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by Charlie Finch
Celebrated author James Frey, who co-owns the hot Half Gallery on Forsyth Street, turns out to be a fight fan. "The best fight I ever saw live, Charlie, was the bantamweight world title bout at the L.A. Forum eight years ago. There were seven knockouts between the fighters," Frey commented, "on video, the best brawl I’ve seen is Marvelous Marvin Hagler versus Tommy Hearns." Standing nearby, Richard Johnson of "Page Six" fame commented, "I sit at home on Long Island and watch ultimate fighting. No rules."

Yet, Johnson’s son, the veteran cartoon artist Damon Johnson, turns the other cheek. His gargoyles, which opened last Friday at the Half space, are a poignant meld of Clive Barker and Philip Guston, eliciting empathy from the viewer with each ugly tear. One of  the works is dedicated to Damon’s erstwhile mentor, the late promoter Baird Jones, in whose memory Johnson painted a mammoth mural at Webster Hall, Jones’ former redoubt on East 11th Street. Priced in the $1,500 range, Damon’s sympathetic renderings of the down-and-out are Depression-friendly for the wallet, as well.

I continued to Williamsburg Friday night in search of the thrilling scenes that only bad times can bring to the New York art world, and which have been missing during the recent boom. I found them at Live with Animals, a dank, underlit yet appealing space at Kent and Metropolitan Avenues, around the corner from the Surf Shop. Young beauties of every gender were dancing to modal music from the live band Ghost Exits and snapping up the gorgeous photographs ($750 apiece, edition of three) by Polish lensman Sebastian Mlynarski.

Sebastian used to shoot for Vogue, until his graceful bride Natasha, who recently left Gagosian Gallery after seven years’ servitude to study art history at CUNY Graduate Center, convinced him to journey the world and take landscape pictures that are akin to Ansel Adams. In this, his first show, Mlynarski pulls a neat sleight of hand, in that his snaps from Argentina to Staten Island appear to originate from the same place, Sebastian’s reductive, yet romantic vision. Balloons rise from a swamp, a hand breaks from the waves, a lonely bridge transverses the forest: Mlynarski is at his best when swimming in the well of solitude.

At the opening, he tried to add a few unnecessary conceptualist doodads, which Natasha, with her practiced eye, wants to discourage, but, in his essence, Mlynarski is a talent to watch, and, should the Chelsea art scene collapse in a sea of debt and disaster, he won’t even have to leave Brooklyn!

Damon Johnson, curated by James Frey, Oct. 3-Nov. 4, 2008, at Half Gallery, 208 Forsyth Street, New York, N.Y.

Sebastian Mlynarski, "After Nature," Oct. 3-26, 2008, at Live with Animals, 210 Kent Avenue, Williamsburg, New York

CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).