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Back to Reviews 96

Mike Smith
"Warmth of the Sun," 
a solo performance

Mike Smith
"Warmth of the Sun," 
a solo performance

Diana Thater
"China," 1995 
(blue/yellow wall 

Diana Thater
"China," 1995 
(Cyan green wall 

Diana Thater
"China," 1995 
(red/magenta wall 

Julian Schnabel
The Conversion of
St.Paolo Malfi,

Julian Schnabel
The Conversion of
St.Paolo Malfi,

Julian Schnabel
Adieu, 1995

Dennis Hopper
Prague, 1995

Dennis Hopper
Prague, 1995

artist's diary

by Robert Goldman

"...aesthetic preconceptions stripped away" --see Bruce Hainley's quite interesting

piece on Rirkrit Tiravanija in the Feb.

1996 Artforum.

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

dear reader?

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.