E-z fun e-z nuff e-z does it Jeff
Tired of the "Celebration" poker game, Jeff Koons returned to the Sonnabend gallery with a packed '80s-style opening and a collection of works both vapid and vintage. Under the snide title of "Easy Fun," Koons presents three kiddie-pop paintings and several large tinted mirrors shaped like the heads of cartoon animals. There's also a single sculpture, Split Rocker (Orange/Red) (1999), a mounted hobby horse head made of two mis-matched halves.
The paintings are so lovingly lame that you have to look below the surface of all this surface to get the program. Loopy (1999) shows a grinning comics character eyeballing a heaping spoonful of cherry-topped whipped cream, surrounded by globes of dancing cereal and a series of colorful looping tracks. Cut-Out (1999) is even worse, occupied by a yellow-hatted donkey head (isn't a donkey also called a jackass?), minus the eyes, combined with a milk splash, flying Cheerios and image of Mount Rushmore across the top.
The gently biomorphic mirrors, done in editions of three at great expense, come in colorful shades of violet, orange, chartreuse and aluminum. Their shapes hint at homely cartoon characters since consigned to the trash heap of corporate TV -- is that Deputy Dawg? Is that Eeyore? They beckon the viewer with quizzical interest, saying look at yourself looking at me, won't you enjoy this dumb conundrum while I laugh at you?
The show has a laissez faire, Lite FM quality, like it was made while sipping a piña colada in a chaise lounge, with a little "fuck you" thrown in for post yBa measure. It's Koons' first New York exhibition in recent memory, at least since his high-flying reputation took a battering when his top secret "Celebration" series of giant chrome sculptures went over budget and a planned show at the then-new Guggenheim Soho was canceled.
Why did Koons come out of hibernation to show this stuff? Has he run out of cards? One good sign -- recent auction results indicate a healthy hubbub for his works. Sure enough some hairdressers will bite at those mirrors, but a new generation of artists, collectors, critics and curators may find them e-z 2 4-get. Let's wait and see…
Playing on a video screen in the window of Deitch Projects is a George Condo classic, a montage of 1970s television shows -- I Dream of Jeannie, The Beverly Hillbillies -- interspersed with music, animated footage, images of paintings and Condo himself at work in the studio. Unlike Koons, Condo is actually a painter, his curiosity never seems to wane. He calls this show of a dozen, variously sized paintings "Portraits Lost in Space," and characterizes them as "hallucinations looking back at the hallucinator." Zowey!
Reanimating comic-book characters with Old Master technique, Condo gives a new twist to Technicolor, while his playful palette plays out bravura abstract flourishes. Lost in Time (1999) features one of Condo's trademark androgynous Alfalfa-like figures, complete with a large buck tooth, a tawny, bulbous nose and apple cheeks. The red and white smock this character wears leaps out of a miasmic field of Velasquez blacks and browns touched with a hint of yellow ocher. It's a strange hybrid.
A work called Big Red (1999) reminds me of Casper the Friendly Ghost dunked in Red Riding Hood red, the cloud formations and shades of sky all done like J.M.W. Turner. Condo devotees will remember the yearlong evolution of this particular work, chronicled in the 90-minute documentary Condo Painting. Condo's visual world is rife with sound, like a tape recording slightly warbled with the note bent out of shape, rich with parallel sensory impressions, the inexplicable, the incandescent and the inverted.
The Candy Man can Will Cotton paints giant Super-Realist still lifes set up in a classical manner. In the last year or so, Cotton has been working on his "Candyland" series, works that are based on photographs of deluxe candy landscapes. Some of these are currently on view at Tate in the Meat Packing District, and more are due to be shown at Mary Boone next February. Cotton uses candy imagery maniacally, guiltlessly reveling in the obsessive-compulsive nature of corporeality.
Chocolate Source (1999) (which sold for $15,000) is a large rectangular painting with rows of lollipops amidst a melted buttery dark chocolate waterfall spilling into a pool with jelly rings, Oreo cookies and chocolate frosting all over. Endless Winter (1999) is a cool wintergreen landscape of frosted honey buns, snowball candy, rock candy trees, white chocolate and lots of vanilla frosting.
