May 2009 Archives

May 21, 2009


When last I left you I was standing at the locked doors of Cheim & Read contemplating the words of the Batman as quoted to me by comic artist Mike Cavallaro. I didn't just stop there at the doors; I did what I usually do when in Chelsea, which is go from opening to opening, seeing what I can see. You may recall from that essay of mine that I listed the ways in which I end up seeing bad art; you may further recall that the most common way is for me to wander from show to show. And you might wonder, then, that I'd ever wander through Chelsea, since that's when I see most of the worst art I'll ever see.

The answer is simple: I believe firmly in serendipity. More on that later.

The first opening I attended was one I aimed for. I'd seen the show listed on Chelsea Art Galleries and the itty bitty JPEG caught my eye. Here was an artist fooling around with the superhero comic book idiom. I asked a bunch of the actual real live comic artists in my studio's building if they wanted to come, but they all had paying work to do. Funny thing about comic artists: They work. Really hard. Fine artists just fuck around all day but comic artists, man, they put in the hours.

Gosha Ostretsov, Coolville installation detail, 2009

Gosha Ostretsov, Coolville installation detail, 2009

Which is why it's somewhat galling to see a fine artist borrow so shamelessly from comics and manage so little with it. All right, maybe I'm being overly obstreporous here. Certainly Gosha Ostretsov is no Roy Lichtenstein, and I mean that as a compliment. I ran images from his show, Coolville at Claire Oliver (through June 27, 2009), past my comic artist friends and none of them could pick out specific images he'd copied; the general agreement was Gosha had, at least, spent plenty of time looking at John Buscema and John Romita's work. I still couldn't shake the feeling that Gosha's figures were directly stolen, and that wherever he modified them he screwed them up; and yet I have no proof, the way we have with Lichtenstein. As Mike said to me, though, "There's so much work out there by Romita and his contemporaries that it's almost impossible to keep every Spider-Man cityscape in your head." The same could've been said, in spades, about Lichtenstein and the originals from which he stole; but someone worked it out.

I'll say this for Gosha: His room-filling installation looks fun. Although he stole from comics, and clearly expected viewers to make the connection to comics, he failed to put together a coherent sequential story; instead he's made more of a collage of comic book moments, with villains and damsels in distress (usually nude), along with quintessential 1960s cityscapes and crowd scenes. Filling the walls and ceiling it all makes for a vivid and vibrant pop culture experience. You can tell it's fine art, though, because nothing really makes sense, and Gosha is clearly using some set of personal hermetic symbols it's up to us to puzzle out. If we care, which we don't.

One thing that made me think he'd copied his figures was the handling of the nipples, of all things. Buscema and Romita and other artists working at the same time weren't big on showing nipples -- as a rule nudity wasn't allowed, although they bent the rules plenty on Roy Thomas and Buscema's Savage Sword of Conan -- and when Gosha draws nipples, each one looks as solid and chewy as a big old gumdrop. My suspicion is this is because Gosha had to fall back on his own inferior draftsmanship. Although I suppose he could be attempting a statement on the objectification of women in the comics medium.

But probably not.

Gosha further artifies the show by standing a bunch of funny-headed mannequins around the place, some with cans of spray paint. My guess is they're supposed to be the bad guys in his personal universe, and since they're wearing suits, I'd have to say they're representative of the agents of conformity or something equally profound. I imagine Gosha thinks he defeated them by finally getting a show in a ground-floor Chelsea gallery (to say nothing of a spot in the Venice Biennale). But the joke's on him: He's more of an agent of conformity in the art world than any guy in a suit and tie.

I'm not sure where I went after that; I was more aimless than usual this Thursday, and I'm pretty sure I went back and forth over the same area more than once. It was a lovely late afternoon for walking in circles. The sun doesn't set until after eight this time of year, so there was plenty of light and time to enjoy New York City's short springtime.

In fact my travels took me past what is probably the strangest activity I've seen on the streets of New York in all my 38 years in the city. I think I've seen some weird shit but it's probably not a patch on the weirdness that most people see; somehow New York stays resolutely normal when I'm around. But that Thursday I walked by a very short, nearly dwarfish woman, wearing only a g-string, painted green, climbing on some construction scaffolding. I cannot recall ever seeing anyone actively naked on the street in the city; of course I don't go to the parades in the Village or Coney Island. This wasn't a parade, however, or even a performance. From what I could gather, some photographer was doing a shoot. A weird shoot.

On the street in Chelsea, 2009

On the street in Chelsea, 2009.

In addition to the green woman there was a woman painted gold and, later, a completely hot pink one. As I walked by I could smell the airbrush paint. It reminded me of summers doing t-shirts. I took some photos just so I could prove this really happened; I couldn't take too many because I honestly felt bad enough for the models. I figure, to take the kind of job where you're nude on a city street, you're either very brave or very desperate; and since I couldn't tell which, I didn't want to make them feel worse if it was the latter. Also, I thought the professional photographer who was paying for their time might be unhappy to find me to essentially stealing his work over his shoulder.

On the street in Chelsea, 2009

On the street in Chelsea, 2009.

But I had my camera with me, you see, and the urge to pretend to be a photojournalist was too much.

From here I'd ordinarily continue in the order I walked, except I can't piece my trip together. I'll just go through the pile of postcards and hand-outs in the order I like them, starting with the worst. How's that?

Actually, let's start with the one I can't remember at all. I specifically remember stopping at an opening at John Connelly Presents. I clearly remember looking for a postcard or something and not finding one, and finally settling for a JCP business card. "I'll take this," I told myself, "to remember I was here, and then I'll remember the artwork." Plan failed. I remember taking the card, I have the card here, and I have no idea what I saw there. Nothing on the gallery Website rings a bell. Everything on there had closed by last Thursday; nothing new is listed until June 5. Did they rent the gallery out for something else? Playing vanity gallery to make ends meet? I have no idea.

So much for my not taking notes. I guess I should've taken a picture. Oh well. To make up for it, I'll show you a photo of this guy. I hadn't noticed him before. His cousin lives around the corner on Eleventh Avenue and is much more obvious. This guy's kind of hidden. (Some searching leads me to believe these are the work of French street artist Space Invader, though I can't find these invaders on his site.)

On the street in Chelsea, 2009

On the street in Chelsea, 2009.

Back to actual art shows. The worst of the bunch -- although it's hard to nail just one down for the honor -- was Mark Flood's Chelsea Whores at Zach Feuer (until July 10, 2009). I mentioned Zach in a previous essay here, picking on him for firing a whole bunch of his artists. All I can say now, my mouth agape: Zach fired painters in favor of this crap?

Mark Flood, Self Portal, 2009, collage on coroplas mounted on wood support, dimensions variable, 50x36 inches

Mark Flood, Self Portal, 2009, collage on coroplas mounted on wood support, dimensions variable, 50x36 inches

Mark's actual show is hard describe because it's one of those where the artist can claim to have intended anything you might say about it. Just look at the title: It's clearly a criticism of the very world it inhabits. Since I myself was in that world when viewing it, I am part of that it criticizes. Therefore I've been effectively neutralized!

