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

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