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Jan. 25, 2010 

Conceptual art is definitely making a comeback, as can be seen from the Artnet Auctions "Word Art Sale," which provides collectors a chance to take a quick survey of the many ways that artists have used language and text in their works. The auction offers bargains at all price levels, but you have to move fast -- it closes tomorrow, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2009. Yikes!

Highlights include John Baldessari’s classic I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art (1971), written over and over by hand as if by a truant student on a blackboard. Published by the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, a celebrated home for Conceptual Art in the 1970s, the litho is Baldessari’s first print and a very rare one at that. It carries a presale estimate of $6,000-$8,000, and with a bid of $5,000 on the site, the work has already reached its reserve.   

Other classic conceptualists in the auction include William Anastasi, Mel Bochner, Bruce Nauman, Dennis Oppenheim and Yoko Ono, whose small multiple from 1971, dubbed Box of Smile, is a 2-inch-square plastic cube that opens to reveal a mirror inside. The estimate is $2,000-$3,000, and the current bid is $1,800 -- the reserve has been met.

At the other end of the price range is Richard Prince’s Last Week, a 75 x 58 in. painting from 1999 that combines an early use of a joke (in so many words: I told my mother-in-law that "my house is your house," and last week she sold it) with computer-drawn images of flowers and faces.  This work is estimated at $450,000-$550,000.

Text is an integral part of Pop art, and the sale includes several works by each of the major Pop artists, including Jim Dine, Robert Indiana, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, Larry Rivers, James Rosenquist, Ed Ruscha and Andy Warhol, who is represented by the irresistible offset litho of Sam the cat (est. $7,000-$8,000).  

As for Okie Ed, the sale includes more than 20 lots of his work, and the presale estimates reflect his elevated standing in the art market. Ruscha’s 1974 pastel, measuring a mere ca. 11 x 29 in., presenting the block-letter word "PREPARATIONS," has a presale estimate of $130,000-$150,000. Similar works have sold for more, as can be seen by the "comparables" presented at the bottom of the page.

But the sale includes several desirable works with four-figure estimates, including prints made in the 1970s at Editions Alecto in London using organic substances like beer and chocolate. A serigraph titled Brews, for instance, is made with beer (with its letters formed of suds), and carries a presale estimate of $4,500-$5,500 (the print has some interest, though at this writing the reserve has not yet been met). Another hot Ruscha, Sex (1991), was published in an edition of 30 and is estimated at $5,000-$7,000.

The contemporary "Street Artists" are included as well, with works by Banksy, Shepard Fairey, Chris Johanson and Mr. Brainwash. Fairey’s 2009 reworking of Warhol’s classic soup can, which replaces the "Campbell’s" logo with Fairey’s trademark anti-capitalist logo "Obey," is estimated at $2,000-$3,000.

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Needless to say, contemporary art is truly a global affair, and 2010 is starting off with artists bringing their own individual types of "crazy" to every corner of the earth.

The elemental Swiss artist Not Vital, who splits his time between studios in New York, Niger, Patagonia and now Beijing, introduced several irreverent works at his recent show at Galerie Urs Meile in Beijing, based on the culture of the global art world’s newest economic powerhouse, including an outsized sculpture made of coal of the famous wart on Mao’s chin and a Beijing Duck in Gold that can be had made of actual precious metal (for $1.5 million).

Halfway around the globe at Haas & Fuchs Galerie in Berlin are the mysterious "Alice in Wonderland" paintings of odd figures dwarfed by their colorful surroundings, the otherworldly visions of Gama, the Mongolian-born 30-something artist now living in Karlsruhe.

In lovely Italy, Galleria Pack in Milan is presenting a retrospective of everyone’s favorite Russian performance artist, Oleg Kulik, dubbed "Deep into Russia." Kulik’s work in the 1990s is indeed a milestone in post-Soviet Russian art, and this show includes the unsettling The Family of the Future from 1997, which depicts man and beast as one and the same.

Terry Rodgers, the Amherst grad who has become an expert at painting orgies that he stages himself, takes his show to Aeroplastics Contemporary in Brussels. Up north at the Angelika Knapper Gallery in Stockholm is "L’Origine du Monde," a show of works by a dozen women artists using Gustave Courbet’s scandalous 1866 painting as a starting point.

Galeria Elvira Gonzalez in Madrid boasts "Kepler Was Wrong," a show of new sculptures by Olafur Eliasson that extends the Icelandic weather artist’s concerns from the global to the truly cosmological. Johannes Kepler was, of course, the Copernican astronomer whose early theories of the solar system posited that the planetary orbits were determined by inscribing a series of perfect geometric solids (the tetrahedron, cube, octahedron and so on) within various sized spheres -- a notion that was mistaken but that has nevertheless provided Eliasson with notable inspiration.

More down to earth, at M+B in Los Angeles the young (b. 1979) photographer Alex Prager presents "Week-End," a photographic ode to the image of the very contemporary L.A. woman, caught in the high-key glare of the media spectacle. Prager’s photos simultaneously go on view in New York at Yancey Richardson Gallery.

Meanwhile, down in Fort Worth, the TSU professor Randall Reid takes a more grounded view of the world at William Campbell Contemporary Art with "In Times Past," a show of restrained collage-pictures made of tactile, weathered surfaces of wood and painted metal, which he calls "earth symptoms."

Over in Austin, Lora Reynolds Gallery hosts "Clowns and Portraits" by New York artist Jim Torok, who makes both jewel-like portraits and comic paintings featuring a clownish alter ego.

In London, the Australian artist John Beard takes his own approach to our celebrity-saturated society at the Fine Art Society with his paintings of everyone from Marilyn Monroe to the Mona Lisa -- all done in black monochrome.

Back in New York City, Peter Blum in Chelsea presents "Flooded McDonald’s" by Superflex, the Danish collective’s recent film in which a true-to-life replica of the eponymous fast-food restaurant slowly fills with water.

More oddity is guaranteed at Hasted Hunt Kraeutler, which boasts new photographs by Erwin Olaf from three separate series, including the erotic "Hotel," which features the artist’s hyperrealistic models in various states of dishabille. Now that’s a bohemian place to stay.

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