September 2008 Archives

Gallery Slog 2008


I hadn't planned on going out for a gallery slog. I planned to go to one or two shows, maybe, then pick up some art supplies and head for my Brooklyn studio. Instead, because of my wandering eye and my inability to find my way around Manhattan south of 14th Street, I ended up walking across half of the island like a stunad and never making it to Brooklyn. It was a great day for a walking tour of downtown New York City, a lovely, wet, gray fall day. At one point the water came down in a dense mist moving sideways. Did you know New York gets more rain than Seattle, London, or Glasgow? It does.

I knew things were going badly when I'd carefully typed up all the addresses I wanted to hit in a nice Word document which I promptly forgot open on my PC without printing as I left the house. Luckily I had an earlier printout of a list of shows I wanted to see in my bag so I was able to find my first stop -- first because it was easiest -- and see Jason Bryant's show at Raandesk Gallery of Art.

First things first: Raandesk isn't a gallery. It's some walls around a group of interconnected spaces which are being used for other things, including desks rented out to people who, I suppose, need desks and a room to put them in. This makes it a little hard to see the work because you have to lean over desks, or squeeze between them and the wall, or surreptitiously glance around the people sitting at them, in order to see the paintings.

Jason Bryant, In Passing, West 52nd Street, 2008, oil on canvas, 40x60 inches

Jason Bryant, In Passing, West 52nd Street, 2008, oil on canvas, 40x60 inches

But never mind that. The paintings are where they are and that's that. The question is, are they worth looking at? And my answer is an absolute, undiluted, unequivocal maybe. I liked Jason's work well enough the last time I saw it. Since then he has, if anything, gotten even smoother and more assured. These paintings are more photorealistic and more confident in their compositions than the work I saw last year. There's less evidence of the artist's hand and fewer passages where he seems unsure of himself. There's the feeling, with these, that Jason's hit his stride.

But this only underscores the most important question raised by Jason's work: Is this trip really necessary? That is, do we really need another artist painstakingly copying advertising images using the techniques of advertising to tell us...what? That there is advertising? That advertising images are really nice? That cropping ads strategically gives us different ads? The better Jason's technique gets the more I find myself asking why bother -- why should he bother painting these, and why should we bother looking.

For myself, I didn't bother long. One sweep around the room, wiggle my eyebrows at the receptionist, and I'm off. Off to call my wife to get me the address of my next stop, which was so far away, I figured I might as well make a few other stops as I went.

New York City's subway system is truly second to none; it's huge, easy to use, and very convenient -- unless you're trying to go certain ways. Trying to get diagonally across Manhattan, for example, is an exercise in frustration, unless you want to follow Broadway. And trying to get anywhere in Chelsea is impossible because the trains don't go over that far.

Since my next stop, then, was on 20th Street between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues, I figured I might as well trudge crosstown from Raandesk to the far end of 27th Street, to where the mighty Hudson nearly laps at your toes, to see what was happening at my old favorites Winkleman and Schroeder Romero.

Ed wasn't in but Murat was so, rather than actually look at the installation of Yevgeniy Fiks' Adopt Lenin I chatted with him. Murat is far more interesting than any old work of art anyhow. We discussed everyday things -- the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, and that's true for women, too -- and Murat made excuses for why Ed's too busy to respond to my e-mail messages.

So I narrowly dodged Lenin and crept into Schroeder Romero just to see what was happening. There was a group of students there whose teacher was talking to Lisa and Sara Jo so I thought I had a chance to get out before I was noticed, but Lisa called out to me before I could get to the door. Not that I don't like talking to her -- far from it, I love her -- but I feel bad that I don't like what they show in their gallery.

"Another show right up your alley, eh?" Lisa chuckled at me.

"I've been thinking," I said, "of just never mentioning Winkleman or your gallery ever again, just because I feel so bad always saying terrible things about you guys."

"Come on, Chris, we like you because you're honest."

