A month ago, when everyone was on vacation, it seemed like the art scene would never be reanimated. What of interest could possibly remain to be done in contemporary art? But now, three weeks into the fall season, things are going great guns. That's capitalism for you.
Start the fall tour with a jolt, at the exhibition of photographs by Japanese artist Manabu Yamanaka (b. 1950) at Stux Gallery. Stark, life-size black-and-white portraits of individual children and young men, all of them nude, with severe burns, skin disease or dramatic disfigurement. They're unnervingly real (in contrast to the house-of-horrors theatrics of someone like Damien Hirst), inspiring what the artist calls "a Buddhist exercise in compassionate contemplation" or, closer to home, simple Western empathy.
Yamanaka's photographs bring to mind Arlene Croce's 1984 New Yorker essay on Bill T. Jones' Still/Here, in which she famously complained that a performance using HIV-positive, nonprofessional dancers was "intolerably voyeuristic" and "beyond the reach of criticism." What she really meant, one can see now, is that the judgment in which she put so much faith was insufficient. With Yamanaka's photos, you can tell that it's all about feeling (and not about possessing art objects -- though the 18 photos are published in an edition of nine at $7,500 each).
For a more amusing investigation of human feelings, there's Slater Bradley's two-monitor video installation at Team Gallery, I'm Not Sad I'm Sure I Will Be (2001-03). Bradley had a talent agency put out a casting call for the part of a 19-year-old girl, and the actresses who responded -- some 45 in all -- were instructed to read a short lyric ("I'm not sad I'm sure I will be, I'm not sure I'm sad I will be") that the artist had written as a teenager about his girlfriend.
The videotape shows one young woman after another in their auditions, doing their best with the somewhat confusing line, in what turns out to be a hip art-world version of American Idol. The heartfelt hopes and aspirations of these kids is poignantly apparent -- it shines right through, curiously enough, despite the harmless deceptions of theatrical performance.
By contrast, the 25-minute-long DVD video projection of scenes from the Vietnam War by Eddo Stern at Postmasters, called Vietnam Romance (2003), is constructed entirely from digital material taped "exclusively from the computer desktop environment" -- that is, from video games. The images -- a lot of shooting in the jungle, plus some MASH helicopters and Asian streetwalkers -- are accompanied by synthesizer Muzak versions of great '70s Vietnam soundtracks like Paint It Black and Ride of the Valkyries.
Vietnam Romance is kin to contemporary action-fests like The Matrix Reloaded and Terminator 3, in that all the violence afflicts cyborgs or holograms rather than people we need to care about. For those who lived through the 1960s and '70s -- Stern was born in Tel Aviv in 1972 and now lives in L.A. -- the emotional reality of Vietnam Romance is palpable. The DVD is produced in an edition of 10, and is moving fast at $2,500 each. "I think it will sell out," said Postmaster's Magda Sawon.
But not everything is "expressionistic," god help us. The photographer Tim Davis, who teaches at Yale and is having his second show at Brent Sikkema Gallery is something of a Greenbergian, if that means anything anymore (that is, it means works that consider their own material conditions). Here, Davis presents 20 color photographs of artworks in the collections at 10 East coast and Midwest museums, by artists ranging from Vermeer to Van Gogh -- the only problem is that he's taken the pictures so that the refined image of the painting is disfigured with glare and reflections from the work's surface varnish. "Gee, these have a lot of hot spots," the lab told him.
As a result, Davis' new photographs seem to occupy two time zones at once, mixing the historical purity of the image with the physical reality of the actual art object. Or rather, mixing the historical reality of the painting, surface cracks and all, with its idealized image, which is shown to be a function of proper lighting. These works are photography's final revenge on the paintings that it has served so long! What's more, pictures not unlike these are a commonplace for conservators, who use raking light to identify surface irregularities in need of repair -- and then toss the photos away.
The series was inspired by a recent visit to the Louvre, which is now flooded with light, adding a new dimension to the old masterpieces. Davis' photos, in editions of six, range in price from $900 to $3,000.
One rule of contemporary art: given time, everything turns into its opposite. Witness Richard Prince, who began subverting painting in the late 1970s with photos copied from magazine advertisements and now makes the most luscious, commercial paintings in the business. For his new works, on view at Barbara Gladstone Gallery, he has printed paperback cover illustrations from potboiler nurse romances on large canvases, and then daubed and smeared them with glorious passion-fruit hues like some kind of cheery Mark Rothko.
In addition to his ironic schmaltzification of serious abstraction, Prince is also able to indulge his trademark comic animus against women, emphatically transforming the nurse's white medical masks into gags and castration symbols, a la Julian Schnabel's blinded "Big Girl Paintings" from last year [see "Weekend Update," Mar. 25, 2002]. Brilliant. The show includes 20 paintings -- from Camp Nurse and Graduate Nurse to Man-Crazy Nurse -- priced at $45,000-$85,000.
