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by Walter Robinson
 
     
 
Jean-Léon Gérôme
The Slave Market
1866
 
Henry Ossawa Tanner
Christ Appearing to Nicodemus
1899
 
Charles M. Russell
Keeoma
1896
 
The parking lot at MASS MoCA
 
Catherine Chalmers
Food Chain
1994-96
at MASS MoCA
 
Kiki Smith
Constellation
1996
at MASS MoCA
 
Tim Hawkinson
Uberorgan
2000
at MASS MoCA
 
Eve Fowler
Untitled
2000
at Geoffrey Young
 
Mr. Ding-a-Ling
at Fox-Martin
 
Cindy Sherman
at Horowitz
 
Early Work of Cindy Sherman
 
Willem de Kooning
works from the '80s at Guild Hall
 
Peter Schlesinger
at the Parrish
 
Betty Parsons
Abstract Sculpture
ca. 1972-73
at the Parrish
 
Jameson Ellis and Jill Musnicki
with work by Sabina Streeter at Vail House, Sag Harbor
 
Painting by Jameson Ellis
at Vail House, Sag Harbor
 
Silk doublet
1620-25
with "pinking" slashes
at the Met
 
Hey kids! Do you know where your parents are? They're in the country, flocking in droves to museums like the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Mass., and MASS MoCA in North Adams.

The Clark especially has benefited from recent raves in both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal for its floridly titled "Noble Dreams Wicked Pleasures" exhibition of Orientalism in the U.S, 1870-1930, on view through Sept. 4. The topic is wider than one might think, encompassing the Shriners, Rudolph Valentino and "Fatima" cigarettes as well as high-art images of Ali Baba and the Arabian Nights.

The Clark itself owns some of the most famously kinky paintings -- John Singer Sargent's druggy Smoke of Ambergris (1880), and Jean-Léon Gérôme's homoerotic Snake Charmer (1880) and his debased The Slave Market (1866), in which four robed Arabs examine a naked and coquettish girl. Gérôme isn't American, of course, but who can resist the lure of these "examples."

Orientalism isn't all harem girls -- religion is there, too, in Frederic Edwin Church's grand view of Jerusalem (1870) and Henry Ossawa Tanner's devout, Palestinian Christ Appearing to Nicodemus (1899).

William Merritt Chase's The Moorish Warrior (1878) is exotic hip-hop macho a century ahead of itself. Best of all is Charles M. Russell's Keeoma (1896), in which the famed cowboy artist imagines a sultry Native American odalisque reclining in her teepee, included in a subsection of the show called "Near East and the Wild West." Did someone say the Indians came from Asia?

Great stuff. The painters seem more interested in costume than colonialism, but who knows? It's especially curious to see this 100-year-old internationalism now, in the post-Communist era of the global American Regency -- a period that is also seeing a new globalism in the art market as well. The Clark itself is using Robert Henri's sexy painting of a burlesque dancer in harem costume on its ads for the show.

By the way, the Clark's own collection is easily as interesting as any special exhibition. It ranges from a George Washington by Gilbert Stuart to Bouguereau's 1873 Nymphs & Satyr. God bless Singer sewing machine heir Charles Sterling Clark and his French wife, Francine, who founded the museum in 1955.

*      *      *
Also packed on a recent rainy weekend was the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, otherwise known as MASS MoCA, the new museum that opened in 1999 in some converted brick mill buildings in North Adams, Mass. Skeptics must admit that the facility, with its clean early-industrial spaces, is gradually fulfilling the vision of Guggenheim Museum chief Thomas Krens, who hatched the idea over a decade ago.

The MASS MoCA parking lot was jam packed for "Unnatural Science," a show of white-elephant installation pieces by 15 artists, on view through Mar. 15, 2001. Who could resist a gallery full of giant color photos showing a (presumably female) mantis devouring her mate? That would be a work by Catherine Chalmers called Food Chain.

Other notable works in the show include Janine Antoni's giant loom weaving her REM brain waves; a room-sized sculpture of lab equipment by Eve Andrèe Laramèe; Kiki Smith's Constellation, an installation of glass stars and animals on a circular field of dark blue crepe paper; and Steina Vasulka's Borealis, a ravedelic group of projections onto freestanding vertical panels of floodwaters in reverse.

But the show-stopper is Tim Hawkinson's giant Uberorgan, an automated "biomorphic sound machine" made of 12 inflated plastic bags and tin-foil horns and filling one huge football-field-sized gallery. Using a hand-painted plastic scroll like a player piano, the instrument produces a series of low, droning tones that wouldn't be out of place in a Tibetan monastery.

Visitors to MASS MoCA are greeted by the disconcerting sight of six trees hung upside down on giant rack, the work of artist-in-residence Natalie Jeremijenko. A museum attendant insisted that the saplings were thriving, though one looked a little jaundiced to me. By the way, MASS MoCA's lobby café, Lickety Split, specializes in ice cream.

*      *      *
"The Standard Model: Game Face" (to Aug. 26) is the name of Geoffrey Young's latest group show of works by 21 artists, famous and not-so-famous, at his gallery at 40 Railroad Street in downtown Great Barrington, Mass. The opening drew a select Western Massachusetts crowd -- Roberta Smith and Jerry Saltz, Laurie Simmons and Carroll Dunham, Patty Cronin and Deb Kass. Prices range from $1,000 for a pair of photos by Eve Fowler to $2,500 for Sean Mellyn's gouache of two kids wearing bags on their heads and $5,000 for Trevor Winkfield's 30 by 40 inch acrylic painting. One of Young's discoveries is photographer Lauren D'Aurio, an Adelphi grad that he met in a pool parlor.
*      *      *
Finally, at the Fox-Martin Fine Art Gallery in Housatonic, opened for the summer by Belle Fox-Martin, a nice group show of mostly art-club work. One high point of the opening was more ice cream -- a Mr. Ding-A-Ling truck parked outside giving away free Popsicles!
*      *      *
Last weekend, everyone who is anyone in the Hamptons -- the art crowd, at least -- trooped into Glenn Horowitz Bookseller in Easthampton to toast a show of new prints of old photos by Cindy Sherman. The black-and-white pictures show the artist in various costumes, and have a silent movie period feel; the figures were apparently meant to be silhouetted and combined into ensembles. Almost all of the 32 prints sold at ca. $7,000 each.

