THE BLACK BOX
Veteran curator and Vanessa Beecroft collector Simon Cerigo and I were cruising down 11th Avenue, between openings, last Friday night. "Look at all the black boxes," I marveled, gazing at the Chelsea glass box buildings, finally completed last spring, and all the same design (glass and more glass), because that kind of New York building usually doesn't need any city clearances to get made.
"They breathe money," Simon replied. "There's the Barry Diller building," pointing at Frank Gehry's topsy bit of turvy on West 19th Street. "David Zwirner has been cleaning up ever since it opened," he added, as if the dealer might be sharing clientele with the internet mogul. The black box is an equalizer, making Chelsea galleries all look the same, whether vanity, kitsch, blue chip, boutique or startup. What's a virgin (art world-style) visiting Arab sheik to do?
Speaking of the Islamic wave, earlier I had stopped into Tracy Williams' upstairs box on West 23rd Street (admitted by the concierge) to watch Tracy hang the work of her newest artist, Pakistani painter Murad Khan Mumtaz. In late middle age, Tracy, who was a star tennis player in her teens, remains the buffest art dealer ever.
She greeted me enthusiastically in a silver chemise with a small skull around her neck. "Murad's paintings have a radical message, but I am going to leave that alone," she smooched. "He just got betrothed and did a residency on a Navajo reservation in New Mexico," Tracy continued, hence the mix of symbols on these small works, which resemble nothing more than prayer cards from the Catholic church and are priced at $3,500 apiece. "I've already got some buyers for them," Tracy smiled, but when has she not?
I then dropped into Salomon Contemporary to see a brace of Kim MacConnel pattern hangings from the Holly Solomon era in the 1970s (plus one from 2004). Kim has been teaching in Los Angeles, but is now retire and can devote himself to his work full time. A few days later I ran into veteran painter David Row at a dinner party and announced, "David, you wouldn't believe how fresh these ancient MacConnels look," and they do, banners from a looser, more colorful, pre-black box era.
Simon Cerigo met me at Salomon and we cruised down to Jack Hanley's space on Watts Street for his "Diggers" exhibition of San Francisco schmaltz. For when the squirrelly posters of all the grand bands I saw in the 1960s come together half a century later, fading in my aging eyes, it is nothing but nostalgia. I had never met the white bearded buccaneer Jack Hanley before. What a guy! No black boxes for him!
Murad Khan Mumtaz, "Return," Jan. 12-Feb. 11, 2012, at Tracy Williams, Ltd., 521 West 23rd Street, New York, N.Y. 10011
Kim MacConnel, "American Responses: Pleasure," organized by Ned Smyth, Jan. 6-Feb. 11, 2012, at Salomon Contemporary, 526 West 26th Street, New York, N.Y. 10011
"Diggers, Mimes, Angels and Heads," Jan. 6-Feb. 4, 2012, at Jack Hanley Gallery, 136 Watts Street, New York, N.Y. 10013
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).