For a viewer who came of age in the Color Field era of the late 1960s and early 70s, a certain elation attended the first visit to Pat Steir's show of new paintings at Cheim & Read last month. There, stretching 25 feet along the gallery's east wall -- practically seeming to pass through the entry into the back room -- was Blue River (2005), a kind of vast pigment waterfall that gains an allegorical dimension through its red, white (actually, silver) and blue color scheme, so it looks like a patriotic veil. No one else in New York is working quite like this today, and the mode has been missed.
The rest of the show featured smaller (though not small) "Waterfall" paintings, a series Steir has been making for several years. The delicious drips and splatters go right to the soul of modernist painting, taking Pollock's end game in a super decorative (and feminine?) direction. Speaking of allegories, the 9 x 11 ft. painting used on the announcement card, Summer Moon (2005), with its delta of forest green afloat in a drenched atmosphere of gold and light verdigris, is particularly suggestive of abstract fertility.
And the whole Ikebana sensibility, which Steir manages to both kick up a notch and keep at arm's length, is especially rich in light of the penetration of the Western art market by Japanese cartoons and other kid's stuff (of which the Takashi Murakami-curated "Little Boy" exhibition at Japan Society is a compelling example). I love the way Steir's works take Asian calligraphy motifs, once an emblem of kitsch art excess, and put them into some frozen Postmodernist space.
The sweet calligraphic stroke comes into its own in the drawings at Cook Fine Art on Madison Avenue (Steir's work was on exhibit in three galleries simultaneously, Pace Prints being the third). Laid down with intense but controlled energy on lightly gridded heavy paper, the works here are playful and sublime. In the back of the gallery, drawings from the 1991 "Winter Group" are arranged on the walls like icons in a chapel.
But the allegorical impulse is irresistible, and Steir's use of splattered paint on gridded paper suggests, alternately, the forensic investigations of the CSI television series and the comets and cosmic dust of a formalist Star Trek. The touches of highly decorative color -- additions of gold and dried-blood red -- are more fun than anything else.
At Pace Prints was an exhibition of several monoprints and a large (48 x 35 in.) silkscreen, Blue, in an edition of 40, all made at Pace's own studio. The print is $3,500, the monotypes $12,500, drawings in the $15,000-$25,000 range, and large waterfall paintings start at around $90,000.
Thinking of other large works, right around the corner from Cheim & Read is James Cohan Gallery, which feted us last month with more stains and drips, literally and abjectly speaking, courtesy of huge color-line drawings by Ingrid Calame, who bases her allover designs on traceries of stains from the Los Angeles streets. Another painting installation that comes to mind is one at Spencer Brownstone Gallery in SoHo in 2002, where Olivier Mosset painted gigantic orange rectangles on the walls, filling the space with glowing orange light.
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Also uptown at Salander-O'Reilly Galleries was another exhibition capped by a mural-sized work, a series of paintings of bathers by Graham Nickson (b. 1946), the British artist who came to New York in 1976 and who has headed the New York Studio School since 1988. His huge frieze of five posing bathers is done in hard complements of orange, violet and green, the figures arrayed under a turquoise sky filled with towering black thunderheads. Nickson's architectonic composition and deliberate brushstrokes always feel very Czannesque, somehow. The thing is 120 x 209 inches and he's been working on it for 22 years. They don't mess around at Salander-O'Reilly; the exhibition included about 10 or 11 paintings, and most sold at prices ranging from $30,000 to $225,000.
Another really good gallery show that opened in April -- the month seemed to have more than usual -- was the exhibition of works by Thomas Struth at Marian Goodman Gallery. In the front space were large color photographs of people looking at art, Michelangelo's David in the Galleria Dell' Accademia in Florence, as it turns out, which itself can only be spotted in the photos here and there reflected in the glasses of a few viewers and on the cover of the guidebooks they carry. (The photos were ably reviewed here by Jerry Saltz; see "Ways of Seeing," May 6, 2005.)
So, Struth gives us looking at art in the front gallery, and learning how to make it in the back gallery. There, he had a two-screen video installation showing five different hour-long master guitar classes at the Lucerne Music Academy led by an instructor named Frank Bangarten. An astonishing work, more so for being so commonplace -- a music lesson -- as Bangarten joyfully guides his students towards a more expressive, more perfected performance, a kind of fine tuning that we don't hear of much in the art world, where it's all genius or nothing. It's about "this joy at captivating people," he says at one point.
