The year 2010 began bracingly cold in New York City, so it was a comfort to visit Envoy Enterprises at 131 Chrystie Street, filled with 16-inch-square color portraits of people in a steamy-warm place -- the bathroom, after a shower -- by Martinique-born Thomas Dozol. Typically eroticized and antiseptic, the bathroom for Dozel is a pensive place, which is a real howler (viz. the various parodies of Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker).
Emo hunks in towels, cool, but the best is hidden in a tiny alcove, a close-up of Gwyneth Paltrow without makeup, all befreckled, drying her hair (Dozol is the boyfriend of Michael Stipe, and the pictures are populated by members of their "intimate circle," the gallery says). But what is it about freckles? Does their magical allure arise from some nostalgia for youth? From a hard-wired yen for sun-spotted health? Contemplate the question with your very own print for $1,200 (in an edition of ten).
This flush of enthusiasm, so to speak, sent me towards another overheated exhibition, this one at Staley-Wise Gallery in SoHo, which is showing Ellen von Unwerth’s "Fräulein," a collection of erotica from the self-described "sexual provocateur" who doubles as a successful fashion photographer. Peculiarly, it seems both false and real to re-enact the sensibility of Brassaï’s "Paris by Night" with models instead of actual degenerates -- models are a special kind of contemporary degenerate, to be sure, as is clear from all the other fashion photographers who make pinups in their spare time.
Most of all, I sought a copy of the book, which I imagined. . . well, never mind. But it turns out that Taschen offers only a deluxe 500-page tome, boxed with an intro by Ingrid Sischy, for $700 ($610 with Amazon discount). Leaf through the book digitally on Taschen’s website, here. Coming soon, a limited edition including a print of Peaches, Rouilly le Bas (2002), for $1,800 (edition of 100).
Erotica is all about what you can get the model to do, or so said Richard Kern the other day at his studio-apartment on the Lower East Side. Kern, who as R. Kern -- in homage to R. Crumb -- is the epitome of punk perverse (the harmless sort, of course), as is amply demonstrated by his own recent book from Taschen, called Action, and his own channel on VBS.TV ("the internet’s greatest cavalcade of music, human misery and tits"), called "Shot by Kern." "He’s very sexy," says the young French model Sophie, who sought Kern out after seeing his photos online, "so it’s very easy to model for him."
Kern has a show up now at Galerie Bertrand & Gruner in Zürich and has also exhibited at Feature in New York. Hudson, Feature’s famously maverick proprietor, recently reopened his gallery at 131 Allen Street on the Lower East Side after suddenly closing a year ago -- a fitting emblem of the art scene’s phoenix-like rebirth following the 2009 economic crash.
On view now is "skulture: builders, building, buildings, build, b but not a or c (or v for that matter)," a show of brightly chromatic abstractish objects, many of which seem to take formal elements -- blocks of color, say -- and give them a Pop Art physical presence.
Hudson remembered that maybe 20 years ago I had brought in my young daughter and her friend to a Tom of Finland show, and that the two girls had held their Barbie dolls, which were naked, up to each of the pictures, asking, "Why are they fighting?"
Flattered, I confessed that I didn’t remember this incident, and later discovered that neither did my kid (now 27 and living in San Francisco), though she volunteered that she would tell her friends, when they asked her why she was so clueless about football, that in the old days she would ask me about the game and I would say, "Shhh, be quiet." I don’t remember this either (though it’s starting to come back to me).
Around the corner on West 27th, Kasmin has an installation of eight or ten works by Annette Lemieux devoted to farm life, as seen through a very postmodernist collection of objects based largely on photographic imagery -- a tondo of red-and-white tablecloth checks, a bale of hay done as a photo-printed rectangular solid, a Warholike grid of portraits of a cheerful farm gal, some shots of cows, etc. Moo!
Lemieux, who got her start at Cash/Newhouse in the East Village in the mid-‘80s, has a survey show coming up at the Krannert Art Museum in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois in fall 2010.
