The week -- last week, that is -- started off with a visit by not one but three pilgrims from far-off Grand Rapids, Mich. Good thing my office has three chairs.
They were bearing news of the national ArtPrize, founded by 28-year-old (married) Amway heir Rick DeVos, a nice guy who also boosts the anti-plastic “boxed water” movement. Heard of that?
Anyway, ArtPrize is that thing that gives out an incredible $250,000 award each year to some artist, plus another nine prizes ranging from $7,000 to $100,000.
The bad news is that the application deadline has passed. Sorry! Check back in 2012.
The funny thing is that winners of the prizes are selected by a public vote. Makes you think that big paintings of sentimental subjects by realist artists with uncanny skills would have an edge. But not always.
Also, you have to go to Grand Rapids to take part, i.e. you can’t vote for yourself online 1,000 times. About 2,000 artists have entered this year, and their works are being displayed at maybe 40 different venues, from the Grand Rapids Art Museum to local restaurants, all in a four-square-mile area.
Sounds like a cunning trick to lure a lot of art-lovers to Michigan. Could this be some kind of plot? At least one blogger thinks so, pointing to the hyper-conservative “evangelical Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation” (Rick’s mom & dad), which funds the contest, as evidence. For more on this wackiness, click here.
Meanwhile, the ArtPrizeapalooza -- if we can call it that -- takes place in Grand Rapids, Sept. 21-Oct. 9, 2011.
Okay, then, that evening, still Monday, it was off to The Hole on the Bowery above Houston, where the irrepressible Kembra Pfahler was due to present what she calls her Wall of Vagina. As any beatnik knows, this involves piling four or five naked, fright-wigged zombie girls, each painted a different color and wearing thigh-high black lace-up boots, one on top of the other, with their legs spread, vaginas facing the audience.
Whew! Bruce La Bruce was on hand spinning records, and the gallery was selling a book of his photos of Kembra’s vagina piece -- an edition of five, for $500 each. Photographer Rosalie Knox (who took the photo of Wall of Vagina here) said she was keeping busy starring in Ellen Cantor’s Somoza sex film (?), while Carlo McCormick told me that he was having a problem getting Dan Colen to finish making his airplane nose cone art for Carlo’s “Nose Job” show at Eric Firestone Gallery in East Hampton next month.
Colen plans to cover his cone with red lipstick kisses, but doesn’t have any female assistants at present. What a dilemma!
On Wednesday, the Whitney Museum held its press preview for its huge new Lyonel Feininger retrospective, June 30-Oct. 16, 2011, organized by the curatorial department’s blonde Venus, Barbara Haskell, who said the exhibition was five years in the making. Not knowing quite what to think about Feininger -- a kind of cartoonist cubist, maybe? -- I focused instead on the lenders, who include A. Alfred Taubman, the defrocked owner of Sotheby’s auction house. It’s a 1912 painting of a church and a windmill, each on their own cliff, whatever that might mean.
Downstairs in the lobby gallery is a performance/film choreographed by the neo-Body Artist Xavier Cha, who I first saw several years ago buried beneath a pile of vegetables in a giant cornucopia, with only her feet sticking out. At the Whitney, Cha has an actor make mopey spastic faces into a body-mounted camera, in a nervous-making invocation of “our fractured contemporary experience.” Ugh, not that again!
That evening the Kitchen center over on West 19th Street in Chelsea opened “The Kitchen’s SoHo Years, 1971-85,” a show of photographs, posters, fliers and other documents from those early days, compiled by the space’s irresistible director, Debra Singer, in her last show before she departs for as yet uncharted curatorial waters. I accosted the veteran film reviewer Amy Taubin at the opening, and she informed me that she had been a curator at the Kitchen for years, remembering with apparent irritation the time that the polymath provocateur Manuel de Landa fired a gun in the space and almost got the place shut down. “He’s a wonderful artist,” she said, contrarily.
Me, I was searching for any sign of the events I remember attending there, like the rather tense time that the British sculptor Richard Miller caged himself up with a turkey, a hatchet and a bottle of booze (Wild Turkey, as it happened), and threatened to murder the feathery beast, until a young R.M. Fischer broke down the chicken wire and set that bird free. The writer Max Blagg was there, loudly egging the turkeycidal artist on. I don’t remember if it was Thanksgiving.
The Kitchen show has the poster for “The Last Video Tapes of Marcel Duchamp” from 1977, a black-and-white vid that was supposedly a late work by the aging genius Marcel Duchamp. I remember the fraud being quite credible -- the camera bumbling down a Greenwich Village street, focusing on odds and ends as it went, seemed exactly like something Duchamp would have made -- and for this casual viewer its truth or falsity was never revealed. The poster, tellingly, credits the pioneering video artist John Sanborn.
Another memorable event was “Soup and Tart” from 1974, when the French Duchampian Jean Dupy turned the place into a café, with each diner standing to give a brief performance. To my surprise, there was a very young Diego Cortez in one of the black-and-white photos. Almost everyone was very young then, in those days when “performance art” seemed like the next big thing. Or the next amuse-bouche.
I was also happy to find my lovely wife’s name, Lisa Rosen, on one of the posters, a night called “Dubbed in Glamour,” organized by my old colleague Edit deAk and using a photograph (uncredited) that I had made.
A few blocks northward, at Zach Feuer Gallery, Phoebe Washburn was unveiling her latest project, a massive silo-like structure assembled from salvaged scrap wood, filling most of the main gallery space. As a sculptural object, it’s goofy marvelous, with small squarish tunnel-like windows (“wormholes,” the artist calls them) that bore into the thing, so you have a view to the inside, not that you can see much; the tunnels are garnished with small green plants.
The structure has a door, too, since the artist and her collaborators go inside each day, where they can be barely seen through a multiply-screened opening in the door, as they go about their mysterious task, which is to prepare lunch for themselves and the gallery staff. “The gallery smells like garlic,” Zach Feuer emailed on Thursday. “Not quite sure what it is.”
Washburn calls the thing Nunderwater Nort Lab, and has designed it to “juxtapose two seemingly unrelated activities -- art and lunch.” She goes on to say that lunch is an often-overlooked daily activity, which is certainly not the case in my experience. The installation belongs at the new Whitney Museum, I say -- it certainly would do better than the artworks pictured in the museum’s digital animation.
So where are we, two days done? That’s what I like, a two-day week, so shall we bring this chronicle to an end? Yes, but first, one more thing. Wandering out past MoMA PS1 in Long Island City, I spotted some undeniable evidence of the Museum of Modern Art’s corporate hand on the previously free-wheeling and low-budget art space -- an official new entryway at the Jackson Avenue front of the converted school building’s gravel-covered yard, complete with a lockable glass door and an official admissions desk. It costs $15 to get in, kiddies! Yikes!
WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.