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Back to Reviews 98

  artist's diary

by Robert Goldman  

Chuck Close
Big Self-Portrait

Feb. 25, 1998 -- Went to the press preview for the Chuck Close show at the Museum of Modern Art. They served coffee, tea and watercress sandwiches. Charlie Finch said they were left over from Agnes Gund's dinner, but that's just a joke -- everyone knows watercress sandwiches are only appropriate for high tea.

I didn't recognize many critics, but there was a small crowd of reporters there, including two video crews with lights. Close and MoMA curator Robert Storr planted themselves in front of the color portraits from the '70s, where they were introduced by MoMA director Glenn Lowry. Each gave a short talk. Then they took questions.

The color in Close's paintings from the '70s is so unique -- and they really capture that '70s look -- that I asked Close how they were made. He said he did each one three times, based on color separations. (Now, he does them six or seven times, he said.) You can see this technique in the drawing of his friend Mark Greenwold.

I had been reading an essay by Walter Benjamin, On Language as Such and on the Language of Man, where he says that it is not infrequently true that a man's name is his fate. At the press conference, nobody else seemed to be asking any questions, so I asked Close if he thought his name was his fate. His paintings are close-ups, after all!

Storr, who was already annoyed because I had been asking too many questions, answered with this whole argument about how Close's work disproves Benjamin's hypothesis in the better known (but unread by me) Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.

After the q & a, this good-looking young woman with one of the video crews asked me who I was, and told me she was from The Today Show. Later, the other video crew wanted to interview me on camera about Close's show. They turned out to be VH-1, the music video cable network. I told them that Close's show was the most important of the season. And meaningful to a lot of younger artists.

If anyone saw me on TV let me know.

Vincent Gallo and Christina
Ricci in Buffalo 66

Vincent Gallo
When Chet Baker Sings
Courtesy Annina Nosei Gallery.

Vincent Gallo
Fall in Love Too Fast
April 3 -- Vincent Gallo, who is now a movie actor, started out as an artist. In the '80s he showed paintings at the Annina Nosei's gallery on Prince Street in SoHo. They were carefully painted bunches of grapes and bottles in a flat, historicizing style. I remember at the time thinking, why is Annina showing this? After that he became a model for Calvin Klein jeans in the heroin-chic days. Since then he's been an actor.

Now he's made what I consider the best of the artist-made movies, Buffalo 66. Gallo co-wrote, directs, stars and even sings the title song. It had its New York premiere at the New Directors/New Films series at the Museum of Modern Art. At the screening Gallo introduced the film by dropping as many names as possible (Jean-Michael Basquiat, Calvin Klein, Marc Jacobs, John Lurie). Then he introduced in the audience Ben Gazzara, who plays his father in the movie, his producer, his Little Italy landlord and most interestingly, his psychiatrist, one Dr. Hill.

Gallo plays a fiction based on himself. The time is the present, Buffalo, N.Y. He's is a bad guy without a place to piss. He's wearing red leather high heel boots that zip up the side. He kidnaps a young girl named Layla, played by Christina Ricci, and takes her to see his parents in the house he grew up in. She's wearing a lowcut baby-blue outfit with silver glitter high-heel platform tap shoes.

The movie's bizarre psychological scenes are amazing. Gazzara plays a schizophrenic buffoon with an ugly side. Angelica Huston transformed herself to play Gallo's messed-up mother -- I totally forgot that it was her. Layla is passive but she's the only character who can believe in anyone. In one scene she performs a lugubrious, mocking tap dance on a bowling alley to the music of King Crimson. It's sure to become a classic.

Buffalo 66 is ambitious and narcissistic -- designed by Gallo to make him a hot director. It comes out in June, and I say see it. At the end of the screening, Gallo took the mike again to introduce Christina Ricci, who had come in late. From the back of the theater she flipped him the bird.


Neke Carson
Hopi Apparition

Neke Carson
Cross Appparition

David Scher
Artist's Tuna
at Jack Tilton

Scher's pencil sharpener

Slingshot chair

David Scher

Jason Dodge's sled at Casey Kaplan

The tent

April 16 -- Neke Carson invited me to his studio, which is in a room in the Gershwin Hotel that he shares with Night Magazine. Years ago Neke became notorious for painting a portrait of Andy Warhol using a brush stuck up his ass. "Rectal Realism" he called it. Now he's making sculptures that he calls "apparitions." In the darkened room, rising out of monolithic black bases, are spinning lines of color, golden and iridescent, illuminated from below by projections of images that are themselves revolving. To the soft hum of their motors they form into floating figures in the dark. The head of Buddha, a golden crucified Christ, a perfume bottle in violets, green and gold, and an undulating Venus of Willendorf.

Neke was telling me about the shape of matter in the cosmos. Imagine the cosmos as bubbles stuck together, he said. All matter, the whole universe, is only on the intersecting outsides of the bubbles. The rest is empty space. With the lights on and the sculptures turned off, they look like fey pieces of ribbon and gold wire bent around a car antenna coming out of a tall black base. But apparitions appear at night. These have been spotted downtown recently for evenings at Bowery Bar and Ace Gallery.

