April 2006 Archives

I haven't posted in a bit and there's no danger of my posting any more show reviews for a little while, so to make sure no one thinks I've died or been otherwise incapacitated -- I'm sorry if that's disappointing -- I thought I'd write a little something more general than I usually do. This blog has a specific function, namely to keep me going to galleries and thinking critically about art. So rambling on about my own thoughts or feelings absent any particular review is technically outside the scope of this blog. In fact I've updated both Plan Ahead and added Probable Working Sequence over there on the left, but I'm not sure how many people read those -- I'm not really sure how many people read any of this, actually, but there you go.

Today I was thinking about what I look for in art. You've probably gotten something of an idea, if you've read this blog at all, but my thinking today came down pretty solidly: What I'm looking for in art is simply transcendence.

This is not just something I want from art I'm viewing. This is something I also want to achieve in my own art. Maybe that sounds overweening -- maybe more so if you've actually clicked on my gallery link -- but it's what I'm striving for. I don't think I'm there yet, but it's a goal. I don't think it's a goal I'll ever really reach.

If not transcendence -- I do wonder if it's possible for a painting to push a viewer out of themselves -- then I at a minimum want art which hints that transcendence is at least possible. I want to feel that it's out there, even if this particular work doesn't embody it. I want someone to whisper to me about transcendence.

Notice I didn't say anything about quality or technique. I happen to think the best road to transcendence in art leads through painting technique and experience, but I don't think those are necessary. I'll take it where I can find it, no matter the style, subject matter, age of the artist, venue, or any other limitation you can think of.

One thing I think is necessary, though, is that transcendence not be easy. I don't think the art of transcendence can be easy. And by easy I don't mean simply difficult in a technical sense, or conceptual sense; I just mean easy, done without great effort, effort of soul and heart and mind.

I mean, I could do easy things. I can do easy art no problem. Here's an idea: I could get a bunch of old automobile trunks and put bumper stickers of my own devising all over them. One trunk might have a lot of pro-war stickers on it, another one might be a punk, another one a goth Wiccan. The stickers could form a dialogue, both on a given car trunk and between the car trunks. I could do that. It wouldn't be that hard: Go to a junkyard, maybe, find some elderly parts. Print out bumper stickers on Cafe Press. Hang everything up in a gallery.

That's an idea. Or how about this one? Circus posters, only instead of clowns and lions and acrobats, draw in contemporary figures. Have one filled with sex freaks, people with leather masks, latex, and other fetish gear. Have another with politicians and warmongers. Make a bunch of these on posterboard, maybe do some silkscreening, maybe some gesso. Artificially age the posters with belt sanders and leaving them under hot lights for a while. Hang everything up in a gallery.

These seem like pretty good ideas to me. I have no clue if these are original ideas. I really don't know if any gallery would be willing to show them. It seems to me they're pretty original, maybe, and a lot better than some of the shows I've seen in Chelsea. I don't know. Maybe these are stupid concepts and no gallery would touch them with a 500kB JPEG.

But the important thing here is, neither of these considerations have anything to do with my decision not to create these shows. Because both of these ideas are just too damned easy. They're easy in concept, they're easy to grasp quickly, they could only say shallow things. There's no hope of transcendence in either idea. Long before I'd get as far as rejecting "Bumper to Bumper: Free Speech on the Road" because it was done by Chuckle B. Donethat in 1987 I've already rejected it because it cannot possibly move a viewer up and out of their existence, not even for a moment.

This is not to say that I've never done something goofy and stupid. I got a book cover deal out of depicting Elvis as Jesus replete with Sacred Heart. In fact I bet I could have a decent career selling Elvis as Jesus paintings, at least until the Elvis Police catch up with me or I get shot for a heretic. But, sure, I've done some dopey stuff. In my defense: I don't call it art and wouldn't consider it art for even a femtosecond.

So that's what I'm looking for in art, both from others and from myself. I'll let you know when I've found it.

I was really looking forward to my trip into Chelsea this past Thursday. I'll admit it: I fell in love with Lisa and Sara Jo at Schroeder Romero. They charmed me, plain and simple. So I was looking forward to seeing them and what they had to show me with their new exhibition.

Before moving on, let me admit to a bias: I don't generally like people who use text in visual art. To me, putting text into a painting is like farting during a symphony. If you want to play with words, become a writer. I'm not saying that it's impossible for visual art to use text well; I'm saying it had better be very compelling for me to like it.

Alas, Eric Heist's "Interfaith Center" is not very compelling. The installation consists of a handful of paintings in gouache at either end of the gallery; in between, on the walls, are "stained glass windows" which appear to be cut out of construction paper; and across the floor are small seats, like minipews, underneath which you can see some junk -- excuse me, I mean "found art." Pinned to each pane of the stained glass is a neatly typed paragraph of text saying something about religion, altogether adding up to several pages of verbiage.

