September 2007 Archives

You've heard of Chris Ofili. He had his own artworld controversy a few years back -- not as big as the Mapplethorpe Affair or the Serrano Flap, but big enough. He's the guy who used elephant dung and porn in a painting he titled The Holy Virgin Mary, prompting Rudy Giuliani (who had not yet been canonized as the patron saint of Ground Zero) to make an idiot out of himself even more than usual. You remember.

Honestly, that was not why I put Chris' latest show on my list of openings for last night. Neither was it my affection for David Zwirner. And it wasn't my innate respect for anyone named Chris. No; quite simply, it was that, while browsing through the list of openings at Chelsea Art Galleries, the tiny little digital image next to the show caught my eye.

Aside from that, I was totally prepared to not give a crap about the show. I was expecting -- not being familiar at all with Chris Ofili or his background -- to see some Afrocentric exhibition, all Black is Beautiful and anti-European and so on and so forth, all that stuff we expect the culturati to embrace in these enlightened times. You know, like Kara Walker.

Chris Ofili, Annunciation, 2006, bronze, 87 x 39 x 45 inches

Chris Ofili, Annunciation, 2006, bronze, 87 x 39 x 45 inches

Instead I walked in and began to walk around Annunciation, where a curvy polished bronze polymorphous woman is having sex with -- literally merging with -- a dark bearded potbellied rough-surfaced bearded man. And partway around I found I had goosebumps. There was something here.

Chris Ofili, Belmont Guru, 2006, graphite on paper, 29.92 x 22.56 inches

Chris Ofili, Belmont Guru, 2006, graphite on paper, 29.92 x 22.56 inches

I moved over to stand in front of Belmont Guru and I thought, "Am I crazy, or is this guy a real artist?" A couple more pieces in and I wanted to run around the crowded room yelling "Oh my God, it's a REAL ARTIST!"

Because Chris Ofili's work is AWESOME.

And the show goes on forever. I lost count of the rooms, but the David Zwirner Gallery just keeps on keeping on, room after room, small ones, big ones, and each one containing marvels. More bronze statues, more drawings, pencil, ink -- then another room of monumental paintings, then a tiny room of incredibly delicate pen and just never ends.

Part of me didn't want it to end. I wanted to see more drawings, more paintings, more work that resonated with me. I stopped next to Stephanie and as we both stood there looking at one painting I showed her my goosebumps. "Good," she said, "You've made a connection!"

And I had. The drawings really reminded me of...of my own drawings. And my drawings often remind people of....

P.J. O'Rourke once wrote something wryly amusing about Jesse Jackson and his use of rhetoric. He wrote that the foremost critic of Western Civilization is also the last practitioner of one of its highest arts. Something similar could be said for Chris Ofili, although he's no critic: For all his African influences, Ofili is a Modernist through and through.

I only just finished Patrick O'Brian's dense, riveting biography of Picasso, which, combined with following along on Dr. Enrique Mallen's On-line Picasso Project, put me in the perfect position to realize that Chris' paintings are just Cubism; that Chris is simply plowing the same fields as those crusty old white European males we're not supposed to revere any more. Chris is like Matisse with an African palette instead of a Mediterranean one; dark blues and olive greens instead of bright reds and primary yellows.

In a way it felt unfair. Jerry Saltz once warned me against being too Modernist and here was unabashed Modernism, and not just in small doses: Here was room after room of Modernism, in the middle of Chelsea at the start of the 21st century! Is he allowed to do this because he's Afro-Caribbean -- even though he was born in Manchester and attended the Royal College of Art?

But you know what? My feeling of unfairness evaporated almost as soon as it arrived, because the work is just that damned good. It may be old-fashioned, but Modernism works, damn it all. It works. And Chris is a master.

Chris Ofili, Iscariot Blues, 2007, oil on linen, 110 5/8 x 76 3/4 inches

Chris Ofili, Iscariot Blues, 2007, oil on linen, 110 5/8 x 76 3/4 inches

Stephanie and I stood in awe of Iscariot Blues, a symphony of indigo, shades barely visible against one another, all of it so dark it wavers in and out of focus, like shadows at night. A guitarist on a porch, then suddenly, out of the gloaming, you see the silhouette of a hanged man, his cock swinging between his legs....