Marsha Pels, Dead Mother, Dead Cowboy, 2008, installation view

Marsha Pels, Dead Mother, Dead Cowboy, 2008, installation view

So, honestly: Well, this, um, crystal-like skull with arm and handbag reclining on a pile of furs is...different.

On my way out I very coolly tripped over the motorcycle sculpture and almost broke my neck. That'd be why they put the guardrail around it, because otherwise I'd have stomped through Marsha's blue neon tubing like a postmodern Godzilla.

I said my good-byes and exited, aimed southward. Then on the corner of 23rd Street I bumped into Ed Winkleman himself, hurrying to his gallery to be busy some more. It wasn't a good day for running into people on the street -- did I mention it was raining? -- but Ed paused long enough to have a short conversation. I told him I'd just come from his gallery and Schroeder Romero.

"Another show right up your alley, eh?"

Indeed. We parted as friends and I continued south down Eleventh Avenue until I passed something that made me draw up short. It takes a fair bit to get noticed in Chelsea below 23rd Street; apparently the ghosts of Haring and Basquiat together don't possess enough presence to impress on everyone that graffiti art is dead, the 1980s are long gone, and no one's going to get discovered by scribbling on the walls any more. So to stand out amidst all the clamoring sunbursts, peeling wheatpaste doodles, slap-on stickers, and exhortations of awesomeness and street cred requires something truly special.

In this case it was a perfectly flat, blank, white wall -- like you'd find inside any gallery -- with a doorway.

I backpedaled and stood in front. Inside the door was another expanse of white wall with the legend "Midori Harima" below the word NEGATIVESCAPE. I walked inside and around into the room....

...and I'd hate to ruin it for you. Go for yourself. But if you can't, or don't mind having the surprise drained out of it -- well, it's not that great or anything, but -- okay. After the sunlight on the white walls inside you can't see anything except, floating a few feet in front of you, a ghostly merry-go-round. It hangs there, vaguely alive, pale. Unmoving but somehow waiting. Waiting for you. Waiting for you to unwisely move towards it....

It's profoundly creepy.

Tentatively I tried to walk around it, keeping my distance, only to bump into a heavy black curtain. After a little bit my eyes adjusted and I could see the space was just a medium-sized room with a high, New York industrial ceiling and black curtains covering the walls. The merry-go-round is a forced-perspective sculpture in white plaster, or something similar, with a shadowed, negative version of itself being projected on it from just inside the door. Basically it's not much different from the Haunted Mansion ride at Disney World, where they project singing faces onto blank sculpted heads, making what looks like living statues. But in this case, of course, you're on Eleventh Avenue -- at a place called Honey Space -- and not in an amusement park. And you're expecting an art exhibit, not a haunted house ride. The net result is it's a lot more freaky.

Bumping into random crap like that is one of the things I love most in life.

Of course it's easy to bump into random crap when you get lost going around the corner like I do. There's a reason my family lived on an island for over twenty years -- as long as you don't go over a bridge, through a tunnel, or on a boat, you can be sure you're not too far lost. So it shouldn't be too surprising that I turned down 21st Street instead of 20th and ended up pacing back and forth in front of Manhattan Mini-Storage wondering where my next destination had gotten to. Are you sure, darling wife, it's 529? Because I can't find that building number.... Let me get a Coke from the Mini-Storage vending machine for sustenance as I pace a few more times....

But then my eye was drawn to Casey Kaplan where someone named Nathan Carter was showing something called "RADIO TRANSMISSION CONTRAPTIONS." In I went to find a collection of works put together by someone who'd spent altogether too much time in the Joan Miró and Alexander Calder wing of the nearest museum.