If you want to tackle religion using art, I think you'd better have something extremely good to say, because all of the obvious stuff has already been said. In fact, I'd go so far as to say most of the less obvious stuff, and a fair amount of the obscure stuff, has all been covered extensively and in detail. This show, however, is sophomoric and shallow. The text of the windows -- taken, according to the typed essay at the gallery desk, from various sources, both pro- and anti-religious -- seems mainly calculated to either demolish religion -- including ideas we learned in high school, like how the religions of peace and love have caused more wars than anything else in the world -- or make religious people sound like fools. Maybe there's an element of observer bias, but it seems to me if Eric were attempting to present more than one side of religion, he could have found better quotes.

Eric Heist, Interfaith Center (Crystal Cathedral), 2006, gouache on paper, 32x24 inches As for the paintings, they look as if Eric has taken low-resolution video stills of churches, inside and out, and traced them. They look like paint-by-numbers.

By far the biggest problem with Eric's installation, though, is how he holds the whole idea of religion at arm's length. There isn't a single feeling in the show; there's no sense that he's dealing with anything personal at all. I got a distinct sense that Eric feels religion is something that happens to other people, that he's on some kind of anthropological expedition. If he'd dug deeply, if he'd really considered what religion means to him, if he'd found some kind of emotion -- love, hate, anger, fear, joy, sadness, fun, boredom, amusement, anything at all -- this might have been a worthwhile subject for his exploration. As it is, the whole thing just sort of sits there. If you're a fast reader you can get everything the exhibit has to offer in about five minutes. Then you can do what I did, which is stand around hoping to have an interesting conversation with someone. And when that fails, you can leave.

You know it's a bad night when the highlight of your evening is discussing beer with a guy named Seamus. Actually, discussing beer with a guy named Seamus isn't a bad night; it's only a letdown if you've been hoping to see some good art. I met Seamus while going through Plus Ultra to say hello to Ed and Murat; Murat continues to be the nicest person I've met in Chelsea yet. Seamus had brought his own Heineken and that prompted our beer talk. If I'd known what was in store for me in the other galleries I'd visit, I would've stayed to debate the finer points of Guinness with my new Irish friend.

Jocelyn Hobbie, Nun Painter, 2005, oil on canvas, 54x54 inches But I did not know what was in store, so presently I found myself at Bellwether Gallery viewing Jocelyn Hobbie's latest paintings. My initial impression, looking at the images on the Web, was that Jocelyn was some kind of cross between Mark Kostabi and Lisa Yuskavage. It looks like she combines cartoonishly sexualized images of women with staid tableaux; breasts are suspended out every which way, parts of females frozen in time in poses of humiliation, or boredom, or tragedy, or something. One of the reviews in the binder at the gallery desk said Jocelyn's work was like "Botticelli meets Katz or Courbet meets Hopper." Although whether the reviewer means Alex Katz, Morris Katz, or the Katz Deli is unclear.

Seeing the work in person I can see that these impressions are dead wrong. What's clear from Jocelyn Hobbie's work, more than anything else, is that she wants very badly to be a classically trained painter. You can't see it very well in the reproductions, but there are places where she paints the veins under the skin, like around a woman's nipples or on the underside of her forearm, or on a forehead. This shows an admirable urge to paint realistic human figures. But it's an urge which is unsupported by Jocelyn's basic skills. What the other painters mentioned earlier in this essay have which Jocelyn lacks is simple draftmanship. Her figures appear stuffed and mounted, not due to any artistic choice, but because she can't draw. Women are cross-eyed and their eyes bloodshot; dress patterns and lace float eerily above the surfaces of which they're supposed to be a part; wood grain is hideously magnified and warped. And all of this, it seems to me, is unintentional. It looks as if Jocelyn is trying desperately to paint what she sees without the benefit of being able to actually paint.

This is unfortunate because she can be cured. There are a great many schools where one can go to be trained to be an academic painter. Almost anyone can learn how. I wish Jocelyn would avail herself of this help posthaste -- before she mounts another exhibition.

Lisa Ruyter, installation view, Team Gallery, 2006 I will give Jocelyn some credit, though; at least she tries. Not so Lisa Ruyter, whose show "I Am a Camera" I saw at Team. The title of this show is disingenuous at best; it's clear that Lisa Ruyter is not, in fact, a camera, but she plays one, and not terribly well.

In fact Lisa's paintings remind me not so much of any other paintings I've seen as they do the fooling around I used to do in CorelDraw back in 1990 or so. CorelDraw had this wonderful tool called Trace where you could take a scanned photo and have Corel draw outlines around the areas of similar colors. So you could, I don't know, I'm just thinking out loud here, outline an entire hand in black and fill it with grey, all with one click. Well, Lisa's working in actual paint, so it probably takes a bit longer than a few mouse clicks, but the result is the same: Pointless junk.

And there's a lot of it, too. Big pointless paintings, small pointless paintings -- you name a size, Lisa's got it up at Team. But the prices, now, they're all the same: HUGE. Like, scary big huge. It's frightening to think about how much she's getting per painting -- especially when, if you look, you can find spots where she even missed pencil lines she was supposed to outline in black. In other words, as simple as these paintings are, Lisa still cut corners. Where's my checkbook and do I make that out to "Team" or "The Team Gallery"?

