Early in May, supercollector Peter Brant unveiled his new Brant Foundation Art Study Center, housed in a refurbished 19th-century stone barn next to his polo grounds in Greenwich, Conn. -- though it doesn't seem all that geared to "study," as no wall labels or checklist were on hand, nor were visitors allowed to take pictures. And all but the most mature of school groups may have trouble with Chris Wool's floor-to-ceiling painting in the museum entryway, which reads Fuckem If They Can't Take a Joke, and Paul McCarthy's monumental bronze statue of a garden Santa Claus holding a Christmas tree that suspiciously resembles a butt plug, which stands like a sentinel at the museum facing the street.
Still, the Brant Foundation collection is as good as it gets, with works by more than 25 artists on view, ranging from Donald Baechler, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Maurizio Cattelan to Piotr Uklanski, Andy Warhol and Christopher Wool, displayed in three vast galleries devoted to art of the '80s, Warhol and Pop, and Postmodernism, respectively, along with several other smaller spaces. The debut exhibition, "Remembering Henry’s Show: Selected Works 1978–2008" -- that's Henry Geldzahler, whose 1970 contemporary art survey at the Metropolitan Museum cemented the young Brant's passion for collecting -- stays on view for about nine months. Next up is a survey of work by Urs Fischer, including the artist's infamous hole-in-the-floor piece, first exhibited at Gavin Brown's Enterprise in 2007.
Back in Manhattan, the Chelsea art district is currently in the warm embrace of another British invasion, with several top galleries turning their spaces over to artists from the UK. New sculptures and paintings by Gary Hume (b. 1962) are on view at Matthew Marks Gallery, featuring the brightly colored, pared down images the artist is known for, though now the sources are rural, from his studio in the Catskills, including barn doors, blackbirds and daisies. Ever generous, as an announcement for the show, the artist sent out to lucky recipients an unsigned four-color screenprint, Bird with Pink Beak (2009), in an edition of 1,800.
Cheim & Read is presenting paintings of models backstage at a Stella McCartney fashion show, some as large as ten feet tall, by Chantal Joffe (b. 1969), in her first exhibition at the gallery. The new works by the one-time “Neurotic Realist” are as intense as ever. Bortolami has a show of the whimsical, polychromed cast-aluminum sculptures of Gary Webb (b. 1973), who puts the classic biomorphic forms of artists like Jean Arp, Constantin Brancusi and Henry Moore through a distinctly Pop wringer. The price range is £35,000-£50,000, insiders say.
At Perry Rubenstein Gallery is London artist Richard Woods (b. 1966), who makes overscaled wood-block prints with bright enamel paint, impressing them on the floors and walls of entire rooms to create a kind of faux Pop boiserie. Among his clients is Adam Lindemann, author of Collecting Contemporary, who had Woods transform the exterior of a vacation home in Woodstock, N.Y., into a mock Tudor, all dark beams and white plaster.
More theatrical was “Giantbum” by Nathaniel Mellors (b. 1974) at Lombard-Fried Projects, a cultish fable enacted on video by the artist and a troupe of hapless Beckettian actors, a work that was first shown at the “Tate Triennial” earlier this year. Centerpiece of the gallery display was an animatronic trio of lifelike gooney heads, moving their eyes and clicking their teeth and generally transfixing the audience.
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No doubt some smart graduate student has already published a dissertation on the cigarette butt an emblem of 20th-century bohemia. As a clue to Jackson Pollock's suicidal cool -- cigarettes kill, after all -- we search for the fag ends in his early splatter painting, Full Fathom Five (1947), while the centerpiece of Claes Oldenburg's "Early Sculpture" show at the Whitney Museum is a "Think Big" model of an overflowing ashtray -- a motif Damien Hirst would revisit more than 30 years later. This Pop celebration of the abject is also seen in a new work by Will Ryman, scheduled to open at Marlborough Chelsea in the fall -- a "rose garden" of 60 brobdingnagian pink roses, made of muslin, plaster and steel.
Ryman gives the saccharine subject a bit of avant-garde tempering by the judicious addition of ground litter -- cigarette butts, gum wrappers and the like -- along with an assortment of insects. These blooms are priced at $25,000-$45,000. Ryman's collectors include Charles Saatchi, who snagged the artist's chef d'oeuvre in 2007 when he acquired The Bed, a 15-foot-long papier-mâché sculpture of a figure sprawled in a bed asleep, surrounded by empty beer cans, a Salem cigarette pack and a half-eaten bag of Doritos. You gotta love an artist who finds success via a self-portrait as a slacker.
ROSETTA STONE is a New York writer.