Chris Ofili, Christmas Eve (footsteps), 2007, oil on linen, 110 5/8 x 76 3/4 inches

Chris Ofili, Christmas Eve (footsteps), 2007, oil on linen, 110 5/8 x 76 3/4 inches

Or I looked at Christmas Eve (footsteps) and watched, amazed, as the woman ducked her head down and then tipped it up to kiss her partner, back and forth, as if Chris could somehow make dried oil paint actually move.

I didn't read the titles while I was there so I missed all the Christian symbolizing going on, but it's unnecessary, because you feel the basis of the stories in the images: A man arises, his erection pulsing. A woman sits tailor-style, her breasts and curves multiplying. A man and woman embrace amidst the cosmos; he presses his manhood against her belly. It's all sex and God and redemption, all wonder and wondrousness, all flowing line and beautiful surface.

Not every piece in the show is a masterpiece, but enough are close enough to make this show one of the absolute best I've ever seen anywhere. After so many nights of mediocre art -- hell, of nights where mediocre art would be a blessing -- it's fantastic to be reminded of why I do this. It's because sometimes you do find the real thing. And it's on display at David Zwirner until November 3, 2007.

Now go!

Still here? Okay, I'll tell you what else I saw.

Gerald Slota, Untitled (Shoe Kite), 2005, unique gelatin silver print, 10x8 inches

Gerald Slota, Untitled (Shoe Kite), 2005, unique gelatin silver print, 10x8 inches

I met up with Stephanie at Hasted Hunt, where I was yet again seeing Gerald Slota and his latest show. I've briefly written before about his show; I can only say it again, pretty much. I want to be really enthusiastic about Gerald's work and say it's great, because I like him, but I honestly have no idea what to think about it. It just slides off my brain. I don't think I have the right background to really appreciate the damaged photos or get any kind of a handle on them. I find them vaguely creepy, mildly disturbing, but not much more. That's about ten times more than I usually get out of a photo, but it's still not much, I'm afraid.

While there Stephanie and I talked with Joe Sabatino, a sculptor who lives near Gerald in Paterson, New Jersey, and a woman he introduced us to but whose name I can't quite remember because I'm an idiot. Katherine? Anyway, Joe and I talked about his work, and about how difficult it is to get a good idea of what it's like from the photos on his Website.

"What medium do you use?" asked Stephanie.

Joe replied, "Pig intestine filled with concrete."

There was a moment of silence while we all tried not to say "Ew."

I promised to drop by Joe's studio some time to see (and smell) his work, and then Stephanie and I were off to our next stop, which I discussed above. On our way there we bumped into Kirsten Magnani and Marcos Chin, which was pretty great. Of course I realized that, if even I knew people who were going to the Ofili show, then it was going to be mobbed. And sure enough it was. Even Inka Essenhigh was there, although I didn't say hello because every time I do she looks at me like she's afraid I might eat her.

Keith Haring, Dog, Multiple sculpture, screenprint in red on black painted plywood 1986 50-1/8 x 34-1/2 inches

Keith Haring, Dog, Multiple sculpture, screenprint in red on black painted plywood 1986 50-1/8 x 34-1/2 inches

Finally I reluctantly left Zwirner with Stephanie and we wandered over, heading for PPOW, but pausing in between to check out what I decided should be called the Dead Pop Show at DJT Fine Art: Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Stephanie had never seen a Basquiat in person, so she finally discovered what I'd known, which is that it's Pop, meaning it reproduces perfectly, which is pretty much the problem. But I find Keith Haring entirely irresistable -- his work is just so relentlessly positive, so unstoppably happy, so infectious, I can't help but like it.

