Sunday, March 30, 2008

And Finally...

Well, I leave here tomorrow. This past week was packed with all kinds of peeps here for all of the fairs. My friend Francesca Fuchs came up from Houston for a few days to witness the mayhem, and fun was had by all. Of all of the fairs, the Armory Show was the best, although that's not saying too much. A fair's a fair's a fair. Even the best work would look better if it were hung on the outside on the pier; there's just no romance in those rows of stupid booths. Maybe if we were allowed to shoot at balloons with pop guns or throw ping pong balls at bowls of water so that we might take home one of the goldfish that came in them. Maybe if we could just stroll around gingerly licking at a wad of cotton candy. Ah, now that's my idea of a fair. Fuck, if the Pulse fair had just a funnel cake or two, the fact that their stopped-up trailer restrooms, and comically bad performance art would have been forgivable.

The fair that people were talking about, and that we trotted over to 34th street to take in, however, was the Volta fair. It was probably one of the worst things I've ever seen. Granted, it took place in a swanky office space, and it had beautiful, sweet-smelling restrooms and plenty of foam cubes to sit on when you got tired, but I swear I did not see one thing that was decent. The galleries at the Volta, unlike the other fairs, did not place out a sampling of its various artists' wares; instead, each gallery put on a solo show by a single artist. It sounded like a great idea, but the choices the galleries made on who to show was appalling. There wasn't one single interesting thing going on in there, which was just bizarre. How could so many galleries from around the world get it together so that they ALL showed something bad? Mind-boggling. We should get these folks on foreign affairs.

At least at the other fairs you saw an interesting piece here and there. I was in shock. But at least they didn't charge $30 like they did at the Armory. That would have set me off. I'm sure of it.

There was other stuff going on. Scope was at Lincoln Center this year. And there was something called the Bridge Art Fair that sounded a bit promising but which I lacked the energy to attend. Everything starts looking the same after a while. You get eyeball burn.

This is my last post, at least until I get to Houston and find something to snarl about.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Gut of the Quantifier @ Lisa Cooley Gallery

Many of you might remember Lisa Cooley from Houston as the director of the ill-fated (I don't know if it was's not like it got into a car wreck or anything) Mixture Gallery. However, Lisa's recently opened her own place on Orchard, Lisa Cooley Gallery, on the lower East side, and she's really got it goin' on. Her second show Gut of the Quantifier (apparently this title comes from lyrics by The Fall: I'm telling you now and I'm telling you this/Life can be an onward, downward/ Chip-chit-chip-chit-chip--and noooooooo I'm not hip enough to know something like that. I learned that bit of lore from Scott Calhoun) is elegant, subtle, and well put together. Gut, at first glance, seems nearly monochromatic; there are no screaming yellow zonkers anywhere in sight. Use of color in these pieces is quiet, almost sly. I can honestly say that there's not a bad piece in the show, by artists Tauba Auerbach (cool website), Barb Choit, experimental filmmaker and visual artist Paul Sharits, Scottish visual and performance artist Sue Tompkins , Matt Sheridan Smith, Lisa Oppenheim, Dan Estabrook, painter, poet, novelist, and all-round genius Brion Gysin, Tatiana Echeverri Fernandez, and, last but not least, Fred Sandback. That lineup in itself is like a who's who of cool in the hipster pages. Like I said, all of it was good. However, there are a few in there that really blew me away.

I particularly liked works by Matt Sheridan Smith (crappy photo above). Using figures found on various nations' currencies, Smith (and I'm winging it here, I didn't take notes when I was told about the process) silkscreens the images, coats them with a layer of the silver scratch-off stuff used on lottery tickets, and proceeds to scratch the image off onto the paper. The other images looked more like people you'd actually see on currency: royalty, historic figures. I couldn't figure out where this guy came from until it was pointed out that it was probably a soccer player.

Hey! How come other countries get cute soccer players on their money? Now that David and Victoria Posh-Spice- Beckham live here, couldn't we have them on some money? Photographed by Juergen Teller? By the way, I liked that show at Lehmann Maupin. There's something to be said for shameless commercialism.

But anyway, Smith's work was cool.

My favorite drawings were Sue Tompkins'. They were really simple, but elegant--lightweight paper (newsprint) with clean creases, and unassuming text tucked near the folds. You look like China, one of them reads. I also like the way they're installed, which allows the paper to flutter and float from the wall a bit. These pieces, I think, are emblematic of the subtle beauty that pervades this show.

Tatiana Echeverri Fernandez' collages, from the series Weights Measures and Prices are also remarkable. Collage is a medium that can so often go bad if not done properly, but these are exquisite. She plays with notions of decor and design in an unsettling but effective manner. It's too bad that I can't take a decent photograph...sigh.

