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by Walter Robinson
What a pleasant surprise at the opening of Robert Rauschenbergís new show at PaceWildenstein in Chelsea to see Bob and his old friend Merce Cunningham sitting side-by-side in matching wheelchairs, enjoying the attention of a crowd of admirers. Though his right hand is all gnarled, the result of a stroke, the 82-year-old Rauschenberg held a highball in his left.

His cheerful, democratic approach to the society of the spectacle can seem prosaic, but this is the guy who made a suite of all-white paintings in 1951, erased a Willem de Kooning drawing in 1953, painted two "identical" Ab-Ex works in 1957, and sent a telegram to Paris stating "This is a portrait of Iris Clert if I say so" in 1961. The avant-garde doesnít get any better than that.

The new series of paintings, which the gallery calls "channel-surfing montages," and which are on view Jan.†11-Feb. 16, 2008, are relatively small (5 x 6 ft.) and titled "Runts." More †Zen-simple than ever, Rauschebergís Runts hew to a simple scrapbook-style grid, combining as few as five photos of things like funky signs, wall paintings, urban street scenes, classical ruins, circuses, gardens and parks, usually keeping like with like. More than ever Rauschenbergís art seems to be about looking at the world, just like that.

The pictures are $400,000 each, and all marked sold or reserved.

The late New York artist Al Taylor (1948-1999) made wall sculptures from pieces of wire, broomsticks and bits of lath, so insouciant that they could have been done in the wee hours after a night of drinking. One work, titled Eating with Children (1986), consists of two long broomsticks hanging from the wall with a bit of board screwed in between their bottom ends, held away from the wall by two shorter pieces of broomstick. The inspiration was dinner with Brice Mardenís kids -- chopsticks with a piece of tofu. As if to add to the joke, the broomsticks are variously colored, in what seem to be Mardenesque hues.

Another work consists of a length of broomstick jutting out from the wall, held up at an erect angle by a couple of wires, with two plastic leis drooped on the end so the rod sticks through their openings. A dirty joke of classic pedigree (see Frans Halsí Merrymakers at Shrovetide, ca. 1615), the leis also add a touch of color. Itís called Layson a Stick (1989), a dubious pun on "liaison," as Taylor explained in the catalogue for his 1992 show at the Kunsthalle Bern.

In the interview, Taylor also revealed the genesis of his casual, geometric line drawings -- watching the trajectory of pool balls at a pool hall. Drawings are $7,000-$10,000, and wall sculptures are $65,000-$95,000, when available. The show is at Zwirner & Wirth on East 69th Street, Jan. 9-Mar. 1, 2008.

The tumescent phallus has artistic appeal, itís hard to say exactly why. Point in case is New York artist Judith Bernstein, whose feminist works from the 1960s and Ď70s are now on view at Mitchell Algus Gallery on West 25th Street in Chelsea, Jan. 10-Feb. 9, 2008. Her signature image is a furiously spinning screw done in rich black charcoal, typically at mural scale.

The museum piece here is Horizontal (1973), a ca. 10 x 12 ft. penis-headed screw that looks like it might bore through the earth. Also good is One Panel Vertical (1979), an upright screw with the classical presence of a Greek kouros. The first is p.o.r., and the other is $18,000.

Bernstein also shows some "supercock" drawings that seem to reproduce toilet-stall graffiti of a man flying along on his giant-sized weiner, a great image. A canvas from 1966, titled Supergraffiti, is inscribed with scatological runes in faint pencil and ink, like some kind of archeological relic from the menís room. Itís brilliant, and makes Cy Twomblyís graffiti paintings look punk by comparison. Itís that female gaze again. The price: $15,000.

One new work, Signature (2008), writes the artistís signature large in charcoal across one wall in a florid fountain of black, explosively hirsute strokes. It has muscle and ego and if it were done by any of the male avant-gardists it would be immediately snapped up by a collector (itís price is $18,000) -- so if nothing else, Signature marks the ongoing sexism of the art market.

Another show of note in Chelsea features Joyce Pensatoís paintings of cartoon characters, done in stressed-out black-and-white expressionistic brushstrokes, the canvases literally dripping in rich pigment. In her hands, Mickey and Homer are especially demented, American clowns driven mad by their complacent audience. Itís the first show at Friedrich Petzel Gallery for the veteran artist, who lives in Williamsburg and has exhibited in New York since the early Ď80s and at Galerie Anne de Villepoix in Paris since 1994, among other places.

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At Taxter & Spengemann is a new installation of paintings on corrugated cardboard by Max Schumann, the radical "Cheap Art" painter who is also longtime manager of Printed Matter. The theme here is American pastoral -- scenes of verdant golf courses mixed in with views of the Vietnam jungle.

All of Schumannís works are dirt cheap and some are downright bargain-priced: a suite of four paintings of a famous Time Magazine snap of a Vietnam War-era mother with her wounded child was snapped up for $40 by a French student who just happened to be in the gallery when the works were put on sale. Upstairs in the office is one of Schumannís classic portraits of George W., standing stiff on the White House lawn, priced at $5,000, as it says in red letters across the bottom of the painting.†

Also noted: John Millerís golden still-lifes -- table sculptures and wall reliefs that look like piles of junk adorned with fruits, all covered with glistening gold leaf -- in the project rooms of both Friedrich Petzel and Metro Pictures. These things have irresistible appeal. A Russian dealer came in and wanted to buy everything and ship it all to Moscow immediately, someone said. Whatís the price for one? $60,000 or so?

The installation of shredded, motley figures by Aidas Bareikis at Leo Koenig, dubbed Fancy Meetings, is a "theatrical spectacle devoid of entertainment," according to the artist. Look for the little girl and the ghost, who meet somewhere in the gallery saturnalia.

In the back room is a piece by Tony Matelli, in which two goofy headshots of the artist seem to be on fire at one corner, with a real, presumably gas-fed flame that doesnít really burn. Itís like an eternal flame of the ego.

Down in SoHo at Team Gallery, the upstairs is filled with "Overrun" by Cristina Lei Rodriguez, sculptures of freestanding beams covered with plastic ivy, then coated with glitter and jewels and shiny goop, like fragments of sugar-coated ruins. Downstairs is a new work by Banks Violette, a chair lying on its side with a flame sprouting from its edge. Itís cast in bronze. "He wanted to make a sculpture that didnít need to be lit," said gallery proprietor Jose Freire. The price is $95,000.

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Todayís mystery -- who bought the old Dia Art Center building on West 22nd Street for $38.5 million? The title gives no clue; realtor gossip has it being "a European gallery." The building is zoned for 21,000 additional square feet.

Auction writer Nina Siegalís new comic murder mystery, starring a lady reporter, is called A Little Trouble with the Facts and due from HarperCollins in February. . . . Julie Mehretu Drawings, published by art dealer Christian Haye with Rizzoli, is available now. "I can reach thousands instead of a few dozen," said Haye.

Painter Laurie Fendrich, one of the few to receive glowing reviews from hard-ass art critic Hilton Kramer, has launched her own blog, dubbed Brainstorm. . . . Chelsea photo dealer James Danziger is also a blogger, at The Year in Pictures.

Artnet Magazine correspondent Donald Kuspit has been named University Distinguished Professor at SUNY Stony Brook. . . . Thatís John Baldessariís voice on the answering machine at the Santa Monica Museum of Art.

WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.