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NEW YORK HORTICULTURE
by Ana Finel Honigman
 
In the art world, trauma is treasure. Thus, the New York welcome now being given to Los Angeles artist Gerald Davis (b. 1974), whose pale, raw figuration is on view at both John Connelly Presents in Chelsea and at Jeannie Greenberg’s Salon 94 uptown, Sept. 7-Oct. 14, 2006. Davis’ autobiographical works limn a boyhood resonating with icky misery and achy longing. Done mostly in monochrome, the dozen largish drawings at Connelly are all made with cherry red pencil, while the five oils at Salon 94 have a slippery-soft palette of grays and muted tomato and lemon tones.

In the narrative triptych Drawing Is Not Faggity, Davis shows himself first happily drawing cartoons on his living room floor, then proudly displaying the cartoons to his philistine older brother and his friends, and finally having the words "Fag Boy" scrawled on his chest by the gang. In ET and Grandma, Davis juxtaposes an unhappy image of his grandmother on her hospital deathbed with the cheery scene of the famously lovable extraterrestrial levitating objects for a group of enthralled kids. 

In Boy Fight, the grand-sized canvas on display in the foyer of Salon 94 -- which is also the dealer’s home -- the preteen Davis is seen being pummeled by another kid on the floor of an elegant living-room. The gleeful bully’s long blond hair, marigold tee-shirt and lack of pants suggest a sexual subtext to his assault on Davis, who miserably spouts muddy brown blood from his mouth onto the pretty floral carpet.

At the dinner hosted by Salon 94 after the opening, I asked Davis -- who has grown into a charming and handsome hipster -- whether being beaten up today might inspire new work in the future. After a momentary pause, he gave me an eloquent explanation of the process by which experience germinates into creative expression. Besides, he said, his self-preservation skills have much improved since seventh grade.

Davis’ drawings are reportedly all sold (at around $7,000 each), with the paintings going for $25,000 apiece. Demand from collectors seems to be strong. According to Colin Gleadell in the London Daily Telegraph, "on the private resale market, his best works can command up to £100,000." 

Davis is also included in "USA Today: New American Art from the Saatchi Gallery," Oct. 6-Nov. 4, 2006, at the Royal Academy in London. In an attempt to recapture some of the glory of Saatchi’s 1997 "Sensation" exhibition, the show features 40 of the brightest American art starlets, including Ellen Alfest, Inka Essenhigh, Luis Gispert, Terence Koh and Banks Violette.

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In 1999, New York artist Rob Pruitt came up with "101 Art Ideas You Can Do Yourself," which included "sell a collector the key to your house" and "stick stickers on beer cans," among other injunctions. Now, at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise over in Greenwich Village, the 42-year-old Pruitt has come up with a few neat ideas for art you can make with things found in the home, Sept. 16-Oct. 14, 2006.

On the gallery floor are rows of stuffed blue jeans -- stuffed with concrete -- arrayed like swimmers in an Esther Williams movie. In one piece, a ring of disembodied denim legs high-kick in unison; in another, they’re lined up back-to-back and are posed doing splits, as if ghosts of a cheerleading squad sent to sleep with the fishes.

On the walls are ten compellingly cheery, oil-and-glitter paintings on silver foil. Pruitt is well known, of course, for his glitter pictures of Panda Bears. Here, he’s gone abstract, a la Andy Warhol’s "Shadow" paintings, delivering a series of sensual pink and red pours and smears, glistening with glitter, on fields of silver foil. The abstractions have titles like Paris and Nicole and Global Warming, suggesting that Pruitt has hit upon a kind of Rorschach inkblot pop expressionism. The title for a silver-foil painting that comes with three glitter-frosted tires is A Sick Obsession with Glitter, as if our love for shiny -- pretty surfaces was some kind of problem!

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A grittier inquiry into art and society can be found at Harris Lieberman’s 3,500-square-foot ground-floor exhibition space, which is located on the edge of SoHo in a district mixing townhouses with old-style office buildings. There, the San Francisco-born, New York-based artist Aaron Young staged several compelling stunts, the fascinating debris of which is now on view, Sept. 1-Oct. 14, 2006. The 34-year-old Yale MFA, whose work was included last year in both the Whitney Biennial and P.S.1’s "Greater New York," cites Chris Burden’s high-risk actions from the 1960s as the inspiration for his performances.