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Add to the long list of contrary gestures of the gallery closed, emptied or denied the installation at Friedrich Petzel Gallery on West 22nd Street by Paris-based artist Philippe Parreno (b. 1964), for which he has blocked the entrance to the space with a white bookshelf. The intrepid gallery staff spent the month encouraging visitors, about to turn away and depart, to go ahead and push on the side of the shelf, which revolves and opens like something out of a Sherlock Holmes novel.
Inside the dark room is The Boy from Mars, an equally ingenious videotape playing on a small wall-mounted monitor. Shot in otherworldly setting -- a Thai rice field, owned by artist Rirkrit Tiravanija, where sits a kind of cloth and bamboo greenhouse designed by architect Franois Roche, with power provided by a generator harnessed to a water buffalo -- the barely narrative tape shows some UFOs floating in the sky and two spindly aliens exploring the scene. It's perfect.
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Also perfect are the sepia-toned salt prints by Roger Fenton (1819-69) currently on view at Hans P. Kraus, Jr., Fine Photographs on East 77th Street in Manhattan. The pioneering 19th-century English photographer, a cofounder of the Royal Photographic Society, made all sorts of works, from picturesque British landscapes and portraits of Queen Victoria's daughters to war scenes from the Crimean War. The photographs were all taken during a brief period of activity, 1852-60, after which Fenton turned to the practice of law.
Currently on view at Kraus is a selection of pictures from a Fenton descendant, photographs that were retrieved in the late 1930s from disarray in the attic of a family house near Portsmouth, an area that was subsequently heavily bombed during World War II. The works, which have exquisite clarity and historical impact, range widely in price depending on subject; several of the best have already been sold for prices of $90,000 and more, to the Clark Art Institute and the Muse d'Orsay. A touring museum exhibition of Fenton's photographs opens at the Metropolitan Museum, May 24-Aug. 21, 2005.
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In late April, Richard Prince opened a survey of his own work at Barbara Gladstone Gallery in Chelsea, a show that ranges comprehensively through his various types of sculptures, photos and paintings. One standout is a mural-sized joke painting overlaid with a grid of unused blank checks, their Jimi Hendrix pattern barely visible underneath the thick ornamentation of cotton-candy-colored brushwork -- the ultimate in tongue-in-cheek depravity from the anti-painting Postmodernist iconoclast.
Also good was the giant photo-portrait of Brooke Shields taken by Sante D'Orazio at Prince's direction, on view over in a small storefront gallery on Rivington Street off the Bowery. The 39-year-old mother of one looks pretty hot, posed in a string bikini with a chopper, an echo of her famous pubescent pose for the provocative film Pretty Baby (1978), which Prince had appropriated and exhibited as "Spiritual America" in the same space in 1982.
April also saw the first New York solo show of Yoshua Okun, a brief three-week stint at The Project on West 57th Street (before it became Projectile). Titled "Lago Bolsena," the installation featured a set of videos of people from a poor area of Mexico City -- one with a reputation as dangerous -- pretending to be monsters and animals, a good-humored bit of theater (a trope also explored in Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine in 2002).
Better yet were the cabinets: Okun has inset the LCD screens, speakers and volume controls in tree trunks and branches -- an amiable combination, one that suggestively echoes a piece from the 1960s by Marisol going on the block this week at Sotheby's, a sculptural figure with a small TV set for a head. Okun's works were priced in the $10,000-$18,000 range, and seem like a good acquisition. The Mexico City native is now in L.A., where he teaches a "media sketchbook" class at UCSD.
At PaceWildenstein in SoHo, handsome Lucas Samaras oversaw the opening festivities for his installation of about 35 Apple work stations, each loaded with 4,432 digital stills and 60 short films by the artist -- the same were also installed (in lesser number) at PaceMacgill on East 57th Street. Each station contains the same wealth of psychedelicized and Rorschached images -- tree trunks (gnarly ones), the artist's living room, Central Park, flowers and fruits, and innumerable self-portraits, a compelling reflection of the idle artistic imagination at work, a definition of the artist as true eccentric.
