Feb. 5, 1998 -- Walter Benjamin once remarked that it is not infrequently true that a man's name is his fate. A friend of mine named Hans -- Hans Witschi -- has made "Handbook," a piece that is a collection of photos of hands. The work exists only in cyberspace at www.handbook.org. There are 20,000 photos in the collection, largely cut out from newspapers, of hands in every conceivable gesture and position, from a baby pulling it's ears straight out to an athlete jamming his outstretched index finger into the air in triumph. Although its attitude is akin to the late Conceptual artist Douglas Huebler's attempt to photograph every person on earth, it turns out to be a very human, expressive artwork. The photos are grouped into categories such as "Hand on face and head," or "Hand touching another hand or arm."
A reception for "Handbook" was held at a small gallery called Space 2.D, located in apartment 2D at 450 West 24th Street (212) 206-8642, open Saturdays 12-6 p.m. and by appointment). It's run by an interesting young woman originally from Columbia named Adriana Arenas. While I was there I was wondering, what is an artwork in cyberspace? It's neither 2D or 3D. It's a transposition of an idea into a light source itself.
From there I went to a real wild scene, the opening of the Gen Art "New Visions '98" show on the ground floor of the Chelsea Arts Building at 526 West 26th Street. It reminded me a little of the artist-curated shows of the late '70s and early '80s, adapted to a form that fits the late '90s. Set up in a raw 7,000-square-foot space for only three weeks, you have to step through dirty old curtains, hung at the doorless entrance to keep the cold out. The show has corporate sponsorship, and instead of artists curating, Gen Art hired two smart young curators to organize the show -- Anastasia Aukeman, director of Curt Marcus gallery, and Debra Singer, manager of one of the Whitney Museum's branches. Donated booze was flowing until nearly midnight, and the place was packed with young art scenesters.
I hung out in John Drury's installation, since he was the only artist in the show I knew -- and he has some very attractive female friends. John loves Outsider Art and makes his works out of junk. Everyone I know has one of his ironic Minimalist grid works -- made of colored plastic sponges glued together with black caulk. Other works include the head of an old push broom mounted on a roller skate -- it rolls around the floor but doesn't sweep -- and neckties made into erect standing shapes by having plastic foam insulation sprayed into them. John really likes to "foam" things. They are leaning against an old folding screen that has a bucket of glass potatoes on the floor next to it. One of the most poetic pieces also uses ties. A found plastic wall relief of three owls has ties coming out of the eyes, as if the owls are crying ties. A young lawyer at the opening said to me that this is her favorite piece.
Other artists in the show to watch are Orit Raff, who makes large color photos of nearly invisible traces of her life. Things like a close-up of the impression on a paper towel made by a glass she drank from, the impression of her lips on a liquid surface covered with tiny beige bubbles, or a dirty fingerprint on a bar of white soap that completely fills the frame. Next to Raff's installation is Paul Henry Ramirez' brash gigantic paintings on paper that continue down to the floor of cartoony hairy testicles and squirting breast shapes in bright blue and hot pink a la Carrol Dunham. His small paintings on canvas seemed pretty tame compared to the gigantic works on paper.
Jayce Salloum is showing C prints pinned to the wall behind plastic sheets. Most show chaotic window displays -- one of a Lower East Side combination bodega and travel agency with lavender, blue and lemon yellow plastic dishwashing liquid bottles along with other cleaning agents in different colored plastic bottles. Another photo is of a forlorn empty store with the gates pulled down at the sides but the front doors opened. Spelled out in the worn terrazzo on the ground in front of the doors is "Woolworth." Salloum's work reveals something about our ritualized mercantile world, how it is organized and sometimes disorganized.
Finally, Seong Chun is showing incredible crocheted sculptures. With thin white ribbon printed with tiny words, Chun makes two small textiles that hang on the wall and two ropes that hang from the ceiling. They're delicate and at the same time powerful and mysterious. Chun shares an esthetic of the slight with Tom Friedman and others. Pinned to the wall is a group of tiny flowers made out of the same ribbon.
There is a lot of raw energy and new talent to be discovered in this well curated and interesting show.
