February 2006 Archives

Sobering Find

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I found something very sobering today. I was wandering through this antique store-slash-rubbish pile owned and operated by one of those clean-out companies who carry away all your crap when either you don't feel like going through it any more or you're dead. I found an artist's portfolio filled with one Andrea Korn's sketchbook, drawings, and carefully matted collages, all dated from the 1970s.

I find this sobering. I'm saying that instead of depressing because I don't need to be depressed.

Last night was a good night in Chelsea.

I started my trip -- I almost want save this for last so I can end on a high point -- I started at Ricco Maresca on West 20th with Marc Dennis' "Caravaggio's Cat and Other Things Unseen." Marc's paintings are really great, the kind of paintings you hope to find when you go to an exhibition: They look good in reproduction, but they look even better in person. Marc may be the best painter I've seen yet on my weekly trips into New York.

The show consisted of several large canvases and a handful of smaller ones. Unlike some painters, Marc handles his small works as deftly as his larger. Painting big can make a mediocre painter look better than they are, since the scale has a way of making brushstrokes look smaller; when Marc works small, he simply switches to smaller brushes and stays just as detailed as ever.

DeKooning's Back Yard, 2005, oil on canvas, 60x72 inches My overall impression of the paintings was of incredible skill. The reproduction I have here is too tiny to really give you a sense of how overwhelming the larger paintings are in person. "DeKooning's Back Yard" is as tall as I am; hung on a wall it takes over the space in front of it. Up close you can see the care taken in each brushstroke. The shadows are translucent, the highlights thick and strong. The tonal range of the paintings is far beyond what can be reproduced, and I think, too, that the photos on the gallery Website leave a lot to be desired.

I found Marc dressed neatly in a suit and tie -- sort of incognito for a painter. I spoke to him briefly about his paintings, particularly about "DeKooning's Back Yard" and "Caravaggio's Cat." He said he thinks about what artists were doing when they were painting. Caravaggio, for example, made paintings that were not what was expected by people of his time. They were powerful and defiant. So what Marc does, when he's painting, is try to think of a basic subject, like a cat, and then think about applying the qualities of someone like a great artist to that subject -- hence "Caravaggio's Cat." He wants a fierce quality to come through. I admitted that the paintings were fierce, at least in terms of technique. Marc's near-mastery of painting in the style of the Old Masters is intense.

As far as there being a frog in DeKooning's back yard, Marc was inspired by a DeKooning in the Museum of Modern Art. It had some blue below and a kind of waterline and he had the idea that DeKooning would have a pond in his back yard. I like that idea: I've sometimes looked at a painting and seen a sort of painting behind it, not what the artist painted or even intended, but in a way the painting I wish they had painted or which maybe I just want to see.

I left that opening to hit the other two shows I wanted to see, but came back on my way home. On my second visit I ran into Gerald Slota, a photographer I know through Cory Marc, a ceramic sculptor who calls me whenever he needs something electronic done -- I designed his Website and the other day we worked on a postcard design he's having run off at Overnight Prints. I can't say much about Gerald's work because I've only seen a few pieces on the Web, but Gerald is a nice enough guy. I have him pegged as "my most successful artist acquaintance." He's got a studio out at Riker Hill Art Park, way out in New Jersey -- as does Cory -- and lives in Paterson. For his part he introduced me to a lovely woman named Chris who apparently writes for a ceramics magazine. I'm supposed to tell Cory that Gerald is trying to help his career.

NewMan, 2005, oil on wood, 25 inches diameter (detail) My next stop was a few blocks north on West 23rd at Caren Golden. Elizabeth Olbert was opening "Another Kingdom" there. The New York Times pegs Elizabeth as being the midpoint "between the work of Odd Nerdrum and that of John Currin and Lisa Yuskavage" and I think I agree, but not in a good way. I like Lisa Yuskavage's work -- I dragged myself down to Philadelphia for an exhibit of hers a few years back and I was fairly impressed by her technique although less impressed by her choice of subject. I've never met Odd Nerdrum's paintings so I don't have a real opinion but what I see online is really interesting. The best I can figure is Times writer Roberta Smith wants to say that Olbert can actually handle paint, and so can Nerdrum, Currin, and Yuskavage, and in that sense Elizabeth Olbert does seem to fall somewhere in the spectrum of those painters. Elizabeth Olbert, 2005 Her painting technique is okay. But after seeing someone like Marc Dennis, or last week James Rieck, I'm just not excited. Forever Yours (3), 2006, oil on canvas, 63x39 inches She makes interesting color choices and everything is lively. But her paintings seem to be of chubby floating alien heads with technicolor acne, and I'm not sure I care much about them. Meanwhile her drawings are the kind of thing best done on looseleaf in the back of Economics class.

