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|Naked in Cologne
by Rosetta Stone
|Nudes! What a subject. So classical, so Beaux Arts, so … contemporary. Seems to me the subject is "sex" not "nudes," but if the powers that be at artnet.com want nudes, it's nudes they shall get from Rosetta Stone.
It's a subject that does focus the mind -- a great help at the 33rd version of Art Cologne, Nov. 7-14, 1999. A total of 264 galleries have gathered here for the mother of all European modern art fairs, housed in two vast exhibition halls at the Cologne Messe, just across the Rhine from the soaring gray gothic Dom cathedral.
(Alas, a mere four galleries made the trip from the U.S. -- Maxwell Davidson, Murray Guy, Margarete Roeder and Susan Sheehan. "Why aren't there more Americans," I called out to PaceWildenstein director Doug Baxter, rushing past during the special collector's vernissage? "Too provincial," he said. "And I'm not kidding!" Hmmm.)
In fact there's so much exciting art here, it's a grateful pleasure to have constraints. Forthwith, some nudes. The newest nudes, guaranteed. If anythng can make that tired old naked human body avant-garde for the 21st century, it's the Art Cologne Internationaler Kunstmarkt.
But first, a look back. The most moral of all nudes -- my favorite at the fair, I think -- is a beautiful, limpid black-and-white lithograph by Edvard Munch at Galerie Rieder from Munich. Munch called his 1901 image of a naked young girl with flowing black hair Sin, with a tad more guilt than seems necessary today. What is that look on her face? Fear, I would say, an anxiety that is distinctly millennial. The price is DM 150,000. But attention Canadian and U.S. collectors: You get back the six percent VAT if you export it out of Europe, according to the art historian Barbara Bendell, who works for the gallery.
Are they nude if they're wearing hats? Take a look at the drawings, watercolors, paintings and even photo-collages by George Grosz at the booth of Ilse Schweinsteiger from Munich. Needless to say, Grosz limns life like no other, and the ink drawing shown here, Parasiten III (Maifische) (1919), is a treasure at DM 42,000. The image shows several businessmen being entertained by two young ladies who are clearly nude, hat or not. Once again, nakedness equals sin. Those were the days!
Clearly, the Cologne art fair is a good place for German Expressionism. At the booth of Galerie Utermann, Dortmund, is a fabulously animated painted ink drawing by Christian Rohlfs of a woman dancing in the woods with a red shawl, like Isadora Duncan gone primitive or a naturalist version of Josephine Baker. The work is titled Sich Streckender Akt and is priced at DM 115,000. Utermann also has a fabulously decadent ink drawing from 1910 by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner of a girl wearing black stockings with her ankles up on the shoulders of an officer -- a Frenchman from the look of his cap, claimed the gallery staff.
At the booth of Galerie Thomas Levy, Hamburg and Madrid, were nudes by several artists, including Eduardo Arroyo, Allen Jones and that hero to all men, Mel Ramos. Ramos himself visited the booth in the afternoon, unlit cigar in hand, looking youthful at 65. His work is much in demand in Germany, where he has a touring retrospective as well as a show opening at Galerie Eikelmann in Essen. Ramos, who's a Bay Area guy all the way, said he's been getting much more painting done since he retired a few years ago from teaching at Cal. State U., Hayward.
One lovely painting is Rhubarb Ruby (1997), a nice picture of a pie. It's priced at DM 120,000 ($1 = DM 1.80). Do you have a thing about redheads, I asked him? "Rene Russo is my idea of the perfect woman," he said. Also at Levy was a watercolor of Galatea, in which a classical statue is metamorphosing into a flesh-and-blood woman, priced at DM 18,000. "It's a new series," Ramos told me. I hope he shows them in New York at Louis Meisel Gallery!
For the more budget-minded, Levy has a recent Allen Jones heliogravure in an edition of 30 for DM 1,200 called Janet I-IV. This is a new version of a design Jones worked up for Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange in 1971 -- an idea Kubrick stole without permission or recompense. Janet is posed like a Chac Mool gone girly, laced up in skin-tight leather -- not nude, I know, but sometimes leather is better!
No survey of nudes from the Pop era could be complete without mention of Tom Wesselmann, whose Monica with Tulips (1989) is on view at Maxwell Davidson from New York. The work is the artist's trademark enamel painted on a cut-aluminum low relief and seems subdued, even cold -- though it still carries an erotic charge. Price: $105,000.
Davidson's booth also has a couple of early mobiles by George Rickey, including his Portrait of a Lady (1958). The work is completely abstract -- a series of rectangular "sails" attached to a cylindrical wire armature -- and may or may not refer to a particular "lady," said Davidson. "Rickey's titles are either poetic," he noted, "or something scientific and mathematical like 'open parallelpipeds with gimbals.'" A show of recent work by the 92-year-old artist is currently on view at the New York gallery (to Nov. 20).
