With the New Year come new art shows, which like resolutions demand attention at least for the first few weeks of the year (it’s all downhill after that). On Wednesday, Jan. 5, Aura Rosenberg showed a couple of films to an audience packed like sardines in a small studio space on the Lower East Side, redubbed Sometimes (works of art), courtesy of artist James Siena.
Rosenberg’s first film showed children hunting butterflies with nets in the sunny countryside around Berlin, an enchanting scene made more evocative by a subtle soundtrack crafted by John Miller, who is Rosenberg’s husband. The second, titled Angel of History, is a fast-moving digital montage of cut-out images of art monuments, moving from the past to the near-present, with the older soaring through space to be smashed upon the newer.
Both films are inspired by Walter Benjamin, who is a most lyrical writer (whatever his place in the idea-art pantheon might suggest). The first alludes to a 1938 passage about his own childhood butterfly hunts, and the second to his well-known 1940 reference to a 1920 Paul Klee painting of what Benjamin calls the "angel of history," who sees wreckage piled upon wreckage in one great catastrophe, which we call progress.
Rosenberg’s version is short, original and witty, as the sound, an assortment of crashes and smashes and breaking crockery, belongs to slapstick.
Then Thursday arrived, and on the bus down West 23rd I ran into someone headed for Heidi Cho Gallery, where were some paintings by Taro Suzuki, who I’ve known at least since the 1980s, though his age hardly shows. I immediately photographed the beautiful, two-color geometric abstractions -- square, all the better to fit on the cover of Artforum -- but skipped the other series as unamenable to the camera (my camera, at least), fantastic though they were, consisting of thin vertical stripes that seemed constituted by resin and reflective foil as well as color.
Only after leaving the gallery was I told that it was a two-person show, with the paintings that I had photographed belonging to the artist Steven Alexander. Suzuki’s modestly sized works, with titles like Memo from Turner and Incident Report, are $9,500, while all eight of Alexander’s Antilles VI can be had for $25,000, or $3,800 each.
Around the corner, Luhring Augustine was premiering Larry Clark’s long lost black-and-white film Tulsa (1968), which presumably contains all the good stuff of his scandalous book and photo series of the same name -- "I saw a needle," someone said -- though at 64 minutes both times I stuck my head into the theater only healthy looking young men with ducktails were on screen. I’ll have to go back this week and watch the whole thing.
Funny, it so happens I remember driving around in a car full of guys in 1967 Tulsa (yes, just like in The Outsiders, though we weren’t greasers or socs, just a bunch of band nerds), and in a confrontation in a supermarket parking lot, a couple of hillbillies accused us of "shooting them the finger" and someone in the car -- we did not get out of the car -- replied, "We didn’t shoot you in the fender, we don’t even have a gun."
Next, with the encouragement of the art historian Jennifer Samet and her husband, art dealer Steven Harvey (shfap -- Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects -- on East 73rd Street is currently featuring paintings by Kurt Knobelsdorf), it was off to West 26th Street, where Claire Oliver Gallery has "New World Nightmares" by the Massachusetts-bred, New York artist Jesse McCloskey, who apparently begins by making abstract paintings and then cuts them up and collages the bits and pieces into lively graphic scenes of witches, pilgrims and assorted sprites and spirits.
McCloskey, who is slim and lively, was at the opening, giving animated explanations of the paintings to his fans. They’re a bargain, starting at about $4,000 for the smaller ones.
Friday again found me on the West 23rd Street bus, which stops more or less in front of Pavel Zoubok Gallery, which boasts a new show by Barton Lidice Benes, who despite being hooked up to some kind of assisted breathing apparatus was delightedly greeting his friends and well-wishers. As everyone knows, Barton is an inveterate collector, classifier and bricoleur, sort of a proto-combination Tom Sachs and Mark Dion.
Among the items on display are a skeleton drawn with collaged HIV drugs, a cone of Belgian snack-frites fashioned from Belgian francs (or are they euros?) and what purports to be a cast of Leonard Bernstein’s teeth. Smaller items can be had for as little as $2,500 each (if any are left).
The week was fast drawing to a close and I was acutely aware that I had already missed many of the exhibitions on my itinerary -- I had been using the Zingmagazine list but painter Jane Dickson commended something called ArtCat -- mostly because I start too late and then spent too much time at every stop.
But hurrying was impossible two blocks north at Cheim & Read, where new color photographs by McDermott & McGough were electrifying. Crisp, intensely hued nudes and still-lifes, done using the tri-color carbro photo process made famous by Paul Outerbridge Jr. in his magazine photos of the ‘30s and ‘40s, suggested a stylish technicolor idealism.
