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by Walter Robinson
 
     
 
Vanessa Beecroft's The Silent Service inside the Intrepid Museum
 
Vanessa Beecroft
 
Museum of Modern Art curator Robert Storr inspects a diving bell in the Intrepid Museum.
 
Andrea Zittel
at Andrea Rosen
 
Zittel's color code
 
Zittel's surveillance video still
 
Gillian Wearing
 
Gillian Wearing
Drunk
1999
at Gorney Bravin + Lee
 
Willie Cole's "Ganesh" at Alexander & Bonin
 
Willie Cole
Two-Faced Bullshitter
2000
at Alexander & Bonin
 
Nkisi Nkondi
Yombe fetish figure
ca. 1880-1910
at the Metropolitan
 
Gregory Green
M.I.T.A.R.B.U.
2000
 
Gregory Green at Feigen Contemporary
 
Edgard De Souza
at Jack Shainman
 
Edgard De Souza
Untitled (self-portrait)
1999
at Shainman
 
Gajin Fujita
Game of Death
2000
at Kravets/Wehby
 
Totalitarianism or magic. When it comes to organizing human affairs, art seems to go one way or the other.

On the evening of Apr. 21, tout le Manhattan art world made its way to 46th Street and the Hudson River, where a World War II-vintage aircraft carrier -- which also saw action in the Vietnam War -- was the impressive site of a new performance piece by Vanessa Beecroft. Perhaps best known for posing groups of scantily clad young women, this time around the Italian-born New Yorker had a modest phalanx of 30 soldiers (including some women) from "the Undersea Warfare Community" stand in their dress blues in ceremonial formation for 90 minutes.

The press release promised "a glowing skyline as a dramatic backdrop" for The Silent Service, as the piece is called, but Mother Nature failed to cooperate and sent rain instead. So, the throng of art lovers was jammed inside what turned out to be a less-than-spacious Intrepid Sea Air Space Museum, with uniformed guards holding back the crowds at a series of check-points.

It was quite an event, though in the end, the actual performance was unremarkable. The artist was there, in a green Versace dress, as were various military officers holding glasses of white wine (curiously, only the brass was given booze). After the event, the A List -- which excludes your trusty correspondent, by the way -- retired behind red drapes for an exclusive dinner.

Photographs of this piece -- last we looked, large Beecroft photos went for about $6,000 each at international art fairs -- were made the evening before, on the deck of the carrier, with the requisite sunset.

Opinions as to the meaning of Beecroft 's work, to the extent that there are any, are divided. The Navy clearly considers it homage [click here for the over-the-top military text from the press release], while esthetes admire it as an exercise in avant-garde style and sex appeal. And a few (most vocally, Artnet's own Charlie Finch) remember a time when radical artists greeted demonstrations of U.S. military hegemony with protests.

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Andrea Zittel's new show at Andrea Rosen in West Chelsea is exceptionally nicely designed and complete, as well it should be, considering that it is a demonstration of the total administration of everyday life. To be specific, we're talking about Zittel's own life during the week of Oct. 31-Nov. 6, 1999, when she confined herself to a windowless, sound-proofed room without clocks, television or radio, in an investigation of the biological, subjective basis of time.

The show itself features four "Time Tunnels" -- stylishly carpentered, box-like models of self-contained living modules, made of high-grade Finnish plywood, Formica, carpeting and aluminum framing. "Time to get to know people better" is the label on one, which contains small props representing a telephone and a computer. "Time to read every book I ever wanted to read," says another. "Time to get into perfect shape," says a third. Yeah, me too. Price: $45,000 each.

On the walls is a set of 27 vertical panels ($70,000 total), that record Zittel's seven-day experience in color-coded detail. One tone of yellow, I noticed in particular, stands for beer drinking (kept to a modest level, apparently). Categories of activity included "communication" (telephone, socialize, write), "production" (crochet, draw, gouache, computer), "maintenance" (cook, clean, laundry), "self-improvement" (shower, brush teeth, exercise, condition hair). Three panels include large paintings by Zittel of herself at work, and elsewhere are affixed black-and-white video stills of the event (which was videotaped).

During her time inside, did she actually make any of the work on view? "Much of Zittel's work consists of drawings and gouaches," said Rosen. "She got a lot of that done." And regarding the subjective experience of time, what was the artist's conclusion? It's more complicated than one might think!

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Alcoholic beverages are thought to have magical properties -- that's why they're called "spirits." Such is the subject of the latest project by Turner Prize-winning artist Gillian Wearing, who rolled into town to open a 23-minute, three-screen DVD projection (about $70,000, in an edition of five) at Gorney Bravin + Lee on West 26th Street. Its stars are drunks that live in the artist's neighborhood, who were asked to pose or embrace in a featureless studio, apparently (the sound wasn't working too well at the opening).

In the past Wearing has made a splash with video works that put grown-up narratives in the mouths of children, for uncanny effect, and a tape that showed some British coppers lounging about. That's the one that won the Turner Prize.

In the back room of Gorney Bravin + Lee are seven of Wearing's trademark photo-and-text pieces from 1998, color pictures in editions of six of a drunk named Theresa pictured separately with seven of her broken-down alkie buddies. The photos are paired with their scrawled tales about Theresa. Ah, the depredations of the industrial revolution.

"I love drunks," Wearing said. "My mom was a drunk." Wearing explained that her boyfriend, the performance artist Michael Landy, was a help in stage-managing her shoot, which included a certain amount of drunken fracas -- a broken nose, a drawn knife. She also noted that the British press, though it does wonders in publicizing London's artistic avant-garde, doesn't allow much subtlety.

