Summer has officially begun, but the New York gallery scene basically shut down at the beginning of June, starting its long, hot-weather hiatus weeks in advance, before everyone else, as is the avant-garde practice. Deitch Projects set the tone for the month by heading off to Europe, leaving behind a gallery filled with robots, courtesy of San Francisco street artist Barry McGee.
Standing in for artist and dealer both was a gang of mechanical taggers, including a guy in a realistic bathroom tableau set in the back of a tipped-over panel truck and a tower of five graffiti writers (each one standing on the shoulders of the last, to write "Amaze" in red, high up on the wall), plus several animated little tikis with spray cans.
Deitch's vast Wooster Street space also featured a ten-foot-high pyramid of working TVs, an even larger heap of junked, graffiti-covered vans, and walls papered with floor-to-ceiling paintings (most depicting McGee's signature 3D cube pattern and his hang-dog cartoon characters). The labor-intensive agglomeration of funky stuff, originally made for museum shows in Brandeis and Melbourne, has the kind of youthful energy that was so painfully absent in Venice.
And it ain't rummage no more, either. An untitled cluster of 68 glass pint bottles painted with faces goes for $100,000, the bathroom installation is $100,000, the tower of five taggers is $150,000 and the big group of framed drawings and photos is $250,000.
Around the corner at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts on Mercer Street were two life-size models for human flying machines made by the 64-year-old Belgian "ingenieur" Panamarenko, along with a concentrated survey of his other works dating 1984-2004. Since the 60s, Panamarenko has been designing and building ambitious (if non-functional) flying machines, including the Rucksack (1984), a lightweight "power pack" worn like a backpack, and the Archaeopterix (1990), a craft resembling the pre-Jurassic bird.
Star of the show at Feldman was Brazil, a 750-pound bronze sculpture of a man wearing gossamer plastic and wood wings spanning 20 feet and including a tiny tail motor with propeller -- inspired by a scene in Terry Gilliam's 1985 film of the same name. Panamarenko's Brazil is $400,000 (in an edition of six); a smaller model, made in an edition of 30, is $22,500.
Up at Perry Rubenstein Gallery on West 23rd Street was a different sort of replica, an installation by the Paris-based artist Elaine Sturtevant (b. 1930) of her Marcel Duchamp "line" -- Duchamp 1200 Coal Bags (1973/92), Duchamp Coal Stove (1992), Duchamp Fountain (1973) and two Duchamp Porte-Bouteilles (1993), along with several other works.
The gallery was dark and theatrically spotlighted, and felt a little bit like a graveyard -- indeed, Sturtevant presents herself as something of an esthetic "reanimator," breathing new, more intense life into icons of contemporaneity by making them again, from memory.
She has certainly stuck to it. In 1965 she exhibited a group of copies of works by Pop artists from the Janis Gallery, and in 1967 she set up a replica of Claes Oldenburg's infamous Store, located not far from the original. It's hard to imagine, but back then this proto-postmodernist gesture was received with more than a little animus.
Sturtevant's long perseverance (and her Beuysian self-portrait, in the advertisements for her exhibition, striding along in a fedora, cowboy boots and a long, fur-lined duster coat) amplifies her individuality -- that is to say, her eccentricity and obsessiveness, elements of artistic practice that are easily overlooked in today's instrumental, instant-gratification art market.
The installation at Rubenstein was a segment of a larger retrospective, "The Brutal Truth," that appeared in Frankfurt in 2004 and parts of which opened last month at MIT's List Visual Arts Center. The gallery installation here consists of ready-mades that Sturtevant produced over the years, but is being offered as a group for $450,000. In Paris, the artist shows at Thaddaeaus Ropac, and in Munich at Daniel Blau.
Also tomb-like was the conversion of the lower level of the Bohen Foundation into a mock West 13th Street subway station by the Berlin-based team of Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset (who originally hail from Denmark and Norway, respectively). Dubbed End Station, the stem-to-stern replication of a nonexistent subway stop was set in the 1980s -- the last "heroic" years of the New York art scene? -- and featured vintage graffiti tags and a Guerrilla Girls poster, as well as authentic Marlboro ads on the white-tile walls and a dented steel-mesh trash can on the platform.
