Sunday, March 30, 2008

Check my PULSE in a couple of hours.

30 March 2008

Well as far as I'm concerned, the verdict is in. I'm not going to whine about the predictability of the Armory or this aspect or another of SCOPE (which I thought, on the whole, was pretty successful); but of all the fairs this year, PULSE is by far the best. Not that everything was especially fresh or unpredictable (e.g., Freight & Volume (NY) showing Kim Dorland (but at his most trenchant, brilliant), or Galerie Stefan Ropke (Cologne) showing Sigmar Polke (nothing EVER wrong with that), but as is more or less self-evident, where novelty was occasionally lacking, quality was not. Barbara Stanwyck -- I mean Monya Rowe -- was here with some fresh Angela Dufresnes (always welcome); so was Rosamund Felsen, with an especially superb Steve Hurd, among other choice selections. Funny coincidence to run into Cindy Sherman on the other side of Rosamund's booth inspecting the -- what else? -- Morton Bartletts in Julie Saul's space. (She collects them apparently -- why are we not surprised?) Before I go any further, though, let me just say that I STILL don't know who won this year's PULSE prize (bestowed by Malgorzata Romanska). But my pick for the best gallery booth was that of Galerie Ernst Hilger (Vienna) -- with an amazing installation of video works (Irwin-esque yet something altogether different) by Timothy White-Sobieski, among other gorgeous specimens. Gotta jet. Check back in a couple of hours -- assuming I'm still breathing.

Ezrha Jean Black, New York

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Stranger than strangelets: black holes uptown, bright stars down

29 March 2008

I don't know if any of you have seen it (I can't see that you could have missed it -- it made the front page of The New York Times); but the significance of just about anything happening at the art fairs or the Whitney Biennial (which I intend to take in today) disappears altogether in the face of news that the world (and possibly the universe, such as we know it) may be eaten whole by a black hole (or "strangelet") that may be produced, among other subatomic particle debris, by the operations of the Large Hadron Collider, an $8 billion particle accelerator set to commence its atom-smashing activities sometime this summer outside Geneva. (Great -- yet another superlative I didn't know I needed -- ATOM-smashing.)

So who really cares that VOLTA NY was not (to be kind) exactly atom-smashing stuff? Although to look at work like that of Jota Castro's (in the Elaine Levy (Brussels) space), you might think he was on the right wavelength. Here, as in some of the other fairs (including the Bridge, which my pals, Kathleen, Duncan and I went to during the interval between the Robert Miller opening and the late dinner that followed), it's the small moments that count. (There were in fact few of these to be had at Bridge -- but I can't let my low blood sugar speak for me.) Another artist who seemed to have her finger on an apocalyptic pulse was Cathy de Monchaux (shown out of the Fred (London/Leipzig) space -- though the 'holes' (or reveals) here were white and gossamer, spun together out of what looked like bedspring wire, shredded tulle and linen, with vaguely figurative elements trapped in its skeins. Speaking of black holes, the Ian Burns installation (Spencer Brownstone) made me wonder if he could make any kind of sense of the chaos of my L.A. apartment. Between Burns and my therapist (who I missed this week) -- who knows? -- I could have some kind of breakthrough. Either that or end up as a shopping bag/cart lady. Speaking of which, the kind of painting and subject matter of artists like Sage Vaughn (whose work was on display at Bertrand & Gruner (Zurich) is practically a drug on the market -- at least in America. What made B&G think VOLTA was the place to show it off? Besides, we have Stanya Kahn and Harry Dodge now -- which should put this exhausted genre of painting definitively to rest. Ronald de Bleme's painting (Hamish Morrison, Berlin) has a slightly retro aspect, too -- with its bold geometric, curvilinear, just slightly biometric silhouettes, negative spaces and damped-down mid-20th century palette (think Tiki -- that's right TIKI!) -- but somehow, the energy, the rhythm of it, redeemed it for me. But, as I said, it was the small moments -- and one of the smallest and one of the best -- was my little epiphany at Tokyo's Taro Nasu, who were showing the figurative fragments of Takaaki Izumi in what, from a distance, looked like some kind of sandstone or even marble, but, close up, revealed itself as foam or styrofoam. As I was leaning over to pick up a card, I nearly crushed a tiny spongy fragment sitting on the desk (wouldn't that be just like me?), but (to my relief) it managed to recover its shape. They were like large (or, in that instance) small fragments of Maillol sculptures -- recreating and extending a particular moment of observation, survey of surface -- both enlarging and compressing it, or alternatively, rendering it as something that could be grasped (and felt) between one's hands. I wanted to put that fragment displayed on the desk in my pocket -- somewhere close to my heart -- and take it home. My favorite space was International Festival's -- which was nothing more than a bar set up to serve drinks and hand out information about the activities of this floating art collective which is, temporarily one surmises, based on Franklin in TriBeCa. This international trio (the young man I spoke with was from Sweden) uses old movies as templates for new films/performances shot as street theatre/reality films on the streets of wherever they happen to be. (Appropriately enough, they handed me a DVD of one, entitled, "On the Town.") They were so friendly -- it was all I could do not to break into song.) They're planning an expedition to Los Angeles in July, so we should have an opportunity to see them there; though given the way L.A. works (or doesn't work), for all we know they could end up in an actual film studio before they finish the project.