In "1%," Young’s first solo show in New York, he manages to capture the spirited street sensibility of graffiti art without actually referencing graffiti at all. The concrete gallery floor is covered with black swirls, "burn-out" tire marks made by a motorcycle. Leaning against the wall are sheets of safety glass, marked with the outline of Young’s body, imprinted by hot rubber that splattered from the bike’s wheels.

Jutting out from the gallery walls are two seemingly common concrete street curbs. Closer inspection reveals that the curbs are actually cast bronze with a concrete coating, now rather battered so that the bronze glimmers under the scraps in the concrete, like a Teamster$s hidden treasure. Young commissioned a crew of skateboarders to perform tricks on the sculptures. The result is a disarmingly beautiful and eloquent, seeming to confirm the immigrants’ myth that New York streets are paved with gold.

Hard work and faith are rewarded in the gallery’s backroom, where Young has installed a series of interactive circular silkscreen paintings. Stare directly at the neon forms painted against black backgrounds and get a surprise burned in your retina. Without revealing the miracle, I assuredly testify: stare long enough and your sacrifice will be well-rewarded.

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A young artist known for chronicling the insolent antics of his group of friends in downtown Manhattan, Dash Snow, like Larry Clark, Nan Goldin, Ryan McGinley and Corrine Day before him, has taken up the challenge of proving that he can turn puke into poetry. The question, then, is not so much whether his antics are art, but whether they deserve our attention at all.

In the hundreds of Polaroids, C-Prints, collages and sculptures making up "Silence Is the Only True Friend that Shall Never Betray You," Snow’s second solo show at the Rivingon Arms gallery on the Lower East Side, Sept. 7-Oct. 15, 2006, the 24-year-old artist, whose bearded heavy-metal, mountain-man style has made him an occasional fashion model, makes a good case for his inclusion in the low-life canon.

The show includes a kind of fort built out of stacked books, all of which have morbid, gory, sensational subjects. With titles like Blood and Money, Nazi Victory and When a Child Kills, the unlikely sculpture produces a perfect push/pull of disgust and fascination. Grimy both outside and in, the work still provokes a fantasy of reading through the entire structure, one oily, scandalous page at a time. Perhaps the charm of Snow’s work can best be summed up by Charles Bukoskwi’s statement, "Sometimes you just have to pee in the sink."

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Boyhood pleasures -- beating up your pals, breaking things -- are also the subject of Frank Magnotta’s second solo show at Cohan and Leslie in Chelsea, Sept. 7-Oct. 14, 2006. Magnotta’s rogues gallery of satirical grotesques -- a suite of 50 x 42 inch graphite-on-paper drawings ($7,500 each) -- are Daumier crossed with the Garbage Pail Kids. Magnotta, who was born in 1970 in Grand Rapids and now lives and works in Brooklyn, constructs his portraits of such social archetypes as bankers, doctors and clergymen out of symbols and logos borrowed directly from corporate culture, the pharmaceutical industry and the church. But Magnotta goes a step further, and updates the genre by including particularly sharp portraits of a hooded hipster, a spaced-out African healer and a kindergarten kid.
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A lively sense of self is beautifully depicted in Lindsay Brant’s seven new stained-glass self-portraits, on view in the native New Yorker’s second solo show at Haswellediger & Co., Sept. 14-Oct. 21, 2006. Brant, an L.A. transplant, takes Walt Whitman’s "Song of Myself" as her inspiration, but L.A.’s breezy, sunny, superficial narcissism can also be seen in the luminous windows, which include translucent minerals and beach glass.

Here is Whitman on lazy youthful bliss: "The feeling of health, the full-noon trill, the song of me rising from bed and meeting the sun," and "Urge and urge and urge/Always the procreant urge of the world." In Brant’s work, these themes are articulated with the materials and techniques of super-elegant Tiffany and LaFarge crafts, used to depict herself in casual, snap-shot-like poses. One especially charming, compelling image shows a tomboy Brant in men’s briefs and a baseball cap cupping her breasts and laughing at someone unseen. The works are $15,000 each, and moving fast.

Whitman was 37 when he wrote Song of Myself. At 33, Brant does not seem to posses his awareness or concern for mortality -- but she does successfully display his gratitude for life.


ANA FINEL HONIGMAN is a critic and PhD candidate in art history at Oxford University.



 



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