Last Saturday found your correspondent as the only male on a panel of senior feminists, including artists Carolee Schneemann and Mira Schor, as part of the "Visible Vagina" show at David Nolan New York on West 29th Street in Chelsea. Though a little unnerving, the event proved harmless enough -- at my introduction, by moderator Anna Chave, author of the show’s impressive catalogue essay, all I had to do to get a laugh was freeze with a look on my face of a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
So to speak. The show has nothing by the late Jason Rhoades, who distinguished himself before his untimely death with innumerable bright neons of slang names for the female sex. But it does have images of vulvas aplenty, by Magdalena Abakanowicz, Hans Bellmer, Judy Chicago, John Currin, Jim Dine, Carroll Dunham, Tracey Emin, Jane Hammond, Jeff Koons, Yoko Ono, Gerard Malanga, André Masson, Robert Mapplethorpe, Cathy de Monchaux, Richard Prince, Man Ray, Egon Schiele, Kiki Smith, Betty Tompkins, Pablo Picasso, Hannah Wilke and many, many others. A pretty ecumenical bunch.
I didn’t have anything in particular to say, so when my turn came, I hazarded that everyone already knew everything about vaginas (and penises, too), and then suggested, alarmingly, that the feminists had won and patriarchy was over, at least in our circles, since nobody seriously maintains that men are the font of all creativity or that women are mere objects for the male gaze.
This idea passed with only murmurs of dissent, and so at the very end I ventured to suggest that feminism was simply a side effect of recent economic changes, which required women to enter the work force to boost productivity. Nobody at all seemed remotely interested in this notion, and the panel adjourned with compliments all around.
Later, I realized that a certain amount of male-female conflict regarding the vagina is all but unavoidable. After all, it’s their body part -- it just seems designed specifically to appeal to us. How exasperating must that be? But then, maybe that’s just a vulgar joke.
At any rate, once the panel was finished, I had a schedule of shows to see, but immediately went off plan and crossed the street to Peter Blum, where the Danish collective Superflex (Bjørnstjerne Christiansen, Jakob Fenger and Rasmus Nielsen) is presenting three short, very professionally made films. Star of the exhibition is the 21-minute-long Flooded McDonald’s (2009), which starts with an empty McDonald’s restaurant with water coming in rather fast from under a door, and ends with the screen filled with a swirl of murky blue-green. Glug, glug!
Funny, the bright close-ups of half-eaten burgers and fries early on in the film made me want to zip up to the real McDonald’s that is only five blocks away at 34th Street and 10th Avenue, but by the end of the movie, when all the bits of food and trash are floating in the water, the idea made me nauseated! A good thing.
Even better was Burning Car (2008), which shows a Mercedes catching fire and then burning to a crisp on a dark night (in Vietnam, as it happens), smoke pouring from the windows, the gray paint bubbling, the whole thing turning into a blackened wreck. The sound of the fire is strangely reassuring. It’s like Yule Log TV for revolutionaries. The price: €30,000.
At Chelsea’s westernmost point, over towards the Hudson River, is Black & White Gallery, at 636 West 28th Street in the Terminal Warehouse, where the former New York artist KK Kozik, now resident with husband and three kids in the wilds of Connecticut, is presenting "Imitation of Life," a series of large (say 5 x 6 ft.), whimsical paintings chronicling the dream-world of her new suburban life.
In Seaplane, a business-suited woman climbs the stairs from a small wooded cove to the house above. In Hotline, she perches in a white bathrobe, fresh from the shower, on the desk of a huge office, a relief map of the world on the wall behind her. In Velvet Fog, the scene is a glass-walled penthouse high in the sky, with only the tops of neighboring buildings visible through the mist.
"It’s a child’s eye view of adult life," suggested gallery director Tatyana Okshteyn. By my visit, three works had been sold, at prices in the $7,000-$14,000 range. More are expected to move at the "Black & White Ball" on Friday, Feb. 5, 6-9 pm, which benefits a charity of Kosik’s choice, Heifer International, with 10 percent of sales proceeds earmarked for the cause. Admission to the party is free; dress is "black and white" or "creative cocktail attire." Bring your checkbook.
Next on the list was Friedrich Petzel Gallery, for the last day of Los Angeles artist Jon Pylypchuk’s "The War," in which several dozen of the artist’s trademark creatures, or their heads at least, face off against each other from opposite walls across the gallery space. Now grown larger than life, and made from metal pots, blobs of polystyrene and chunks of sheet metal, with colored light bulbs for eyes and sometimes teeth, the beings -- whimsical, ominous and comic by turns -- have names like Cement Ball Head, G.I. Joe, The Bat and Fire Teeth.
Pylypchuk is getting increasing museum recognition, with a survey show at the Blaffer Gallery in Houston just ending, and one at the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal coming up. The works here are priced between $3,000 and $18,000.