Like I said, this exhibition has nary a stinker. The arrangement is thoughtful, and the line-up itself is thorough, well-researched, and nicely put together. Cooley's is a small space,

and only about the width of a couple of bowling lanes, but she uses it well. And I have a lot of faith in Lisa Cooley's ability to maneuver through the New York art scene. Her first show, a two-person with Andy Coolquitt and Frank Haines, was a success, and Gut has been listed as an Artforum critic's pick.

I keep trying to get Lisa to run out in the middle of Orchard St. and, a la Mary Tyler Moore, toss her hat in the air.

Check it out--it even looks like her.

Monday, March 17, 2008

working title:

So, this is how I wound up here on Sunday, March 16, from, roughly, 11 a.m. till 6 p.m.:

Last spring I met artist/curator Jacob Robichaux in Houston. Before I came up to NY, I told Jacob I was coming through and he told me he had a show up at Museum 52 on Rivington: ...bell, string, whistle, cube...

After seeing the show, a series of assemblages and wall pieces, I emailed him and said, Hey, congrats! So he emailed back and asked me to do a performance there.

Huh? I've done a lot of things, but performance isn't really one of them. I envisioned someone in a leotard doing interpretive dance with one of the objects in the installation. I cringed. But I went ahead and said yes, since no one would know me, anyway.

I borrowed the cruddy card table and chair from the apartment I'm subletting, found a manual typewriter in a weird shoe store on E. 72nd St., bought a kitchen timer and a pile of paper and set up shop. The performer was required to select one of the four black envelopes at the entrance of the installation; I got number three:

These were the objects from the assemblage, above. Using the various objects (twine ball, fabric, ring, box, book, painted sticks, bag), I went to work. After five minutes of writing about one or a combination of the objects, I'd crumple and toss my work.

The response, I noted, varied: most of the people who came in or went by clearly thought I was the gallerina, although I couldn't figure out why they would think that the gallery was so cheap that they couldn't afford at least an electric typewriter. Others came in and, noting the frustrated nature of my tossed off pages, asked if I was ok. My favorite response, however, was with the neighborhood kids--I noticed, after a while, that they were clapping and pointing every time I threw a sheet of paper. Look! She just threw one!

I'm gonna go out and buy those kids a TV. They're obviously desperate for entertainment.

The result? 54 vignettes, some interesting; many, predictably, not, beginning with the words "working title". I was ready to throw that fucking typewriter through the window after an hour, though. How did secretaries in the 1950's do it?

Friday, March 14, 2008

ArtTrek 3: The Whitney Biennial: Boy Is My Ass Tired

I did my second pass over the Whitney Biennial today. You know, I really hated the 2006 Biennial, but looking at this year's batch, I now realize that the 2006 Biennial was better simply because it was so odious. It seemed like everywhere you looked, you went, "Ew. Weird. Ick." And the way it was crammed all together like some bizarre salon-style of shit? There was some good stuff, of course, but the overwhelming contrariness of the thing was just baffling. Well, like I said, I hated it. But at least hate's a response.

This year's show, for the most part, made me round just about every corner with a "Hmmm. Golly. Look's like Art, I guess." Oh, 2006! I miss you so!

Mixed in with the Oatmeal of Art that was this year's Biennial, however, there were a few chewy, chunky raisins full of wholesome goodness and flavor to keep me from rushing the guards and demanding a refund.

Unfortunately, none of these chunky-chewies happened to be paintings. I guess it's just the way of the post-post-post-modern art world, but this year's selections made me think that painting really is dead, at least within the architecture of the contemporary art space. Even works by artists I like--Mary Heilman, for example--looked dated and out of place. Hung at waist level on the 2nd floor in front of the elevators, their bright hues and painterly strokes just don't gel with the surroundings. As I was looking at them, I thought back to her exhibition of paintings at the Contemporary Art Museum in Houston. They didn't look good there, either. I wondered why such good paintings always looked like shit. After I was through scouring the Biennial, I went all the way up to the 5th floor to see the permanent collection. On view there was a Heilman, in a nice, intimate, clean & well lighted space with a few other paintings of similar size. It looked good, and it looked right at home. I wondered if that was the problem with some of the other painters I saw.

Robert Bechtle (above) was another example of good painters hung bad. I really like this guy's work, but again, it looked out of place. After seeing the Heilman painting upstairs, it occurred to me that Bechtle's work would have been best served had it been put in a gallery with other paintings, preferably, again, of similar size. I'm thinking he woulda looked great in a room with a Hopper or two.

One of my biggest disappointments, however, was the room devoted to Karen Kilimnik's work. Oh, I think we all know how I generally feel about Kilimnik's work. Remind me to tell you, sometime, about the time I tried to stalk her at 303 Gallery. With four or five small, characteristically sloppy paintings installed in a space adorned a fancy chandelier glittering at just-above-eye-level, however, Kilimnik's work, which she usually artfully throws together with aplomb, looked stripped-bare. When Karen's done properly, as she so often is, her splashes of fancy contrast her pathetic painting style and make a statement that only a reclusive, celebrity-obsessed woman can make. Here, though, it's too much to be effectively minimal, and not enough to draw the viewer into her fantasy world. Boy, was I bummed. Now I'll have to track her down and kill her.

