Jan. 7, 1998 -- A show of new video by Peter Campus opens at Paula Cooper over on West 21st Street in Chelsea. One of the pioneers of video art, Campus had his first solo show in 1974 at the Everson Museum in Syracuse, N.Y., back when current Whitney Museum director David Ross was curator there. This show features six videos, each presented in its own boxy-looking table-and-chair "viewing unit" complete with a laser disc player and speakers on the floor. The installation seems surprisingly comfortable in Cooper's cavernous, award-wining Richard Gluckman-designed space. Other artists have tried in one way or another to fill the room vertically; Campus' TVs show that you can simply let the space be.
Campus' concern here is moving through nature: walking through the woods, dragging a stick along the beach, hammering dirt, focusing in slow motion on ocean waves swelling and winding their way through the rocky coast, observing wind-blown bubbling sea foam, following the flight of birds in front of cloud formations. At times we see a woman in the scene, or a brown poodle whose curly fur fits right in with these nature motifs, or Campus turning the camera on his own forehead. The effect is a psychological one. The infinite patterns of nature interfaced through an electronic media mediated by the human mind.
There weren't many people at the opening, at least, not that I knew. Campus told me he is a television addict. Each installation comes in an edition of three just like traditional sculptures.
In the front of the gallery are some vintage Donald Judd woodcut prints and two metal wall sculptures from the early '80s. One is a copper box with a divider and red Plexiglas back, and the other four galvanized iron boxes mounted horizontally connected by a candy-apple red square rod.
Jan. 8 -- Attended the opening of Michael Zwack's first solo show at Paul Kasmin (formerly he showed with Curt Marcus). The paintings are lush and elegant landscapes, overlaid with bits of exotic texts in many languages (Latin, Sanskrit, Chinese and others) plus symbols like Aztec pictographs or Haitian Santeria figures. Zwack's paintings can be dark or have the hazy brightness of the beach on a cloudy day. They're burnished, rubbed, sanded and layered to create density. I suppose the layering acts as a metaphor for culture layered upon culture, but the overall impression is of worldly mystery.
Among the attendees at the opening were Robert Longo, Michel Auder, Douglas Blau and Peter Schuyff.
Later that evening I went to "A Tribute to Taylor Mead" at Anthology Film Archives over on Second Avenue and Second Street (it runs till Jan. 25). Probably best known as an Andy Warhol superstar (Chelsea Girls, Lonesome Cowboys, etc.), Mead is also a poet, actor and bon vivant much loved by the downtown scene. He introduced the opening night film, The Flower Thief, to a sold-out house. Made in 1960 by Ron Rice for the pre-Titanic budget of $500, the movie is an hour-long poetic paean that features Taylor running around San Francisco mugging with Chinese school kids, cavorting about in a partially demolished warehouse, feeding a black cat by candlelight and, of course, stealing a flower.
The most recent of six programs is a video by Sebastian Piras that includes the last recording of Allen Ginsberg. He is showing Taylor around his 14th Street loft while the two of them discuss their love lives.
At a party after the opening night Taylor held court with, among others, perenial partygoer and author Anthony Haden-Guest.
Jan. 10 -- Cruised around Soho to some Saturday afternoon openings. The first one was a two-month show of unique Andy Warhol screenprints at Ronald Feldman. Andy really had it going. This show looks good. Among the images are a wall of multicolored dollar signs, a series of celebrities like Ronald Reagan selling Van Heusen shirts and Judy Garland, my favorite, with hot red and orange lips selling Blackglama furs, and a whole bunch of hand-painted and screened shadows with diamond dust.
There is also a wall of black-and-white recycled Andy images done in the late '70s -- Cambell's soup cans, hunks of meat, etc. A lot of the prints are marked "TP." I always thought "TP" meant teenagers throwing toilet paper through trees. At Feldman it means Trial Proof -- color combinations done by Rupert Smith, Andy's printer (now dead), so that Andy could choose which ones to use in the edition. Thus they are unique. Also available at Feldman is the newly revised catalogue raisonne of Andy's prints.
