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WEEKEND UPDATE
by Walter Robinson
 
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Beautiful June brings summer to the city, slumber and exodus and delicious heat. The heat that fills the paintings of the much-missed actor and artist Bill Rice (1931-2006), now on view at Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects in the Schlesinger Gallery on East 73rd Street (SHFAP’s last appearance there, before relocating somewhere downtown), throbs with the gritty atmosphere of the old Lower East Side, and with the aching human passion that shadowed those tense nights.

As the penniless multicultural bohemia that was the LES is redeveloped out of existence, its heavy-hearted romantic spirit passes into artworks like these. Red, black and gold are Rice’s emblematic colors, and the figures that populate his apartmentscapes have often shed their clothes to put skin next to thick air, and skin next to skin.

When Rice died, his work was left to his old friends Richard Morrison and Larry Mitchell, who preserved these artworks in their crowded East 4th Street apartment, and to whom we owe thanks. The new exhibition is accompanied by a well-illustrated catalogue, with an essay by painter Joe Fyfe (he compares Rice to Matisse and Bonnard). The show is receiving good notices, from both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal (Ilka Scobie reviewed Rice’s last exhibition, at Mitchell Algus Gallery in 2005, for this magazine.)

The prices are attractive -- a small, jewel-like work can be had for a few thousand dollars, while large paintings are rather more. The show remains on view till July 1, 2011.

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Meanwhile, June marks the beginning of summer, which typically sends the art world into its own kind of desultory hibernation. Your correspondent, ever vigilant in pursuit of an avant-garde path, took up summer sluggishness several weeks in advance, back in May, even, and thus fell a bit behind in his reporting duties.

So, it was last month that the irrepressible Los Angeles artist Mary Weatherford came to town for a show at Brennan & Griffin, the spacious new gallery opened in late 2010 on the sixth floor of 120 East Broadway in Chinatown by Kathryn Brennan, who ran Sister in L.A., and James Griffin. I love Weatherford’s new paintings, which are striking, big irregular forms centered on raw linen, overlapping shapes with tinges of color at their edges, like stain paintings that Morris Louis never made.

It turns out they pose on the threshold between abstraction and figuration, as they’re images of a cave on a beach on the Pacific Ocean, where Mary sat for days trying to capture the atavistic magic of that mysterious passageway. In my old age such things make me nervous, like with Idris Kahn’s “God Is Great” bottomless well sculptures, you can never tell when one of these deep holes is going to reach out and suck you in. What were the prices? $20,000-$25,000.

Brennan & Griffin is moving to a street level space later, I think next to James Fuentes, who is over on Delancey Street by the Williamsburg Bridge.

I also went to the Whitney Museum for the press preview of Cory Arcangel’s show there, which featured one giant gallery with nothing but a wall filled with projections of old video-bowling games, and another gallery lined with large abstract color photographs, beautiful and bright formless things no doubt made with some out-of-date computer program.

Outside the museum I asked a very happy Jose Freire -- whose Team gallery represents Arcangel -- what the price was for a photo like that, and he said, coyly, “I don’t know, they’re all sold.” Then he added, “Nobody paid any attention to him at all until six months ago.” He meant collectors and museums, of course, since I my very self wrote about Arcangel back in 2003. I have one of those Super Mario Brothers Atari cloud prints, by the way.

Roberta Smith in the New York Times complained that the Whit was lazy because it showed only Arcangel’s new work, and I have to agree that I missed one of my favorite films of his, in which Dazed and Confused is dubbed in India-accented English, to mysteriously charming effect, a work that I seem to have covered only as a news item in 2010.

We’re all a little lazy, though the Whitney does in fact have a respected history of playing kunsthalle and letting artists do what they want, like back in 1970 when Robert Morris filled the place with timbers, beams and concrete blocks in a now-forgotten-but-then-notorious show that posited the artist as a blue-collar worker and the artwork as a temporary arrangement of construction materials.

This time around, Arcangel has made the museum into a wi-fi hotspot.

Another exhibition of note this spring was the show of four large paintings (three new and one from 1991) by the great 1980s appropriation artist Julia Wachtel at Kathleen Cullen Fine Arts on West 26th Street in Chelsea. Wachtel’s signature pictures combine images from wacky greeting cards with scenes of industrial America, a mix of repulsive high and low that captures a delirious insanity that is in the end rather unnerving.

Her works are very much a part of the history of 1980s postmodernism, and the prices at Cullen were most attractive, $16,000 for the older painting and $14,000 for newer ones, if memory serves.

Other random stops during the spring included a visit to the Russian Consulate up on West 91st Street, which was celebrating a gift to the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg of a large sculptural installation by Ilya and Emilia Kabakov. There I was pleased to be introduced to Emilia, who has a sweet disposition and who seemed to find all my questions most amusing.

Over in Chelsea I also peeked in at the opening of a show of paintings by the talented and demented -- such a great combination -- artist, poet and writer Rene Ricard, mounted in the now-empty Heidi Cho Gallery storefront on West 23rd Street, a project of the estimable young curator Vito Schnabel.

The “Portuguese Sonnets,” as Ricard’s paintings were so named in honor of his muse and benefactor, a lady from said country, had apparently been inscribed with the artist’s signature doggerel -- “tomorrow is another day, but so was yesterday” -- that very morning, considering their somewhat unfinished appearance and the pungent smell of oil paint in the air.

Some of the canvases bear painted portraits in a 19th-century style, presumably done by another hand, and others have a background of bilious green, which Patrick Fox described as mustard yellow. “Rene is quite committed to the color,” he said. Later, the artist showed up for his own opening, perhaps rather more in a cold sweat than he might have been, though it all adds to the legend.

Still further downtown and over to the east, at Bill PowersHalf Gallery on Forsyth Street -- so named because it occupies only the front half of the storefront -- the artist Duncan Hannah drew a rather large crowd for a show of his collages. The uptown dealer Frank Bernarducci arrived in his Mercedes and with his usual car-karma promptly found a parking spot right in front of the gallery.

He snapped up one of the collages (for ca. $1,500) in which the curvy torso of a young sun-lover from a 1938 copy of Naturist magazine was chastened by an explosive image of charging Bugatti racers, filing with machine-made visual noise the place where her soft and pliable body was supposed to be. Perfect.

WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.