The New York art machine powers away at breakneck speed, unhampered by Mideast warfare, lingering recession or the sour opinions of our leading art critics. Uptown at Michael Werner Gallery on East 77th Street, Georg Baselitz presents a pair of Neo-Expressionist heads, brutally carved of wood but papered in cheery Scottish plaid. Down at Fredericks Freiser Gallery in West Chelsea, John Wesley (b. 1928) offers a serene bespectacled gym teacher, painted in his trademark naked pink and blue, along with a toddler who flexes his fingers like a dream of Amadeus. And at George Adams Gallery on 57th Street, the witty political artist Enrique Chagoya (a Mexico-born San Franciscan) dishes up cans of "Cannibull's" soup -- "artist's brains with rice" sounds okay, but "curator's liver"?
Meanwhile, at Matthew Marks on 22nd Street, the Swiss team of Peter Fischli and David Weiss present a 75-foot-long light table covered with 3,000 jewel-like color transparencies from 15 years of world travel, also now printed in a $75 book published by the gallery with Verlag der Buchhandlung and Walther Konig. The Fischli & Weiss atlas of images, which look like so much stock photography -- sunsets, deserts, pyramids, wetlands -- speaks of an artistic colonization of the world and their daily life, both. These guys make perfection look easy.
The F&W work is reminiscent of both The Diaries of Andy Warhol (1989), designed to detail the artist's life for tax purposes, and the current Gerhard Richter retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, a survey of 180 paintings by the German "Capitalist Realist" that seems to lay claim to all artistic genres equally. "He's either the first artist or the last artist," said publisher Stefan Weidle.
While some might say the essence of Richter is Iceberg in Fog (1982), the spitting image of something that's cold, distant and hard to see, on a recent visit to the museum the lyrical history painter Duncan Hannah liked his sunsets, nudes and Betty (1977), Richter's Balthusian portrait of a young girl. Curator Rob Storr could have spared us some of those blurry black-and-whites and given us a few more galleries celebrating abstraction. In any case, most viewers are drawn to the solemn gallery of 15 paintings of the Baader-Meinhof Gang, a dirge marking a turn in German history that the Art Newspaper reports cost MoMA about $15 million -- earning Richter status as "the most expensive living artist."
Despite the sense of death that so many commentators see in Richter's work, it's spring in the art world and new awakenings are everywhere. At I-20 gallery on West 20th Street, the exhibition "Morbid Curiosity," transplanted from Acme Gallery in Los Angeles, includes one work that is notably out of step with the callow theme -- a striking full-scale tableau, seen through a curtained window, of a naked young girl sprawling on a couch in her underwear, holding a cat's collar in one hand.
It turns out that the 13-year-old femme had been petting the cat when it turned and clawed her. "I like dramatizing the moment of sexual awakening," said the soft-spoken 20-something Kristian Burford, an Australian who now lives in Los Angeles and has made these kinds of tableaux before. Viewers might refer to John De Andrea nudes or Ed Kienholz's red-light district, The Hoerengracht (1984-88). "I was kind of thinking of Caravaggio's Boy Bitten by a Lizard [ca. 1593]," the artist said.
On 57th Street at Marian Goodman Gallery, veteran Conceptual artist Lawrence Weiner seems to be getting ready for summer with a series of almost-lyrical wall text-drawings -- concrete poetry, really -- that suggest the beach, with "wave after wave" breaking towards several thing-words -- the beginning, earth, wave, water, edge, sky. Okay, maybe it's not really about surfing.
But down off Madison Square at Modern Culture in the Gershwin Hotel on East 27th Street, celebrated surf photographer Michael Halsband has Surfer Girl, Australia (2001), showing a bomber babe with board ($2,800 for a 40 x 30 print). Also on view are images of what is sometimes called "pulchritude" that dispense with gear, props and bathing suits. Halsband is working on a movie about superstar surfer Joel Tudor, to be called Surf Movie Reels 1-14, and is, of course, the photog who snapped the dual portrait of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol together, both wearing boxing gloves, to publicize their joint paintings back in the 1980s. Bad reviews of that collaboration "ruined Jean-Michel's friendship with Andy," Halsband said. "The critics painted him as if he were a pawn."
Not everyone is so sanguine about the evergreen subject of women's bodies. Rona Pondick, in her knockout solo show at Sonnabend on West 22nd Street, presents a dozen or so stainless steel sculptures that morph animals -- a fox, a cougar, a dog, a pile of eight monkeys -- with parts of the artist's own body. Many of the hybrids, like those of Dr. Caligari, seem creepily close to still-born, though the artist's Dog sits alert, the artist's head on the animal's body, guarding the entrance to the gallery.
Across the street at Friedrich Petzel in Chelsea, babe-painter supreme Richard Phillips has studies for a "Birds of Britain" show -- portraits of young women done with charcoal, chalk and (this is the unusual touch) aluminum leaf -- slated for White Cube in late May. The source is a picture book from the early '70s, with an introduction by -- Anthony Haden-Guest. Phillips is hot -- three of five drawings were sold for $6,000, at the opening.
Down the block, Sue Williams opened a show of her new paintings, which have completely forgone any representation of the naughty bits for simple color brush strokes against a brushed white ground, sort of like Barnett Newman gone all loopy. They're priced up to $40,000. In the back are some smaller, ink-on-acetate works featuring images of what the artist now calls "rabbit ears," priced at $6,000.
Still further down the block, at Gracie Mansion, the painting of a forked hot dog by Robert Hawkins was still available for $6,000, last we looked. Other must-have images, all measuring 40 x 40 in.: a flying carpet, a volcano, a vault full of golden treasure. Hot dogs were clearly on the menu, as Jessica Fredericks at Fredericks Freiser had mentioned the forthcoming Christopher Chiappa show there (something about 100 women wearing Psycho t-shirts) and Chiappa had showed previously a work called Weiner, a hot dog sticking out of the wall at waist level. About the same time, Modern Culture had on view photos by Lyndal Walker, including a print of Celeste preparing some dogs at a picnic. Kraut, anyone?
Around the corner at Gagosian Gallery, Richard Artschwager (b. 1924) unveiled two new bodies of work -- photos of family and friends affixed to cubes and 3D geometric furniture-shapes, and colored wall drawings done on cutouts of a dark, wiry, matted material that is used to upholster furniture. His daughter Clara was on hand, and her younger brother posed for some of the wall works, which tumble and jump. They're anti-silohuettes, the artist said. "with the figure drawings inside."
Phone calls are flooding in from around the world for work by Tom Fruin, whose "Cultural Narcotics: The Straight Dope" at Stux Gallery includes about 30 works made from stitched-together mini-baggies formerly used to package drugs. Fruin, who owns two sewing machines, collects the bags in his Fort Greene neighborhood and stitches them together, sometimes in a kind of map of the housing projects where they are found. Prices range from $1,200 for a small one to $9,500 version, for a larger, with sculptures -- models of the housing projects where the bags are collected made from salvaged filing cabinets -- going for $9,000-$14,000. Actor Willem Dafoe bought an 8 x 8 foot baggie quilt for $30,000. An atypical work made of fast food trash and called Large #1 Meal to Go (2002) is $2,200.