Getting nudes on the brain? Me, too. At Galerie Hans Mayer, Düsseldorf, was a Dan Flavin light piece from 1990 called Untitled (to Lucie Rie, Master Potter). At 180 cm tall, with its central body of pink lights and suggestive waist-level shelf of fluorescent tubes, don't tell me this baby ain't figurative. It's priced at DM 115,000 in an edition of five. Meyer also has a six-foot-long pink wall sculpture of a crescent moon by C.O. Paefgen, and a set of 10 gray-dyed relief drawings from 1991 cast in natural rubber by the late Martin Kippenberger. One shows a frog with its tongue sticking out, hoisting a beer. I can just imagine Kippy, that party animal, saying, "make these drawings in … rubber!"
The booth of London dealer Annely Juda looked particularly good, and not just because of the large 1997 oil on board by Leon Kossoff of Summer in the Studio, Pilar and Jacinto II (DM 680,000) or the David Hockney crayon drawing of his nude (and spread-eagled) dachshund Boodgie (DM 100,000). Juda also had elegant, wall-relief architectural models by Tadashi Kawamata and an impassive but expressive painted camphor-wood bust by Katsura Fumakoshi. Another amusing work is the 85-cm-tall Leaning Urn of Argo "Café Ole" by Darren Lago -- a title that I hope is descriptive enough in itself.
Also at Juda is a 1999 wall assemblage of animal bones on a convex mirror by the German-born political artist Gloria Friedmann, titled You and Me, that's both nice and grim. The mirror makes visitors look thin -- though I'm not sure I like what she's saying with those bones! A little too nude.
You can count on plenty of nudes at Jay Jopling/White Cube, too. There's a mute iron figure by Anthony Gormley, a giant photo by Sam Taylor-Wood of a naked man lying spread-eagled on a bed and viewed à la Mantegna's dead Christ, and a silver polyester biomorphic figure by the increasingly interesting U.S. expatriate artist Steven Gontarski (he lives in London). But nakedest to the world, of course, is confessional artist Tracey Emin, whom most people seem to think will win the Turner Prize when it's announced at the end of this month.
Jopling has a simple 1999 Emin self-portrait in watercolor and pencil, titled Knowing my Self and inscribed with a passage about her attempts to refrain from masturbation and the subsequent increase in self esteem. It's slight but powerful, and priced at £2,000. Another Emin work is Naked Photos -- Life Model Goes Mad (1996), a set of nine color photographs from a performance at Andreas Brandstrom in Stockholm. Emin lived in the gallery and made her work, while visitors could catch a glimpse of the action only by peering in through a peephole.
Another British bad-girl artist, Sarah Lucas, was holding court at the booth of Contemporary Fine Arts from Berlin, showing off a palm-sized small object she called "my gold bollocks," apparently a life cast. "I need them," she said. As might be expected, Lucas has a view of nudity that is notably carnal. Installed on the wall is a row of six cast arms, mounted on springs so that they bob up and down. The hands are in a position that one could call … masturbatory. The casts -- a bargain at £8,000 each -- were made from the arms of Lucas herself, dealer Nicole Hackert and other friends of the artists. The ladies could be overheard discussing the finer esthetic points of wrist position, relative to whether the hand was applied to oneself or another. The overall nudity here is imagined -- and largely irrelevant, considering.
A few other things. At Galerie Thomas from Munich was a great Rainer Fetting from 1981 called Man under Shower that posits a certain equation of nakedness and cleanliness. It's fairly subdued, for a work by one of the founders of the '80s Neo-Expressionist group the Junge Wilde, and priced at DM 85,000.
At Galerie Krinzinger, Vienna, was a 1977 work by Franz West in which he simply painted out most of the image from a picture in a magazine. Provocative and strange in a way that recalls Surrealist erotica, this work shows a headless, buxom, nude white woman in a strange, kneeling posture, apparently receiving a massage from an African tribeswoman! It's priced at DM 10,000.
Galerie Bodo Niemann from Berlin brought a wide selection of photographs, including a striking 1955 picture by Josef Breitenbach, a German-born photographer and nudist whose approach to the nude was arcadian. The photo reproduced here is from his series titled "This Beautiful Landscape," and pictures a Japanese girlfriend of his second wife. Price: DM 8,000.
Nude means models, and models mean Vanessa Beecroft. The New York artist had several large photos at the booth of Analix Forever, Geneva. The one that caught my eye foregrounds a particularly amazonian girl in pantyhose, an image taken from the videotape of Beecroft's 1998 performance at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm. It's $6,000 -- but the price is going up!
Finally, who can resist the Italian view of the world, nude or not, especially as seen at the booth of Lipanjepuntin Contemporary from Trieste. "We are selling dreams," proclaimed gallery co-founder Marco Puntin, who used to be a basketball star (they tell me). Lipanjepuntin (which has its own website at www.copeco.it/lipuarte) also sells images from the Kama Sutra made in milky clear PVC by Fabrice Langlade (DM 4,800 for a set of 28 elements) and dramatic and sexy color photos by the Turin photographer Giulia Caira, who photographs herself in underwear reflected in glasses of beer (DM 5,000). What man could want more?
ROSETTA STONE writes on art from New York and points elsewhere.