Helen Altman's dead eyed zombie goldfish simulacra at DCKT
seemed to capture the lingering mood of vulnerability in New
York City recently. It was also a hilarious update on Damien Hirst's shark which
rocked the art world in 1992 from London (version 2.0 is at the Met, I'll touch
on that later in this post).
If we are talking trends, zombie-like figurative art and prismatic crystalline
aesthetics have been big in the art world for years and New York in March 2009
mostly gave us more of the same. It isn't bad but there was zero surprise from young artists and I do see more energy and less
group think in LA and sometimes yes...episodically better shows in Portland
(our best shows... every month or two are as good as or even more original than
NYC's current standards). What was consistently better in New York was the presentation,
which beat out LA spaces and generally had less of that annoying overcrowding
I often find in Portland spaces (in all but our best shows by mature, fully
developed artists). In New York even immature artists try to emulate mature
artists by not overcrowding. Maybe it's just that presentation is more important
when you have 400 plus serious galleries in one city and the gallery staff insists
on uncluttered presentations from young artists?
The other thing I notice was a general drought of installation art in New York
galleries this month. It wasn't until I hit The
that I was happy to find a lot of installation art by younger
Steven Holl's magnificent psychology building staircase at NYU
True, it's tough in New York these days for dealers but the best work is still
selling, though less briskly. What I didn't see were many new ideas or strategies,
everything was still a page from the 2006 playbook and that worried me a bit.
There were plenty of white columns-esque self conscious works on paper (often
with words, just in case everyone missed how self conscious it was), and tons
of expertly painted figurative or prismatic canvases that have roots in early
twentieth century abstraction and expressionism.
's wonderful and still fresh Strasse auf Helgoland II
at the Met.
Mircea Cantor's Deeparture
video (2005) a recent acquisition at MoMA
that eloquently plumbed the deer/wolf predator/prey tension theme we've seen
constantly in the art world since 9/11. This was a really compelling piece but
after this do we need to see more deer and wolves? (The Chelsea, Brooklyn and
Lower East side galleries seemed to think so but frankly, I am not so sure...
the deer/wolf looked dated way back in 2006 already. Maybe the collectors felt
comfortable with wolves and deer and prolonged a dead end trend?) Or maybe there
will be a Museum of 21st century deer/wolf art.
At Sean Kelly, Johan
on the supremely acerbic but brilliant Alfred Hitchcock
brought his enormous zombie presence into our present by splicing Hitch with
things like the Cuban missile crisis.
More Grimonprez, basically ole Hitch's presence makes all current zombie/simulacra
art seem so tame by comparison. This was a great show. I love this old nugget
about Hitchcock getting kicked out of a Hitchcock look alike contest in the
first round. Only Hitchcock could manage to out-Warhol Andy Warhol himself!
I also like how Grimonprez just lets his subject take control of the situation
(Cuban missile crisis and all)... even from the grave Hitchcock is the master
Compared to Hitchcock the wannabe auteur Martin Kippenberger zombie hoard at
MoMA looked like a straggler. Kippenberger had some
moments in his self portraits and his drunken street lamps
but mostly it
seemed like a permissionfest for a lot of lesser artists whom Kippenberger has
influenced. Besides joke art isn't quite enough now that the market has tanked
(Sigmar Polke and Beuys did this kind of stuff but in more ridiculous, less
self conscious and overall more profound ways). The truth here is, though deceased
before the art market boom... Kippenberger was its patron saint. Sure, he's better
than his followers (which says a whole lot more about them than him) but one's
inimitability does define one's place in art history. Maybe I'll do a little
review of the Kippenberger show later.
MoMA's atrium with Kippenberger's meisterstuck, The Peter Sculptures
(above). Why is it this atrium always makes things look like mall art? It made
me regret not seeing the Pipilotti
Rist installation up a couple of months ago
. What that kinda tells me is
Rist is a far better artist than Kippenberger.
Installation view of Donald Judd Colored Plexiglas, courtesy L & M Arts
Speaking of ambition, the best thing I saw the whole week was the Donald
Judd Colored Plexiglas show up at L & M arts
. Judd was arguably the most
rigorous and ambitious artist of the twentieth century. Here, the big aluminum
and purple plexiglas piece in the foreground from 1969 was just phenomenal.
To me Judd is the quintessential New York artist. I'll review this show soon,
it was a small show but man does Judd pack a distilled wallop.
Walead Beshty's cracked objects and the shipping boxes that helped incur the
damage at The
Sculpture Center's The Space of the Work and the Place of the Object
a highlight of conceptual installation and the strongest work in that show.
The New Museum (none of the shows were terribly interesting but lets hope the
Younger Than Jesus show in April lives up to the hype)
Overall, New York interests me because it's one of the few places where having
ambition never has to be explained and is generally encouraged. Ok fine. other
places like London, Berlin, LA, Hong Kong, Miami and Tokyo etc... are other
world cities which can make similar claims.
But what is different is that in New York City ambition can always be counted
on to be ruthlessly and efficiently sorted, measured, classified and packed
into neat little boxes. Maybe as an art machine it has become too efficient
and it is arguable all that sorting has become a storage issue but at least
it has one great box the Met and a once great but still rather imposing box
like MoMA. Then there are all the other damn boxes, The New Museum, The Whitney,
The Guggenheim, PS1 etc.