Bolting from VOLTA, I made my way downtown, not to the Battery, but to the Altman pavilions on West 18th. The buzz around town (meaning, really, the fairs and the galleries) was that this L.A. Art in New York fair was one of the best (albeit smallest); and the reason was quite simple: a lot of good stuff. The buzz around the fair, though, at least on this particular Friday evening, was that foot traffic was light. In theory, if you bring your best stuff, "they will come." The actuality is somewhat more complicated, and frequently dependent on circumstances remote from the fair itself. After a brief reconnaissance (I'm beginning to come around to Peter Rogiers, fette; I loved the piece Roberts & Tilton had in their space.) and quick check-in to artillery-Central, New York, I grabbed Fearless Leader and Paige the Rage, pushed them into a cab and we all headed down to TriBeCa for drinks at the mini-museum Susan and Michael Hort call home. (I wasn't going to take a chance with the brunch this year.) Talk about a lot of good stuff. It was almost overwhelming. The master bedroom alone was overwhelming. I have to say it would be hard for me to wake up and face that wall of Marlene Dumas, Elizabeth Peyton, Nicole Eisenman, Neo Rauch, and John Currin morning after morning. (And I love Marlene Dumas.) And that's not the half of it. One wall! After our YouTube panel, it was great to say hello to the real thing -- I mean the Paul McCarthy chocolate butt plug. (Again, not the first thing I'd want to contemplate in the morning.) But there's no way to adequately describe it within the space of a paragraph. I mean we're talking about 2,000 pieces here -- many of them absolutely first-rate. Let me just share a few of the pleasures: the Lisa Yuskavage shower curtain in the penthouse bathroom; the room full of Richard Tuttles (sublime), the Patty Changs, the John Currins (really some of the best), the Franz West, the Fred Tomasellis (again among the best), the Neo Rauch (and as you know, I'm not really a fan), Charlene von Heyl. There were also the discoveries (for me anyway) -- among them, Eberhard Havekost. I could go on and on and on -- but I've really got to go OUT again. I'll check in again after Pulse. Big kiss. MOI!