From there it was to Basilico Fine Arts for the solo show of the Yale MFA grad Bonnie Collura. Her sculpture is kind of like David Smith, except instead of jumbling together cubes and cylinders Collura piles together handmade fragments of Pop objects -- ears of corn, a pickaxe in a stump, a bust of Snow White. I didn't know what to think -- I guess I'll have to wait to read about it in the New York Times. Collura was holding court in the middle of the gallery explaining her work in a loud voice, and when I asked Roberta Smith what she thought she muttered, "She's not giving me a chance!"
Next it was Sonnabend for John Baldessari's opening. He is cannibalizing his own work from 1966, where he hired someone to paint an image in black, white and grey and a sign-painter to put a caption below it on a white canvas. This time it's all done by computer but, what the heck, it's still the same thing. If DeChirico and Warhol can do it why not Baldessari? Leo Castelli was there being led around by his young wife and speaking to no one. Someone told me that she doesn't even allow him to make phone calls.
Holly Solomon is showing old-time conceptualist Peter Hutchinson. He had been to Switzerland and photographed flowers, fields and mountains. The photos were collaged together with some hand written captions, a few of which were witty. They are sweet-looking. My editor was there taking photos of people with his digital camera.
From there it was Curt Marcus for Maureen Connor's theatrical installation, "Love at First Site." She has collaborated with playwright Jane Philbrick on the script -- and presumably (considering the subject) with her long-time boyfriend, painter David Diao. The gallery was divided up into three rooms by canvas curtains with projections of things like a balcony bannister, a fireplace and a view into a bathroom. I don't have a clear idea of what was going on, but I can tell you one thing -- it was really crowded at the opening!
I did notice what must be the biggest mouse pad in the world, a vinyl-covered double bed that's part of an interactive bedroom installation. Nothing like having a mouse in bed. The photographer Barbara Ess, who used to play the ukelele in a toy-instrument trio called Y Pants during the punk era, told me that a CD of the group's songs is coming out soon. The music artist Christian Marclay told me to come to the Cooler on West 14th Street where he deejays sometimes.
Last stop was Elliot Greene and Christian Schumann at Postmasters. Two cartoon painters. In this show Greene's work was on canvas and Schumann's was on paper. A lot of the gallery artists were there stroking each other. Amy Sillman said I looked like a priest. That's what I get for wearing a $6.50 black sweatshirt from K-Mart. Speaking of fashion, I noticed that BlumHelman's old SoHo space is now Helmut Lang and Barbara Gladstone's is Vivienne Tam. Hello!
Jan. 15 -- Allan Stone had a show of works spanning the whole career of Franz Kline, from his early sketchbooks to the last paintings. I wanted to catch it before it closed Jan. 17. There are a few things here to learn about Kline. He could draw, in the conventional sense, as is evident in his sketchbooks and paintings from the '30s and '40's. He would trade caricatures for drinks and food at the Minetta Bar -- when he wasn't getting into fights.
Stone claims that the bold black brushstrokes of Kline's signature style are based on simplifications of the shapes of tables and chairs. If you look for that you can see it. The most surprising thing that I never knew was that Kline drew in pencil the outlines of the big black brushstrokes then carefully painted out the pencil lines so they couldn't be seen. So much for the spontaneity of action painting. It turns out to be a calculated illusion in this case.
While I was up on Mad Ave., I went to the opening of Eric Fischl's show of bronze figurative sculpture and large scale watercolors at Gagosian. Going into the gallery, the first thing you encounter is a half-life-size statue of a woman curled up on her hands and knees with her head down. Then, in the center of the main gallery is a man whose face is contorted in pain or agony. A few figures, both male and female, are mooning. A squatting woman is seemingly grabbing her crotch while gazing off to the side. There's a dramatic scene of a man supine, head thrown back in ecstasy or death, with a woman kneeling on his chest, her head and hands buried under her long hair that is draping down over him. It looks like sex, but it represents, according to Fischl, Mary Magdalene rubbing ointment off the dead Christ with her hair.
