It's kind of cosmic. Not only is this the last art season of the 20th century, the closest thing it has to an unofficial launch date is 9-9-99 -- the ninth day of the ninth month of the 99th year -- when more than 20 galleries will open.
By the time you read this, the new art season will be under way. But I'm writing it in the dead end of summer, when the art world exists only in advanced exhibition schedules. What can be gleaned from a bit (actually quite a bit) of telephoning and reading the tea leaves in the press releases of August?
Whether or not it bodes good art, a potentially tantalizing mix emerges: rookies, stars, outsiders coming in, insiders petering out, painters painting, video upon video, photography keeping on, dealers keeping up, professionalism on the rise and galleries on the move.
First, to Dia, on the verge of its third-in-a-row exhibition of the enigmatic German Thomas Schütte: enough already! Mary Boone continues her pursuit of hipness with a show of iffy visual punster Tom Sachs. While Alleged, a genuinely hip gallery, will exhibit ultrahip fashion designer Susan Cianciolo, and our Xanadu, Ace, will present a fashion extravaganza by Issey Miyake, both presumably timed to coincide with Fashion Week.
After years of shifting affiliations, defections, and false starts, Jeff Koons, the master of perfection himself, is set to have his first New York gallery show in almost nine years, at Sonnabend. Let's hope he shows up. And of course I'm looking forward to Cremaster 2, the fourth installment of Matthew Barney's epic cycle of ascension and descension. This one has cameos by Norman Mailer, Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo, c&w singer Patty Griffin, and a mesmerizing scene featuring Barney, as murderer Gary Gilmore, trying to emerge from a car, parked in a gas station: it exudes all the malignancy of the American night.
In the debut category, gallerist Anton Kern continues his amble toward excellence with solos by parafeminist installationist Monica Bonvicini, who looked enticing in Venice and Berlin last year. Better is Glaswegian Jim Lambie, maker of magically cantankerous objects. Metro Pictures will open with Andres Slominski's strange, scary trap sculptures. And photographer Justine Kurland, who last year became known for her scenes of female adolescence from the dark side, will debut at the rhyming Callery Gallery.
First timers from Asia include Yoshitomo Nara, a young Japanese painter-sculptor of delicate touch and twisted vision, at Boesky, and sculptor Yutaka Sone at David Zwirner (it's time Zwirner dipped his emphatic feet in the pool of new artists again). Tilton, who is becoming an unofficial outpost for YCAs (young Chinese artists), will premiere painters Wei Dong and Liu Wei.
Lane Twitchell's intensely decorative paper cutouts, which look like mandalas and tell coded tales of Mormonism and the American west, will be on view at Deitch Projects. Deitch (who, like Hudson at Feature, answered his gallery phone late on a Sunday night in August), will also premier Sue de Beer and Laura Parnes' Heidi II, a sequel to what has been called the Titanic of art videos, Paul McCarthy and Mike Kelley's Heidi. A full-tilt dive into narrative, abjection and mass culture, this latest installment begins with our heroine getting knocked up, giving birth and moving to Brooklyn.
At Leslie Tonkonow, a parodist of another sort is photographer Nikki S. Lee, who dresses up, blends in, and takes her picture in the process. See Nikki as Korean tourist, yuppie or senior citizen; see her flirt with the Sherman-esque. Coming up herky-jerky on the outside is Andrew Kreps, who will offer Hiroshi Sunairi, a performer-sculptor who gets naked a lot, and over-the-top sculptor-mad scientist Julian LaVerdiere. Unfortunately, Sarah Sze and Gregor Schneider, two debuts I was looking forward to, have been postponed for a year. Weirdly, both artists seem to show everywhere but here.
