October 2007 Archives

October 25, 2007


This is shaping up to be a good year in Chelsea. I've been on this beat for two years now and the second was worse than the first, but this, the beginning of my third year, is going really well so far. Joe Giannasio, Chris Ofili, Daniel Rozin, Steve Ellis -- there's been a lot of good, maybe even great, work showing in New York's art scene. Last night was another night of excellent shows.

I arrived at PPOW at about 6:30 expecting to meet Stephanie, who ended up getting stuck in traffic. That gave me a good while to sit with the sculptures of Judy Fox. I'd already seen one of her works at Why the Nude?, where her sculpture of Krishna almost turned me gay with its beautiful depiction of the male nude. This show is much more female.

Judy Fox, Snow White, 2007, terra cotta and casein, 8.5x58x25 inches

Judy Fox, Snow White, 2007, terra cotta and casein, 8.5x58x25 inches

The largest sculpture in Snow White and the Seven Sins is Snow White herself, a life-sized if small young woman lying in state on top of a glass case. She's completely nude but for her long braided hair reaching to her knees. She is surrounded by seven amorphous critters on the floor, each one a jumble of flowing forms suggesting, with varying degrees of concreteness, sexual body parts, like breasts, nipples, vulvas, lips, tongues, buttocks, and so on. All eight sculptures have been lovingly detailed and painted in lifelike fleshy tones, including purples and oranges and reds for the invitingly touchable Sins.

Judy Fox, Lust, 2007, terra cotta and casein, 8x26x15 inches

Judy Fox, Lust, 2007, terra cotta and casein, 8x26x15 inches

None of these sculptures could be mistaken for anything alive -- Snow White's eyelashes are one solid piece, painted, and her pubic hair is flat paint -- but somehow they all possess a curious feeling of life, as if they might start moving at any moment. Standing against the wall -- there's a lot of room around the tableaux -- I found each sculpture catching my eye in the way that, say, a woman with a low-cut dress might, or a sculptress with a knee-length skirt lightly clinging to her derriere might. I really feel -- and I try to capture this in my own art, in my own way -- that humans are pre-programmed with a library of visual cues -- small combinations of curves and lines, subtle movements of catenaries -- which catch attention more readily than others, which signal the human brain to stop and pay attention because here's something sexy or dangerous or tasty. And Judy's sculptures all have those curves and lines.

I spoke to her a bit. I led off with my anecdote about her Krishna, almost verbatim as I'd written it, and she asked me, "Do you have a blog?" She went on to tell me that the model for that sculpture, who lives in India, had been e-mailed a copy of my review and he forwarded it on to her crowing about how beautiful he was and how he'd almost made me gay. "I guess this installation will turn you back the other way," she joked.

I did find myself strangely -- or perhaps not so strangely -- drawn to Snow White's pudendal cleft, although I couldn't look at it too long without feeling like I was inappropriately ogling an actual person, even though I was pretending to study the delicate brushwork of her pubic hair. Judy told me she's never been a painter; but she could be, she could be. And if she was to become a painter, she'd be a Northern European Renaissance painter, she confided in me. She believes art is about clarification.

Standing against the wall I found myself overwhelmed by sexual feelings. I don't know if it was the art or the people at the show or just my general mood at the time, but suddenly I was awash in a craving for sex, any sex at all -- if anyone had come on to me at that point, male or female, old or young, fat or thin -- anyone -- I would've run off with them right there in search of a dark closet or deserted office.

(It's just as well no one propositioned me, though, since as it was, earlier, I couldn't find the restroom I needed for much less exciting activities. I ended up going out of the building and into a show halfway down the block, then covering most of the distance back inside that building before I finally found the bathroom.)

But back to Snow White and the Seven Sins: In the end, I found the use of the Seven Deadly Sins unnecessary to the piece. In fact I feel they're a distraction. The Seven Deadlies were really kind of arbitrary -- the number seven was chosen by medieval scholars for its mystical significance (is there really that big a difference between sloth and gluttony? Envy and greed?) -- and form a too-easily grasped handle on the piece. I think it might even discourage really engaging with each "dwarf" as made by Judy. The pieces set up resonances both tactile and visual without the added layer of the titles to make them sluggish.

Judy told me the piece is an exploration of the Freudian unconscious; I think the piece certainly explores eroticism and sex in a very earthy way. I think it's telling, too, that Snow White is above her glass casket, exposed and revealed -- altogether it's very sexy and voyeuristic, like a fantasy of having a blindfolded and bound partner to whom you can do anything, anything at all. And the dwarfs all rally around, each one looking to me like a living embodiment of Freud's polymorphous perversity, getting off using every available body part.