Ezrha Jean Black, New York

Friday, March 28, 2008

SCOPE, sublime and ridiculous; Night of the Locusts

28 March 2008

I did say "a few other things" (I'm looking at the last paragraph of my last posting), didn't I? There were quite a few things -- but I'm not going to go into them just yet because I just got back uptown and it's already after 3:00 a.m. (One of my canine nieces just got up to keep me company, which is so sweet; but she's a bit under the weather and I don't want her to be up past her bed for my sake. I spent a good part of the afternoon at SCOPE -- once again in Walter Damrosch Park -- probably more time than I should have, if only because it seemed so cozy after the jam-packed Pier 94 and the frenetic pace required to take in a substantial portion of it. As with previous fairs, a number of SCOPE-commissioned installations enlivened the setting, even if one of them, "ImagiNAPtion," by a duo calling themselves Freedland & Mednick, Ph.D., seemed only to encourage viewers to sleep. What appeared to be an extensive use of fabric as a medium by a number of very different artists showing out of a number of galleries from all over the world scattered throughout the fair may have enhanced a sense of nurturing domesticity. It's a cocoon fair in so many senses -- nurturing emerging and newly established artists on the verge of final metamorphosis to maturity. But maybe I'm exaggerating a bit. I'm not sure anything was particularly eye-popping brilliant, but it was enjoyable and very manageable at every turn. (The catering was better, too -- much better -- than the Armory's.)

It seems that almost every fair I go to includes some L.A. gallery or art space I've never actually been to in Los Angeles; and this time around is no exception. Last year, it was David Kordansky at the Armory Show. This year it's Bonelli Contemporary at SCOPE. I had no idea they represented Kim Dorland -- who, let's face it, is almost everywhere lately. (Or is he?? Have I simply become conditioned to a certain acid-electric (in both color and attitude), dystopic treatment of the alienated American suburb?) They also showed strong, witty work by Matteo Bergamesco (surreal and painterly) and Bacon-esqe immolations by Elena Monzo, whose Not too far away, what looked like a 99-Cent store pile-up in soft colored fabrics was melting away at the New Image Art booth -- the work of Megan Whitmarsh -- directly across from a panel that more or less echoed the same effect -- a blow-up tent that looked like a melting tutti-frutti ice cream scoop against the neutral gray linen panel with tiny figures staggering in the foreground like refugees from a circus disaster. Cleon Peterson's bichromatic violence and the Date Farmers were something of a correction to that carnival mood. Humor is not the first thing one looks for in the fine art context, but at least initially it seemed to abound here. At Jack the Pelican (Brooklyn), Iris Schieferstein was breaking the fourth wall hilariously with a photograph and collage (or relief) diptych pastiche of Picasso's Demoiselles d'Avignon -- tiny but articulated masks protruding from the surfaces -- titled "Underfucked / Oversexed." (Boy can I relate.) I'm not sure if the gallery was going for an art historical theme, but on the other wall, Eric Yahnker was showing a masterful drawing after a Gentilleschi Judith Holofernes that inserted a sleek, smirking Liberace between the figures, ringed and gloved hands placed on her shoulders like some dark angel out of a MAD Magazine future bestowing infernal benediction. At brot.undspiele (Berlin), David Henry Brown, Jr. was updating the Christ mythology in (red-dominant) felt and fabric with a new universalist iconography based on pizza (new iconography for an over-fished planet?). It was a far more gender-ambiguous iconography as well. On one wall, Jesus emerged from a slice of pizza brandishing two slices (wow! -- the trinity idea in a slice of pizza -- who knew?); on the other, an apparently pregnant Jesus was gestating a new pie in his/her wood-burning "oven." I'm not sure where the platform heels fit into all of this; but I guess it was intended to express something divine or hormonal or both.

It was great to see John Pollard back again with ada gallery (Richmond, VA) -- still showing Jared Lindsay Clark's agglomerations of ceramic kitsch reconfigured into new art life forms. (Foreshadowing a trend? I noticed a number of artists engaged by the notion of new recombinant life forms. Genetic engineering or new mutations after nuclear or bio-chemical holocaust -- I guess we have our pick.) But the centerpiece of the space was a classical sculpture by Morgan Herrin carved not out of clay, stone or marble, but cut, carved and molded plywood 2x4s. I still can't quite get my head around just how this was accomplished, but strictly on a technical level, it seems quite a feat. (Lance Armstrong reportedly bought the piece.) The mythology of this piece was as mysterious to me as anything else: an imposing and nude female figure with a sword plunging into a snake at her feet, but with her head partially obscured by an octopus. If anyone can explain it to me, please send me an e-mail.