But! I've learned my lesson. My inclination is to do a lot of bitching and save the best for last, but seeing as how my computer screwed me over and I lost half of one of my previous posts, and I had decided to save the best for last that time, I shall avoid that pitfall. It's really hard for me; bitching about things is so damned fun. And I will say, without elaborating, that Rachel Harrison and Jason Rhoades suck some huge, major, horribly stinky ass. Rachel got a brief reprieve for a piece or two in the Unmonumental show, but really, Rachel, in the immortal words of the Simpsons' groundskeeper Willie, back to the loch with you, 'Nessie.

But I did see some great shit, so I'll talk about that now and leave the worst (for the most part) where it ought to be.

My favorite piece in the entire show was a 4-channel video by Omer Fast, The Casting. Told on four screens in a series of silent tableaux are two stories narrated in voiceover by a U.S. soldier in Iraq. One is a rather bizarre tale, in which he meets and dates a German girl, only to find that she's a self-mutilating nut who drags him in to meet her disapproving family and then practically kills them driving home. The other is a story in which he, one of several soldiers stuck on a deserted road, accidentally shoots an Iraqi civilian. The stories intertwine seamlessly, and the actors, in seeming freeze-frame, blink and breathe as the camera dwells on their individual moments of horror. The narration switches from one scene to the next without a hitch, exploring the complexity and incomprehensibility of how memories mingle in one's psyche, and how terrifying events somehow resonate equally with absurd, less harmful situations. The beginning, as well as the end, shows the narrator pitching his story before a small group of filmmakers, only to be told that his tale is too long, that something like that couldn't possibly engage an audience. Relating it like this makes such a framework come off as pat, but the chaotic nature of the intertwining stories, in contrast with the mock stillness of the actors in each frame really does mimic the nature of subjectivity and memory. It's a disturbing, gorgeous work.

Matthew Brannon's installation, also occupying a room of its own, was the model of economy. Even the small--probably 8-10' wide and maybe 8' tall--partitions installed to exhibit his modestly scaled letterpress prints seemed perfectly planned for the space. There was a lot going on in this room, yet it neither felt crowded nor overwhelming. His letterpress prints, clean and spare, generally had one or two images, stark, clean, iconographic shapes, with often hilarious text. A lone shape, mimicking a piano as seen from above, reads, guess. no guess again, and then continues to relate how the writer fucked some guy in a piano bar years before.

Another completely hilarious text talks about how the artist suddenly realizes the absurdity of his own being whilst standing in line at an art supply store. There he is, buying art supplies, standing in line at an art supply store, amidst crafters, students. His mildly paranoiac meanderings remind me of the time when I was pulling into Texas Art Supply and I saw Hiram Butler in the parking lot. I said to him, jokingly, Hey! Only artists are allowed to be at Texas Art Supply! To his credit, Hiram drily replied, Real artists don't shop at Texas Art Supply.

He had me there.

Brannon also has a nice installation on the largest wall in the Room. Painted in a flat black are a couple of blocky grids, with drapes of sea-foam green hung neatly to the sides. This guy's a genius with color. Somehow, the work screams color and design, yet doesn't feel like a misplaced thesis by some interior design grad student. A small pink shelf, hung impossibly high and stocked with pink books and bookends, adds to the i'm fucking with your ideas of arrangement sensibility. Nice.

The closest thing to a successful "painting" installation was by Lisa Sigal. Using a wall, including the door, of what looks to be something ripped out of some dead granny's house before demolition, Sigal tacks on a battered awning from an old circus tent. The effect comes off as less vintage than canvas with an aged patina. I found myself looking at this installation with even more interest the second time around.

I guess the smartest way to approach painting in this show was with a tad of irony, as Ellen Harvey did in her installation Museum of Failure. This work is first met with a large black plexiglas wall, with cartoony-looking (think of a gallery wall in a Pink Panther cartoon) wainscoting and painting-less picture frames. One "frame" is cut out to show a red wall painted with tromp l'oeil frames, still-lifes, and scenes from what could be the artist's studio. This red wall is also painted with faux wainscoting, as is the rest of the room. I suppose that any romance one would have about this wall of "paintings" behind the wall of plexi "frames" is shattered by the harsh fluorescent lights installed on the back of the plexi wall. Although each of the "paintings" is realistic, it is executed rather ham-fistedly and doesn't really pretend to represent painting at all, but, rather, emphasizes how one chooses to look at that kind of work.

I've recently taken to loathing things that look purposely thrown together, random, or crappy. Mitzi Pederson, taking crappy- or found-looking objects and with a single element transforming them into pieces of purely poetic abstract sculpture, really makes one re-evaluate notions of formalism. I couldn't really find an image on the web that illustrates the genius she demonstrates with her assemblage of broken cinder blocks. On each raw, busted edge of concrete, Pederson applies a thick, furry layer of charcoal and black glitter. This touch effects a strange metamorphosis on the bricks; they seem weightless, as if, with a swift boot, one could scatter them across the gallery.