April 17 -- David Scher opened his Dada-inspired show at Jack Tilton. The first thing you see is a small hole in the wall with a sign that reads "Insert Pencils Only." On the counter is a cup of pencils, and when you do as instructed the pencil comes out sharpened. Amazing! In the center of the front gallery are two lightweight folding chairs, slightly modified with slingshots built in to the chair arm. Viewers are supposed to sit and shoot balls of toilet paper or aluminum foil at each other. There's a videotape of Scher's wildman friend Dave Foley telling stories. This is Dave Foley II. I saw Dave Foley I at 4 Walls in Brooklyn. In that tape he was talking about beating up an armed robber with a crowbar.

In the rear gallery are maybe 80 small drawings pinned to the wall. Scher's line is precise, but his subjects are all over the map, and each one has a sharp comic point. There are puns, jokes, cartoons, portraits, landscapes. They seem more improvisational than Marcel Dzama's "Pooh Bears in Straight Jackets in the Psycho Ward" drawings just next door at David Zwirner. Scher also has larger drawings in which he has covered the paper with drips which he then obsessively circled and numbered.

Fred Tomaselli was at Sher's opening holding his five-month-old son Desmond. It was so hot inside that the crowd had overflowed to the sidewalk, maybe 20 or 30 people standing in front of the gallery drinking beer. Suddenly, cops from the 1st Precinct pulled up and began hassling the single black guy there. They issued him a summons. The cops are so stupid, they don't even know they're racist. They went inside the gallery and threatened to give Tilton a summons for every bottle of beer they found outside. Last I saw, Jack, in his shirtsleeves, was picking up beer bottles and putting them into garbage bags.

Some of the bottles may have been from Casey Kaplan, who was serving the same brand at his opening for Jason Dodge's show "Helsinki" across the street. Dodge has created a group of efficient, compact prop-like objects and models that together make up an imaginary narrative of an ornithologist's field trip. There's an open parachute connected to a crafted wooden case, as if it had been dropped from a plane. Next are bright orange boxes stenciled "supplies" that have the coolness and scale of a Donald Judd sculpture. They're sitting on a wooden sled.

There's a second sled with a little pile of fake snow, typically getting dirty as snow does in New York City. There's also a model of a tent and what Dodge calls the cut-away view of the tent -- a wooden platform floor with a small white fur rug, what looks like a scale, a topographical map, a cell phone, a big hypodermic and a medical specimen bottle. All of this is illuminated by a single florescent tube hanging on lightweight stainless steel stands. In the smaller gallery is a weather station on a pole and Bird Tracking Device, which includes a small satellite.

Dodge's conceit is presenting props from a narrative as sculpture. He's another grad of Yale's art school, which seems to be having an enormous impact on art in the '90s. At the opening, Barbara Ess mentioned that Dodge was a friend from when she had taught there. Barbara has new friends from recent teaching gigs at NYU and Bard as well as Yale.

Among all the shoppers, gallery-goers and tourists walking around Soho there is crime. I was told there was a rape last night in the Chaos nightclub, and I saw two young crime victims (maybe their purses were snatched) crying while being escorted out of the Bleecker Street subway station by police. Also the graffiti writers have gotten to Donna Karan's gigantic painted billboard at Broadway and Houston. At the top is "Earsnot," "Von" and a third tag that is totally illegible.

At the end of the evening with typically nothing to do I went to the midnight show of David Mamet's movie The Spanish Prisoner at the Angelica Film Center. It turned out to be bachelor artists night out. I ran into the painter Ron Gorchov, and as I entered the theater there was Vito Acconci standing alone.


Paul McCarthy's bucket,
at Luhring Augustine

McCarthy in action

Allan McCollum's dino fossils


Jack Pierson's
Fuck You
at American Fine Arts

Feet by Barbara Ess

Barbara Ess

Yoko Ono
Painting To See a Room Through
at Emmerich

Yoko's pine coffins, in SoHo

A dying fruit tree

Cecily Brown

Michelle Lopez, in Leather
April 18 -- Soho with a terrible toothache. It's a root canal for me. Remember, kids, what Soupy Sales said, "Be true to your teeth and they won't be false to you." I thought I'd see what Paul McCarthy's show at Luhring Augustine would do for tooth pain.

McCarthy is showing photographs documenting his entire careening career of performances and videotapes, going all the way back to 1969. The gallery walls are filled with groups of black-and-white and color photos. In the center of the space are large tables with gross-out Cibachromes set under glass on the table tops, ready for their feast of the grotesque.

And surely, ketchup is present, for McCarthy is a connoisseur of ketchup. On one of the tables is a plastic wastebucket with dried ketchup inside and some actual blue-and-white bottles labeled "Catsup." In one photo, McCarthy's naked and on his hands and knees, lapping catsup up with his tongue. In another, someone with a prosthetic erection and a black lacy negligee is splattered with the stuff.

An early work, titled Bat Boy, shows his punning sense of humor. McCarthy's obsessional, infantile, psychosexual investigations, along with the raw, grainy look of the photos, give this show authenticity. It didn't bother my toothache much at all.

