MoMA mano a mano with Whitney?
Apparently looking to upstage the Whitney Biennial 2000, the Museum of Modern Art has concocted its first curatorial collaboration with P.S.1, the edgy, 25-year-old alternative space housed in a sprawling former public school in Queens.
Conceived as a juried exhibition, "Greater New York" is to open sometime in February 2000 and showcase 80 to 100 "underrepresented" artists who must reside in the New York metropolitan area. To select the works, over 20 people from MoMA and P.S.1 reviewed the works of 1,500 artists in "marathon slide viewings." The final cut is being made by Paulo Herkenhoff, Laura Hoptman and Deborah Wye of MoMA and Klaus Biesenbach, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev and Russell Haswell from P.S.1.
But what's most intriguing about "Greater New York" is its February timing. It beats the Whitney Biennial, which opens Mar. 23, to the new-art punch. Coincidentally, both the Biennial and the P.S.1/MoMA show have six curators, and of course both purport to point the postmillennial compass to the year 2000 and beyond.
MoMA, Whitney, P.S.1 -- let's see who goes with the status quo and who goes out on a limb. The international art community will be watching to see who the most visionary curators are, round by round and floor by floor…
Three serious ladies
"Inverted Odysseys: Claude Cahun, Maya Deren, Cindy Sherman," on view at NYU's Grey Art Gallery (Nov. 16, 1999-Jan. 28, 2000), is a stellar exhibition of more than 150 objects, co-curated by Grey director Lynn Gumpert and New York-based critic and historian Shelley Rice. The show explores the innovations and lineage of self-portraiture by three women from different eras, but joined by a theatricality and self-invention transcending their respective times.
Claude Cahun was born in France in 1894 and was influenced first by the Symbolists then later Andre Breton and the Surrealists. Cahun's vintage works, 45 in all, were produced mostly between the World Wars and depict her many personalities as performer -- sailor, masked man, her own father, a rag doll. Her hair is usually cropped short and close-ups of her austere face show a mesmerizing, almost scary gaze.
Her covert resistance to the Nazis (with a stepsister who had become her lover and collaborator during an exile on the occupied Isle of Jersey off the coast of Brittany) included boldly impersonating a German officer and secretly distributing resistance flyers. She was arrested and sentenced to death by the Gestapo in 1944 but was rescued by the Allied Forces. She died in 1954.
Maya Deren was born in Kiev in 1917 and, emigrated to the United Sates in 1922, living first in upstate New York, then Ohio. She studied at the International School in Geneva, Switzerland, thereafter earning her undergraduate degree at New York University and a Master's in English Literature at Smith College. By the 1940's she was leading a bohemian Greenwich Village life with her Czech filmmaker husband, Alexander (Sasha) Hammid, who taught her film-making and worked as a photographer.
Deren has 29 photographic works in the show plus and additional 14 portraits of her taken by her husband. Her pursuits were of self-expansion and metaphysics -- her late work is consumed by the study and documentation of the occult practices of Haitian voodoo ceremonies.
Cindy Sherman, born in the United States in 1954, is the most widely known of the three photographers --celebrated globally for her personal transformations in mise-en-scenes that use period costumes and evoke bygone eras. There are 23 photographs including 11 of her famous black and white film stills from the late '70s and '80s.
The curators have also scored with large prints that were commissioned by Rei Kawakubo of Comme de Garçon fame, and never before exhibited. Some of the garments and prosthetics used in the series are on display. Sherman has that Kabuki theater element in her disjointed mannequins and unnatural depiction of female models. Her travels to the past seem to echo the works of both Cahun and Deren, Sherman forming a bookend to the these triumvirate shamans.
Greatest art legends
In the mid-'70s the legendary sportscaster Curt Gowdy hosted a television show called Greatest Sports Legends -- it featured a mod soundtrack along with a montage of great athletes in action. This bit of representational arcana came to mind upon seeing the paintings of Young British Artist Richard Patterson at the new James Cohan gallery on 57th street -- this on the heels of Patterson's appearance in the "Sensation" show at the Brooklyn Museum.
Patterson works from a "life study," that is, from photographs of small plastic figures distorted with gobs of oil paint, posed Hollywood backlot style in front of images such as a racetrack scoreboard. These he converts into rather large oils on canvas that have a smooth Photo Realist surface in which the figure is obfuscated with abstract form.
At Cohan are images of plastic action figures, which appear as if they've been torched and melted down. The morphic glossy mound becomes the primary focus of the painting, carrying the heroism of abstract gesture. In Last Detail (1999), for instance, an image like a glossy colorform of twisted taffy is posed against a faded digital scoreboard carrying the text "the last detail."
Floating in a Most Peculiar Way (1999) -- named with a line from a David Bowie song -- is a peculiar looking plastic toy soldier in stop-action motion. The violet, brown and mint colors of the figure are as moody as the mint-greenish-blue monochrome it's painted on. These technicolor toy abstractions sell for a sweet tune at $10,000-$25,000.
Arms and the man
The lumbering fatigue-wearing arms manufacturer Alfredo Martinez, is currently showing his new work at Donahue/Sosinski gallery. Martinez has a vision of the artist as gunsmith, making simulated rocket launchers out of PVC pipes and AK47s out of scrap metal and cookie tins. With weapon art from the elegant Tom Sachs and the nuclear Gregory Green, is the art world preparing for an insurgency?
For his show, Martinez transformed the gallery into a temporary studio space, filling it with a long wooden table and a myriad of tools, gear, scraps and assorted materials. On the wall were large raw primitivist drawings in a loose accurate hand in marker and ink, collaged with pages from illustrated gun magazines.
Martinez likes to tell the story of Joseph Beuys telling the story of the famed gangster John Dillinger, who escaped from prison after carving a small handgun from a bar of prison soap and blackening it with shoe polish. Here, Martinez carved a gun much like Dillinger did -- as if to put himself in a bad-boy lineage with an art historical context. It's as daring a feat as this agent provocateur has done in this fully loaded show.