The back-to-school art season in New York has gotten off to a rather humdrum start. Good shows but no over-the-top star turns. At least it seems that way to me, though maybe I’m just getting old. New art, or rather liking new art, is a young person’s game.
You don’t have to be young to make the stuff, of course. In fact, one of the more impressive new works on view in Chelsea this September was made by someone who died last April at age 78 -- Sol LeWitt. His A Cube with Scribble Bands in Four Directions, One Direction on Each Face (2007) really fills the vaulted, light-filled space at Paula Cooper Gallery on West 21st Street, even though the cube measures only 16 feet tall.
From a distance, the scribbled bands look blurry, turning the entire structure into a building block out of early Cubist Fernand Léger. Up close, the scribbles are dense and the graphite is thick, giving the work a richness that’s suggestive of a Richard Serra drawing. For a Conceptual artist, it’s a curiously mystical work, not unlike the glowing wall drawing of his that was included in the 52nd Venice Biennale [see "Kvetch Fest," June 8, 2007].
On the other hand, one art-world wag saw "a lot of shadiness" in the work, presumably in reference to the fact that LeWitt and artists like him devised a way for dealers, collectors and curators to make art without actually needing the artist. With LeWitt, though, this is a kind of public service. Maybe a dozen artists earn good part-time money traveling the world executing LeWitt works, enabling them to spend the rest of the time in their own studios.
Now Bhabha’s work is on view at Greenberg’s Salon 94 uptown on 94th Street off Madison Avenue; at Greenberg’s new Bowery outpost at 1 Freeman Alley (off Rivington Street towards Christie Street), which is called Salon 94 Freemans; and at ATM Gallery on West 27th Street in Chelsea, where the artist had her first solo exhibitions.
Bhabha specializes in funky post-apocalyptic idol sculptures that combine an awkward art-school figuration, made out of clay over chicken-wire armatures, with neo-primitivist elements done not with natural materials but rather with industrial leftovers like cinder blocks. The works have a Third World slum feeling, and their atavism suggests the collapse of the "modernist project," an ivory-tower theme of uncertain relevance in a rapidly globalizing economy.
Primitivism in contemporary art typically seems like play-acting or self-delusion (unless it’s autistic), so it’s interesting that Bhabha seems to have rooted her work in something real. Prices for major sculptures range from $20,000 to $60,000.
They’re lustrously glazed or matte, in dark and somber colors, and set on stools or their own plinths made of cinderblock or stools, in the manner of Constantin Brancusi. If they weren’t so odd they would be follies, so detached from the ordinary world of objects do they seem. They occupy a "threshold" space in between sensible states, to borrow a term used in the 1980s by the curatorial team of Collins & Milazzo to apply to work by the sculptor Saint Clair Cemin. Shechet’s 21 works range in price from $2,500 to $14,500.
Great fantasy-realist paintings of post-nuclear cityscapes at RareArt Properties are by New York artist Jean-Pierre Roy (b. 1974), who grew up in Los Angeles at the tail end of the Cold War. He’s a grad of the New York Academy of Art. The big one, Dream of Parted Steel (2007), which measures 81 x 150 in., is marked sold at $30,000.
German artist Christian Lemmerz, who lives in Denmark and Italy, shows two classically carved white marble sculptures at Leo Koening on West 23rd Street -- both of which refer to funerary art and the Renaissance illusionism of rendering veils in stone. One work depicts a heap of hooded figures from Abu Ghraib, while another has a woman on a slab covered with a sheet. "It’s my ex-girlfriend," the artist said. The sculptures are $185,000 and $280,000.
For raucous art-about-art, see Ian Burns at the Spencer Brownstone Gallery on Wooster Street in SoHo. A master of the kinetic diorama, for this show Burns makes intricate models of classic avant-garde earthworks out of cheap hardware-store items -- Walter De Maria’s Lightning Field, Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty -- and then makes video images of them. Best is a sound piece, edited so that Harrison Ford reads Jenny Holzer maxims like "Money Creates Taste." It’s yours for $2,500.
Also full of art references are the large abstract painting constructions by Brooklyn artist Eric Hibit (b. 1979) in his debut solo show at Anna Kustera on West 20th Street, which mix and match abstract motifs from all manner of artists, and steal references from pop culture as well. He studied at Yale, "but not with Jessica Stockholder," said Kustera. My favorite is Screwed, which features a giant red-plaid mask like the one in the Scream movies. It’s $12,000.
Aaron Young’s triumphant performance at the Park Avenue Armory on Feb. 17, in which a dozen motorcyclists spun their wheels to make a giant abstract painting on panels laid out in the vast Drill Hall, was well-attended by the art-world elite. People even dressed up. The result? "He started with a Carl Andre and ended up with a Brice Marden," said New York magazine art critic Jerry Saltz.
Three artists have new Artist Works Catalogues on Artnet, which provide a formidable online source of info about the artists and their works. The catalogue of performance artist Marina Abramovic, for instance, features jpgs of more than 100 works, as well as much data as to exhibitions, catalogues, reviews and the like. The other new catalogues are for photographers Peter Beard and Andres Serrano.
Christie’s London sale on Sept. 12, 2007, dubbed "From Cit Chic to Alpine Retreat -- Holland Park and St. Moritz," totaled £2,204,052 ($4,476,429) -- and consisted entirely of moonbeam millionaire Louise MacBain’s belongings, insiders say. Among the top lots was a Crocodile Kelly Bag by Hermès, which sold for £31,200, a world record for a Hermès bag.
The people at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago are planning an invitational contemporary art fair for the city, to be called Next and directed by former art dealer and art critic Christian Viveros-Faune. . . . Word from inside the Whitney Museum of American Art is that the trustees are actually considering selling the Marcel Breuer building on Madison Avenue to concentrate all activities in a new building in Chelsea.
Kinz, Tillou + Feigen has scheduled a memorial show for the late artist Jeremy Blake in November. . . .Lisa Ruyter hits Madison Square Garden for a Rush concert, where she’s taking pictures from the stage for a possible series of new paintings. . . . Painter Erik Parker, late of Leo Koenig Gallery, is showing works on paper at Marianne Boesky Gallery next February.
Art critics Deborah Solomon and David Cohen get together for a discussion titled "Craft of Criticism" at the New York Studio School on Sept. 26, 2007. . . . New Yorker critic Peter Schjeldahl is profiled in the current Village Voice in an article called "The Feeler" by Christian Viveros-Faune (again). . . Art critic Ken Johnson is reportedly leaving the Boston Globe to return to New York, where he will freelance for the New York Times.
New York magazine is doing a special art issue for October, looking at what collectors are unloading in contemporary. It comes out Oct. 8, when the New York art world should be in London for the Frieze Art Fair. . . . West coast dealer Jack Hanley, with galleries in San Francisco and Los Angeles, is opening a third space in New York at 136 Watts in Tribeca. "Like the West Nile virus I come," he writes in an email.
WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.