Called "PhotoFlicks (iMovies) and PhotoFictions (A to Z)," the show is accompanied by a catalogue (a bargain at $20) that opens with a telling bit of concrete verse: "I was the house bound pet of spouse-minus mother I'm grateful for the care but grated at the constraints" and "Arne nonplussed by iMovies," among other revelatory tidbits. At $15,000 per station in an open edition, the work may be something of a hard sell -- though it's certainly worth having.
Uptown at PaceWildenstein on 57th Street is "The Music Room" by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, a show of about 20 works, both soft and monumental, devoted to musical instruments, including the 11-foot-tall French Horns Unwound and Entwined (edition of three plus one AP). Most are already sold for stratospheric sums, including a Soft Viola (2002) to the Whitney Museum; a modestly sized, molten-looking Soft Clarinet is $385,000.
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Suzanne McClelland has her first show in five years at the new Larissa Goldston Gallery (opened by the daughter of Bill Goldston, founder of the legendary print publisher ULAE) in the new 530 West 25th Street building (also home to Art of This Century and several other notable galleries). Each painting spells out a word or two in a hard-to-read arabesque of paint -- cock, bitch, stud, that pussy, or, in a series tagged "after Malevich," state, form and race -- they look shaggy, ragged, elegant. About 17 works, ranging in price up to $35,000.
At Goff + Rosenthal on West 23rd Street, the German artist Susanne Kühn is exhibiting several new paintings in which her signature primordial forests -- seen in previous years via ink-on-paper works at the now-defunct Bill Maynes Gallery -- are populated by figures of contemporary women. "It was time to also include the figure," she said.
Kühn's piney-landscape imagery, with its soaring trees and epic rock formations that suggest the Pacific Northwest, the Black Forest and Chinese landscape painting all at once, is so original that the new figures take some getting used to. No matter; they are fantastic, and a bargain (what her Berlin dealer, Annette Freiin von Spehardt of Galerie Echolot, calls "Berlin prices").
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Marian Goodman Gallery hosted a one-day benefit art sale for Franklin Furnace, designed so that the donating artists take home 50 percent of the proceeds. "You get better works that way," said Franklin Furnace founder Martha Wilson. In all the benefit should raise maybe $225,000 for the organization, which exists largely at www.franklinfurnace.org, though it also has new offices in the Davis Arts Building in Brooklyn.
Some collector should buy the photograph by Patti Chang dubbed Fountain, a large picture of the artist apparently drinking from a silvery puddle on the floor of a public bathroom; at $4,000, it looks like a bargain. Sold was a lead pencil drawing of a giant wave by Robert Longo called Study for Serpent's Tongue ($12,000) and a painted plaster bust from 2002 by the irrepressible John Ahearn, titled Emmani ($9,000).
Ahearn had just visited the much-praised Julian Schnabel exhibition at C&M Gallery. "I like looking back at that time, the early 80s," he said. "You can see how Julian had his eye on Sigmar Polke, and was thinking of Pattern and Decoration painting, too -- does anyone remember that anymore?" Also on hand, graffiti artist Chris "Daze" Ellis, back from Cleveland, where he completed a mural on the side of the Cleveland Public Theater, and Tom Otterness, who contributed a great cartoon animation to the sale. Otterness said he's taking cello lessons.
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Still more odds and ends from a month filled with truancy: Adam Pendleton at Yvon Lambert New York on West 25th Street, tearing it up in his first solo exhibition with color monochrome paintings covered with poetry, printed in block letters conceptual-art style. "You be knockin' on my door/ you be given me my joy/ you take care of me/ I reach for the world/ and you give it to me." Pendleton is included in "Black Conceptual Art since the 1970s" at the Houston CAM -- and all 15 works at Lambert are marked sold at prices in the $7,000-$15,000 range.
At Marvelli Gallery in the West 26th Street Chelsea Fine Arts Building, Alex McQuilkin's DVD of "a romantic fantasy of suicide" -- the attractive young artist stares unblinking into the camera as she submerges slowly beneath the surface of her bath and stays under as long as she can -- is sold out at $3,500 in an edition of 10.
At Haswellediger & Co Gallery on West 23rd Street, young artist Lindsay Brant triumphs with a fairly gothish installation, featuring some large black dogs made of papir-mche (they seem to have accidentally bitten off their owner's hand), a photo of a dead deer in the woods, and a decapitated head with glass eyes, egg-shell skin and red-bead strings of blood coming from the neck. The price range for these works is $800-$12,000; the artist is daughter of collector Peter Brant and Art in America publisher Sandy Brant.