"Just look at that, just look at that," exclaimed the art dealer Annina Nosei, indicating a picture of some almost ethereal martini glasses. She favored the less campy photos. And was that really the supermodel Caroline Murphy in one portrait? "Yes, but none of our glamazons are here," said Peter McGough, noting the cold and snow outside, which of course keeps models in swimsuits in warmer climes.
McGough joked that a friend had remarked of the photo of the unbelievably perfect reclining nude that it must have been the first time a woman was in his bed. She wasn’t originally so perfect. "They photoshopped the breasts to make them larger," claimed gallery proprietor John Cheim. The photos come in editions of seven, and begin at $6,000 for the first two, $8,000 for the next two, $10,000 for the last two, and P.O.R. for the final one.
On West 26th Street, the reception for California geometric abstractionist Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe at Alexander Gray Associates was just drawing to a close. Known for his densely philosophical writing on painting, Gilbert-Rolfe’s actual works have a precision and subtlety of color that suggests both rationality and the spirit. On hand at the opening was the young painter Rebecca Norton, from Kentucky by way of Los Angeles ("After I graduated, I loaded up the truck and drove out west"), who had collaborated with Gilbert-Rolfe on one of the paintings, one notable for its diagonals. I tried to find out exactly how this collaboration might function, but was distracted by their eyes, which were all bright blue.
On Saturday at noon the Fisher Landau Center in Long Island City held a closing brunch for Jon Kessler, the long-time maker of allegorical, kinetic-junk light sculptures. He’s kind of an East Coast heir to Ed Kienholz (1927-1994), making constructions like Steam in Stereo (1990), in which a circling toy train turns a shaft connected to a turntable that plays -- in slow motion -- a record of the sounds of steam engines.
Kessler was in the 1985 Whitney Biennial, and the show includes S.W.A.M.P. (1985), the large assemblage -- bought by the museum for its collection -- that includes several glowing globes, a tangle of wood branches, and a figure of a man with a lamp "searching" for a reproduction of the Rosetta Stone from the Metropolitan Museum gift shop.
Previously represented by Deitch Projects, Kessler is now with Salon 94, with a show slated for next year. "Wait till you see the new work, it will be even more amazing," said dealer Jeanne Greenberg, one of the stars of last season’s Work of Art cable television series (she won’t be returning as a judge in season two, she said). Prices for Kessler’s sculptures are in the $50,000-$80,000 range.
That evening’s openings included a double show at Mary Boone’s two galleries by elegant unpainter Joe Zucker, whose works at the Chelsea space are made on sheets of gypsum board, stripped of its paper covering and scored into a grid of quarter-inch squares, each individually colored to make images of sailing boats or columned architecture (?). On Boone’s famously boastful price list, one 48 x 48 in. painting, The Atrium at Neutrino (2010), was already marked sold, at $75,000.
At D’Amelio Terras, the globetrotting artist Sam Samore -- he splits his time between NYC, Paris and Bangkok -- unveiled some new iterations of his signature surveillance photos of beautiful women, large vertical images that are more dreamlike than ever. They’re $22,000. "I make movies," Samore said, noting that he had recently finished Hallucinations / Paradise, three love stories set in Shanghai.
A bit further south at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, Nate Lowman and Rob Pruitt have collaborated on "Bed Bugs," a series of works using tatty old mattresses and cushiony furniture, which certainly don’t need guards to keep people from touching. Very funny. Reminds me of the 1980s collection by Düsseldorf artist Christoph Kohlhofer of those handmade cardboard signs that homeless men would use to beg with -- framed not to protect the work from the elements, but to protect us from the cooties on the works.
Also on view are some new primitivist abstractions in ochre, yellow and blue, done on well-used drop cloths, by Joe Bradley. The show is dubbed "Mouth and Foot Painting," suggesting that’s how these rough-hewn works were made -- an amusing idea, if you like that sort of thing. Bradley is an artist whose several stylistic changes -- he followed his popular figurative works made of rectilinear monochromes by equally popular paintings not unlike a child’s drawings done large -- seem to embrace (as do Pruitt’s work as well) a peculiarly postmodernist "I Can Do Anything" esthetic.
Finally, next door at Maccarone, a sprawling show of new paintings by Ann Craven, including a wall of poppies dedicated to her late mother (one watercolor for each year of her life), a room full of gauzy images of cats and kittens, and another with but two, largish paintings of young bucks. "They’re so vaginal," said curator Linda Norden, taking note of the animal’s pink ears.
Craven’s art, like the artist herself, is possibly the sweetest stuff in the avant-garde, and that, along with their beauty, seems to be what commends it to our cynical time. The pictures are priced from $4,000 to $50,000.
WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.