How would you like to grow up in an Eastern Bloc country where the church measures out your sins and the state decides if your temperament is suitable for an artistic vocation? For Miroslaw Balka, growing up in post-war Warsaw, a Pop icon might be Saint Jerome or some other holy man. And as one might expect from a good Catholic, Balka's odyssey seeks to reconcile those strictures imposed by church and state through the articulation of a personal antipathy for dogma while making communion with universal pain and suffering.
Balka's first solo show in New York, called "Be Good," is now on view at Barbara Gladstone Gallery. At the opening, visitors were offered a fortune cookie at the gallery desk. The fortune was identical in all the cookies, and echoed the show title. The idea being you better watch out, better not pout, etc., a sentiment epitomized by the work Santa Clauses (1996), a set of 44 small plastic figurines arranged in a grouping on the floor in the front of the gallery. A lone Santa has been executed hangman style (or pehaps it's a suicide), and dangles from a piece of twine, while the other figures -- some painted, some putty gray -- are scattered like spectators around the blasphemous spectacle. The story is that Balka got the whole lot one Xmas eve by swapping a bottle of vodka to a street vendor -- the things were so ugly that no one wanted them.
Balka's art is about poverty (compared to the Poles under communism, Arte Povera never had it so good). Balka has participated in the 1995 Carnegie International and the 1998 Sao Paulo Biennial, and here at Gladstone has transformed simple dimestore figures into trenchant arguments on religous and social rituals.
It's not far from the ecumenical to the perverse. Over at Andrew Kreps Gallery is an exhibition of four sculptures by Michael Phelan. A taxidermied dog lies permanently sleeping on a white shag rug. A few feet away is an ultrasonic pest deterrent, a plastic lily pond with two floating lilies and a tall white fenced enclosure, large enough for one. An ambient/electronic soundtrack compiled by Susan Goldman and called Slackness in the Blackness plays a wave of low decibal groove tunes. Have you ever heard someone sing the lyrics to a song playing on the radio? You know the kind, they couldn't carry a tune if you held it for them, they suffer from a tone deafness like Phelan's pedestrian installation hums an atonal tune. Break out the bong....The dog is $12,000, but you can have the portable plastic lily pond for $1,800.
Speaking of pedestrian, if you missed last years show by Frank Schroder at American Fine Art in SoHo, the Paris-based artist has returned to New York for a new exhibition in the Drawing Center project room. Called "The Ignored, the Anonymous, and the Dubious, an Unusual Story of 20th Century Art," the exhibition presents portrait drawings of women found in flea markets and bric-a-brac shoppes in the City of Light. Since 1988, between a cigarette and a demitasse, Schroder has searched for perfect dillettante's artiste representaions of his subject.
Schroder's work has incorporated discarded materials in the tradition of Mario Merz and Kurt Schwitters, with the idea of creating a narrative about the anonymous hacks who have been making art as a serious pastime or the pleasure of the frame itself, an object worthy of attention in the cluttered stores. In his installations of these pictures, Schroder is author of a timeline of varying styles and voguishness, lending a sense of history, scholarship and connoisseurship to the dubious efforts of these second bananna relics. Touché, monseur Schroder!
On the market
A fine work by painter Richmond Burton is available for $35,000. Titled Refracted Space (1997), the large oil on linen (90 by 102 in.) is a bounty of interlocking exotic colors and shapes -- it's surprising this powerful work has not been claimed by a collector or an institution.
Bill Barrette the photo-sculptor who has collaborated with poets on photo books such as the now legendary Big City Primer (with John Yau), has a new book collaboration with the Viennesse poet Barbara Neuwirth, recently on disply alongside sculptural works from 1992 at a WhiteBox show called Unquiet Urbanism curated by artist Osvaldo Romberg in the Starret-Lehigh building on the 14th floor. Barrette's black and white stills are influenced by William Eggleston and Hart Crane, with a liitle noir and Carl Sandburg thrown in.
How about that Brit brat Tracy Emin, she of the dirty knickers and the humdrum hubris showing off her unpersonable personals at Lehmann Maupin. Skanky. Centerpiece of the show is a bed marked with cum stains and littered with pantyhose and sanitary pads. Was that really the way it was? It appears that rape and consequent sexual degradation are part of her esthetic resume, contributing now to the air of tramatized rebelliousness.
Defecation and menstration aside, why regale us with such bollocks when Carolee Schneemann and Hannah Wilke have been there, done that, and transcended their gender issues with their shamanistic outpourings. Tits and ass will only take you so far in the good ole U.S. of A. and it better be damn well sexy....
Edgy new artist
Californian Slater Bradley is a friend and contemporary of enfant terrible Kids actor Harmony Korine -- look for Slater to debut at Team Gallery next month with edgy apocolyptic videos in the genre of Wolfgang Tillmans. Footage of the mohawked 22-year-old playing an ungainly Chopin Prelude in C Minor on the piano is interspersed with scenes shot on a mountain road and a drugged up Slater in a hospital bed with his lower teeth punched out. There's also a brief cameo by Korine, soliloquizing on what a beautiful world we live in. This kid's vicious sweet work makes the "Generation Z" show at P.S. 1 look like Generation K, for kindergarten!
Best press release in town goes to Sean Landers for his current show at Andrea Rosen (Apr. 16-May 22, 1999). He writes, "If I were inspired by another artist while painting these pictures it would have been 'La Periode Vache' by Magritte ... I have a lot less to complain about than Magritte did in 1948 but still, after my last show in NY got ripped apart by some of you, I don't mind saying that I became totally depressed and a bit disillusioned. I realized that you really can hurt me with your words and after all, I am mortal. What happened next was the greatest thing that ever happened to me as an artist. I went to my studio and painted pictures just for myself, not caring what anyone thought of them and lo and behold, the paintings were fucking great."