The theme at Andreas Binder (Munich) seemed to be the ephemeral sublime. There was outstanding if disparate work on hand by a number of artists from his stable, including Matthias Meyer, once associated with Gerhard Richter and clearly influenced by his work and technique, Phillipp Lachenmann and Tina Barney. The Lachenmann photographs -- inkjet prints -- were from his 2003 monochromatic "Grey (Surfer) Studies" -- sublime elisions of sea into sky with tiny figures isolated in the middle distance -- very reminiscent of a similar series of studies by Catherine Opie, but produced independently and sometime before Opie made her studies. Much as I liked Opie's surfer photographs, these are by far superior, almost sublime. The Barney drawings -- all on found or discarded papers (conservation would be an issue) -- were nothing short of amazing: a gestural line and hand rendered with force, economy, delicacy and precision for portraits both nuanced and iconic. At once familiar and utterly unique and very moving.

Before I continue with my SCOPE notes, let me jump ahead to the on-going art fair that is Chelsea. In the evening, I joined Fearless Leader and Glamourpuss Paige Wery for an opening at Superkathleen's space on 26th for the opening of a group show including, among others, Hans Van Meeuwen -- working-- in a domain somewhere between De Chirico-esque surreal monumentalism and the framework of, say, Charles Ray. Before the wine ran out, we went downstairs to the Robert Miller Gallery for the opening of Joseph La Piana's show, Kinetic State. I can't really comment on the art, although it was visible through a crowd as dense as any I have ever witnessed at a gallery or even a museum. The art may or may not have been kinetic, but it left me in a state best described as frenetic. It was a scene straight out of The Day of the Locusts. I gave up trying to look at anything or for that matter anyone and simply hung back near the reception desk and pointed my camera randomly into the crowd. It made the Gagosian pre-Oscar openings look like a minyan. It was a feeding frenzy -- but for what? In fact, there was a dinner afterwards, for one hundred (apparently the largest dinner ever held at the gallery). Superkathleen was (of course) invited and was kind enough to invite me along with her pal, Duncan -- a well-informed and extremely candid observer of these scenes. The dinner -- preceded by sushi and Champagne -- was fabulous (and hilarious); but I don't think I could have survived the evening without them.

Ezrha Jean Black, New York

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Art Colony in a War Economy

26 March 2008

Before I head downtown to "get bombed" at the artillery</span> party at Bar 119, let me just share a few preliminary observations. Certain galleries seem to have their pick of the prime siting -- on the central axis and/or relatively close (but not too close) to the entrance. E.g., Victoria Miro (London), Mai 36 (Zurich), White Cube/Jay Jopling (London), Sean Kelly (NYC), Hauser & Wirth (Zurich/London), Matthew Marks (NYC), Blum & Poe (LA), Anton Kern (NY), David Zwirner (NY), Emmanuel Perrotin (Paris). I have to assume these are veterans of long-standing at the Fair, who therefore merit prime siting. Coincidence or not, some of them seem to show the same groups of artists they had on hand last year -- strong work, not to diminish it, but nevertheless not particularly new (or always noteworthy), and certainly not entirely representative of these galleries' stables of artists considered altogether. I assume that's one reason why the Armory selection committee placed a few new participants among these old hands, e.g., notably, Simon Lee (London). Placement isn't everything, though. Rivington Arms seemed slightly hidden in its prime space directly across from Simon Lee (is it smaller this year?) -- right next to Elizabeth Dee. And some of the spaces seem to have impact no matter where they're situated: e.g., Paul Kasmin (who, as he did last year, show-cased only one artist), or newcomer Erna Hecey (Bruxelles, Luxembourg) (forgive my missing accent marks; I'm working with a different laptop and it's hard to even see what I'm writing).

