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WEEKEND UPDATE
by Walter Robinson
 
Every once in a while, the art market gives permission for a "do-over," a kind of contemporary art-historical mulligan where a younger artist gets to make new versions of widely known artworks by some senior figure. So it was with the pioneering Conceptual artist Lawrence Weiner, whose words-as-art technique was revived first by 1980s artist Jenny Holzer and now by the British artist Martin Creed. Weiner was the provocative philosopher, and Holzer the feminist moralist, but what is Creed?

His version of Conceptual Art, now on view at Bard College’s new Hessel Museum in "Martin Creed: Feelings," July 7-Sept. 16, 2007, suggests a sensibility that is so simple as to be almost autistic.

All things are equal in Creed’s esthetic universe, whether it’s filling a room full of blue balloons or filming a girl crapping on the floor. The Abstract Expressionist painter Clyfford Still numbered his canvases because no words could do them justice. Creed numbers his works because they’re basically all the same, just one thing after another. His emblematic equation, "the whole world + the work = the whole world," posits a value of precisely zero for the work itself.

Creed is a very likeable guy -- his innocent simplicity seems irresistible -- and many of his works have a precisely calibrated, minimalist sense of humor. In addition to the ever-popular room of balloons -- Work No. 628 (2007) -- other works had student interns silently running through the galleries (Work No. 570, 2006), or bean-bag chairs stacked up into a comical "endless column" (Work No. 796, 2007). Out on the lawn is a special commission, five saplings planted in a row, each a little smaller than the next (Work No. 785, 2007).   

But other efforts show his sadistic side, like the film of a girl vomiting on the floor (Work No. 502, 2006), or the pneumatically powered grand piano, whose top regularly raises and shuts with an obnoxious noise, filling the galleries with perpetual banging (Work No. 569, 2006). Creed treats it all the same, and so his work, despite its manifest content, seems strangely without affect. Creed puts Conceptual Art through the Postmodernist wringer, and makes it perfectly meaningless.

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For the summer, both the Guggenheim Museum and the Museum of Modern Art are presenting surveys of work from their contemporary holdings. Typically scorned by critics as un-blockbusters assembled on the cheap, these shows are interesting to the extent that they introduce new 21st-century artists to the official museum canon.

At MoMA, curator Anne Umland has organized "What Is Painting: Contemporary Art from the Collection," July 7-Sept. 17, 2007, a show of works dating from the early ‘60s to the present. Amusingly, the exhibition space has been divided into a series of cells arranged along a long corridor, with each gallery installed according to an elementary "compare and contrast" logic, good for those who think that curating is about making 1 + 1 = 3.

Though most of the artists are well known, the installation still feels fresh, especially for aging art-lovers who can warm to the sight of Al Held’s muscular post-Pop abstraction, Mao (1967) and Dorothea Rockburne’s Scalar (1971), a classic of early 1970s conceptual painting -- it’s really folded paper, inflected by oil. Some of the interesting newer acquisitions include paintings by Wade Guyton and Sarah Morris, and minimalist works by Shirazeh Houshiary and Karin Sander.

At the Guggenheim, the curatorial conceit is a bit more pronounced, going by the name "The Shapes of Space," Apr. 15-Sept. 5, 2007, a reflection of the museum’s famous architecture. The selection here is both more historical and more contemporary, and includes 21st-century acquisitions of works by Brian Alred, Natalie Djurberg, Carlos Garaicoa, Maria Elena González, Elliott Hundley, Luisa Lambri, Aleksandra Mir, Rivane Neuenschwander and Cao Guimarães, Diego Perrone, Paul Pfeiffer, John Pilson, Walid Raad, Pipilotti Rist, Matthew Ritchie, Mika Rottenberg, Alyson Shotz, Valeska Soares, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Yuken Teruya, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Piotr Uklanski, Banks Violette (with Stephen O’Malley), Annika von Hausswolf and Andrea Zittel.

The museum curators have clearly been busy. Especially good, curiously enough, are the new video works by women artists. Djurberg’s stop-motion puppet show, in which a kid torments a cat (paying special attention to its anus), is technically accomplished, and absorbing despite its nasty subject matter. Rottenberg’s crazy film of a Rube Goldbergian factory for making pizza dough is inspired, not to mention a metaphor for creative thought.

And Zittel’s narrative slide show, relating how various people customized their A-Z Wagon Stations -- essentially a one-person metal lean-tos on legs -- at her "High Desert Test Site" at Joshua Tree, Ca., actually makes the quixotic back-to-nature project seem rather endearing.

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Who was the first artist to lay carpet as an art act? Weekend Update asked this question a few weeks ago, and Brian Moore was quick to email an answer -- James McNeill Whistler, who in 1883 redecorated the entire gallery of the Fine Art Society in white and yellow for his exhibition of "Etchings of Venice," covering the floor with pale yellow matting. Whistler wore yellow socks and the gallery assistants were in yellow ties.

Our favorite painter from St. Petersburg, Dasha Fursey, reports via email that she’s hard at work on a new "Russian Princess Petroleum" series of paintings. . . . Mark Kostabi reports that on Sept. 23, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI is personally giving the benediction for Kostabi’s bronze memorial to Pope John Paul II, to be installed at the train station in Velletri, Italy.

Fans of artist Georgina Starr are avidly anticipating her fall show at Tracy Williams in Greenwich Village, opening on Sept. 14, 2007, with a screening of Starr’s film Theda at Anthology Film Archives. Apparently Starr channels Theda Bara’s 40 films, of which only two are extant. . . . Painter Gregory Botts, who has been traveling across the U.S. making paintings of the landscape as he goes, has launched his own blog recording his efforts, a must-stop for fans of good painting.

The estate of anti-painter and noise-music specialist Steven Parrino is now represented by Gagosian Gallery (he had showed during his lifetime at Team). . . . Job openings at MoMA include curators in both contemporary painting and sculpture and modern painting and sculpture, and curatorial assistant jobs in both media and drawings. Email jobs@moma.org.

Joyce and Robert Menschel may be the joint patrons of the Metropolitan Museum’s new photo galleries, but the couple has moved on from their real-life marriage, says a pal at the Daily News, with Mr. M spotted with Hannah Pakulah, a best-selling author and widow of Alan J. Pakula.


WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.



 



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