Another memorable (perhaps because it was so bloody weird) video installation was by Mika Rottenberg . Installed in a walk-in barnyard structure are (I think) 5 videos of women with impossibly long hair (think Crystal Gale) milking goats to make butter or cheese, collecting water to wash their impossibly long hair, or scampering about trying to herd their cheesemaking goats. Each task the women tackle, whether it be gathering up animals or their own tresses, is almost comically laborious. One woman lies on a high wooden plank whilst the rest ceremoniously thread her locks between suspended metal rings; another scene shows the same woman with her hair cascading a story downward while her co-workers dutifully squeeze water from her just-washed hair into a vessel. Every act is one of economy and ridiculously long hours of work. An entire afternoon produces only one square of cheese, one washed head of hair. Even though, at first, it seems as if you're watching something from another era--like visiting Amish country--settling into the work makes you feel that one thing never changes: a woman's work is never done.

Amanda Ross-Ho's enormous blue plastic catbox, complete with litter, was also a special treat. Mmmm...somehow the words "treat" and "catbox" shouldn't go together. But no matter. Ho's sensibility, somewhat ironic but still crazy with '70's-ish pop references--giant silhouettes of macrame hangings cut from thick black canvas, cruddy prints from little-kid tee shirts (a petulant looking cartoon bear is labeled "stubborn"--think of the little cartoon devils saying "I'm a lil' devil")--is paired with what seems to be random clutter. A framed white-painted bulletin board, riddled with phantom tack marks, sports a snapshot here, a flyer there. You can really feel Ho's playful and self-deprecating spirit here. She's a lil' devil.

Finally, the last (and not least) work I was pretty crazy about was Olaf Bruening's video installation, Home 2. The viewing room, decked out like a scene out of Kon Tiki: screen lashed to a bamboo frame, seating of bamboo benches, set the stage for the travels of Brian Kerstetter, an wild n' crazy white guy out to "experience" the world.

Kerstetter's one of the best things I've ever seen. Fearless, entitled, and naive in that upper-middle-class white guy way, he travels around the world--to Japan, New Guinea--striving for a real experience with the natives. This guy's unbelievable (and unless he's actually a spawn of Satan or a genetic anomaly, he's wearing insanely light blue contact lenses, which make him seem even whiter and creepier); the kinda guy who goes everywhere making everybody laugh. Hilariously extroverted, he communicates with everyone in a grandiose pantomime. He buys a huge bunch of bananas from a native market vendor, then chases her around and around the market as she laughs and screams. He persuades a group of Japanese youths to sport Pokemon masks and march through the streets of Tokyo. He meets some wealthy Arabs (?) in a Japanese hotel and somehow persuades them to tie each other up, as if taken hostage by terrorists, and pose for pictures.

You find yourself laughing in disbelief at every escapade, and Kerstetter always includes you, the viewer, into his schemes as he whispers to the camera. It's as if you and your zany friends travel, Lonely Planet guide in hand, throughout the third world. The jungles are lush, or the hotels are full of things that look foreign and funny to you, and you can always count on the housekeeping or cooking staff to play along with a practical joke. You're laughing as he rather innocently (hey! he's just being friendly! he's just having fun) but completely condescends to these people.

The tone drastically changes, however, when Brian encounters a part of the third world that is neither lush nor charming with local color. Kerstetter is one of these guys that never sits down--his enthusiasm is infectious, and, therefore, so is his disillusionment and dismay. Upon encountering a site that is strewn with rotten garbage and where the natives are burning tires, he becomes so depressed, he tosses his money to passing children.

This work is brilliant; it's a perfect fit for this hyperactive actor, as his intensity magnifies our inability, as denizens of the first world, to remotely comprehend that of the third. And it's a lovely illustration of white liberal guilt, as is clearly demonstrated when Kerstetter dejectedly hands out his foreign bills. Dave Eggers, author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, followed that novel up with the less successful You Shall Know Our Velocity. In the second work, a novelist who has attained great riches and great success is so burdened by the guilt of having obtained so much money in what he perceives as a shallow way, travels over the world with a few buddies with the express purpose of giving all of his money away. He thinks that doing this will alleviate his guilt and will make him feel as if he's done good, but it does neither. Eggers' characters' adventure of ridding himself of the money, followed the the ensuing feeling of futility perfectly mirrors Bruening's work here. Why can't I make you people have a better life? And what makes me so sure I can give you one?

By now, if anyone has read this far, you're probably thinking: Who does this WhinyBabyLander think she is? Norman Fucking Mailer? Well, if we've all gotta throw our work into a huge vacuum, we might as well do it in a grandiose fashion.