Nathan Carter, CALLING FOUR TOWERS SIGNAL DRIFTING WITH NO FIXED PURPOSE, 2008, steel, acrylic paint, 240x31x112 inches

Nathan Carter, CALLING FOUR TOWERS SIGNAL DRIFTING WITH NO FIXED PURPOSE, 2008, steel, acrylic paint, 240x31x112 inches

Not that I'm complaining at all. I'm a big fan of Calder (we went to the same college -- only eighty years apart) and Miró, well, I think you have to have no heart at all to dislike him entirely. I really enjoyed Nathan's various works in this show. Most of them are painted wire, but he's also got an assemblage of painted plywood, a couple of collages, a painting, and a few mobiles with stained glass added in. None of it is the most original work of all time -- Calder and Miró already swiped from each other, and Nathan isn't bringing anything overwhelmingly new to the enterprise. But he's working with wire, so saying his work looks like Calder's is a little like saying that anyone working in charcoal makes work that looks like Leonardo da Vinci's: It's strictly true and sort of beside the point. Then again, a lot more artists work in charcoal than in wire, so here the comparison comes to mind more easily. Still, to see something this basically Modernist in Chelsea is always a treat.

In fact I was so enamored of this that I wanted very much to talk with the director in charge of this exhibition. I approached one of the two gallerinas and asked if I could talk to the gallerist in charge.

"You mean Casey Kaplan?" she asked.

There are actually people with the gallery name in the gallery? Weird! "I guess so," I allowed.

"What do you want to talk about? The art?"

"Well, yes."

"Is there anything I can help you with? Any questions I can answer?"

"No, I mean, I just want to talk to whoever put the show together. You know, about the art." I mean, I wanted to say, Casey is most likely through the door right behind you, listening to everything we're saying, and couldn't I just say hello or something?

"Let me see."

Curiously, the other gallerina then got off the phone and went back into the office. She came back out followed by a small dark-haired woman. I got the impression that Casey Kaplan was male, but one never knows.

"Can I help you?" the woman asked.

"I'm Chris Rywalt," I said. Nothing happened. This is the part, I wanted to say, where you tell me your name. Leaving me no choice but to say the kind of clichéd thing I hate saying. "And you are...?"

"I'm Chana," she said, pronouncing it like "Shawna," which is the same name as Reilly's lady friend whose name I didn't want to write out because I didn't know how to spell it. Small world!

"Yes, okay, well, I wanted to talk about the art here."

"Do you have any questions?"

"Well, no, know, I just wanted to...I mean, this show is just so unabashedly retro, so old-fashioned, and you don't see this kind of thing in Chelsea that often, and I...just someone would put on a show like this. Because. I mean, I like it, it's just...."

It's just that I sound like a mental case.

"Well, Nathan Carter has worked closely with our gallery for many years," she said as if she were reading it off a nearby card. "And this was a direction he chose to take."

"Right. Okay. Well, I's good. That's good. I...."

The conversation wandered off, entirely out of my control, petered out in a few small gasps, then died on the floor. Why Casey didn't want to talk to me him/herself I don't know.

Feeling thoroughly stupid by now I managed to find my way out of the gallery and around the corner. As I did so I passed Yvon Lambert. I paused. Should I turn around and go in? Do I need to? Is it worth the effort? Unsure, uncertain, I wobbly backtracked and stood in awe before the majesty that is


Andres Serrano, SHIT (BULL SHIT), 2007, c-print, silicone, acrylic, wood frame, 88x72 inches

Andres Serrano, SHIT (BULL SHIT), 2007, c-print, silicone, acrylic, wood frame, 88x72 inches

Fact is, I have nothing against Andres. Of course I remember the big deal about Piss Christ and how angry all the Christians got about it, and how regular Joes liked to use that photo, along with Mapplethorpe's body (heh heh) of work, as an argument for how stupid, inconsequential, and intent on shocking the bourgeois so-called high art had become here at the fin of the siècle. In the intervening years I'd read some articles on Andres, though, and he struck me as a guy who was gravely exploring areas of interest to him. Sure, it's a bit weird to collect one's urine in a vat and take photos of stuff submerged in it. But you don't do something like that unless you mean it. And, really, who would know it was a vat of urine if they weren't told? I also saw (online only) some of his morgue photos, and they seemed to me to be powerful and tragic.