Only not really. Because the show is part of the world it's criticizing and no amount of posing on Mark's part lets him wriggle off the barbed hook that easily. You want to criticize? Then let's see some actual criticism. But no, what we get here is a threadbare variation on the anti-pose pose -- maybe it's self-consciously posing anti-pose posing as an anti-pose? Whatever it is, it's dumb as all hell. Is it funny when the gallery hand-out calls Mark "the least important German artist of the post-Word War II period"? No. Does the self-deprecating note of phrases like "conventionally provocative and predictably controversial" help? No. The fact you know it's lousy art, Mark, is not itself a critique of anything except your poor self-judgment. Your mangled photos and spray-painted signs bear witness to nothing so much as your witlessness and your complete lack of talent or originality, and saying as much in your press release isn't part of the joke, it's just pathetic and stupid.

Zach, Mark: Please stop wasting everyone's time and just burn your gallery and everything in it to the ground. Take the insurance money and move to Boca Raton, sit on the beach, smirk to yourselves, and leave us out of it.

So much for junk from the Painting Is Still Dead school. Alas, the Painting Is Still Alive school doesn't always throw up a decent alternative: Witness Kim Dorland's Super! Natural! at Freight + Volume (until June 25, 2009).

Kim Dorland, Fixer Upper, 2008, oil and acrylic on wood, 35.5x48 inches

Kim Dorland, Fixer Upper, 2008, oil and acrylic on wood, 35.5x48 inches

It's almost impossible for me to imagine worse painting than Kim's gloppy, disordered, inept messes. It would actually be an insult to Feeblism to call her a Feeble painter; most Feeblists, at least, don't appear to have tried all that hard. Kim's thrown down so many colors in such profusion, amidst such graceless compositions, with no quality of touch -- it simply boggles the eye. And no getting away with "that's what I intended" here: It's clear there's zero intention behind these beyond getting the paint from here to there. The entire show lacks a single redeeming moment. If I found that Kim is a blind quadriplegic who paints with a brush stuck in her ear, I'd still be surprised she could turn out such terrible paintings.

Now the worst is behind us. What's next isn't great, either, but at least it wouldn't make one weep for humanity.

I've ended up in Brenda Taylor's gallery the last couple of times I was in 511 West 25th; I'm not sure why I didn't write about what I saw there. Maybe because the gallery Website isn't current. I don't know. I remember liking what I've seen there in the past.

Jamie Clyde, from Paid in Plastic, 2009

Jamie Clyde, from Paid in Plastic, 2009

I found myself there again this time for Jamie Clyde's Bloodletting and Paid in Plastic -- "Two bodies of work, one night only" crowed the postcard I took with me. One night only, meaning you can't see it. Just as well, really. Jamie's got some "sexy" photos of mannequins, which I suppose is some kind of statement on the standard black & white nude photos with which our world is surfeited; and then he's got some photos of people in suits with added surrealist touches which I guess says something about the business world. Feel free to visit Jamie's Website to see the photos, but if you fall asleep and smack your head into the keyboard, well, I warned you.

Equally yawneriffic but completely different, we have Violet Hopkins' Afraid He Might Be Mistaken for a Centaur at Foxy Production (until July 24, 2009). The title is the most interesting thing about the show; the rest I experienced as the visual equivalent of "blah blah blah". It wasn't until I read the gallery verbiage -- at home -- that I learned the main thrust of the show is ignorant contempt for one's intellectual superiors.

Violet Hopkins, THEY MAY GUESS IT WAS BOTH DIFFICULT AND POINTLESS TO SCALE THIS NEEDLE, 2009, ink and pencil on Arches watercolor paper, 16x20 inches

Violet Hopkins, THEY MAY GUESS IT WAS BOTH DIFFICULT AND POINTLESS TO SCALE THIS NEEDLE, 2009, ink and pencil on Arches watercolor paper, 16x20 inches

My impressions on the walk through the show: Here we have a bunch of watery, faded-looking watercolors clearly based on photos. It's cheap photorealism, the subjects are uninteresting, and altogether no connection between the images can be discerned. Maybe it's some kind of time capsule or something, with images chosen by the artist with no real point. A couple walking, someone holding a toad, a seashell, a guy measuring an alligator's tail. One quick circuit around the room and I had no interest in going back a second time -- there's nothing visually interesting here, nothing remotely absorbing, nothing worth the paper it's painted on.

However, reading the gallery verbiage explains it all. Violet has taken images from the 1977 Voyager spacecrafts' Golden Records. I urge you to go and read NASA's page on the Voyager missons: It's a fascinating account of one of mankind's greatest accomplishments, truly one of our most amazing achievements. I am humbled to think of what humans are capable of when we really put our minds to it. If there's anything that gives me hope for humanity, that makes me think we have a chance of ever overcoming our darker impulses and finally making life wonderful for every person on this planet of ours, it's a project like the Voyager mission.

Think about it: Human beings designed, built, and deployed a spacecraft. We sent it out on a course to pass by Jupiter and Saturn, 500 million miles away and more, collect data and send it back. And not only did both Voyager probes complete their initial mission, they both turned out to be so well-designed that they've continued to operate, continued to send back data, and had their missions extended from five years to thirty years. The enormous difficulties involved in this enterprise, the mathematics and engineering, the decisions to be made, the sheer knowledge of the working universe required -- I can't even begin to comprehend the magnitude of this undertaking. It makes the most ambitious dreams of science fiction look like Lincoln Logs. Because the Voyager mission actually happened. Hell, it's still happening.

Knowing that the spacecraft would continue on their journey long after their mission was done -- that's Newton's first law of motion for ya -- the scientists and engineers at NASA thought it'd be a good idea to freight the crafts with some information, just in case some life form exists beyond our solar system and happens to find them. Not a bad idea. A rather hopeful one, I think. You might even say idealistic. So they hired Carl Sagan to head a committee to put together a collection of information from Earth: sounds, pictures, and so on. And they put it all together in a way that's as universal as they could make it, so that whatever kind of life form found the information, they could decode it and make some kind of sense of it. So they could get an idea of what we were like.

That compendium of information is called the Golden Record. Because, of course, gold is one of the most stable of all elements and thus well-suited for a permanent record.

The idea that human beings are capable of completing a project as awe-inspiringly large as this -- I don't have to hide my feelings. It almost brings me to tears.

So along comes Violet Hopkins, a know-nothing emptyhead with a flimsy little MFA from California, who probably couldn't tell Isaac Newton from Fig Newton, to point her finger and laugh at this effort. The press release effuses, "she explores the limitation of possibilities inherent in fixing an image to a concept." It's a shame Violet wasn't on the committee at NASA so she could point out this brilliant postmodern observation to them. They were clearly all so ignorant, thinking an image could represent what it actually shows. I hope, if the Record ever is found by an extraterrestrial, that they take into account "the complex layers of appropriation and change that the images have undergone over time". Layers of appropriation? What does that even mean?

The press release even goes so far as to drop this gem: "The purpose of the inscriptions is illusive: only the original producers would be able to read its symbols; an alien would certainly be stumped." Of course, it took a naif to notice what the greatest minds humanity has ever produced couldn't possibly have grasped, that their carefully designed and thoroughly researched graphics could never hope to be understood by an alien. Or, at least, by a 35-year-old nitwit transplanted from Texas. Just a brief note for Ms. Hopkins: Just because it doesn't make any sense to you doesn't mean it doesn't make sense. This is especially true if you're an ignoramus, which, apparently, you are.