27 March 2008 (2:00 a.m.)

No, I'm not blind drunk -- though with this tiny screen, it hardly makes any difference. Boy -- and I thought I was political. Stephen Cohen really gives me a run for that standing. I knew I had to catch up on my Artforums; who knew I had to catch up on my Nations, too? The spirited conversation continued up in my editor's hotel room between Tulsa, Paige Wery and me -- perhaps a bit too spirited -- the front desk rang up to let us know we were disturbing everyone on the eighth floor. (Tulsa said this was the second night in a row of complaints from her neighbors.) And we were discussing ART -- not politics. It was about as loud as a museum gallery. Quick -- someone call the police! four minutes 33 seconds of silence -- it's gotta be a terrorist plot! Gimme a break. I have to say that was another thing I noticed at the Armory: a plodding earnestness from so many gallery assistant directors when queried about this artist, that work. You'd think they were writing it all down in an exam blue-book, and frankly I don't think half of them would even earn a passing grade at the Marlborough School. (Or Dalton ? Fieldston?) Hey -- it's ART, not plumbing. (Or to Tulsa's hotel neighbors -- Hey, it's LIFE, not plywood.) Having had no more than a bite all day, Paige took me out again for a pizza-cap at a pizzeria on Lexington -- meager but much needed before I cabbed it back to Harlem.

It was nice to run into a few familiar faces before the evening was over on Pier 94. Heather Harmon fresh off a plane and still looking FABULOUS at Patrick Painter; Patrick himself of course and the rest of his staff, who are always so helpful; Superkathleen -- as in Kathleen Cullen, of Kathleen Cullen Fine Arts, one of the most energetic people I know, and the most fun -- in the company of collector Melissa Wolfson -- who knows a good thing when she sees it. One artist we couldn't stop talking about was Michael Vasquez, who himself materialized as we were toasting his praises with Champagne. I had myself only just seen his astounding paintings of neighborhood homeboy/gangsta mentors(he's from the St. Petersburg-Tampa area of Florida) earlier in the afternoon at the Fredric Snitzer Gallery (Miami) space (right next to Mai 36). He's only 25 and already a commanding painter. What a talent.

As for Mai 36, as I said above, something just a bit predictable about it -- not entirely a bad thing: wonderful pixelated Thomas Ruff C-print, John Baldessari's play on animal harvesting (e.g., turkeys, fish; the contrasting solitary praying mantis); Troy Brauntuch. A bit more interesting to me were the Jurgen Dreschers in gray mettalics -- one a panel covered in bubble wrap; also an ambiguous, deconstructed cardboard box -- all painted silver. the most interesting was an enigmatic Konrad Dedobbeleer -- "Anger takes the place of what is ignored." I wonder if American politicos are getting that message this political season. I think Obama has. Similarly at Victoria Miro -- except maybe I'm wrong. Yes, they showed Peter Doig -- but what Peter Doigs -- an amazing panel, 25x243.5 cm., "The Drifter" from 1996; also a number of Grayson Perry ceramics in a very new (for him) vein inspired by a residency in Japan. But the most interesting work was painting by an Italian woman, whose name I can't read from my notes. (Is it the hour or my amazingly illegible handwriting?)

Speaking of Simon Lee, who as I mentioned was placed in some proximity to these spaces, there were many very fine George Condo fright masks/figures available. Two beautifully geodesic puppies iin triangular-folded cardboard by Toby Ziegler, a Sherrie Levine O'Keefe appropriiation (beautiful -- but BORRRRRR-ing) and a marvelously witty John Armleder array of fake firelogs.
At Praz-Delavallade (Paris/Berlin) -- one of the most interesting (and political?) spaces of the afternoon, there was a great Andrea Bowers tribute to Marla Ruzicka (way to go Andrea); also great work by Edgar Arcenaux, Robyn O'Neil (a wonderfully terrifying poem for our time in grisaille) and Erik Schmidt (a man brandishing a hunting rifle). Also John Miller -- not the project you made in second grade. Rivington Arms showed John Finneran (whose work always has an amazingly flat yet serendipitous quality -- thought balloons with the most compressed expressions) and Leigh Ledare (she has a show coming up -- can't wait. Except I really can't wait -- I'll be back in L.A.)

