The Artist as Bootlegger
Some artists devote themselves to the search for beauty and meaning. Andrew Kromelow, on the other hand, seeks a good bootleg mash. Kromelow has set up a portable moonshine still in the back room at Luhring Augustine, the Chelsea gallery ordinarily known for its shows of blue chip art. Called Poor Boy Country Club, the thing is replete with crates to sit on, a case of plastic cups and 3,200 National Geographic magazines to afford visitors the opportunity to travel the world while sipping his hooch. Also available is the always handy Fuck You Cork Screw Brass Knuckle Belt Buckle, a three-in-one tool that the artist has produced in an edition of eight.
Like some old Wild West snake oil salesman, the smock-wearing Kromelow, who is part performance artist, encourages visitors to have a seat, enjoy the Appalachian music and sample some of Andy's Candy, the cure-all elixir cooked up on the premises. "I'm going over there right now to get crocked," said one hockey-playing art collector.
Made from over 100 pounds of sugar and some lemons, at 170 proof this medicine is smooth. It is lovingly decanted into an Italian olive oil bottle with cork, and is offered in an edition of 100 for $300 each. In the words of Kromelow, Andy's Candy is "good fer yer stomach, yer heart, yer mouth and yer brain." Now, how many fingers am I holding up .... ?
The wreckage of the 1976 Camaro is complete, a shell of the automobile it once was, fast and styling with an eight-track stereo blaring Steppenwolf. Now its crushed exterior is sawed in half, the carcass of its engine jutted ajar, its entirety now painted metallic lipstick pink. It's a new work of art by Sylvie Fleury titled Skin Crime #5 (1999), on view at the cavernous Ace Gallery in a show done with beau John Armleder, the first New York collaboration of the famous art-world couple.
Fleury is a drag-racing kind of chick, a speed demoness obsessed with the race-car esthetic, transforming macho into femme fatale. Her ideology is phrased in the vanity enticements of fashion magazines. Emblazoned on a lime green wall are hyper-scaled cover lines like LUSH LIPS, the LATEST ON INJECTIONS, and GETTING THE RIGHT HAIRCUT (Lush Lips, Hot Lips, Chew On This, 1999).
But can she drive? The answer is yes, redesigning a drag-racer's shooting flames into a big wall painting (Flames #8), in a room that also contains rocket ships covered with white fake fur and piped with a mod soundtrack (First Spaceship on Venus #18, 1999). Fleury sets the control with an insatiable cosmeticizing of speed, and the eroticizing of destruction (think J.G. Ballard's Crash).
Armleder makes art like he's deconstructing a boutique. Linked with Fluxus and Conceptual art since 1967, his sculptures are a Rococo mix of everything Pop, from '50s art moderne kitchen tables to mirrored disco balls. Untitled (Global V) (1998) consists of six mirrored balls hanging from the ceiling and slowly rotating, sending a kaleidoscope of light shards onto the walls, ceiling and floor. The variety of shifting surfaces is mesmerizingly ornate, lulling the viewer into a silent sound stage. No disco music here.
In the large middle gallery is Armleder's huge installation Mondo Tiki 1 (1999), a wooden plank scaffolding (with steps to climb) fitted with fluorescent tubes, siren lights, televisions screening sci-fi B movies and small boom boxes playing a compilation of Polynesian pop songs. You can stand at the top of this structure about 15 feet from the floor and look around the space. One side of the room is bathed in neon pink from flashing rows of ring-shaped lights, another wall is covered with a pattern of half-domed surveillance mirrors and a third wall is covered with a field of ellipse-shaped targets painted in red and blue latex. The mishmash works through and through, for an elegant disparity that as a whole is flawless.
The color photography of Cape Town artist Zwelethu Mthethwa makes a nice bookend at the end of the 20th century to the work of Memphis' own William Eggleston. In his rich, saturated photos, Mthethwa combines the essence of portraiture with a documentary scale. Some of his photographs were recently selected by curator Rosa Martínez for the Site Santa Fe Biennial biennale, and Marco Noire Editore in Turin has just published a monograph with 56 images and essays by Octavio Zaya, Teresa Macrì and Michael Godby.
