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by Walter Robinson
|The sap is rising, spring rains are falling and avant-garde thoughts can't help but take on a distinctly hedonistic cast. It's the life force, loose in the art world. Witness, some exhibits:
* German art giant Michael Werner threw a big party last week to inaugurate his new gallery at 4 West 77nd Street, in Leo Castelli's old townhouse space, with a show of 30-odd late works by Francis Picabia. Picabia, with all his embracing figures, was clearly stuck on a Hollywood notion of romance, though Art in America editor Marcia Vetrocq spied a bitterness about Picasso, Masson and the course of post-war art in Picabia's intense grotesqueries. The works are priced between $75,000 and $950,000. Note to artists, the newest ones here are about 50 years old, so keep dragging those unsold pix around with you for the rest of your lives!
* Superdealer Jeffrey Deitch opened sexy new shows in two of his three SoHo gallery spaces on Apr. 15 -- lurid color photos of a naked group performance led by Chinese American body artist Zhang Huan at the Grand Street annex, and hardcore porno images done in multicolored stitches by Ghada Amer at Deitch's refurbished 18 Wooster Street garage.
Huan's show consists of eight large color photos, a large three-panel photo mural and a mesmerizing videotape -- all documenting the same 1999 performance, called Hard to Acclimatize. On a three-tiered theater set, Huan's horde of naked Seattleans performed an elaborate ritual, part tai chi, part yoga, part sacred Tibetan rite, part Riverdance, that ends with the actors pelting the artist with what seems like a year's worth of bread loaves.
Huan is very serious about the work, despite its comic potential. "America very beautiful," he told an admirer. "America very hard for me." Huan is from the Helan section of central China, someone told me, but already has a green card and lives in Queens. How much are the works? "I don't know," said a harried gallery staffer. "Everything was so last minute."
Amer's festive opening featured a Middle Eastern Oud trio serenading viewers, who wandered through the hangar-like space, which has a kind of long mezzanine section as well as a raised balcony gallery. Amer has shown several times before at Annina Nosei in Chelsea. At least 15 large paintings, inflected with Ab-Ex paint marks as well as the elaborate x-rated sewings, are on view here, priced from $10,000 to $40,000. Small drawings, displayed in a cubicle-like space under the balcony, begin at $1,500, but they were all sold at last month's Armory Show art fair.
* Swiss miss Pipilotti Rist is the new art-world pash after her show of multiple video projections at Luhring Augustine. Everyone loves her hypnotic gray eyes, pixie face and bottle-blonde hair with dark eyebrows (paging Kim Novak), as she gazes intently into the camera, which swirls through the space surrounding her body in a literal l'amour fou. It's all about the camera eye. One particularly yummy loop has the camera swan diving right down the gullet of a young woman. Plus, there's her motley fashion sense, very Todd Oldham, featuring oilcloth patterns -- gingham checks, polka dots, posies.
It's the first U.S. gallery show of a major European talent. Is there anything to buy? The apartment installation that fills the main gallery, with its couches, tables and lamps all doubling as video projectors, is $325,000, and was still available on Saturday. The three video projections (described so sweetly last week by Charlie Finch in Pipilottipoetri) are $70,000 to $80,000.
In a stroke of marketing genius, the bathroom installation, in which viewers can sit on a toilet and watch a screen showing where the sun don't shine, is for sale in an edition of 25, for $25,000 each. "We want to spread it around," said Lawrence Luhring.
* There's always been something erotic about the voyeuristic glass pavilions of cardinal conceptualist Dan Graham, who opened a show of new ones at Marian Goodman last week. Especially alluring is the model for a swimming pool in deep ultramarine with a separate glass-walled gold-fish pond. Another pavilion, walled in Graham's trademark solarized glass (it's both reflective and transparent), takes the yin-yang shape, with one side paved with white pebbles and the other a turquoise wading pool. What a bliss spa!