"I love Artnet," she said. "Every day, I read Artnet and the New York Times." What a great artist.

*        *        *
The African American artist Willie Cole is famous for turning ironing boards into evocations of slave ships and steam irons into spirit masks, incredibly enough. In his new show, at Alexander & Bonin on 10th Avenue, he turns plumbing supplies into the elephant-headed god, Ganesh, revered by Hindus as the remover of obstacles and the visible form of god on earth.

These astonishing assemblages, which were made during an artist residency at the Kohler porcelain factory out in Michigan, are $15,000 -- and four of the five are sold. Each bears its own attribute -- pleasure, abundance, thirst, loving, showering. "They're naughty," said the art dealer Anna Kustera, no doubt in reference to their allusive spouts and faucets.

In another work, titled Two-Faced Bullshitter (2000), Cole has carpeted Alexander & Bonin's small back gallery with green astroturf and peopled it with 17 cow sculptures made of upturned, halved commodes -- the screw-holes on the base are the eyes, the drain hole is the … mouth? "It's like an urban kid's joke on the Fresh Air Fund," said the sculptor John Ahearn, who shows with the gallery. Price: $45,000.

*        *        *
Uptown, the Metropolitan Museum invited the press to preview a show called "Art and Oracle: Spirit Voices of Africa," an extravaganza of some 200 oracular sculptures, divination tools and power figures from more than 50 African cultures. "Throughout history," reads the very first sentence of the wall text, "people have called upon their religious beliefs to help them find solutions to their most intractable problems." Let's hope they got what they needed out of this lot.
*        *        *
Also noted: Chicago bad-boy Gregory Green opened at Feigen Contemporary with an old hippie Volkswagen van fitted out as M.I.T.A.R.B.U. (mobile internet, television and radio broadcast unit), plus two prototype satellites from Gregnik, the artist's "alternative space program." What, no bombs? "I went to jail once for Gregory Green," said Feigen factotem Lance Kinz, who was charged with a felony by the Chicago police after they busted the gallery's show of Green's 1,000,000 Doses [of LSD]. "I'm not going again." Instead, Green's personal radio station was broadcasting low-power within the gallery at 107.5 FM. Those who tuned in could hear a selection of sound art originally commissioned by New York's Public Art Fund.

Edgard De Souza is on the bill at Jack Shainman on West 20th Street, with arching drips and blobs mounted on the walls, dancing liquid ejaculations made of laminated plywood carved and painted with pearlescent spray enamel. By way of contrast, he also makes digitally tweaked self-portraits of himself wrestling himself. Ah, onanism, a universal language. Price for the sculptures is $12,000-$20,000. The chromes are $1,400, in an edition of 10. He's from Brazil, where he shows with São Paulo gallery Luisa Strina. Why are the Brazilians so slim? Don't they have ice cream and potato chips down there?

*        *        *
Art market notes: Congrats to Las Vegas graffiti artist Gajin Fujita, whose new paintings are on view at Kravets/Wehby Gallery on West 21st Street to May 13. They're all sold but one, at prices ranging from $2,800 to $6,500. CAA in L.A. is among the clients... Collectors love the loopy metaphysical paintscapes of Amy Sillman at Brent Sikkema. All seven paintings in her show are sold, for $9,000 to $11,000, and the gouaches, too... Jeremy Blake sold out his spectacular, Mondrian-moderne "animated painting" DVD, called Angel Dust, at Feigen Contemporary (it's also on view in "Greater New York" at P.S.1). The final example in the edition of four went for $10,000. New works are slated to unspool in the "Statements" section of the Basel Art Fair...

Sara Meltzer Gallery opens in her new space at 516 West 20th Street on Thursday, Apr. 27, with Jan Albers and Daniela Steinfeld... Frederieke Taylor TZ' Art moving to West 22nd Street in Chelsea next fall... Roving art gallery exhibitionist Kenny Schacter goes trans-Atlantic and opens a space in London next door to White Cube on May 12 with Lisa Ruyter... Al Souza signs up with Charles Cowles Gallery.

New art critic in charge at the New York weekly Time Out is Tim Griffin, formerly editor of Art Byte, a computer-art magazine. He succeeds Howard Halle, who has been kicked upstairs to do general cultural editing and write cover stories like Urban Cowboy that can be optioned to Hollywood... New head of Yaddo, the artists' colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., is super-glam Elaina Richardson, former editor of Elle, a fashion magazine.

Movie star news: Coming soon, James Woods as Dennis Barrie, the Cincinnati museum director who was jailed over a Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition. Sounds kinky. It's on HBO... Real art-world stars Damian Loeb and Julian LaVerdiere have bit roles in The Next Big Thing, a romantic comedy currently lensing in Ace Gallery and at other New York locations. The film stars Last Days of Disco lead Chris Eigeman as a painter who finds success (and true love) after a pickpocket steals one of his works, gives it a false authorship and promotes the imaginary artist to instant success so he can cash in on his ill-gotten gains. Sounds about right.

Passover news: Spotted at Amy Newman's seder on the Upper West Side -- Maurice Berger and Marvin Heifferman, Chuck and Leslie Close, Gregory Crewdson, Ellen Phelan, Joel Shapiro, Ivy Shapiro. Art editors around town are fighting to get ahold of galleys of Newman's long-anticipated book on the dawning days of Artforum...


WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.