What does the year 2007 hold? The Magic 8-Ball says, "Ask again later." My own reluctance to begin is indicated by the piles of unopened mail on my desk. Indeed, much of this week has been devoted to visiting exhibitions at the end of their run, before it is too late. "Vollard" closed at the Metropolitan Museum this Sunday -- it opens at the Art Institute of Chicago on Feb. 17 -- and "Brice Marden: A Retrospective" closes next Sunday at the Museum of Modern Art.
The critics are treating Marden like the Last Samurai, a warrior who deserves respect because he has lasted so long that he marks the close of an era. Despite its devotees and its victories, Marden’s abstract play of color and structure, engrossing though it might be, is seen as a thing of the past.
But there are other old men out on the abstract painting battlefield. Ellsworth Kelly (b. 1923) and Robert Irwin (b. 1928) both have major gallery installations in Chelsea.
Kelly, a Gemini with no dissolute habits, can expect a nimble old age, according to horoscopists, and indeed, he’s filled the two 5,000-square-foot Matthew Marks Gallery spaces with new paintings. On 22nd Street are six black-and-white panel paintings and, on 24th Street, four done in color, two-panel combinations of either red, blue, green or yellow.
Mostly the monochrome panels aren’t placed side by side but set one on top of the other, giving the effect of a stately compositional inflection. Called "reliefs," the works are a painter’s ever-so-slight bow to the third dimension. It’s as if Kelly is giving a nudge to Frank Stella and his long-championed abandonment of simplicity for baroque 3D constructions of color and shape.
At first I thought Kelly’s works were paintings that were in essence fabricated, that is, made by others, but another abstract painter -- Ruth Ann Fredenthal, whom I met on the Tenth Avenue bus -- assured me that the plain, colored surfaces were painted by Kelly himself, and in fact had facture. "I notice that kind of thing," she said with confidence.
How much are they? No one seemed to know, but everyone readily assumed that their price is at least a million or so. Kelly’s auction record is $2.9 million, set back in 2004.
At PaceWildenstein on West 24th Street is Irwin’s installation, Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue, a kind of homage to Barnett Newman done with three large (16 x 22 feet) pairs of colored rectangles -- red, yellow and blue -- made of honeycomb aircraft aluminum and painted with shiny enamel. Irwin redesigned the gallery so that its entry is low and centered, opening suddenly into the vaulting industrial space, where three imaginary zones formed by the color rectangles -- one sits on the floor and the other hangs from the ceiling, about 12 or 14 feet up, like the terminals of a battery -- suggest a field of esthetic energy.
The installation isn’t so much about imaginary form and space -- Fred Sandback had that down, with the much more economical means of colored yarn -- but does have a feel that is both insubstantial and oppressive, thanks to the sheets of color suspended rather ominously overhead (shades of Richard Serra.) The price is $500,000 and the work is on reserve.
Then there were Lucio Pozzi (b. 1935) and William Anastasi (b. 1933), both blindfolded, performing their eight-hour-long "blind drawing duel" at White Box on West 26th Street in Chelsea on Sunday, Jan. 7. The sense of concentration in the room was almost palpable. Anastasi sat on a wooden bench, hunched over, drawing first a self-portrait and then covering it with apparently random scribbles, while Pozzi was seated on a "Wassily"-style stool and made careful, biomorphic marks across larger sheets of paper, as if directed by signals extracted from some other place.
So, it was a non-perplexing weekend, as the now familiar, 40-year-old themes of Minimalism and Post-Minimalism lived on. A smart group show at D’Amelio Terras includes a suite of three bright yellow monochrome tondos by Olivier Mosset, each about four feet in diameter, arranged like a schematic round mouse face with two round ears. I’ve always thought of Mosset’s works as being resolutely non-referential -- they’re just color and canvas, a materialist painting -- but this one has an elegiac air, since it is made on unused stretchers that belonged to Steven Parrino, a friend, who died in a motorcycle accident a year ago. The painting is $45,000.