Feb. 7 -- Wandering around Chelsea I noticed next door to Matthew Marks on West 24th Street an incredible 10,000-square-foot garage with very high ceilings where a contractor was laying down a polished cement floor. I asked him whose space it was, and he told me that Andrea Rosen and Luring Augustine were moving their galleries there in May. Evidently it is common knowledge that they have bought the building, but it was news to me. The place is so big that there's enough room to construct a second floor. Pretty soon there are going to be very few galleries left in Soho, and when those leases are up, even fewer.
In the Metro Pictures section of the MGM building was a show of sculpture by Keith Edmier, who evidently has worked as a prosthetic special-effects artist for the movies. I walked in there around 5 p.m. and was confronted with a full-size, plastic and wax replica of a prepubescent white girl, dressed in white, with long blond hair and wearing formless white sneakers whose footprints are in the mound of plastic white snow that she is standing on. Her skin is translucent and much too white. Standing in front of her in the otherwise empty room was one of the gallery artists, Fred Wilson, a black man, who is known for, among other things, his life-size statues of black male museum guards. Too strange.
Greene Naftali opened a show called " Super Freaks - Post Pop & the New Generation Part I: Trash." It sounds like a Rick James album from the '80s! First thing you see in the gallery is a wall of nine movie posters for the likes of Speed and Hellbound (starring Chuck Norris) -- all tinted with an orangey fire color. Somebody must like these things -- the piece is priced at $6,000! In the middle of the gallery is a video monitor with a Michael Jackson video running backwards. "I don't care about Michael Jackson backwards or forwards," said Stephen Parrino.
Rob Pruitt has an interesting if morbid piece called Dead in the Nineties. On seven different wine or champagne bottles he has inscribed the names of people who died in the same year. Dead in 1993 is a champagne bottle with the names Audrey Hepburn, Dizzy Gillespie, River Phoenix, Federico Fellini, Bill Bixby, Frank Zappa, Spuds MacKenzie (the dog I think) and Conway Twitty. Dead in 1997 is a Chianti bottle with the names Mother Teresa, Biggy Smalls, Versace and Princess Diana. Each year comes in an edition of three and costs $750. each or $3,000 for the set. Worth it, I think. I wonder if Pruitt will continue with '98 and '99?
Karen Kilimnik has one small painting in the show, an image that is familiar since it was used on the invitation card for her Sept. '97 show at 303 Gallery. A young girl with her hand stuck into the waistband of her jeans stands in front of a hammer and sickle on a red background. Lisa Spellman was at the opening checking it out.
Michael Smith and Joshua White with Karen Heimann present a small version of their lighting company going out of business installation called MUSCO. On a table laid out like a flea market are coffee mugs, hand painted psychedelic slides, a multi-colored light bulb that blinks on and off and other ephemera, including an empty business-card holder. On a folding chair next to the table is an empty (of course) cash box with just a few push pins and paper clips and a post-it reminder to pick up more business cards. Stashed behind, leaning against the wall, is a luggage cart so the whole thing can be packed up quickly and wheeled out. I hope their next stop isn't the sidewalk on Ave. C.
Finally in the gallery office on a coffee table are a pack of Marlboros with a couple of potato chips printed on it and a New Yorker with a ham sandwich made by an artist with a good sense of humor, Elizabeth Wright.
The second part of this show, called "Odyssey," opens Mar. 21.
Paul Morris (half of the former Morris Healy Gallery) opened his new space at 465 West 23rd Street, right next to the Traviata Italian restaurant, with a show of photographs. There's a set of three black-and-white Warhol photos sewn together, each showing glamour girls Liza Minelli, Bianca Jagger and Jackie O all decked out together on somebody's couch. The other photographers in the show include Seydou Keita, the African studio photographer from the 1950's whose worked graced the cover of Artforum in February. Morris seemed very serious and professional, and I'm sure his new endeavor will prove interesting.
Then I went over to Matthew Marks on 22nd Street for a group show called "Maverick." The word "maverick" comes from the American pioneer Samuel A. Maverick (d. 1870) who refused to brand his calves. Andreas Slominski has made a potbelly stove made out of a German metal trash can with welded on legs with a stove pipe. It's called Stove with Chicken Heart. If you lift the lid and peek inside there's a little plastic bottle presumably containing a chicken heart. I didn't open the bottle to find out.
