to corn country were Scott Burton, Marjorie Strider and Robert Wilson, who developed Deafman's Glance there and took half the grad students with him when he departed.
More recently, Breder's students have included Charles Ray and Ana Mendieta. "We were lovers first," Breder said. "Then she began taking classes." Breder's show at Algus included a large 1969 prop piece of two clear plastic slabs, called Ordered by Telephone -- it's title reflects the early Conceptual era attitude towards process -- and a classic 1965 work of two mirrored steel cubes sitting on a black-and-white striped surface ($15,000).
But most impressive are the "Body Sculpture" photographs from the early 1970s, which document neo-Surrealist performances of nudes posing outdoors with disorienting square mirrors ($2,500-$3,500). Not too many vintage prints remain. "It was about the experience of doing things," Breder said. "Today, the first thing students do is document everything." Breder has retired from his teaching post, and is now back in New York, where he recently did a performance with projections at the Experimental Intermedia space over on Centre Street in SoHo.
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Los Angeles video artist Diana Thater has transformed David Zwirner gallery in SoHo into a theater of color for her current show, for which she covered the gallery windows with a mauve gel and the lights of successive galleries with blue, green and orange. Moonlight Blue Room shows a flying seagull on one of three monitors set face up in a cluster on the floor, while Moss Green Room features a plasma flat screen with trees rushing by ($34,000 and $18,000 respectively).
In the back gallery is Orange Room (Wallflowers), in which three video projectors shine a bouquet of quivering magenta chrysanthemums into the corner of the room, which is flooded with orange light. "They're flowers of death in France," someone said. "I like the way they shiver!" Thater's work is also currently on view at the Dia Center, and in "Public Offerings" at L.A. MOCA, "Bitstreams" at the Whitney and "Arcadia" at the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. This example is in an edition of two, and is priced at $32,000 -- without equipment.
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Also not to be missed are Al Souza's jigsaw-puzzle works at Charles Cowles Gallery on West 24th Street, which do something weird with our deconstructed, image-saturated culture. In the back the 50-something, Houston-based artist, who was one of the surprises of the last Whitney Biennial, has several "spitball pieces" made of a month's worth of the New York Times (I'll leave it to your imagination), plus several charming drawings made by cutting egg-shaped pieces out of successive sheets of music staff paper, graphs or maps. They're $2,000 each.
With Thater's flowers and Souza's puzzles, can we have some more kid's stuff? Sure. At Murray Guy, try a group show of three artists organized by Patrick Callery and called "Visibility, Fair." Look for the portraits of cats by the New York painter Bill Adams. One is called One Mean Pussy, but my favorite -- in keeping with the Easter season -- was Sorry, a 20 by 16 inch oil that is priced at $2,500.
And last but not least, photographer supreme Lee Friedlander opened a show of photographs of kids -- no, younger, even, of babies -- at Janet Borden on Broadway in SoHo. Not much to say about this, except to quote Janet -- "It's all about art! Kids have nothing to do with it!" The prints are in open editions, an priced at $2,600 ($2,700 framed). Plus, arguably one of the best shows to open last week was another Friedlander portrait exhibition, over at Andrea Rosen's back gallery. The selection presents pictures taken of a handful of subjects -- the photographer's wife, the painter R.B. Kitaj -- over several decades, and is amazing in its cumulative, human effect.
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Market report: Boston painter Ellen Gallagher's huge, hermetic canvases at Gagosian in Chelsea, dotted with googly eyes and liver lips, are sold out at prices ranging from $50,000 to $120,000, a gallery-sitter said. The critics seemed quiet about the show of nine works, titled "Blubber," though it garnered a modest appreciation in the New York Times from Holland Cotter on Friday, Apr. 13.
Terry Winters' works on paper looked quite good in Matthew Marks' sunlit second-floor gallery on West 24th Street. About 15 of them were marked "sold" with two weeks to go, at prices ranging from $9,000 for a black and white work to $18,000 for a large drawing in color. The grid of 24 drawings in black ink on small sheets exhibited over the receptionist's desk is also sold. Still available is a nice catalogue, priced at $30.
New York's own Damian Loeb sold out his show at Mary Boone in Chelsea, with the six horizontal "super-wides" (measuring, say, 36 by 168 inches) going for $55,000 each and the ten smaller, 20 by 20 inch works in the back going for $15,000. Loeb's realist paintings, reviewed earlier in these pages by Charlie Finch, are notable for the seamlessness of their surfaces as well as their blurriness, a lack of focus that seems to say, "keep your distance."
Mary Boone was at the front desk last Saturday, answering questions and generally entertaining gallery visitors. "Don't write anything bad," she cautioned me, noting a negative review from Peter Plagens' in Newsweek. The sage critic seems to think that Boone has "a turned-up nose right off those old 'Draw me and win a scholarship' matchbook covers" while artists Will Cotton and Loeb come off "like artists' equivalents of Freddie Prinze Jr. and Pauly Shore." Oh, well.
Odds and ends: Someone named Gail Caldwell of the Boston Globe took the Pulitzer for criticism for her "observations on life and literature." Phooey. Finalists included Christopher Knight of the Los Angeles Times and our own Village Voice critic Jerry Saltz. Art must be getting hip in masscultland, again.... Say good-bye to the Scharf Shak in SoHo, cartoon-artist Kenny Scharf's attempt to vend his trademark gewgaws from a former newsstand on Prince Street. It's morphing in time for summer into an outlet for Dean & Deluca coffee.... Regular moviegoers have already seen the trailer for Moulin Rouge, which opens May 18. It looks awful, despite haute couture modeled by Nicole Kidman. Star Ewan McGregor plays a poet, with John Leguizamo doing a walk-on as Toulouse-Lautrec.... Gossip Cindy Adams in the New York Post touting Hugo Boss goody bags for new four-story store at Fifth Avenue and 56th Street, opening May 1, with robes, fragrance, Jeff Koons book....
WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.