At Derek Eller Gallery small paintings of Gothic comedy and horror by Andre Ethier, a young artist from Canada who "doesn't have much of a resume." The one I liked (but didn't buy; I think it was $600) was illustrated in Roberta Smith's New York Times roundup. . . . At Cohan and Leslie, all eight paintings by Simon Aldridge, a British artist who lives in Connecticut and specializes in suburban landscape visions broken into video-screen dashes, are maked sold at $8,000-$13,000. . . . At David Zwirner Gallery, a Monday-night opening for a show of new paintings by Neo Rauch, to avoid the auctions scheduled for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Could success by warming up his socialist surrealist scenes just a little bit?
New spot on the gallery tour is the Trygve Lie Gallery, located in the basement of the Norwegian Seaman's Church at 317 East 52nd Street, opening several months ago with a show organized by Turid Meeker and called "Sheer Veil." It featured works by Cecilie Dahl, Eva Faye and Anne Katrine Senstad. And, yes, they're all Norwegian. . . . . Spotted in "The Continuous Mark," the set of four exhibitions at the New York Studio School devoted to works by its teachers and alums -- a show now completed -- is a small abstract painting by Museum of Modern Art veteran curator Robert Storr.
More field reports, most of them true: Larry Gagosian is opening a gallery in Rome on June 6, a suite of three rooms located in the historic city center. His timing is considered curious, since that's the day the rest of the Rome art scene closes for the summer. . . . Dennis Oppenheim is giving a collection of models of his public art works to the Price Art Tower in Bartlesville, Okla. Madrid's Museo Reina Sofia is also putting its collection of his works on view. . . . The Museum of Modern Art has acquired a Francis Bacon triptych from Tony Shafrazi Gallery, insiders say. Shafrazi is also sponsoring a show of 1980s art star Zadik Zadikian in Teheran, according to a card that came in the mail. Zadik's specialty, if memory serves, was covering commonplace objects with gold.
After Damien Hirst's Virgin Mother was installed in the interior plaza of Lever House, supercollector Aby Rosen couldn't help but buy it. What did it cost, $2 million in an edition of three? He has a city permit for a one year installation, so it'll be on view for at least that long. . . . Gary Indiana's new book, Schwarznegger Syndrome: Politics and Celebrity in the Age of Consent (New Press), with cover designed by Barbara Kruger, hits the stores this week. . . . Noted in New York's Grand Central Station, ads on coffee cups for "Dal" at the Philadelphia Museum, presumably only a Amtrak ride away. "To gaze is to think," it quotes.
The Metropolitan Museum, covered with scaffolding for work on its faade, now looks like a ghost of its former self. . . . Elton John spotted in China shopping for new Chinese photography at Shangart gallery in Shanghai. . . . Paul Judelson is moving I-20 Gallery to 23rd Street. . . . Suite 106 is moving from Wooster Street in SoHo to West 24th Street. . . . Leo Koenig Gallery is leaving Centre Street for 23rd Street and 11th Avenue.
Chris Ofili is now represented in New York by David Zwirner Gallery as well as by Gavin Brown's Enterprise. . . .Art-mag mogul Louise MacBain launches her new art awards with a $50,000 prize to vanity artist Gregory Colbert, whose insipid sepia-toned photos of people and animals are currently plastered on ads around New York City. So much for her taste and vision.
Assorted byline news: New York Sun freelance auction reporter Lindsay Pollock has departed the paper for Bloomberg Muse, where she is to appear on TV as well as in print. "They made me an offer I couldn't refuse," she said. . . . Former Art + Auction editor Jori Finkel's byline is back -- in the Sunday New York Times, where she reported on the newest fad among L.A. collectors, backyard "skyspaces" by James Turrell. Prices start at $500,000; contact Santa Monica art dealer Bill Griffin . . . Art Review has shut down its New York office, though Daniel Kunitz stays on staff.
And Lee Rosenbaum on the op-ed page of the New York Times, arguing that the Metropolitan Museum's professional standards were compromised by commercial interests in its new exhibition of designs by Coco Chanel and the fashion firm's current head, Karl Lagerfeld. "Substantially financed by the fashion house," the exhibition is "tainted by the same sort of self-interested sponsorship that brought notoriety to 'Armani' at the Guggenheim Museum in 2000," she writes.
WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.