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Markus Lüpertz
"Semiramis," installation view
at Knoedler & Co.



João Penalva
Still from Mister
1999
at Max Protetch



Wim Delvoye
Caterpillar Scale Model #4
2002
Melamine-faced MDF, steel, ca. 86 in. long
at Sperone Westwater



Wim Delvoye
"Gothic Works," installation view
at Sperone Westwater



Hope Atherton
Shrine
2002
at Sperone Westwater



Julia Scher
at Andrea Rosen Gallery



Sandow Birk
Shawangunk Correctional Facility -- Wallkill, New York
2002



Amy Jean Porter
"Birds of North America Sing Hip-Hop"
installation view
at Debs & Co.



Doug Aitken
Still from On
2002
at 303 Gallery



Silvia Kolbowski
Like Looking Away
2002
at American Fine Arts at P.H.A.G.



Billy Sullivan
Anne & Klaus
1981
at Nicole Klagsbrun



Claude Viallat
Untitled No. 125
2002
at Cheim & Read



Chuck Connelly
Noah's Last Dinner on the Ark
2002
at Lennon, Weinberg, Inc.



Making the opening at Suite 106, with paintings by Edy Ferguson


Torben Giehler
at Leo Koenig in New York



Joe Ovelman photographing for Paid, 2002, at the Kyber Khabob House


Elke Krystufek performs Silent Scream at Kenny Schachter Contemporary, Sept. 8, 2002
Weekend Update
by Walter Robinson


Semiramis is the legendary founder of Babylon, the ancient Mesopotamian city known for its brilliant color and luxury. Now the celebrated German Neo-Ex master Markus Lüpertz, who was born in 1941 and has headed the Düsseldorf Academy of Art for 15 years, has produced a series of lyrical color abstractions dedicated to the mythical queen, currently on view at Knoedler & Co. on East 70th Street in New York.

Lüpertz' dense arabesques of variegated brushstrokes suggest Babylonian hanging gardens -- bright green foliage, crimson blossoms, turquoise waters -- and are indeed "anxious" yet "hedonistic," as David Cohen points out in his essay in the gallery catalogue. It's curious that ancient myth is so good at giving primitivist calligraphy -- scribbles, really -- a profound dimension of meaning (think here of Cy Twombly also), and curious how well such marks are able to transcend their simple materiality to embody those atavistic tales. Paintings hit the $50,000-$80,000 range, while watercolors are $6,500.

The Portuguese artist João Penalva, who lives in London and is having his first U.S. gallery show at Max Protetch in Chelsea, is also absorbed in tales -- not high ancient myths but rather the humble but timeless folk tale. The exhibition features a pair of projections, the first housed in a khaki canvas tent surrounded by multicolored light bulbs on the floor, as if from a traveling sideshow. A nearby signboard boasts that we are privileged to hear "Mister, the Talking Shoe," and the video offers just that -- a spotlighted wingtip whose toe is worked up and down like a sock puppet by the unseen artist. For almost 30 minutes, the shoe tells "a modern-day sorrows of Job," though in an Irish accent that is all but incomprehensible. The work was a star of the 2002 Sydney Biennale.

Penalva's second projection, a 57-minute-long video called Kitsune (2001), presents one long, continuous take of a mist-shrouded primitive landscape, with a soundtrack in Japanese of a master-pupil dialogue. The subtitles tell Japanese folk tales of Kitsune, a cunning, shape-shifting "fox spirit." As it happens, the typically Japanese panorama is not Japan but rather the Portuguese island of Madeira, and the subtitles don't translate the dialogue but instead reproduce Penalva's own version of the folklore -- as if the artist were saying that all this folkish authenticity is just some kind of farce.

An appeal to the vernacular is also central to the work of Wim Delvoye, whose show at Sperone Westwater's new gallery on West 13th Street is titled "Gothic Works." The Belgian artist, who made something of a splash last year with Cloaca, a giant eating and pooping machine at the New Museum, now gives us a fabulous scale model of a steam shovel done up in steel with gothic arches and rose windows. Also on view are nine stained-glass windows made with medical x-rays sandwiched between vintage colored glass, plus some custom-made ones of couples having sex (what else). The effect is quite nice (rather better than Delvoye's photos of faux marble floors made of slices of processed meats) and, with all those skeletons, no doubt could be put to use by the church to teach lessons in mortality. Mellifluously titled after the nine muses (Clio, Calliope, Euterpe, Polyhymnia, Melopomene. . .), the windows are more than six feet tall in editions of six.