On the way out the door I met an unnamed writer and sometime curator, dapper as always (he may very well be the last man in New York to wear a handkerchief in his jacket pocket). He refused to give an opinion on the work on display -- something to do with personal connections to the artist or gallery or some such -- but we did discuss art briefly before parting. He recommended I start taking pictures of my friends throwing up. If I had friends, and they threw up while I was around, I'd be set. But I don't, and they don't, and I'm not.

I was so despondent after this that I stopped in a couple more galleries as I wandered around the neighborhood, but the results were so depressing I won't even write about them. I finally paused outside of Robert Miller Gallery -- which was closed -- to absorb some Tom Wesselmann through their giant windows and get the taste of lousy art out of my eyes. Tom, we miss you, man.

Blog Party and Ken Weaver

| No Comments

I'm sitting here typing this at just about one in the morning. I should be sleeping. I could barely get out of bed all day. I would have said -- I did say it, if you were around to hear -- that I didn't want to see a computer or an art gallery for a week. After the week I had, what with spending half a day dragging my fat ass through Chelsea, then writing up almost 5000 frigging words about it, and then Thursday night....

But of course you don't know about Thursday night. My Plan Ahead section has been woefully out of date because I haven't had the energy to make plans. I just don't wanna. I sit and look at the Douglas Kelley Show list and even though I've got this great hack for Firefox called Advanced Dork which lets me highlight an artist's name and immediately, with one right click, open up a Google search on them; even though I've got this great hack which makes checking through openings a breeze, I just can't look right now. I'm sure there are dozens of great openings happening at his very moment, but I'm temporarily out of service.

Even if I'd been keeping up with planning ahead, though, you wouldn't have read about Thursday night because I was asked to keep it hush-hush. Free food and drink, you know, and we wouldn't want to give out too much. Which I fully understand -- it's time these freeloaders calling themselves my kids got themselves some useful work. In any case: I was invited to a small party and I never get invited anywhere so I simply had to go. And that's where I was Thursday.

Ed Winkleman invited me to a party he was throwing for New York City art bloggers. Even though I'm new, both to blogging and the art world, and even though I don't know anybody and I'm antisocial by nature, I went. And it was earthshaking, it was wondrous, it was a phenomenal meeting of the finest minds of my generation....

Oh, who am I kidding? It was just a bunch of people standing around chatting. In all honesty I barely talked to anyone. Ed introduced me to Tyler and an unnamed art writer and sometime curator. I had only the vaguest idea of who they might be and without last names I was mostly lost. The two of them were in the middle of an abstruse conversation involving Judd and Christie's which involved whether or not the Judd Foundation was managing Judd's legacy well and included the fact that you can look up the salaries of museum directors online. This was not a bad conversation; this was not a boring conversation. But it was a conversation to which I could add exactly nothing. So I smiled and followed along for a bit before wandering off.

I had no way of entering any other conversation so I stood around looking at Nancy Baker's art for a while. At one point a guy was taking pictures, some guy named Mike, so I was able to talk to him about digital photography. Then this really pretty woman (who turned out to be Sloth at Log World; real name, Andrea) came over and started talking about Detroit, another topic about which I know nothing. Mike tried to keep me involved but eventually the conversation fell apart anyway.

I had a very hard time being involved in conversations in the gallery because of a bit of a hearing thing I have; I couldn't pull the local conversation out of the background noise of all the other talking going on, so I tried turning one ear towards the speaker, which helped, but then I found myself concentrating on my Quasimodo pose too much; then I tried lip reading, but found that what I was really doing was staring at someone's moving lips while thinking, "I am lip reading. I've been reduced to trying to read lips. Am I Ludwig Fucking Beethoven now?" All in all it was very frustrating, and no one's fault, but still.

I was on my way out when the gallery next door to Plus Ultra -- they share the same front door, actually -- the Schroeder Romero gallery caught my eye. A woman towards the front waved me on in. She and her partner were painting the gallery floor, but they'd left a strip of unpainted concrete down the middle for us to walk on.

I ended up having a great conversation, then, with the two intelligent, beautiful, friendly women whose names are over the door, Lisa Schroeder and Sara Jo Romero. They really lifted my spirits. It helped that I could hear them. They were very open and willing to discuss art, and blogging, and criticism of art, in particular the art they show; they asked my opinion on what they had hanging and asked who my favorite artists were and if I'd seen anything else recently. All three of us agreed that Inka Essenhigh was really something else; we split two to one on whether Tara Donovan was worth the effort. In the end, I wished I had a camera to take their pictures or that I could've gotten them naked for some sketching or something. They made me feel much better.

Ken Weaver, They Want to KILL YOU, 2004, oil pastel on paper, 60x40 inches I also got a look at an exhibition I had sort of kind of meant to see but hadn't, which was what they had up, which was Ken Weaver's "ROYALLY FUCKED!" Now I'm going to ask you to look at the reproduction here and use your imagination a bit, because the JPEG just isn't enough. Imagine this image here only five feet tall. It looks almost like something from an offset printing press, all benday dots, but if you look a little closer you see it's actually pastel on rough paper. Bright red pastel, not the sort of burgundy here. And these are drawings. Absolutely meticulous drawings. The technique on display is impressive. It's not as obsessive as Dan Fischer's, but it's still very well done.

