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WEEKEND UPDATE
by Walter Robinson
 
The Museum of Modern Art has turned its building into an outdoor multiplex for Doug Aitkenís popular new Sleepwalkers video, which presents picaresque "tales of the city" as a multimedia spectacle on a drive-in-theater scale. On view Jan. 16-Feb. 10, 2007, daily from 5 pm to 10 pm, the five narratives are each 13 minutes long, projected continuously in different combinations on six different facades of the building. Admission to the MoMA garden is free -- though donít expect to get into the building to use the bathroom. A trailer and stills are viewable online.

Despite the media mini-storm greeting Aitkenís project -- itís hot on both local television and radio -- itís the younger, supposedly more adventurous Whitney Museum that really rang the bell last week with its bizarre lobby installation by Terence Koh, the Chinese-born artist sometimes known as "asianpunkboy." "Donít look at the light, donít look at the light," warns a museum guard stationed by the ticket-taker as visitors enter the museum. A blindingly bright spotlight shines out from the lobby gallery towards the street, apparently as strong as the sun.

The stupid art critic steals a few glances, and sure enough, the retinal pain accompanies him out the door and down Madison Avenue, a frightening effect. Art-world veterans will remember that Chris Burdenís Fist of Light installation in the very same space in the notorious 1993 Whitney Biennial similarly promised to blind viewers, though his "visual metaphor for nuclear fission," as he called it, was hermetically sealed inside its own room-sized structure.

Koh, too, makes a parallel between the artwork and "the brilliant light" of a "cosmic event," an idea that clearly has its appeal. Still, itís awful. Admirably awful.

In todayís vanguard art world, "awful" has legs. The invitation card for the "Womanizer" group show at Deitch Projects in SoHo, for instance, boasts an image of a womanís nude body going through a hand-cranked meat grinder -- a thought that is just as repellent now as it was 30 years ago, when Larry Flynt used it on the cover of Hustler Magazine. In this case, the card announces a group show organized by Julie Atlas Muz and Kembra Pfahler, and including work by the two curators as well as Vaginal Crème Davis, Bambi the Mermaid, Breyer P-Orridge and E.V. Day.

Inside the gallery are photocollages of a Jesus with breasts holding a bloody IV heart, photos of a womanís hairy vulva dressed up with hats, a monocle and a cigarette, and a pair of taxidermied animal heads with knife blades where their tongues used to be. Itís awful, presumably comically so.

Best of all is Pfahler, the cult East Village art performer who typically is seen half-nude, her body shaved and painted Viagra blue, her black hair poufed out like a witchís bouffant. Sheís some other kind of "Dreamgirl," thatís for sure, and for her installation at Deitch she has photographed herself with a white skeleton -- a reference, friends say, to her former boyfriend, the late art dealer Colin De Land, who died of cancer -- and also presented herself in the form of a cloth doll, souvenirs that were handmade with the help of a recent SVA grad.

Despite her formidable appearance, Pfahler is on a mission to "spread the message of love through horror," according to the showís catalogue. What a relief! The photos are bargain-priced at $1,500, while dolls are $300.

Also good in that awful way are the color photos by Bambi, a celebrated Coney Island burlesque performer, or something (for details, see www.cornstar.com). One image shows the cute blonde artist on the beach in a two-piece blue bikini, mimicking the pose and expression of a blow-up sex doll. Another shows a naked mermaid in a seraglio pose on a mud flat, her lower half wrapped in fishnets, but with a sea monsterís face and hands. The photos are $2,000 in editions of seven.

See? Awful is the navy blue of the avant-garde.

New York artist Joe Ovelman dishes out a more layered brand of awful over at Oliver Kamm 5BE Gallery on 27th Street past 11th Avenue. In a show called "For Whites Only" he exhibits a group of racist jokes, written with no special ceremony on blue paper, and a number of earrings made of gold wire twisted into the image of lynched stick figures. Also available is a compilation CD featuring 24 songs whose titles include the word "nigga." Ovelman may identify with African-American oppression, but this kind of thing was awful in 1957, when Norman Mailer wrote the dorky beatnik-era essay, The White Negro, and it hasnít changed much since.

But another work, titled Rosa Parks 381 (2007), is raised up by its indeterminacy. A grid of 381 Polaroid snapshots of Ovelman himself, each picture results from a social exchange -- Ovelman visited community centers and the like, explained his project, took Polaroids of volunteers who "self-identified as African-American" and in turn posed for photographs taken and signed by each of them. The work is about race relations in America as seen through the image of a single individual, and 381 names scrawled in magic market. Subtle. The price is $15,000.

Youíd have to say that anything involving screaming chimpanzees is also awful, and thatís what Tony Matelli is dishing out at Leo Koenig on West 23rd Street. Matelli specializes in exquisitely crafted, painted bronze sculptures whose titles serve as punch lines. Fucking Mess (2007) is a sculpture of an impossibly tangled rope, while On the Ropes (2006) is a bronze set of three dying houseplants. The works have the idle comic quality of novelties, but are also designed to suggest subjective states, like the "artistís internal disorder."

