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by Walter Robinson
|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.
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 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.
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.
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.