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WHEN A GOOD
PAINTER GOES BAD

by Charlie Finch
 
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Feeling that Armory Week is the best time to hit the galleries, because nobody will be there, I stopped by L&M Arts on East 78th Street, rang the bell, and ran smack into Peter Brant, who looked fantastic, slimmed down in a chocolate-colored corduroy suit. We were alone together, except for the cheery L&M staff, which was hanging a Frank Stella black painting, one of the murkier ones, on the back wall. As I leaned against a ladder, smiling, it occurred to me that L&M had exactly the right relaxed attitude towards art frenzy: when the lemmings head to the sea, be a seagull.

Cruising down towards Gagosian Gallery, I spied Stella Michaels and her brother selling her abstract paintings out of a van. "Are you part of the biennial?" I asked. "No," Stella bubbled, "I park outside of the Gagosian building every day to sell my work and Larry always says hello."

Why is it that uptown Gagosian always makes me feel as if I am entering the psych ward of the prison hospital? You know, narrow corridors to nowhere, murky glass doors, scary nurse attendants behind the admitting desks? However, the rest rooms are first rate, which is probably why Stella Michaels chose to park right outside.

My dear friend, the great collector Ranbir Singh, has been buying his pal Albert Oehlen's work for years, getting me to appreciate Albert in the process, but Oehlen's new stuff at Gagosian is super awful. Don't look at them online, see them in person to breathe the vomit: splatches of purple and gross green on open white fields, stupidly decorated with corporate logos borrowed from Ashley Bickerton's 1980s practice.

When I journeyed downstairs to see a forgettable installation of Yayoi Kusama and Piotr Uklanski dot paintings, it occurred to me that Gagosian is accomplishing what Pace Gallery was always accused of doing (but now does not), dumbing down every artist it signs and shows, success breeding mediocrity. It happened with Damien Hirst, it happened with John Currin and now Albert Oehlen is cursed as well. Maybe Larry could reverse the curse by giving Julian Schnabel a show, so Schabbo could paint something good!

The best abstract paintings I saw were the early-20th-century Crow Indian saddle bags, decorated in colorful, painterly grids, at John Molloy's space on 78th street, next to L&M. But then I bought one, for $600, after bargaining John down, so I am biased.


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


 



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