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by Walter Robinson
The team here at Weekend Update is way behind schedule, so if you donít mind, weíll race through our backlog, okay? First up is a painting by Max Liebermann (1847-1935) at the Jewish Museum, part of the survey show, "Max Liebermann: From Realism to Impressionism," Mar. 10-July 30, 2006. Interestingly, since the work in question is neither Realist, like Liebermannís progressive scenes of workers and ordinary 19th-century life, nor Impressionist, like the 1926 scene of the flowering rose hedge in his garden at Wannsee that sold at auction for a record $1,576,000 in 2003. Rather, the painting is religious, a large if fairly typical rendering of an early episode of the life of Jesus, the "finding in the temple" from Luke 2:42-51.

The great thing about Liebermannís The 12-year-old Jesus in the Temple with the Scholars, painted in 1879 and one of his few religious works, is not only the ridiculous image of a little Jesus Goldilocks surrounded by a group of men who are very ethnically drawn (they could play Fagin or the Merchant of Venice). Itís that Liebermann originally painted the boy god in a Realist style -- as a barefoot Jewish urchin, dark and swarthy -- and then saw his picture become the center of controversy, condemned as "blasphemous and anti-Christian," prompting the artist to give his work a facelift, transforming it into the picture we see today. Liebermannís Jesus in the Temple was a Piss Christ, 100 years ahead of time.

Second on the list is the early work of Felix Gonzalez-Torres (1957-96) at El Museo del Barrio, a collection of ephemera in a couple of display cases that give a human face to the likeable artist whose works have been so bizarrely fetishized, posthumously, by the art market -- his auction record is $1.6 million for Blood (1992), a curtain of red plastic beads -- with more to come in the U.S. pavilion at the 2007 Venice Biennale. (One might note here, in passing, that this U.S. State Department choice seems to have a calculated political significance in light of the artistís birth in, and subsequent emigration from, U.S. arch-enemy Cuba.) "Felix Gonzalez-Torres: Early Impressions," Feb. 24-May 21, 2006, was originally organized by curator Elvis Fuentes for the 2004 Trienal Poli/GrŠfica de San Juan.

At art school in Puerto Rico, Gonzalez-Torres made several works that were a lot of fun, both avant-garde and political. With some fellow students, he wrapped a dead tree at the UPR Rio Piedras campus in bare white cloth (casual onlookers, having neglected to notice the tree in the first place, thought the object was a statue being readied for unveiling) and, with a young woman accomplice, put on a "happening" for which the couple laid on a bed of ice blocks at Casa Aby in San Juan in 1982.

Probably the most telling early work was a "newspaper art" manifesto he published in Spanish in El Nuevo Dia in 1981, celebrating the photocopy as a kind of art for the masses. It seems that Gonzalez-Torres adapted this idea from a friend, an artist named Dionys Figueroa, who has since disappeared. All this material is not part of G-Tís "official" output, which begins in 1987 after he comes to New York and joins Group Material. Had he lived, he would have no doubt reconsidered and welcomed his role as Puerto Ricoís favorite-son conceptual artist.††

Further downtown at PaceWildenstein on 57th Street was Fred Wilsonís first show at the gallery, titled "My Echo, My Shadow and Me," an exhibition that is now closed but that consisted of a group of high-sheen blown-glass sculptures, most using black glass, though one is multi-hued and another is white, which seem to be about liquidity -- that is, large glass drips and drops and puddles of glass that altogether constitute a fertile matrix of metaphor, rich with tears, sperm and eggs, oil, India ink and even, perhaps, the 19th-century Uncle Remus folktales, including the story in which Brer Fox makes a "tar baby" doll out of tar and molasses, and the 1899 childrenís book, The Story of Little Black Sambo, in which a tiger races around a tree until it turns into butter.

Much of Wilsonís earlier work involves "mining the archive" with an eye particularly attuned to questions of race, notably in a 1992 show at the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore where he juxtaposed such items from the museum collection as slave shackles and a Rococo silver service, and similarly at the U.S. pavilion in the 2003 Venice Biennale, when he found in Venice all manner of paintings and decorative items featuring images of the Moor. Now, with the help of the nice PW people, who presumably underwrote the fabrication of these objects -- priced up to $75,000 and $150,000 for major pieces -- as well as the publication of a catalogue for the show, notable for including an interview of the artist by philosopher and author K. Anthony Appiah, Wilson has been able to extend his practice considerably.

The result is a group of metaphysical objects that are kin to the richly allusive things made by artists like Joseph Beuys and Kiki Smith. In addition to a pitch black glass Venetian chandelier from the biennial -- "a metaphor for contemporary conundrums of power and blackness" whose "monstrous melancholy goes hand in hand with its beauty" -- the new show included a tiara made of black diamonds (a reference to African diamond mining), an illuminated globe adorned with black drops like a chandelier (a reference to the global trade in people and commodities) and elegant wooden vitrines containing, behind dark glass, a skeleton, or a collection of ink bottles and oil cans.

