Art collecting may be hopelessly tainted by avarice and ego, but the collecting of books remains a deep, democratic pleasure. One artist who has thoroughly succumbed to the book-collecting impulse is the California Conceptualist Allen Ruppersberg, who actually lives in New York and has now installed a new exhibition of "line drawings, book pages, games and a puzzle" at Christine Burgin's jewel-box of a gallery on West 18th Street. In this installation, Ruppersberg's affection for the absent books seems particularly good-humored, even sentimental.
In the middle of the room is a wooden table with a jigsaw puzzle of 1,000 pieces, a "picture puzzle" that reproduces a photo of shelves in an archive, densely packed with books but also pamphlets, magazines, slides and other ephemera. The image is almost certainly a photograph made at Ruppersberg's old studio on Broadway in New York, an archive that is captured in an astonishing web project done by Dia, titled The New Five Foot Shelf, and certainly worth a look. The puzzle is an intimate touch, and people work on it as they visit at the gallery.
On the walls are several posters with a silkscreened image of a typical suburban living room including a substantial bookshelf, and Ruppersberg has conjured several thematic book collections by writing their titles in the margins of the image, with arrows leading to the books in the picture, as if indexing its contents. The collections are personal and artistic, and evoke the pleasures of scholarship -- one highlights books acquired from yard sales, for instance, while another mixes books on Surrealism with classic comics.
But the sweet tone of the show is set by the poster on the back wall, which contains a poem, that, though it takes a little deciphering, reads like so:
Honey I rearranged the collection because
formal invention is what gets the attention
of critics dealers and whores
But we as collectors
are not the inspectors
of positions taken for or against
we buy what we like
when the mood strikes
by artists we love and adore.
"Honey, I rearranged the collection" is a key motif of the Dia project, by the way, where each of 50 volumes on The New Five Foot Shelf begins with a different organizing principle ("to reflect its true origin: depression," for instance, or "because it looked like a mess we had control over"). Not only does Ruppersberg want to collect it all, he wants to arrange and rearrange the collection into all its multiple, variable narrations.
The puzzle, published by Christine Burgin in an edition of 15, is called Fishing Is Fun and priced at $2,500. The posters are around $5,000.
* * *
The British film artist Steve McQueen is also a collector, though one whose esthetic is much simpler if no less epic. In the four works in his exhibition at Marian Goodman Gallery, his first since 2000, McQueen tends to go for a certain disjunction of sound and image, as if raising epistemological questions. In the large gallery is Once upon a Time (2002), a kind of slide show of the 116 images sent into deep space by NASA on the Voyager Space Probe in 1977.
This earthling creation story, presumably designed for aliens -- it begins with diagrams picturing human conception and birth (and oddly, including superimposed measurements) and continues with picturesque landscapes as well as scenes of traffic congestion on American highways -- is combined with a soundtrack of people speaking in tongues. Could glossolalia be a message from outer space?
McQueen's new 16mm film Charlotte, projected in a small gallery accompanied only by the noise of the projection machinery, features a red-toned close-up of the eye of the actress Charlotte Rampling, with McQueen's finger -- somebody's finger -- prodding the eyelid and edging uncomfortably close to the eye itself. The organ of sight (of a beautiful woman) is transformed into a receptacle for a sadistic touch. * * *
The masterful figurative painter Jack Levine, whose prodigious artistic gifts were noted in an exhibition at Boston's Fogg Art Museum when he was 17, was in fine form at the opening of "Jack Levine at 90" -- that's 90 years of age -- at DC Moore on Fifth Avenue. Levine is a political illustrator of notable ferocity -- the show includes large paintings clearly inspired by visits to the U.N. and major U.S. political conventions -- but as far as subjects of the artist go, you have to like Levine's Orpheus in Vegas (1984), depicting a tuxedoed Frank Sinatra-type fronting a trio of showgirls.
In the back gallery is 7th Nov (2001), in which a single image of the top of a man's shaved head, apparently lying on a gurney, is accompanied by a soundtrack of a man telling a detailed, traumatic story of how he accidentally shot his brother in the head with a handgun and killed him. The head on the screen has a large horizontal scar, and viewers have no way of telling whether it belongs to the dead man or invokes the effects of the horrible event in a more poetic way.
Technically, Levine's style is fascinating -- tones and color are dense and abstract, reined into form only by his skeetchy line, which operates almost independently. Orpheus in Vegas is priced at $125,000, but a 1964 etching of Cain and Abel could also be had for a modest $1,200.
* * *
Mary Boone Gallery in Chelsea is filled with the latest series of works by yBa Marc Quinn, shipped over from England where they premiered. Quinn made his mark with a cast of his own head in frozen blood, and more recently with a series of heroic white marble sculptures of people who are missing limbs. "Flesh," as the new exhibition is titled, features animal carcasses, heroically posed and cast in sinister dark gray bronze. The works make the heart-felt Expressionism of Chaim Soutine into a Duchampian gesture. The price: $75,000-$200,000.
Gasser & Grunert sold out its show of 13 charcoal-on-vellum drawings of splayed nudes by Chloe Piene at prices ranging from $6,500 to $12,000. Parts of the figures disappear, like they've entered another dimension. . . . Adam Baumgold Gallery moves several major paintings by the late Chicago figurative painter Roger Brown (1941-97) at prices ranging from $25,000 to $50,000. . . . Rare gallery sells Chris Larsen's Pause, a large sculpture of the Dukes of Hazzard Dodge Charger crashing into Unabomber Ted Kaczynski's Montana cabin, to a Seattle collector for $18,000.