The accompanying book, titled Early Work of Cindy Sherman, is published in a first edition run of 1,000 copies, and comes with a CD of found sounds -- anonymous answering machine tapes -- and vocals by Gian Carlo Feleppa. The book is $50, and the word is that Abrams wants it for a second run of 10,000.

Around the corner in East Hampton at Guild Hall is "Willem de Kooning: In Process," an exhibition by Klaus Kertess for the Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale. The show fills the museum's twin wings with about 10 paintings each. The first consists largely of "women," images that suggest nothing so much as golems. With their googly eyes and cartoony limbs, the figures are surprisingly suggestive of the Chicago Hairy Who. The second gallery features the kind of loopy line abstractions from the '80s that were also on view in the Museum of Modern Art show of "The Late Paintings" in 1997. Most of the works here are from the Willem de Kooning Revocable Trust, whatever that is.

*      *      *
Considering the beautiful weather, last Saturday wasn't what you would call a museum-going day. Gallery Beat Television maestro Paul H-O and your correspondent were the sole visitors at the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton, which boasts a beautiful trio of skylit galleries, whose architecture suggests a cross between a temple and a clapboard beach house.

Out front, ceramist Peter Schlesinger has crafted four fanciful Italianate columns for the museum's Job's Lane entrance. Inside, in the first two galleries, is Gaze, an installation by Barbara Bloom that was first made in 1986. The walls of the front gallery are gracefully hung with a white scrim curtain, which can be parted to view Bloom's own photos -- themselves depicting curtains, works behind curtains, works seen through windows, Shoji screens, a canopied bed. A low guard rail, the kind that usually keeps viewers a few feet back from a museum work, here is installed to create a narrow path around the circumference of the gallery, in effect forcing visitors to move in close. All in all, it's very interactive, for a photo show, and rather unlike anything else.

In the Parrish's large back gallery is a great selection of works from the collection that mixes abstract and representational, historic and contemporary. There are several figurative paintings by Fairfield Porter and William Merritt Chase, and a great small painted Abstract Sculpture, c. 1972-73, by Betty Parsons, the late art dealer who first showed the Abstract Expressionists.

Finally, a last Long Island stop in Sag Harbor, where painter Sabina Streeter has opened a new gallery in Vail House on Madison. The inaugural show features her work along with cliché verre paintings of emblematic bombs and butterflies by Jill Musnicki ($500 each). They're "parallel narratives that should be mutually exclusive," said her husband, Jameson Ellis, whose zigzaggy color abstractions are also in the show. The exhibition was organized by curator Daniela Salvioni.

*      *      *
Two weeks ago the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum quietly unveiled a selection of works from the collection called "Curios and Treasures." It includes a case of 10 gowns by Fortuny, heavy on the pleats and embroidery, that are quite beautiful, and one exceptionally Modernist lamp the designer manufactured in 1907. Another case features several works by the London dressmakers Liberty & Co., who among other innovations popularized kids' smocks. But perhaps the item with the most resonance today is a French embroidered silk doublet from 1620-25 with "pinking," or intentional slashing to reveal linings and undergarments -- a highly developed version of the street fashion of decoratively cut and slashed t-shirts.
*      *      *
Who's wandering around in Chelsea in August? Veteran art critic Barbara Rose, spotted at Silverstein Gallery, researching a fall gallery preview for an Italian magazine... UCLA grad Slater Bradley, working on his forthcoming show at Team Gallery, which features a wall-sized video projection of pop diva Chloe Sevigny, standing on a beach in a "Power through Joy" shirt and reciting a poem fragment about art by Thomas Mann... Downtown do-gooder Simon Watson, scouting party locations for his Chelsea Art Walk, slated for Sept. 9, which Chanel has just agreed to underwrite to the tune of $75,000.

London news: Tracey Emin told the London Standard that she was going off the spirits in an effort to get her drinking under control. The last time she got loopy she shit herself, the paper reports... Painter and digital cartoonist Simon Henwood, whose work is currently on view at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, has done six giant portraits of athletes, including Anna Kournikova, for billboards around the Sydney Olympics. Not for art, but for Adidas... Miami art collectors Don and Mera Rubell made the list of London art-world "players" in the latest edition of Moving Targets, a who's who of Brit art types by Art Newspaper scribe Louisa Buck.

John Reed's first novel, A Still Small Voice (Delacorte, New York) -- a historical tale of love during the Civil War era -- is dedicated to his parents, painters Judy Rifka and David Reed. The book includes spot illustrations by Rifka... Tricia Collins Contemporary Art is becoming Tricia Collins at Totem Gallery, a collaboration with David Shearer of Totem, the furniture store on Franklin Street that specializes in new young designers like Karim Rashid. "I've always combined furniture and art, anyway," Collins said... The show of vintage prints by Jacques-Henri Lartigue opens at Edwynn Houk Gallery in New York on Sept. 21, a week later than originally planned.


WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.

 
 
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