Two very playful, yet very different shows opened last Saturday night in the far-west gallery district in Greenwich Village. One was a Rob Pruitt extravaganza filling the more-spacious-than-ever quarters of Gavin Brown’s enterprise at 620 Greenwich Street as well as the Maccarone gallery down the block. The other was a career retrospective of Gene Beery, yet another forgotten talent resurrected by dealer Mitchell Algus, at his new Algus Greenspon Gallery at 71 Morton Street.
For a fun fellow, Rob Pruitt is always as sad and adorable as the pandas that are his signature image. Even having Warholian flaneur Glenn O'Brien and artist Hope Atherton (newly named to Vanity Fair's best-dressed list) greeting visitors at the door couldn't cheer Pruitt up too much. As the contemporary art world’s new M.C. -- this summer he did "Rob Pruitt’s Flea Market" at the Tate in London and he’s coming back with the 2nd annual Rob Pruitt Art Awards in New York in December 2010 -- you’d think he’d have more pep.
For this show, Rob and his studio assistants manufactured about a dozen different bodies of work, all mildly satirical pastiches of recent art tropes. So, they stacked up variously sized tires like planters -- a reference to the Allan Kaprow installation at Hauser & Wirth on Madison Avenue last spring -- and painted them in panda black-and-white, filling them with candy for the taking, à la Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Filled with candy cigarettes, Oreos, black-and-white M&Ms and gumballs, these "People Feeders," as they are titled, obviated the need for Good-looking Gavin to provide free water and/or beer to all the freeloaders.
Another Pruitt humoresque is a room full of life-sized humanoid figures, their bodies made of bundles of smashed cardboard boxes, each with six feet and two huge wall-clock-sized googly eyes. Kin to both SpongeBob and Wall-E, they’re ribbing the ultimate Toy Boy, Tom Sachs. In another gallery, a squad of silver painted chairs links Billy Name with Martin Kippenberger's array of found furniture (with maybe a nod towards Scott Burton's furniture sculpture). In terms of paintings, Damien Hirst and his butterflies have nothing on Pruitt, who has glitter-covered panda-pattern paintings and Op Art abstractions based on Amish quilt patterns, as well as some huge neon-colored Lyrical Abstractions with an expressive line here and there turning the whole canvas into a face. And finally, Pruitt has produced a series of self-portraits done in the style of Gavin Turk doing Andy Warhol.
It's all a quick tickle for the art-savant, and instantly forgettable, which, I suspect, is Rob Pruitt's intention. Meanwhile, thirsty Gavinites (as in Brown, not Turk) found plenty of Perrier, Budweiser and bubbly at Algus Greenspon, which was celebrating its grand opening. Now in partnership with private dealer Amy Greenspon, who once worked for Marianne Boesky Gallery, Algus has traded in his dinky office-sized West 25th Street space for about 2,500 beautifully proportioned, skylighted square feet. Artist Gene Beery unfortunately couldn't show, due to his wife's not feeling well.
Mitchell Algus not only remembers a word artist like Beery, who showed at Iolas Gallery in 1963, he fetes him while he is still alive and includes a front table of 1960s texts which mentioned Beery. The Beery work, some of which was done as recently as 2000, reads like messages in a bottle, a stoned, messy and more entertaining On Kawara, with phone numbers, diary entries, small puns and colorful asides. The show is modest, yet endearing.
"Rob Pruitt: Pattern and Degradation," Sept. 11-Oct. 23, 2010, at Gavin Brown’s enterprise, 620 Greenwich Street, New York, N.Y. 10014, and at Maccarone, 630 Greenwich Street, New York, N.Y. 10014.
Gene Beery, Sept. 11-Oct. 16, 2010, at Algus Greenspon Gallery, 71 Morton Street, New York, N.Y. 10014.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).