So I have nothing against Andres. And I knew what to expect from these images because I'd seen some of them online. I hadn't meant to see the show, but of course one keeps on top of these things anyway, and so here it was.

What I wasn't prepared for, though, was the sheer size of the photos. Each one has been enlarged to slightly over seven feet high. Considering the subject of each photo is maybe a few inches high, this is a factor of at least twelve we're looking at. This is some HUGE SHIT.

And shit it is. Surely Andres is courting all manner of easy reviews of his work, and given the titles of his photos he must know it, because each one is named after a standard use of the word "shit" in English: Holy Shit, Bull Shit, Dog Shit, Heroic Shit, Good Shit, Bad Shit. And so on. It's sophomoric, if junior high has a sophomore year; the whole exercise reminds me of something I'd have done in seventh grade, some kind of dictionary of shit. Speaking of which, there's a long-winded (but very funny) online joke listing the basic tenets of the world's religions as applied to shit ("Confucianism: Confucius say, 'Shit happens'").

I must admit some of the photos made me queasy. I wonder if I'd have felt that way if I didn't know what the subject was; I think so. Sometimes you can just tell shit. Also, the gallery kind of had this odor vaguely reminiscent of poop, as if some of the photos, being so gigantuan, actually gave off an aroma of the subject. Then again maybe someone just changed a diaper in the room. Who knows?

In any case, the photos themselves are intensely uninteresting. Doodie has different textures. Wow. Flies sometimes land on it. Really. Andres likes bright lights behind his subjects. Exciting.

Piss Christ is off in a smaller room, by the way. In person it looks, well, exactly like it does online, only with so much glare from the gallery windows it's hard to see. Way to go, blue chip gallery!

I exited past the goofy knot of students ogling the turds and bravely refrained from asking the gallerina if I could the bathroom. I didn't have to go number two anyhow. Just outside, on the wall of Yvon Lambert, a sign prominently declares: NO DUMPING. And now I need a blood transfusion; I think I overdosed on irony.

But guess what? I finally made it around the corner and onto 20th Street whereon one can find 529 West 20th Street, specifically the fourth floor, specifically Denise Bibro Fine Art, which is what we all came here for! For the woodpeckershrooms, as my wife so delicately called them when she texted me the address? No, for Nancy Baker's Duck and Cover Drill!

Nancy Baker, No Man's Land, 2008, oil on wood panel, 20x20 inches

Nancy Baker, No Man's Land, 2008, oil on wood panel, 20x20 inches

Nancy Baker, No Man's Land (detail), 2008, oil on wood panel, 20x20 inches

Nancy Baker, No Man's Land (detail), 2008, oil on wood panel, 20x20 inches

Nancy's one of my favorite art people. I love talking to her. She was the subject of one of my earliest reviews and we were in a group show together. So certainly I'm biased in her favor. I like her work. And I know she can be very sensitive about it, so I don't want to come on too strongly here.

Can you hear the "but" coming?

But I'm a little disappointed in these paintings. Not a lot. Just a little. They have many very good points: Nancy's sense of color is fantastic. Her compositions are excellent. Her subjects and her juxtapositions are weird. Her choice of source material is impeccable.

Here it comes again: But. But her inscrutable hermeticism makes it hard for me to love these paintings. In her earlier show her work was full of things going on, and somehow that helped carry them along; these paintings are more focused, with fewer figures and situations, and in a way that makes them more confusing, because when there are only four or five subjects in a painting, you expect them to make some kind of sense together. But here we have a parrot eating a worm being worshiped by some south Asian beauties who are ignoring the medieval knights fighting -- over them? -- on the shore. The ladies are lovely and the parrots are lively and the knights are knightly and they go together how?

Also I get the feeling these works were either rushed or Nancy's at the limit of her abilities as a painter. There are altogether too many passages that aren't quite right, aren't a hundred percent. That may be intentional or it may be she's hurrying too much. Or maybe she's just loosening up. Which could eventually be really good. But here in these works, it doesn't seem fitting.