Allan McCollum opened a show at Friedrich Petzel of brightly colored, cast plaster sculptures of a dinosaur footprint fossil. He's been making these since 1995. In the rear gallery are 80 pencil tracings of the word "thanks," in various scripts.

I walked around the room looking at each one. It seemed like a gracious gesture. The word became a mantra. Or like being in elementary school and having to write the same thing over and over on the blackboard (I will not throw spitballs . . .). McCollum is anything but obsessional. He did maybe 10 of the tracings, and told me, "A bunch of us just got together and did them all. They take a long time."

McCollum's "thanks" tracings were quite a contrast to Jack Pierson's show that opened right next door at American Fine Arts. Pierson greets you with a neon sign piece that reads "Fuck you."

April 23 -- Barbara Ess' opening at Curt Marcus on a rainy night featured large photographs with exquisite subtle color of her strange distorted world. They look like the light of the image has literally been pulled onto the surface. A girl, seen from behind, stares up at the corner of a room. Two walls and the ceiling have a sparse wallpaper pattern of leaves. The way the image is visually pulled and stretched it makes you feel like you're in a tent.

Barbara has been looking at her feet. In one smaller photo, the camera looks at a pair of feet seen from above against an indistinct background. It has a simultaneous recognition and disorientation. In a large photo, elongated, swanlike legs emerge from the lower right-hand corner, floating over a great expanse of lake. Light sears the edges of the graceful bare legs and feet. Another photo shows a dress or slip, held up to the camera, with triple hems of fairy lights. The black shoes are long and pointy.

Other images are of boxy white houses in a landscape. To really see Barbara's photos you have to look for the subtlety of the color, unrecognizable violets fading into equally unrecognizable greens, looking like there is no color at all. There's a photo of Barbara's hair and back. Warm light suffuses the image. The hair is a contained, electric shape, but the perfect form of her back and how it is pulled taut in place onto the surface make this a sublime work.

Ess is able twist and nudge image, light and color into a world that catches us in a moment. In a small self-portrait in a classic oval frame, she holds what could be a Portobello mushroom and looks bemused. It's hanging with some plant studies, including one of red berries that stand out in their brightness.

The opening was kind of cool. Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth was there with her daughter Coco. Among many others were Kiki and Seton Smith and the painter Jutta Koether. Barbara's band Ultra Vulva is playing Sunday at Arlene Grocery.

April 25 -- Jeffrey Deitch is a busy man. Five openings in two nights I was told, although I could only figure out four of them. Vanessa Beecroft at the Guggenheim Museum last night, Yoko Ono at Emmerich Gallery, where Deitch is director, and in his big Wooster Street garage space plus two young artists at Deitch Projects on Grand Street.

Yoko's installation at Emmerich starts with a revolving door that spins you all the way around so you end up where you began. To actually get into the gallery you must walk through a curtain of glass beads. In the center of the left gallery is a white stepladder positioned below a magnifying glass hanging from the ceiling. There are several empty gold picture frames that, in classic Fluxus fashion, frame the real world as if it were art. One is bent to fit in a corner, one is draped over the back of a chair and a third is hanging in space with a screen in it. On the walls are hand written phrases that that try to convince you that the white room is blue. I hear that's happens when you take Viagra!

Filling the main gallery walls are a whole bunch of small ink drawings made with dots. They look like they were doodled while she was on the phone. You can look at them through a telescope. In the room are some white chess sets, on chess tables with chairs. The tables are an early modernist-looking oval with raised squares on the chessboard. In another room Yoko has made a tableau of an entire kitchen flying through the air into a giant magnet.

Yoko hadn't arrived at the opening when I was there. The paparazzi were lying in wait. Bette Midler was at the show but she was so drably dressed they didn't even bother her.

Downtown, the big raw garage space is filled with 100 pine coffins, each containing a young fruit tree -- apple, peach and pear. Some of the coffins are little, baby sized. A soundtrack of birds chirping plays over two speakers mounted high on the wall. The work is titled Ex It, a perfect Fluxus-style pun. I translate it from the Latin, kind of -- Out of It. Everyone at the opening was fretting that the saplings would die in the sunless garage space - and they're right, the trees are slowly dying. It turns out to be a very sad work. The renovation of the space, by the way, is being done by a big architectural firm, Gabellini Associates.

Over at Deitch Projects on Grand Street were Cecily Brown's big pink paintings of contorted orgies, full of sex and penises, like Willem de Kooning crossed with Judy Glanzman. They were so juicy, Terry Winters was salivating. In the side gallery were some images embossed into leather by Michelle Lopez, another smart young artist who makes sexy objects. She showed not too long ago at Feature.

All anyone was talking about at these openings was Charlie Finch's outburst of heckling at Beecroft's performance at the Guggenheim the night before. As everyone must know by now, Beecroft posed 20 beautiful women in high heels and bikinis (four were naked). Finch scolded the audience and the performers, exclaiming, "You should be ashamed...this is fascist....there goes 25 years of feminism down the drain."

Needless to say, Finch was undaunted, parading through Deitch Projects handing out the new issue of Coagula to everyone. Its cover features Chris Kraus, author of I Love Dick.

ROBERT GOLDMAN is a New York artist.