A few other things: John Miller is suddenly (and I do mean SUDDENLY -- like, uh, where was he last year, and the year before that, and the year before that? Or did I just by sheer coincidence miss those shows and those reviews. Okay, it's possible.) HUGE. I wondered about this for all of two minutes -- which I think is when I ran into a few more specimens at a second gallery. Then it all began to sink in: war, the economy, and children -- the children we remain (and not necessarily in a positive sense, the children we obsess about -- yours, mine, theirs -- and the children we no longer seem to know quite how to raise. So we have to go back to second or third grade where we made those "arts and crafts" projects with macaroni or other shapely pasta and bits of sandbox detritus and rudimentary collage, gluing them to cardboard or plywood or some other sturdy support and painting them all gold or silver for a jeweled or encrusted effect. "Look, Mom! I made a decoration!" ('Yeah, and you're STILL an ugly little freak!' says Mom. Now I seem to remember that I didn't like second or third grade too much.) Instead of pasta or macaroni, though, what seems to be bubbling up through the gold paint is weaponry: guns and various gun parts, knives, grenades, bombs. 'It's the war economy, stupid. Oh and by the way, we'll need some of those neglected, maleducated kid sto kill some other people and maybe finish off each other once they're finished. Okay I have to stop for now.

Ezrha Jean Black, from New York

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Leave-taking -- official & unofficial -- & my return to New York

It's been more than a month since I posted here -- though not for lack of news or material. It's not as if I've entirely stopped going out or taking notes -- just posting them; though it's worrisome when first my editor, then my friends begin to ask where the hell I've been. My cats have wondered the same thing. They've been acting out for a week straight -- even before I was getting ready to take to the sky, which is when they either go out on the neighborhood warpath or shut down entirely. A few of my pals have known to look for me in the Flynt Building neighborhood where it seems I've been cooped up far more hours than usual. The result is greater than usual exhaustion; but I plod along.

Last week-end, I dug myself out of the rats nest of my apartment only for an Easter lunch with two of meinen deutschen freunden. I wanted to post a few notes about the Figures show up at David Kordansky and an interesting show by a local artist who calls himself elow at the Lawrence Asher Gallery, but was more than a little preoccupied with the logistics of getting out of my apartment and over to that of my pals here in Riverside Drive. (Besides, do you really need to read those pages of notes written through the anxiety of sequential panics over the last few weeks?) It's now been a full year since I began posting these notes and I am back once again where I started: here in Manhattan for The Armory Show and the many ancillary art fairs that will fill the island for the next week. Frankly I feel like continuing my hibernation -- well supplied with books in this magnificent apartment, distracted only by the view over Riverside Drive and Riverside Park -- windswept, warmer, but still a bit wintry, and beautiful as always. I'm indulging myself with the pleasures of the text -- all the 'texts' I have set down and never finished. (A copy of Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections is open on the pillow next to me. I forgot how beautifully written it is. There are entire paragraphs that read like prose poems.) I read Colette on the plane over. Colette -- you can see I'm regressing. I'm not sure if I'm ready to plunge into that visual maelstrom on Pier 94. But plunge in I must -- and in just a few hours. And yes -- I promise you will be hearing all about it.

My editor's arrival in New York was less auspicious. No sooner had she parked herself on a barstool for a well-earned martini than her wallet was lifted from right beside her martini glass in a scenario straight out of Bresson's Pickpocket smoothly translated to Murray Hill. I am hopeful SOMETHING may be recovered simply because at least some of it was caught on videotape. But what a rude welcome. If you see her on the Pier or elsewhere in Manhattan over the next few days, I beg you to kindly overlook her caustic envoi. (And to think I usually make that sort of apology for MYSELF.) We're feeling a bit rusticated just now.

Speaking of my editor, I'm being pressed to submit an idea for an L.A. piece for the magazine -- and I'm still slouching towards Bethlehem with no destination in sight. Feel free to share any suggestions you might have with me. In the meantime, though, I must say it's great to be back in New York. Anytime in New York -- it's great to live it again.

Ezrha Jean Black, in New York