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by Max Henry
|The Big Top has blown into town -- West Coast graffiti artist Barry McGee and his New York skateboarding compadres, Todd James and Stephan Powers, have collaborated on a large-scale installation at Deitch Projects titled "Street Market." Inside the former garage space on Wooster Street in SoHo are panel trucks tipped on their side, which are spacious enough to enter as you would an empty room. A huge wall mural of McGee's goofy Twist character shares the space with all kinds of advertising sign-boards.
Along the elevated platform that runs the length of the space is a bank of derelict shacks modeled after the vegetable stands, bodegas, car service dispatches, check-cashing and liquor stores you might find in low-income neighborhoods anywhere in the USA from South Central to the South Bronx. Inside are shelves of product packages but minus the actual product; they're empty boxes and bottles plastered with invented logos. A section downstairs has rows and rows of hubcaps beneath the overhanging eaves of a roof jutting out.
Our three amigos have fully embraced and crosshatched the branding strategies of advertising, blending ad gimmicks into a folksy graffiti culture. The initial impression of the installation is of a low-tech Blade Runner city of tightly crammed edifices and billboards minus the neon atmosphere. The triumvirate tries to keep their street credibility while eating their art cake too, but the going-for-it installation is self-serving and has a faux edge to it.
The streetwise flavor ends up diluted by a more acceptable Yuppie graffiti. There's not one iota of commentary on the society it gloms on, only a look-at-me aren't I cool esthetic that takes rather than gives. To paraphrase Tennessee Williams, there is mendacity in the gallery air.
A curved straight line
How to draw a straight line? If you're Francis Alÿs, you take a small paint can, punch a little hole in its top and walk around so that the paint drips out in a fluid trail behind you as you walk from the street into the elevator. You enter the gallery loopily dripping your line across the room then affix the can to the wall completing the long path from point A to point B. It's as valid a way to draw the line as using a pencil on paper.
This spirit is perhaps the invisible connection between the works in the enjoyable show, "Re-drawing the Line," currently on view at the alternative space Art In General in Tribeca. Underscoring the "fragmented quality of form and knowledge" (or, in a nutshell, mark-making), the show explores alternatives to the hand-drawn line in relationship to urban environments, architecture and technology.
Several gouache works on paper along with a pen and carbon work by Peter Wegner offer a fresh take on maps and monochrome painting and are possibly an homage to Ed Ruscha. Diana Cooper, who had a strong showing last season at Postmasters, is represented by a large constructivist canvas that is a schemata in black using felt, tin foil, black marker and pipe cleaners within a grid reminiscent of a computer chip.
Alessandro Balteo's installation features suspended cerulean-blue glass sheets originally used for a 1950's Caracas office tower with video footage of the actual building. A wall is papered with Xeroxed maps torn from the telephone books of various regions and neighborhoods devastated by the country's 1999 floods. In this politically loaded work, Balteo has deconstructed Venezuela's first modernist tower, regurgitating its vertical linearity into a piecemeal polemic that criticizes urban planning policies.
Arturo Herrera, who was in "Greater New York" at P.S. 1, cleverly riffs on the antiform felt works of Robert Morris (currently included in Sonnabend's sculpture show) via a tangled rectangle of wool felt that has action painting written all over it. Mungo Thomson has several of his mutable objects scattered around the space. He gathers 100 plastic zip ties into either clear or day-glow bunches. They're placed innocuously around the room and complement the humorous bathos of Alys' painted line.
As curated by independent critic (and Art Nexus editor) Monica Amor, "Re-drawing the Line" has an obfuscated affinity with Jackson Pollock in the works of Thomson, Herrera and Alys. Pollock studied traditional drawing with a fellow named Philip Guston. Both wound up tossing aside conventional linear wisdom. Pollock couldn't help it -- he tried real hard but couldn't draw to save his life. Guston, who mastered drawing at a young age, branched out of boredom. The intellectual posits of this show run deep yet Amor has deftly managed a light touch on such weighty issues.
Op Art recently has come into focus again, with Bridget Riley's retrospective at the Dia Art Center in Chelsea and PaceWildenstein showcasing the British painter's eye-catching canvases. Add Matt Magee to the list of artists who use repetition and color with precision. Magee's first solo show of paintings just closed at Bill Maynes gallery. The 11 works from 1999 and 2000 are oil on wood panel and collectively contain thousands of circles in various sizes arranged in row after row.
Magee's palette is earthy-electric, with natural subdued tones playing off of vibrant cadmium-infused colors and alternating shades of gray. The paintings immediately bring to mind the Wild West -- Aboriginal and Native American artifacts obsessively arranged in meditative compositions. Archaeological digs wind up cleaned and arranged neatly on tables and it is that very sculptural quality which Magee conveys in these quietly humming paintings.
Poet as connoisseur
Franck André Jamme is a well-regarded French poet (two books are currently being translated by John Ashbery and Mary Ann Caws) and an equally well-regarded collector and curator based in Burgundy and Paris. In the second-floor gallery space of the Agnes B shop on Greene street is a lovely show of artists' books he's collaborated on along with contemporary art he has brought from India. Works from his collection, which focuses on tantric art, art brut and tribal art, are also concurrently exhibited at Feature, Lawrence Markey and the Drawing Center. Jamme will be giving a reading at the Drawing Center in early November.
MAX HENRY lives in New York.