"Laissez Faire," Giftland at Printed Matter, Dec. 1-23, 1998, 77 Wooster Street, New York, N.Y. 10012.
Printed Matter, the estimable outlet for artists' books, has mounted the seventh annual installment of Giftland, Dec. 1-23, 1998, in which the SoHo store's already esoteric stock is supplemented by modestly priced multiples and serial works handmade by artists. Despite its mercantile presumptions, the enterprise is anti-Capitalist at heart. This year's theme is "Laissez Faire," and the free-market rallying cry has rarely seemed so poetic.
"Laissez Unfair!" joked the legendary Yippie and Fug founder Tuli Kupferberg, a regular participant in Giftland who recently celebrated his 70th birthday at Webster Hall. Tuli has supplied the store with a stack of signed photocopier prints, dubbed "Great Moments in the History of the Left." One shows a bearded man reading Das Kapital at a table while his wife says from the kitchen, "Karl, when the fuck are you gonna get a job?" The price is $20.
Among Giftland's fastest selling wares are "Cheap Art" paintings on corrugated cardboard by Max Schumann, who is the Printed Matter store manager, and Dale Wittig, an artist who operates his own "Cheap Art" store in San Francisco. Schumann's paintings come in several sizes and this year have a military theme. An adolescently endearing picture of two jet planes, with the painted caption "Welfare State," is about 14 inches square and costs $35. Smaller works begin at $8. A painting by Wittig in which an image from gay porn is superimposed on a copy of a Russian cartoon about Boris Yeltsin is $12.
Several artists whose works proved popular last year have been persuaded to make a return appearance. Nancy Lin's postcard-sized photographs -- understated views of city streets, the beach or the sky seen up through an airshaft -- are priced to sell at $10 each. Underground cartoonist David Sandlin has installed a special display of his devilishly decorated goods, including "shot glasses of sin" for $10 and frat-house paddles "to punish you for being you" for $50.
Also on hand is a range of items by the Lower East Side folk avant-gardist John Drury, including his trademark sponge paintings. These ersatz color abstractions, made of brightly colored synthetic sponges epoxied together into grids, come in a four-sponge size ($20) and a 12-sponge size ($50). Also available, black-and-white paintings of a rainbow on variously colored sheets of construction paper. They're suitable for framing, and cost $40 apiece.
Can a maker of humble art tchotchkes find success beyond the confines of SoHo? It seems so. Karen Spitzer's holiday bracelets, laminated paper strips bearing the seasonal sentiment, "No time to buy," are $6 and selling like hotcakes at high-end boutiques. The things have velcro closures, and come with alternate inscriptions: "No time to sleep," "No time for Bob," and the like.
Another item with appeal in chic shops is Leah Singer's Copy Bag, a simple tote with straps in either nylon ($35) or canvas ($25). Each bears a sporty figure silhouette and contains a tabloid-newsprint artist's book filled with similar images.
On the other hand, Giftland features several items that are, well, too artistic to appear anywhere else. Andi Kovel displays a pile of terra-cotta bricks, for instance, that come with a nice "Greetings" card attached by a string. These potential missiles are priced at an exceptionally modest $3. Even more modest were Kovel's pieces of coal, also with an attached card, which have quickly sold out at $1 each.
While we're on the subject of throwables, note that Tom Correll, an artist who resides on the famously bohemian Ludlow Street, has manufactured something called Clinton Molotov Cocktails -- a bottle complete with rag and picture of the president, but no gasoline -- for $20.
And there's Rebecca Landmeer-Glaubit's Ear Me!, a selection of knitted ears that are priced at $15 each. It's hard to imagine what earthly purpose such an object might serve, other than being reminiscent of Vincent van Gogh in the most postmodern of ways.
Giftland also has collectibles by young artists whose work is recognizable from recent shows in nearby galleries. Laura Stein, who exhibits her eco-pop sculptures at Stefano Basilico, offers here Molds for Garden Vegetables (1995), plastic molds of Sylvester, Tweetie, Snoopy and other popular cartoon figures. The wacky idea is that you tie them tightly around growing vegetables, sort of like playing with your food on a long-term basis. A set of six molds is $100.
Danica Phelps, who is currently exhibiting her work at Jack Tilton Gallery down the street, has made a pile of wallet-sized diary drawings based on her day-to-day expenses, which she has then glued to pieces of panel. They're $24 each, with doodles that are reminiscent of Andy Warhol's early commercial art and handwritten entries like "train $3.00, taxi $4.50, Fishs Eddy, $56." Longtime fans of Giftland will remember that several years ago Danica brought in a selection of underwear dyed a muddy brownish pink. She had made the dye from chopped-up porn mags.
Giftland also has its share of high-end items. There's an elegant Claes Oldenburg desktop sculpture of a Tilting Neon Cocktail made in 1984 ($15,000), a milky white mat of viscera by Mona Hatoum ($6,000), a Kiki Smith bronze vertebrae ($4,500) and a brass Arman teapot ($3,000).
And it's always fun to discover modestly priced knickknacks by artists whose works soar into the auction stratosphere. Look for Oldenburg's N.Y.C. Pretzel, a screen-printed and stamp-signed corrugated cardboard version of the eponymous snack. The unlimited 1994 edition comes in four versions, each with a different arrangement of salt. It's a steal at $75. A plain white t-shirt by Damien Hirst, printed with the slogan "Life Isn't Normal," is priced at $50. It's not signed but it is a limited edition.
My favorite piece in the whole store, I think, is a block of wood silk-screened in pink and yellow to look like a box of Nouveau Slim-Fast, the French version of the popular diet mix. It's by Sylvie Fleury in an edition of 250, priced at $375.
And would you believe a Jasper Johns piece from the classic era of conceptual art for a mere $600? Giftland has a copy of the 1971 Monchengladbach Box, which contains a plastic rose, a black-and-white picture of a rose, a red-tinted picture of a hanging lightbulb, and some kind of text in a box -- is it notebook entries? The work was originally done in an edition of 550.