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WEEKEND UPDATE
by Walter Robinson
 
My favorite show of the day, and I almost missed it -- standing there on aching feet in the drizzle, looking in through the big plate glass window of 303 gallery at precisely 6 p.m., it seemed that I had gotten my dates mixed up (god knows that happens frequently enough) -- and that there was no opening after all. The gallery was empty, not only of visitors but of any art, save for a blue balloon sitting on the floor, like some kind of mistake.

But in we went all the same, and the balloon turned out to be part of Highlight (2006), a work by Ceal Floyer (b. 1968), a conceptual artist who was born in Karachi, attended Goldsmiths College in London and now lives in Berlin. Projected onto the balloon was a small square of light -- a cartoon highlight on a real object, a mute thing made into a symbol of festivity and clearly interpellated into a representational order, just like Louis Althusser talked about in Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses.

Itís $25,000 in an edition of three. Another work, titled I Do/I Would (2006), features a pair of white Bose speakers on the wall, one playing a looped snippet of an Abba song -- I do, I do I do I do I do -- the other plays the same sample, except that itís reversed, in the best Voice of Satan style, so that it chants I would I would I would. Or so the gallery says -- me, I heard "I wish." But maybe that was wishful thinking. In any case, it sounded like a teenager talking back to his parents. This one is $24,000.

Floyer shows with Ester Schipper in Berlin and Lisson in London, and her work was included in the 2003 Venice Biennial.

One block north at I-20ís new street-level space, the Los Angeles-born, Guadalajara-based artist Eduardo Sarabia (b. 1976) has installed on a side wall a large color photograph of a light plane at some anonymous airstrip, with men loading contraband into a truck (bananas and a karaoke system, comically) while a chica poses with a tiger on a leash and el jefe -- a role played by Sarabia himself -- stands there in sunglasses, like a drug smuggler straight out of Miami Vice.

Itís the artist as crime boss and art as contraband, a familiar theme freshened a little by the increasing spread of global free trade. Sarabia has been parsing the "intricate poetics of the black market" for a while, notably with ceramic pots decorated with images of marijuana leaves, prostitutes and other contraband. The newest entry into his product line is Tequila Sarabia, a line of three kinds of tequila -- blanco, reposado and añejo -- in hand-blown glass bottles with a Guadalajara ceramic stopper. Made in an edition of 3,000, a single bottle is $300.

Sarabia relocates to Berlin this summer, where he and artist Jose Davila are opening a Mexican cantina and art space called El GŁero Palma, to coincide with the World Cup.

Down the block at Leo Koenig, the painter Alexis Rockman (b. 1962) continues to play the part of a 21st-century Cassandra, with a suite of new works warning of a future in which human civilization has succumbed to the effects of global warning. A tattered Hollywood sign, Mount Rushmore threatened by swamp, Disneyland overrun by jungle (and rutting animal species) -- the premise is familiar to fans of Planet of the Apes (I refer to the 1968 Charlton Heston original, of course, not Tim Burtonís remake in 2001).

Like Cassandra, whose warnings were ignored, Rockman is unlikely to scare anyone into ecological action with his paintings, which really are as corny as grandmaís toes, however likeable they may be -- and Koenig is selling them for as much as $65,000 each. My favorite part is Rockmanís technique, which has gone all "Vincent Van Guard" on us, full of delightfully schlocky borrowings from the hotel-art handbook.

The Chinese-born New York artist Cai Guo-Qiang (b. 1957) acted in kung fu movies as a teenager before becoming an artist and working with gunpowder and fireworks to express spontaneity within an oppressive society, or so the Metropolitan Museum tells us in its press release for the new installation of his works on its ever-popular roof deck. Highlight of the installation, no doubt, is the daily noontime fireworks show -- Clear Sky Black Cloud (2006), a suite of three black-smoke shells shot off at 12 sharp every day, designed to become "a new symbolic clock" for the city.

As Roberta Smith pointed out in the New York Times, such antics are a first at the Met. Cai makes all sorts of large-scale sculptures as well as fireworks. On the roof is a huge 15-foot-tall pane of glass, like a freestanding skyscraper window, with several stuffed pigeons at its base, as if they had crashed into it in mid-flight (an unlikely event), and two giant alligators made of painted resin and bristling with all sorts of sharp objects supposedly confiscated at airport security checkpoints. Along one wall is a 32 x 9 foot relief of green limestone, covered with topical images of life since 9/11, including scenes of bird flu, international festivals, same-sex marriage, etc.

Itís very nice, though like Rockmanís paintings, the sculptures are terribly literal-minded. Is this a trend? All the works are from Caiís own collection, at least at present.

In its press kit, the Met also provided a pronunciation key for his name -- sigh gwo chang -- but better as a mnemonic is the version I could swear that I heard the curator use -- psycho chang. Just kidding.

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Aaron Parazette (b. 1960) is a former surfer who has been showing his work in Houston for more than 15 years, but comes for the first time to New York at Marlborough Chelsea, in the last show at the galleryís West 19th Street space before it relocates to a new building under construction on West 25th Street, next to Cheim & Read. The opening for the exhibition of Parazetteís new work brought out a sizeable crew of New York painters with their own Texas roots. Whatís more, they all had exhibitions in New York galleries. It was like some kind of invasion.

In addition to Parazette, there wasJeff Elrod, whose computer-aided abstractions were on view at Fredericks & Freiser; Susie Rosmarin with her gingham TV-test-pattern Op Art paintings at Danese; and Giles Lyon with a series of intense, semi-Surrealist works done in Sumi ink on paper at Mixed Greens. (Whatís more, Charles Cowles Gallery is currently presenting a show of works by a senior Texan sculptor, James Surls.)

Talk turned to various kinds of Texas dish -- the in-house confusion that reigned at the Menil Collection in the years after the death of founder Dominique de Menil, for instance, and the family feud that divides the Judd Foundation and the Chinati Foundation, the two institutions that Donald Judd set up in his will, one controlled by his kids and the other by his longtime girlfriend. Really, someone should write a book. Or maybe not.

As for Parazetteís paintings, theyíre stylish and sharp signs -- literally, each work containing colored shapes and lines that spell out a simple word like Butter, Juice or Surf, the syncopated letters edged with pinstripes against monochrome grounds so that they hover at the threshold between abstraction and text. The illustrated catalogue has an essay by Mark Flood, still another Texas artist. The paintings are priced in the $7,000-$15,000 range, or thereabouts.

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In a world of elite spaces, gallery bathrooms are the most elite of all, notes Nathan Coutts, who is organizing a series of exhibitions in the Andrea Rosen Gallery staff bathroom, which is now dubbed "Gallery 4," in addition to the already existing main gallery, the smaller "Gallery 2" project gallery and the backroom, Gallery 3.

First up is an installation by Chris Chiappas called Tile Flood, for which the artist has raised the floor six inches with several layers of white ceramic tiles, in effect lowering the ceiling as well as the fixtures. The effect is uncanny, to say the least -- presumably, you have to be fairly limber, or fairly short, to actually use the facilities.

Our colleague Carlo McCormick, who notes that Dan Colen had also installed works in the bathrooms at Gagosian Gallery down the street for his show last month -- apparently, there are no less than five loos in that cavernous space -- says he is already an expert on these. . .† nether regions.

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About 15 works have been sold out of the touring exhibition of paintings by Lee Mullican (1919-98), a member of the Dynaton Group in San Francisco in the early 1950s (and father of artist Matt Mullican). Lee Mullicanís bright, cosmic abstractions are characterized by the use of colorful, repetitive lines that resemble stitching, and seem influenced by his stint during World War II as a topological draftsman working from aerial photographs.

The show, "Lee Mullican: An Abundant Harvest of Sun," was organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and is currently on view at NYUís Grey Art Gallery. The estate is represented by Marc Selwyn Fine Art; paintings go for about $50,000.

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We like to encourage artists to make portraits of art critics, so take note of the 1966 portrait of Irving Sandler as The Marine by Alex Katz, which greets visitors to the new exhibition at PaceWildensteinís 22nd Street space, "Alex Katz: The Sixties," and the several portraits of David Cohen by Sandra Fisher in "An American Abroad" at the gallery of the New York Studio School on West 8th Street. Fisher (1947-94) was the wife of painter R.B. Kitaj.

None of her portraits of Cohen show the New York Sun critic in the nude, despite what Adrian Dannatt is telling everyone.

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The Museum of Modern Art has a new work in its famed atrium -- Jennifer Bartlettís Rhapsody (1976), a grid of square enamel-on-metal-plate paintings that stretches along three walls and adds a welcome touch of color to the soaring space, dominated as always by Barnett Newmanís Broken Obelisk (1963-69). The installation, overseen by curator Ann Temkin, is part of the exhibition of the Edward Broida collection, which opens May 3-July 10, 2006.

It looks great, as does the rest of the new museum -- the recent objections of art critics and other art insiders notwithstanding. Whatís the matter with these mandarins? Too many tourists and common people? Itís true, Auguste Rodinís nude St. John the Baptist Preaching (1878-80) doesnít look quite right standing in the corner between the elevator and the fifth-floor cafť, but otherwise, only a scrooge could find fault with all this great art.


WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.