Ah, the joys of pastorale! Goodness in the windows, another pleasant sunny flower -- what else is occuring? Peat moss aside, the artist Peter Land lands a pun in his giant video projection at Klemens Gasser & Tanja Grunert, the former Cologne gallery headquartered since last season on West 19th Street in Chelsea. Fast on the heels of successful shows at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art and the Secession in Vienna, Land is having his first solo show in New York.
The video shows the 33-year-old Copenhagen-based artist, wandering through the woods in the Danish countryside, a comical hunter in lederhosen in search of an idyll. Sounds of rustling branches and chirping birds are complemented by Beethoven's mellow Sixth Symphony as we see beautiful images of wilderness at sunset. The video ends with the ditzy hunter in a rowboat in the middle of a lake, where he shoots a hole in the boat and sinks below the surface, with only his hat left floating. It's banal and funny, and has something of the same sensibility as L.A. artist Martin Kersels. A sad sack in search of a denouement.
Speaking of doe-eyed denouements, Justine Kurland's first solo show of color photographs at Patrick Callery is the provocatively titled "The Secret World of Girls." Kurland's work is a kind of anthropological observation of a tribe of girl campers or hikers in bucolic landscapes. Nary a male is in sight, though compositionally the works are reminiscent of Chinese landscape paintings and the poised, posed photographs of Vancouver artist Jeff Wall.
Kurland's dreamy Field Trip shows a winding line of adolescent girls heading towards some unseen location. In Painting Pictures, two young women are seated on a boulder, one finger-writing on the other's bare back. Kurland engineers her actors with a well-mannered but somewhat malevolent undertone, faking the sense of togetherness. Her heart lies in the inanimate intimacy she gives her subjects. The girls are always out of context, as if on a guerrilla warfare mission. The lush landscapes are emotionally devoid, and lurk in a place between the ominous and the serene.
Youth is not limited to pastoral memories or maudlin storytelling -- witness the investigations of Glasgow artist Graham Fagen at Murray Guy. Fagen photographs artifacts of precision and delinquency, his pictures mimicking the product styling of advertising and the informative placards placed next to them imitating archeological record-keeping. Weapons is a series of homemade weapons, the text describing their origin and use coinciding with his mid-1970s childhood era.
A crossbow-like instrument uses u-shaped nails as ammunition, conjuring up reckless adolescent aggression. A red water balloon filled not with water but with a urine sample from a glass beaker is a serious Halloween prank. His captions read diaristically, as if torn from the pages of some reform school reminiscence.
The avant-garde status of Berlin-based artist Monica Bonvicini, who starred in both the Venice Biennale and Site Santa Fe, was first noticed in New York last year with her brief project installation at Apex Art. Now, she has brought a version of her work from Venice to Anton Kern's gallery in SoHo. A roaring polemicist on the gender politics of architecture, Bonvicini uses sheet-rock constructions to embody the institutional codification of sex. I Believe in the Skin of Things as in That of Women, a title Camille Paglia would be proud of, is a 16 by 8 foot "room" or container, its surface punctuated by gaping holes, the metal studs exposed. Bonvicini has covered its walls with phallic graffiti and scrawled quotes from the history of art and architecture.
"Cut off your dick and eat it" said Zaha Hadid in the summer of 1996, in what sounds like an attack on male hegemony. Leslie Kanes Weisman is quoted as saying that "Even Freud admitted, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." Adolph Loos had it right in 1908 when he drew the analogy: "A horizontal line: the reclining woman, a vertical line: the man who penetrates her."
No wonder Bonvicini has lacerated the walls! A video in Kern's front gallery shows a female actor wearing a cardboard house over her head, banging it against the wall over and over again with a loud crashing sound. Bonvincini denounces the representation of power, wealth and well-being within a nexus of women and architecture.
Heart of darkness
Pepon Osorio, a 1999 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship recipient, has installed Las Twines (The Twins) at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts in SoHo. This work was first shown in a South Bronx storefront, where it was assembled with the collaboration of the local community. Upon entering the gallery, visitors hear the eerie sound of a little girl's voice calling for her poppa. The sound of water splashing is from a video of a dark skinned male washing his face. A couple dozen of foil party balloons are bunched in a corner, the surface of the walls covered with cheap room mirrors, giving a hall of mirrors effect.
On a raised oval platform we see a small electric car running on autopilot. The twins are actually two large doll-like figures in their confirmation dresses. One is much darker than the other and, as a wall text reveals, both are searching for their absentee father. The multimedia installation is about racism in the Latino community and the ostracization of the disenfranchised. Osario's overload of ornamental decoration is Baroque and theatrical, transcending cultural limitations.
MAX HENRY is a New York poet and art critic.