Summer has gathered the New York art scene into its balmy embrace, filling the galleries with sunshine and hints of vacations to come. At PaceWildenstein on 57th Street are the primordial sunbursts of Adolph Gottlieb, in the first show of major paintings by the artist since the estate moved over from Knoedler & Co. about a year ago.
Pace director Douglas Baxter was happy to get the pioneering Ab Ex theorist into the Pace stable alongside Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman, while the Gottlieb Foundation, which oversees the artist's work and also runs an estimable program of artist's fellowships, hopes that the artist's prices can catch up to those of his colleagues. Gottlieb's auction record, set last month, is $537,000; Rothko's is $14.3 million, and Newman, whose works rarely come to market, stands at $3 million.
About half of the 15 works in the Pace exhibition are sold at this writing -- many earmarked for museums -- at prices ranging from $25,000 for tiny two-color canvases marked with a severe cosmic sun to $1.25 million for Black, Blue, Red (1956), Gottlieb's first burst painting. Considering that it's beach season, don't overlook Petaloid (1962), a ca. 96 x 48 blue monolith in which the sunburst is replaced by a hippie-era flower symbol.
A museum is also reportedly the buyer for the oversized picnic Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen have laid out for us in the main gallery at PaceWildenstein in Chelsea, a giant pyramid of pears and peaches sitting, with similarly oversized paring knife, on a napkin on a large raked sand bed. Originally proposed as a monument to Balzac in Tours, the 25 x 37 ft. work is titled Balzac Petánque (2001) and fabricated out of painted stainless steel and cast epoxy.
Dancing banana peels have the second gallery, via a 14-ft. tall Floating Peel (2002) of bright yellow fiber-reinforced plastic, a smaller painted aluminum Model for a Mural and a pair of Oldenburg's exquisite drawings proposing the classic slapstick prop as both a monument for Stockholm Harbor and a lighthouse for New Zealand. Big pieces go for about half a million; major drawings have sold at auction for as much as $40,000.
Around the block at Gagosian Gallery are 10 new paintings by Ed Ruscha, much remarked upon large-scale images of Rorschach-style, bilaterally symmetrical snow-capped mountains, inscribed across the bottom with palindromes ("never odd or even," "lion in oil") and memorials (one to an 81-year-old knife sharpener). The mountain imagery speaks of greatness and heroism with unparalleled force.
In the back are still more paintings of books, which everyone finds especially enchanting, and old books themselves with new titles bleached out of their faded cloth covers. The artist's library is a good subject, too. Ruscha is king of the art market this month, with his paintings scoring new highs at auction (with the dwindling supply of works by "first rank" Pop artists Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein) of $2.5 million on May 13 and then $3.5 million on May 14. The gallery says everything in the show is sold, at prices ranging from $50,000 to $500,000.
Such good fortune smiles as well on married man Richard Prince, whose 15 new paintings at Barbara Gladstone Gallery are mostly sold at prices in the $80,000-$120,000 range, many to institutions. Not bad, considering that they're basically jokes about wives printed in block letters across the center of large soiled-looking monochrome canvases. The Guggenheim Museum supposedly bought the one about the wife who complained because her husband never spent time with her, and then she went home and there he was.
Another painting tells of the guy who put an ad in the paper reading "wife wanted" and got hundreds of replies -- from men saying, "you can have mine." Other jokes are about the man whose parents kept him in a closet for years ("I thought I was a suit") and a drunken President Lincoln, who wakes up and says "I freed who?" One painting has an old boot attached to its bottom edge, like an unlucky fisherman, and in the middle of the front gallery is a "sculpture" shaped like a concrete police barricade.
It's always useful to consider exhibitions as allegories of the art experience, and Prince's show suggests that it's like a bunch of guys standing around telling jokes at a "smoker." As Freud noted in Wit and its Relation to the Unconscious, and the dirty-joke chronicler Gershon Legman reiterated in No Laughing Matter: Rationale of the Dirty Joke (1968), sexual humor is aggressive in nature -- and the listener of the joke is its true target.
New York artists are famous for decamping to the beach, as is well-documented by Hamptons Bohemia, a new book reviewed by critic Eric Gibson in the Wall Street Journal on May 31. But the 1980s commodity-sculpture art star Ashley Bickerton did them all one better when he settled several years ago in Bali, by available reports spending all his time surfing and obsessing over his work.
The obsession pays off at Sonnabend with two new Bickerton works that glow with intensity. Jack Blaylock is an exquisitely airbrushed portrait of a local hodaddy, while Nia-Toni depicts some jungle Venus given the face of the artist's son. Both images are surrounded by an orderly montage of flotsam collected from the beach -- coconuts, driftwood, old flip-flops -- exceptionally picturesque stuff, for detritus.
In another Sonnabend gallery is a new series of color photos by Andrea Robbins & Max Becher that pair original Star Wars action figures from the 1970s side by side with today's versions of the same toys. It's a telling juxtaposition, as Hans Solo and Darth Vader seem to have grown much more muscular over the intervening 30 years -- the 21st century is the '70s on steroids. One exception is Princess Leia, who in our post-feminist times is dressed in a flowing gown instead of the macho body armor of times past.