My bile rises just reading the title of the piece I've reproduced here. Violet, darling, why don't you try doing something actually challenging for once, instead of incompetently copying the work of your betters, before you go casting aspersions on the evidence of their efforts? Difficult and pointless to scale this needle indeed. Better difficult and pointless than easy, brain-dead, and pointless, like your show. Give me a mountain climber any day over a worthless so-called artist proferring her stupidity as fine art. Do the world a favor, honey: Go back to Texas, find a hole with a gila monster, crawl on in, and never come out again.

All right, okay, enough with the negativity. Let's talk about some good shows.

I haven't been down West 27th Street in a long time; I haven't felt the need. I'm glad I made the trip, though, because I found Frank Magnotta's Grand Optimist at Derek Eller (until June 27, 2009).

Frank Magnotta, Grand Optimist, 2009, graphite on paper, 80x104 inches

Frank Magnotta, Grand Optimist, 2009, graphite on paper, 80x104 inches

Frank's work crept up on me. The first drawing in the show, Life Drawing, struck me as too twee by half, and not particularly well-drafted. I therefore cast an eye with slight jaundice over the rest of the show. But as I walked around once, twice, then a third time, I realized that Frank's drawings are in fact fantastic. I was pulled in by his obvious obsessive technique -- each piece is huge for a pencil drawing, some four feet wide, and carefully and subtly shaded -- but then I was captivated by Frank's playful invention and profusion of detail. In terms of subject matter, the work lives where Pop and Surrealism rub up against each other; yet somehow Frank's approach elevates each piece above both categories. In lesser hands this could devolve into kitsch or cheap collage, but Frank's insane pencilling holds it all together.

Frank Magnotta, Century 21, 2009, graphite on paper, 95x80 inches

Frank Magnotta, Century 21, 2009, graphite on paper, 95x80 inches

What are we to make of a piece like Century 21 where an infinite recession of Virgin Marys marches down into nothingness in front of a phantasmagoric profusion of corporate logos, dripping, festooned with moss, bristling with gun barrels and tendrils -- is that dollar sign electrified or growing a root network? -- and finally oozing a belly-up whale out of a giant digital digit?

The only question I have is, does Frank plan these drawings or just start at one corner and work his way to the other? Either way, he's a madman genius.

One last show. Remember earlier in the essay I said I firmly believe in serendipity? This is why. Following my feet I wound up walking along West 23rd thinking only to head back to the subway. I don't usually take 23rd because it's crowded and noisy and not, usually, especially interesting. But this time as I walked something on a building across the way caught my eye.

On the street in Chelsea, 2009

On the street in Chelsea, 2009 (338 West 23rd Street).

It was a sculpture of a man leaping out of a window. It's one of those reverse sculpts -- where the shape is concave instead of convex, curving inward and away from the viewer instead of outward and toward. You might have learned at a science museum that this creates a neat optical illusion such that the object appears to track your eyes as you move around it. It's very groovy. I was fascinated enough to take a couple of pictures. There I go, pretending to be a photojournalist again.

Craig Kraft Studio, Falling Man, 1995

Craig Kraft Studio, Falling Man, 1995.

It turns out this is Falling Man by Craig Kraft Studio. But I didn't know that. All I knew is I wanted to know what the heck it was and why it was there. So I crossed the street and found the Cell Theatre which, it just so happened, was hosting an art opening in the lobby. It was Trio showing work by Alison Ives, Abby Rieser, and Shelley Rotner (until June 2, 2009).

Shelley's photos are the most noticeable things in the lobby; but on further inspection they're just photos, and you know how I feel about photos. Nothing very exciting. Alison's work likewise didn't inspire me; I think she had some photos up, also.

But Abby's work....

Abby Rieser, Love Song, wood, metal, leather, 19x13.75 inches

Abby Rieser, Love Song, wood, metal, leather, 19x13.75 inches

At first glance Abby's sculptures may look like a thousand other found art assemblages you've seen. But they're not. In person, they immediately reach out to your heart. They are soaked in wistful nostalgia, the sense of life's passing, the brief moments of love and happiness with which we're all blessed from time to time. They have an ache and an inner smile, a wisdom and a beauty. Completely devoid of irony or detachment they touch something deep inside you.

Abby Rieser, On the Road, wood, metal, 12.5x15 inches

Abby Rieser, On the Road, wood, metal, 12.5x15 inches

Abby Rieser's works are absolutely lovely.

I really wanted to tell her so while I was there. I paced around looking for anyone who looked authoritative enough to tell me who she was, but I couldn't find anyone. There were enough people around -- even in the theater's lovely little urban back yard -- but no one who seemed like an owner or person in charge or otherwise botherable with dopey questions like the one I had. I left without finding Abby.

What I wanted to say to her was this: You're doing something very special here. It looks easy but it's not. Hundreds of artists attempt this kind of thing, taking old bits and pieces, flotsam and jetsam of people's lives, and putting them together in supposedly evocative ways. Almost all of them fail. Almost all of them somehow manage to make objects less than the sum of their parts; what I'm saying is, if you found, say, a piece of wood or a spigot knob on the curb or in the gutter all by itself, it would likely be a more interesting and entertaining object just like that than after being incorporated into one of those found art sculptures. But you, Abby: You have a gift. You've done something magical and, like all great artists, you've made it look easy. But it's not easy, not at all.

Abby, please keep making these.

And that, friends in art, is why I wander. I suffer through the fools and knaves, agonize through the Mark Floods and the Kim Dorlands, fall unconscious at the Jamie Clydes, froth at the mouth over the Violet Hopkins; I go through all of that because out there, sometimes, when I'm very lucky, I find Abby Rieser.

And then it's all okay.

Art Strike Now! You Start


John Perreault is a chucklehead. His blog, Artopia, has been in my blog list for a little while now, because I've found him entertainingly dopey; but I don't expect he'll last very long in my list because one day I'll realize I haven't read anything from him in months and might as well delete him.

But today Franklin commented on something John wrote; or, more specifically, on something John quoted from artist Gustav Metzger. It seems some anonymous artist somewhere is calling for a three-year art strike -- artists unite and stop selling your work! I suppose that would be great if only most artists were actually selling their work. Personally I'd be out exactly fifty bucks if I'd been on strike for the past three years.

Looking back, though, on Gustav Metzger's proposed art strike years -- 1977 through 1980 -- I wish we could retroactively strike them. Think of all the Richard Prince we would've been saved from! Or maybe if we had suspended the 1980s entirely: No Koons, no Turner Prizes. Early '90s: No Currin! No Hirst!

Damn, this is sounding better and better!

I'm actually not sure I should waste time discussing John and his obvious chuckleheadedness -- he writes like a an acid casualty, with the kind of elderly faux profundity that makes me wonder what he's done of any merit -- and yet, since John asks what is at risk, should artists actually go on strike, which they in no way ever will, and goes on point by point, I have an urge to go through them one at a time.

"So what is at risk?" asks John, and continues:

One: It is not certain that the public will really miss contemporary art. I think it's absolutely certain that the public will totally fail to miss contemporary art. If a single person outside the few who wander into Chelsea or Williamsburg on Thursday nights even notices that contemporary art isn't being shown, I'm certain they'll think no more about it. Contemporary art is that completely disconnected from the lives of non-art world people.