The chef díoeuvre is Old Energy New Victim (2006), a sculpture of two small starved chimps murdering a larger, "fat cat" monkey, done with lifelike silicone skin and real yak hair, an icon of class struggle that is reminiscent of sculptures by Tom Otterness. The works are $30,000, $26,000 and $120,000 in an edition of three, respectively.

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At Metro Pictures, the first New York show of large collage paintings by Warsaw artist Paulina Olowska (b. 1976) presents an image of youth culture that is timeless and hip and especially Polish, in what must be a kind of Postmodernist Pop for a new post-Soviet art scene, marking a new ground zero for free culture in Poland. Larger works are $40,000, and all sold.

Canada sits at the foot of the Manhattan Bridge at 55 Christie Street, close enough to the new site of the New Museum but nevertheless seeming fairly remote from the art loverís usual haunts, especially in the darkening winter light. But itís worth a trip to see the new paintings by Carrie Moyer, an artist who co-founded the now-quiescent agitprop group Dyke Action Machine. Moyer has been exhibiting paintings as well, works that are notable for their combination of radical graphics (like a clenched fist) with the stains of Color Field painting.

In this show, dubbed "The Stone Age," Moyer adds a third layer to her signature combination of basic supergraphics and elemental painterly mark-making -- that of "primordial" form. Wrapped within her exacting mappings of paint and color are marginally readable shapes based on ancient fertility idols and terracotta Venuses. The effect is smoothly disjunctive. Prices range from $2,500 to $9,000.

Donít miss Robert Chambersí Vitruviusí Recliner (chromatic) (2004) in the presentation gallery at Roebling Hall on 26th Street and 11th Avenue in Manhattan, in its first New York appearance (it was shown in the artistís native Miami). A Lay-Z-Boy recliner, stripped of its upholstery, turned 90 degrees, mounted on the wall and motorized so that it meditatively folds and unfolds "while bathed in a halo of soothing digital light," Chambersí serenely kinetic artwork is a daffy reference to Leonardoís study of ideal human proportions, the Vitruvian Man. The work, which is priced at $35,000, is a possible pendant piece to one of Jeff Koonsí anthropomorphic vacuum-cleaner sculptures.

Also very hot was the moveable structure of interlocking Styrofoam squares by Nils Folke Anderson over at the Hunter College Times Square Gallery at 450 West 41st Street. The precise geometric elements filled the room in an irregular tangle that threw off bits of white plastic waste, like the tail of a comet. Part of Hunterís MFA thesis exhibition, the sculpture, and other works in the show, are unsettling precisely because of their context. If "students" are capable of such finished work, how are we to distinguish the output of the "professionals"?†

A new stop on the gallery tour is Jeannie Freilich Fine Art, located at 22 East 72nd Street at Madison Avenue, which currently boasts an exhibition by the artists in the gallery stable, including Edwin Cohen, Yvonne Estrada, Guy Goodwin, Andreas Kocks, Michael Maytal, Annie Morris, Fernando Renes, Rebecca Smith and Jess Von Der Ahe. The show is on view Jan. 4-Feb. 3, 2007.

Bortolami Dayan is impressing visitors with a show of classic Daniel Buren awning-stripe paintings, obtained from the storerooms of the artist himself, along with a new piece hung from the girders of the High Line in the vacant lot next door. . . . New 26th Street digs of the Calder Foundation, a full-floor penthouse for archives and display of selections from the collection, are said to be huge and high-security. . . . Next spring Alexander Gray Gallery on West 26th Street is showing representational work by Minimalist icon Jo Baer, works not seen in the U.S. since the artist penned the 1983 essay, "I Am No Longer an Abstract Artist."

Openings: Elisabeth Kley, an artist and critic who occasionally contributes to Artnet Magazine, opens a show of her incredible portraits (of Salvador DalŪ, Pauline Trigere, Louise Nevelson) and outrageous ceramics at Momenta Art at 359 Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn, Jan. 26-Feb. 26, 2007. . . Coming up at JG Contemporary at 1014 Madison Avenue, brilliant new abstract paintings by Joe Fyfe, who also writes criticism (and who was the source of the recent Artnet News report on the bureaucratic difficulties facing Saigon Open City). His exhibition opens Feb. 8-Mar. 10, 2007.

The growth of the Gagosian Gallery empire continues, as "Old Space, New Space" opens on Jan. 23, 2006, inaugurating a new fifth floor space in the Carlyle Galleries Building at 980 Madison Avenue (Gagosianís current gallery there is largely on the sixth floor). The exhibition features four abstract painters: Anton Henning, Katy Moran, Anselm Reyle and Hayley Tompkins; future shows are to focus on young artists.

Gagosian is a font of news. Carol Vogel recently suggested in the New York Times that the dealer had sold Cy Twomblyís 1963 series of paintings, "Discourse on Commodus," to the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao for something like $25 million. . . . British artist Rachel Howardís show of landscape-based abstractions at Gagosianís L.A. branch sold out at $60,000 a pop -- she is wife to Hugh Allan, Damien Hirstís business partner. . . . And a rumor in Chelsea has Gagosian contemplating some kind of major tall-building development for his property at 24th Street and 11th Avenue, currently the site of his kunsthalle-like New York gallery building.


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