As scantily clad as beach-goers may be, absolute nudity -- in America, at least -- is more likely to be found in the studio of photographers like Paolo Roversi, who was celebrated in the '80s for European fashion shots dramatically lit with contrasting red and blue lighting. For his show at Pace/MacGill, he serves up modestly sized, sepia-toned nudes, portraits and studio interiors -- art prints -- except this low-key treatment is accorded to models of professional beauty, to curious effect (a naked Milla Jovovich, for instance, is worth the price of admission). They're in editions of five, with three for sale, priced at $5,000, $5,000 and $7,000.
Mythical beauty -- sort of, anyway, since it involves passion for a female centaur -- is the subject of the show at Briggs Robinson Gallery on West 29th Street by the Hobbypop Museum, a collective of four 20-something artists who are living in the gallery while they build their model of New York as a scholar's republic. Their conceit is based on Arno Schmidt's 1957 utopian satire, The Egghead Republic (1957), in which a post-apocalyptic Caribbean island paradise is populated by mutants that are part human and part animal.
Only two days after the opening, the gallery was more than half-filled with some large paintings and constructions describing events in Schmidt's novel. It all seems pretty casual, with the exception of several small drawings of human-centaur romance that have a certain . . . heat.
In distinct contrast to all this celebration of air, fire and water, the earth element awakens at Robert Miller with the muscular paintings of the 50-year-old School of London painter Tony Bevan. His Brutalist images of timbered halls and expressive gargantuan heads, particularly those that seem to be giants awakening from slumber, have very much a Druidic feel of seasonal fertility rites. A smaller work on paper can be had for $8,000; large paintings go for up to $70,000.
Abstract painting is an elemental combination of earth, air, fire and water, or so one could poetically argue. Perhaps Ludwig Wittgenstein came to the same conclusion in his Remarks on Color, a posthumous collection of aphorisms and thoughts that lends its title to the current group show at Sean Kelly Gallery, and that also provides the text for a long video by Gary Hill -- a straightforward tape of his charming eight-year-old daughter reading the text out loud.
A pleasant enough way to pass the time, to be sure. Out in the main gallery are several drop-dead works, including a column of lemon-yellow sewed cloth pads by Louise Bourgeois, made just this year, plus a mobile made of agate slices framed in stainless steel by Christine Borland and a disorienting dark-blue-flock-covered concave disk by Anish Kapoor.
Abstraction is the regular fare at Gary Snyder Fine Art, whose expansive two-level space at 29th Street and 11th Avenue currently features paintings by the 77-year-old Californian Karl Benjamin and the late second generation Abstract Expressionist Norman Bluhm in "Ideal Abstraction: 1955-1965." Benjamin's work, a syncopation of color squares and rectangles, originally inspired critic Jules Langsner to coin the phrase "hard edge painting."
At Von Lintel Gallery on West 25th Street are new paintings by Stephen Ellis, who once earned his living as an art critic and now makes hard-edge abstractions in what could be called a plaid format. It sounds simple, but in fact they're some of the most problematized, contrary geometric abstraction being made today, in which color, texture and even pigment itself become elements of thought. The 48 x 40 in. works, done in oil and alkyd on linen, are $12,000 each.
By contrast, the young painter Yeardley Leonard, in her debut show at Dee/Glasoe on West 22nd Street, sets her geometric color chips free, building them up in a kind of heap in the pictorial space with a whimsy that recalls Paul Klee. The scale of the works is similarly restrained, though the artist's success does not seem to be, as all eight paintings were on reserve at the opening (at $5,000 each). She's also featured in the cover story on hot new painting in Chelsea in the June issue of Art & Auction -- think there's any connection? In the rear gallery are photographs of an experimental utopian community under construction in Malaysia by Miranda Lichtenstein.
Down the block, in Cheim & Read's chapel-like space are still more abstract paintings by Juan Uslé, large nine-foot-tall canvases covered with horizontal rows of feathered gray paint, looking not unlike a plowed field. The group in the main gallery, titled Soñe que Revelabas (I Dreamt that You Showed Yourself), "shimmer with energy," according to Grace Glueck in the New York Times. The show was to end on June 1, but has been extended two weeks as Donald Baechler's exhibition was postponed, as he moves into new studio, people say.
A more cosmic vantage occupies the painter Jonathan Feldschuh, who trained as a physicist before becoming an artist. His new works at Cynthia Broan on West 14th Street use bright sign-painter's enamel to create images of solar storms and galactic radiation, all based on images taken from space by orbiting scientific observatories. Several are sold at prices ranging from $4,000 to $8,000.
By the end of the day, the young Brooklyn-based artist Eric Doeringer was packing up his sidewalk display on West 24th Street. Doeringer has already made a name for himself among regular gallery-goes for selling "bootlegs," or small replicas of works by successful contemporary artists, made by mounting color printouts of the artworks on canvas and covering the whole thing with gel. Prices start at $40 dollars, and they "do quite well," says the artist -- who opens a show of the works at Caren Golden Gallery on June 15, 2002.