Let's call it Guy Art. Always with us in fluctuating amounts, Guy Art dominated for the first several millennia, and may have reached an apex in the high-testosterone paintings of the 1980s. But in this decade it shares the field more and more with the art of "others." In the sensitive, identity-oriented art of the '90s, when women, Europeans, Asians and outsiders of every ilk have made their presence felt, a new kind of Guy Art is in the offing. Maybe it's a response to a lot of the art made by younger women. Familiar clichés of heroic or sexual subject matter, scale and braggadocio have been replaced by a topic-driven, suburban or adolescent, weird Mr. Fix-It predilection for technique, building, craftiness -- a fascination with specifically male rituals and activities. Oh, and of course, airplanes.
At least that's the way it looks this month. Artforum and Frieze feature airplanes by guys on their covers, and in the galleries "frogs and snails and puppy-dog tails" find their equivalent in traps and maps and guns and toilets.
There are always a lot of throwbacks on view. This month, there's Olivier Mosset's 35-foot painting at Spencer Brownstone; the good, but all-guy, group shows at Petzel and Boesky; Not Vital's dead animals and glass antlers at Sperone; and, at Team, the silly videotape that Steven Parrino made of a stripper dancing on one of his ho-hum paintings.
New Guy Artists include space invaders Jason Rhoades and Thomas Hirschhorn; boy scientists Damien Hirst and Olafur Eliasson; merry pranksters Maurizio Cattelan and Carsten Holler; boy-chicks and it-boys like Rob Pruitt or Hiroshi Sunairi; model makers Michael Ashkin and Tim Hawkinson; Landers the elder and Landers the younger; Charles Ray astride the butch-femme fence; likewise Tom Friedman, Jim Isermann, and Dan Peterman (who is between home building, Rirkrit feeding and a hard place in his Andrea Rosen exhibition). Anyway, let's sample four guys.
The first thing to say about Tom Sachs's show at Mary Boone is that there's an Alvar Aalto glass vase filled with live bullets on the reception desk. The second thing is visitors can take these home in orange air-sickness bags emblazoned with the artist's name that are meant to evoke Hermés bags. (N.B.: Police confiscated bullets and guns shortly after this article was printed.)
Part wise-guy designer, part ingratiating handicraftsman, Sachs has abandoned his strengths (color and his use of high-end packaging) for a more dogged assemblage. He's enamored of things deeply boy: the aforementioned ammo or the creepily titled Ace Boone Coon -- a gun cabinet stocked with his signature handmade weapons. Still, Sachs has a remarkable ability to replicate familiar things in eccentric materials. Witness his sofa-sized boomboxes, or the nifty working airplane lavatory made of foamcore. None of this, however, saves Sachs's work from shallowness.
Andreas Slominski is a hunter-gatherer artist. His debut at Metro is a Darwinian tutorial in the survival of the cunningest -- Bruce Nauman meets Monty Python. Consisting of 18 scary-looking contraptions meant to capture or kill different species of beast and fowl, his show expands on the danger implicit in Richard Serra's work. Made of various combinations of wood, metal, plastic, buckets and baskets, each trap is ready to spring. (A sign at the door warns against bringing in dogs or small children.)
Especially threatening is Red Deer Trap, with its holding pen and metal gate, both set to come crashing down on any unsuspecting trigger tripper. Many of the machines are maniacal: Little Vermin Trap is a squishing apparatus, Fox or Dog Trap chokes its victim with metal spikes, and the five bird traps are simply sad. Slominski is a varied and strange artist, but this exhibition turns monotonous. There is no hint of the artist's deadpan actions, in one of which he transported a teaspoon of cough syrup to a German museum via a ludicrously overbuilt, gyroscopically balanced crate within a crate. Here, he's all product; he's packaged himself. The traps are just traps, and the show goes flat.
Yutaka Sone is a hunter of the nomadic kind. Like many artists these days (male and female), Sone is fascinated by travel and dream scenarios. He also loves jungles; he's a tropical Katy Schimert. At David Zwirner, Green Jungle, a re-creation of an equatorial island, occupies one gallery. Supposedly about a mythical journey, bats and a magical Yoda-like staff, it's merely enchanting, which is enough. The underbrush of potted plants that fills the gallery makes coming across Sone's white-marble sculptures (carved by hired craftsmen; standard these days) a cheery surprise. Especially nice is a roller coaster and yet another island, the size of a television, that looks vaguely like Switzerland, but turns out to be Hong Kong. Sone's work needs a bit too much explaining (also par for the course these days), and it looks a little piecemeal, but what it lacks in clarity, it almost makes up in imagination.
Finally, airplanes may be on the covers of some art mags, but Art in America's features a weaving by Jim Isermann. Guys have been getting into the craft act since at least the 1970s. In his debut at Deitch, Lane Twitchell joins this long-standing femmier branch of Guy Art. Twitchell, who makes cut-paper pieces that tell elaborate tales of the American West, Mormonism and his personal history, exhibits five works. Four are handsome but mundane, the fifth is in hyperdrive.
Pluribus: State 31, a rainbow-mandala, doily thing, is one of the more complicated works of art you will lay eyes on this season. Embedded in a paper surface, telling a coded but coherent story, are pennies minted in the birth years of everyone in Twitchell's immediate family, as well as portraits of Ronald and Nancy Reagan, stamps depicting Jackson Pollock and Reno casinos. Twitchell's show feels sketchy. Maybe he needs to explore materials or to work in three dimensions. But his diligence and insane inclination for cryptic narrative could yield gems. Except for Sachs, each of these guys goes beyond Guy Art, explodes clichés, adjusts perimeters, gets around boyishness and alludes to something bigger and less limiting.
JERRY SALTZ is an art critic for The Village Voice, where this article first appeared.