Across the street at Sonnabend Gallery, another random stop, is "After Tiepolo, Endor & Carracci," three bodies of work by New York film director and artist Philip Haas. Haas specializes in recreating historical artworks -- like Tiepolo’s Apollo and the Continents here -- using contemporary models, typically creating elaborate film installations, such as the one at the Kimbell Art Museum last year, which Time magazine dubbed one of the year’s top ten art shows.
What we have in the gallery are essentially film stills, though they have been mounted, textured and framed to resemble paintings. A wacky undertaking, to be sure, though the idea of historical reenactments never seems to grow old. If only history itself might receive such attention. Meanwhile, Haas’ works at Sonnabend can be had for $30,000-$50,000.
My next destination was Anton Kern Gallery on West 20st Street, which is presenting a dozen or so clear-eyed, nearly Thurberesque color photographs by the New York photographer Anne Collier. Collier has an almost magical appeal; a Xerox print of one of her signature images, a woman’s eye looking out at the viewer through a square aperture, published by White Columns (directed by her husband, Matthew Higgs), quickly sold out at some modest amount -- $100 each? -- in an edition of 50, even though it was just a signed black-and-white copier print.
The photographs at Kern, which I failed to price, present many of her themes -- vision, the subject, photography, mediation -- at a new larger scale. They include the big color print of a box of unassembled puzzle pieces from a Jackson Pollock drip-painting puzzle, two versions of the staring eye, and a set of four prints that simply reproduce the pages of an elementary personality test, a long list of attributes like "I am shy" (check here). My favorites, perhaps, are the sunset and the seascape -- that is, her photos of hands holding open books with a color picture of a ruddy sunset in one and some ocean surf under a golden sky in the other.
Retracing my steps, I returned to West 22nd Street to visit Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects, which was holding a reception for "Out of the Woods," a wintry group show of outdoorsy works co-organized by James Salomon. A former director at Mary Boone Gallery, Salomon has opened a New York branch of his East Hampton Salomon Contemporary (as I was informed at the opening by ace art editor Betsy Baker) at 526 West 26th Street, #516, the former space of everyone’s favorite Italian dealer, Massimo Audiello, with an exhibition of works by Ned Smyth. It’s open by appointment.
Smyth, who has been known since the 1970s for his mosaic works, including a gateway sculpture on the Battery Park City esplanade, has some rather different things on view in "Out of the Woods," that is, Zen Garden-like situations consisting of two small stones and a twig or branch. At Salomon Contemporary, apparently, are sculptures that are more massive and organic, like a mash-up of William Tucker and Raoul Hague.
Around on West 26th Street, Greene Naftali was hosting a 7:30 performance by XXX Macarena, an entirely improvised musical act formed by artists Tony Conrad (violin), Jutta Koether (synthesizer) and John Miller (guitar). I couldn’t stay for the performance, sadly, but I did buy the album, for $16, from freelance curator Bob Nickas, whose nascent record company has now issued three records (on vinyl, of course). Now I have to find a turntable.
XXX Macarena was setting up on the stage of an arena-like, junk-filled installation titled "Happening" by the Gelitin group, last seen in New York at Leo Koenig, where they transformed the gallery into a nutty "copy-duplicator" they called a Tantamounter (I remember somebody put their toddler in, and she came out along with her duplicate -- a bright red Elmo doll). This time around, as the painter Kika Karadi quickly informed me, the members of Gelitin were assembling the entire thing blindfolded, guided by assistants such as herself (certainly a nimble metaphor). If you make it to the gallery by the weekend, you too can see them in action. One of their members is an accomplished pianist, and can play by touch, which comes in handy.
Present in the audience was Guggenheim Museum director Richard Armstrong, proving that his taste for goofy performance art -- that would be Tino Sehgal -- is not necessarily just a passing fancy.
My next and final stop was uptown at Gagosian Gallery in the Carlyle Building on Madison Avenue, where Damien Hirst, and all the rich and beautiful people in the art world, were celebrating the opening "End of an Era." Hirst was there, looking supremely self-confident in black, wearing sunglasses (the sun always shines, etc.) and sipping from a Diet Coke while autographing this and that for his enterprising fans.
Even though the show, by definition, features odds and ends from Hirst’s many series, Gagosian’s big sixth-floor gallery is definitely worth seeing, an all-but-literal shrine to some primitive God of Mammon. In the center sits a pickled bull’s head in a golden glass tank on a marble plinth, its tongue sticking out (just like the bloody bull heads that Andres Serrano photographed more than 20 years ago), wearing an Egyptian-styled sun tiara.
Against the back wall is a mural-sized golden case containing thousands and thousands of glittery cubic zirconia displayed on narrow shelves. And around the walls are large, gold-framed hyper-realist paintings of individual jewels, positioned against a velvety black background, presented under glass. Once again, I neglected to ask the prices, but with Alberto Giacometti sculptures going for $104.3 million, you can presume they’re high.
"You go uptown," quipped the oddball designer Ricky Clifton, "and end up on 47th Street" (which is, for those of you who have forgotten the stirring scene in Marathon Man, New York’s diamond district).
WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.