Probably the signature image from the show, however, is the little googly eyes that Wilson has added to some of his elegant glass objects, presumably to remind viewers that his work addresses the racialized gaze. The eyes look out at him, and they look out at us.

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While recent filmic presentations by Kara Walker and Nan Goldin arguably resembled a PBS documentary and an after-school special, respectively, the 2004 film by Pierre Huyghe presented last month at Marian Goodman Gallery had a desultory poetry that can be found only in the art world. Originally commissioned by the Carpenter Center for Visual Arts at Harvard University to celebrate its 40th anniversary, the 24-minute-long 16mm film (transfered to digital disk), titled This Is Not a Time for Dreaming (2004), is a gently comic puppet play, featuring exquisitely crafted marionettes and music by Edgard Varese and Iannis Xenakis, conflating two stories: one about Le Corbusierís design of the Carpenter Center, the architectís only building in the U.S. (he died before it was constructed), a process that resulted in a certain amount of contention with Harvard; and the other about Huygheís own difficulties realizing his commission, which required the centerís curators -- Linda Norden and Scott Rothkopf, who both figure in the puppet play -- to become film producers.

"The difficulty in coming up with an idea became the idea," Huyghe writes. The marionette play features several delightful touches, including an abstracted insect-like figure that represents "Harvard," a red bird that brings the seed that is to grow and cover Carpenter Center with ivy (according to Le Corbuís original conception) and a model of the building that expands and contracts to indicate the ongoing debates over its construction. Born in Paris in 1962 and a winner of the Hugo Boss Prize in 2002, Huyghe also has a strikingly beautiful film playing at the 2006 Whitney Biennial -- in the lobby gallery, which, we note, can be visited without paying museum admission.

Around the corner at Mary Boone Gallery on Fifth Avenue, in a group show organized by Chelsea art dealer Jose Freire, everything is marked sold, including a Ross Bleckner "mattress" (i.e. striped) abstraction for $175,000, a Carol Bove assemblage for $20,000, a Damian Loeb painting for $55,000 and a Lisa Ruyter painting for $50,000. Still available (for $25,000) is a Pierre Bismuth film, notable because this one too is an art film rather than an after-school special. Titled Link #8, the work, which was started in 1999 and is still underway, features a film of a series of television sets and video monitors, each playing a tape of the commercial film Sleuth, the 1972 movie starring Michael Caine and Laurence Olivier. With each edit in the original film, Bismuth meticulously cuts his film to a new television and accompanying home or office -- some 300 different sites so far. According to the gallery, each time the project is exhibited, the artist adds another three minutes to the now-17-minute-long tape.

The "Death Star" arrived in Chelsea a few weeks ago, or so it seemed to visitors to Friedrich Petzel Gallery, site of a looming black Stealth Bomber-like vessel, a boat actually, sitting on a heavy steel cradle and barely fitting in a space demarcated by column, wall and ceiling. Titled American Traitor Bitch, the boat is the work of German artist Tobias Rehberger (b. 1966), whose objects tend to be fabricated after a process of translation and reinterpretation. In this case, the design of the boat was based on the memories of the Danish-Vietnamese artist Danh Vo of the Danish tanker that picked him up as a small child, fleeing Vietnam with hundreds of other boat people.

Visitors to the gallery can climb up inside the boat, which is minimally appointed, though it has a few fittings in fluorescent scarlet. The electric and propulsion system remain to be installed, presumably by the buyer of the boat, which is priced at $250,000.

Think of artistsí self-portraits and you imagine something dignified and penetrating. Such an image sucks the life out of the room: The artistís mother might admire it, but the rest of us feel a little put-upon. For a more social reaction, the artist can paint him- or herself as some kind of clown, to elicit from observers the compliment, "you look much better than that!" So Joey Kötting, like Sid Vicious and Billy Idol a Bromley Boy who has lived in New York and only recently moved to Los Angeles with his wife, makes self-portraits, now at Larissa Goldston Gallery on West 25th Street, displaying images of the artistís handsome face as if beaten, swollen, black-and-blue and burnt. The photo-based collages on canvas, made with the help of Hollywood makeup, are typically expressive -- one work is based on James Ensorís 1899 Christís Entry into Brussels -- as well as a reaction to the overweening vanity that is the coin of L.A. A big one goes for $10,000.

Canít help but like Manuel Ocampoís mural-sized drawing, which fills one wall at Gray Kapernekas Gallery. Measuring more than six feet tall and 15 feet long, the painting, titled A Defeatist Monument to the Divine Misery of the Grand Narrative in the Theatrical Arena of Modernist Object-Making, shows a cartoonish drawing of a fanged Snoopy-the-dog figure sitting on a chamber pot and a Doonesbury-type figure reclining in a hammock, both held on litters by odd figures (these include firmly rooted tree stumps with arms, in the case of the dog) and being carried towards a steaming pile of poop on a plinth at the other end of the canvas. My first reaction was indifference, until I read the press release. Ocampo, who was born in the Philippines in 1965 and now lives in Berkeley, explains that the two figures represent the collector and the critic, while the feces stands for the art objects. Itís priced at $28,000.