Luxe gallery on West 57th Street sold most of its show of "time-based paintings" -- patterned canvases with movies projected onto them -- by Dominik Lejman, an East German painter (though not a Dresden School artist). One work shows a high-contrast aerial view of strollers at St. Peter's ($9,500); another is a DVD loop ice skaters at Rockefeller Center, projected straight on the wall ($3,500, in an edition of five).
Danese gallery unveils its new space in the Fuller Building with a show of 13 monumental new etchings by Richard Serra made at the L.A. workshop of Gemini GEL at Joni Moisant Weyl. Called "Arc of the Curve," the densely black prints involved as much as a pound of ink on each plate, worked for over two hours. The edition size ranges from 22 to 48 impressions, with prices beginning at $25,000.
Blonde superstar Pamela Anderson is "Pop Art on heels," according to photographer Sante D'Orazio in Women's Wear Daily on the occasion of his exhibition of big glossy pinups of Pam at Stellan Holm Gallery on West 24th Street. They're his classic shots in both black-and-white and color, dating from 2000, C prints laminated in Plexi, in editions of five and six, depending on size, with custom frames. The price range is $8,000-$18,000.
Thanks to an item in Page Six, on the night of the opening, the paparazzi were lined up outside in the frigid cold, waiting for the sexiest woman in the world to make an appearance. But she never showed -- the star's best revenge -- in fact, she had visited the gallery earlier in the day with new boyfriend Stephen Dorff, who starred as blonde transvestite Candy Darling in I Shot Andy Warhol (1996).
Stashed in one of the back galleries at Sonnabend on West 22nd Street is Jeff Koons' newest work, a colored stainless steel cast of a cute inflatable Elephant (2005), a work not unlike that emblem of the 1980s art boom, Koons' shiny steel 1986 Rabbit. The price: $1.5 million, in an edition of three and one artist's proof. But you can't have one -- they're all sold.
You have to like pioneering radical feminist Martha Rosler re-editioning her photo collages from the 1960s and 70s as photographs for her show last month at Gorney Bravin + Lee. Over 50 works, including images of U.S. suburban living rooms invaded by camouflaged Vietnam vets, and chaste brides with their breasts and vaginas showing, done anew in editions of 10, at about $8,500 each, brought in ca. $130,000. An especially good one is the landscape of collaged Playboy pinups, so exemplary of adolescent sensibility. Somehow, this work doesn't seem 100 percent serious.
Last month at Clementine Gallery, former Gawker editor Choire Sicha organized a show of works that poked gentle fun at the art world we know and love, with works like Joy Garnett's painting of New York's Chelsea Art District on Fire, clearly an update of Ed Ruscha's The Los Angeles County Museum on Fire (1965-68). It had already been snapped up by a savvy buyer for $799.95.
But real find was Jonathan Ames -- the author -- posing live in front of a Vincent van Gogh self-portrait -- he resembles van Gogh, a little -- along with his pal, Patrick Bucklew, otherwise known as Mangina, in a "being there" performance that invoked the notion of the self-portrait. The legendary Mangina performs half naked wearing a kind g-string made of a cast-rubber vagina, which viewers are invited to finger. For more, including bad jpgs of fetishistic performance at Jack Tilton Gallery, see http://themangina.com
Pop legend Robert Rauschenberg was tooling around in his wheelchair at his opening at PaceWildenstein in Chelsea, where the new collages-on-canvas are $800,000 each. "You have the best seat in the house," said a female admirer, eliciting a big grin. . . . Choreographer Trisha Brown received the insignia of Commander of the Order of the Arts and Letters after the performance of her 20-minute dance, O zlozony O composite, at the Paris opera last month.
The Whitney Museum carpeted its third-floor galleries, normally a brutal gray slate, with a lovely beige shag for its Cy Twombly retrospective -- looks nice. . . . Abrams has issued a deluxe new book on the works of painter Jane Freilicher, known for the still lifes and views she paints from her studios in Greenwich Village and Water Mill, Long Island. The 176-page tome includes an introduction by John Ashbery and an essay by Klaus Kertess. Tibor de Nagy Gallery is celebrating the publication of the book with a survey of Freilicher's works, "Paintings 1954-2004."
Freelance curator Richard Marshall overseeing the installation -- via crane -- of 26 Warhols in real estate mogul Aby Rosen's new Upper East Side townhouse. . . . Art-mag mogul Louise MacBain tried to buy Artforum but was turned down, insiders say. . . . Kenny Schachter in London, hunting down 2,000 pounds of cornflakes for the forthcoming William Pope.L exhibition at one of his galleries there.
Karen Finley, fresh from her political satire George and Martha (channeling George Bush and Martha Stewart via Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolfe) is now at work on something called Diary of Laura Bush. . . . Bill Brady moving ATM Gallery from Avenue B on the Lower East Side to West 20th Street in Chelsea, a small space next to Jack Shainman. He will install an ATM. . . . Zach Feuer opening second space for LFL on 10th Avenue (or was that 11th?).
Rumor says the Museum of Modern Art has banned red wine from its openings, to protect architect Yoshio Taniguchi's blonde wood floors. Next chance to confirm is at the show of works from the Swiss Bank collection, opening Feb. 4, 2005. . . . Spotted in Wes Anderson's new movie, The Life Aquatic, dealer Tony Shafrazi -- playing a Lebanese financier, of all things.
The new bio of Willem de Kooning, De Kooning: An American Master by Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan, goes into great detail about the paramours of the Dutch Ab-Ex giant, say those who have read the 752-page tome. But does it reveal the dimensions of his salami? If not, Weekend Update can, thanks to some original research. "It's normal-sized," said one of those dames.
WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.