Hello, art lovers! Does anyone know where I can buy a work by Chris Ofili? Not at the Berlin Art Forum art fair, Sept. 30-Oct. 4, 1999. There were four small gouaches of African queens by the Nigerian-English artist at the booth of Berlin's Contemporary Fine Arts gallery. But dealer Nicole Hackert sold them all, for $1,100 each. What a bargain!
Could it have something to do with that "Sensation" foolishness in New York? The critics are totally wrong about one thing -- Ofili's painting of The Holy Virgin Mary is beautiful, and if they think otherwise they're blind, blind, blind! As for the rest of it, too bad we have to look at more pictures of that stupid shark!
But back in Berlin, on the last day of the fair, sales reports are mixed. Some dealers are happy, some not. "This place is Donesville," said one of the latter. As for me, I don't care. I'm an art critic and I don't buy art. But one can dream!
First in my dreams is Mary Carlson's She's So Good You Don't Even Know She's There, a hand-sewn, life-size "ghost" of white toile. Bill Maynes had one lying on the floor of his booth, and another hanging on the wall. It's only $750, in an edition of 20. Maynes also has some beautiful abstract paintings by the New York artist Andrea Belag. They're strong and silent with a sudden sting -- file this work (and this artist) under Scorpio! Retreat, which measures 26 by 24 inches, is $5,000.
It's champagne time at galerie du jour agnès b, where director Antoine Guerrero sold several black-and-white works by Seydou Keita and Malick Sidibé, who are newly celebrated for their 1970s portraits of Westernized everyday life in Africa. What caught my eye were the Tantric Paintings from Radjasthan. These simple, mandala-like gouaches are "tools for interior development" that demonstrate how "beauty is a reflection of the divine," according to Franck Andre Jaume writing in a catalogue. The tantric paintings don't have a maker -- they're by anonymous -- and only cost about $700 each.
Everyone should own several abstract paintings -- whatever else they might be, you always know they're art! Martin Nöel had a show earlier this year in New York at Goethe House on Fifth Avenue opposite the Metropolitan Museum. Here at Berlin Art Forum his paintings were at the booth of Heinz Holtmann, a dealer with galleries in Cologne and Berlin. Nöel's simple, direct designs are traces from the real world (cracks in the pavement, for instance) that are named after art historians or football players. Bode, a black painting on a wood support with a branchlike form cut into the surface (price: DM 11,000), is titled after the famous scholar of the Italian Renaissance, Wilhelm Bode. Unless there's a Bode in the Bundesliga! Holtmann also has abstract paintings by Andrea Belag, and works by Michael Burges, Jacqueline Humphries, Kaeseberg, Camill Leberer and Sigmar Polke.
At Andrew Kreps, witty postmodernist abstract paintings by Ruth Root are the thing. She's a young New York artist who sometimes has the abstract shapes in her paintings smoking little cigarettes, like they're taking a break, or something. A small work, ca. 12 inches square, is only $1,000, and multilayered painted collage drawings are moving briskly at $400. I say buy 'em.
If you think potted plants are inherently sad, then how about a stuffed replica of a potted plant, made out of German police uniforms? Such is the project of Peter Rösel, a 30-something artist who splits his time between Frankfurt and New York. The luxurious catalogue for his 1998 show at the Frankfurt Museum fur Moderne Kunst notes that "house plants are treated like pictures … as living beings." If you have a green thumb! One elegant installation is a bunch of cloth lily pads scattered around the floor, with the occasional stuffed, sewn lily. At Berlin Art Forum, his Cactus (bunny ears) (1999) sits in a plastic pot, with the uniform buttons standing in as needles. It's DM 4,600 at Galerie Andreas Schlüter from Hamburg.
By the way, congratulations to Rachel Harrison, whose inventive installation in the booth of Greene Naftali Gallery from New York won a prize (either a refund of this year's booth fee, or a free booth for next year, no one was quite sure which). The 34-year-old Harrison made a rough-hewn installation, titled "Daily Double," of her trademark colored foam elements (here holding soda straws) and snapshots (here from the horse races at Sarasota). The piece "gets the high-low thing in documentary photography, from Walker Evans to Dan Graham," said proud dealer Carol Greene. Slabs of the work, which include at least one sculpture, one photograph and a piece of the wall, are priced between $3,000 and $5,000. Harrison also snagged a show at Chantal Croussel in Paris from her Berlin Art Forum appearance.
Speaking of photographs, I liked Crawl Space (1998) by the Cuban-born New York artist Deborah Mesa-Pelly. A C-print on aluminum, it shows a girl peering into a hole in the floor at some weird, otherworldy fungal universe. Mesa-Pelly specializes in wells, walls, floors, caves, tree stumps and funny creatures with furry tails, said dealer Leah Freid. This picture, on view at Lombard-Freid from New York, is $1,600. I want it.
The booth of XL Gallery from Moscow was almost all photographs -- "this is Russia," said gallery director Elena Selina. There was an Aphrodite by the artist Aidan Salakhova -- who runs her own, eponymous Moscow gallery -- priced at $4,000. There were black-and-white photos by Igor Moukhin of bathers in Crimea; horizontal diptychs of the impoverished Ukraine town of Kharkov by homeboy Boris Mikhailov; and pinup pix viewed "through men's eyes" by the feminist photographer Tanya Lieberman. And there was new work by Oleg Kulik, the artist who has a special family relationship with animals, notably his dog. Centerpiece of the booth was a grid of nine photographs of dead monkeys from the zoological museum. They're haunting, and $1,000 each.
Maybe the most inexpensive artwork at the fair is found at the booth of Barbara Thumm. She has a CD-Rom with a screensaver by Julian Opie for DM 15. One of Opie's trademark portraits looks out of the monitor, regularly blinking her eyes. "It's not a screensaver," says Thumm, rightly. "It's a screen destroyer." Just shutting your eyes doesn't do the job? It works for me in taxicabs! Thumm also has a wall piece with photos, paintings and a video by that fascinating Dutch artist Ann-Mie van Kerckhoven, whose work -- based on a vast archive of porn images -- always seems so understanding of "man's need to look at women in different stages of undress."
Everybody at Berlin Art Forum loves Ester Partegas, a Barcelona-born artist who lives in Williamsburg. She was manning the booth in the art-press section for that hip New York zingmagazine while zing-publisher Devon Dikeou was seeking -- or was it supplying -- spiritual fulfillment in India. Meanwhile, her witty drawings were selling like Prada at the booth of DeChiara/Stewart from New York. Shopping Heads I (1998) shows three kids wearing shopping bags on their heads -- Pearl Paint, Barnes & Noble and NYU -- and was snapped up for $500 by some lucky collector.
ROSETTA STONE writes on art from New York and points elsewhere.