I like riding the subway out to the Queens Museum, taking the number 7 train all the way to the second-to-last station, Shea Stadium/Willets Point. The trip is about 15 stops and takes at least 30 minutes, a slow-paced, well-populated ride with the residents of Queens. The journey continues by foot through Flushing Meadows Corona Park, past the new tennis center (isnt an Eric Fischl statue of a naked Arthur Ashe in there somewhere?) and the Mexican soccer games until you reach the plaza with the fabulous, 140-foot-tall steel Unisphere from the 1964 Worlds Fair.
The museum sits right there, a long, low limestone building that you enter through a revolving door. Admission is free, and the small lobby by the entrance has vending machines for ice cream, snacks and drinks. It feels a little like amateur hour, with its touristy installations devoted to the 1939 Worlds Fair and Tiffany glass, and of course the ever-popular New York Panorama. But director Tom Finkelpearl and chief curator Valerie Smith have been brilliant, putting together a series of exhibitions that are a model of community programming.
Latest up is the second "Queens International," a sprawling show of about 40 artists who live and work in the borough, organized by Queens Museum assistant curator Hitomi Iwasaki. Curiously, in this era of flourishing international art fests, for once the show is literally true to its name -- its about how international Queens is.
Thus, Eung-Ho Parks wall piece, Im Looking into You (2004), is a grid of bottle caps, each painted with an iris of a different colored eye in a rainbow coalition of pigments. Michael Ferris Jr.s sculpture, Old Man George (2002), is a carved wooden "family tree" incorporating small portraits as well as sections of Syrian wood intarsia. And Cui Feis Manuscript of Nature V (2002) is a wall of tendrils and twigs arranged in rows that look like Chinese calligraphy.
The wall labels identify each artist by where they live now, where they were born and where their parents came from. Park, for instance, is a South Korean who lives in Jackson Heights, while Ferris was born in Chicago of an Arab father and a half-Spanish, half-German mother. He lives in Sunnyside. We all exist in a matrix of nationality -- especially in Queens.
Other works are about ethnic food (Liz Phillips), subway stops on the Queens G train (Tamara Gubernat) and an Arab-American caf in Astoria (Aissa Deebi). Brenda Camposs four-channel, three-minute video installation is called Where Is Home, and Mike Peter Smiths vitrine filled with finely crafted models of Vendor Carts (2004) is, somehow, ethnic. And Ian Pedigo gives us a kind of corral-style wooden gate, hung with a sign that reads Unknown Horizon in a dozen languages.
* * *
Artist Mark Kostabi, who splits his time between New York and Rome, is immensely popular and successful, not least because of his Artnet Magazine advice column, "Ask Mark Kostabi". He has sold 15,000 paintings, grosses over $2 million a year, and can plant an item about himself on Page Six with a single phone call (after Carmen Kass, he may be the most gossip-worthy Estonian in New York). At the same time, he remains unloved by much of the art world -- for instance, curator Dan Cameron neglected to include Kostabi -- the quintessential East Village artist -- in next months "East Village USA" exhibition at the New Museum.
This art-world snobbery is due in large part to Kostabis populism. As is evident in his drawing show at Adam Baumgold Gallery on East 79th Street, which features 75 drawings made over the last 25 years, the roots of Kostabis esthetic are in an easily accessible literary imagination that only came back into fashion in contemporary art in the 1990s. (Prices are quite reasonable, starting at $800.)
Typically, art is all about the solitary genius, and modern artists have obsessively, ego-maniacally made themselves the center of their own work, from Pablo Picasso and his incessant self-portraits to the German post-Minimalist artist Katharina Sieverding, whose current show at P.S.1 fills the huge gymnasium gallery with equally huge portraits of her own Amazon-like visage. But the signature Kostabi figure is a faceless mannequin -- clearly, kin to Giorgio di Chiricos metaphysical tailors dummies -- a figure that easily represents the everyday person on the stage of the contemporary world.
* * *
Around the corner at Francis Naumann Fine Art on East 80th Street, the California artist Damian Elwes is having his first New York solo show. Titled "The Studios of Matisse, Picasso, Warhol & Duchamp," the exhibition fills Naumanns elegant townhouse gallery with lively, colorful and erudite paintings of the four artists studios, done in a style reminiscent of Raoul Dufy and based on period photos and art historical research.
Though Elwes imagination would seem to be located in the South of France about a half-century ago, his studio is in Santa Monica, and his clients include many Hollywood stars (his brother, Cary Elwes, is the successful actor). One of his collectors is Donald Sutherland, who personally delivered a painting of Picassos studio to the gallery, stopping in New York on the way from California to his home in Vermont.
Sutherland was convinced to give up the painting for the show when Elwes offered him in its place a work that depicts Gauguins studio in the South Seas -- and Sutherland, of course, portrayed Gauguin in the 1987 biopic, Wolf at the Door. The works sell particularly well; paintings go for around $50,000.
* * *
Out at Mary Boone Gallery on West 24th Street, the Chelsea art districts hottest strip, Timothy Greenfield-Sanders new "XXX" photos of the top actors and actresses from adult films defeat criticism -- sex is one thing that we all understand. As everyone must know by now, the pretense here has been to photograph top porno stars twice, dressed and undressed, as if introducing these disreputable characters to polite society.
They look great, especially Sharon Mitchell, a 1980s sex-film vet who now heads the Adult Industry Medical Health Care Foundation. And Briana Banks, a younger star, is especially darling in her girlish red hoodie, and appropriately carnal in the nude. There are 14 pairs of photos in all, priced at $35,000 for larger prints, made in editions of three, and $15,000 for smaller works, done in editions six.
