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the royal flush

by Charlie Finch  

Farewell Castelli?

Andy Warhol
ca. 1986


Gavin Brown's

Joel Shapiro

Frank Zappa

Roy at

Rev. Howard
Howard in 1944
   Strange doings at the Leo Castelli Gallery, where a three-part show is in full swing, titled "The Artists of the Castelli Gallery, 1957-1997." Part II opened Nov. 22; part III on Jan. 10, featuring every artist associated with Castelli from Johns to Chryssa to the Starn Twins.

Looks like a classic inventory clearance to us!

It is absurd that Matthew Marks has been turned down for membership at the top-secret quarterly meeting of the Art Dealers Association of America. The rejection is said to be only the second in ADAA history -- after Larry Gagosian. Of course Marks has more money and more pull than all the members of the group put together!

The Gramercy Art Fair L.A. was a bit of a bust this year. According to a parking attendant at the Chateau Marmont, just 60 cars were parked on Sunday, the only sunny day of the fair. Foot traffic on rainy Friday and Saturday was just 400 people per day.

As for celebrities, chubbo Batgirl Alicia Silverstone was the only Tinseltown star at the opening party, and she had wandered into the wrong event!!

Could be that new gallery strength in Chelsea and Santa Monica is making the Gramercy irrelevant. Or perhaps it was just bad timing, with the Getty Center opening this week. Will Gramercy maestro Matthew Marks shut the thing down?

Warhol's principal insight, the one underlying all the others, was that art no longer mattered. It took someone with Warhol's unflinching candor to perceive that art, for a wide range of educated people, had lost not only the old humanistic values ... but every other value that was ever assigned to it.
   --Calvin Tomkins in The New Yorker

Five lessons from the brutal repeat slashing of a Barnett Newman, this time Cathedra, at the Stedelijk Museum.

1. Museums should sue the vandals for civil damages and collect.

2. Museum guards should be armed with stun guns and trained in subduing vandals, with a commensurate increase in pay.

3. Museums should pool substantial financial resources into a common restoration fund that also lobbies for stiff criminal penalties for such vandalism in soft countries like the Netherlands, which allowed a second, unconscionable attack on a Newman.

4. It is time for Sotheby's and Christie's to turn their backs on greed and encourage the sale of masterworks to public institutions at below market value, if those institutions agree not to resell the work in perpetuity.

If art is perceived by the wider public as a commodity, this commodification both encourages such attacks and the public indifference that follows.

5. Flash Art magazine is hereby discredited for defending art mutilation as art. Stedelijk head Rudy Fuchs has published angry letters in that very magazine attacking the slashers.

In conclusion, if any doubt remains that Newman's paintings have the totemic power that the late Ab-Ex champion Tom Hess and many others claimed for them -- that doubt is gone.

West Side Story or Top This Insanity

The rough 'n' raw upper and lower Chelsea scene is simply the worst strip of turf on which to see art in the history of the New York art world.

On the West side, there is no light at night (4:30 p.m. this time of year), the river winds make it feel like Chicago and ghosts, goblins and worse appear in every nook and cranny. The streets are littered with condoms and crack vials tossed from rusting railroad bridges overhead, trysting sites for the rough trade that's glorified in the galleries below.

Yet these same galleries offer few creature comforts for esthetes escaping from the desolate outdoors. Nary a sofa, a chair, a glass of water or, rarely, a kind word. Instead, sleek and frigid is the rule in the Gluckman age of gallery design.

Matthew Marks' 24th Street space and Gavin Brown's new enterprise on 15th Street highlight the problems: awkwardly divided concrete Chinese boxes more suitable for handball than the leisurely absorption of art.

Just like the local street hustlers, it's in and out.

Maybe the galleristas want it this way, giving the impression that they're too busy in the backroom making money to welcome, or care about, arty day-trippers.

Let's put it this way: if any of these jokers were making money, they'd still be in SoHo!!!