Not everything is wine and roses. In Scandinavia it's still winter, and Finnish filmmaker Eija-Liisa Ahtila unspools Consolation Service, a 23-minute, twin-screen DVD film at Klemens Gasser & Tanja Grunert, the Chelsea gallery that you enter by walking up a long concrete auto ramp on 19th Street. The movie is impeccably done, a real Nouvelle Vague-type narrative, with arguing marrieds and falls through the ice. At one comic point, husband and wife bark at each other to express their anger. "Interior and exterior disasters," noted pioneer performance artist Carolee Schneemann when asked about the works. "Different kinds of toxicity."
Things are pretty dark at Matthew Marks on 24th Street, too, where Nayland Blake has an installation that features images of tar-bunnies crucified on meathooks and a claustrophobic projection of a performance in a bunny costume. Yikes.
Collectors continue to snap up work by new painters who promise to be serious art-world players. All ten paintings by Gordon Terry have been spoken for -- price, $6,000-$8,000 -- at Bronwyn Keenan gallery over on Crosby at the edge of Chinatown. Terry pours acrylic paint out onto a glass table, swirls it around into storms of chemical pink, aqua and turquoise, and mounts the result on acrylic stretchers -- so it's 100 percent plastic. A RISD grad who lives in Brooklyn, Terry is having his second show at Bronwyn's.
New enamel Photo Realist paintings on metal by Marilyn Minter at XL Xavier LaBoulbenne on West 22nd, are images of green-painted fingernails, armpits, braces and the like that have a kinky frisson. They're $16,000 each, but may all be sold by now.
Rubble blooms lovely in "Rubble Land," an exhibition by Madeleine Hatz at Florence Lynch at 147 West 29th. Hatz has rubble in every variation -- sections of wall, a single fragment on a plinth, a floor installation. And paintings that are the apotheosis of rubble, which seems to swirl up to heaven through multicolored clouds. "Rubble is everywhere," proclaimed the Swedish-born New Yorker. "Think of the pyramids!" Price ranges from $1,200 for a small work up to $14,000 for a big pile.
Alan Sonfist at Jeffrey Coploff Fine Art in the Chelsea Fine Arts Building on West 26th Street, whose Gene Bank (1975) preserves samples of flora from a Paris park, in case we want to recreate the city of light's primordial past. Originally exhibited in Documenta 7, the work is $25,000 now.
Jeff Crane at Silverstein Gallery with an installation that includes a giant blue monochrome canvas, some homemade toy blocks on the floor and a giant concrete cloud hanging from the ceiling on a silver chain. It's called Project Venus and is $6,000.
Identity politics runs riot throughout "Reservation X," a show of seven Indian artists at the National Museum of American Indian down at the Custom House in Battery Park. There's sculpture made of dried corn cobs, carved tree roots, chairs and blackboards from a reservation school. The artists are identified by tribe -- Tuscarora, Seminole, Tewa, Mohawk. The show is up through Aug. 20, and admission is free.
One way to buy art: Pioneering Brooklyn gallery Momenta Art has launched its benefit raffle, in which a $150 ticket guarantees a work, by Sue de Beer, Diana Cooper, Dan Graham, Laurie Hogin, Robert Longo, Michelle Lopez, Rebecca Quaytman, many others. What a bargain! Drawing is May 1. For more info call (718) 218-8058.
Look for P.S. 1 to mount an "Evian waterfall" down its front steps, courtesy of postmodernist popster Rob Pruitt, opening Apr. 30... Look for the Smithsonian Institution to do a paint-by-numbers show in March 2001, much of it drawn from the fab collection of art director Trey Speegle.
Been missing the prose stylings of New York Times chief art critic Michael Kimmelman? He's been off on a three-month sabbatical at Columbia University for art journalists, which comes with an office and a $30,000 stipend. But never fear, it's over now and his byline should soon reappear... Super '80s painter David Salle, his East Hampton view blocked by a giant mansion under construction by super-rich Renco chief Ira Rennert, moves into 10th Street Manhattan townhouse... Success has its dangers -- several hot young artists have developed a taste for the white stuff, say insiders. But if not them, who?
Movie star news: Beanpole Linda Fiorentino plays buxom Georgia O'Keeffe in forthcoming Till the End of Time. Ben Kingsley is Alfred Stieglitz.