Speaking of sexual fetishes, another one of the month's exceptional shows is Kelly Heaton's "Life Pelt" exposition at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts. This elaborate project involves 64 Tickle Me Elmo dolls, which were hunted down and bought on eBay, only to be disembowled in a mad scientist's lab and then transformed into a luxurious red "fur" coat according to the traditional arts of the furrier (once again we are spared the necessity of making an ethical judgment, thank goodness, by the absence of any real living creature). The heads of the Elmo dolls are even mounted as trophies, and are currently being sold on eBay (bidding begins at $1, and early examples have already been knocked down for a high of $300).
At the core of the work is the fetishistic "live pelt," or the artist's "merkin," died red to match the cybertronic doll. Elmo vibrates and laughs when his sensors are touched, and Heaton's garment, which includes a cloth bodice implanted with the doll's vibrator units, is itself a supersized vibrator for the artist's torso; in one sultry boudoir videotape, she gives the cloak its test run. The sexual component gives the piece its "charge."
In an ancillary project, Heaton solicited parents who were willing to have their toddlers photographed wearing Tickle Me Elmo costumes. The show includes 16 of these pop artifacts, which were made at Sears and framed in Sears white plastic frames (that comically resembles Matthew Barney's portentous "self-lubricating" ones). Unlike many avant-garde artists, Heaton is actually impressively credentialed, with a M.S. degree from M.I.T.; she recently completed a residency at Duke's department of computer science.
A photograph of Heaton in full "Live Pelt" regalia, taken by Tom LeGoff, is $10,000 in an edition of seven. An eBay auction for the Surrogate cloak, made of all 64 pelts, runs Oct. 4-11, 2003, with bidding starting at $35,000. Buy it now for $50,000.
When it comes to art, we're like a dog with a bone, or so said J. St. Bernard with his 1990 exhibitions (at Pat Hearn Gallery in the East Village and in group shows) of giant dog-bone-shaped sculptures and leaning metal monoliths covered with lacquered posters of Roger Moore as the Saint and photos of German shepherd dogs. Despite some critics' dim view of the works -- Kim Levin called them a "feeble intellectual joke" -- they suited the German sensibility, and landed in collections of the Paris Bar in Berlin and late artist Martin Kippenberger, among others. The works, which are redolent with 1980s "commodity sculpture" panache, now make a reprise at American Fine Arts as a kind of memorial exhibition to gallery founder Colin De Land, who was the pseudonymous prankster who actually made them. Those that are available are $15,000.
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Gavin Brown opened his new 4,000-square-foot space in a converted garage in Greenwich Village that is a bit off the beaten track. Turner Prize winner Martin Creed jetted in for the day to oversee the application to the building facade of his trademark conceptual equation, "the whole world + the work =the whole world," last seen in neon above the front door of the Tate in London. Inside were things by gallery artists, including a larger-than-lifesize model of a Gothic sword in the stone by Swiss artist Urs Fischer -- Maurizio Cattelan was spotted breaking off a tiny piece for a souvenir -- a darling Elizabeth Peyton self-portrait and a smorgasbord of Chinese dumplings courtesy Rirkrit Tiravanija (though displayed with cookware, the food was clearly catered).
The installation looked fairly scrappy, though the throng praised the architecture, which is by Amparo Vollert (wife of dealer Andrew Kreps). "We poured the concrete floor on Monday," she said, noting that the space still lacked some finishing touches. Vollert has also done the loft of dealer Carol Greene and is at work on the loft of dealer Fredrick Petzel. Youthful Carnegie Triennial curator Laura Hoptman was on hand at the opening, having just flown in from the Istanbul Biennial. "Looks great," she said about the international show. "In one year you're coming to Pittsburgh!"
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"What's with the Halloween theme?" said one wag of the installation by Mexico City artist Carlo Amorales at the new New York gallery of French superdealer Yvon Lambert on West 25th Street. The walls of the front gallery are splashed with a dripping blood supergraphic, and laser-cut steel crow silhouettes hang in mobiles from the ceiling. Titled Everything Louder Than Everything Else (2003), the piece was supposedly somehow conveyed by a psychic to the young artist (who was born in 1970, reportedly as Carlos Arturo Morales -- thus the slightly nihilistic moniker).
On West 24th Street, at Matthew Marks Gallery, new biomorphic sculptures by Ken Price -- it's alive! . . . At Andrea Rosen, witty and rude secondary school class photos of kids in sunglasses, preparing for the security service, by Miguel Caldern. . . . At Galeria Ramis Barquet's new Chelsea space on West 24th Street, witty, cartoony paintings by Jennifer Reeves of abstract blobs nervously inhabiting suburban living rooms. Hello, Saul Steinberg! Prices begin at $1,800 and go to $15,000.