New York is all about "where you can get into" as a way to existentially
define oneself. It's endlessly amusing if you look at it like a historian of
ambition, patronage and real estate.
Bernard Tschumi's Blue condo building in the gritty Lower East Side is far more
irritating (in a good way) than any Tomma Abts or Sarah Morris painting. Seriously,
in New York the art is getting absolutely POWNED by the architects and even
then I'm unsure if any of these new buildings by Renzo Piano, Thom Mayne and
Tschumi etc. are going to hold up that well historically.
At the Swiss Institute the REGIFT
was interesting. At left is Leigh Ladare's The Gift
, at right
is a Felix Gonzalez-Torres. It had some nice moments where the repurposing of
an object or event became art because of its presentation. Once again no real
Nara's latest show at Marianne Boesky
was another repositioning of cute
angst, a kind of Disneyland of home and discontent. Good stuff, nothing new
but I continue to respect this artist since I caught his first US solo show
in Milwaukee Wisconsin in the 90's. Apparently, I'm older than I feel in this
smurf style village?
I rather liked the sculptural forms in Suzanne Thiemann's Entangled
exhibit at Martos Gallery
which seemed to conjure the zombies of modernist
biomorphic furniture design (see below).
Still the one Thiemann video with some fellow cradling these forms in a dance
was somewhat less interesting. Dancing modernist DWELL-magazine-zombies don't
really translate well to video art, even if they do work on a conceptual level.
Schutz's latest at Zach Feuer Gallery
still looked relevant. She's been
doing quirky zombie stuff since 2002 and she's the master satirist of the current
situation in figrative/narrative painting. The work on the left (Guitar Girl
has big black holes in the canvas, which served to keep them from being precious...
basically an arbitrary Jean Arp-ish move in a figurative painting. I wish a
few of those younger artists apeing Schutz in many of the LES and Brooklyn galleries
had the same sense of timing and willingness to self examine (rather than merely
self deprecate). Like Nara, Schutz is in it for the long haul and whoever inherits
her mantel as best narrative/figurative painter alive today is going to be someone
Down on the Lower East Side Eleven Rivington's Jacob Kassay show had a rigorous
and very European feel. Even more exciting were Hillary
Berseth's directed honeycomb works
. This gallery and DCKT were my favorite
lower east side galleries. They seemed more in touch with the unsettled world
Though I preferred Helen
Altman's goldfish at DCKT
, I even liked her strange crypt-like bed on situated
across from the fish tank I generally dismiss all bed art out of hand but the
whole skull, silk cocoon and bedding metaphor seemed appropriate. Parts of the
old 2002-2008 world view are really dying but there is an opportunity for new
ideas in grim work like this . This was also one of the few installation art
shows I saw in a New York gallery... something which bothered me more than a
Former Portland gallery, Small A Projects looked good in its now much smaller
LES digs with another tight
Will Rogan show
. I liked the rather Olafur Elliason-ish light fixture on
the left. Overall, I prefer the grittier LES gallery environs to Chelsea but
the work in Chelsea is still generally better, there is a lot of group think
in New York galleries and Chelsea still has the monopoly on established artists
giving them an edge. The LES galleries need to make Chelsea look dated, right
now they simply look scrappier and more down to earth. AKA more vulnerable.
New York doesn't really reward vulnerable in the long run.
Mickalene Thomas at Lehmann Maupin's Glamour Project
looked fresh and
strong. She now has a
full solo show up in that space
and look for my interview with her on PORT
In case you haven't guessed, I really enjoyed The
. Above is Ugo Rondinone's Pagan Void
in the outdoor
sculpture space. In my mind I keep coming back to this institution, which deserves
more attention outside of New York, because there aren't many sculpture/installation
only spaces that are this experimental yet large scale in the US.
Also at the Sculpture Center, I really enjoyed Peter Simensky's Consulting
Mediums, finding meaning(s)in uncertain times
, which made great
use of the interesting basement space
and its own cryptic materials. Nobody
seems to have a clue what the future will hold so it makes sense an artist might
consult some spirits. This might be tongue in cheek but I've always though artists
are at their best when confronting uncertainty on uncertain terms.
Overall, The Met was the single strongest museum experience during my stay.
Still, I'm not as excited with this new shark in Damien Hirst's zombie tank
(above) as the open jaws seem a little too theatrical and the blue liquid isn't as
mysterious as the
green of the original
but I'm still a big fan of this piece. Maybe the problem
is the shark seems too animated? Maybe it parallels the issue of old style slow
zombies vs. fast moving new zombies we've seen in the movies? It is still the best predator/prey piece of art in the contemporary lexicon... prescient way before 9/11 revealed a universal vulnerability.
The Clyfford Still room at the Met was absolutely ruined through the addition
of the giant David Smith sculpture. This makes me doubly excited for Brad Cloepfil's
Still Museum in Denver where such travesties will never occur.
Even though the galleries have carpet the Ellsworth Kelly and Donald Judd works
at the met were immensely rewarding. Lesson learned, carpeting at the Met is
much less annoying than the overcrowding of viewers at MoMA.
Adam McEwan did his zombie version of Dan Flavin at Nicole
The real Dan Flavin in the Dia's old staircases in Chelsea, now incubating the
somewhat underwhelming X
art. It reminded me that there is no institution quite as brave
and interesting as the Dia active now in New York City. I miss Dia and X Initiative
needs to step it up to fill those shoes. Frankly, I'm not certain they are up
to the task.