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by Max Henry
|The air was charged with a sense of expectation as the art world cognoscenti convened at Gagosian gallery on 24th street last Wednesday for the launch of a so-called "new art world term." The palindrome NEEN rhymes with spleen, and ostensibly describes technology based artistic production. Artist Miltos Manetas and art world impresario Yvonne Force (producer of the launch) brainstormed with a corporate branding company (read: commercial venturists), processing a binary sequence of repeating numerals -- a virtual-numerology which spat out the word Neen. Manetas showed art works from Joseph Beuys, and Lucio Fontana, to Super Mario Brothers as examples of art work that is "Neen" and perhaps a visual reference point for the digital disseminators.
The crowd of 400-plus (give or take) sat patiently through an amusing MC-performance by Miltos followed by tedious commentary by several lackluster panelists. The lone exception was MIT professor Steven Pinker, who pointed out that "neen" is too nasal to be cool and unfortunately preceded by another nonce word---Mork from Ork's "nanoo-nanoo" made famous by comic Robin Williams in the television series Mork and Mindy.
Its unlikely Neen will enter the slang lexicon in a way that say RAD did, or live up to uber intellectual phrases like Cubism and Postmodernism as it purports to. The ambiguous adjec-noun, neither cold nor hot is supposed to describe a kind of quality or characteristic in and out of art. The defining of the Zeitgeist requires a powerful and resonant word, one that jibes with the frequency of its epoch. Neen is not the finding of the intellectual Holy Grail, but the attempt at defining a still developing history is a noble shot in the dark.
The installation artist Lucky DeBellevue, whose pipe-cleaner piece is one of the more esthetic efforts in P.S. 1's "Greater New York," has unveiled at Feature Inc. a group of new sculptures made of pipe-cleaners. DeBellevue fashions these chenille stems, as professionals term them, into modular cell shapes that link together into giant multicolor sculptures. One pink thing, which hangs from the ceiling by bright yellow plastic chains, looks like a bell or knitted cap, while another piece stretches from wall to floor like a plant or dancing star.
DeBellevue's wacky shapes have an ornamental quality that owes a lot to Jim Issermann and similar abstractionistes. Luckily, Lucky is an imaginative artist. His work is seldom boring and the off-kilter materials he uses, whether feathers, brass fasteners, magnets, candles or foam, add up to an eye-catching environment.
Meanwhile, Feature's meticulous mastermind, Hudson, has assembled a diverse group show of works by 10 artists in the gallery's project space. Cleverly titled "Aintings and Rawings," the exhibition includes Jennifer Sirey's yucky glass totem filled with bacteria and vinegar, and Howard Johnson's punk-folk Mater Uterineia (2000), an ink colored pastiche prism on Mylar collaged with Band-Aids, g-string and a razor-blade.
Ernest Jolicoeur, a forgotten man in "Greater New York," rebounds with the painting that was selected but not shown at P.S. 1. -- Lug (1999), a garish techno chartreuse-green and purple mixed-media abstract painting that is as dissentient as it is deferential to precursors that range from Morris Louis and Clyfford Still to Jonathan Lasker and Matthew Ritchie. He's got sculptural inclinations that are not dissimilar to those of Elizabeth Murray.
Jolicoeur blurs the distinction between painted canvas, Masonite or wood and minimalist Formica monochromes, handily inserting one into the other. Mutant intestinal forms spread and spill away and towards each other, the purple Formica frame in Lug has routed passages painted in deep browns while the almost phosphorescent center panel complements a thick width of compacted crusty earth tones at its right-center. What's his problem with Morris Louis? Jolicoeur gleefully pokes fun at the Ab-Ex establishment with subtle references and appropriations from their miscues and masterpieces, all the while cutting a challenging swath that is pugnacious, informed and certainly original.
The lively all-star group show "Extraordinary" at James Cohan gallery lives up to its billing with smart, classy works subtly juxtaposed to play off of one another. Enter the West 57th Street space directly from the elevator and you immediately spot "Sensation" artist Ron Mueck's Untitled (Seated Woman) (1999), a small figurative sculpture set on a pedestal. It's a creepy miniature grandma, elegantly clothed in black sweater and gray flannel skirt, the veins in her fingers and eyes as real as yours and mine. In the interest of verisimilitude, he's got a little up-the-skirt peek-a-boo going on.
Behind this work is a sweet Gerhard Richter Die Tur (The Door) (1967), a creamy beige and gray painting of an open door. Francis Cape's fabulous Cabinet 29 (Corner), 1996, is catty-corner, about 10 feet high, three feet deep and two feet wide. It's installed between a Vija Celmins painting of a nighttime starlit sky, Untitled (1988), and Roxy Paine's Mycena Field (2000) a constellation of small orange-capped mushrooms set across a field of white.
Tom Friedman, this season's art-world darling, is represented with Untitled (1995), an intense and intricate star-satellite of toothpicks atop a pedestal, and the Untitled (1999), a fine and wee ladybug stuck to the wall. The show is full of whimsy and humor and the installation, also featuring vintage works by Jeff Koons and Franz West, is impeccably arranged to make "Extraordinary" the season's finest group show.
That language is mastermind
In "back asswards," a show at the off-the-beaten path 123 Watts Gallery in SoHo, the painter Gary Gissler is word-up in a solo of recent small and mid-sized minimal white and black paintings. They're done on square wooden panels and layers of polished gesso. The micro-sized text scrawls are drawn in graphite and stacked in smudgy rows. It takes a magnifying glass or extreme myopia to read tiny words, written in script that read like laundry lists. He Does Push-ups (2000) is a sequence of phrases (five askew rows in pencil) connoting actions or feelings -- "he does push ups, he just likes to sleep, he just isn't right."
Or I Love My Dog (2000) an ink drawn verse that says it all, "I love my dog, he's a 105, I love my wife, she's 50 fuck," (2000, pencil on gesso) is a small work with row upon row of the four-letter word. It appears as an abstract wave of lines, as minimal as an Agnes Martin minus the sublime color. Fraught with humor, the soft crumbly graphite words are like thought bubbles with the monochrome field as the comic strip.
The angst-ridden Gissler reminds one of Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver, "from now on every muscle must be tight, 50 push-ups in the morning 50 at night," "loneliness has followed me my whole life, in bars, cars, sidewalks, everywhere," "I'm God's only man." Gissler is an existential tuning fork making comically absurd notations on the mundane, the indelicate and the hum-drum moments that add up to our everyday.
MAX HENRY lives in New York.