Marlene Dumas, KLAUS KINSKI MEETS ENSOR, ANDY WARHOL MEETS HIS MAKER, 2002, watercolor on paper, 18.11x18.11 inches

Marlene Dumas, KLAUS KINSKI MEETS ENSOR, ANDY WARHOL MEETS HIS MAKER, 2002, watercolor on paper, 18.11x18.11 inches

Alice Neel, NATURA MORTE, 1964-65, Oil on canvas, 31 x 45 inches

Alice Neel, NATURA MORTE, 1964-65, Oil on canvas, 31 x 45 inches

We also got sidetracked into Cheim & Read's show, which was one of those dreadful "high-concept" kind of shows where someone, I guess, needs to clean out some storage space or something. Tonight's theme was the skeleton, so we were treated to everything from a Picasso litho to a Damien Hirst of uncommon, even for him, stupidity involving two plastic drug store skeletons hanging right in the middle of the room where people were trying to walk, talk, drink, and text their friends with messages reading "I M HERE WERE R U". Standouts, though, were Marlene Dumas happily decomposing (literally) Andy Warhol and Alice Neel just basically being a really good painter.

Julie Heffernan, Self Portrait as Not Dead Yet, 2007, oil on canvas, 68 1/2 x 60 inches

Julie Heffernan, Self Portrait as Not Dead Yet, 2007, oil on canvas, 68 1/2 x 60 inches

At long last we mounted the steep stairs to PPOW to see Julie Heffernan's latest show, Booty. After walking around a bit I said to Stephanie, "Old Master technique and topless women. So how come I'm not excited?"

"Yeah, what's wrong with you?" she shot back.

But that pretty much summed it up. Two years ago I'd have been blown away by this show, but last night I was just unimpressed. Julie's a good painter, an excellent painter, with technique to spare. But that's all there is. I asked Stephanie if she liked the work.

"I think I do," she allowed, "but I'm not sure I understand it."

What's not to understand? A nauseous, naked Uma Thurman stands half-buried in dead animals. How much clearer can Julie's theme be?

Actually, I think Julie's theme is more obvious than that. I think she's aiming to create ART. Not regular old art, that is, but ART, something a well-to-do person can buy which is very definitely A PAINTING. Whatever else you might say about these, they're certainly PAINTINGS. No question. They're big, they're made of paint, and they don't make sense. They must be ART! No one will walk into your well-appointed home and say, "My kid could paint that!" No one will squint at it with puzzlement and say "You paid how much for this?" No: This is so unequivocally ART everyone will simply accept it and your good taste for buying it.

In other words: This is a couple of paintings from Sears for people who shop on Fifth Avenue.

Well, they can't all be winners. Stephanie and I at least got to stop in to see Daniel Rozin's show (which I raved about last time) and that Chris Ofili show -- did I mention it was great? I think I might've. Those two alone made the trip -- and many more like it -- worthwhile.

Super Thursday, September 6, 2007


I was looking down the Douglas Kelley Show List to see if there was anything this Super Thursday that was really going to be interesting when I saw the name Gerald Slota. Gerald was one of the very first artists I met when I started going to openings. It was a few years back and I went to see Eric White, because at one of my rare moments of having money I'd bought a lithograph from him and I loved his work. At Eric's -- I can't remember the gallery, although I guess I could find it in my e-mail archives -- I was bad-mouthing New Jersey and Gerald jumped into the conversation saying, "Are you saying bad things about New Jersey? I'm from New Jersey! And so is he!" He being Cory Marc. And that's how we met and how I ended up putting Cory's Website together with him for free. I've only seen Gerald a few times since then, here and there, usually at Cory's studio or apartment, but he's been entertaining in one way or another every time, so I knew, at least, where I was starting Super Thursday.

I met up with Gerald at Hasted Hunt, which turned out to be lucky, because, while Gerald's show was hung, the opening was not, in fact, on September 6 as reported. But Gerald had come in anyway and a bunch of people were wandering around since the door was open. This was the first time I'd gotten a chance to see Gerald's actual work, along with photos from Lisette Model and Aaron Siskind. And they're photos. I've said before, more than once, that I'm not really fond of photos, and I haven't gotten any fonder. Gerald, at least, does more than just straight photography -- I guess you'd say his work is photo-based, not photography. He takes negatives and scratches them, and abuses them, then exposes them onto paper with objects on top; then I think he sometimes abuses the paper, too. The result is like the ravings of some psychotic: Out of focus, indeterminate photos with vaguely ominous scribbling out, doodling, and circling. These photos are framed -- within the photo -- by scalloped edges which reminded me of nothing so much as the frame around a screen door. I mentioned this to Gerald and he said, "They're supposed to be scrapbook edges, you know." Then, as if he had just received a revelation: "You live in the suburbs, don't you?" Of course -- an apartment dweller wouldn't know about screen doors, but I've had one all my life. Altogether Gerald's work is very 1990s, very grunge, very deliberately sloppy -- like Gerald himself.