Now, I will wrap up this preposterously long post with the Coulda Been Betters and the Couldn'ta Been Worse categories.

Spike Lee When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts. Now, in all fairness, this was good. I think. I mean, who the fuck is going to sit through 244 minutes? It's practically impossible. The museum opens at 11, closes at 6. And they don't allow food in there. I mean, come on. I hope that someday I'll be able to see the whole thing on Netflix.

Carol Bove's airy installation, Night Sky over New York was lovely, but what makes her work really great and edgy, in general, is her ability to tie contemporary sensibilities in with her '60's Danish Modern twists. Coulda been better.

John Baldessari. I know I should be more respectful, but here: Bleccchhdessari.

Roe Etheridge: Who proclaimed these photographs interesting? Where can I find this person and stuff one of them down his or her throat?

Michael Smith: To be truthful, Michael Smith is the kinda guy who should, finally, get some real recognition. I mean, look at him! Everything about him and his work says, I'm a Good Guy!
And he's a clever guy. Although the video and Sears portraits shown here at the Biennial were already shown in the CAM's Nexus Texas exhibition, they seemed weightier here. Or maybe they just weren't surrounded by as much crud as at the CAM show. I really hated that show, and wound up calling it Blexus Texas, but you know how I love making up stupid nicknames. Unfortunately, his video Portal Excursion was projected on a big screen at the Whitney, and it just looked, production-wise, like shit. It is a clever piece, although I can't seem to shake the image of 60 Minutes' Andy Rooney out of my head when I watch it.

Phoebe Washburn: Washburn's installation here was neither particularly ambitious nor visually compelling. Some 2x4's here, a couple of gurgling fish tanks there. I'd seen it in L.A. in, what, like 1993? Also, there was something about this whole construction that made me want to point and say, Look, Pop! It's a Habitrail for environmental nuts!

Charles Long: I told you people to keep your crappy-looking papier mache shit at home.

Seth Price: Hi, I vomited up some shapes that kinda look like Africa. Let's trace 'em out and make 'em look like slick panels of polyurethane!

William Cordova: Whatever. Right around the corner from this crappy construction of 2x4's that undoubtedly held cryptic symbols of some ethnic identity, there was a pretty decent crappy construction with plywood and a few mirrors by Heather Rowe. Why must we be plagued with two crappy carpenters when just Heather would do just fine?

Sherrie Levine: Here's another one I oughta have more respect for, but just because I have respect for my Grandma doesn't mean I need to put her in a show.

Frances Stark: Great drawings, but lady, leave your PowerPoint lectures for the university lecture circuit! If you're saying something stupid, it's not going to be any less boring or stupid if it dances across a computer screen.

Leslie Hewitt: I don't get it. Oh, yeah. Maybe I'm not supposed to get it. Is it because I'm white and the references here are so post-identity politics that I'm supposed to assume that this random shit means something? I think I must be a racist.

Eduardo Sarabia: A bodega/warehouse type space loaded with oversized, fabricated items. Visually, this was actually one of the better installations. However, after looking through the free 'catalog' that I picked up inside the show, I realized that each object was actually a part of some huge project this guy has going on, including producing his own line of tequila. Cute, but somebody's obviously got too many production assistants on hand. It irritated me.

OK, I have officially started to look a bit like a mole. My eyes are becoming sensitive to the light.

Until I write again...

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

More News From the Girl's Room

I started this post when I was waiting for the cable guy to replace the cable box and the modem. Then I went to the gym, and the gym up here is kinda crappy. There's much to be said for Texas and its wide-open spaces. The machines are really close together--I mean really close together, and there was this fat guy on the machine next to me, and he smelled reallyreallyreally awful, and to make it worse, he kept grazing his arm against me. I almost screamed. Then, when he was done with his workout, instead of getting down off the machine like a normal human being and letting the rest of us breathe, he stood there and read for 15 minutes. Finally, I looked over to see what he was reading, since he hadn't turned the page for a while (how would I know? because he fucking touches me every time he turns the bloody page!) and it turns out that he's been reading an advertisement for handbags out of some newspaper circular.

Why do I bring this up? Well, I think that all 2 of you who read WhinyBabyLand know that I do not have an objective bone in my body, so this experience may well color any and all commentary I have. Maybe not. It's just a warning.

Just thank your lucky stars I'm not the president of the United States or somebody who could do real harm on a simple whim. Oh, wait a second--that is the president of the United States.

Anyway, I saw Shannon Plumb's Together at Sara Meltzer.