The exhibit as a whole is almost like a comic strip. It tells something of a story, about some kind of Italian villa or other European type place, with chandeliers and baroque woodwork, in which several people are, with some vigor, fucking each other. At one end of the room the Duke or Count or King or whoever appears theatrically horrified; at the other, his female counterpart seems to have drunk someone's blood, or maybe got punched in the mouth, or maybe just ate a pomegranate or something. Hard to say, really.

Of course it's clear Ken works from photos. And ultimately his technique, while good, is not the hardest thing in the world; it's just drawing, after all. Lots of people can draw from photos, especially if they've got an Artograph. And if you work really big -- say, five feet tall -- the job is even easier, because big drawings make for small lines. Still, I like drawings. And Artographs are okay -- I've got one myself.

In the end I found looking at these drawings like viewing a type of pornography which doesn't do anything for me. Like hentai -- I can see it's supposed to be pornographic, but since it doesn't work for me, I'm left without much of an opinion on it. I felt it clear that Ken's drawings were not intended strictly as porn, but they lacked some essential something to put them over into something more; and they didn't give me wood. So I was left unsure of how I felt.

But I know how I feel about this: It's 1:30 in the aye em. My family is asleep upstairs. My bed is no doubt warm and soft. And I am tired, oh so tired.

Before I go, though, I just want to say something quickly about Ed Winkleman's partner whose name I didn't catch. He served drinks at the party and later joined the conversation with Lisa and Sara Jo. He is just about the nicest person I've met in Chelsea yet; open, interested, asking good questions -- all around a great person to talk to. He made me feel like a star, he really did. A great guy. If this gets back to him in any way, tell him I said thanks.

For those of you who don't follow those little links off to the left, let me take a moment to point you towards J.T. Kirkland and his blog. We've been having our own little link/link back blog party for the past week or so. Now he's slowly posting his thoughts on the trip we took through Chelsea -- the one I wrote about all in one big almost 5000-word entry earlier. So you can see what he thought of the same stuff, and some things I forgot about.

Chelsea Gallery Slog


One of the art blogs I read regularly is J.T. Kirkland's Thinking About Art. The two of us have similar ideas about art in general and I find his blog very accessible and interesting, so of the many art blogs out there I've looked at, I like his best. Thus it was when I heard J.T. was going to be coming up to New York City accompanying his drawing of Matthew Barney I asked if we could get together and maybe explore Chelsea. We set the date for Friday morning; and we met at Paul Kasmin and worked our way downtown. I'm in nowhere good enough shape for the hike we proceeded to undertake: Across 27th Street, down Eleventh Avenue one block, across 26th Street, down Tenth Avenue one block, repeat until my wife calls at 22nd Street asking where the hell I am and when I'll be dragging my sorry ass home. Between Tenth and Eleventh each block is about eight miles long, so I think in total, including some stairs, we walked far enough to reach Omaha.

Chelsea is home to about 300 art galleries and we must have visited somewhere between twenty and thirty of those. We probably looked in at another ten or so. Ultimately, I think we got a fairly good overview of the whole area, this slice of the art market so many people spill so much ink on.

There's no way I can remember everything we looked at. Some galleries had postcards, and I took one if I thought the work was interesting enough. J.T. and I determined that the hotter you are as an artist, the bigger your postcard is; one guy had actual posters, which we figured was the pinnacle of art world respectability. Actually, the pinnacle is probably being able to sell posters at your gallery show, but being able to give them away is almost as good. Some artists didn't even rate postcards. J.T. and I also checked pricelists; apparently he finds this activity endlessly amusing. Typically for me, I found it both hilarious and very, very sad.

Herewith, then, in order of however I feel like writing about them, are the openings and topics on which we touched.


On the way in I picked up the latest copy of New York magazine which had an article on whether or not the art market is going to collapse. Author Marc Spiegler's opinion: Of course it will.

And I for one can only say: It can't happen fast enough.

The art market in Chelsea is a bloated corpse filled with noxious, fetid excrement, kept afloat on a sea of moron money. The sooner market forces can lance this putresecent vessel and let it sink the better off we'll all be.

Hyperbole? Perhaps. And maybe I'm an idiot to argue against a big, stupid art market, because maybe there's no hope for me to be a successful painter without it. Maybe in a shrinking, frightened art world, my own work would go nowhere. So maybe I should be rooting for an expansion-crazed market where almost anyone can sell almost anything.

But you know what? I may be wracked with self-doubt, but I have more respect for my own work than that -- I have enough faith in myself to think that, while I may not be a great painter or even a really mediocre one, I'm talented enough to manage without being buoyed up by other people's crap.

In fact I really feel that the crap brings us all down. It makes anyone involved in the art world, no matter how tangentially, look like an idiot. It scares off people we could really use, people with valid opinions, good eyes, great taste. It makes it easy for people to dismiss true art while Thomas Kinkade hangs in their living room. Wouldn't it be a better world if everyone who bought a Thomas McKnight poster instead bought an actual painting by an actual living artist? (Not that I don't like McKnight. I just think we've all seen enough of him for one lifetime.) Granted that original art costs more than a poster -- but isn't that at least part of the problem?