Though I always enjoy looking at a black Reinhardt, it rarely seems necessary to do so for long.
   -- Mark Stevens in New York Magazine

Sigh. We adore Mark, our fellow Andover alumnus (along with Frank Stella, Carl Andre, Carroll Dunham, Mel Kendrick, George Tooker, Klaus Kertess, Peter Halley, Kerri Scharlin, Joseph Cornell, Les Blank, Hollis Frampton and Frederick Law Olmsted -- a high school art roster that far outstrips the much vaunted Williams College), but this is the dumbest critical statement of the year!!!

The whole point of black Reinhardts is to stare at a room full of them to the point of hallucination.

Black Reinhardts are about depth -- 20,000 Leagues under the Sea depth -- staring at a black Reinhardt brings out blues, purples and reds in the eye, a kind of ocular drowning pool.

Incidentally, both the legendary black paintings of Haim Steinbach's (1975 -- many of which he deliberately destroyed) and Charles Ray's 1988 Black Bathtub share similar visual effects.

Stevens goes on to debunk Reinhardt's use of the picture plane vis-à-vis Mondrian, as exhibited in PaceWildenstein's valuable Mondrian/Reinhardt show.

Depth, Mark baby, depth. Try it.

Speaking of Andover, fishing enthusiast Joel Shapiro received a rocky reception for his one-man show as artist-in-residence at Andover's prestigious Addison Gallery.

One Addison trustee pronounced the show "junk" and according to Faran Krentcil, student art critic for the campus newspaper, The Phillipian, "at Shapiro's opening in September, various offerings made of toothpicks, Ritz crackers and cocktail napkins were molded into Shapiroesque figures and left on the floor by the actual Shapiro sculptures -- if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Mr. Shapiro has nothing to worry about."

People who can't write interviewing people who can't talk for people who can't read.
   -- Frank Zappa on rock journalists

Want to see the future of the contemporary art world?

Look no further than AT+T's new television ad, which shows an Af-Am art dealer lamenting the poor location of his gallery, called Art of the Soul.

His daughter has the answer: a new location!! And what would that be?

The Internet, of course.

Over one night Art of the Soul gets 475 visitors (on the Web) and the happy galleristes are red-dotting a Romare Bearden.

Lichtenstein, in fact, has become the academician of Pop -- the equivalent of the English Royal academicians a century ago, but far more monotonous ... thus this pseudo-Deco mural in the Equitable Building in New York gives an insurance company the glamorous aura of artistic fame. It advertises patronage, and has no point beyond that. It is empty, pharaonic post-modernism.
   -- Robert Hughes, American Visions

Lichtenstein was always a formalist. The Captain Marvel content and manner of his work was misleading. From the beginning, he was concerned pre-eminently with proportion, balance and visual elegance. The mass culture material allowed him to pursue those eternal interests in a compelling new way.
   -- Martin Gayford, The Spectator

Get well wishes to L.A. critic Peter Frank, who had a heart attack during a medical exam and required emergency triple bypass surgery.

Artist Jeff Koons told the Daily News that Basque terrorists targeted his Bilbao Puppy for esthetic reasons. This is what it has come to: Out-of-it egoistic art "stars," in their own fantasy-land, belittling people's lives.

If you're looking for a different kind of Christmas music this year, may we humbly recommend Bob Dylan's overlooked 1992 gem Good as I Been to You, a lucky 13 selection of traditional American songs.

Out of the mists come forgotten figures like Blackjack Davey, Little Maggie, Diamond Joe and Arthur McBride, made flesh again in Dylan's spirited playing and singing.

One listen and you'll instantly recognize the Christmas spirit, celebrating what's exceptional in the ordinary....

One pleasant surprise on Fox's Turkey Day football coverage was watching the country & western trio Blackhawk sing their tribute to outsider artist Rev. Howard Finster, complete with video of the Rev. at work.

Heck, anytime art crosses over into the wider world, it's a plus.

Here's a lyric sample of the song, It's Just about Right:

I ain't comin' down
  'til my picture is perfect
And all of the wonder
  is gone from my eyes.
Your shiniest day may
  come in the night
Now, it's just about right
  it's just about right

CHARLIE FINCH is the New York editor of Coagula Art Journal and has coauthored the forthcoming Most Art Sucks from Smart Art Press.