55 Chrystie Street Jan. 7-Feb. 12, 2012
The generally forgotten Gerald Ferguson (1937-2009) deserves our attention. A second-generation Conceptualist whose contemporaries included Lawrence Weiner and Mario Merz, he was said to be decidedly misanthropic, taking a teaching job, at the age of 30, at the hip but isolated Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD), and never looking back. A devoted academic -- in 1978 he published The Standard Corpus of Present Day English Language Usage Arranged by Word Length and Alphabetized within Word Length -- he was also a depressive, and committed suicide in 2009.
Collectors know his importance. Of the 11 paintings in the current exhibition, organized by artist Luke Murphy, the two earliest ones, dating from 1969 and '72, have already sold (prices range from $7,500 to $35,000). Disciplined and gridded while conveying an Abstract Expressionist élan, his early works covered the plain canvas with stenciled rows of a single letter or a period (or spot). More recently produced are black-pigment frottages, or "rubbings," (ca. 1994-2006), which are haunting paintings named after the object he used to make them (Ash Can, Doormats, Drain Covers). One notable picture, a swirl of lines filling a Pollock-sized canvas, is called 1 Mile Clothesline (2000).
The illustrated catalogue ($10) includes contributions from Lawrence Weiner, Canadian curator and art critic Peggy Gale and Donald Kuspit.
21 Orchard Street Jan. 8-Feb. 19, 2012
This Brooklyn-based artist satisfies his muse with the serene arrangement of three or four modest items -- a chunk of cement, a black plinth, some red bricks, a large ceramic pot, a slim brass bar, a slab of plaster, a white seashell. It's a little like a kind of Object Ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arranging, modernized via the sculptural sensibilities of Constantin Brancusi and Carl Andre.
Each of his works achieves a sense of polished, elegant finesse, while somehow maintaining an organic rawness. They aren't precious and they aren't rugged -- they're somewhere between. In any event, people like them: Cloclough recently won a $10,000 Emerging Artist Grant from the 140 Foundation. Works are priced around $5,000 each.
299 Grand Street Jan. 8-Feb. 10, 2012
Marc Straus, the veteran art collector and oncologist who began his art buying while still paying his way through medical school, already runs the Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art up in Peekskill, N.Y. Now he has opened a New York gallery in the heart of Chinatown, transforming a cramped and worn tenement building that his family had owned for years into an airy, high-ceilinged, two-story exhibition space, whose flooring -- centuries-old wood planks that Straus stripped from a barn in Kentucky -- is a definite highlight.
He inaugurates the venture with a show of enormous cardboard collages by the German artist Birgit Brenner (b. 1964). Replete with personal imagery, from domestic interiors to family members to remembered sexual escapades, the works are intimate in content yet grand in scale, some stretching to nearly 8 x 8 ft., and they recall both Rauschenberg’s signature assemblages and curated moodboards that Brenner could very well have ripped from the pages of her journal and blown up. After building up a structure with layers of cardboard, she paints, sketches and writes on it by hand, inserting bits of text, like captions, that read as stage directions to her life. Small, individual compositions are priced around $3,000 while the largest of them go for $22,000.
Also on view are some angsty, photorealist paintings by Croatian star Zlatan Vehabovic (b. 1982). Although he has won a cornucopia of awards (including one from the International Association of Art Critics Award, or AICA) and sells for big money at home, his work has been little seen elsewhere. Straus, who says he knows the value of a collector’s dollar, is keeping the works affordable in order to establish a local market. Next up in the space are large sculptures by Chris Jones, opening Feb. 15, 2012: the show is slated to include a life-sized, horse drawn-carriage made entirely out of magazine clippings.
James Fuentes Ltd.
55 Delancey Street Jan. 11-Feb. 5, 2012
The Canadian artist Ben Schumacher (b. 1985) apparently perused hundreds of underground publications from the Soviet Union to gather the imagery for his show, and his lucid, four-page-long press release details their history. Little of the narrative contained within the so-called “samizdat” documents -- censored writings that were copied by hand and secretly distributed during the years before the fall of Communism -- makes its way into his clean, sharp sculptures, however, which are made out of storefront materials such as broken glass doors hinged with aluminum extrusions and affixed to the wall.
Like the “soaring, tensile monuments of light and glass” that replaced the heavy concrete Soviet buildings in ’89, though, Schumacher’s objects are transparent, modern and at least partly mass-produced. Some of them are subtly decorated with laser-printed vinyl images that are mostly illegible but which he claims to have culled from the pages of those dissident mags. More evident is his interest in the watermark -- a feature frequently embedded in the samizdat documents -- which shows up in the exhibition as a 3D rendering that looks like a topographical map. Prices range from $3,000-5,000.
Brennan & Griffin
55 Delancey Street Jan. 11-Feb. 12, 2012
If Damien Hirst measures out his life in spots, Danica Phelps does hers in short vertical marks -- red and pink lines, like streaks of drying blood, that she hand-paints in the thousands, one by one by one, on long strips of paper. Blood is a good metaphor, since this body of work corresponds with the autobiographical agonies that arose from an intense court battle over a home once shared with a lover.