After that disappointment I decided to hoof it on up to West 27th to check out the Square Foot Show at Art Gotham. When I got there I found there was a line for the elevator. Well, I guess even if just your parents show up for your opening, if you've got 300 artists involved, you're going to get a crowd. I dutifully waited and then crowded onto the nearly overloaded lift. "Should we introduce ourselves?" joked a tall man with a British accent and I was thinking I usually want someone to buy me dinner before getting as friendly as we all were. The doors opened onto the fifth floor where we found yet another line, just to get into the gallery. After a moment or two I decided unless there were dancing girls it just couldn't be worth all this effort and went back down. The escapees from the show took a vote on whether it was worth the effort. Final tally: Two nays from the older couple, one nay from the eye-rolling young man, one yea from some random person, two abstentions, and me.

[Alex Grey] I dispiritedly made my way out of the gallery and onto 27th Street when something on the ground caught my eye. It was a postcard for Alex Grey's Chapel of Sacred Mirrors. It turns out CoSM is on West 27th right across from where I was standing! This, I thought, is one of those moments when the stars have aligned and the magic happens. I'd been meaning to see CoSM for years, ever since it was under construction. I love Alex Grey's work and hadn't seen him or his paintings since an opening quite a few years ago. So I rushed on over and found the building. The elevator looked a little dicey so I took the stairs; that was the moment that the stars aligned and almost killed me. I was wondering what a heart attack felt like, exactly, for the few minutes it took me to catch my breath at the top of the third flight.

It turned out that everything CoSM was closed, although for some reason the hallways and everything were open and deserted. I had my pick of postcards and brochures for New Agey retreats and yoga seminars and so forth, and I could peer into the Alex Grey Gift Shop. If you're into Alex, his work, or anything vaguely geometric and groovy, I recommend dropping by -- they've got the largest collection of mystic gewgaws I've seen since the Magickal Childe closed down. The little complex Alex has going there -- CoSM, MicroCoSM, his studio, gift shop, open restrooms (hooray!) -- is really interesting. I'll have to go back when it's open.

So much for the stars and their alignment, though. Across from CoSM is Scores, the strip club made famous by Howard Stern. Cosmic coincidence indeed.

I was in good spirits going home, though, after talking Marc Dennis into letting me visit him in his studio someday and meeting up with Gerald. Like I said, last night was a good night in Chelsea.

What I Am Trying to Do

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Here's the theory: I'm trying to paint for a living. In order to do that, you need to find people to buy your paintings. That generally means getting a gallery to represent you and exhibit your work. (There's eBay, too, but let's set that aside for the moment.) I've found no coherent plan for getting galleries to show your work except the one put forth by Mark Kostabi in his advice column. And Kostabi's pretty successful -- as successful as I need to be, anyway -- so his advice goes a long way with me. He says you should go to gallery openings and talk to people. Make friends. Make contacts. Find out who likes work similar to your own and chat with them. Show up at enough openings that people start to know who you are. Eventually, someone will ask to see your own work, and then you can whip out the slides you've been carrying in your pocket all this time.

It sounds good to me. I put this plan into action a couple of years ago, but ran out of steam. I'm not sure why. I get derailed easily. Maybe the site of openings I went to shut down for a bit, maybe I got bored, whatever.

So I tried thinking of how I could motivate myself. And I thought about how critics sometimes turn into artists, and vice versa. And I thought about the Web and how it's got a hold on me like nothing else. And I combined these thoughts and came up with the idea of doing a gallery blog. That might motivate me -- if enough people read it, and commented on it, I'd feel obligated to keep it going. And lord knows I can type.

And here it is, the NYC art blog, where I plan to write about my trips to galleries in New York. I'll probably offer some obnoxious opinions on what I find there. And maybe I'll entertain you a bit, too.


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