Jean-Marc Bustamante is showing three white bird cages on legs with live finches in them. On the walls are two large black-and-white photo blow-ups; one of a swimming pool in a room with tremendous light coming in from a wall of windows and a skylight, and the other of a curving interior ramp.
Roni Horn's piece is a grid of black-and-white photos of white tiled hospital-like hallways and close-ups of doors with numbers on them. The way she has put them together they make interesting patterns sometimes with the views down the hallways making folds like an accordion and the doors serving as a stop or rest.
In the middle of the room is a tower of two cones connected at the points with shelves around them holding plastic reproductions of brains by Katharina Fritsch. Her modus operandi is to take an image and multiply it many times to create scale. That's what she is doing here. It reminds me of the stacked skulls in catacombs of Pol Pot's Cambodia.
Rafael(?) Jablonka one of Cologne's most important art dealers was there representing Andreas Slominski.
The last stop for this busy day was Gallery 407, a space in the meat packing district run by two young RISD grads. Peter Schuyff, who has a studio nearby, is showing some large paintings on paper pinned directly to the wall. Over backgrounds composed of wide black and white zigzags, Peter has painted various lengths of golden yellow tubes. They look like organ pipes and the work had a harmonic feel to it. James Nares said he liked them. Donald Baechler was also there. I ran into Mike Ballou, who has a slide and film club at his Brooklyn space 4 Walls. In a vulnerable moment I commited to making a presentation there.
Feb. 11 - Out to 4 Walls on a rainy night. Amazingly the place was packed. That's Brooklyn for you. The new art scene is there. I've been working on a short slide show of blurry cars on the Bowery from Houston to Cooper Square. Ballou collaborated on the sound track by slowing down my recording of traffic sounds to a unidentifiable abstract weird sound. It was surprisingly well received, considering.
Jim Torok had a very funny "low tech" slide animation accompanied by live music from the house band led by Paul and David Scher. Joe Fyfe read a Proustian text about discovering a miniature, decrepit sort of Disneyland in the middle of the Adirondacks. After the reading he showed slides of the place accompanied by the band playing a deconstructed melancholy version of When You Wish Upon a Star.
A couple other interesting pieces were Mike Ballou's short film of a construction hole in the street and a guy who has wet his pants, called Underground Water, and David Scher's video interview with a cab driver who told scary stories, including one about beating up an armed robber with a crowbar. Kim Kimbal's very funny video about misplacing things is called Is That It? A bunch of small objects, toys and things, are laid out in front of the camera with two people picking them up one at a time asking, "Is that it?" "No." "Is this it?" "No," and on and on. The absurdity of the situation was totally recognizable. The night was raw and uneven with a few jewels, but that's what you want in Brooklyn.
Feb. 14 - Richard Tuttle opened his show at Sperone Westwater called New Mexico, New York. The founding father of the esthetic of the slight is showing new wall pieces made of painted, very thin plywood. They reminded my editor of Georgia O'Keeffe, who as everyone knows also lived in New Mexico. Most of the works look like envelopes (or satchels) with a flap, because a smaller trapezoidal piece of plywood is laid flat at the top of the main, basically rectangular piece. Then they are painted in two colors as if it were one plane. The paint is thin and dry so that the grain of the plywood shows through. I asked Tuttle if he was thinking of envelopes when he made them. He said no, but since there is an infinite amount of hollow space between one plane and another, maybe that it is like an envelope.
He was also saying that the structure is within the color, and that the painting of a shape from one plane to another is difficult to do. Tuttle was talking to Robert Storr, who had written the Nov. '97 Artforum cover story on him. I got into a conversation with a young artist fresh out of school who had no idea who Tuttle or Robert Storr were. She had a low opinion of the work of her elder, just like a young artist is supposed to, calling it "forced unpretentiousness." Before we had a chance to debate the issue she gave me her card, invited me to her studio and was gone. I had no intention of going to the studio, but I did call her to argue about Tuttle's work! After that I felt a little guilty and called back. So the studio visit is on. Stay tuned.
ROBERT GOLDMAN is a New York artist.