Stephanie finally got to the gallery and by then I was no longer horny, which is good because it saved us an embarrassing scene of her smacking me with her hat. After she spent some quality time with Judy's work we moved on to Yossi Milo to see Oskar Korsár's No Wind Can Blow Us Down.

Oskar Korsar, More Than 70 Percent of the Earth is a Mirror, 2007, ink on paper

Oskar Korsár, More Than 70 Percent of the Earth is a Mirror, 2007, ink on paper

Oskar's show consists of a number of large works in pen and ink. After looking at one for a few moments, Stephanie stated, "These don't remind me of children's book illustrations as much as what it felt like when I was twelve." And I can see that: The heroine -- she strikes me as a heroine, anyway -- of Oskar's drawings looks how I imagine Stephanie looked when she was twelve or maybe fourteen. She appears in each of the eleven or twelve drawings -- there's that number again! -- in various states of undress -- topless, without panties, totally dressed, wearing glasses -- and various states of repose. The setting changes from her bedroom to a forest and back again until I started to feel like she was in Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, the room metamorphosing into woods piece by piece, her bed becoming a tent, her houseplants becoming trees. The feeling is reinforced by Oskar's relentless crosshatching and the obvious sensitivity of his drawing. Oskar uses a number of pop culture references, too, which ordinarily irritate me beyond measure, but which are handled here so gracefully and with such tact -- without irony, as Stephanie noted -- that they feel like they simply belong to the girl's world and aren't tacked on as some kind of stupid commentary. It takes a lot for me to accept a Beavis & Butt-head t-shirt in a work of art, but Oskar pulls it off effortlessly.

Although the drawings might seem, at first glance, to be simplistic and maybe crude, I was charmed by their gravity and love. I felt awkward looking at this young, nude pre-adolescent -- as awkward as she herself would feel in that in-between body.

The whole effect is heightened by Oskar's wabi sabi approach to his materials. Each large drawing -- the Website doesn't have dimensions, but I'd estimate about 20 by 30 inches -- is made up of multiple pieces of overlapping paper, some of which are pasted on to cover previous false starts on the drawing, some of which show other drawings on the other side. The paper itself looks well-handled and a little old, like it was rustling around a box in an attic for a few years before being used. Oskar's inking is nowhere near as neat and regular as Sendak's despite the resemblance; and old Maurice would never send out an illustration where he'd obviously dripped ink in big blots.

Rarely have I ever felt so warmly protective towards drawings.

Gail Gregg, Location 819, 2005, encaustic on cardboard, 17x17 inches

Gail Gregg, Location 819, 2005, encaustic on cardboard, 17x17 inches

We followed that up with Luise Ross Gallery where Gail Gregg was showing her recent paintings. I feel almost that paintings should be in quotes for this show; while certainly there is paint involved in each of Gail's objects, they're not what I would strictly call paintings. She takes things -- in this show, mostly what appear to be cardboard packing materials -- and covers them with encaustic. This isn't exactly obvious at first, but once I saw the four-cup carriers I usually hand back to the drive-thru cashier so they don't kick around my car for a month I saw packaging everywhere.

Gail gets an interesting texture with the encaustics but after a very short time I felt her paintings were rather shallow: "Look! If you flatten out this box, it looks like a Mayan design! Or a stylized woman! Or something else!"

Stephanie, for her part, said she'd buy one in particular if she had the money. Gail's prices are very high, though, as we saw when I was somewhat unceremoniously handed a price list by a woman I assume was Luise Ross.

"I'll make you one," I told Stephanie, which led to a brief discussion of how one of our criteria for art quality is whether or not we feel we could make it ourselves. If we think we could, we don't like it as much. Maybe that's mean, maybe it's delusional, but it's how we feel.

Shawn Dulaney, Listening, 2007, acrylic on linen over panel, 56x44 inches

Shawn Dulaney, Listening, 2007, acrylic on linen over panel, 56x44 inches

I chose our next and last stop -- Sears-Peyton -- entirely because I know Stephanie likes texture in her paintings and Shawn Dulaney's paintings look like they have texture to spare. And in real life they do, and on top of that they have something Stephanie calls "presence," which is as good a term as any for saying that you actually feel something when you look at them, unlike most of the stuff you see.

Shawn paints in a comforting kind of Abstract Expressionist style, and really there are plenty of painters doing similar goobery work (Stephanie calls it "painterly"). But Shawn's has a presence whereas most don't and that makes all the difference. Where I might have walked on by saying blah, for her work I paused and just absorbed them.