Two: It is not certain that artists will really miss making art. As many artists there are who whine that it's what they must do, what their deep souls compel them to do, that they absolutely have to create or die -- that's how many artists I believe are full of shit. The same urges to "create" "art" can just as easily be employed in compulsive masturbation and doodling on napkins.

Three: It is not certain that the collapse of the art system will result in the demise of the collector and the collector mentality; tulip bulbs or light bulbs or clown noses may become the next new collectible. Unlike today, where only fine contemporary art is collected. Whole industries are not built upon collecting, say, ceramic Christmas villages. And thank god for that because lord knows that kind of world wouldn't be worth living in.

Four: It is not certain that "artists" will find other things to do to keep themselves out of trouble. Sexual shenanigans, alcohol abuse, and dangerous drug use could escalate. On the other hand, service at Starbucks will be faster, what with all the new baristas.

Five: It is not certain that preparators, receptionists, art-handlers, framers, and all the cooks and waiters working in nearby restaurants and lunchrooms will ever again find gainful employment. I'm guessing the gallerinas will be hit most hard by the artist strike; who else but the art galleries would hire so many slim-hipped gamines?

Six: It is equally uncertain that critics, curators, and the like will be able to find other ways of making a living. It is certain that parents will no longer think of art as a safe career for their clean-cut spawn and will therefore force them to go to law school or study engineering. This reminds me of a quote from Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert. He wrote once that when young people ask if they should go into cartooning, he advises them to become dry cleaners instead. Because he doesn't need the cartooning competition, but he'd love to pay less for his dry cleaning. Also: Does anyone actually think of art as a safe career?

I'd like to think that John is writing in a satirical vein. But nothing I've read from him so far leads me to believe he's capable of that level of subtlety. I can't imagine that he honestly believes anyone will strike; but I also can't imagine that he doesn't think it would be a good thing if they did. I can certainly state, however, that three years without John Perrault's art writing would be an unequivocal good.

Eric White in Paris

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All right, I'm going to shoot down another vague, incoherent site guideline and simply announce an upcoming show you should go see. You should drop in if, by chance, you happen to be in Paris. The one in France. I don't think I'll be making the trip myself, but if you've got an extra plane ticket and some place to stay, you can take me with you.

Eric White, Our Beloved Ganesa, 1998, acrylic on canvas, 36x36 inches

Eric White, Our Beloved Ganesa, 1998, acrylic on canvas, 36x36 inches

I just got news that one of my early art crushes, Eric White, will be showing with Daniel Davidson at Galerie Magda Danysz from May 30 through June 20, 2009.

About ten years ago I had this day job where I was making a goodly amount of money and I decided I wanted to buy some art. I figured I deserved it. I couldn't spend a lot in terms of original art, but to me it was a lot of money, so I ended up dropping back to a print of some kind. I don't remember how I found him, but I discovered Eric White online and really liked his work, so I plunked down a few bucks for a lithograph of Our Beloved Ganesa. After all, it has a vulva in it, and vulvas rock.

Eric was so generous he included in the package a print of Czechsicle as well. What a great guy.

I met him later at one of his openings and he invited me to the afterparty. Alas, I stood around the bar waiting for the afterparty to start for a couple of hours and then went home; I'm bad at parties and don't stay up late like I used to. I heard the party started without me at a more reasonable party hour. So I've been told; for all I know Eric gave me a fake location so I wouldn't ruin his fun. But I refuse to believe that.

Anyway. I like Eric, I like his work, and if you're in Paris, check it out.

Evil Averted


There are times when I simply must leave my family lest we make the 11 o'clock news. Or maybe the paper with one of those articles beginning, "Before turning the gun on himself..." Sometimes, when things get that way, I go to the movies by myself. This always fails to cheer me up but at least it gets me out of the house.

One such time not too long ago the movie I chose to see was M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening. It was terrible. It was such a lousy, unsatisfying, worthless moviegoing experience that I decided to do something I've never done before -- not walk out before the movie was over, because I don't think I've ever done that -- but leave the movie and go to another movie in the same multiplex without paying. Yes, I decided to sneak -- although sneaking would imply there was an employee, any employee, somewhere in the building who actually gave a crap -- I sneaked and snuck and sauntered my way into another movie, one I did not pay for. The film I thus stole?

The Love Guru.

When I told this story to the excellent comic artist Mike Cavallaro he intoned, "Batman would say no good can come from evil."

Those words were ringing in my ears last Thursday at six o'clock as I reached the doors of Cheim & Read and found them locked.

Let me say a few words -- maybe more than a few, we'll see -- about how I decide what art shows I go to. I almost never choose to see a show that I don't think might be good. However I find out about it -- recommended by a friend, a little tiny JPEG on the Chelsea Art Galleries site, artist's mailing list -- however I hear about a show, I'll usually only go if I expect to see good art.

You might at this point say that I'm being a trifle ingenuous. After all, you might note, so many of your reviews here are of the negative variety. In fact some days it seems as if your cup only overfloweth with vitriol. How can this be if you only choose to go to good shows?

There are a few ways I end up seeing art that I don't like. One way is I'm invited to a show. And then maybe I'll go if it doesn't look great, because like anyone I enjoy having my ego stroked, and even a mass e-mail invitation works for me a little bit.

Another common occurrence is that I'm simply disappointed. That happens a lot, sadly. I go hoping for good art and it isn't. Very unfortunate.

And, finally, the way I most often see art I don't like: Wandering. I go in to Chelsea to see one show, then aimlessly wobble around the neighborhood to see what else there is to see. That's usually when I see the absolute worst art I could ever find, because I end up in shows I would never purposely set out to see. Why would I want to see bad art?

Which brings me to my confession. And it is a confession: I'm coming clean with you because we've been through a lot together and I feel you're owed total and complete honesty. Fact is I don't have to confess -- you'd never have found out about it. But I can't go on like that. You deserve better.

The fact is this: I went to Cheim & Read last Thursday for one reason and one reason only: To see the Chantal Joffe show to shred it to little bitty bits.

This is grossly unfair. It's wrong. I admit it. I've written many times before that I refuse to judge artwork on reproductions alone; that I don't go in to a show with my opinion set; that I'm as open as can be to any art, anywhere, and its capacity to move me. I've written all that and I meant it, Dear Reader, I was sincere every single time. Really.

But when I saw the little tiny JPEG on the Chelsea Art Galleries site for this show, I simply didn't like it. I didn't like it at all. When I went to the Cheim & Read site and saw the single image they'd put up at that point for the show, I was filled with anger, with hate. And I wanted very much, for some reason, to go to this show and savage it. Wreck it. Destroy it. Cause Chantal Joffe to weep. Redden the faces of her parents. Induce Mr. Read and Mr. Cheim to shake their heads in disbelief that anyone could trash their wares so vituperously. I wanted rending of clothing and tearing of hair. Thumbscrews and hot irons. I wanted pain pain pain.

And that's wrong of me. That's not who I want to be. That's not what I want to bring you. Because you mean a lot to me, Reader, you do, and you deserve better than that from me.

Good thing those doors were locked promptly at six o'clock, or something evil might have happened.

Stupid Blog Tricks


Blogs have really been pissing me off lately.

