A Wall Street truism claims that when the bear market raises up its fearsome head, money flees the volatile world of stocks for safer climes -- gold, land, jewelry, even art.
The Artnet Insider doesn't deal in investment advice. Still, your correspondent couldn't help but notice a recent Cindy Adams column in the New York Post, in which the famed yenta offered an art-market nugget of her own.
Cindy quoted Old Master dealer Alec Wildenstein as saying, "When the stock market's down, people need other places to put money. Real estate follows the market, gold is flat, so the only alternatives are diamonds or art."
Now, if art and real estate are good in a recession, then art that depicts real estate -- landscapes, cityscapes and the like -- should be even better. Hell, as long as we're at it, let's keep an eye out for pictures of jewelry and gold, as well.
As it happens, a survey of the new exhibitions in Artnet.com's online gallery network discovers all kinds of evidence for this errant thesis. At Hammer Galleries on East 57th Street in New York is a show of new cityscapes by Robert Neffson, on view Apr. 2-28, 2001. In this outing, Neffson favors sidewalk views of congested New York Streets -- works titled Chinatown, Broadway and Canal, Fifty-Seventh Street and Fifth Avenue. The scene is hard, gritty and awash in commerce, as if to rally investor confidence -- business is good.
Other artists give us landscapes that invite us to step back in time, and enter a world of hazy summer pleasures, a world free of worry and care. Josef Tali's painting The Country, included in an exhibition of the "New Russian Classical School" at the Hilligoss Galleries in Chicago and the Studio of Long Grove in Long Grove, Ill., shows a woman in white carrying a parasol, feeding a flock of ducks on a country path by a pink cottage nestled in a poplar grove.
Similarly, Peter Kuhfeld's painting, The View from Saltwinds, which is included in his exhibition of "Recent Paintings," Mar. 28-Apr. 11, 2001, at W. H. Patterson Fine Arts Limited in London, is a concise image of summer lushness and leisure. From the scenic lookout in the foreground with its inviting lawn furniture to the beach and blue sea beyond, a more reassuring picture is hard to imagine.
Other contemporary works on view this month, however, position the bear-obsessed viewer in a more dystopic landscape. Michal Rovner's digitally manipulated photographs, on exhibition at Shoshana Wayne Gallery in Los Angeles, Mar. 31-Apr. 28, 2001, can be especially bleak. These images were taken in the Israeli desert -- and as such can't help but suggest the Old Testament journey of the Jews, tested and punished by their God. Rovner has shown at the Tate and the Stedelijk and is scheduled to exhibit at the Whitney in 2002.
A second photographer whose images include haunted, empty spaces is Michael Prince, whose show "Dreams and Memories" is on view at Apex Fine Art in Los Angeles, Apr. 6-May 19, 2001. A Brooklyn-based artist, Prince makes small (3 x 5 in.) silver gelatin prints of formal simplicity but iconic significance. The atmosphere is dark, ominous. Fences, shadows, distant skylines -- could our material assets, like our lives, be slipping through our fingers?
Another limner of the dystopic landscape is Jock McFadyen, whose paintings are on view at Agnew's in London, Mar. 29-27, 2001. His taste is for dilapidated, vernacular architecture, buildings whose overall impression is one of poverty and abandonment. Curiously, the distressed buildings of McFadyen's scenes are particularly welcoming to painterly means. It's as if the expressiveness on canvas could be somehow redeeming in the fresh air.
Even Gerwald Rockenschaub, an artist known for his fecund investigations of color and abstraction, gets into the barren-landscape act with an untitled work in his current show at Galleria Massimo Minini in Brescia, Italy, Apr. 7-May 11, 2001. Done in the rather exotic medium of color foil on alucore, the work shows a lonely Seguaro cactus -- in magenta -- on a gray desert against an ecru sky. Got some money to invest? Could we interest you in a nice desert tract...
When the economy grumbles, however, my favorite mode to watch is the kind of "still life" sculpture pioneered by Arte Povera -- a few rocks, a pile of rags, a bundle of newspapers in a chipped enamel basin. "Poor art," the name says it all. At the Fredric Snitzer Gallery in Miami, the Miami artist Cooper presents an installation called "Our American Cousin" that embraces a culture of poverty, with materials that include a cardboard box full of mud, a rolled-up blanket and a strip of carpet.
Another artist in the Arte Povera vein is Zoe Leonard, whose work is presently on view at Anthony Meier Fine Art in San Francisco. Leonard's photos and found objects take the idea of fine art and put it out into the world, where it gets used and scuffed with the markings of life (to paraphrase something Ad Reinhardt said about his black paintings). You just have to remember, in art as in your pension fund, it's all about the long term.