All in all it was an excellent night in Chelsea. Admittedly I've left out a couple of exceedingly mediocre things we saw, but, really, why ruin it? Any night including Judy Fox is a win.

I'm going to start off with the last thing I did on Friday night just to get it out of the way. The main reason I was in Chelsea on October 19, 2007 was to attend Adult Drawing, billed as "not your typical figure drawing session." I haven't been to too many drawing sessions, myself, but I'm pretty sure this one was, in fact, atypical. I went in with approximately no expectations, although since the ad copy promised "adult film stars" as models, I thought perhaps there'd be more vulvas. (Most artists models are adept at being completely unclothed while keeping their vulvas hidden away.) Beyond that, I really had no idea what it'd be like.

It turned out to be absolutely dreadful. I didn't think the models would be professional artists models, but I did think someone would at least tell them to hold still. We started out with "pin-up superstar" Angela. And let me tell you that I was surprised to find that someone who could look so good in photos could so totally lack any charisma while posing live. It didn't help that the "stage" was made of two layers of foam into which half her body was submerged when she lay down.

After she went through a couple of face-forward, aggressively uninteresting poses, Angela retired and was replaced by a group of four models. All of them were very attractive, I have to say, but they seemed awfully young for adult film stars. If it wasn't for all their tattoos I'd have thought a couple of them were about fifteen. The models went unnamed at the time -- apparently only Angela rates top billing -- but further research indicates that one of the other models was Roxy from Suicide Girls' skankier younger sister Burning Angel. (I'd try to find some more names and details for you but these sites are decidedly NSFW and I'm right now I'm at W. That's okay: Just imagine a large group of mostly deeply damaged young women with incredibly dopey Gothish noms de nu like Apathy or Medusa and you've got it.)

Age, innocence, piercings and tattoos aside, the four models were just unable to manage an interesting pose. Which is just as well since they couldn't hold poses, either. And I don't mean that they moved a little, or shifted their balance; I mean they were having conversations and blowing kisses at the artists. We would've been better off going to the strip club downstairs where the dancers probably hold still longer.

After the foursome ran through a few tableaux of increasing pointlessness they went off to take a break while Angela returned with another model in the full Bettie Page bustier-garters-fishnet ensemble and riding crop. She stood unsteadily over Angela, who was on all fours, while I tried desperately to find something, anything worth drawing in that position. I ended up sketching another artist, a fantastically tall woman who held much more still than the models and was much better-looking anyway.

While I was trying to get something down on paper I was plagued by the dim lighting -- the place was lit like a go-go bar -- and the incessant flashes from the half-dozen or so photographers who were scuttling around. One of them nearly used my head for a tripod. So trying to see went like "squint squint squint BLIND! squint squint..."

Shortly after the DJ put on Depeche Mode -- "Words are very unnecessary," I'm with ya -- I decided it was time to go. I'd been there an hour.

I honestly didn't think anyone could make six hot naked women boring, but somehow they managed it. If you'd told me Thursday night that I'd regret paying ten bucks to look at topless women, I'd have laughed at you.

(To be fair: I posted pretty much the above review on the mailing list where I heard about the event and the creator and organizer wrote back to say that I'd completely missed the point -- it's supposed to be an art party, not a class at the Art Students League. And he graciously offered to let me in to the next Adult Drawing for free.)

Lucky for me and my drawing I spent Saturday at Dorian and Liana's with Theresa as our model. More about that on Probable Working Sequence.

Back to Friday: My wonderful evening began with meeting Stephanie at Leo Koenig where she had wandered before I arrived. Clearly that was a mistake because we had Justin Faunce's Pictophilia inflicted on us; in particular Justin has his name attached to one of the absolute worst paintings I've seen. At all. Ever. Luckily for you there's no image online, but let me describe it and be thankful I took this bullet for you: Imagine that hoary old Che Guevara t-shirt design enlarged to about four feet square. Instead of Che's face, Michael Jackson. With skulls for the pupils of his eyes.

This is so bad it moves beyond badness and into some realm of extreme horribleness previously unknown to human beings. Even the online thesaurus runs out of epithets for describing this level of atrociousness. It's so awful, I actually laughed.

But that's in the back room. In the front room is yet another Leo-Koenig-creamed-his-pants giant wall painting. I don't understand Leo's penchant for gigantic canvases. Is bigger better? More important? More serious? More...more? I can't imagine his thought process. Maybe art buyers pay by the square foot like one does for carpet.