At Larissa Goldston Gallery, the freelance curator Dean Daderko (he works at Dia for Philippe Vergne, and used to have art shows in his apartment) has put together a group exhibition of edgy, fringy works titled "Pièce de résistance." Highlights include a very sympathetic documentary vid by photog LaToya Ruby Frazier about her wacky mom, who likes a drink, and a fuzzy overexposed black-and-white film by Megan Palaima, who works under the name MPA, titled Excuse me, I made a mark before asking permission.
Shot in the desert near Marfa, Tex., on property that Minimalist sculptor Donald Judd bought for his museum -- supposedly sacred land that he fenced off, bringing down a curse that, according to legend, killed him 18 months later -- MPA’s film shows the naked artist marking off a triangular area with rocks and then squatting in the middle of it and taking a pee. A nicely direct demonstration of "marking territory," an obsession of Judd’s generation and every other artist, practically. A DVD of the work is $2,200, in an edition of three.
At Murray Guy on West 17th Street, under the banner of 1 Oak which hangs on the building facade (a nightclub favored by jocks, apparently), is "Vertically Integrated Manufacturing," a group show that reminds me of the conceptualist ‘70s at the 420 West Broadway gallery building, then home to Sonnabend, Leo Castelli and John Weber.
The exhibition features a new pyramid of aluminum ingots by Carl Andre (b. 1935), some photos by Bernd and Hilla Becher and a classic "Variable Piece" from 1973 by the late Douglas Huebler, which asked a friend in Montreal to photograph something beautiful, bland, noisy, silent, picturesque, boring, etc., and send the negative to Huebler -- along with an important secret -- an action, as the gallery’s Jacob King pointed out, that prefigures the digital age, in which we all readily send personal info and images out into cyberspace.
Also included are a pair of tables, each filled with 144 copper cookie cutters, each one different, by Allan McCollum, a work titled Shapes from Maine. Unlike much classic conceptualism, which elevates the ordinary to poignancy, McCollum’s project is antihuman, suggesting that all of us individual subjects are no more than mechanical surrogates, produced by an algorithm. No dialectic! No one at the gallery quite saw eye-to-eye with my analysis, though, so collectors are urged to follow their own taste and buy one, at $22,000 per.
Me, I reserved a share of the Dexter Sinister prospectus for a couple of bottles from a production run of Black Whisky from the Stähmühle refiner in Germany. Plans call for the bottles to be ready by 2021, by which point I’ll be 72, and it will be time for a drink!
The certificate (referring to "a codified form of production. . . which results in a potable product with measurable standards of quality. . . to examine possibilities of strict vertical integration. . . amidst changing systems of circulation and exchange") is $250.
In the same block on 23rd Street is Margaret Thatcher Projects, which recently moved from an upstairs space at the 511 West 25th Street building (whose transformation into expensive commercial co-ops now seems stalled). "The ground floor is so much better," says the irrepressible dealer. On view are thick painterly color grids by Vadim Katznelson, who gets his unique effect by pushing the pigment -- the show is called "Push" -- through loose-weave canvas.
Last but not least is Leo Koenig, Inc., which opened a show of large new paintings by Les Rogers. A guy who clearly likes to paint and is good at it, Rogers presents two groups of works. The ones in the front are dark and moody like Goya’s "Black Paintings," while the pair of large canvases in the back are like the pink Cubist nudes that Tom Wesselmann never got around to making.
One final note about my friends at Bowman Bloom over at 95 East 7th Street in the East Village. Up on the wall there now is an all-but-endless series of ink drawings depicting the same schoolmarmish lady, which have a rather unassailable appeal (and which are available for a song). They’re by John Tottenham, a poet and film guy whose book The Inertia Variations contains a short verse titled "Submission" that begins, "Finally, I summon the wherewithal/ To stagger across the room." A comic prayer to the fates.
WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.