Sperone Westwater also inaugurates a new "project" gallery with an installation by RISD grad Hope Atherton, who has previously showed her work at White Columns and Galleria Gian Enzo Sperone in Rome. Shrine, as it is called, consists of a pair of dramatically gnarled trees, one with a sacrificial chicken impaled on a pointy branch. Blood and milk are involved. The artist writes: "Is it inherent in the human psyche to want to believe in superstition, ritual and myth?" Inherent or not, it's certainly popular enough in the art world.

With all this looking backward, it's a relief to see Julia Scher's big installation of chain link fence and surveillance equipment at Andrea Rosen -- even if it looks forward to a not-unlikely dystopian future. As spotlights turn on and off, casting ominous shadows on the floor from spinning ceiling fans, an audio track intones phrases like "digital prolapse victims proceed to sector one. . . . do not touch the caution vents. . . . uncivil weather. . . . continental war games" in the lilting tones of a female Hal from 2001. It's quite good, even if it does rub some visitors the wrong way (as, presumably, it's designed to). Published contemporaneously with the show is the artist's first major monograph, Julia Scher, Tell Me When You're Ready: Works from 1990-1995, a big, beautiful hardcover from PFM Publishing in Cambridge, Mass.

Homeland security is obviously in the air. California artist Sandow Birk, who was born in '62 and is celebrated out west for a series of paintings chronicling the ersatz "Great War of the Californias," has now brought "Maximum Security: New York Landscapes" to Debs & Co. on East 26th Street. A careful painter, Birk does jails -- Attica, Sing Sing, Green Haven and others -- in Hudson River School style, with guard towers framed by old oak trees and prisons seen in the distance across a pond with ducks and red maples. The prices here range from $2,000 to $6,400 -- unbeatable.

In the smaller gallery, Amy Jean Porter presents a completely delightful group of small color-pencil drawings of birds that "Sing Hip-Hop and Sometimes Pause for Reflection," in the words of the exhibition title. "Clueless like Shaggy & Scooby," says one bird in a caption that comes out of its beak, while another declaims confidently, "Whatever she said, I'm that." On the gallery table is a Modern Audubon guidebook. The cheery drawings are priced between $50 and $100.

Hollywood does such a poor job making good movies that it's no wonder that artists are drawn to the medium. Of course, their skills tend to lie in the area of form rather than script and narrative, which isn't exactly what tinseltown needs. At any rate, one of the more heralded young artists making films is the 30-something Doug Aitken, and in his current show at 303 Gallery in Chelsea he presents two works. On is a mesmerizing "abstract" projection on four tondo-shaped screens, with minimal, geometric images taken from the plain, cross-country American landscape.

In the rear gallery is New Skin, a more narrative projection on a pair of intersecting oval screens. The film tells the story of a young woman who is losing her sight, and who attempts to prepare for her isolation by studying and storing as many images as she can. It's not a plan that is destined to bear much fruit. "The more I see the less I believe in the images I find," she says, with perfect early-21st-century anomie.

In almost everything he does, Aitken is able to set an unsettling mood like that found in the best sci-fi and suspense. The Pompidou Center in Paris commissioned New Skin, and Aitken has still other projections on view at the Fabric Workshop in Philadelphia, the Louisiana Museum in Denmark and in Tokyo.

Among all the projects currently on view in art and film, the new installation by neo-conceptualist Silvia Kolbowski at American Fine Arts, Co., at P.H.A.G. is most clearly structured by sociological or anthropological ideas. For her new piece, Like Looking Away, ten young women were interviewed about shopping. Their replies were edited to eliminate direct references to the questions, resulting in an uncertain narrative of searching and desire, guilt and hesitation. The audiotrack, which has something of a Real World feel, is incongruously (and effectively) paired with a video projection of explosions, also edited, from a Hollywood movie.

Kolbowski means to create a kind of "free association" between these emblems of social anxiety, and like a psychological insight, its impact increases as it settles in the mind. The installation includes a set of 30 color photographs of the (rather self-conscious) young women listening to a professional actress read their words. The price for the whole kit and kaboodle is $38,000, in a edition of two with one artist's proof.

*        *          *
Top show of this weekend in Chelsea was, of course, the "Ferus" retrospective at Gagosian Gallery, a museum-quality exhibition of works that appeared at one time or another in the 1960s at Irving Blum's famed L.A. gallery. The opening was so jammed that Larry Gagosian himself was pressed into duty at the door, as art-lovers patiently queued down the sidewalk. Inside are Andy Warhol's Campbell's Soup Cans (1962), Ed Ruscha's Los Angeles County Museum on Fire (1965-68) plus works by Larry Bell, Billy Al Bengston, Bruce Conner, Richard Kienholz, Roy Lichtenstein, Ken Price, Frank Stella and other stalwarts of that super-hip era.