With those criticisms laid out, then, I should say that Nancy still puts on a good show. I love the way her smoothly smoky cloudscapes surround the hard-edged figures in front of them, the way she moves between a flavor of academic realism, medieval Boschism, and paint-by-numbers. Her high-contrast patterns laid over painterly backgrounds are beautiful. She's not using quite as much kitsch as she was -- which I consider a good thing -- although Casper the Friendly Ghost and the Poky Little Puppy put in appearances. Gotta love the Poky Little Puppy!

I spent a goodly amount of time alone with Nancy's paintings, going back and forth between them. They're really lovely. After a while, though, I had to move on. For the sake of completeness I went into Denise Bibro's main gallery where I found the work of Boyce Cummings, Christopher Reiger, and Amy Ross. I've been meaning to see Chris' work, and to get him to come gallery-hopping with me, and somehow have failed at either. Until now, when I sort of accidentally wandered into his show -- I'd forgotten about it in my rush to get to Nancy. Boyce I'd reviewed before although I honestly couldn't remember a thing about his work. And Amy Ross I knew nothing about.

Christopher Reiger, A Cruel and Beautiful Faraway Place, 2007, watercolor, gouache, sumi ink and marker on Arches paper, 32x27 inches

Christopher Reiger, A Cruel and Beautiful Faraway Place, 2007, watercolor, gouache, sumi ink and marker on Arches paper, 32x27 inches

Animus Botanica is an odd little show. I'm not sure what to make of it. Chris' paintings were the first I noticed, and not because I know his work that well; they're just the most likely to leap across the room at you. I found his paintings -- "watercolor, gouache, sumi ink and marker" -- extremely dense and overwhelming. So dense, in fact, that I sincerely feel I couldn't form an opinion of them; I didn't have enough time to digest them. They're so busy they're almost Jackson Pollock all-over paintings. My initial reaction was to think Chris really needs to tone it down a bit, but then a little more looking made me think I was being hasty -- that there's something to these works, but it's so tightly knotted, so layered, that you can't really wrap your mind around it in one sitting.

Christopher Reiger, Ri Hokkai, 2007, pen and ink on Arches paper, 9.75x11.75 inches

Christopher Reiger, Ri Hokkai, 2007, pen and ink on Arches paper, 9.75x11.75 inches

Chris' smaller works, though, are tightly focused little bits of quasi-surrealism, such as when a cross-section of a human brain has a bird's foot depending from it.

Boyce Cummings, Black Trumpet, 2008, mixed media on canvas, 42x42 inches

Boyce Cummings, Black Trumpet, 2008, mixed media on canvas, 42x42 inches

By way of contrast, Boyce's paintings did exactly the same thing they did last time, which was vanish from my memory almost as soon as I'd apprehended them. Sort of an obverse deja vu -- you get the feeling that nothing at all has happened. Just now I almost fell asleep putting his image on this page.

Amy Ross, Bluejay Magnolia, 2008, watercolor on paper, 26.5x34 inches

Amy Ross, Bluejay Magnolia, 2008, watercolor on paper, 26.5x34 inches

Amy's paintings are another thing entirely. As much as my wife seemed nonplussed by the Woodpeckershrooms, I found myself enjoying some of the paintings, mainly for their lyrical, luminous, almost minimalist use of watercolor. Well, what about the naked women with wolf heads? Um, yeah. They're nicely painted, you know.

As I was picking up my postcard to go, someone called out to me, asking if I was Chris Rywalt. No use denying it -- I am. It turns out Oly Lambert, an online acquaintance, works at Denise Bibro. We talked a bit and she introduced me to Denise Bibro herself. Take that, Casey Kaplan!

Downstairs from Denise is Hasted Hunt and they're showing the very big (although not Serrano-sized) photos of Michael Thompson. Well, not of Michael himself -- he took the photos, I mean. Apparently he took them in the service of several ad campaigns because that's exactly what they look like, up to and including Kate Moss topless. Because what the world really needs is another photo of Kate Moss' tits. Note I have not included any images for your delectation.

