The best thing about "Warhol’s Jews" at the Jewish Museum, which presents the original paintings, the resulting prints, the source photographs and assorted other material for Andy Warhol’s "Ten Portraits of Jews of the Twentieth Century," is the opportunity to look back and see how wrong the art critics were -- notably Hilton Kramer, the proudly reactionary writer who, with his admirable prosody, lorded it over the art world but fooled no one.
Warhol’s "Jews," which debuted at the Jewish Museum in 1980, represent Warhol at his most machine-like, with clean lines and bright colors. Yet he has managed to invest his images with personality, just as he claimed at the time. Nondescript black-and-white photographs were transformed into emblems of pride and belonging that became known around the world.
The "Warhol Effect" worked its magic, transforming the ordinary into icons of celebration. Looking back, though, Kramer could see none of this. For him the portraits were "crass" and "vulgar," designed to "tart up established clichés to win attention in the marketplace." According to Kramer, the project was inherently compromised by the fact that it had been suggested by an art dealer, Ronald Feldman, Warhol’s longtime print publisher. "It reeks of commercialism, and its contribution to art is nil," Kramer wrote. "Who needs it?"
Kramer’s personal bias -- and it was evidenced hundreds of times over an exceptionally long career -- stemmed from his inability to get beyond his own narrow-mindedness and pettiness. Would it be too much too see in this psychology a reflection of his conservative politics? For those who know Kramer’s stuff, this assertion is especially ironic, since the claim that politics are extraneous to art was one of his prime motifs. As usual, Warhol wins out in the long run.
But a much greener Rauschenberg is on view in "Last Turn Your Turn: Robert Rauschenberg and the Environmental Crisis," Mar. 6-Apr. 12, 2008, at Jacobson Howard Gallery on East 68th Street, rganized by the 83-year-old labor lawyer, environmental activist and long-time Rauschenberg associate Theodore Kheel.
Filled with color and sparkling with life as well as messages of warning, the exhibition includes signature Rauschenberg works with an environmental theme, including his 1970 lithograph commemorating the very first Earth Day, and featuring an image of the Bald Eagle, the insignia of green consciousness in its infancy.
Also on view is Eco-Echo III (1993), a motorized windmill that is automatically activated by the viewer’s presence. The blades of this paragon of alternative energy are silkscreened to suggest, alternately, street signs, color field panels, and images of nature and technology. The price for this is $425,000; much of the proceeds from sales go for Kheel’s environmental foundation.
His art is a ribald self-portrait of the artist as a half-demented castaway, a gap-toothed anti-Gauguin surrounded by garlanded Polynesian wahines, big-breasted and sleepy-eyed. He’s haunted by spirits, all right, the 100 percent distilled kind, not to mention the stuff made with water and hops, plus bunches of bananas and other fruits, flowers, and assorted creatures cuter than empty beer bottles, including piglets and his own dear offspring.
One supremely comic painting shows a happy couple sharing a rope hammock at the edge of a lagoon, each reading a book selected from a makeshift shelf, the titles of which include Gauguin’s Noa Noa and V.S. Naipaul’s A Bend in the River as well as books titled Our Inner Ape, Sex Slaves, Journey without Maps and David Lee Roth’s Crazy from the Heat.
It’s hard to believe that this guy took New York by storm in the late 1980s with metallic sci-fi constructions ornamented with all kinds of exotic hardware and digital clocks. He’s certainly kept his appetites for odd materiality all this time, for the new pictures are framed with his own unique wooden fittings, inlaid with clamshell patterns, checkered half-globes and kitschy carved ethnic figure sculptures at the corners.
For all this, Bickerton has devised a completely novel method of painting the figure, one that is as wacky as it is effective. He actually paints his models -- himself, his wife, his kids -- in hues as bright as an island parrot, posing them on sets that are similarly painted and then photographing the whole lot, and from that color picture the artwork begins. The paintings are priced at about $325,000, someone said, and all sold -- that’s a lot of coconuts.
Rampant youth is the subject too of Daniel Richter, the German artist whose huge new paintings are on view at David Zwirner Gallery on West 19th Street. But where McGinley is hedonistic and free like the feckless Americans he photographs, Richter is grim and gray, even in his carnival colors. Anarchists playing air guitar in ruined streets, adolescent gangs wandering through the forest, solitary figures on empty frontiers, these figures are suffocating under the weight of European social revolutions past.
But Richter’s pictures also posit a subject whose alienation glows like a Kirlian aura, an allegory with considerable appeal, to all appearances. The show is, after all, titled "The Idealists," and all the paintings are said to be sold, at €250,000-€300,000 (drawings are $11,500 and $16,500, depending on size). German supercollector Mick Flick, whose collection fills the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin, was at the opening, staking his claim to one of the big ones. Also present, the artist’s wife and young son.
One precursor, she says, is the oxidation paintings of Andy Warhol, which were made by urinating on large prepared canvases. The show includes tangles of motorcycle burnouts on 8 x 12 ft. sheets of aluminum by Aaron Young, a densely gray-speckled 8 x 10 ft. canvas inspired, if not made, by pigeon droppings from a highway overpass by Dan Colen, Kristin Baker’s huge renderings of speedway accidents in a technique suggestive of color abstraction, plus works by Rosson Crow, Elizabeth Neel and Sterling Ruby.
Now, 20 years later, in the time of China’s global ascendancy, they seem rather more than that. They are currently installed floor-to-ceiling in a mini-retrospective at Paul Kasmin Gallery on Tenth Avenue and West 27th Street, a project overseen by the artist’s sister, Muna Tseng, a dancer and choreographer. The new prints are $12,000 each. (Muna Tseng Dance Projects, by the way, has a series of four performances scheduled for late May at La Mama E.T.C. Annex on West 4th Street in Manhattan.)
Since the 1970s, Allyson and her husband, Alex Grey, have been collaborating on the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, a sanctuary and gathering place for what can be called a New Age religion based on creativity and "sacramentally induced altered states of consciousness." The chapel is full of Grey’s visionary paintings, and has been hosting all manner of rites, from a regular New Moon Ceremony and the "Ayahuasca Monologues: Tales of the Spirit Vine" to yoga classes and "adult life drawing." The operation is quite extensive, with a press, a well-stocked shop, a detailed website and legions of followers.
It’s a good time to pay a visit, since the organization is losing its lease and is probably going to relocate upstate, where it has ambitious plans to build a chapel in Beacon, N.Y.
Also on offer are three small square editioned canvases, each patterned with the Murakami version of the Vuitton logo in camouflage hues. One is embroidered, another is printed on a pebbly coated canvas (like the surface of a basketball) and the third is on rough-weave linen. The edition size is 100, with the first 50 priced at $6,000 each and the second 50 at $10,000.
Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects, which operates privately from offices on Riverside Drive, next surfaces at Gallery Schlesinger at 24 East 73rd Street in Manhattan with "Bluebird," Apr. 8-May 10, 2008, an exhibition of paintings by Peter Heinemann (b. 1931), the Figurative Artists Alliance artist who for years made only self-portraits but now is doing elaborate studio still-lifes (pace Georges Braque?). Inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jane Dickson’s huge new mosaic mural in Times Square subway station -- 70 life-sized figures of New Year’s Eve revelers made in Murano glass tesserae -- is already on daily view along the 41st Street passageway, which runs for 100 yards or so between the Port Authority and the N and R trains. The $460,000 commission gets its official dedication on May 22, 2008.
"Perfect love" is the theme of New York artist Diane Blell’s new works at Charles Cowles Gallery on West 24th Street in Chelsea, according to the catalogue essay by Donald Kuspit. Digital photographs made with models and elaborately painted sets, the tableaux retrace the Hindu love story of Krishna and Rada. "Desire for the Intimate Deity," as it is titled, closes on Apr. 12, 2008.
The ballooning and blinking kinetic sculptures of the Taipei-born, New York artist J Shih Chieh Huang (b. 1975), which look a little like spawn of Bladerunner or Aeon Flux, were one of the highlights of the recent Pulse New York fair, where they were suspended like spaceships in the darkened booth of Virgil de Voldère Gallery. Six works sold at $14,000 each, according to de Voldère. "For us, Pulse was better than Miami, better than business in Chelsea."
Painter Paul Bloodgood and video maestro Michel Auder are slated for a collaborative show at Newman Popiasvili in September 2008. . . . Artist Dan Asher is having a double show in the fall at White Columns and at Haven in the Bronx.
Painter Luis Macias launches his own website at www.luismacias.info. . . . Chinese art superstar Ai Weiwei has bought an apartment on West 25th Street in Manhattan.
WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.