That's my feeling after my time immersing myself in Chelsea openings and then going from gallery to gallery for a day: There's a whole lot of crap. And I don't mean crap like "just not my thing" crap. I mean crap crap. It's bad enough that it makes me paranoid, because I can't believe anyone would sincerely put this crap out there thinking it's either good or saleable. I start to think that there's a conspiracy on, some kind of plot at the distant, upper reaches of the wealthy, that they've worked out a way to keep the proles from revolting by making themselves appear foolish and risible. As long as the poor people think the spectacularly rich are stupid, shallow, Paris Hilton, addlepates -- as long as the destitute working class can feel superior in some intangible way to their masters -- they'll keep slaving away and never rise up. This theory of mine perfectly explains reality TV, George W. Bush, and the Chelsea art market. The only problem with it is IT'S COMPLETELY INSANE.

Sadly, this is the best theory I have. The only two competing theories I have are a) Nearly Everyone Else Is an Idiot (which I reject as being overly cynical) and b) I Am an Idiot (which I reject because, okay, I'm biased).

But then I find myself being paranoid or cynical (or both) more often than not, especially when presented by monumentally brain-damaged art, which brings us to

Tara Donovan

In case you've been living under a select, art-world ignorant rock for the past couple of months, you already know about Tara Donovan's installation at PaceWildenstein's gallery on 22nd Street. It's the kind of installation spoken about in its specifications: It consists of about three million plastic cups glued to the floor and it's about fifty feet wide and sixty feet long. Everyone is writing and talking about it and I've yet to read a single negative word.

PaceWildenstein was actually one of our last stops. Shortly after J.T. and I met up he mentioned that he wanted to see Tara Donovan's show; her name floated around in my head, knocking stuff over without actually connecting with anything. "I don't think you'll like it," J.T. allowed, which made me think he had a very shallow idea of who I am from reading my so-far-short-lived blog. A couple more times as our journey continued he mentioned Tara Donovan again and each time all I got back from my mental rolodex was that I must not have been in a hurry to see her work because I couldn't remember anything else at all about her.

Tara Donovan, Untitled (Plastic Cups), 2006, plastic cups, approximately: 4'x54'5''x49'8'' As soon as we got in the gallery, though, I remembered exactly who Tara Donovan was and why I couldn't remember anything about this show. J.T. made noises to the effect of how he totally loved the piece. I just stood there.

I can say, by way of being nice, that I liked the work more than I expected. Since I expected to think that Untitled (Plastic Cups) was the most worthless piece of garbage I'd ever seen, perhaps liking it more than I expected is not much, but it is something.

I know this is the kind of question one is not supposed to ask in the world of art, but I'm going to go ahead and ask it anyway, because it's all I could think of. What's the point? Three million cups glued to the floor, in stacks of varying height, like a big rolling field of petroleum product. Hell, not even like: That's what it is. What for?

The easy answer is publicity! Lots of people were there to see it, everyone oohing and ahhing and taking photos with their credit-card-sized digital cameras. J.T. pointed out that something like this adds to a gallery's and artist's reputation and increases demand for other works by the artist. That's the easy answer. The High Art answer is only a little more difficult: The artist has recontextualized a common household object causing cognitive dissonance within the viewer as they consider the implications of the vastness of the art work and its place in consumer society and I could go on like this all day but you get the idea. Basically it's all bullshit and I don't have enough MFA credits to get all the jargon precisely right anyway. The press release says, basically, it's all about process: In other words, I'm supposed to stand there and think about Tara Donovan and her small army of unpaid interns spending days and nights carefully gluing cup after cup after cup onto the concrete floor. Hmm. Did they wear kneepads? Where'd they buy their coffee? Did the interns think they were doing something really cool or do they hate themselves? Okay, I'm done. Now what? All right, I'll think a bit more. I'll imagine Tara didn't use any interns and did it all herself. Now I'll imagine that she hired some Mexicans from a Home Depot parking lot in Queens and paid them in pistachios. Well, I'm out of ideas. How about you?

The only real purpose I can see for an installation like this is so everyone can go see it and say they did. Like I'm doing now. Something like this generates a lot of ink because everyone wants to get in on the act. I find myself wondering what other reason a gallery could possibly have for mounting a show like this one. Can they sell something? Maybe a sleeve of plastic cups for a thousand dollars? Maybe charge five hundred bucks for each individual cup with a Certificate of Authenticity noting its position in the arrangement [96, 100, 7]?

Part of me does feel that PaceWildentstein has done something great. The director just went to an artist and said, hey, do something. Whatever. It doesn't have to make money or mean anything or do anything or have anything to do with anything at all on planet Earth. It can be whatever you want. Knock yourself out! I think that's great, that's a great attitude to have towards art. Sometimes you get something truly wonderful that way.

Alas, sometimes you get plastic cups.