Plumb's videos, some of which can be seen on her website, with a slapstick sensibility, are generally pretty hilarious. In Together, which can be viewed on a '70's console from the comfort of a ratty pair of armchairs positioned on an equally ratty rug, Plumb explores the daily life of a couple whose lives were inspired by the artist's grandparents. Shannon Plumb plays both the tired, polyester-clad, constantly struggling wife as well as the rowdy and sometimes mean-spirited husband. She's genius in both roles, but it's the man that makes you laugh the most. Plumb is pretty convincing as the frumpy wife, but she looks nothing like a man in the role of the husband and succeeds only in coming off as a post-adolescent boy with a blonde caterpillar of a mustache. This shortcoming makes the character more than a tad ridiculous, but the artist indulges in the highly comic and makes Grandpa seem both absurd and believable. The video is divided by the days of the week, including Ash Wednesday, in which the wife is trying to pray, whilst the husband does what he can to distract her efforts. The greatest thing about this piece is that Plumb doesn't have any problem turning the narrative on its head to expose what little facade she's created for her characters. In the video's funniest segment, husband and wife sit at the table. Wife subtly annoys husband, and husband returns the favor by playing some sort of air-instrument on the kitchen table. The husband really gets into it, banging his head along to the beat, until Plumb's boy-wig goes flying across the room. The incident humbles him briefly, but as the story moves on to the next day of the week, you see that he's back to his old self.

Shannon Plumb is a funny, perceptive artist, and the silent war between the husband and wife has a lot of familiar aspects to it. For those who've resided with another and have turned around almost violently to find out why the other person insists on making that noise, (and we probably all have) her work, including her past videos, has an undeniable universality. And I don't know if plot or writing can account for all of it. Plumb's a really good actress, but she still seems to look like herself in a stupid wig in every role. There's a sweetness and expressiveness about her face that makes everything relevant and ridiculous at the same time.

I guess the incident mentioned in the beginning didn't make me bitchy as I thought it would. And I can't even smoke in the apartment I'm renting here, and I still didn't get nasty. I must've loved this stuff.

Everything Old is Really a Whole Lot Better Than Anything New Again

I usually pass Paul Kasmin Gallery by. The stuff they always have on display is so impossibly beyond blue chip, I've either seen too much of it, or I was never interested in it to begin with. Like whenever I pass by some place that has Jasper Johns or Robert Rauschenberg on display. Dare I say it? I don't care! Oh, I like a thing of Johns or Rauschenberg here and there; I really like Johns' sculptures more than anything else. But voice these sentiments aloud, and people treat you as if you'd just called Grandma a whore.

For me, however, there is an exception to the old timer rule. I never, ever get sick of Warhol. Go figure.

However, yesterday, when I was walking past Paul Kasmin (the place I always blow off, as previously stated), and I saw that they were showing Warhol drawings, and I just thought, in my slacker-y way, that I'd seen enough of him and needed to move on. I don't know why I turned around; I have a feeling it had something to do with the pale, pale, Pepto-Bismol pink shade they'd painted the front display wall. But inside were drawings, according to the gallerina, that had not been released by the Warhol estate until very recently.

All were delicate drawings of people of all ages, many of them executed with the ink transfer method he used on his original drawings. Each was of a modest scale--less than 20", which, of course, lent an air of intimacy. But it was Warhol's use of tempera and ink in muted pastels and faded grays--in some pieces filling the negative space around the line drawings, in others cascading down the page and through the lines--that made them so exquisite. I have seen (and loved) a lot of Warhol's drawings--the cats, the shoes, etc. But this set of drawings, all dated 1953, was something I hadn't happened upon before. It was a great surprise for me.

From here on out, I promise not to be closed-minded about all those old farts like--oh, God, what am I talking about? One should never promise to quit being disrespectful and irreverent if one has no intention of carrying that out.

Friday, March 07, 2008

ArtTrek 2: Mission of The Damned

It's not all that bad. I just like dramatic titles.

"Nina in Position" at Artists Space is a great show. Employing Benjamin's assertion that "to live is to leave traces", curator Jeffrey Uslip put together a diverse and impressive lineup, from Haim Steinbach to Jack Pierson to Roni Horn. My favorite piece in the show, by Mary Kelly, is three black and white transparencies in light boxes, "Flashing Nipple Remix #1". The series begins with a photo of 5 clothed women with their breast and groin areas highlighted like weird jack o' lanterns, while in the remaining shots the figures are removed, but the highlighted areas take over, becoming glowing, static drawings. Beautiful.

Unfortunately, the only image I could grab off the web of Martin Wohrl's (there's an umlaut in there somewhere) work at Spencer Brownstone was of one of his "Gloriole" (is that supposed to mean "Glory Hole", or have I just got my mind in the gutter?) wall pieces. And they're good, don't get me wrong--the sunbursts of various found, hand-cut laminates are nice looking. But the rest of the work, fashioned from antique doors, doorknobs, etc., some cut into goth-looking letters and shapes and mounted on what look to be rickety jungle-gym equipment, were even better.

I really prefer providing my own Krappy Kamera pictures, but I must've gotten a bad batch o' batteries.

Jen DeNike's single channel video at Smith-Stewart was far less annoying than I thought it would be when I first walked in. Young women draped in the original 13 star flag, humming the National Anthem, ceremoniously dropping their flags one by one and exiting the stage. It actually struck me as rather humble, and I was liking it until I read the press release, which said something about how the women in the video were dropping their cloths in a symbolic gesture to show how women are now busting out of the shackles of male oppression.

