One thing that a gallery stroll around Chelsea during auction week revealed is that big foreign money and the anticipation of sales bring out the male, chauvinist worst in the gallery system.
Exhibit A was the dueling John Chamberlain monster truck shows between ex-rep Pace and new Chamberlain rep Gagosian, with the Pace monoliths being a tad smaller than Larry's roller derby works. These pieces are impressive, if you don't see too many at one time, and what is impressive about them is that they are all the exact shape of Rodin's Balzac at the Museum of Modern Art, a sly, classic riff on the illusion that size matters (Balzac, a tiny man, was, not just sculpturally, a giant).
Worse -- because John Chamberlain is bopping around in a wheelchair at 84 -- is the Donald Judd exhibition at Zwirner, because, Judd, he dead, and he is apparently still aware of the fact. Only market forces could bring David Zwirner to reassemble a "classic" German Judd installation from 1989 of large, dull aluminum boxes, in which one is compelled to peer at even duller Plexiglas dividers in an assortment of designer colors. Everything about this installation denies the cold intimacy of the best of Judd, such as his stacks, for a grandiose statement, signifying nothing.
But for sheer grandiosity, nothing beats the Pablo Picasso and Marie-Thérèse show at Gagosian, with its purple palette, nightclub lighting, multiple human guards and monumental work reduced by the humanity of its winsome subject, Marie-Thérèse Walter. I shall leave to the gossip columnists the delicious comparisons between Picasso and Larry Gagosian and their purported attitudes towards women, but what cries out and nullifies the excellent work in this heavy exhibition is a black-and-white vid of Ms. Walter at the front of the gallery.
Made from a flip book, the beguiling movement of Marie-Thérèse eliminates Picasso and his distortions of her splendid head for all eternity. Her blonde bob and leather jacket and arresting smile are life and life only. Art is nothing by comparison, and the only show which truly responds to Marie-Thérèse is my pal Judy Ledgerwood's brilliant curtain of lime green, sunflower yellow and piggily-wiggily pink at Tracy Williams' space.
Take away the superfluous vases in front of it, and you have a masterpiece beyond the reach of men -- aged, creaky, white and dead.
John Chamberlain, Apr. 15-July 1, 2011, at Pace Gallery, 545 West 22nd Street, New York, N.Y. 10011
John Chamberlain, "New Sculpture," May 5-July 8, 2011, at Gagosian Gallery, 555 West 24th Street, New York, N.Y. 10011
"Picasso and Marie-Thérèse: L'Amour Fou," Apr. 14-June 25, 2011, at Gagosian Gallery, 522 West 21st Street, New York, N.Y. 10011
Judy Ledgerwood, "April Showers," May 6-July 1, 2011, at Tracy Williams Ltd., 521 West 23rd Street, New York, N.Y. 10011
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).