You'd need a heart of stone to find it unamusing. Not only does the work echo the New York commuter's daily grind -- imagine, going into the subway for an esthetic experience -- but it also adds to a growing list of funhouse replicas of the city, including Gregor Schneider's conversion of the Barbara Gladstone Gallery into a dark alley in 2003 and Robert Gober's recent bathroom simulations at Matthew Marks Gallery.
As a bonus, one Saturday earlier in June, the Maine-based artist William Pope.L brought his touring medicine show, The Black Factory, to West 26th Street in Chelsea. Pope.L's latest project was presented via a white van towing an inflatable caravan stuffed with a claustrophobic, autobiographical art installation, all parked at the curb in front of White Cube gallery, and also featuring a pile of flour on the sidewalk and animated sidewalk performances by a trio of white students.
One notable interlude sent showers of sparks into the audience, as one of Pope.L's minions attacked a heavy chain with an industrial cutting tool, proclaiming that he was breaking the bonds of black oppression. Needless to say, the chain remained intact.
In keeping with the theme of the absent artist, William Pope.L himself was nowhere to be seen.
Down the street past 11th Avenue at Roebling Hall, the painter Nancy Drew had installed a compelling group of large-scale paintings in a vein that has become her trademark -- copies of high-modernist works by Lucio Fontana, Jackson Pollock, Clyfford Still and the like, all done in glitter, flock and Swarovski crystals.
For those who hope for an end to the endless postmodernist recycling of modernist highlights, Drew's works offer some promise -- perhaps we can smother it all in luxury. The works are certainly exhausting, in their over-the-top way. Prices range from $6,500 to $20,000.
* * *
Other highlights of late spring in New York included the exhibition at Jack Shainman Gallery of a new film by Michael Snow, the pioneering Canadian artist (b. 1929, Toronto) whose formalist murder-mystery Wavelength (1967) so galvanized Artforum film critic Annette Michelson and other members of the film vanguard back in the mag's early years.
For Sshtoorrty (2005), Snow filmed a simple but charming mnage that features an artist delivering a new abstract painting, a collector's wife who wants to hang the work, and the collector himself, who accuses the artist of cuckolding him, at which point the painter smashes his work over the collector's head, cartoon-style, and storms out.
Snow has apparently cut the film midway through and doubled it up, so that two halves of the narrative play at the same time, in looped superimposition, giving a convincing effect of a never-ending story. Bruce Nauman made a film like this once, depicting an endlessly battling couple. Snow's version is more comic -- thank goodness -- and priced at a collectible $15,000, in an edition of three.
For fans of prints and multiples, Andrew Kreps Gallery unrolled artist Cary Leibowitz's "Self-Importance Show," which included a pair of posters reading "Get Up You Lazy Bum" and "I Can't I Don't Feel Well." Clearly, we're talking here about the art with real-life resonance. The posters measure 24 x ca. 17 in., and are a bargain at $250 each, in an edition of 150.
Down the block at Anton Kern Gallery, the German neo-figurative artist Wilhelm Sasnal installed a suite of large ink drawings of Prohibition-era bootleggers along with small paintings of cactuses that resulted from the artist's first trip across the U.S. to Texas. The two subjects are tangentially linked by water, according to gallery director Christoph Gerozissis, who was offering A-list visitors a bourbon highball. As usual, Kern has it all working -- the drawings were sold at prices up to $45,000.
Up on 25th Street, dealer Florence Lynch put together a summer show she titled "Mirror, Mirror" -- it featured nothing but pictures of her, by Carlo Maria Mariani, Nina Levy, Noritoshi Hirakawa, and others. Needless to say, the portraits are given added oomph by their context.
For instance, Gabriele Stellbaum's photograph, Power of Balance (2003), captures Florence in a death-defying gymnastic stunt in which the artist holds the dealer aloft, while the 78-year-old Boston painter Dorothy Arnold (see www.dorothyarnold.com) provides an effervescent illustration of a maternal Lynch cradling an absent baby, titled Trusting (2004). The prices are, respectively, $700 in an edition of ten and $2,500.
Down on West 23rd, Texas native Michael Phelan set up "Bless You Taco Bell" in the cozy quarters of the back gallery at Daniel Reich. A former Grateful Dead camp follower with a pronounced taste for kitsch modernism, Phelan filled the room with large tie-dyed target paintings that he had had made to order on raw linen ($8,000), plus some stainless steel "memory balls," a Star Wars poster and a steep lattice pyramid of gold-painted branches, called If today was perfect, there would be no need for tomorrow.