I suppose it's there. But as soon as I read that, I walked out. Note to self: Never, Ever read the press release

The group show at D'Amelio Terras was a sure-fire snooze, but a video by Sanford Biggers, in which mostly white guys but a couple of black guys clamber up whatever tree that happens to be handy, and in whatever weather. The video was ok, but what made it better was that every so often, the whole room was bathed in a couple of flashes of warm red light.

Note to self: Flashing warm red light makes things better, much like a shot of Jameson's. Next art project, add flashing warm red light.

OK! Heads up! I just want to mention that I absolutely hate George Condo's work, so I normally wouldn't go out of my way to mention it. But, um, sputter! His Christ: The Subjective Nature of Objective Representation at Luhring Augustine is so stupid it's almost thrilling.

But so many of my friends love ol' George! What's my problem? Well, I finally figured it out today. Forgive me if this is too obvious and the rest of you have known this for years, but if you look at Condo's paintings and then think back to those cartoons Don Martin did for Mad magazine in the '70's, you'll see such a strong parallel, you'll never look at Condo's work again without thinking, "Why, Don Martin should be suing this smartass!" or "Martin's so sublime and original! What's this obnoxious 80's painter think he's up to?

Attention: I should tell you that, of the images above, the first is Don Martin, while the second is Condo...

OK, here's where I'm pissed. I had written about all of the stuff below, and my internet connection crashed and I lost all of this. And I'm not writing it again, so I'll just breeze through.

Jean-Michel Othoniel at Sikkema Jenkins: appealing for those of us who love glitz and glam and still wanna drag out our Barbies (Math is hard!) Othoniel's just a Michael Petry without the content, but boy, do those big blown-glass strings of beads look good!
Othoniel fails miserably, however, when he tries to introduce content, as he does with his centerpiece in Secret Americana. That big old-timey covered wagon, interspersed with a few panels of transparent, painted glass and the occasional shiny glass orb made me wanna track down this guy, grab him by the shoulders and shout, "We don't hate you because you're beautiful, but we do hate you when you try to think!"

Oooooh, I had so many good things to say about the Drawing Center! Namely, that whomever it was that deemed drawing a Big Important Thing needs this newsflash: TIME TO FOCUS ON NEW TREND. Christ, does the world really need another a) drawing that looks like a meticulously rendered map of the Congo; or b) another "installation" strewn with colored threads and Post-It notes, where some rube from Iowa can stroll up and say, "Look, Ethel! It's a drawing!" ?

I think not.

I hereby pronounce this fascination with drawing tired. Let's all put down our #2 Ticonderogas and go outside for some fresh air and sunshine.

This being said, however, I did like Andrea Sulzer's 101" x 101" drawing, detailed below, which somehow managed to escape all of the cliche.

Sterling Ruby's show, in the Drawing Room across the street, was a hodgepodge of collage, drawings scratched onto refrigerator-sized blocks of laminated particle board, and a few gestural pieces, like the one seen below.
With the exception of the gestural stuff, Ruby's work made me think one thing: Aw, the poor guy didn't make the cut for the Unmonumental show at the New Museum. His collages, compared to the artists' at the New Museum, were trite, juvenile, topically snooze-inducing, poorly crafted, and his scratched-out refrigerator boxes were neither thought-provoking or visually compelling.

To make matters worse, Metro Pictures has a show of his crappy-looking-but-not-crappy-looking-enough kiln works in its upstairs gallery. One wonders how this kind of shit becomes marketable, let alone fashionable. Go figure. But, hey, Sterling Ruby? What a name! I wish my name was Sterling Ruby. I could be an artstar or a pornstar. The world would be my oyster.

At Goff + Rosenthal Chiharu Shiota's installations were so very Japanese but yet not Japanese. Despite all the visual noise and the feeling that one got of being a fly caught in a web, this work somehow imparted a certain quiet. I'm still trying to figure out why.

And here's a mini-rant for ya: I want to say that I've never, ever seen anything at Leo Koenig worth a good god-damn. Somehow, this Big Daddy of the Bad Boy Club seems to corral the most godawful shit I've ever seen. Still, I mention it because I would like to point out yet another example of the Pre-Teen Skull Fetish Club, here demonstrated in the work of Aidas Bareikas.

Also, I bring this up because I just think it's a shame that Houston's very own beloved/detested Paul Horn never made it to New York. Here he would be a superstar! Christ, just sing the following lines to the tune of the Pet Shop Boys' Let's Make Lots of Money: You've got the trash, I've got the glue gun, let's see Leo Koenig...

Finally, and this is the biggest shame for me, since I'd written 4 pararaphs about this show, and I'd saved it for last, since it was my favorite, but Catherine Sullivan's Triangle of Need was really the best thing I've seen in a long time.