Gerald told me Cory would be coming in, also, so while I waited I walked through the rest of the show. Aaron Siskind's photos were of boys -- young men or teens, I guess -- isolated while in midair. They're meant to evoke, I imagine, flying or falling, but they really look to me like nothing so much as kids jumping on a trampoline. Very exciting to do, not very exciting to look at. Lisette Model's photos, meanwhile, were Weegee Lite: Here's a dwarf in a suit! Here's a fat lady at the beach! Here's a gallery visitor wishing he was elsewhere!

Which I was shortly, because I had to go to the bathroom. Which illustrates the amazing way that happenstance and great art go together. Both bathrooms on that floor were occupied, so I went downstairs. Both bathrooms on that floor were also occupied, so while I was waiting I wandered past the open gallery nearby. Even then I would have walked right by except I saw someone inside waving his arms around at something, so I went in, and was rewarded by the absolute best art I was to see in Chelsea that night, and possibly the best I'd seen in many months, which was the work of Daniel Rozin.

The wide door of the gallery was open but there was a translucent white scrim set up between the door and the larger artwork. As I came around the scrim and looked at the piece -- titled, it turns out, Weave Mirror -- I immediately thought that someone had woven together wide aluminum venetian blind strips into a large, basically flat curtain and hung it up near one wall. The noise -- a sibilant shuffling sound -- I thought was the sound of the blinds rustling in the breeze of the air conditioning. Off to one side of the scrim, the guy who'd been waving his arms was standing, leaning in, and then leaning back out, over and over.

My first impression turned out to be dead wrong. My next impression was...well, I'm not even sure what it was. Basically that I had been wholly wrong about the piece. As I watched the other guy move in front of the thing, back and forth, at a distance of about eight feet from it, it was clear that, in some way, the piece was responding to him. It was getting darker and lighter in patches, moving across its surface. I looked up; I looked over; I looked at the scrim. I couldn't figure out what was going on.

Now I come to difficult spot. I want to tell you what I figured out about it, but what I'd really rather have happen is that you go over to bitforms gallery for the opening on September 8, 2007, or that you show up for the artist's talk at 4:00 on Saturday, September 29, and see it for yourself. I'll say this: Outside of a science museum, I've never seen anyone actually play in a sustained way with a work like this. It's just absolutely enchanting.

Over to one side is a room with a digital setup, which is not as successful; and then what I believe is my favorite of the three, Peg Mirror, where a circular wooden sculpture hangs on the wall and also responds to the viewer's presence in a way I won't explain except to quote Arthur C. Clarke: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

Daniel's work is magic all right.

After my tour through and around Daniel's art the bathroom had cleared out and then I was able to go back upstairs and catch up with Cory and his girlfriend, whose name I think is Angelica -- I feel bad not quite remembering because the two of them came out to SVA to see my work and I was introduced to her there, but my mind is terrible with names -- anyway, she is fantastically beautiful, I mean truly, deeply gorgeous, and way too good for Cory -- and Gerald and his girlfriend, to whom I wasn't introduced, because of course this is Gerald, and she is also beyond beautiful and too good for him, and Sarah Hasted from the gallery, to whom I also wasn't introduced and furthermore didn't even get a chance to talk to because we all left right around then to head to the Aperture Gallery.

Outside we picked up Joe Sabatino, a sculptor like Cory and the bearer of an absolutely fantastic Italian nose, one of the really great ones, and headed uptown. At Aperture's door we were stopped because it was a private party, but Gerald's status as one of Sarah's artists got us in. This was therefore my first taste of being privileged.