On West 23rd Street at Van De Weghe Fine Art, The Witches by Jean Tinguely, an impressive installation of eight mechanized metal sculptures with animal-skull heads, draped with lace, their jaws opening and closing. Made in 1985 and carrying the alternative title Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, this "apocalyptic ballet mechanique" is one of the most important late works by the artist, according to Andres Pardey, curator of the Museum Jean Tinguely in Basel. The artist, who had a heart bypass in 1986 and died in 1991, made the works for an exhibition at the Hypo-Kunsthalle in Munich (it subsequently was shown in many other European venues, including in the artist's 1987 retrospective at the Palazzo Grassi in Venice).
On West 22nd Street at Max Protech Gallery, Endless Eames (2003), an Eames rocking chair surrounded by a Frederick Kieslerian organic volume made of invite cards by Slovenian artist Tobias Putrih in his first U.S. solo. . . . At Sonnabend, heavy duty black-and-white photos of architectural monuments by Hiroshi Sugimoto, so heavy they go for $60,000 each in editions of five. In a side gallery, new iconic neon wall works by Keith Sonnier, around $50,000-$55,000 each. A big survey of his older work is up now at Ace Gallery on Hudson.
At Matthew Marks, new untitled sculpture by Robert Gober that shows an oversized, unwrapped stick of butter (made of beeswax) lying on the ground before a prison window looking out on a red sunset sky. Move over, Last Tango! . . . . At Leslie Tonkonow Gallery, elegant and witty photogram-like silhouette-portraits of scientists and artists by Kuni Sugiura, including one of Dennis Oppenheim re-enacting his famous 1970s Body Art piece where he sunburned himself with a book on his chest. It's $16,000.
In the gallery building on West 20th Street, go to Josee Bienvenu to play with David Bartel & Yves Seban's sound installation Quatuor a Codes, where visitors can use a portable bar-code scanning gun on hundreds of bar codes posted on the gallery wall, mixing scraps of vocals, beats and melody into a weird electronic composition. . . . At Skoto Gallery, 16 x 20 in. black-and-white photos of the late Afro-Beat avatar Fela Kuti by Fenin Osunla, a bargain at $900 each. . . . In "Pandora's Wink" at Paul Rodgers 9W, Orly Cogan's flirty, hand-embroidered The Three Muses (2003), yours for $4,000. . . . And on the roof, courtesty of I-20 Gallery, a big, furry yeti weeping by Todd Knopke. . . . And down the street at Maya Stendhal Gallery on West 20th Street, a room-filling sculpture of a terrorist octopus on a bicycle by East Village veteran Rick Prol.
Elsewhere in New York, at Marlborough Chelsea, impressively constructed abstract sculptures in shredded auto tire by Chakaia Booker. . . . At Spencer Brownstone, a dramatic sweet installation by Fred Eerdekens of cottony synthetic clouds hanging from the ceiling in a spotlight, whose rays shine through the clouds spelling in shadow on the wall the words "neo deo," in some kind of mistaken assertion of spirituality. . . . At Peter Blum, 24 preparatory drawings for paintings by Alex Katz, gridded for enlargement, punched for poncing. He found them under the bed, the gallery has mounted them on board for their first public showing.
At Kathleen Cullen's Artek Gallery, Beth Rudin de Woody and Anne Pasternak ignoring the masterful Charlie Finch action figure crafted by Elliott Arkin (price: $1,400) in favor of $300 fuzzy dolls with watches inside by Takashi Murakami.
See notes on new shows by Claire Corey at Ten in One, Millree Hughes at Michael Steinberg and ChanSchatz at Massimo Audiello in the weblog of Tom Moody, the artist and art writer who is co-author of Post-Hypnotic art catalogue).
Printed Matter's new photo portfolio, organized by bad boy film director Larry Clark, features outrageous male nudes by Donald Baechler, Ryan McGuinley, an elegant black-and-white of bathroom graffiti by Zoe Leonard, hot monoprint of an erection by Cecily Brown, 10 artists in all, in an edition of 30. Pre-pub price is $6,500, rising to $8,500.
Restaurant reviews? Philanthropist Anne Bass hosted candlelight dinner for 200 at the television studios on Greenwich Street to celebrate the new show by Julian Lethbridge at Paula Cooper Gallery. . . . Ultra-exclusive dinner for new Richard Serra installation at Gagosian Gallery held at Eric Goode's new restaurant at Chelsea's first hotel, the Maritime on Ninth Avenue, in the port-holed former Covenant House made famous by predator priest Bruce Ritter.
WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.