One of the sculptures shows a man with an erection. I can't remember ever seeing one of those before -- a sculpture, that is.
At the opening I got into a conversation about the sculpture with an uptown girl who is a diamond dealer -- she was actually studying the works in an earnest way. When she gets back from her business trip to Israel and Antwerp I'm going to give her a call.
Fischl is aiming high, tackling big themes like human torment and determination. He cites Rodin as a inspiration, and indeed the work has a 19th-century feel to it. In an interview Fischl expresses disdain for body casting, claiming that the initial impulse is about death and death masks. I'm not sure who he is going after here: Jasper Johns or Bruce Nauman? It strikes me as a regressive position to stake out, since body casting is just a technique. The Morgan Library has an incredible plaster life mask of George Washington. It's a curious thing to look right into George's face, something I presume old J.P. did on a few occasions.
Fischl is walking into a trap to try to compare his work to that which uses casting. Like Theodor Adorno said, "One [art] work is the mortal enemy of another. They become amenable to comparison only by destroying one another, thus realizing their mortality by being alive." There's the New York art world in a nutshell.
The opening was lively. Amongst the guests were art collector and humorist Steve Martin, the writer Kurt Vonnegut, "TV dirt-disher" Claudia Cohen (as the New York Post refers to her) and John McEnroe, who seemed to enjoy stroking the sculpture.
Jan. 17 -- Exit Art has a fresh, energetic show of 15 young artists called "Wild." Curated by gallery directors Jeanette Ingberman and Papo Colo, it could be wilder. One piece I enjoyed was by Herb McGilvray. Five bird shapes made of rubber with white feathers glued on them lie on the floor connected by a black electrical cord. At regular intervals they begin flapping their wings, going nowhere. The piece has humor as well as pathos.
Another humorous and clever work is Rodney Allen Trice's living room tableau made of recyclables. Two surprisingly comfortable rocking chairs are made of automobile tires with woven inner-tubes for seats. A coiled garden hose serves as the base of a coffee table that has copper tubing, faucets and nozzles for legs. On top is a bowl with chewy Mary Jane candies. The bowl is made of a hubcap sitting on four coat hooks. There's lamps fashioned from old upright Hoovers and a chandelier made from the skeleton of an umbrella, as well as an ottoman, end table, Astroturf carpet and even articles of clothing on a mannequin.
Talking to Trice I asked him what other works in the show he responded to. He liked the paintings by Inka Essenhigh, which are configurations of tightly painted mechanical looking parts on big shiny bright enameled backgrounds. Trice said that they reminded him of his extensive file of lawnmower diagrams. The other artists in the show all deserve an "A" for effort and an "E" for energy.
The former Morris-Healy Gallery in Chelsea, now reborn as Thomas Healy, is showing Helen Marden, who happens to be married to another painter, Brice Marden. Helen's paintings are tall elongated diptychs, with one canvas placed above the other. On mostly silver backgrounds she paints meandering lines, short brushstrokes and simple open shapes in the brightest of colors. The canvases are spare and free but full of color.
In fact, Helen Marden loves color, and was resplendent in her luminous chartreuse Chinese-style jacket. A lot of painters were at the opening: Brice, of course, Chuck Close, Francesco Clemente, Donald Baechler, Philip Taaffe, David Salle and Billy Sullivan, whose paintings appear in the Jack Nicholson-Helen Hunt romantic comedy As Good As It Gets. Also in attendance were writers Rene Ricard, A.M. Holmes and Fran Lebowitz, as well as gallerists Pat Hearn, Matthew Marks and Mary Boone. Rounding out the scene were Jack Bankowsky, John Waters and the always fabulous Lauren Hutton. An auspicious beginning for Healy on his own.
ROBERT GOLDMAN is a New York artist.