In art as in life, everything turns into its opposite. New gets old, low becomes high, simple turns out to be complicated. Marcel Duchamp’s famous Bottle Rack began life in 1914 as an unremarkable object of everyday manufacture only to become an emblem of a new esthetic. A more recent example is Sol LeWitt, who started out with Sentences on Conceptual Art and ended up as the most successful stripe painter of his day.
And "The Pictures Generation," as the Metropolitan Museum of Art refers to Sherrie Levine, Robert Longo, Richard Prince, David Salle, Cindy Sherman and a couple dozen other artists, shows rather convincingly the way that dinky collage and photo paste-ups that nobody wanted turned into mural-sized paintings (or painting-like objects) and gold-plated sculptures prized by collectors everywhere.
So it is with "In & Out of Amsterdam: Travels in Conceptual Art, 1960-1976," the new exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art that focuses on the classic conceptual art sponsored by the legendary Art & Project gallery in Amsterdam during 1968-2001. Memory casts Conceptual Art in mythic terms, as a brainy frolic of ethereal Duchampian gestures, but the actual things turn out to be mostly gnomic scraps of paper.
The few legendary works are on hand, but over the years they’ve become melancholy and, believe it or not, positively expressionistic. Several telegrams from On Kawara proclaim "I am still alive" (are you sure about that?), while a grid of sheets of paper is imprinted with the faint brown footprints of passersby by Dutch artist Stanley Brouwn (dust to dust!). Darkest of all is the late German artist Hanne Darboven’s laid-out library of 100 thick white books from 1970, with enough pages for an entire century, one for each day, and each more-or-less empty. Now that’s depressing.
First stop was Marilyn Minter’s place on Greene Street in SoHo, a working studio filled with pots of bright paint, photos taped to the walls and giant, super-detailed paintings of Pam Anderson en dishabille as only Pam Anderson can be.
Marilyn herself was on hand, offering homemade sherbet to all comers, and was clearly in great spirits. No surprise, her paintings -- she makes only three a year -- are in great demand, going for over $200,000 a piece, as are her talents for commercial jobs, which she mines for her art, as well. The M.A.C. job itself probably brought in the mid-five-figures, though nobody would be specific.
Next stop was Maira Kalman’s apartment-studio in Greenwich Village, which was packed with people, including cater-waiters with hors d’oeuvres, and Isaac Mizrahi, who asked, "What, do you have a cosmetics line now?" Easily the wittiest illustrator in town, and a "visual blogger" for the New York Times, Maira is completely charming, as is her drawing for M.A.C.
The final destination was Richard Phillips’ studio in the Starrett-Lehigh Building on West 26th Street in Chelsea, where the artist had provided beer, vegan hotdogs and the promise of live music for those who stayed late enough. Phillips’ collaboration with M.A.C. was sophisticated if hard to notice: he took a color photograph of his massive painting of an upside-down, heavily made-up woman’s face (included in his "New Museum" show at Gagosian Gallery in New York this spring), and with the collaboration of an expert Photoshop retoucher, redid the image using the M.A.C. palette. The lips looked redder on the M.A.C. version, I can tell you that.
Instead, T&S has a group show of group shows titled "TIME-LIFE PART II," and featuring renamed and restaged exhibitions that originally appeared at three other galleries (Galerie Christine Mayer in Munich, Wallspace over on West 27th Street and Ritter-Zamet in London) and at Bard College in a thesis exhibition organized by Katerina Llanes. The young dealers characterize this curatorial experiment as an art-world version of "The Warriors, where gangs gather in a ragtag summit of juvenile delinquency."
As it happens, the show has some kind of correlation to "Out of Amsterdam," if only because so many of the works are clearly aiming at the margins of what art is or can be. As a kind of performance piece, donuts and other sweets were provided at the opening by New Jerseyy Catering, which is a curatorial project, complete with extra "y", based in Basel. In the show itself, the artist Darren Bader is presenting not his own work but rather a painting (of an octopus and a crab) by John Finneran.
In the back is a pyramid of cantaloupes, eight melons high, by Martha Friedman, and a sound piece by Uri Aran that consists of lists of "good" animals (cheetah) and "bad" (bat, shark, tapeworm). Other works include a formless plop of gravely concrete, in bright yellow, and two matching boxes of empty Poland Spring water bottles, which are partly painted forest green. The show remains on view through the end of the month.
And the art dealer Steve Harvey -- a casualty of the Salander-O’Reilly meltdown who seems to have landed on his feet -- had something of a success at the ArtHamptons art fair earlier this month, where he participated with a partner as Brickwalk & Harvey. The gallery sold a dozen works, paintings by Paul Georges, Chuck Bowdish, Roy Fowler and others. "Part of it has to do with the price point," Harvey explained. "We’re at a very reasonable level." The highest price was $14,000.
"I love doing ArtHamptons," said Harvey, who has a house in Sag Harbor. "It’s five miles away." Currently he has teamed up, as Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects, with Gallery Schlesinger at 24 East 73rd Street for "Saturated," July 16-Aug. 17, 2009, with works by Gregory Botts, Peter Heinemann, Sarah McEneaney, Graham Nickson, Hank Pitcher and Paul Resika.
At Metro Pictures, in the gallery’s summer group show, is a brilliant little pen drawing on a piece of typing paper by Olaf Breuning, showing a simplified view of Pablo Picasso’s instantly recognizable Guernica from 1939. Except that it includes one little grinning clownlike face, and is titled, There’s Always Somebody Smiling. It’s $2,000.
The artist Martynka Wawrzyniak put on another one-day-only exhibition at Envoy over on Chrystie Street on the Lower East Side, this one titled "Ketchup" and featuring a short super-8 film in which the artist is splattered head-to-toe with ketchup by a group of young boys (including one who shares her household), who are altogether too avid at their task. It’s like Lord of the Flies, but without the protective distance of fiction.
On the walls were a series of large color photos of children’s mouths, sloppily surrounded by ketchup, that the artist found on the internet with an image search. If the discovery that "ketchup mouth" is an extensive category of pictures isn’t remarkable enough, then consider that Wawrzyniak is the first appropriation artist to pay a price in (metaphorical) blood for her image scavenging. The photos, by the way, were $2,000 each.
Congratulations to Yale art professors Ann Craven and Peter Halley, who are engaged. . . . Artist Ellen Berkenblit has wed film producer Joshua Astrachan. . . . Art dealers Branwen Jones and James Fuentes are married.
WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.