Clearly this monster took Justin a long time to paint. It's hyperdetailed with tons of little bits crammed into every inch of the canvas. It looks to me like Justin must have had friskets laser-cut, or made silkscreens, because I can't imagine anyone doing all this by hand; so it looks like a lot of laser-cut friskets filled in with flat colors -- there's nary a blend to be seen. It's a humongous silkscreen with a hundred screens.

All to create a really really big mess of worthlessness. There's stuff everywhere, repeated at different sizes and mirrored: Bulldozers! The Google logo! The Space Needle! And, uh, loads of other things! All of which doesn't lead to sensory overload so much as a distinct air of Who Gives a Fuck? Justin doesn't seem to give a fuck, and no one else at the opening did, either; hell, the gallery verbiage manages to get off "signs and things signified" in the first line, proving that even someone being paid to give a fuck couldn't manage it. And neither could I.

Diana Al Hadid, Record of a Mortal Universe, 2007, mixed media, 128x138x106 inches

Diana Al Hadid, Record of a Mortal Universe, 2007, mixed media, 128x138x106 inches

We wobbled out into the night on unsteady legs -- Stephanie was a wine or two down and my medication's been acting up -- and wound up at Perry Rubenstein looking at Diana Al Hadid's Record of a Mortal Universe. Stephanie rather liked it, except for a goodly number of drywall screws sticking out at various points, which she felt showed shoddy workmanship. Personally, I found they spoke to me: They said, "This is where my cordless screwdriver started running out of battery charge."

The piece consists of a stairway of sorts over the remains of a set of organ pedals, all with various columns and curlicues around made of painted and otherwise goobered up corrugated cardboard. Under it all is the "record," a big blobby puddle of black stuff, with a curving horn growing out of it like a diseased Victrola. About the best I can say is that the piece is undeniably there. It's clear that someone made something. Why, none can say.

That just about wrapped up the evening. I went to a couple of other things but nothing I feel like writing about just now. I was eager, anyway, to get to the Adult Draw. Ha ha on me.

Check It Out


Hey, this show looks pretty good!

Joseph Giannasio


I've stated before, in multiple places and multiple times, that I don't approve of installation art or conceptual art. I say "I don't approve," with its overtones of patrician regard and aloof moralizing, very particularly to make it clear that I know I'm being obtuse and retrograde in my thinking. Also to make it easy for anyone who wants to disagree with me, since it's clear I'm a pompous prick.

But if I don't approve of installation art, I am also a sucker for reverse psychology. Basically I enjoy proving people wrong whenever possible -- it's something of a hobby of mine, in fact. So when Joe Giannasio wrote on Ed Winkleman's blog (which blog I've had a lot of time to read and comment on thanks to my current (and thankfully temporary) non-job in Cubicle America) that he had trouble getting people to the apartments where he installs his installation art -- one critic, he claims, said "I don't go to shows that aren't in public spaces" -- when Joe said he couldn't get people to his openings, I had to prove him wrong and show up. Even if I don't usually like installation art.

I do, however, love New York and its buildings. I grew up in a hundred-year-old house in a historic neighborhood in the city, although really all neighborhoods in the city are historic in some sense. I'm currently living in a house built in 1928 and I have a thing for the architectural peculiarities of that time, like really nice woodwork. My father is a handy guy and when I was young I'd watch him repair or replace something all the time, marveling at the innards of this or that antique appliance or dusty niche of the basement. I still have this part of me which insists on attempting to be handy myself even though I'm about as dextrous with tools as a half-crushed ladybug. For example, a few years back I invested many hours in stripping seventy years of paint from the wood around my bathroom window, exposing some beautiful American chestnut and the pencil marks of the craftsman who built it three generations earlier. Then I went and half-stripped one of the windows in my daughter's bedroom and there I stopped. I'm going to finish it up any day now. Any day.

And Joe Giannasio's work is about the layers of construction in the rooms in which we live and work. What he does is peel back -- partly, literally -- the layers between the inhabitants of the room and the structure of the room itself. I could invent something metaphorical here and relate this to all sorts of things -- uncovering hidden layers of meaning in the structure of daily life and so forth -- but I don't think it's fair to the work, which is ultimately straightforward: Here, Joe is saying, this is what it's made of. Check it out.

Joseph Giannasio, 9-11 CPN Project, \

Joseph Giannasio, 9-11 CPN Project, "Infinite Knot", 2007. Photo courtesy the artist.

Talking with Joe I found that his work -- his current mode of exploration, I guess you could call it -- came directly from curiosity. Curiosity and the School of Visual Arts MFA studios (where I spent June of 2007 myself). The studios there are, as you might expect, coated in layers upon layers of paint and crud, and while there, Joe said, he got the idea of scraping down through the layers to see what was underneath. Then he found that he could roll up the paint because it came up in such large pieces. Altogether this led to his two ideas of, first, cutting down into the floor, and second, rolling the floor up like a rolltop desk.