You might have noticed -- I'm sure all four of my regular readers caught on -- that my blog has been mostly disastered over the past few days. What happened was this: For some reason I had to repost a bunch of entries to my blog a bunch of times in a row. I forget why, but I had a good reason. Whatever it was, the sudden flurry of posting raised a flag at Blogger/Google HQ and they suspended NYC Art for being a spam blog or -- and don't you just love the way words get mangled on the Internet -- splog. Blooger helpfully supplies a link for you to get your flagged blog reviewed by a human in a bunker somewhere so it can be reinstated and you can publish to it again. What they don't note anywhere obvious is that the Blooger minions have been hopelessly backed up since last November, possibly because they're all employed in figuring out where everyone's 401(k)s went when the world economy evaporated.

I didn't worry about it too much until I'd spent a few days writing up my latest piece of staggering brilliant insight and wit. Then I had to do something about it because I had something to publish. So I began the long and painful process of ditching Blooger and moving my blog to another platform, one I control myself. I started with Movable Type because that's what I use over at The Incomparable thanks to my former buddies. I couldn't get that to import Blogger posts, though, so I tried WordPress, but that wouldn't work either. Thus I went back to MT and got it to work, with a great deal of huffing, puffing, and SQL mangling.

Thanks, Blogger/Google! I really needed that!

Now you might at this point say that I'm being churlish in my anger with Blooger, since after all they provided me their blog software free of charge. And you're right, I guess. But you're also wrong. Because here's the thing: I provided them with content. Not a lot, maybe, and not really great content. But I added my tiny little share. And what is blog software without content? Nothing. Nothing at all. Neither Blogger nor Google would exist if not for my efforts added to the much better, much larger efforts of thousands upon thousands of other people. In fact if not for the very basic building blocks of content on the Web -- if not for motivated individuals like me beavering away for free on topics about which we senselessly care -- the World Wide Web wouldn't exist. Think of the cheapest, crappiest mobile phone plan in America: That's what the Internet would be like if not for millions of volunteers. Even that phone plan is just a little bit better because of the Web. So all of Google's zillions of dollars -- that giant bed of moolah on which Sergey Brin and Larry Page sleep -- all of it was made on my back and the backs of those like me.

So I think I can be allowed a little bit of anger at being screwed over this way. Thanks, Blooger!

In a way this is related very strongly to something else that's been pissing me off about blogs lately. Not long ago I stopped reading a certain blog (which shall remain nameless, as they say) because it occurred to me that just my presence there, my adding to the comments, lent that blog author legitimacy; and that fact was being ignored by that author. In fact they seemed to think they could accept that legitimacy while still treating us, the commenters, as disposable. They could moderate our comments and disallow things they didn't like, they could ignore inconvenient topics, they could turn us on and off at will, in fact -- all while maintaining a veneer of balance, of civilized discourse, of even-handedness. And they could be polite online and dismissive in person, could respond to public comments but not private e-mail messages, and so on. In short, the blog author could receive all of the benefits of their commenters' input, while deflecting anything negative that might also come with that.

Is that obtuse and hard to read? I'm trying so hard not to get into specifics, even of gender. Let me try to round it out a little better: If a writer has a popular blog with a lot of visitors and a lot of discussions in their comments, then that blog writer is getting a lot from their audience. Their stature is improved by the size and visibility of their audience. Their position as a writer is elevated by the discourse on their blog. They get up to the minute feedback on their writing -- both in terms of mechanics and abstract things like philosophy. The larger the audience and the more valuable the discussions, the more that reflects back on the blog writer.

And it seems to me the blog writer should then have responsibilities to their commenters. To their audience. A certain respect is required. An acknowledgment. The blog writer might have the hard job, but without the audience, the job is meaningless. And a blog commenter is so much more than a silent audience -- Stephen King's Constant Reader -- and I think they deserve concomitantly more respect and responsibility.

So when I comment on someone's blog, I take it seriously. Not that I think my contributions are so great or even better than anyone else's. Far from it. I think I'm often stupid and pointless. But even so, my comments are one very small part of that audience that gives a blog author back all of that important stuff -- prestige, feedback, energy. And so I want to be taken seriously.

I therefore find it upsetting when one of my favorite blog authors decides to shut down commenting on his blog. Or when another blogger whose site I've been frequenting decides to just delete his entire blog. Hey, some of that writing you deleted? It was mine! I deserve better than that. I've put time into your site, reading and composing comments and being your audience. I didn't do much, but I did do something.

My own blog isn't one that invites a lot of comments or builds a community. I don't know exactly what it is that does those things, but I don't have it. That's fine. I'm happy to be writing, to have a place to write, and to have the four or so regular readers I do. I don't really need more. But when I venture away from my own yard, I'd like to be treated a little better than I have been.

Lately that's left me looking at the list of blogs I frequent -- it's not a long list by any means -- and thinking about paring it down. I still have Anonymous Female Artist on there and neither she nor Nancy Baker has posted there in ages. But even setting aside a couple of dead blogs, I've got a bunch of sites I really don't need to visit any more. What for? Who the hell cares?

I know, all the bloggers out there are breathing a sigh of relief. "No more comments by that fucking moron Rywalt," they're saying. Right. Except you may not just be driving away me. You may be driving away your audience. And when they're gone, what will you have left?

May 6, 2009


Ordinarily any trip I make to Chelsea wherein I go from gallery to gallery I'd call a gallery slog. But today's entry is different. It wasn't a slog, it was a merely dispirited ramble. I had no real direction, and was only wandering around seeing what was open and wandering in. With no list of galleries, with no required stops, I could quit whenever I felt like it. I felt like it fairly quickly, but now that I look back on it, I saw a good number of shows. Not too many of them were good, however.

To start off on a good note, I'm going to put aside the site's guidelines (vague and incoherent as they may be) and review a show by a known, dead artist. This makes my opinion even less useful than usual. Thanks to Art Ravels I ended up at one of Larry Gagosian's endlessly metastasizing gallery spaces enjoying Pablo Picasso's Mosqueteros (ending June 6, 2009).

Pablo Picasso, Femme Nue avec Tête d'Homme, 1967, oil on canvas, 51x38 inches

Pablo Picasso, Femme Nue avec Tète d'Homme, 1967, oil on canvas, 51x38 inches

Mosqueteros is, of course, Spanish for "Mouseketeers", so obviously this is a show entirely devoted to, as you can see, nude portraits of Picasso's favorite model and mistress, Annette Funicello.

No, of course that's not it. It's a show of Musketeers, another class of Picasso's personal cast of characters, along with the Minotaur, Harlequin, Toreadors, Marie-Thérèse, African masks, the Horny Painter, Overweight Models with Big Boobs, and Michael Jackson.

You can tell I'm kind of making fun of Pablo here, and why not? He often seemed to be having so much fun painting he fell headlong into self-caricature; unless the trouble is he got lazy and figured he could sell pretty much any mark he made on any surface. (One of the paintings in this show is on corrugated cardboard, certainly long past the point where he could afford real art supplies.) He was so prolific it's hard to figure what he was doing, let alone what he thought he was doing. I have immense affection for Picasso, though, hard won past my layers of cynicism and jaundice towards self-promotion and his probably not entirely deserved reputation. Honestly his actual work doesn't do a lot for me, but each time I find myself in front of his paintings I find more to appreciate. Something about his brushwork, which seems at times so easy and others so labored; I can feel his hand in each one, and while maybe the overall picture might rarely be great, still I love that hand. It also helps, I think, to have read Patrick O'Brian's fantastic biography of the man, and thanks to the wonder of the Internet you can now follow along and see every work he describes at the On-Line Picasso Project.