Across the street at Sikkema Jenkins & Co. is a three-person show that includes shiny, sprayed-plastic sculptures by Saint Clair Cemin called Supercuia (2006). Done in editions of three, the sculptures begin with a South American gourd form (used to hold native tea) that is multiplied by 12 into a kind of star-shaped dodecahedron, a thing that sits at a threshold between the organic, the geometric and the manufactured.
Also in the exhibition are energetic new "anti-paintings" by James Hyde, in which canvas, paint skin and other components are presented inside large glass boxes like so much post-Katrina detritus, as well as a wall of plastic bags from museum shops around the world, courtesy of Brazilian agglomerationist Jac Leirner, which the gallery aptly noted involved "representational systems, esthetic objects and utilitarian functions."
The Hydes are $35,000, Cemin’s Supercuia are $60,000 ($70,000 in stainless steel) and Leirner’s wall of bags is $100,000.
In keeping with a kind of Pop Conceptualist spirit is a new work by Monica Bonvicini at the Sculpture Center in Long Island City. Originally commissioned for the Liverpool Biennial, Built for Crime (2006) renders the titular phrase as a 40-foot-long sign of light bulbs set in thick glass capital letters, which strobes on an off at an irregular pace. Presumably a comment on Adolf Loos’ Ornament and Crime, which links modernist austerity with virtue, the sculpture seems perfect for any corporate headquarters.
Among the shows that greeted 2007 by closing on its first weekend was the exhibition at Max Protetch Gallery of new work by environmentalist artist Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, notably the 11-foot-tall Black Jack (2006), a giant child’s jack reproduced in black carbon steel whose skyward leg morphs into an ominous missile-tipped point. Oversized and crackling with esthetic electricity, the work is bathed in red light, thanks to a gel covering the gallery window. The sculpture is made in an edition of five, with two already sold -- the next one in the edition is around $120,000.
It was the last day, too, for the show at Bernarducci Meisel Gallery of large color photographs of young French nudists taken by Jock Sturges, his first show in New York in five years. Favoring fresh and somber young women, many of them blond, who pose at the French seaside resort of Montalivet, Sturges’ gaze intertwines classical notions of beauty with contemporary tropes of sexual desire, not to mention sexual politics. There’s lots to say about these photographs, and lots of them -- prints measuring 55 x 44 in. are $9,500 in editions of five, and the pictures are also available at 30 x 40 in. ($4,000-$5,000, editions of ten), 20 x 24 in. ($2,000-$3,200, editions of 25) and 16 x 20 in. ($1,250-$1,800, editions of 25).
And closing on the Upper East Side was the exhibition at Salander-O’Reilly Galleries on East 71st Street of paintings by Maro Gorky. The show was favorably reviewed by the New York Times, which compared the artist’s bright figure paintings and landscapes to works by Joseph Stella, Tamara de Lempicka, André Derain, Leland Bell, Louisa Matthiasdottir and Raoul Dufy -- among others. Equally irresistible is the biographical component. The daughter of Arshile Gorky, Maro Gorky was born in 1943 and has lived in Italy with her husband, the sculptor Matthew Spender (son of the poet and novelist Stephen Spender).
Their house in the Sienese countryside so impressed Bernardo Bertolucci that he used it as inspiration for his 1996 film Stealing Beauty. The Liv Tyler character, a rich, beautiful and intelligent young woman who comes to the house intending to lose her virginity, is based on a story about a woman whose portrait is included here. Still another painting shows five attractive youngsters in (and out of) festive dress reclining in a happy mass, another version of Ryan McGinley’s famous 2005 photograph of a five happy kids naked in a bath. Maro’s paintings are priced between $18,000 and $30,000.
Don’t miss the online slide show accompanying Roberta Smith’s survey in the New York Times of works depicting artists in their studios at the Metropolitan Museum, complete with narration by the critic; for the time being, it can be accessed here.
While we’re at it, note that critic Bridget Goodbody gets her first New York Times art-critic byline reviewing a show about artists’ books at the China Institute.