If galleries can be placed in a spectrum, PaceWildenstein is a gallery at one end, off at the incredibly rich, huge, you'll-never-work-in-this-town-again-after-that-bitchy-review end of the rainbow. At the other end are the tiny, so far west they're almost floating, duck-your-head-as-you-come-in places, galleries run by people who love art -- or anyway the art business -- where the director is also the art handler, phone operator, publicist, carpenter, janitor, and coffee wrangler. One of the first galleries J.T. and I stopped in was one such, and J.T. wanted to come by because it's run by Ed Winkleman. And I was glad because, in addition to meeting Ed, I also got to see that Plus Ultra Gallery was showing

Nancy Baker

Nancy Baker, Diana, 2005, oil on wood panel, 15x25 inches First, the art. I don't think this was exactly up J.T.'s alley but it certainly was mine. I'll admit to being overly enthusiastic about technique; show me some decent drawing ability and capable paint handling and I'm all atwitter. To me, a painting that's well-executed but not especially interesting is better than a painting which may well be exciting in some strict art theory sense but looks like it was done by a monkey. I'm a sucker. I admit it.

So Nancy Baker's art got me because she's got technique. She's working in the style of old illuminated manuscripts -- similar to Madeline von Foerster but earlier in art history's timeline, closer to Bosch than Breugel, maybe even further back -- but she mixes in what Ed called "the kitsch factor." I'm not one for kitsch, as a rule, no matter how well executed, but as Ed noted while we were talking, Nancy's work is just at that edge of kitsch without going too far over. Superficially her paintings look like medieval panels but then you notice there are rockets and Harvey character Hot Stuff and UFOs.

So I liked the work on display. Nancy's no virtuoso but she's very good. Her subjects bear close scrutiny; there's a lot of little stuff going on most of the time. It's not always clear exactly what to think about: A soldier's killed a baby and here comes a flying saucer! But then it's not like old illuminated parchment makes a whole lot of sense most of the time, either.

Second, meeting Ed Winkleman. When I started my blog I did some quick searching and it didn't seem like many people were doing what I was planning, but I've since found that my search was very, very shallow. A bazillion people are blogging (and how I hate that word) about art, and about a zillion of them are here in New York. But the one blog I've found which seems to be the sanest, most pleasant, most intelligent, most well-written, and most well-liked is Ed Winkleman's. And why not? In person Ed is all of those things, too. The three of us had a nice chat, including speculating about who Edna, the Anonymous Female Militant Art Bitch, could be and whether we could, ahem, winkle her out of her shell.

Ed eventually pointed out he had work to do -- minefields to sweep, no doubt! -- so J.T. and I left him and went very nearly next door to Clementine Gallery to find

Daniel Johnston

Daniel Johnston, Untitled (ML-11), 1990s, ink on paper, 8.5x11 inches Daniel Johnston is perhaps unreviewable; apparently he's some kind of weird cult phenomenon person, one of those people who have enough of a crazed following that whatever they do, whether it's a recording, concert, documentary film, or art show, gets some buyers. Therefore it's probably wrong for me to even try to think about this show of drawings in terms of its value as pure art because I don't know or care about Daniel Johnston or anything he does. But here goes:

If Daniel Johnston deserves a show in Chelsea, then my calculus notes belong in the Louvre.

That's okay, though, because just a few doors down at Derek Eller was

Dan Fischer

Dan Fischer, Jeff Koons, Rabbit, 2005, graphite on paper, 8.875x6.625 inches J.T. and I were a little concerned for Ed's mental state since he'd recommended we check out the drawing show next door which we thought was Daniel Johnston's; but it turned out Ed meant Dan Fischer's, which was much, much better, although so is the Christmas display of gingerbread houses at the old age home. Dan's exhibition consisted entirely of what looked like photographs but which turned out to be, on closer inspection, really precise pencil drawings of photographs. Of course I was blown away by the sheer craft of being able to draw so well in graphite as to be nearly indistinguishable from a photo. That's pretty amazing. Beyond that, though, I failed to see why I should actually want to look at the drawings any more than the original photos. The photos themselves, by the way, were all of artists or their work: Piet Modrian, Ed Ruscha, Jeff Koons; I think I saw Picasso but my memory might be playing tricks with me.

I'm not sure where we went next; I remember J.T. was looking for a gallery on Eleventh but I can't figure out which one it was. We did swing by Stephen Haller Gallery to see Ron Ehrlich, who doesn't get a heading because I have exactly zero to say about his work. If I didn't have the postcard here I wouldn't even have remembered I saw it. My wife likes the postcard. That's all I've got.

At some point we ended up at White Box, where the only work I found even remotely interesting was

Ilkka Halso

Ilkka Halso, Rollercoaster, 2004, digital chromogenic colour prints (Lambda), mounted on aluminium
100x134 cm Ilkka Halso appears to be another one of those Photoshop nuts falling out of the Chelsea trees these days. Virtually every gallery has an iMac; you'd think they'd be less impressed by some simple Photoshoppery and a C-print, but there you go. You can just tell I love Photoshop art almost as much as I love video installations, can't you? But I liked Ilkka's work because it wasn't badly done and the theme was kind of interesting: The idea that nature might one day only exist in preserves and museums. Sort of your anti-Disney activist nightmare. It's not the most original idea in the world, but I thought it was neatly embodied in Ilkka's compositions, anyway, which were like National Geographic photos from some Brave New World of the future.