Sugary as saccharine, these paintings employ shadow and light like Rembrandt, to an effect that is moody, contrasting and melancholic. Wayne Thiebaud did candy, too, 30 years ago or so, but Cotton's works are less cheery and bright. Imagine a barely eaten cake sitting on the table the day after a wild party. It's a little melted, but still a solid mass -- the haze of all nighters and a surfeit of touch and taste, yet a yearning remains.
The idea behind these psychologically compelling and sometimes cold, unsettling works is a combination of desire, temptation, consumption and gluttony. Cotton's earlier paintings, done in hot and cool colors, depicted toys. Tinged with a child's personality, their fantastical nature is associated with memories of childhood and growth -- happy, sad, tormented, inventive and magical.
Buvoli's super comix
New York-based artist Luca Buvoli, who makes installations and films, is best known for his comic book character, Not-a-Superhero. Now in his 30s, Buvoli actually created his alter-ego when he was 12. This lifelong project is filled with philosophical metaphors on the human condition, and captures the imagination of all who see it. Buvoli recently exhibited at the Cleveland Center for Contemporary Arts, and will have a solo show at the prestigious MIT List Center for Visual Arts next April.
His milieu is one of the existential superhero, always in the phenomenological process of being and becoming, never quite getting there -- an elusive pursuit fraught with villainous antagonists seeking to sabotage his search for higher consciousness.
Buvoli's current exhibition at John Weber Gallery, titled "Will He Ultimately Escape?," is comprised of large mixed-media drawings, two films and a bold, aerodynamic text sculpture in the main space. A trailer for an upcoming film urges the viewer to learn how to fly without the aid of a mechanical device, an ebullient exercise in the pursuit of elation and transcendence in a madding world.
Inside and Outside Time is the latest installment of the serialized Not-a-Superhero, a 16mm color film with real time footage and hand-drawn protagonists flying in and out of a collapsing universe in a fluidly combined comic book and celluloid world. The boldest work in the show is the text installation -- the fragmented letters spill out and wind across 20 feet spelling the words "inside and outside time." Buvoli uses the humblest materials -- cut up colored light gels, wire framing, plastic sip straws, candy wrappers -- and makes them voluminous and lightweight, filling the main space with a masterful display of assemblage technique.
Baroque Carousels Tricia Keightly, a young New York artist who is having her first solo show at Derek Eller in Chelsea, paints pictures of ornate, colorful flying contraptions made of billowy textiles and accessorized with images of belt buckles, brass grommets and metal fasteners. There's so much fitting in of pieces and shapes, the works overload us with detail after detail. Drawn with a heavy black line, they mix elements from several sources -- the Italian Baroque, Renaissance woodcuts, Baron Munchausen, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Keightly's machines have the personality of whimsical creations created by couture dressmakers trained in the fine arts. And despite their odd juxtapositions of shapes and colors, the paintings are as elegant as Japanese flower arrangements.
Ryan's chop shop
Multimedia installation artist Ryan Humphrey literally rocks in his debut solo at Caren Golden Fine Art, who recently moved her gallery from SoHo to the Chelsea Arts Building on West 26th Street. She discovered Humphrey in the Hunter College MFA program, which increasingly is supplying the emerging art scene with fresh talent.
Humphrey's show, titled "The End of Silence," is a multimedia extravaganza that pays tribute to California car and surf culture. The seven separate works in his show overlap into one hectic installation -- like a chop shop -- of big photomurals with beach and ocean views, mounted on wood panels and painted with hot-rod imagery. The gallery floor is covered with plush black carpet, suggesting a custom car interior with bucket seats.
Panama (1998-99) stretches across one wall and includes a small LCD monitor playing an arcade racecar game. Stereophonic headsets hang from the ceiling. What could be cooler than listening to vintage Van Halen while playing Speed Racer?
Kelly Slater in My Car Stereo (1998-99) features painted Ocean motifs overlaid by a car diagram from an auto repair manual. A lightbox photo shows surfer and pin up star Kelly Slater in action, while music by Weezer is supplied on the headset. It suggests a car theft ring where thieves in the night chop off the parts of luxury cars, selling them piecemeal. The hubcaps, the stereo, the engine, the steering wheel are interchangeable muscle car units. The overall effect is that of a storyboard montage filled with an action-packed, pulsating movie soundtrack. All that's missing is the babes.
MAX HENRY lives in New York City.
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