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by Walter Robinson
|New York in the summer, so much is going on, who could possibly leave town? Only a week ago, late-night visitors to Spa -- a nightclub at 13th and Lafayette that in previous decades did duty as the Grand and the Cat Club -- were treated to a new performance by Karen Finley, the celebrated downtown diva whose outrageously ribald monologues are frequently accompanied by erotic vaudeville involving … food. Is there anyone alive who does not know this?
The crowd was wild, glitzy and young -- salted with a few geezers like your correspondent, Paper Magazine associate editor Carlo McCormick, DTW honcho Mark Taylor and artist David West -- and swarmed the stage when Finley came out, greeting her every word with whoops and cheers.
Kneeling in a black lace dress, she read a raucous, disjointed sexual narrative ("I don't remember whether I had an orgasm or not!") before announcing that it was "time for the Honey Dance." Pouring six quarts of honey on the stage, she proceeded to tear off her dress and wallow in the goo. Suddenly, Karen paused and faced out towards the audience. "Five dollars for a lick," she proclaimed, a gesture across the fourth wall that froze everyone in their tracks -- for a moment.
First one and then a second man came up to take a restrained role in the show, until a third guy, young and chubby and wearing a knit hat, clambered onto the stage and stripping, seemed to assault the nude, honey-coated Finley, an attack that turned into an elaborate sexual burlesque. Music was blasting the entire time, and the scene was lit with eerie reddish nightclub spots.
It was an incredible act, finished in 10 minutes or less -- certainly it was more daring and original than anything dished out by the mass media. A few days later I phoned Finley up to inquire about the text, which was only spotty in my memory, to say the least. What was that phrase? Something like "she didn't care about the politics, she just wanted him to fuck her brains out?" Whatever, it was read in that raspy mesmerized she-devil voice that is a Finley trademark.
I asked her what she was up to and she told me she had run down to the Gem Spa to get her copy of the new Art in America Annual Guide and was cold-calling museums and galleries looking for work. She has something coming up in California, in Pittsburgh at the Warhol Museum, things like that. Lucky New Yorkers, Finley had been out in L.A. but now she's relocating back here, ha ha.
In the loop, Söderbaum is quite fetching, in a 50-years-past kind of way. She's meant to be fair-haired, blue-eyed and strong, a historical emblem of the Aryan ideal, eternally weeping (or so it digitally seems), a reference to the then-collapsing notion of a 1,000-year Reich. The actress herself wasn't political, said Girardet, she was little more than a prop for the filmmaker, who was her husband.
I asked him what he had been doing in New York. "Spending time at Kim's Video," he replied lightly, going on to say that he was collecting various motifs, like shots of lightning, and was also watching all the versions of the tale of Jeanne d'Arc. Another artist lost exploring the mysteries of the Amazon?
Boug & Worth in person are irresistible, if difficult to sort out. One is blonde, the other brunette, one is from Long Island, the other from Virginia, they've known each other forever, they started working together in school. I love the way they talk. And Colin "Svengali" de Land has or does employ one or both of them and encouraged them in their escapades. Oops, I forgot to ask what any of this work costs, and if I did, I forgot to write it down -- but I don't think it's very much, in this case, anyway.
The galleries were fairly full last weekend -- check out the park benches placed here and there for respite -- but I thought Parrish's appeal had waned considerably. "He's the most American artist of them all," said Joe Ruzicka, the former curator of the Milwaukee Art Museum, who I happened to run into at the show. "He invented the bizarre fantasy that everyone has about this country."
Parrish's work is amazing, still. He is the first Photo Realist, making hyper-detailed landscapes and figure studies by tracing projected photographs. He built models, just like a proto-James Casebere, that he photographed and painted (his dramatic rocky mountains, by the way, were just that -- rocks, set on a table and photographed). His colors were high-pitched, acidic even -- the kind of "hyper-reality" the Postmodernists talk about. And Parrish dramatically bowdlerized his own talent very early on, turning his charming illustration of Old King Cole into a sales pitch for Jello, for instance, in 1921.
Erwitt is a Magnum photojournalist (b. 1928) who must have published 20 books and who also directs comedies and documentaries for HBO. His museum photos almost feel like James Thurber -- in perhaps the most widely reproduced example from the series, shot in the Prado, a group of men stand staring at Goya's Maja Desnuda while a single woman stands before the clothed version.
Erwitt's pictures are always very human, about an individual subject, the girl walking away from the Mona Lisa wearing a mysterious smile, captured in a moment by an individual photojournalist. The contrast to Thomas Struth's giant color photographs of people in museums is illuminating. Struth is an ideological photographer. His museum works depict clashing paradigms, usually that of contemporary tourism and leisure with religious or aristocratic monuments from a bygone age.
Houk's director, Jenni Holder, tipped me to the gallery's forthcoming show, opening Sept. 14, of vintage prints by Jacques-Henri Lartigue -- the first ever. Apparently, the plates for Lartigue's photos are on deposit with the French museums and exhibition copies were always printed under his supervision or the supervision of his widow, Florette. But Florette, who recently died, also had a selection of vintage prints -- and it is these that the estate is showing at the gallery for the first time. The catalogue has a foreword by French photo collector Roger Therond.
Odds and ends: Veteran art dealer Rosa Esman is parting ways with Ubu Gallery to deal on her own with contemporary artists like Yoko Ono and Vik Muniz. Who knows, she may even open up a public space again... Still another artist moving from Stux Gallery to Deitch Projects -- Su-En Wong, slated for a show there in the fall... Bill Maynes Gallery on West 20th Street enlarging into former Andrew Kreps space. Plus, he's found a new artist -- Hilary Harkness.
Laurie Simmons has left Metro Pictures after a 20-year run with the gallery. Her current projects include working with architect Peter Wheelwright to design the Kaleidoscope House, a 1:12 scale modernist toy house complete with artworks by Simmons, Peter Halley, Cindy Sherman and others, and furniture by Dakota Jackson, Karim Rashid and more. The prototype goes on view at Deitch Projects on Oct. 3.
It's true, Jimi Hendrix did have the biggest one -- at least as witness by the "sculptures" in "The Life Casts of Cynthia Plaster Caster: 1968-2000," on view at Thread Waxing Space through last month. Thread Waxing looks to be good at its 476 Broadway address through the first of 2001, if not a few months longer before soaring rents force a move. After that, who knows? Partnership of some kind with Creative Time?
Everyone saw Deborah Solomon's front-page (of Arts & Leisure) piece in last Sunday's New York Times on buying art on eBay? Sure, she got a Vasarely and an Arthur B. Davies, but more importantly she referred to Artnet.com as "high-end." What a smart critic!
Okay, you can leave New York -- to go visit "The Standard Model," a summer group show opening Aug. 11-26 at the super-hip Geoffrey Young Gallery at 40 Railroad Street in Great Barrington, Mass. Among the 21 artists in the exhibition are Laurie Simmons, Patty Cronin, James Welling, Trevor Winkfield and Cheryl Donegan. While you're there, pick up a copy of Young's latest poetry publication, whatever it is -- (Mon Canard by Stephen Rodefer? White Thought by Tom Clark? She Who Is Alive by Robert Harris?). Geoff's a noted poet himself. He wrote a poem called Poem: