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 love the way you blog so that I don't have to.

Shit, I don't even have to leave Oregon.

Thanks for everything Chris.

Hi Chris,Thanks for visiting my blog & commenting on my paintings.(On Tracy's blog) Glad you like them! Reading your blog reminds me that I would like to make it to NY sometime in 2008. Lots to soak up & it's been a long time.ThanksChristinehttp://passionforpainting.blogspot.com

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