Down the street at Luhring Augustine, superstar postmodernist painter Christopher Wool has about 20 large (up to 108 x 72 in.) paintings done in oil enamel on linen. Wools black-and-white (and occasionally maroon) gestural abstractions are so artfully casual, made with spray-painted squiggles, paint-roller patches and wiped out smears and eradications. They bear titles like King That, Stupid Rabbit and Eurotrash. All are sold, the gallery says, for $85,000-$100,000 each. Also featured are several dozen splatter drawings on paper, here framed on the wall, but destined to be taped into an earlier Chris Wool catalogue and sold as a group as a "book" titled Drawings of Beer on the Wall (2004).
Across the street at LFL Gallery, young genius painter Dana Schutz has installed 12 new paintings, brightly colored, bluntly drawn portraits and nature scenes, ranging from small to large. Theyre very much in demand. As the opening got under way, the artist herself was dragging a plastic barrel filled with iced beer and water out into the front gallery. Do the paintings have an overarching narrative, like her hit show in 2002 (a loopy investigation of life as the last man on earth)?
"Not so much -- its about eating yourself and building something out of the result," she said, cryptically. One small painting, titled Myopic, shows a figure with a single, oversized but non-Cyclopian eye; another, the biggest work, portrays a couple of kids in the foreground huddled around a small pile of stones, and is called Civil Planning. "Excuse me," Schutz said. "I want to drink a beer." Pictures are going to both the Guggenheim Museum and the Corcoran Gallery.
Other Chelsea sights include Conceptual artist Joseph Kosuths outline of his own history of Western philosophy at Sean Kelly Gallery, a huge and dramatic installation titled A Propos (Reflecteur de Reflecteur) and consisting of a network of 289 glass panels, bearing 86 philosophical statements in cursive black script that are lit from behind by fluorescent lights. "By substance I understand that which is in itself and is conceived through itself," wrote Spinoza in his Ethics in 1673. A plan for the installation, done in an edition of 86, is $4,000.
East Village artist Lori Taschler has installed a show of 12 small works, both pastels and oils, at JG Contemporarys storefront space on West 28th Street in Chelsea. Taschlers dreamy, almost monochromatic works have symmetrical images of cottages and trees, the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, a girl on a couch with her cat. The price: $3,500. "Cats always sell," said dealer Jay Grimm.
The trippiest thing in Chelsea is Patrick Mimrans installation at the Milk Gallery on West 15th Street, which features a collection of large color photos plus a four-channel video projection. Mimrams imagery mixes pulsing, high-key digital patterns with images of Krishna, hookahs and other exotica. A handsome, white-haired gent who used to own the Lamborghini car company, Mimram -- who welcomed Elizabeth Berkley, Lizzie Grubman and Dr. Ruth at his opening -- was inspired by a recent trip to India. Are the works sensual or spiritual? "Thats a complicated question," he said.
Also noted: Danish artist Jesper Just at Perry Rubinstein Gallery reviving the over-the-top tradition of art-music opera with three short video pieces of actors singing pop songs to each other, tearfully and sometimes in drag. Its a sentimental education. . . . The two-man peformance group Type A -- Adam Ames and Andrew Bordwin -- at Sara Meltzer Gallery reviving a particularly masculine version of Body Art, making motion studies of dance-like shoves and mutual aggression by tracing their footprints on mural-sized sheets of paper. The price: $7,000.
At Andrea Meislin Gallery in the Fine Art Building on West 26th Street in Chelsea, sculpture and photographs by Daniel Rothbart, who travels the world, photographing a group of aluminum begging bowls along the way. One particularly irresistible picture shows a reclining odalisque with an opium pipe, posed with a green apple in each bowl. . . . At the Sculpture Center in Long Island City, Rita McBride designed a huge, semicircular bleacher for a series of art performances and readings. In the back room, a proposed public art work, a kind of latticework tower for a traffic circle, whose rotating design is inspired by the spinning skirts of folk-dance performers.
And at Wooster Projects on West 15th Street is a cycle of large, squarish paintings by Chad Attie, their surfaces gouged and torn as well as drenched with pigment monochromes. Titled "The Juliet Suite," each picture shows a single siren, kin to Willem de Koonings epochal Clam Diggers (1962). De Ks pink pair sold at Sothebys contemporary art sale on Nov. 9, 2004, for $3.9 million. Atties ladies can be yours for around $10,000.
Thinking holidays: The show at Metro Pictures of Louise Lawlers new photographs of expensive artworks in storage includes wrapping paper made from one of the photos, for only $10 per package. . . . And Susan Inglett Gallery has plastic action figures by Marcel Dzama for $20 each.
* * *
Superrealtor and art collector Aby Rosen is developing the old five-story Christies East building on East 67th Street into 4,600-square-foot "loft-style" apartments that start at $5.4 million, the New York Observer says. . . . Lennon Weinberg is moving to 514 West 25th Street, on the ground and second floor. . . .American Fine Arts closes at the end of the month. . . . Electronic music maestro Moby is opening a new gallery for illustrators near his Tea NY tea parlor on the Lower East Side, people say. . . .The Palm Beach ICA has called off its search for a new director and is likely to close after current show ends, according to insiders.
So far, a few good jokes about the new Museum of Modern Art. "You know why I like it?" asks dealer Leslie Tonkonow. "Its bigger than Gagosian Gallery." And regarding New York Times reviewer Michael Kimmelmans characterization of Barnett Newmans modernist classic Broken Obelisk as kitschy, Artists Pension Trust advisor David Ross gripes, "Maybe he meant Alfred E. Newman". . . . The old Dorset Hotel ghost has moved into the new Museum of Modern Art, whose guards report seeing a lady in white traversing the empty galleries after hours. She must be jumping the line.
WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.