Having thus exhausted Chelsea for the day, I turned my weary feet cross-downtown. Because I wanted to get to -- well, by then I was so tired I wasn't sure where I was going. Lower east side kind of thing, like that. In my plans earlier I'd thought of going to Soho Art Materials, and also to see a show David Gibson invited me to, but somehow I got them all mixed up and wasn't sure which one I was going to first. And then I wanted to go to my studio. All of which meant finding a downtown train, which meant walking crosstown from Tenth Avenue or so about a hundred miles to...some other Avenue. Seventh or Sixth or something. I was getting slightly delirious. I'd promised myself I wouldn't walk much because I wasn't feeling really well, and here I'd already walked about fifty-two miles, in the rain, uphill, both ways....

I wandered cross- and downtown until I found the F train at 14th and Sixth. I hadn't been in that area in a while. I caught the downtown F and, blearily consulting the map, figured I'd get off at -- Delancey? Then I saw East Broadway and a little bell rang: That's where David's show was. Why did I want to go to Grand Street? Oh, right, to go to Soho Art Materials. So I should get off -- HERE!

And I jumped off the train at Second Avenue. Which is, incidentally, about ninety-seven miles from where Soho Art Materials actually is, especially if you, like I did, start out going downtown, then head crosstown, then turn back uptown and end up where you started again.

Eventually I found Grand Street and began working my way over. Building numbers down there are decidedly fractal. You see you're at 167 and you want 121 or something like that, and you think it can't be far, but then you see the next building is 165+1e-72, and so on, and pretty soon, if you're like me, you're thinking you should've brought the sherpas and some dried yak meat.

Also, I know what you're thinking: You're thinking Soho! Artsy groovy people! Must be cool! Wrong. More like Soho! Chinese and Italian people! I was walking through the part of town where Chinatown and Little Italy are battling it out corner by corner to decide if the shops should sell dried moldy milk curds or dried split fish stomachs. Cannoli or Peking duck? Espresso or GOOD GOD WHAT IS THAT STUFF?!

As an aside -- I know that we're supposed to be enlightened now, and say that all human cultures are equally nuanced and worthwhile, and that people everywhere are pretty much the same. But I'd like to point out that I don't understand places like Chinatown or Little Italy or other mini-countries. It seems to me you left your country for a reason, right? So why do you want to recreate it in your new home? I understand that your homeland might have some good qualities, but if an argument could be made that you can't import what's good about a culture -- food, calligraphy, frescoes -- without also getting what's bad about it -- shameless disregard for intellectual property, big stinky cigars, sidewalks that smell funny when it rains -- Soho is it.

Also, my feet hurt.

In any case, I found Soho Art Materials and bought myself some paints. Then I realized I needed somehow to find my way to East Broadway while knowing very, very little about how to get there from where I was. I knew Canal Street was down the way a bit. I figured I'd go there and head east and see what happened. Eventually -- did you know Canal Street goes uphill? -- at least it'd stopped raining -- I turned south on the Bowery and, by heading doggedly downtown, bumped into East Broadway at last. The English language signs had by this time disappeared as had most of the white people. The shops carried merchandise that made the stuff on Canal Street look like Neiman Marcus. I trudged along East Broadway, counting off the addresses, hoping I'd find David's show before I collapsed.

I did finally find it, thankfully just across from another F train stop for a quick escape. The show is at the Ernest Rubenstein Gallery of The Educational Alliance and is titled Beauty's Burden. David is the co-curator along with Jennifer Junkermeier. I have to admit to being a little leery of this show just because of David's verbiage; what is one to make of a phrase like " operates in collusion with the specific dictates of image and form, occurring randomly across mediums, flowing through the cracks in our understanding of each artist's process"? Flowing through the cracks? Operates in collusion? Huh? Nevertheless I went because David invited me and I like David (for what little time we've had to talk).