Everything else at the White Box, incidentally, was like installations from some Brave New Art World of the future, where everyone's brains have been sucked out by aliens and Ryan Seacrest.

Tom Wesselmann

Tom Wesselmann, Sunset Nude with Matisse Self-Portrait, 2004, oil on canvas, 75x75 inches I was thrilled to pieces to finally hit the Tom Wesselmann show at Robert Miller Gallery. I had thought of going to the opening, but didn't; no hurry since it's not like I could talk to the artist, Tom being rather unfortunately dead. I liked the look of Tom's work online but was otherwise unfamiliar with his paintings. I've been enlightened. I really love them. They're so big and bold and bright and just wonderful. Not challenging, true. Not earthshattering. I'm not going to revise my whole approach to art because of them. But, damn, they sure look pretty. And they're all of naked women, which is always one of my favorite subjects. That probably makes me a bad person. Well, I also like the way Tom sneaks in Matisse and references to other painters. It makes me chuckle.

J.T. did not like Tom Wesselmann. I believe J.T. has no emotions whatsoever.

After that we wound our way down to 25th Street which, I've decided, is my favorite street in Chelsea. There was a lot of good stuff there, some of it even in the same building. Let's start with Margaret Thatcher Projects and

Adam Fowler

[Adam Fowler] Adam Fowler is a Washington, D.C. artist and J.T. knows him or has swapped e-mail with him or sees his work in D.C. or something along those lines. What Adam does is different, at least, not to mention obsessive: He draws curving lines on pieces of paper, cuts out the blank space between them, and then layers the lacey remains on top of each other. The result is kind of Pollockish, kind of like staring at acoustic ceiling tiles too long, and kind of frightening. Talk about process: Adam goes through enough X-Acto blades to keep the company in the black for the next decade. Looking at his work I can only think that this guy is seriously crazy. At least you won't wear out your eyes gluing plastic cups to the floor. Adam's work is good, though, so maybe it's worth the sacrifice. It interestingly straddles the divide between drawing and sculpting, and I didn't even know there was such a divide, or anyway that anyone could find where they came so close.

Meanwhile scattered around the room along with Adam's work were the sculptures of

Julia Venske & Gregor Spänle

Julia Venske & Gregor Spänle, Gumpfot Miggi, 2005, Lasa marble, 24x10x10 inches (Apparently they go together). Unlike Adam's interesting work, Vanske & Spänle's work sits there boringly, looking like poured blobs of shiny white plastic. It turns out they're not plastic -- the duo spends a lot of effort carving and polishing marble so it looks like poured plastic. Next up, I'm going to take a Maserati and make it look like a Yugo. Now that's art!

On the same floor in the same building we found Museum Works Galleries showing

Peter Stanick

Peter Stanick, Burn, 2005, ink on canvas, 27x36 inches Peter Stanick is sort of a low-rent Tom Wesselmann. I might have been impressed somewhat by Peter's work if I hadn't just seen Tom's; instead I found the work derivative and -- let's just say it -- easy. It's pretty clear Peter works from photos; his final designs remove the details leaving that flat Pop Art look but without any real flair. Where Tom evinces a sense of fun, Peter feels a little seamy, a little Playboy Advisor illustrationish. There's some Patrick Nagel in there but none of Nagel's skill with line. This is not to say I thought Peter's paintings were bad. I liked them. They just didn't excite me much. If he moved away from the photos, maybe, and added something of himself, then I might have really enjoyed his work.

Downstairs from those two galleries J.T. and I dropped by two shows I'd already seen and reviewed, namely Lyons Wier showing Lynn Jadamec and McKenzie Fine Art showing James Lecce. J.T. had swapped e-mail with Valerie McKenzie so we stopped to talk to her. He unwittingly asked if the gallery had been in any of the art fairs recently, which set Valerie off on an extended self-contained rant about how art fairs (in particular the Armory Show) are bad for artists, collectors, dealers, galleries, the planet, and the universe in general.

Let me pause for a moment and note that I am a talker. I talk. I talk a lot. I have this need -- it's a compulsion, really -- to fill empty space with words. Often I'll fill a pause with something really, really wrong, like "Where'd you get that stupid hat?" or "You're very tall," or "What an ugly painting -- oh, I'm sorry, is it one of yours?" It's a fault. Sometimes I talk so much it's hard for other people to get a word in.

Valerie makes me sound like Helen Keller. Before the Miracle Worker. Not only could I not get a word in edgewise, she didn't need me to. She'd say something and I'd formulate a thought on it and before I could even get it to my mouth she'd be on to the next topic. I don't think she even paused for breath. Not that I minded: Valerie not only talks non-stop, what she says is worth listening to. She has interesting things to say.

Eventually the conversation wound around to speculating about who Edna, the Anonymous Female Militant Art Bitch, could be. Again. If I'd known being anonymous would get so many people talking, I wouldn't have told anyone who I was.

After a while J.T. and I took our leave and went next door where some gay porn was playing along with videos of people making breakfast. Neither J.T. nor I had much use for the gay porn so we left quickly and ducked into Lyons Wier Gallery down the hall. I stopped in to say hello to Michael Lyons Wier only to find out he had no idea who I was because he'd never gotten any of the e-mail I'd sent him. Damned spam filters! Damned spam!

