||What price for a pound of flesh and glory?
Go figure. Painting completes the 2000-year cycle by returning to vogue in the year 1999, and the century winds down with, what else, the figure -- the intense buzz generated by Jenny Saville's meteoric rise to international art-world superstardom, by the consensus accolades heaped upon the 1970-born artist whose orgiastic feast of flesh dominates the canvases hanging in the downtown Gagosian gallery.
Without belaboring the academic applications and overt operatics broached by the cognoscenti, the Gotham Dispatch will merely muse on a couple of points. One, the astronomical prices afforded an emerging artist are unprecedented in this century and perhaps not to be duplicated for some time. Young Cadillac Saville's in the luxury sedan price range, fully loaded at a sold-out $100,000-$150,000 to the few museums and collectors who have the wall space and checkbook to accommodate lucky Larry. And two, the paintings' price and power are apropos for the boom boom bull market.
The exhibition's circus freak-show imagery shows Saville's insatiable taste for flesh, materialized in softly tinted gobs of oil paint that obliterate some pictures of waifish women promoted in recent years. Some of Saville's contemporaries just can't carry her laundry, and she's just getting started.
For those with a few bob, you might look over the photo studies Jenny uses -- giant C-prints with close-up details of her models' largess. They are editions of six (plus two a/p), big and square, mounted behind plastic at about $12,000-$16,000, an instant photography market -- Saatchi'll sell 'em too!
When maestro returns
Go figure, too -- the companion show to Jenny Saville, you might say, is the recently opened John Currin exhibition at Andrea Rosen. Currin's obsessions have progressed from distended boobs to distended bellies. He's got a strange hybrid quality in his repertoire -- a goofy hick trick drollness and serpentine way of seducing us with his Botticelli brushwork -- the classical primness of court painters.
The elegance of his masterful contrivances remind one of the way John Ashberry has with words, it comes as second nature, and Currin, as Ashberry does, toys with the viewer. What's he really mean in The Hobo (1999), a gorgeous strawberry blonde with curly ringlets of hair, a walking stick and gunny sack accessorizing and contrasting her very contemporary see-through blouse and lingerie, a gold belly chain with small colorful trinkets sensualizing her navel?
Is this assonance or what? Currin is sneaky, he may get you mulling maudlin mannerist mantras and needles you with needless narratives, but that's the point. He excels at the exoteric while playing his painter's hand close to the vest.
Poets and painters
Poets and painters seem to get on for some reason -- maybe its the tall boys in the back room, or the smell of linseed oil in the studio, perhaps a waft of … oh never mind -- why just yesterday it was Ovid dazzling the medieval demimonde with his incantatory scrolls metamorphosing into painters' narratives and Titian tales, and you've no doubt heard of Rimbaud and Apollinaire, and of course the art critic-cum-poet Charles Baudelaire wandering the streets of Paris.
For a bit more of this sort of history, go to the New York Public Library where the contemporary poet Robert Creeley (b. 1926), a 1999 recipient of the prestigious Bollingen Prize in Poetry, is celebrated with an exhibition of his collaborations with visual artists dating back to the famous Black Mountain College of the 1950s.
Over the past 40 years Creely's been somewhat of a poet sage, collaborating with the likes of Francesco Clemente, Jim Dine, R. B. Kitaj, Archie Rand, Susan Rothenberg and numerous others. The collection assembled here features rare out-of-print books from small presses such as Jargon Press and larger ones like Charles Scribner.
The prints evolved from correspondences between artist and poet, via letters and facsimiles (which are exhibited) and the process is shown to be sometimes spontaneous and at other points pondered and mediated for a lapse of time. The show is a good primer on the connection between visual art and poetry, and makes a case for the poet as Svengali and arbiter of the avant-garde.
Anonymous sent me
Anonymous has curated a show at Staff USA, a fashion showroom on the fifth floor of 495 Broadway in SoHo. Anonymous is collaborating with the intellectually intense, artist-run Ac project room. Anonymous is actually a museum curator or, rather, numerous museum curators who will organize a yearlong series of shows in collaboration with Ac and Staff USA.
Name-dropping aside, anonymous' first show is a success with artists Liz Larner, Jody Lee, Rita McBride, Jeanne Silverthorne and Texas-based newcomer Erick Swenson. The exhibition is cleverly called "Description without a Place" and it's unknown Swenson who steals the show with his goofy mixed media sculpture Edgar (1998).
The Swenson piece is of a Mr. Ed-like horse head with a reindeer's taxidermied body, and a long white rock star wig. The horse is painted in white sparkly, with some of the veins showing through. It rests on a Styrofoam island with fake snow, and its oddity is that the teeth are a mold of the artists own -- get some dental work pal! It's funny and queer and is just the right ungainly touch for the linear works installed.
Anonymous has done well to contrast the austere b&w McBride photos of towering buildings as anonymous Minimalist edifices in an anonymous city, and the Larner work has shades of Fred Sandback. Anonymous, may we never meet….
As the world turns
Recent trends in offshore banking and the black money industry are the topic of artist Mark Lombardi's new show at Deven Golden. Called "Vicious Circles," his finely honed graphite-on-paper narratives are diagrammatic -- diadrawings if you will -- revealing the labyrinthine world of money-laundering and corporate intrigue. Their deceptive esthetics lure you in, and once you start reading the schemata, it's the stuff of spy novels, only it's not fiction -- it's all here and well researched, the trail of dead bodies and collusive conspirators, appearing as constellations of names and dates, travel itineraries, coincidental meetings with reputed underworld figures and politicians.
The conclusions you draw are not shocking, just edifying in a business-as-usual way. Lombardi is not a polemicist, standing on a soapbox saying lookee here -- he is merely setting the record straight and letting us draw our own conclusions. There are no boundaries or limits in the postmillennial borderless supra-economy, only a nefarious world wide web to enable and enhance its nebulous growth….
Color in Culture
Odili Donald Odita is a painter and art writer who has shown in the Johannesburg Biennial. A contributing editor at NKA, Journal of African Art, he also produces an online art journal titled Connect. In his current show at Florence Lynch, titled "Color Theory," Odita throws back to the school of hard-edge
geometric abstraction, taking from Barnett Newman and Frank Stella and contemporizing them with indigenous African textile colors. Diagonal line and horizontal patterns with brown, beige, teal, light blue and orange suggest an Afro-European confluence of esthetic and culture within their pigment and pattern.
Dum-dum developers don't deserve da Vinci
The biggest bust in recent years has to be the Metronome in Union Square -- its recent launch celebrating its annoying countdown to the millennium. With its knickknack boutique surface and gold lamé accent, it's a perfect match for the uninspired box its attached to. Where'd the dough go? $6,000,000 can buy you a lot of gold leaf, but someone failed to tell the artists and developers, do it right! A public commission of such fanfare should inspire and elevate the community. With Thanksgiving coming up, hopefully it's our last turkey of the century.
MAX HENRY lives in New York City.