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Thursday 03.26.09

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

Zombie Art Crawl - New York March 2009

Goldfish_DCKT.jpg
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.

Holl_staircase.jpg
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.

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Arthur Segal's wonderful and still fresh Strasse auf Helgoland II (1924) at the Met.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Kippenberger_Moma_SM.jpg
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.

Kippenberger_Moma_atrium1_SM.jpg
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.

LandM_Judd1_SM.jpg
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.

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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.

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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.

Blue_LES_NY_SM.jpg
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.

Torres_Swiss_SM.jpg
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.

Nara_Boesky.jpg
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?

Forms.jpg
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).

Thiemann_martos.jpg
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_09.jpg
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.

11Rivington.jpg
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.

Skulls_DCKT.jpg
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.

SmallA_Rogan.jpg
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.

M_Thomas_LM.jpg
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.

Ugo_Sculpture_Center.jpg
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.

Medium_Sculpture_Center.jpg
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.

Shark_Hirst_met.jpg
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.

Still_Room.jpg
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.

Kelly_Judd_Met.jpg
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.jpg
Adam McEwan did his zombie version of Dan Flavin at Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery.

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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)


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