Portland art blog + news + exhibition reviews + galleries + contemporary northwest art

recent entries

Giving Thanks Readings
Meet RACC's new leader Madison Cario
November Reviews
Early November Links
Spooky reviews
Countdown to Portlandageddon?
Mid October Links including PNCA/OCAC merger talks
Paul Allen, philanthropist and arts champion dead at 65
Midwest Art Initiative Tour
Haunting October Picks
End of September News
September review cluster

recent comments



Book Review
Calls for Artists
Design Review
Openings & Events
About PORT

regular contributors


Tori Abernathy
Amy Bernstein
Katherine Bovee
Emily Cappa
Patrick Collier
Arcy Douglass
Megan Driscoll
Jesse Hayward
Sarah Henderson
Jeff Jahn
Kelly Kutchko
Drew Lenihan
Victor Maldonado
Christopher Moon
Jascha Owens
Alex Rauch
Gary Wiseman



Guest Contributors
Past Contributors
November 2018
October 2018
September 2018
August 2018
July 2018
June 2018
May 2018
April 2018
March 2018
February 2018
January 2018
December 2017
November 2017
October 2017
September 2017
August 2017
July 2017
June 2017
May 2017
April 2017
March 2017
February 2017
January 2017
December 2016
November 2016
October 2016
September 2016
August 2016
July 2016
June 2016
May 2016
April 2016
March 2016
February 2016
January 2016
December 2015
November 2015
October 2015
September 2015
August 2015
July 2015
June 2015
May 2015
April 2015
March 2015
February 2015
January 2015
December 2014
November 2014
October 2014
September 2014
August 2014
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014
April 2014
March 2014
February 2014
January 2014
December 2013
November 2013
October 2013
September 2013
August 2013
July 2013
June 2013
May 2013
April 2013
March 2013
February 2013
January 2013
December 2012
November 2012
October 2012
September 2012
August 2012
July 2012
June 2012
May 2012
April 2012
March 2012
February 2012
January 2012
December 2011
November 2011
October 2011
September 2011
August 2011
July 2011
June 2011
May 2011
April 2011
March 2011
February 2011
January 2011
December 2010
November 2010
October 2010
September 2010
August 2010
July 2010
June 2010
May 2010
April 2010
March 2010
February 2010
January 2010
December 2009
November 2009
October 2009
September 2009
August 2009
July 2009
June 2009
May 2009
April 2009
March 2009
February 2009
January 2009
December 2008
November 2008
October 2008
September 2008
August 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008
January 2008
December 2007
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
December 2006
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006
January 2006
December 2005
November 2005
October 2005
September 2005
August 2005
July 2005
June 2005

contact us


Contact us






powered by


Movable Type 3.16

This site is licensed under a


Creative Commons License

Thursday 03.26.09

« Lectures | Main | Into The Sunset at MoMA, still fetishing Oregon »

Zombie Art Crawl - New York March 2009

Helen Altman's dead eyed zombie goldfish simulacra at DCKT contemporary 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 Sculpture Center that I was happy to find a lot of installation art by younger artists.

Architect 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.

Arthur Segal's wonderful and still fresh Strasse auf Helgoland II (1924) 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 Grimonprez's meditations 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 auteur.

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 was 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 show 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 surprises.

Yoshitomo 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.

Dana 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 really exciting.

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 of 2009.

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 bit.

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 next week.

In case you haven't guessed, I really enjoyed The Sculpture Center. 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 Klagsbrun Gallery.

The real Dan Flavin in the Dia's old staircases in Chelsea, now incubating the somewhat underwhelming X Initiative 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.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on March 26, 2009 at 22:45 | Comments (0)


Post a comment

Thanks for signing in, . Now you can comment. (sign out)

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Remember me?

s p o n s o r s
Site Design: Jennifer Armbrust   •   Site Development: Philippe Blanc & Katherine Bovee