AND GERRI DAVIS
I always vowed that, when I turned the corner into old age, I would not spend the rest of my life going to art shows but rather try to enjoy other things, like conducting Maher's 9th, off the CD player, with a toothbrush in my bathrobe or grabbing a handful of wild sage, which has persisted in my garden through a warm upstate winter, and tossing it into the ratatouille meandering on the stove.
This way I could avoid being forced to go to the Whitney Biennial "seven or eight times," as one of its curators told Carol Vogel in the New York Times one must do, to accommodate all the scheduled performances or to watch some young artist named Dawn Kasper who is moving her possessions into the museum, as an "original" art project, most recently also done by Joyce Pensato at Petzel Gallery.
Better for me to concentrate on half-forgotten exhibitions past that might inform the present, such as the Alberto Giacometti retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, to which the artist journeyed right before his death in 1965. I hadn't really thought about the impact the Giacometti had on me, a boy of 12 back then, until the painter Steve Van Nort happened to leave the catalogue of the show (complete with essay by Peter Selz and a letter by Giacometti to his New York dealer Pierre Matisse) in my living room last Christmas.
I attended the show in ‘65, at the height of New York's infatuation with Giacometti, and remember being nauseated all over. This was also in the middle of MoMA's Jean Dubuffet craze, so that Art Brut and its desiccations as symbols of the nuclear age were all the rage among New York elites.
Giacometti's Woman with a Broken Shoulder alone was enough to dispirit me, the relentless paring down into brokenness and death being too much for a ripe yet sophisticated preteen. From Giacometti's letter to Pierre Matisse, "I began to work from memory again. . . to my terror the sculptures became smaller and smaller, they had a likeness only when they were very small, yet their dimensions revolted me, and tirelessly I began again. A large figure seemed to me false and a small one equally unbearable."
I couldn't agree more, then and now, and these slightly sickening feelings returned when I entered my pal Gerri Davis' opening at Bridge Gallery on Orchard Street last week. A very tall redhead from Alabama and Cooper Union, Gerri brings out feelings of wholesomeness in these old bones, just as her work makes me feel off kilter, as with Giacometti.
Gerri has been up in the woods at my place to draw en plein air and I even sent Klaus Biesenbach to her studio to see her amazing pastiche of Demoiselles d'Avignon featuring an 80-something East Village actor as model. The new show features a mural-sized painting of five nude dancers, wonderfully rendered in the configuration of Henri Matisse’s The Dance -- though seen from below, as if through a glass floor.
Despite her gifts, Gerri’s work still leaves me disturbed, because she pares away the figure, often herself, with the relentless neurosis of Giacometti. There's a really unsettling one of Gerri hanging in the trees like a Hans Bellmer poupée in the Bridge show.
Yet there she was at her opening, regal in a tight pink angora dress, surrounded by her young crew (Ryan and Trevor Oakes, Mike Wei, Christopher Dawson), very happy to see me (they exist, folks) in a brand new gallery, whose tables were loaded with Perrier, Chardonnay and fine food, just like the good old days, the ones Giacometti could never experience.
If art is about suffering, then to hell with it. I am way too old to suffer, even though I must.
“Iteration: The work of Gerri Davis,” Feb. 9-Mar. 15, 2012, at Bridge Gallery, 98 Orchard Street, New York, N.Y. 10002.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).