On the way out of the building we found the George Billis Gallery which was showing paintings by Thomas Connolly, Tom Gregg, and James Oliver. I didn't spend much time on Connolly or Oliver; Connolly's detailed, realistic New York City street scenes were technically fantastic but J.T. wasn't all that interested so we moved by pretty quickly. But I was struck by

Tom Gregg

Tom Gregg, Blue Unknown, 2005, oil on panel, 28x29 inches Tom Gregg's latest series is of swaths of fabric wrapped around objects the identity of which is not even hinted at. Mysterious! Actually, I didn't care. The fabric isn't wrapped around anything because it's not fabric, it's paint. So it's not as if the object is anything unknown -- it simply doesn't exist. It's notional. And I don't need to think about it. But Tom's mastery of painting drapery is certain. As usual, I was blown away by the technique -- especially since I've been thinking of some drapery I might put in my own painting. Beyond that, though, I was with J.T. Time to move on.

Across the street we went in to Bortolami Dayan, an enormous gallery simply reeking of money. Showing there is the latest work by one

Hope Atherton

Hope Atherton, Sanctuary, 2004, acrylic on linen, 84x50 inches The gallery had, by the door, a copy of some art magazine which had on the cover, not Hope Atherton's paintings, but Hope herself. And she shure is purty. Depressingly so, actually, because the more artists I see the more I think that there's no room for old, fat, ugly guys in the art world. Which means there's no hope for me. Now, I know I've written about the physical appearance of artists before, but I hope I mentioned their art first. Not so Art Rag International or whatever, which seemed to think the babe comes first. Which is stupid and unfortunate because Hope's paintings are actually very good.

To start with, they're very large. They look like out of focus photos, taken with a slow shutter speed. Actually, there's a resemblance between Hope's work and the work I saw from Alex Pacula, but Hope takes her subjects further from life and into a realm of abstraction and vague uneasiness. She loses more detail from the photo (or the idea of a photo). There's something here of Goya and something here of Gustave Moreau. There's a lot more missing as well: Goya's emotion -- anger, fear, horror -- and purpose are lacking, as is Moreau's strange symbolism. Hope seems to paint as if the world is full of darkness and despair, but it seems less sincere and more like Goth posturing than it could be.

Nevertheless I liked Hope's paintings. They had a nice texture. They worked for me. Less so for J.T., I think.

We had more fun analyzing the paintings across the street at Kashya Hildebrand Gallery where we saw

Robert Schaberl

Robert Schaberl, Blue Magenta, 2006, acrylic on canvas, 63x63 inches Robert Schaberl's paintings are like some strange reincarnation of Peter Sedgley only without the airbrush. Just about all of Robert's paintings are the exact same size, and square, with a circle of shiny color. Rather than painting targets, though, Robert's painted swirls. Well, nothing so gauche as an actual swirl. Sort of squeegs, like a swirl without the swirliness.

They're hard to describe and about as hard to give a damn about. J.T. and I amused ourselves by trying to figure out how they were made -- does he use a squeegee? A roller? How does he get it so perfectly round? -- and wondering if he ever fucks up royally and if so, what happens to the resulting painting. Like, four hours into his careful twirl of paint around the canvas and -- Fuck! I sneezed! Now I have to start over!

So much for the triumphant return of 1966 and Op Art. Speaking of which, Valerie had recommended that we see this one show and eventually we did find Danese on 24th Street where they were showing

Susie Rosmarin

Susie Rosmarin,(#344) Gingham Variation #1, 2005, acrylic on canvas, 20x20 inches Susie Rosmarin is another Op artist -- Valerie actually called her "a taper," almost as if it was a bad thing -- but Susie really puts the Op in Op Art. Knock me over Op. I seriously almost fell down when I saw her first paintings, not because they were so beautiful or masterful, but because my eyes almost fell out of my head trying to make sense of them. Susie is indeed a taper; she obviously tapes up her canvas like mad, into all these tiny strips, and then paints carefully modulated tones in between (all before the canvas is mounted -- you can tell if you check the folding) for really wild optical effects. Some of her paintings are large enough to make the whole room feel like some experimental Twilight Zone camerman is filming you. They will make your eyes bug out. They may give you a headache. They're very cool. I'm not sure who would buy these and hang them -- potheads and acid droppers, maybe. Maybe eye doctors. But, wow, they are something else.

J.T. would have walked out with one -- he has a day job, and therefore discretionary income of which I cannot even dream -- but found the prices a bit too steep for him. We instead had to content ourselves with the damn fine oversized fold-out postcard the gallery was giving away, even if at that reduced size the paintings lose all their impact.

And now here we are: This is where I came in. J.T. and I shambled through Tara Donovan, wandered through a couple more galleries rather dispiritedly, and finally ran out of steam. J.T. needed food badly, and I needed to go home and do parent-type stuff. I left J.T. at the diner on the corner as I staggered off to the subway. It was a day well spent, mocking crappy art with a friend. Try it sometime, before the art market crashes.


OpenID accepted here Learn more about OpenID
Powered by Movable Type 5.2.7