Each of the videos shown in the three rooms at Metro Pictures was thought-provoking, visually stunning, and smart as hell. Like I said, I wrote a lot on it, but now I'm tired, pissed, and hungry, and I'm not going to do it again.

Butchered recap: Woe of Poe meets Nigerian email scams meets Cro-Magnun man dressed up like 19th century dandy. Unbelievable how she made that thing work.

It's funny though. It's been a while since I've really thought that the girls got it goin' on more than the boys, but between Sullivan, Martha Rosler, and Mary Kelly, I'm thinking it might be time to dust off that old Helen Reddy 45" vinyl and start jammin'.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

7th Grade, All Over Again

(Foto of Mark Bradford pilfered from the art: 21 blog.)

Yesterday I got my butt off the couch and saw some art in the New Bowery district. Man, a lot of established galleries have jumped the Chelsea ship to open up shop there, and a few Williamsburg galleries have gone upscale to join that neighborhood, too.

I went to a few galleries, all of which will be discussed, but first I want to say that the "Unmonumental" show at the new New Museum space kicks some serious ass. Three floors of a lot of pretty damned cool shit. Usually, when I'm talking about a show, it's easiest to talk about the things I like, since there are only a few of them; however, in this show, there were only a few things I didn't like. And I only like to talk about things I don't like when I can get all snippy about them, so I'm not going to bother. Oh, okay, you've twisted my arm, I will bother: Sam Durant's work is, in general, pretty stupid. Not worth the cliched thought put into those stupid things.

And although I'm not normally nutty about the kind of sculptures that artists like Rachel Harrison make--it's all subjective here, folks: just looking at all of that goopy clay shit drives me bats--sculptures like the one they showed here really made sense. This show's just so well put together. I don't know whether it's the space--good feng shui--or the placement, or what. It looked good.

And the 2D stuff was pretty great, too. A particular winner here is Mark Bradford's gi-normous collage/painting (he's working on it in the picture above). There were also some great collages by Martha Rosler . I'm telling ya, that woman's old enough to be my mother and she's still cranking out kickass, relevant art. Even her stuff from the '60's still seems fresh. Which is more than I can say for Nancy Spero's work, which was also in the show. Spero's one of those artists that always make me feel guilty for not liking. I mean, shouldn't I be more respectful for a pioneer of feminist art? But if I think like that, I'll have to be thinking that I should also be respectful of Judy Chicago and her revolting triangle of twats known as "The Dinner Party". Bad art knows no gender.

Christian Holstad's work also made me a tad tired. I used to follow it with some interest, but now I often find myself thinking, whilst looking at one of his masturbatory man collages, "Ok, you're here, you're queer, we're used to it, now please turn the page."

I really liked John Stezaker's work: subtle, almost seamless and surreal photo collages. Looking at each one was a pleasant surprise.

But now, dear blog-reader, if you have gotten this far, you are probably wondering, Well, what's up with the 7th grader bit in the title, you WhinyBaby? Well, here is is: do you notice, in the picture of Bradford, that, amidst the silvery papers and the drawings, he has drawn a skull? Well, in my wanderings yesterday, I found that, above all else, the motherfucking skull was the predominantly recurring image.

I have no idea what that's about. I really don't. Are people hearkening back to Van Gogh?

Somehow, I doubt it. Is it that I mostly saw art by 20-somethings, who are enamored with tattoo imagery and a Romantic yearning for Death? Who knows. It is weird, though. I think skulls are kinda stupid as subject matter. But that's just me.

But do you not believe me? Check it out:

LISTENING FOR YOU, O, CUMBRE VIEJA” (a dorpy, self-important title if I've ever read one)

Kind of Robyn O'Neil, minus the bizarre subject matter and quirky sensibility. Like, "Hi, here's my boyfriend Zak in some Williamsburg vacant lot!"

Or her paintings: same Frida Kahlo lack of facility, paired with slacker subject matter:

Somebody's mommy shouldn't have let her stay up so late to watch those scary movies.

I did like this small piece, tucked away in the back:

Somehow Hell n' the Hurricane seemed a little less forced here.

And then "Off the Grid" at Eleven Rivington, a group show with Caetano de Almeida, John Hodany, and Michael Lazarus. Paul Hodany's work, which included a machine that really didn't work (thank God I didn't lose my quarter) seemed like something that ought to be picked up by Mattel toys:

I'm not saying that art shouldn't be colorful and fun, but does it have to be so fucking stupid?

And finally, at the gallery show I liked the best, was British painter Paul Housley at Sunday. I just think this guy can paint.

It's so uncool, it's cool.
But still, I round the corner, and there's a painting of a goddamned skull. Am I denying my mortality with my skull-displeasure? Am I simply unwilling to acknowledge that I have one of my own rattling around underneath my hair? I doubt it, and I don't even feel like analyzing it. Enough with the skulls already! Move on to the radial ulna.