The first snowy week of 1999 had everyone buzzing about the New York magazine article by Basquiat author Phoebe Hoban on "painting's new wave" -- a motley crew that includes yBa Cecily Brown, swoopy stripe painter Karin Davies and recent Mary Boone discovery Wayne Gonzales. Hoban's piece was titled "The Mod Squad" and blurbed "the new generation of New York painters is smitten with technology, suspicious of hype, and avowedly sober." Ha!
One rising star is appropriation-painter Damian Loeb, whose first New York solo show finally opened at Boone's Fifth Avenue gallery. The paintings have already sold out at $15,000 a pop, thanks no doubt to the hype that has attended his work (such as his appearance on a recent Flash Art cover). Ubiquitous paparazzo Patrick McMullan shot the confident Loeb in front of one of his Photorealist oil canvases, which are detached depictions of violent situations in urban and rural settings.
Loeb had originally been slated to show downtown at Deitch Projects, a scheme that came to naught after Jeffrey -- and his superiors at Sotheby's -- got cold feet over copyright to Loeb's images (a story broken by Charlie Finch in his late, lamented Royal Flush column on ArtNet).
Instead, Deitch began the year with an exhibition of seven large enamel-on-canvas paintings by Inka Essenhigh, another youngster profiled in New York mag. Essenhigh held court at a packed opening, jazzed by her new-found fame. It didn't hurt, either, that Deitch has the magic art-dealer touch -- all the works are sold, at between $8,000 and $10,000. Essenhigh says her paintings depict "a world made of some plastic substance."
She had previously shown at Stux Gallery and at Exit Art, among other venues, gaining a certain amount of attention for her eight-foot-square pictures, dotted with biomorphic cartoon-like figures acting out strangely militaristic narratives. They're both brutal and elegant, a good formula for the '90s.
Over in Chelsea, veteran dealer John Weber is packing them in for artist Miguel Angel Rios, whose show is dominated by a 20-foot-wide mosaic mirror shaped like Manhattan island. Rios is very much in the lineage of Robert Smithson, Richard Long and Gordon Matta-Clark, all artists obsessed with natural and manmade terrains. Acrylic maps of various New York neighborhoods sprawl across the gallery space, showing the city at various stages of its growth, while a soundtrack plays voices from the streets.
The uncanny cowboy Weber still has his eye for the cutting edge, as proved by the works in the back room by Spanish artist Beatriz Barral. A recent participant in the 1998 Marie Walsh Sharpe Independent Study Program, Barral's emblematic abstractions may be described as a techno Sol Lewitt. Look for her exhibition late this year.
At the Rios opening, newlywed curator Carlos Basualdo stood alongside his beaming wife, writer Monica Amor, looking very much in love. I later spotted the lovestruck pair at Apex Art in Tribeca, where Alice Smits has organized a group show called "Avoiding Objects." On view are works by Mary Carlson, Ann Hamilton, Donald Lipski, Ann Mesner, Man Ray and a 1997 Cornelia Parker work called Feathers from Freud's Couch.
Top opening for 1999 in SoHo had to be Roxy Paine at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts. Paine makes impressively realistic models of fungi and plant forms (out of painted polymer, I think) that are all about "potential," he said. Competing Crusts, a smallish wall piece of two giant fungi lapping up against each other, is an elegant visual metaphor for ideological tectonics. It's priced at $12,000, and marked sold. Another work in the front gallery is a dirt field of grasses -- it has a motor and vibrates, not to depict naturalistic movement but rather to create a hallucinogenic effect -- and is priced at $15,000.
The show-stopper is Crop, an elegant chunk of garden filled with head-high poppy plants. It's also marked sold, at $35,000. Paine began his career as a wacky kinetic sculptor, and one impressive remnant of that impulse is his Scumak, an "automated sculpture maker" that has to be seen to be believed. It creates white plastic biomorphic blob sculptures at the rate of about one a day. The machine costs $40,000, but you can have one of the sculptures for $600.
That first weekend of 1999 was packed with parties, including the farewell soiree for outgoing Drawing Center director Annie Philbin, who's heading out to Los Angeles to run the corporate Hammer Museum (and where she's being called the more mature "Ann"). The caviar was real Beluga and the gallery was filled to the brim with well-wishers. On hand were Apex founder Steven Rand, artist/curator Yvette Brackman, the stylish Carol Greene, artist Marc Lombardi and newly anointed Flash Art U.S. editor Boris Moshkovits.
Married painters Carl Ostendarp and Gail Fitzgerald were in tow by their young son Eric. The big O told me that Drawing Center showee Paul Morrison had painted the engaging black wall mural in a mere six days! Morrison runs the Morrison/Judd Gallery in London and is very much a part of the thriving scene over there. I suppose we'll be seeing his work in a New York commercial gallery soon enough.