The only trouble was I don't give a crap about photography. I really wished I did, and I said so to Cory, and he whispered back, "Shh! Not so loud in here!" Because, he's right, I could've been lynched. And then photographed. The gallery -- which is vast and maze-like -- was filled with black & white photos from what I assume are some of photography's greats, like Larry Fink, Peter Hujar, Lisette Model, Diane Arbus, and -- well, go see the Website. As far as I was concerned, almost none of the photos contained near enough nudity, and that's pretty much all I want out of a photo. I tried to care, I really did, but it just didn't work. I liked the image of the steam bath in Budapest because of the big fat sweaty women in it. Big fat sweaty women make everything okay, even photography.

Soon I saw I was running out of time and there were other things I wanted to see. So I said my good-byes -- I'll be seeing most of them again at Gerald's actual opening on September 20 -- and hustled across 27th Street to Ed Winkleman's to finally see Thomas Lendvai's Between Pain and Boredom.

Once in the gallery I ducked into the exhibit before meeting anyone I knew; I didn't want anyone's reaction to ruin my fresh impressions. I had barely even glanced at the images on Ed's blog, in fact; despite our long conversation under Ed's press release, I had avoided knowing anything about this particular work and tried not to say anything about it, too, because I really just wanted to experience it without preconceptions.

So I experienced it without preconceptions and...and I want to be able to say more about it. I want to hate it or love it and I just can't bring myself to do either. Like all "good" conceptual art it makes me think "That's neat." That seems to be the best conceptual art can do for me: That's neat. How'd they do that? Oh, is that how? Neat.

What is it? It's pretty much just what it looks like from the photos: A room (the fourth wall of which was built across the open gallery) with wooden planks cutting across it at varying heights. I had to duck down to get under them, and then duck more and more, and then I stood up, finding myself bisected by the planks. Off in one corner a disembodied head -- the visible part of another gallery visitor -- was laughing and joking with everyone, having a great time watching people moving around; at the far end, under the highest beams, a couple of guys were drinking beer. I found I couldn't turn around between the beams, being too wide across the shoulders, so I ducked down to turn around and go back out.

Outside the beams continue in a trompe l'oeil effect as if they're going through the walls (they're not); in the hall outside a few stray beam ends "poke through" the wall there, too. As I said, neat. Groovy. Kinda cool. Not, like, wow, dude, awesome! But okay. I mean, I could write about how the space is recontextualized, about how beams usually don't obstruct movements but these do, about how viewing people from the neck or boobs up (or down, if you duck) is a new way of seeing, and so on and so forth. If I were feeling really ambitious and creative, I could probably write quite a bit. But ultimately the work comes down to the experience of the work, and the experience is, you know, neat. And that's about it.

After going through I met up with Stephanie and her beau Moby Dick, otherwise known as Joe. Stephanie is feeling confident and brave this year so she says she's going to attempt to interact more with the Chelsea gallery scene -- get out to openings and such -- and so was eager to visit some more shows. It was getting really late, after eight o'clock, which is typically closing time for openings, but since it was, after all, Super Thursday, a lot of galleries were staying open anyway, and we sashayed down 27th to see what was happening.

27th Street between Eleventh and Twelfth has really picked up; I remember going to openings at Ed's where the block would be deserted despite other openings along the way. But I've seen openings there getting bigger and bigger and attracting more and more people, most of whom are younger and wackier than the rest of the Chelsea crowd; there's music sometimes, and people all over the sidewalk and cobbled street, smoking and drinking and waving their tattoos and piercings around and falling out of their trendily torn clothing. The night's winner, in my book, was a leggy blonde in denim hotpants and gold high heels. Stephanie, meanwhile, was happy to see she was by no means the most outlandishly dressed person in Chelsea.

Arm in arm in arm we strolled to Derek Eller which was showing Parents' Day by D-L Alvarez; apparently D-L didn't get the memo that pixelation is old, old, old hat, to the extent that you can now get pre-pixelated clothes for reality TV shows. I found his carefully rendered pencil drawings of highly pixelated photos intensely boring and unimaginative. In the back room was a large sculpture by Jesse Bercowetz which looked really, really ugly until you got close to it, whereupon -- both Joe and I had the same reaction separately -- you discovered the base was made up of broken beer bottles set pointy-side up, making the sculpture not just ugly but actively dangerous. The materials list for the piece is a more entertaining work of art than the sculpture itself: "wood, glass, plaster, fiberglass, plexiglass, foamcore, polystyrene, shish-ka-bob skewers, resin, acrylic paint, ink, graphite". What, no dogshit?

