"...aesthetic preconceptions stripped away"
--see Bruce Hainley's quite interesting
piece on Rirkrit Tiravanija in the Feb.
In early Feb. I went to 580 Broadway, a
building with a couple of young galleries
and the slowest elevator in Lower
Manhattan, to see a ten-minute performance
by Michael Smith, one of New York's great
comic video and performance artists (he
performs in character as "Mike"). The room
was small and so crowded that the audience
was spilling out into the hallway.
Mike appears wearing boxer shorts and a
leather patchwork vest. He begins by
reading a come-on, a Publishers Clearing
House-like letter that offers him the
benefits of being nominated as "One of the
Outstanding Young Men Of America"--for the
payment of a mere $100.
Mike--who's not a young man--decides to
throw a party to celebrate his good
fortune, and goes back to the era that was
for him "party time." The intro of Disco
Inferno by the Tramps repeats over and over
as he tries to pull on a pair of ridiculous
patchwork disco pants. Unfortunately, time
has expanded his waistline to the point
where it's impossible for him to zip up the
fly. Undaunted, he discards this outfit for
a baby-blue polyester leisure suit which he
does manage to squeeze into. Appropriately
attired, Mike starts practicing sexy,
gyrating-hip dance moves. By this time
audience-member Bob Nickas, the new editor
of the Peter Halley-published magazine
Index, is laughing his head off.
Dramatically, the room darkens. On a row of
mirrored disco balls ranging from key-
chain-sized on up, Mike shines a focused
flashlight beam that throws multi-colored
reflections sweeping across the walls and
ceiling. With the beat of Disco Inferno
continuing to pulsate, he blows smoke from
a puffing cigarette into the beam of light
like a hokey smoke machine.
The lights come on again, and smoothly and
subtly the mood and music changes. Snippets
of In My Room by the Beach Boys and finally
Warmth of the Sun, a ballad of lost love by
Brian Wilson, cast a warm shadow. Michael
Smith's well-timed, deadpan punch lines are
hilarious--everybody's laughing the whole
time. But when you think about it
afterwards, you realize the performance was
dealing with deep, personal themes--memory
and nostalgia, like Proust, In Search of
Lost Time. The show suddenly becomes sad
and melancholic; from the very beginning
Mike's search was futile. Even people who are
too young to have experienced the disco '70s
have become caught up in his nostalgic
Michael Smith: "Warmth of the Sun," a solo
performance Jan. 18 and Feb. 8, 1996, in
"Show and Tell," a performance series
organized by Andrea Scott at Lauren
Wittels, 580 Broadway, New York City.
Although I was unaware of it when I first
went to her installation at David Zwirner
this February, Diana Thater is a
hot video artist who was included in the
Whitney Biennial and featured in the New
York Times, and who had curated a show at
David Zwirner of new video from Los
Angeles. Stepping into her installation
"China," one is surrounded by video
projections onto the tall walls of the
gallery of images of two trained wolves,
their handlers and six camera operators.
When I first walked in I liked it and spent
15 minutes figuring out what was going on.
Multiple images of the wolves circle the
perimeter of the room. One sees them from
the front, the back, from one side and the
other. Sometimes the image of a wolf will
walk from one projected frame into the
next. The visual construction is like video
Cubism. Surrounded, the viewer has stepped
into the space the wolves and their
handlers occupied during the shooting. The
video projectors are beaming sometimes only
one or two of their three colored
headlights. At a certain point a sequence
of projected single images flashes for a
30th of a second, spinning around the room.
"China" is beautiful in a simple way and a
fun room to be in. It has a tricky
perceptual construction that directly
refers to Dan Graham and early videos of
Joan Jonas's performances with mirrors.
Thater begins a text she has written on
"China" with the phrase, "I wanna be your
dog," that she attributes to art critic and
painter Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe, but that I
know from the classic Richard Hell song.
Dogs, Thater explains, have been bred from
turncoat wolves. In fact, she leads us
through a fascinating survey of wolf
mythlolgy, from Little Red Riding Hood and
werewolves to an Angela Carter story (about
a Little Red Riding Hood character who
doesn't get eaten by a wolf but becomes
wolflike), Deleuze and Guattari, and Sam
Fuller. If Thater claims this mythology for
her piece, I don't see it. It's not a Sam
Fuller movie, it's an ambient installation.