Zwelethu's subjects have an estimable air of downtrodden regality. They live in Capetown huts, incredibly wallpapered with sheets of newspapers, labels from canned goods and even movie posters, a scene characteristic of South Africa's urban geography. His photos are antithetical to the popular images generated by news reporting and his vibrato color resonates vividly in a medium that is sociologically based. Mthethwa is concerned with composition, hierarchy, costuming, interiors and the descriptive. He is an enunciator of the infernal.
Summer of Samo Jean-Michel Basquiat has been immortalized in the Julian Schnabel film Basquiat and has fetched record prices at auction. The mythologizing of the deceased yet forever-young artist continues in "Kill All Lies," the summer group show at Luhring Augustine. (The title, by the way, refers to the antiwar graffiti such as that a young Tony Shafrazi scrawled upon Picasso's Guernica when it was at the Museum of Modern Art.) The show features a suite of 57 color photographs ca. 1979 by Henry Flynt, when he obsessively trailed Basquiat's every move, when he was known as the graffiti artist Samo. The Samo tag was everywhere, on the doors and steps of SoHo storefronts, in subway stations, on cast iron buildings.
Like some anthropological sleuth, Flynt uncovers Samo slogans like "Samo is for the urban redneck," "Samo as an end to pinhead excuses," "Samo is an escape clause" and the eerily prophetic " Samo is dead." This smart show also features a replica of a 1979 installation by Dara Birnbaum at P.S.1 called Kiss the Girls: Make Them Cry, a set of 25-inch televisions showing quick montages of the Hollywood Squares game show. Look, there's Julie from Love Boat, and Melissa from Little House on the Prairie, the guy with the puppet and of course everyone's favorite square, Paul Lynde.
57th Street Lawrence Gipe makes paintings of images from the military-industrial complex, gathering source material from World War II military propaganda and advertising from the era. The machines he portrays are sleek, fast and sinister, right out of a Fritz Lang film. A throwback to another time, Gipe gives a somewhat romantic air to his heroic imagery whether its an automobile, airplane or rushing train. On view at Joseph Helman gallery is a recent canvas titled The Components of Fear #3 (1999) that shows a 1937 experimental car built by Porsche. The silvery machine from the future seems to be running on a curvy race track, and is sold for a throttling $18,000.
Galerie Lelong has a nice summer show called "Domestic Pleasures" that examines the ironies and charms of domestic life. Domestic objects are represented in painting, sculpture and photography. Jane Hammond's lovely acrylic and gouache with mixed media on Japanese paper is priced at a not-too-thin $5,000, and Donald Lipski's Untitled (Table with Candles) (1999), a melted-wax sculpture, is priced at a temperature-raising $18,000.
Petah Coyne's Untitled (Red Spider) (1999) is an elegant spider-web-like mass of hair and insects, installed cattycorner in the space. A whimsical piece by Sharon Louden, Agents Lying on Chairs (1999), is a spaghetti-like tangle of white foam rubber draped over three black chairs. A meditation on the quotidian.
New alternative space Jorgensen Gallery has appeared on the scene in the trendy part of town now known by the acronym NoLita. The small Mott Street storefront was formerly Todd's Copy Shop, an art-world fixture run for many years by proprietor Todd Jorgensen. Now the genial Jorgensen, confidant to artists and writers of the neighborhood, has stopped the presses and opened an exhibition space. The portrait show currently on view presents a hodgepodge of works by Gerard Malanga, Mark Lombardi, Papo Colo, Michael Ashkin, Peter Fend, Alexis Rockman and an additional cast of a thousand faces. The space, located at 238 Mott off Spring (212-966-5552), fills a void left in the area after Alleged relocated to Chelsea.