We also stopped in Wallspace where we found Brad Phillips' Day By Day, which was so slight and pointless it barely made an impression; there was a room off to one side with a handful of doodles on typing paper tacked to the wall ("I [heart] OBVIOUS") with so much empty wall around it I figured it was titled "WE EXPECTED MORE FROM YOU." The drawings were so purposely awful and stupid they had to be intentional, which leaves me with that age-old conundrum: If you pretend to be an asshole, at what point are you no longer pretending?

Next door to that Clementine was showing Reel to Reel by Jeff Shore and Jon Fisher; the show would be totally opaque without the gallery verbiage. Several machines hang on the walls, murky in the gallery's darkness; a video is projected; and some of that typically aimless music -- the kind you always get with video installations ("Ping! Wong-wong-wong-wong...BONK! WheeooooonkPING!") -- emanates from speakers. The machines mostly weren't moving -- one had four records with styluses one them, but the records weren't turning -- but some seemed to move, a little, and many of them had wooden boxes which seemed to be obscuring something.

The gallery verbiage explained: Some of the machines contained miniature "sets" which were being beamed live to the video screen; some of the machines contained noise-making apparatus (one seemed to have a zither inside it and sticking out on each end). All the machines, possibly randomly or in some pre-determined but pointless sequence, would do stuff, and all of it would come together in, well, the verbiage had some nice term for it. It seemed to me like purposeless noise and movement, about as exciting as sitting in your kitchen and every so often dropping silverware.

After that we went next door into a gallery where the lights were so bright -- especially in contrast to the semi-darkness next door -- I thought maybe the artist was trying to kill us. Then I saw the art and, yes, he was trying to kill us.

We made a stop in to another event, this one a fundraiser, apparently, for the Pat Hearn and Colin de Land Cancer Foundation. Some messy graffitti works hung near these fantastic trompe l'oeil paintings of really cool objects with lots of stainless steel, all of which were by Steve Ellis. I love this kind of thing without shame or reason; it's just my thing. I wanted to paint like this once. Steve's handling of the paint is flawlessly smooth, perfectly realistic, and enjoyably suffused with that chrome effect airbrush artists everywhere love (even though Steve doesn't use one). Giant lighters, huge meat slicers with the Chrysler Building reflected in the metal, race cars, butterfly knives -- all the things guys of my age would dig. And my favorite: A beautiful, loving rendering, six feet tall, of one of those pens where, when you turn it over, the lady's swimsuit disappears, leaving her gloriously naked. This lady was a little pneumatic for my taste -- I prefer the older, more classic models, I guess -- but the attention lavished on such an object of obsession -- obsession on top of obsession -- I admire that. It makes me smile.

Stephanie said there's at least one guy in every freshman art class who paints like this, and I guess that guy could've been me; I still fall for it every time. Sad but true.

We set out again, south from 27th Street, in search of other things to see. We stopped in here and there, seeing some extremely mediocre stuff I didn't even get information about. Nothing exciting. In the midst of one fairly lame show of goopy, drippy sculpture things involving resin- and latex-coated clothing and stuff I was struck by the profile of one of the other visitors. I followed her deeper into the gallery and finally walked up to her.


It was Madeline! Madeline von Foerster, who I had reviewed about a year and a half ago! I was so thrilled to see her, because she's one of the best, nicest people I've ever met, beautiful both inside and out. When I met her for the first time at her show she greeted me like an old friend and when I went up to her this time she did so again, smiling so warmly and happily you'd think I was her favorite person in the whole world. Although I suspect she likes her handsome boyfriend, who I got to meet, more.

Madeline and I caught up; she hasn't had a show because, fortunately and unfortunately, she's selling her work as fast as she can paint it, so there's never enough for a show. She told me she's part of a group show coming up in London, and then a little while after that a solo show, also in London; but nothing near New York right now.

I love bumping into people I know.


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