Joseph Giannasio, 9-11 CPN Project, \

Joseph Giannasio, 9-11 CPN Project, "36 Boards" in progress, 2007, detail. Photo courtesy the artist.

When I arrived I realized why Joe doesn't get anyone to see his work; he hadn't even put his name on his doorbell. My first guess rang someone who thankfully wasn't home; my next guess got Joe. I was early, and he was late, and thus he let me in to watch as he finished the piece. It looked pretty much like it does in this photo here: The ceiling was gone, revealing the joists and subfloor of the apartment above; the plaster had been stripped almost entirely away to reveal two walls of brick and two walls of lathe and studs; and the hardwood floor was gone, leaving the subfloor and nails. (The first photo above shows an earlier version of the same room with the hardwood floor rolled back; it was entirely removed when I got there.)

Joseph Giannasio, 9-11 CPN Project, \

Joseph Giannasio, 9-11 CPN Project, "36 Boards", 2007. Photo courtesy the artist.

Joe cut down through the subfloor along two joists. Then he glued down burlap to hold the slats in place and peeled them back, rolling as he went. Meanwhile his friend Raphael filmed the process. We talked as Joe worked and sweated. Under the subfloor we could see the underside of the ceiling lathe from one apartment down.

As he worked more visitors arrived, including Stephanie. Then Joe finished, cleaned up some of the more egregious dust and dirt, and allowed everyone in to stand around inside the work.

Then an amazing thing happened. The piece became interactive. We all began to talk -- something nearly impossible at most noisy Chelsea openings -- and discuss the exposed details. One person noticed that the rusty ironwork poking through the brick was the support for the fire escape outside the window. We all speculated on why the brick was black on the side facing us (tar for waterproofing was our best guess). We talked about the history of New York City and the neighborhoods we'd seen change. Joe and his friend Vince spoke in shocked tones about how different Central Park North was even in the few years Joe had lived there; I myself was surprised because the area was one of the triumvirate of fabled Bad Neighborhoods of my youth -- Harlem, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and the South Bronx. Another visitor told me how even the South Bronx is being gentrified, which is a little like hearing that Disney's opened a new park in Antarctica. And speaking of Disney, we lamented the loss of Times Square to Disneyfication. Then, emboldened by her consumption of one lukewarm can of Budweiser, Stephanie did a balance beam routine on the exposed joist, but didn't do any flips despite our encouragement.

Joseph Giannasio, 9-11 CPN Project with visitors, 2007

9-11 CPN Project, "36 Boards" with visitors. Stephanie is third from the left, with her boyfriend Moby Dick behind her, followed by the artist's friend Vince. I'm unclear on who everyone else is, but they were all fun to talk to. (Joe wrote to me to tell me: "The other people in the photo are starting left Larry, Steve, and the far right, Ben.") Photo courtesy the artist.

I won't talk about the intent of the piece or of the artist; I'm not sure he has one. In fact I'm constantly amazed at how few artists I meet actually have any kind of intent. Usually, it seems, the intent is dreamed up ex post facto to explain the existence of the work; the work itself, more often than not, it seems to me, flows from the artist's interest in a material or process and their seeing what they can do with it. In other words, art comes, not from ideas, but from play -- and the ideas come after. So I won't talk about Joe's intent, but I can talk about the effect: His piece brought together, for a short time, a small group of people into a mini-community. For a brief time, in Joe's space, we were all doing the same thing. Mostly drinking and trying not to step on any exposed nails, but also reminiscing and exploring the space. His piece wasn't something that stood alone, it was a springboard to a wider and more interesting experience.

I don't know how, exactly, one could import that into a place like Chelsea. I'm not sure it'd even be possible to make work in a gallery or museum. And I'm not really sure what Joe did was much different from simply arranging a small gathering. I feel like maybe I'm shortchanging his artwork by reducing it to the background for a cocktail party.

And yet it was one of the better art experiences I've had. And that's not something to be taken lightly. I doubt that many pieces I've seen could even sustain as much conversation as this one did; and certainly the environment in which they'd be viewed isn't exactly conducive to it.

Stephanie, almost every time I see her, says, just before we part, "Well, I had a nice time." She usually sounds mildly surprised, as if she expected time with me would be unpleasant, or anyway boring. She said it this time and I, for once, really agreed wholeheartedly: Joe's show was a nice time and I was surprised by it.


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