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by Max Henry
|Ilya and Emilia Kabakov have the best of intentions in The Palace of Projects, perhaps the most grandiose art installation since Matthew Barney's 1998 show at Barbara Gladstone. The 40-by-80-foot construction, sponsored by the Public Art Fund, is set in the middle of the football-field-sized Lexington Avenue Armory at 26th Street in Manhattan. It's a diaphanous sci-fi glow of white scrims stretched over wood frames. It looks something like a parked UFO in the middle of an airplane hangar.
Inside, the nine-room, spiral-shaped structure is filled with signature Kabakov -- simple plywood school desks and chairs, bins of clothing, cots, mattresses, Plexiglas exhibits of Utopian scale models and slide projections. Utopian literature hangs on placards and laminated mimeographed pages offer solutions for a better society.
The Kabakov stage set is aimed at countering the destruction of the world and hypothesizing about soon-to-be-realized social transformation. There's a certain amount of attention given to traveling at warp speed. In all, 60 displays are divided into three distinct groups -- How to make yourself better, how to make the world better and how to stimulate the appearance of projects.
Kabakov's 1997 Whitney Biennial installation of a post-Soviet hospital ward was visceral and haunting. But this Palace is crammed with too many ideas to digest. Ironically, Kabakov's presentation of his hypothetical Utopia and its requisite technology is outmoded and, although quite poetic, behind the times.
Hanging with the homme boys
The expression "Mad cutie" is street slang for "ultimate cuteness" and the subject of an engrossing series of stark black-and-white photographs and color video by Janine Gordon at XL Xavier LaBoulbenne on West 22nd Street. Life on the fringes means lots of hip-hop surfer style and an attitude fortified with booze and drugs.
Gordon hangs out with these gun-totting Brooklyn homme boys who flirt with danger and run in gangs. She's captured them when their guard is down and they're relaxed or really high. Some stand shirtless in machismo poses with the gaze of Yoruba statues, others smoke blunts and drink malt liquor.
The gold chains are real thick and the guns are for real but Gordon is no interloper. She's an accepted member of the crowd and has taken many of her subjects for lovers. Its no wonder the chill-out looks are so sexual and inviting, Gordon has a personal history with these boy men that intensifies the moment they stare into the lens. Feeling like objects of desire, they perform as much for themselves as for the camera.
An accompanying videotape has the cinematic rawness of a cable access show, as young toughies with tattoos mug for the camera, playing roles and showing off. Beauty being in the eye of the beholder, Gordon can't get enough of her multi-culti crew's hardcore personalities and taut muscles. This is not your stereotypical inner city documentation, but a libidinous exploration of the young male id.
Tech it out
The idea of Color Field painting is having something of a Renaissance (think of Ugo Rondinone) -- but can artists using digital technology be accepted as painters? One practitioner of digital color field is Jeff Zilm, whose digital video projection is installed at Pat Hearn gallery in a dialogue show with paintings by Jeff Elrod and Monique Prieto.
In "Ambient Fiction," as the exhibition is titled, Elrod's mid-sized wall painting and Prieto's big canvas act as foils for Zilm's projection -- two loose abstract color-forms and an approximately 15-foot-wide blue color field. To arrive at his work, Zilm deconstructed a television commercial for a wireless communication company, distilling the visual information into a fictional form. Middle bars of alternating colors change direction, tone, and resolution to the accompaniment of an ambient soundtrack by Zilm. Its all alpha wave and has a sedative effect.
The common thread in the show is all three artists' use of computers to manufacture their work. Elrod makes virtual cut-and-paste collage abstractions and Prieto draws on a computer pad with her thumb. Both transfer the mechanical images with colors that reference the artificial and the natural world.
Fictive and female
The strategy of staged, fictive scenarios has been the trend for some time now -- its mostly female practitioners play with fantasy, the commonplace, bizarre and psychological with varying degrees of success, some more derivative than others. At Audiello Fine Art, the group show "Nothing In Common" is a good indication of the state of emerging photography. Madeline Djerejian captures people about to fall asleep while reading, Deborah Mesa-Pelly breaks down the artifice of the stage set and the imaginary fourth wall, Alexandra Rowley gives us the image of a cool blue suburban pool with a solitary swimmer, and Justine Kurland a photo of girls on the beach at sunset.
Kurland especially looks like a keeper. Her new work in this show, and recently in "Greater New York" at P.S. 1, offers keen color and confident composition that definitely separates her from the pack. Look for savvy Kurland to show with Gorney Bravin & Lee at a future date.
The painter Ellen Harvey's exhibition at De Chiara/Stewart, titled "Low Tech Special Effects," features paintings that are titled to read like a pulp-magazine narrative. This series of 13 26-by-22-inch panels shows interior and exterior shots of hallways, edifices with signage, outdoor statues and other representational images. Appearing as direct copies from Polaroid photos, they works are in fact pictures culled from an amalgamation of travels -- Korea, Vienna, Frankfurt, Florence and NYC.
Pearly Gates (1999) is the elegant hallway of an Upper West Side SRO building with checkered marble floors and old-world elegance. Earthquake (1999) is a diagonal edifice with signage jutting out from the corner. The panels collectively invoke the personae of a pulp dick on the trail of a suspect. As mental re-constructions of real places, they nonetheless have an anonymous, any city, any place quality, and remind one of the line "has anyone seen this man?" These faux photos could have been torn from the pages of some 1950s detective magazine, minus the fast loose femme fatales. But perhaps that will be in the next installment.
Art-world veteran Barry Neuman has teamed with the Gershwin Hotel on East 27th Street to open Modern Culture in a ground-floor space adjacent to the hotel lobby. The new gallery was inaugurated on June 15 with "Start!", a nifty group show that features wall drawings by Art Club 2000, Anna Sew Hoy and Oliver Vernon. Vernon's 34-foot-wide acrylic pattern grooves, Art Club's cheeky scrawl pays homage to Neuman himself, and Hoy's dualistic abstract figurative drawings are vibrant. Add Modern Culture, located at 3 East 27th Street, to your art-world itinerary.
The Chelsea beat goes on
Remember when 25th Street was the last frontier, the last plum street in Chelsea without galleries dotting the industrial door fronts? The block is transforming itself. Slated for huge ground level spaces are Cheim & Read and Pace downtown. Young dealer Derek Eller has managed a coup, occupying a sweet second floor space above Feature Inc., which with Stark gallery and Von Lintel and Nusser were the first to open on the block, down the street near 11th Avenue.
In other moves, look for Galerie Lelong to move in a space between Robert Miller and Gorney Bravin & Lee on West 26th Street.
Across the street from the Dia Art Center and Sonnabend, the newly tony address of 535 West 22nd Street is looking good with Friedrich Petzel in the ground floor space and Marianne Boesky gallery on the second. Upstairs, a syndicate of Julie Saul, Frederieke Taylor and Leslie Tonkonow galleries will reside on the 6th floor. And the landlord? Dia!
MAX HENRY lives in New York.