Fun stuff at Metro Pictures a couple of weeks ago, where the Geneva-based Italian artist Gianni Motti (b. 1968) arranged for a sťance in an effort to evoke the spirit of John Lennon. Did he appear? The psychic, Luhren Loup, said signs were good, and the gallery kept an infrared spy-eye on the space -- now closed off -- just in case someone might spot a bit of ectoplasm. Gotta love that search for spirit.

More fun at Taxter & Spengemann on West 22nd Street, where L.A. artist Xavier Cha (b. 1980) immersed herself in a giant straw cornucopia filled with vegetables so that only her feet were showing. Ever alert to fraud since Maurizio Cattelan stuck some terra-cotta praying hands in the sand at the 1999 Venice Biennale and convinced everyone that there was a real live swami under there holding his breath, we asked for proof from the man dressed as Bacchus (that is, half-naked) and carrying a wine carafe about offering drinks to visitors. "Sure sheís there," said Jasiu Krajewski, "she just called me on her cell phone."

The early works by Tom Wesselmann at L&M Arts are awesome, as the kids say, with the juxtaposition of two different orders of representation -- a painted image of an orange and a cut-out billboard image of a six-pack of RC Cola, for instance -- seeming surprisingly fresh. Word is that the gallery is working on a show with David Hammons for January 2007, so stop saying that the contrarian artist doesnít work with American art dealers.

Andy Warhol Foundation factotum Tim Hunt -- heís in charge of marketing the prints and photographs -- is finally capitalizing on the foundationís trove of black-and-white snapshots, which of course Andy didnít even consider to be art. At Zwirner & Wirth theyíre $6,400 each, or $16,000 if Andy is in the picture, and $24,000 for the few that are obviously set pieces. There are 350 of them. Last week, not too many had sold -- mostly ones with high art-celebrity value (i.e., Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring). Mark Kostabi offered $5,000 for the one Andy took of him, but the gallery is playing hardball -- no more than 10 percent off!

Speaking of Artnet Magazineís own advice columnist, Kostabi opens an exhibition of his own paintings at Adam Baumgold Gallery in May. Kostabi also has an exhibition of 150 works, his largest show ever, due at Romeís Chiostro del Bramante, June 22-Aug. 27, 2006. A major Warhol show of paintings from the 1960s will follow Kostabiís there.

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Rob Storr is moving to Venice in January for six months to do the biennial. . . . Painter Richard Phillips has moved from Friedrich Petzel Gallery to Gagosian Gallery. . . . Tom Friedman has moved from Feature to Gagosian. . . . Al Hansen collages, looking especially good at Andrea Rosen Gallery, now carry prices ranging up to $40,000 a piece.

Tara Donovanís untitled topographic landscape at PaceWildensteinís project space on West 22nd Street, so popular that itís been written about in these pages twice, features three million plastic cups and is priced at $350,000.

In the Bortolami Dayan sculpture show, "Survivor," organized by David Rimanelli and installed in the asphalt parking lot next door to the gallery, one particular standout was Jane Kaplowitzís first sculpture, titled Psychiatric Help (2006), a real-life fabrication of Lucy Van Peltís sidewalk psychiatristís office from Charles Schultzís Peanuts comic strip. The celluclay snow adds "an especially desolate touch," Kaplowitz said.

Actress Julia Stiles and her artist boyfriend were spotted at the Richard Estes opening at Marlborough on West 57th Street. Stiles stars in a remake of the Omen, opening 06/06/06 -- get it? As for the Estes, all but a few of the paintings were marked sold at the opening for prices ranging from $90,000 (small) to $450,000 (large).

Last monthís Marlborough exhibition of recent cityscapes and sleeping portrait heads by British expressionist painter Frank Auerbach was all sold out at prices ranging from $170,000-$700,000. There were 34 works in the show. Auerbachís auction record is £433,600 ($754,000), paid last month at Christieís London for a small (16 x 18 in.) landscape from 1986. An etching and aquatint of Ruth (2006), produced in an edition of 40, is priced at $4,800.

At Rare on West 26th Street, Johnston Fosterís antic Southern Migration, a gallery-filling sculpture of wood and carpet remnants showing eight reindeer pulling Santa in his golfcart through the sky -- golfing on his vacation, clearly -- marked sold for $24,000.

Legendary 1980s poet and art critic Rene Ricard dashing down West 25th Street with one of his poem paintings, looking good in a jacket that was cut by Zac Posen and decorated by Ricard himself. "Why are you taking that picture away from the gallery rather than towards it?" the artist was asked. "I want to look at it," he replied. "How much is it," he was asked again. "Twelve," he said, meaning $12,000, "but I donít make that many." The poem, written in unbleached titanium on a cadmium red ground, is titled Boy Running and goes like this:

Is the boy who runs away
Gently begging you to stay
Perhaps he genuinely needs some rope and knots to keep him there
If that is so
Go away. . . I donít want you here that way
Unless you bring the rope yourself

WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.