Pablo Picasso, Nu accroupi II, 1971, oil on canvas, 116x89 cm

Pablo Picasso, Nu accroupi II, 1971, oil on canvas, 116x89 cm

Pablo Picasso, Le baiser I, 1969, oil on canvas, 97x130 cm

Pablo Picasso, Le baiser I, 1969, oil on canvas, 97x130 cm

Here in Gagosian's show I found, as I expected, very few really good paintings. But I was surprised to see a couple I liked very much. Picasso's work certainly has great energy, and in a few of these works there's enough, I think, to achieve lift over his patches of overwrought sticky paint and his swathes of underexposed watery washes. Look at the latter two paintings I've put up here: A lovely quick study of a nude's back; a passionate Cubist rendering of a loving kiss. Both are noticeably imperfect but wonderful just the same.

Altogether there's a lot to see in Mosqueteros and it's worth the trip, even if Picasso -- late period especially -- isn't your favorite. He may still surprise you.

Still, as much as I liked the show, the question in my mind is, why show Picasso? Are there really no contemporary artists who could fill Gagosian's space? I can't understand it. A few years back, Ed Winkleman suggested I read The Art Dealers to get an idea of how the minds of art dealers actually work. I read the book. I gained precisely zero insight. I never understand what dealers are thinking, and in this case I understand even less. Why show Picasso in a selling gallery?

To raise Picasso's stature? As if the likes of Larry Gagosian could do that. Picasso's one of the few artists of any kind who could be named by non-art people. To raise Larry Gagosian's stature? As if late-career Picasso could do that. Most everyone in the art world knows, before any painting in this show was even a gleam in Picasso's eye, Marcel had put Pablo's shit out in the street. By the mid-1960s Picasso was, according to art-world wisdom, a has-been, noodling out his remaining days. Even if Duchamp's victory wasn't unanimous, still among artists for whom Modernist is not an insult, late period Picasso is dismissed as junk. Is Larry angling for a critical reappraisal of Pablo's declining years? Jerry Saltz liked the show. But why should Larry care what Jerry thinks about Pablo?

And who else is likely to be impressed by this show? Plenty of regular people seemed to be in attendance -- the name "Picasso" is like a magic pipe, drawing hoi polloi from all around -- but I can't imagine Gagosian cares about them. They don't buy million-dollar paintings. I guess the collectors whose pieces are on loan for the show might get a rosy glow. Is that going to translate into more sales for Larry? Of what? Who's going to buy Richard Prince's crap after seeing a show of actual, real live original paintings made of paint by a painter? As bad as Picasso's later paintings might seem -- not that I think they're bad -- compared to, say, Yayoi Kusama, they look like, well, a million bucks.

Yayoi Kusama, Enlightenment Means Living a Life Unconcernedly, 2008, acrylic on canvas, 76 3/8x102 inches

Yayoi Kusama, Enlightenment Means Living a Life Unconcernedly, 2008, acrylic on canvas, 76 3/8x102 inches

Speaking of Yayoi, I saw her show also, at another one of Gagosian's many spaces (at 555 West 24th until June 27, 2009). I found it exuberant but mediocre. Her paintings are wonderfully colored extravaganzas, often to the point of optical pain. Only one or two of them evinced any subtlety whatsoever (for example, the one shown here); the rest were like brightly-colored grade school tempera paintings. With a bad case of the spots. I almost feel bad not enjoying Yayoi's work more, because it's so cheerful and sincere and happy. I feel like a curmudgeon. But it just didn't move me; and the juxtapositions of color -- black and orange! red and green! -- often struck me as more childish than childlike. When she allows for variations of shading her all-over paintings are neat (although not nearly as sublime as they appear in JPEGs) but more often she fills up the canvas without varying much and it just tires the eye.

Yayoi Kusama, Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity, 2009, mixed media installation, 163.5x163.5x113.25 inches

Yayoi Kusama, Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity, 2009, mixed media installation, 163.5x163.5x113.25 inches

One commendable, although not to my mind entirely successful, piece in the show is Yayoi's Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity. The title makes it sound like an overblown Damien Hirst thing, but in fact it's a simple and elegant idea -- albeit not, perhaps, easy to build. It's a room, maybe ten or fifteen feet on a side, lined inside with mirrors, lit by a multitude of small dim yellowish candle-like LEDs hanging from wires at different heights throughout the space. With a pool on the floor and the door closed behind you -- Gagosian had a helpful guard handling door duty for guests -- it almost, but not quite, makes you feel as if you're hanging in an infinite space surrounded by candles. I say almost because the mirrors aren't distortion-free, and as the reflections multiply they lose coherence; and also you can see your own silhouette, of course, which kind of breaks the spell. And further the pool of water ripples unless you stand very, very still. Overall it seemed to me the idea could've been executed a little better -- I'm sure they make higher-quality mirrors with less distortion, and maybe the floor should be mirrors, too -- but then maybe I'm nitpicking. I don't know. I wasn't as moved by it as I wanted to be, but I had to admit it was kind of cool. Maybe as an isolation tank it'd be mind-blowing: I can see floating on my back in a pool of epsom salted water meditating on the universe in the middle of an infinitude of lights. Then again, this is the kind of thing I expect from children's museums, not art galleries.

Huang Yong Ping, Tower Snake, 2009, aluminum, bamboo, steel, 22x39x37 feet

Huang Yong Ping, Tower Snake, 2009, aluminum, bamboo, steel, 22x39x37 feet

Yet there are days when Chelsea seems to have turned into a children's museum. Why the contemporary art world would aim so low is beyond me, but again, I gained zero insight from The Art Dealers. Maybe I'm just dense. Which may be why I was so nonplussed by the sight of Huang Yong Ping's Tower Snake at Gladstone Gallery (until June 13, 2009). Like the Giant Heart at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, the Tower Snake is a hugely enlarged version of an organ you can walk through. Only the organ in this case is the skeleton of a snake, and the purpose isn't educational, it's dada. Or something. There may very well be something completely fantastic and wonderful at the top under the skull, but I wouldn't know, because the altogether amateur-hour-looking structure (some of it is held together with worm gear hose clamps) didn't look sturdy enough to support 315 pounds of heaving gweilo. Since the very first thing you see upon entering the gallery is a large sign warning you about your own risk, I stayed safely on the ground. I love me some bamboo and all, but I don't want to stand on it.

Meanwhile over at Mary Boone the scientific exploration continues, this exhibit (until May 16, 2009) being organized around microcephaly. Curator Javier Peres has dropped a few tiny, pointless objects by tiny, pointless artists Mike Kelley, Terence Koh, and Jeff Koons into the cavernous airplane hangar that is the Mary Boone Gallery. The space makes the worthless little things look even more crappy and stupid than they might otherwise: Mike's lumpy collections of what look like handmade buttplugs, lit from underneath; Terence's long white shelf, so minimalist it makes Ikea furniture look baroque; and Jeff Koons' oh-so-amusing steel replica of a set of crystal glasses (get it? Get it?). Javier happily gushes in the press release: "My purpose in assembling this exhibition was not to emphasize a curatorial message as such, but rather -- quite simply -- to put three of my favorite American artists side by side. No tricks, no gimmicks, no bullshit, just sculptures representative of each artist's practice." We appreciate your honesty and simplicity, Javier, we just wish your favorite artists didn't suck so hard.