In defense of David, I should note that after all the walking I'd done, if I arrived to find Jesus Christ Himself beaming at me and holding out on his right hand a 22-year-old Cindy Crawford slathered in baby oil and crying my name in ecstasy, I'd have been mildy irritated.

Meridith Pingree, five separate pieces

Five separate pieces by Meridith Pingree

I did not find Jesus or Cindy, however. What I found was this show. And it's pretty terrible. The only works even remotely interesting were the ones by Meridith Pingree, who somehow managed to make geodesic-style patterned objects out of extremely unlikely materials, like plastic zipper fragments and plastic cocktail swords. They have zero aesthetic quality like everything else in the show, but they're at least neato.

Installation view

Junk or art?

Installation view

You decide!

Installation view

"Ceci n'est pas une peinture"

In fact the most compelling pieces in the show were these two piles of construction debris in the middle of the floor. What does it say about the art world in general and this show in particular that I'm not sure if these were artworks or not? There were workmen going back and forth through the room while I was there. Part of the show or not? Nothing in the exhibition list about them, but.... And then there was the brilliant dada of the sign commanding us not to touch the artworks. Certainly these explore "our predetermined attitudes toward art"!

My day was nearly over. Drained of all will to live I crept out of Ernie's gallery and slumped dejectedly towards the subway station. But what's this? Another gallery? In this far-flung place? Why, it's LaViolaBank Gallery with a small group show! And what have we here? Some reasonably neat things by Joey Archuleta, Eske Kath, and Casey Jex Smith!

But the critic is tired. He's going home now -- F train to A train to bus to bed. Thank you, and good night.

Madeline von Foerster's Waldkammer


This is going to be a disappointment. After not writing a review for a couple of months, I'm going to disappoint you by writing about something you can't see unless you happen to be in Berlin in two months. I have a stack of things I wanted to write about -- good things, good shows, good work -- which somehow I didn't get to. I've had one crazy summer. And not, mostly, in a good way. But back to the present, or anyway the more recent past.

I met Madeline von Foerster a couple of years ago when I reviewed her show at Fuse Gallery. I fell in love instantly. Madeline and I kept in touch over e-mail, swapping occasional messages, and last year I bumped into her and her paramour at an opening in Chelsea. So when she invited me to a preview party at her place to show off the paintings before she shipped them out to Berlin to Strychnin Gallery for her show in November, I jumped at the chance. Well, not literally, because my floors aren't rated for that kind of load.

To make things even more interesting, I invited my friend and studiomate Reilly Brown. Reilly's a comic book penciller; he's been doing Marvel's New Warriors lately. He told me he'd be interested in going to some fine art galleries so I offered to drag him along one night.

In a way, Madeline's preview was a great way to start, because her work is absolutely fantastic. Another way, though, it was a bad idea, because not only is Madeline's work vastly superior to most anything in Chelsea, she also set out all kinds of food -- olives, pita chips and hummus, brie and crackers -- and you almost never get food in Chelsea. And while I've met many lovely, gracious artists over the years, Madeline is certainly one of the loveliest and most gracious. So for Reilly it's all downhill from here.

When I arrived at Madeline's Tribeca apartment she greeted me like an old friend. (We hug now?) We talked for a moment or two but of course as the artist of the show she couldn't talk long; and as she was hosting it in her apartment, she was even more in demand. Then I tried to pet her cat but it ran away. I spotted Reilly and the woman with him, whose name I remember but can't spell so I won't put it here. Reilly and I have trouble shutting up around each other, why I don't know, so it was a few minutes before I could really look at the paintings.

Madeline von Foerster, Amazon Cabinet, 2008, oil and egg tempera on panel, 30x60 inches

Madeline von Foerster, Amazon Cabinet, 2008, oil and egg tempera on panel, 30x60 inches

But when I did, wow. "Wow" is exactly what I said about her work the last time I saw it, and I'm still saying it. Nearly three years down the line I'm less inclined to be bowled over by mere technique; I've found myself looking more and more for that feeling that bypasses the intellect, that goosebump-raising, inexplicable frisson one gets from truly great art. But Madeline's paintings are still so technically excellent, so far beyond what even the most dedicated studio gnomes are capable of, they still make me go wow.