Video flattens out the wolves.
I've been to Disneyland maybe 20 times.
This piece is like a slowed-down surround-
sound attraction, but silent with pared
movement and the same purpose: to put a
spin on a fairytale or a myth. Just like I
don't buy into Disney's spin, I'm not sure
I buy into Thater's either.
Diana Thater: "Video Projections and
Monitor Works," Feb. 10 - Mar. 16, 1996,
at David Zwirner, 43 Greene Street,
New York City.
In Nabokov's short story La Veneziana the
character Simpson enters the space of the
painting La Veneziana in his imagination.
Then suddenly, "The enchantment had
dissolved.... He was mired like a fly in
honey--he gave a jerk and got stuck,
feeling his blood and flesh and clothing
turning into paint, growing into the
varnish, drying on the canvas. He had
become part of the painting...." Don't
get stuck, readers.
Julian Schnabel is showing paintings from
his cycle "The Conversion of St. Paolo
Malfi" at PaceWildenstein's downtown space.
They are very large, of course, and the
most colorful of Julian's paintings I've
seen. On stretched canvas he uses reds,
blacks, greens, his custom-mixed Schnabel
Violet, deep and bright Prussian blues,
ubiquitious whites, as well as poured
sheets of honey-colored yellowish alkyd
Paolo Malfi is not a saint to be found in
the annals of the Catholic Church, but
rather a young, contemporary artist who was
tragically killed by a car in the summer of
1995. Francesco Clemente, in an essay in
the exhibition catalogue, claims Paolo had
a "secret illumination." There are three
groups of works here spelled out in paint:
the conversion, the saint and the final
adieu. In typically outrageous fashion,
Julian declares the apothesis, the
deification, of Paolo Malfi, through his
body of painting. Julian's intelligence is
that he recognizes the sentimentalism of
this position and defies it.
Could somebody please explain to me Pepe
Karmel in the New York Times calling Julian
"inept"? Is this starved for ideas or what?
Karmel (and plenty of other Schnabel
critics) don't bother to deal with what's
there. There are plenty of things to
criticize in Schnabel's paintings, but
"inept?" Give me a break. What do you think
Julian Schnabel at PaceWildenstein,
142 Greene Street, New York City,
and Sperone Westwater, 142 Greene Street,
New York City, Feb. 15 - Mar. 23, 1996.
I was walking up Greene when I ran into
Steve Kaplan eating a tuna sandwich.
Michael Smith once told me that eating on
the street should be against the law,
except for ice-cream cones. Kaplan said
that he was on his way to Dennis Hopper's
opening at Tony Shafrazi to gawk at
supermodels. Tuna breath and all, I, of
course, accompanied him.
As most people know, Dennis Hopper has been
a serious photographer since the '60s. At
Shafrazi he is showing large (75 x 50 in.)
color photographs of sections of grafittied
exterior walls, doors, a security gate, the
surface of a street, and in one case a
chromed industrial machine. The photos are
mounted on unprimed canvas and framed in
wide unpainted wood. The photos were taken
in Venice (Italy), London, Prague, Los
Angeles and Berlin. Many have a smoothed-
out Abstract Expressionist look to them,
locating Dennis in the '50s as well as the
'90s. Surfaces like these have such rich
textures that one could go on forever
picking out their details.
The images Hopper has chosen include
sprayed stencils of bounding red horses and
a big curved band of yellow with some
reddish pink sprayed lines on the choppy
textured surface of a London street. Dennis
Hopper photographs those places that have
caught his eye.
Kaplan was right. The opening was well-
attended with actors, actresses, fashion
models and painters--among the stars were
Christopher Walken and Francesco Clemente
as well as MTV chairman Tom Freston. The
paparazzi were out and, in fact, Tony
Shafrazi had hired a security guard to
protect the celebs from any over-zealous
ones. When I myself was photographed with
Dennis he mentioned to me that he will
never get used to paparazzi. Paul H-O and
Cathy Lebowitz of New York's Art TV were
there dutifully recording the event on
Dennis Hopper: "New Photographs" at Tony
Shafrazi Gallery, 119 Wooster Street,
New York City, Feb. 15 - Mar. 16, 1996.