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Dec. 15, 2006 
As the year rushes to a close, a few art-world issues and other things that linger on the mind this week.


"Ray Johnson: En Rapport," Nov. 2, 2006-Jan. 6, 2007, at Feigen Contemporary in Chelsea, presents a survey of collage portraits of artists and others by the celebrated founder of the "Correspondance" School -- a far-flung network of mavericks and odd-balls all linked together by "mail art" at Ray’s instigation -- who died too early when he jumped off the Sag Harbor bridge at age 67 in 1995. Among his subjects are Diane Arbus, Arman, George Brecht, William Burroughs, Willem de Kooning and Andy Warhol, Ray’s ironic hero.

"The silhouettes capture the dark side of Warhol, i.e. 'Drella,'" writes Charlie Finch, "and also express Ray’s unrequited crush on Andy, like love letters written on Halloween. His Elvis is another masterpiece in this style." The gallery is also screening the much-praised How To Draw a Bunny, the 90-minute-long Ray Johnson biopic made in 2002. Johnson’s collages range in price from $9,000 to $44,000. 

Word to the savvy hedge-fund collector: Hie thee to the New York townhouse gallery of dealer Vivian Horan at 35 East 67th Street and snag yourself one of Colette’s flamboyant self-portraits from the 1990s. A pioneer in the 1970s "Persona" movement that first introduced the now-common issues of role-playing and identity to contemporary art, Colette literally dresses up her haunting black-and-white photo images with tulle, brocade, silver lame, glitter and a golden coat of polymer. Pictures here include The Spanish Hour (1992-93) and To the Return of Chivalry and Good Manners (1992-93), both styled in the manner of Louis XVI. Large works are $27,000.

John Wesley (b. 1928) launched his series of "Bumstead" paintings in 1974, appropriating Chic Young’s classic Dagwood and Blondie characters and giving them a pink-and-baby-blue erotic charge that is, well, not always immediately apparent in the newspaper comic strip. "The Bumsteads" goes on view at Fredericks & Freiser in New York’s Chelsea art district, Dec. 16, 2006-Feb. 10, 2007. The show features 13 paintings, including The Bumsteads, the first canvas in the series, on loan from the Donald Judd Foundation, and is accompanied by a catalogue with an essay by Robert Hobbs.

We do have a small bone to pick with moonbeam millionaire Louise MacBain -- she did try to start up an internet art company in direct competition with Artnet, of course -- but generally speaking, who can harbor ill will towards someone who seems determined to spend her entire $250 million fortune on the art world? So what if her global conferences on "creativity" are loopy boondoggles? According to recent press reports, she employs 250 people, including a number of hard-working art critics; she spent $40 million on her new art center in a former Rolls Royce factory in Notting Hill; she’s losing more than $6 million a year on magazines like Culture and Travel and Modern Painters; she spent $20 million on a penthouse in Manhattan, and millions more on underwear (okay, those are not exactly art expenditures); and, last but not least, she supposedly wants to buy the Armory Show for $10 million (at last, a profit-making purchase).   

For our money, one of the most entertaining parts of the Miami art fest was at the Scope art fair, where Brooklyn artist Daniel Davidson set up a homemade "photo booth" in cooperation with John Pollard’s three-year-old ADA Gallery in Richmond, Va. Fair-goers could enter the booth, which is constructed of painted cardboard, complete with a hanging curtain and mirror surrounded by white Christmas Tree lights, and have their picture drawn in moments by the hidden artist behind the screen -- all for a mere $5. Over the four-day length of the fair, Davidson -- who formerly showed in partnership with artist Drew Beattie -- made at least 200 pencil portraits. The rest of the time, Pollard said, he took in Miami Beach!

"Every true artist has a critic for a father," the saying goes, and Charles Finch, son of Artnet Magazine scribe Charlie Finch, has written A Beautiful Blue Death (St. Martin’s, $24.95), due out in June 2007. A mystery novel set in Victorian England, the book has been described by Publisher’s Weekly as "a cross between Arthur Conan Doyle and P.G. Wodehouse." The detective is a raffish upper-class type named Charles Lennox who must solve a robbery/murder involving the Bank of England. The first edition is 15,000 copies; a Russian edition is also planned. For those who like to collect first editions of mysteries, A Beautiful Blue Death is being offered in advance on Amazon.

There’s something irresistible about a nude artist’s model wearing full makeup. Art Models is a website and book series started in 2002 by Maureen and Douglas Johnson. Douglas was a professional programmer with a physics degree before he became a photographer and publisher. His website -- "launched to encourage all forms of figurative art by providing artists with genuinely useful reference materials" -- can be found at Books are $44.95 (hardcover) and $34.95) softcover. The DVD-Rom, with 3000-plus photos of art models in jpg format, is available for $19.95.

Though it opened a month ago, "Spanish Painting from El Greco to Picasso" at the Guggenheim Museum is a winner in the museum-exhibition sweepstakes. Pablo Picasso has never looked so "Spanish" and Salvador Dalí’s gem-like Surrealist fantasies have never seemed so hallucinogenic as they do in the presence of works by Goya, El Greco, Zurburan and other dark Spanish masters. And look for the 17th-century painting by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo with the old lady wearing a pair of glasses that would have been at home on the padrone of 20th-century architecture, Philip Johnson. The show is a real work of curatorial art by the Guggenheim’s own Carmen Giménez and Francisco Calvo Serraller, former director of the Prado.

A vibrant leftover from the old days in the fast-developing Chelsea art neighborhood, the Cabo Rojo restaurant on Tenth Avenue between 24th and 25th Streets is the place to go for a hard-earned moment of respite from pounding the streets of gallery land, not to mention for some café con leche and roast chicken with yellow rice and red beans.

One of the many highlights of last month’s record-setting sale of the Kenneth L. Freed Collection of Contemporary Art at the Rago Arts and Auction Center in Lambertville, N.J. -- also available online at -- was the sale of a 1972 self-portrait pencil drawing of a 25-year-old Rene Ricard (b. 1946). The romantic image of a youthful, dreamy-eyed poet and writer, who now shows his extravagant poem-paintings at Cheim & Reid in Chelsea, sold for an impressive $1,800. Overall, the Freed Collection totaled $2.25 million, not bad for a regional auctioneer who only started selling art in 2004. The star lot of the Freed Collection was Martin Creed’s signature work, the avant-garde "classic" 30 Seconds On, 30 Seconds Off, which soared above a strategically low presale estimate of $5,000 to sell for $32,500.