Jonathan Monk, Deflated Sculpture no. II (still standing), 2009

Jonathan Monk, Deflated Sculpture no. II (still standing), 2009

Did someone mention Jeff Koons? I ask because I got to peek in the front window of Casey Kaplan to see one of the signature pieces of Jonathan Monk's show, The Inflated Deflated (until June 20, 2009). Yes, that sculpture is, in fact, as stupid as it appears to be. Compounding the stupidity -- maybe this is a scientific exhibit on the gullibility of art dealers -- Jonathan writes in the show's press release, "Appropriation is something I have used or worked with in my art since starting art school in 1987. At this time (and still now) I realised that being original was almost impossible, so I tried using what was already available as source material for my own work. By doing this I think I also created something original and certainly something very different to what I was re-presenting. I always think that art is about ideas, and surely the idea of an original and a copy of an original are two very different things." Which is a pretty fantastic piece of sophistry -- in fact it's an insult to Sophists to call it such. Here Jonathan's saying being original is really hard, so he's done nothing for his entire art career but copy other artists, but his copies are actually original because they're not intended as originals. And then he goes and copies non-artist Jeff Koons! I don't know if Jonathan's next show should be titled "Big Brass Balls" or "Sadly Empty Head". Possibly both.

Sophie Calle, Take Care of Yourself (Amira Casar, Actress), 2007

Sophie Calle, Take Care of Yourself (Amira Casar, Actress), 2007

Sophie Calle, Take Care of Yourself (installation view, photo by Seth Erickson), 2007

Sophie Calle, Take Care of Yourself (installation view, photo by Seth Erickson), 2007

On the other hand, Jonathan's work does have the virtue of being comprehensible. Dumb, but understandable nonetheless. In this way it is thoroughly unlike Sophie Calle's Take Care of Yourself at Paula Cooper (until June 6, 2009). The gallery's entire wall space is crammed almost full of photos, drawings, wall text, videos, and who knows what all else, which the artist herself says is "executed in a wild range of media". Well, there's wild and then there's overstuffed. Maybe the whole show makes some kind of sense if you're feeling exceptionally patient with the artist -- if you sense, somehow, that she has something really important to say. Sophie says it's something to do with reactions to a break-up letter she got over e-mail, and I imagine it's possible another viewer might find this a fascinating, deeply moving topic, and might have that fascination and emotion hinted at by something in the show; and then that viewer might settle in for the long work of decoding what's going on with the Indian dancer glancing at the typing paper and the actress sort of staring moodily off into the middle distance and the crossword puzzle. Yes, the crossword puzzle. Unfortunately I'm not that viewer; I'm the viewer who glanced around, thought "What the fuck?" and left. Give me something of visual interest, some crumb of anything that makes this actual art and not a masturbatory MySpace page with its own YouTube channel, and maybe I'll stick around. But no.

I get the feeling that Sophie is that sort of quintessential artist type who is so sensitive and so hopelessly untethered from anything approaching reality that when her jerk boyfriend dumps her over e-mail she can honestly respond, "I received an email telling me it was over. I didn't know how to respond. It was almost as if it hadn't been meant for me." So she sets about putting together a completely bizarre and aimless exercise based on the sliver of human experience she can understand and fills up a blameless room with the results and calls it "art" because no one knows what else to call it. And she's such a flake anyhow she must be some kind of genius.

Those kinds of artists irritate the hell out of me.

Phil Collins, soy mi madre, 2008, 16mm film transferred to digital video, duration 28 minutes

Phil Collins, soy mi madre, 2008, 16mm film transferred to digital video, duration 28 minutes

Anyway. Now that we've edged away from the children's science museum and into the Web and TV, we can find ourselves at Tanya Bonadkar checking out Phil Collins' when slaves love each other, its not love [sic] (until June 20, 2009). A handful of desultory photos lead you towards that boomy audio sound which heralds yet another entry of lame video art and you duck through the curtain into the ubiquitous video room which, in this case, appears to be showing a telenovela. If you're like me you rapidly figure out that Phil -- no relation, I trust, to the drummer from Genesis and composer of Disney's Tarzan -- has no grasp of the fundamental ingredient of all telenovelas and, in fact, all Latino TV -- cleavage -- and you rapidly leave the way you came.

Curiously, however, there are still galleries showing traditional art being made by living artists. Not everyone has gotten the news about the children's museum thing, I guess. My eye was caught as I walked by Charles Cowles, for example, where I saw Jeff Bark's Flesh Rainbow (until May 23, 2009). If that sounds as if it's the title of a lurid show of large-scale photos, well, it is. It's that wonderfully safe, contemporary artsy kind of lurid, where everything's all grotesque and abject, full of shame and damp, squalid sordidness; the key is making the subjects so gnarly and grotty, or else so humorous, that they can be safely kept at arm's length by the beautiful art worlders who are looking down on them.

Jeff Bark, It's Easy to Forget, 2009, c-print, edition of 9

Jeff Bark, It's Easy to Forget, 2009, c-print, edition of 9

This one I've put up here looks like Jeff caught me jerking off into my wife's sock drawer. Really, I get the impression that what Jeff honestly likes is seeing pretty girls naked, but he needs an excuse; he needs to be taken seriously as an artist so he can get the best naked girls. So he also takes stagey photos of wilted potted plants and hairy guys in pantyhose, so it doesn't look like he's all about the chicks.

Then again, maybe I'm just projecting.

Anyway, his photos are big and his choice of colors interesting. Naked people are always fun. And some of his compositions, and the way he photographs them, harken back to the early days of photography, and those infamous French postcards, and Bellocq's Storyville photos of slightly overfed, slightly overloose women. Not altogether a bad thing, but then again, not altogether great, either.

Maybe photography's not traditional enough for you. Too new. If so, I'm with you. That's okay, there's still some old-fashioned art being made by real live non-deceased artists. You might stop, as I did, in Danese Gallery, hoping for some. And you'd get it. Until May 29, 2009, you can get a whole lot of it. The current show there (until May 29, 2009) consists of what seemed to me to be about a hundred works of art, ranging from Minimalist cubes on plinths through clunky bronzes on the floor up to black ink on white paper on the wall. Some of the artists are gone -- David Smith, Roberto Matta -- some are still working -- Richard Serra, Mark di Suvero -- at least one is even reasonably young.

Craig Kauffman, Mansanas, 2007, acrylic lacquer on vacuum formed Plexiglas, 33.5x39.25x12 inches

Craig Kauffman, Mansanas, 2007, acrylic lacquer on vacuum formed Plexiglas, 33.5x39.25x12 inches

Amusingly enough, very little in the show really struck me as interesting, except for the least traditional piece there. David Smith's doodles kind of spoke to me, because his stroke reminded me of my own while at the same time seeming very different. Larry Bell's Cube #36 (green and blue) had a smoky allure to it. Elizabeth King's untitled bronze head was definitely skilfully sculpted. But the piece I found most delightful was Craig Kauffman's vacuum-formed plastic sculpture. It's so pink and sparkly and inviting, like a giant space breast waiting for someone to pillow their head upon, or maybe like a happy pseudopod of some pleasant alien. It's smooth and shiny and it turns out "mansanas" is Tagalog for "apple". It has its own reasons for being, and I like that.