Egg tempera is a difficult medium and Madeline is a master. The glowing beauty of it simply cannot be matched. And Madeline has only gotten better with it; gone are any areas of mismatched gloss; gone are slightly obtrusive passages of excess thickness. These paintings looke as if they were laid down in one unbroken, even layer, bursting with detail, bright and bold, burnished to a high sheen of brilliance. Subtle dark glazes are balanced against sharp opaque edges: a jewel leaps from the shadows, a flower peeps from a recessed cabinet, a crown glows in the darkness. Like all great athletes and performers, she makes it look easy, effortless. I think to myself, I could paint like this. Yes, I could -- in my dreams, maybe.

Madeline von Foerster, Invasive Species I, 2008, oil and egg tempera on panel, 12x15.5 inches

Madeline von Foerster, Invasive Species I, 2008, oil and egg tempera on panel, 12x15.5 inches

It's hard to choose a standout from the show. Everything is so fantastic. Of course there's the centerpiece, Amazon Cabinet, which is impressively large. Given her Van Eyck style, to work on such a scale is an achievement. And it's so phantasmagorical, with its Dalí ants industriously marching across the statue's left shoulder -- look closely! At least one of the ants is carrying a crumb of something! -- and its carefully brushed leopard fur and its carved wooden chainsaw at the bottom right. It's the kind of surrealism one sees in Juxtapoz artists but completely lacking in the irony and arch cynicism which is the unpleasant, distancing hallmark of that school. No -- Madeline is playful but serious; smiling but she means it.

Invasive Species I is another favorite of mine. Although I like the leafiness of Invasive Species II -- I'm a sucker for leaves, and I guess Madeline is too, because we both love Rousseau -- I love the emotion in the first one, the way the woman appears mildly surprised at what's happening to her. And her hair and the way the pearls are set in it, well, they're a painter's dream. The painting looks like the woman sat for a portrait and was overcome by ivy, much to her chagrin. Ivy which happened to grow out of her sternum.

The glow of Rite of Remembrance, the bushy fox sleeping in Specimen Cabinet, the angry bat -- we probably disturbed his nap -- and the translucent slugs of Redwood Cabinet -- it's difficult to pick the best work in the room. Madeline's depiction of textures, from fur to feathers, from wood to curtains, from gold to paper, is unmatched in my experience. Each one is a favorite, each one makes me smile.

In the drawings included in the show you can see the foundation for her work. Reilly said one of his art teachers told him that once you can draw, you can work in pretty much any medium, and I'd agree (although I'm not sure about sculpture). Madeline here shows a facility for drawing beyond the fantasies of most academy-trained draughtsmen. Her Drawing for "Spotted Owl Cabinet" approaches Dürer's level of mastery and looks almost like an etching or woodcut. Drawing for Rite of Remembrance could be a plate tipped into a history of Dalziel Brothers.

The only sad note is the realization that Madeline is working in niche that probably will keep her from conquering Chelsea; she'll almost certainly find great success in the art world, but the mainstream of contemporary art is going to go on without her, I think. Her style just isn't in vogue unless there's a healthy layer of insincerity smeared over it and I don't think Madeline's capable of being that untrue, to herself or to the traditions of the craft in which she's working. I hope I'm dead wrong and that one day the Met tears down its Tara Donovan room and its Kiefers and Gustons, and Koonses and Hirsts, and puts up some von Foersters. That'd be great. But I'm not waiting for it.

So in the meantime, before the contemporary art world comes to its senses and puts Madeline on the map, if you're in Berlin between November 7 and December 6, 2008, I highly recommend you stop by Strychnin Gallery and check out her show. If you can't make it there, well, with any amount of luck she'll have another show in your area soon. I've still got my fingers crossed for a New York show, but that's been since 2006. And boy do my fingers ache.


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