Autumn will also bring a gaggle of young British artists. Chris Ofili and Peter Doig, two of the best young painters around, will have back-to-back solo shows at Gavin Brown, while Casey Kaplan continues his imperfect but persistent rise to prominence with okay ephemerist-sculptor Ceal Foyer, and occasionally provocative conceptualist Jonathan Monk. Cecily Brown (an Englishwoman in New York), a painter of sexual Expressionism or Abstract sexualism and who appears in the Style pages as often as she does in galleries, will, in her gallery's words, "begin the millennium" at Gagosian (who will also show Jenny Saville's mediocre self-portraits). This gallery, which apparently emits an irresistible honey scent to especially ambitious English artists, will drive them crazy when it opens its own personal 21,000-square-foot Nike Town on 24th Street next spring. Meanwhile, back on earth, Palestine-born, London-based, up-and-down sculptress Mona Hatoum will be at Alexander and Bonin.
Behold the un-Damien, Rachel Whiteread, she of the secret sculpture in Soho and gallery shows that fall short of her public works, who will exhibit mortuary slabs made of bronze at Luhring. And Damien himself is on the horizon at Gagosian. Hopefully he'll do better than last time, though his openings do bring out the sharks. Finally we will be able to see what all the racket was about when "Sensation," the all-YBA exhibition amassed by puppet master, overlord collector Charles Saatchi, comes to the Brooklyn Museum.
Video? By the time this season is over you will have seen so many videos in so many darkened rooms you will be glad we didn't talk about it now.
How about photography? Ah photography, you are everywhere, but can you keep up? Going head-to-head will be Anna Gaskell, Andreas Gursky, Thomas Struth, Adam Fuss, Uta Barth, Beat Streuli, Yasumasa Morimura, Sarah Charlesworth, John Coplans, Gregory Crewdson, Sally Mann and Collier Schorr. Now doesn't that sound fun?
Veteran critic and curator Vince Aletti (who is also my editor at this paper) returns to Wessel+O'Connor to provide a bookend to his "Male" show of last season, with "Female," a wide-ranging photographic treasure trove of over 100 images of women.
An uneven array of painters will be on view, among them John Currin, Carroll Dunham, Jonathan Lasker, Nicola Tyson, Lari Pittman, Lily van der Stokker, Elliott Puckett, Thomas Scheibitz, Diana Cooper, Pet Sourin-thone, Paul Laffoly, John Wesley, David Reed, Frank Stella and finally the exuberantly Hartley-esque David Bates, about whom Gary Indiana wrote one of the funniest, cruelest, and most unforgettable lines of art criticism, in his Voice review of the 1987 Whitney Biennial: "David Bates? Who the fuck is David Bates?"
As it is in life, so it is in the art world: the background to all this is movement. Galleries are moving like it's 1999, in this case to Chelsea, or thereabouts. The legendary 420 West Broadway building is about to be sold. Sonnabend is decamping to 22nd Street and Charles Cowles is taking Paul Kasmin's space on Grand Street. Meanwhile, Kasmin is going to Tenth Avenue. Feature will open in a ground-floor space on 25th Street. Lombard-Freid, Debs, Caren Goldin, Robert Miller and Gorney Bravin & Lee will all be operating in new digs on 26th. Sperone Westwater, Pace, Janis and Mary Boone are all rumored to be relocating to Chelsea within the next year. Boesky, Petzel and Alleged are allegedly moving to the meat market. A sad note is the closing of Basilico Fine Arts. And Leo Castelli is dead.
This article could end here, but we live in New York, so it has to finish on a derisive note about excessive professionalism and mindless busyness.
The words of General "Vinegar" Joe Stilwell, on walking into the Washington War Office for the first time just after Pearl Harbor, have a familiarity: "A rush of clerks, in and out of doors, swing doors always swinging, people with papers rushing after other people with papers, groups in corners whispering in huddles, everyone jumping up just as you start to talk, buzzers ringing, telephones ringing, rooms crowded with clerks."
Stilwell's solution: "Someone with a loud voice and a mean look and a big stick ought to appear and yell Halt. You crazy bastards. Silence. You imitation ants. Now half of you get the hell out of town and the other half sit down and don't move for one hour." Way to go, Joe. See you in the trenches.