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

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