Phelan said that he had succumbed to common New York syndrome -- the prices here are so high that real estate anywhere else seems like a bargain -- and bought a building down in Marfa. It's going to be some kind of exhibition space. "Interns can run it for me," said the affable artist. The press release for the show explains, gnomically, that the "Bless You Taco Bell" title is a comment on the banality of contemporary pop culture, in which a group of tomato pickers can boycott the Mexican-themed fast-food chain until it agrees to pay a penny more a pound for Florida tomatoes.
Next door, Caren Golden Fine Art had installed "Scratching Chance," a show of color photographs and a pair of films by New York artist Jonathan Calm. Based on the ubiquitous lottery "scratch" cards, which offer a mirage of hope in neighborhoods everywhere, the photos make a poetic motif out of the peeling surface as palimpsest, mixing images of scratch cards with sycamore tree bark and the peeling paint on a basketball backboard. Done in editions of five, the photos come as diptychs ($3,500) and triptychs ($5,000).
One of the short films in the back room -- viewers can watch it seated on a genuine New York City park bench -- features an amazing, computer-generated image of a typical brown-brick low-income-housing "project" set not in the ghetto but on the shores of a balmy island paradise. It's too perfect. Calm is included in the Studio Museum's survey of photography in Harlem, slated for July.
* * *
Match artspace is located a little off the beaten track, on the top floor of 115 W. 23rd Street. It was opened by Marc de Bourcy, who in his spare time works for the European Union. At present he has mounted an exhibition of paintings by Jaime Dalglish, a veteran New York artist who long ago devised what he calls "Levitating Morphoglyphs" (see www.morphoglyph.com), mural-sized Color Field abstractions done on rectangular wood panels that are mounted on the wall with brackets that allow individual elements to be rearranged at will.
Dalglish likes dramatic brushstrokes and striking color combinations, and his paintings can suggest sunlight in the jungle or the golden Buddha. Among the larger works at Match were Temple Morphoglyph (2002), which measures 96 x 104 in. and includes 52 equal panels ("one for each week of the year," he said) and Levitating Morphoglyph, which is 96 x 96 in. and made of 12 panels, each 96 x 8 in. ("it can morph into 144 squares").
* * *
At Grey Kapernekas Gallery on West 26th Street, a sweet gallery show of works by Kay Rosen, who was last seen here in a big way on the faade of the Whitney Museum for the 2000 "Biennial Exhibition." Among the works in the show was a drawing for "Blurred," a blue-and-red wall painting that was installed at the MCA Chicago last year. Since the MCA didn't acquire it an obvious failure of vision -- the work is still available. It can be yours for $25,000.
The Proposition on West 20th Street has installed a summer show with the light-hearted title of "Above the Trendy, the Down and Out." One standout is the pair of paintings of femme superheroes, The Girls in Space (2005), by Yale grad Megan Burns, which was bought by Proposition proprietors Ron Sosinski and Ellen Donahue ($6,000 each, though they get the dealer discount). Perhaps the dynamic duo will exhibit her work in their new gallery in Las Vegas.
Also at the Proposition is a DVD projection by Grace Graupe-Pillard called "Interventions" that digitally inserts brightly colored images from far-off wars into the everyday streets of New York City. The series of 76 images "attempts to make visually apparent the ongoing tragic repercussions of war in our own backyard."
* * *
Meanwhile, don't miss "It'll Cost You," an exhibition of images of body parts by 36 artists, selected by socialite art collector Beth Rudin DeWoody and installed in Kathleen Cullen's newer, larger gallery space in the Fine Arts Building on West 26th Street. The idea is that in colonial times, painters would set the price by how many limbs were to be included, like "an arm and a leg."
Bitforms is opening a branch in Seoul in September, says founder Steve Sacks and Louise Bourgeois irons the New York Times before reading it as protection against germs, according to a prank letter sent to the AARP Bulletin.
The National Academy handed out a passel of awards in conjunction with "Disegno: The 180th Annual Exhibition," including $2,000 to Will Barnet (the Henry Legrand Prize), $3,000 to Jack Levine (the Benjamin Altman Prize), $1,500 to Knox Martin (the Mary & Maxwell Desser Memorial Award) and $2,000 to Philip Pearlstein (the Adolph & Clara Obrig Prize).
WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.