For a true dose of cool, check out the black-and-white period photos by Dennis Hopper and others, many reproduced in the show's accompanying catalogue, which also carries an interview with Blum by Roberta Bernstein and an essay on the soup cans by Kirk Varnedoe.

Speaking of hip, don't miss the photos by painter Billy Sullivan in the back room at Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery. Though done in color and dating from a slightly later period, 1969-2002, Sullivan's snaps turn out to be a convincing chronicle of the New York demi mondane. There's a naked "trick" on a balcony, men at urinals, drag queens and divas en deshabile -- and most of them turn out to be downtown art-world celebrities. The tuxedoed gent watching the half-nude babe put on her makeup at a dressing table, for instance, bears a striking resemblance to the estimable curator and writer Klaus Kertess.

*        *          *
In addition to Lüpertz and Irving Blum, another avant-garde veteran is on view this month -- the 60-something French painter Claude Viallat, a founder of the "Support-Surface" movement in Paris, which was kind of a French version of Greenbergian formalism with a little bit of continental fatalism thrown in. In 40 years, not much has changed, or so the theorist and curator Alfred Pacquement proudly notes. "The form is nothing more than a pretext," he writes, but still, Viallat's works -- which consist of an emblematic biomorphic shape repeated like a decorative pattern on unstretched pieces of tent canvas, tarps and bedsheets -- are not without a winsome Gallic charm, even if we're supposed to be transported only to the mystical realm of Zen koans, art-world style. The exhibition is on view at Cheim & Read on West 25th Street. Small, Tuttle-ish collages are $6,000 each, larger hanging works are $18,000-$20,000.
*        *          *
East Village veterans will remember the painter Chuck Connelly, whose many accomplishments include doing the actual art works that Nick Nolte supposedly made while playing a love-tortured artist in the three-part movie, New York Stories (1989). Connelly, who has since relocated to Philadelphia, doesn't so much have a figurative painting style as he has an attack, an especially intense attack -- his works are always witty and energetic. The selection of 28 paintings on view at Lennon, Weinberg, Inc., at 560 Broadway include a trio of large pictures of jungle-like greenery from the artist's backyard, and the fabulous Noah's Last Dinner on the Ark (2002), a large composition that improbably combines the imagery of Thanksgiving dinner with that of the Last Supper. Connelly has a broad market for his works, which are priced $3,500-$25,000.
*        *          *
In the art world, there's always someone swimming against the tide. So while most galleries long ago made their exodus from SoHo, Suite 106 has now moved from its Upper West Side digs into a modest space on the second floor of 112 Mercer Street (which is, as it happens, the address of the first artist-run gallery in SoHo way back in the early 1970s). The swinging opening on Sept. 10 featured music by dj I Sound and sexy go-go dancers to accompany the bright pop-celebrity paintings by Edy Ferguson ($4,500 each).
*        *          *
Out in Los Angeles, young super-dealer Leo Koenig opened his new gallery, The Happy Lion, on Sept. 14, 2002, with an exhibition of works by Thaddeus Strode. The 1,500-square-foot, ground-floor space is located at 963 Chungking Road in Chinatown, near Black Dragon Society and China Art Objects. Coming up are shows of works by Yoshitaka Amano and L.A. superstar Meg Cranston. In New York are colorful new mountainscape-abstractions by Torben Giehler (moving fast at $15,000-$25,000).
*        *          *
Art impresario Simon Watson's Downtown Arts Festival, now in its 10th year, kicked off on Sept. 14 at the Khyber Kabob House on 10th Avenue between 22nd and 23rd Street with a "participatory photo project" of some note. Artist Joe Ovelman is luring art lovers to pose in a white long-sleeved shirt with no pants on, and then displaying the Polaroids inside the restaurant. Participants get their own signed picture. The event continues all month on Saturdays between 4 and 6 p.m.
*        *          *
It's heartening to think that Body Art lives on in the imaginations of young artists. Austrian self-portraitist Elke Krystufek presented her white-painted nude body as a tabula rasa for brush-and-ink wielding gallery visitors at Kenny Schachter Contemporary on Sept. 8. Results were inconclusive, but we like to encourage this kind of thing.
*        *          *
At her recent show at Printed Matter, a fan approached Jenny Holzer and asked her to write a maxim -- "Protect me from what I want" -- and sign it in ink on his arm. He turned it into a tattoo.


WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.



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