The details of the case, which are spelled out word for word amidst her obsessive lines, and of the mathematical system that Phelps has applied to her production of the panels, might be lost on you -- but the impact is not. These are strange, beautiful, exhausting works of art, and they distill the power and courage of Abstract Expressionism into a perversely mechanical, rigorous algorithm of loss.
47 Wooster Street Jan. 12-Feb. 18, 2012
Artist Slater Bradley -- or rather his “doppelganger,” who frequently takes his place in Bradley's artworks -- is having a nervous breakdown. A 10-minute-long video, screened in a dark room behind an artificial wall, tracks a young city-dweller who, faced with the cold impersonality of urban sprawl, has reached a breaking point. Via long, uninterrupted shots, often done in slow-motion, we follow him as he wanders aimlessly through pedestrian traffic in a bustling part of town, mouth agape, eyes glazed over, stopping in the middle of the street and closing his eyes or pausing longingly in front of store window displays. “I knew happiness could not last,” says a voiceover, “And whenever I thought that, it would indeed go up in smoke.” His own image, and the dark, shifting forms of the surrounding chaos, are reflected in an infinite pattern of intersecting glass panes.
The sensation of existential panic is enhanced by the vid’s surging soundtrack, which Bradley has expertly composed by manipulating city sounds, and by disconcerting curb-height shots through which march an unending rat-race of hurried, anonymous feet. Bradley's video is angsty, in the best way; you might call it Urban Opera. Its climax and dénouement both are concentrated in the protagonist’s prayer -- “Don’t let me disappear” -- muttered to himself over and over again, that he can just last another day.
30 Orchard Street Jan. 15-Feb. 26, 2012
This German-born, Italy-educated artist (b. 1982) debuts in the U.S. with a bang. In keeping with what seems to be the prevailing mood these days -- paint on anything but canvas! -- Tweedy uses book covers, and photographs, and magazine tear-outs, and even the back of used paintings he found in thrift stores. With superb technical skill (is that boring?), he creates strange, ambiguous compositions of smoky figures in dark, fractured planes that recall Cubist space. They are atmospheric, moody and indulgent, Noir to the core. While there is no discernible theme or subject matter to his work, he deals in motifs -- mirrors, reflections, hands, all very murder mystery. He also plays with framing, transforming the wooden structures of the found canvases into the frames for his own images when he flips them over. Works are priced between $3,000-6,000, so the best part is that if you like them, you can probably own them.
29 Orchard Street Jan. 15-Feb. 19, 2012
In Hannah Barrett's world, everyone's a hermaphrodite. Clothing is made to accommodate both sets of genitals, which dangle freely from bloomers or skirts while their wearers have tea, make speeches or dine. Having recently moved to Brooklyn from Boston, where she showed regularly, the classically trained artist's first NYC exhibition presents a framed series of whimsical drawings and their subsequent oil paintings, all of which feature members of a hermaphroditic "master race."
Her characters are cheeky blends of both sexes, with surprising arrangements of facial hair, from moustaches to unibrows, and strange wrinkle patterns, not to mention seemingly incongruous anatomies. Her imaginative compositions feature these people engaging in the most quotidian of activities, backgrounded by rolling hills or villages, though their postures and dress (powdered wigs, velvet gowns, officer's uniforms bedecked in medals) make it clear just how elegant, sophisticated and, as suggested by their crowns and scepters, royal they are. Original is an understatement here; Barrett's skill is evident, but her creativity -- and her sense of humor -- is even greater. Drawings go for $2,200 and the paintings are $4,500.
165 East Broadway Jan. 22-Feb. 19, 2012
The Swedish artist Klara Lidén (b. 1979) is into roughing up the "clean white cube," bringing the outside in, and her current show at LES hotspot Reena Spaulings is no exception. That said, when you first enter the scruffy second-floor gallery just off East Broadway, "Pretty Vacant" feels exactly that. Aside from a few small, framed prints hanging on the wall, and a table with chairs, there seems to be nothing going on -- until you notice the smell. It's as if Christmas has set up shop in your nostrils: the unmistakable, overwhelming scent of living pine.
The show, it turns out, is anchored by S.A.D., a large installation of Christmas trees that Lidén took from sidewalks and shipped to the gallery by the van-load. They are now set happily in buckets of water behind a makeshift wall that you don't notice at first, a mini forest transplanted inside an art gallery and accessed through a camouflaged door. Brave souls step inside, follow the path that winds between the trees and find themselves at a black leather couch, on which they are invited to relax. S.A.D. is priced at $65,000, and when I asked a gallery employee, rhetorically, "Won't they just die after you buy them?" she looked at me blankly and replied, "I guess that's up to the artist." Really?
The rest of the show echoes Lidén's interest in the intersection between man's space and natural space, via the aforementioned photographs, in which she is pictured climbing out of manholes in the dead of night, standing on dock remnants in the middle of a harbor, or crouching atop a telephone pole. On the table are a few editions of an artist-made flipbook, which show her evening wanderings among deserted city sites. Above the table hangs a lamp she fashioned from orange traffic cones, which goes for $20,000.
EMILY NATHAN is assistant editor of Artnet Magazine. She can be reached at