Alex Katz, Sunset 1, 2008, oil on linen, 9x7 feet Alex Katz, Sunset 2, 2008, oil on linen, 9x7 feet

Alex Katz, Sunset 1, 2008, oil on linen, 9x7 feet and Sunset 2, same thing

Maybe we need to be more traditional still. We might drop in PaceWildenstein to see Alex Katz's latest paintings in the show titled Fifteen Minutes (until June 13, 2009). Alex is pretty traditional, right? I mean, he single-handedly revived figurative painting in the 1970s. Or something. Personally I'd say that Alex is the grandfather of Feeble Painting the way Manet is the grandfather of Impressionism. Impressionism is good. Feeble Painting not so much. With these works, at least, Katz is clearly trying to do for landscapes what he did for figuration: Dumb it down and flatten it out.

And, yes, he succeeds at squashing landscape painting as effectively he did figuration. The result is unsuccessful as art, but what would you expect? Despite the fact that the paintings are all of heroic proportions -- the dimensions are listed in feet, not inches, and tend to the 8-foot range -- Alex has only managed to scale up his infelicitous touch and uninspired paint handling. His sense of color is virtually absent, which is especially sad here, since these paintings are grouped by subject, where he apparently painted the same landscape at different times of day. This leads me to imagine he was intending these to be studies of color and light, but since Alex appears to have the tonal range of a cheap Instamatic camera, they look more like slight variations for different floors in the same hotel. He's using oil paints but for all the painterly blending he's ever been able to manage he might as well be using latex housepaint. About the best thing one can say about Katz is that he hasn't lost his skills with age; he just never had any to begin with.

Well, no slog or ramble through Chelsea would be complete without a walk through good old 511 West 25th Street. First stop: The bathroom, of course. Best bathrooms in Chelsea. Flush like a jet engine, Kramer! Right. Anyway. But after that, yes, of course I stopped by McKenzine Fine Art to interrupt Valerie McKenzie's lunch and incidentally find Don Voisine's show (until June 6, 2009).

Don Voisine, Buzz, 2009, oil on wood, 17x17 inches

Don Voisine, Buzz, 2009, oil on wood, 17x17 inches

Don Voisine's a taper, with a smooth, rigid geometric style and, from what I've seen so far, a basic approach. It looks as if he's very carefully stepping through small variations -- change one color here, change one angle there -- and repeating, repeating, repeating. The result is, all together in this one show, somewhat, well, repetitive, but nevertheless effective. His subtleties and slight changes encourage slowing down and tuning in to finer distinctions; your reward is feeling the changes he's made between differing textures of black, the shift from a muted green to a muted pink, the shades of gray. It's a narrow, constrained universe, but an expressive one; and it's rewarding enough to make it worth going around the show more than once.

"You've gone around a couple of times," Valerie said to me finally, "so you either love it or you hate it."

I don't go around a show more than once if I hate it. I'm willing to stick my head in the door and turn right around without even going in if it's that bad. No sense wasting time on something awful. No: If I go around more than once it's because there's something I'm willing to consider. And Don's work has that.

It also has something else going for it, which I noticed when I looked over the price list: Affordability. Don's work is priced very reasonably. So reasonably, in fact, that I'd almost buy one myself. It's still far more than I can afford, though, since this blog doesn't pay very well. (Or at all.) I did, however, consider telling the only person I know who actually buys art about Don's work -- and then I remembered J.T. Kirkland already bought one. He's got a good eye, that one.

Jon Rappleye, How Evident this Miraculous Vision, 2009, acrylic and spray enamel on paper, 29.5x22 inches

Jon Rappleye, How Evident this Miraculous Vision, 2009, acrylic and spray enamel on paper, 29.5x22 inches

Next door to McKenzie Fine Art is the Jeff Bailey Gallery which I often skip because I so rarely like anything I see there. This time I saw Jon Rappleye's Forgotten Planet (until May 23, 2009) which left me feeling undecided. I can't quite say that the work is really good, but neither did it strike me as bad or even mediocre. It's technically good, and the various styles Jon uses makes for an interesting pictorial experience, but ultimately the paintings are so busy and unfocused, I'm not sure how I feel about them. I suppose if I can, with a straight face, use phrases like "interesting pictorial experience", the work's failed, but I'm not entirely willing to just say that.

Jon's painting is along the lines of work I've been seeing a lot lately, from Christopher Reiger (who's been doing it a long time) to Emily Roz. It seems that going back to nature and animals, and doing so with an eye towards accuracy -- and possibly with borrowings from Victorian scientific illustration -- is in vogue these days. Jon takes that approach and mixes in some graffitti, some Dürer-like drawing, and some surreal backgrounds, with the result being busy paintings populated by birds with glowing eyes, cartoony plants, and erupting volcanoes, among other things. His colors are muted and soft, like watercolors, and overlaid by hard-edged critter cut-outs with animation-style outlines. Some things are lightly colored -- leaves, fire -- while others are left as bare outlines. The effect is one of a very staid phantasmagoria, a kind of suspended chaos, like a swarm of attacking avians safely stuffed and interred in the Museum of Natural History.

Like so many repetitive artists Jon leaves me scratching my head, wondering what his personal iconography is all about, and what drives him to be so obsessive. The few times I've spoken to artists like that I've found they mostly seem mystified by their own mystery -- they don't know where it comes from, they just sort of do it. I suspect that's the case here, too; I imagine Jon saying, "I just think owls are cool."

Robert Sagerman, 14,301, 2008, oil on canvas, 48x46 inches

Robert Sagerman, 14,301, 2008, oil on canvas, 48x46 inches

This is most assuredly not what I'd expect from another obsessive artist I saw that day. You can just tell from the title of Robert Sagerman's show at Margaret Thatcher Projects, On and On: Inquiries into Indeterminacy (until June 13, 2009) that this is a guy with an explanation. It's probably not, however, an explanation you want to hear. The first thing I noticed going into the gallery was the explosion of color; the second was the smell of paint. I have no idea what he's mixing into his oils, but it smells like no oil paint I've ever encountered, and in the quantities in this gallery, it's suffocating. And why are his paintings so literally stinky?

Because Robert uses a whole lot of paint. A million oozy tubes of it. Each one of the paintings in this show is built up from thousands of goobery squeezes of paint, piled one on top of the other, like inedible cake frosting. Each painting looks like shelf upon dripping shelf of pigment, matte, sticky, corrugated, yucky. Visually it all combines into a big blob. The texture is mildy interesting but so nearly unmodulated both in color and consistency that you might as well be staring at colorful noise.

And we know each painting is made of thousands of goobery squeezes because Robert counts each squeeze and titles the painting after how many it took. So 14,301 here took that many squeezes. Why 14,301? I don't know. Quick, is it a prime number? I don't know. All I care about is how it looks, and it doesn't really look good.

Finally, and very quickly: On my way out I strolled through George Billis where I saw Stephen Magsig's nice but not especially inspired paintings of New York sidewalk scenes and David Lyle's lovingly rendered, but rendered inert, ironic paintings of surreal suburbia (both until May 23, 2009). And I wandered through Robert Steele Gallery wherein I saw the lovely stained wood sculptures of Joe Segal (closed -- you missed it!). He and J.T. would probably get along.


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