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by Walter Robinson
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You gotta love 57th Street at Fifth Avenue, New York’s center of haute high-rise shopping, now distinguished by a seven-story-tall neon drawing of a fashionista, complete with shopping bag, on the façade of the newly renovated Dior building [see Artnet Design, Jan. 11, 2011]. Art galleries are still a part of the mix, though you get the feeling they’re fewer than before. And it’s pretty quiet, even on a Saturday.

The Park Avenue end is newly anchored by Phillips de Pury & Company, whose spacious two floors currently boast a "Selling Exhibition" from an anonymous party, presumably Jose Mugrabi and sons, who have a soft spot for Phillips. Francis Bacon, George Condo, Keith Haring, Damien Hirst. "We have a nice Andy Warhol Diamond Dust Shoes (1980-81, $2.3 million)," said Phillips specialist Philae Knight, suggesting that this particular motif is gendered female.

For the adolescent (boy?) in you, there’s Dan Colen’s I can go steady with any girl I please (2009), a not too big (18 x 24 in.) collage of Bazooka bubble gum comics stuck to the paper in a random allover pattern with chewed gum. How can you not like this silly thing, which must have Clement Greenberg rolling over in his grave? It’s priced at $115,000, and still available.

Down the block towards Madison Avenue is the Pace Gallery, whose various divisions (tribal art, prints, photography) occupy four floors in the building. On two is the show of new Light and Space works by Robert Irwin, and they could not be lovelier, even if they are made from six-foot-tall fluorescent lights. Irwin covers his tubes with mylar gels, most of them configured like racing stripes (an amusing touch), subtly altering the hues in ways that are not easy to see. Some of Irwin’s tubes, more than you might expect, are turned off, and only reflect the light of their neighbors.

We now have a lot of fluorescent-light artists (including Yuichi Higashionna, now on view down at Marianne Boesky Gallery in Chelsea). Like so many endgame modernists, Dan Flavin turns out to be a starting point.

Irwin, who lives in San Diego and has worked with Pace since 1966, has 55 site projects since 1975 and more than 60 solo exhibitions. All seven works in the show are sold, the gallery said, with the largest "light mural" works (27 tubes wide) priced at around $500,000.

Upstairs on the ninth floor is Pace/MacGill, which has just closed a show of Irving Penn’s "Archeology" series, still-life photos from 1980 of esthetically stacked ox tails, bones, old shoes, pipes and bolts, chunks of wood, all arranged like little Stonehenges. "Archeology" points up Penn’s ability to make anything, even junk and trash, look Vogue-elegant with such ease that they’re strangely easy to dismiss.  

Not so Penn collectors, who during the course of the show acquired more than 40 of the platinum palladium prints, which typically measure in the neighborhood of 11 x 19 in., horizontal or vertical, and are mounted on aluminum. Done in editions of 6 to 69, the photos are priced from $15,000 to $180,000. The book is $30.

Across the street is the Art Deco Fuller Building, where Howard Greenberg Gallery on the 14th floor can always be counted on for things to marvel at, photography that goes places, looks at things and saves what it finds. In a multifarious show of staff picks is the famous 1968 photograph by (fellow art-world chronicler) Jill Krementz of a young Bob Dylan seeking an autograph from Johnny Cash, who can’t find a pen (Dylan has one). The work, done in an edition of ten, is $6,500.

At David Findlay, Jr. Fine Art, is a survey of paintings and sculptures by David Aronson (b. 1923), the Lithuanian-born Boston School artist (along with Jack Levine and Hyman Bloom) who has long been celebrated for his treatment of Old Testament subjects. Not so much so here, though one sculpture depicts a rather ominous archangel.

On hand during my visit was the artist’s son Ben Aronson, himself a painter who just had a show at Tibor de Nagy Gallery [see "Mood of Money," Nov. 24, 2010]. "My sons are artists as well," said Ben. Works by Aronson père start at $6,000 for figurative drawings done in chalk in precisely calibrated, muted colors, and range up to $50,000 for major sculptures and encaustic paintings.

Further down the block in the "gallery building" at 24 West 57th Street, it was the final day of the Lawrence Weiner exhibition at Marian Goodman Gallery. The back gallery was devoted to one of his signature conceptual art statements, writ large on the floor, punctuated by two columns, which had been painted red "Impacted to the point of fusing sand into glass," it read, in a sentiment that seems pretty rock ‘em sock ‘em for Weiner! It’s $200,000.

Coming up at Goodman, opening Jan. 28, 2011, is Pierre Huyghe’s new two-hour movie, The Host and the Cloud," which apparently includes a white rabbit. Also in the show: three aquariums.

Downstairs, at Francis M. Naumann Fine Arts is "Étant donnés 2°" by Brooklyn artist T.R. Ericsson, a suite of variously sized, generally large black-and-white photographic images (made by forcing graphite through a silkscreen) of the artist’s wife posed like a dead body in the woods, an echo (needless to say) of Marcel Duchamp’s famous last work now visible through a peephole at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The pictures look great, in a rather horrifying way. Though they’re supposed to be expressions of love, like Duchamp’s original, they are utterly creepy. The works are priced by size, from $3,000 to $17,500; a catalogue including a signed photogravure is $650.

Across the way is Bernarducci Meisel Gallery, which tempts passersby on the street below with a John DeAndrea sculpture of a standing nude posed nonchalantly in the big plate-glass third-floor window. "Sales have really taken off since we expanded," said Frank Bernarducci, referring to the gallery’s new, larger quarters. "I don’t know why." Business is good in hyper-realist works by married painters Roberto Bernardi and Raphaella Spence, and by Bernardo Torrens, whose photographic, black-and-white paintings of female nudes now fill one section of the gallery(price: $9,000-$85,000).

The final stop of this admittedly selective tour is the aforementioned Tibor de Nagy Gallery on Fifth Avenue, which was opening a giant group show to celebrate the gallery’s 60th anniversary. The place was packed, but the artist Daria Deshuk led the way through the crowd to a large Larry Rivers collage, whose details include a couple of images of Daria in bed in Rivers studio in his loft building at First Avenue and East 14th Street, site of many legendary art-world parties.

Also on hand was Sam Rivers, Daria and Larry’s son, who is now a student at Parsons and something of an echo of his old man.

Near the elevators I ran into the art historian Martica Sawin, who remembers the gallery’s earliest days, when it was overseen by John Bernard Myers (de Nagy was the backer), and occupied a hole-in-the-wall space on East 53rd Street just out of the shadow of the Third Avenue El.

She was a little sad. "The place is filled with ghosts," she said, noting that of all her early associates, only Jane Freilicher was there.

Later, prompted via email, Sawin reminisced a bit. When Myers opened in 1951, "he showed Grace (then George) Hartigan, Al Leslie, Jane Freilicher, Larry Rivers, Harry Jackson and eventually Helen Frankenthaler -- Myers was quite pleased when her marriage to Robert Motherwell connected him with the Janis Gallery."

Sawin had quit her job at the Museum of Modern Art and begun doing reviews for Art Digest, which would morph into Arts. Studio visits were part of the beat.

"I remember going to a hovel in Hoboken to see Al Leslie’s really strong early work (his physique had won him the title of Mr. Bronx), climbing four flights in an East Village tenement to see Jane Freilicher’s city paintings, and meeting Larry Rivers in a borrowed loft to see Washington Crossing the Delaware, which he had just brought in from Long Island," Sawin wrote.

"The collaborations with the poets were just beginning, and I wasn’t that aware of them, but I do remember encountering Frank O’Hara, James Schuyler and Fairfield Porter on the reviewers’ beat and Rudy Burckhardt would often set up his tripod to photograph paintings on assignment in the galleries."

Can we encourage this lady to write a memoir?

WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.