Friday, November 20, 2009

Jim Houser at Jonathan LeVine Gallery

There's an expression when it comes to buying a piece of art: "living with the piece" - in other words, how will the buyer feel with the artwork in his home, office, etc. It's not necessarily about the size, color, and "will it match my decor?" issues. It may be in part, but for many collectors it's about "Will I still feel as jazzed about it when I get it home as I do now? and what about after a week or two? Is this just a reactionary buzz, or will it continue to stimulate me and make me love looking at it over and over?"
At the moment, all I have of Jim Houser's work is the promo poster for his show a few years ago at Jonathan Levine Gallery hanging on my wall, and the reason it's still up is because I still stop, stare, and enjoy it. I dream of having an original - someday. His current show (Oct 24 - Nov 21, 2009) once again delivers that rush I get when I walk into a gallery with a show of great work. It's vintage Houser in that it's an installation with on-site wall paintings, shelves with 3D works, all with his signatue palette, imagery, and words. And music, too! It might be easy for some to dismiss his work at first glance as being too cartoony or a send-up of self-taught art, but with some examination you'll at first begin to appreciate his craftsmanship, his consistency, and then that the work is not just a one-note cartoon and that there's quite a bit to grab hold of.

In his Fecal Face interview, Houser discusses his palette of subdued colors: "I like red and blue and variations of red and blue. That's the direction it seems to be going. Browns and tans. No more pink. No more orange. No more green. Even my black is just super dark blue or brown. My white has blue or brown in it. Sea water, dog fur, and dried blood. That's my inspiration."

Houser incorporates hand drawn words and phrases in various novelty typefaces, "visual poems" if you will. There is the temptation to read into and analyze the meanings and thoughts behind these words, which can be a pitfall in painting, but Houser merges them seamlessly in his works without overpowering the other images. They blend. They're fun. It's a carnival ride for your eyes, going from words to recognizable image to shapes to words again.

Some of the words reflect thoughts about his late wife and his own difficulties with health issues, among other things. With "Make Room for Emptiness" the press release states that Houser "has celebrated the affirmation of a new love and also has received medical treatment for his previous health condition." Both are cathartic elements for anyone to experience, and how could it not be reflected in an artist's work, particularly Jim Houser's?
Jonathan Levine Gallery is located at 529 W 20th St (10th and 11th Ave), 9th Flr, NYC.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Gallery Shows: Lennon Weinberg & Nancy Margolis

A bit behind am I, so here's some catch-up on gallery visits in Chelsea, NYC. Nancy Margolis Gallery had a show featuring works by Wendy Heldman. I've written before about this trend I've seen the past year + of environmental chaos -- buildings exploding or images of them being deconstructed in a wild diagrammatic fashion. Also houses, cityscapes and more in a representational and abstract style. Heldman had pieces of library racks with books scattered all about - "We Just Keep Taking Turns" and "One Against Two". These were made from photos of libraries in California after an earthquake. I discovered this when talking to the woman working at the front desk (don't be intimidated to ask questions about the work! Often they are bored or simply welcome a break to chat about the art and you usually get some interesting info), and I mentioned the trend I've noticed and she agreed. Apparently, this has indeed been a frequent element in works as of late.
What could be the reason for this? Is it because this is a common CGI (computer generated imagery) effect in hugely popular home video games? Think of all the grand explosions and mass destruction so realistically depicted in Hollywood films courtesy of CGI - I believe this has all sunk into our subconscious which gets stirred into the soup of peoples' visual creative vocabulary. How could it not? Every artist is influenced by their environment, what they see, hear and feel.
Or is it deeper - a feeling of danger, post 9/11 trauma, insecurity, and lack of faith/trust in our leaders and political system that creates this feeling of our "world" being torn apart by forces beyond our control? or is it the artist TAKING control and deciding when and how he/she will deconstruct their world. Perhaps I'm reaching too far, but the more I see of this imagery, the more questions it raises as to common motivations and inspirations for it.
"Little By Little and Then Not Even That" is an acrylic piece of a decrepit building that's obviously been sitting a long time in that state. Was it commercial or residential? Where is it? Why did this happen and how? Natural disaster or an explosion? A successful piece in that it triggers these thoughts and questions and stirs the imagination.

A retrospective Cindy Workman's works of women were on view at Lennon, Weinberg Inc this summer. Composite images address the many roles women perform, or feel compelled to perform, in society. "Fig. 35-92" (left) from 2000 combines drawing with digital imagery with a blond child, a scientific diagram and a black and white sexy image of a woman, all layered in this intriguing image. "Pebbles" from 2003 (right) presents a more pornographic image of a woman with the face of Pebbles Flintstone, a child-like crayon drawing of a child over her face, and a connect the dots image of a skating girl. A jumble of females in different styles and media in a simple yet powerful composition.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Art review: The Female Gaze

Cheim & Read Gallery (547 W 25th St, NYC) is hosting "The Female Gaze - Women Look at Women" through September 19, 2009.
A multi-media show of nearly three dozen female artists, the work is diverse and engaging for the most part. Whether it actually does reclaim the traditional domination (still so?) of the "male gaze" can be debated at length, and the press release is fertile ground for this. Quoting Laura Mulvery's essay "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" and Wendy Steiner's "Venus in Exile: The Rejection of Beauty in 20th Century Art", it's worth getting a copy of the release as a starting point to explore their essays and this show - but for this post, I'll stick to the visuals and not the theory.
So much solid work, alas I only have these three shots. Vanessa Beecroft's "Blond Figure Lying" 2008 is slightly larger than life, 77" long, a nude yellow figure of water resin coated in beeswax with long blonde hair. A cadaver? Lady Godiva? a sleeping woman? or a modern fetish fertility figure more Maxim girl than Venus of Willendorff?

This oil portrait by Chantal Joffe, "Anna," 2009, is one of the most unassuming pieces in the show, but I was captivated by its simple directness and the likeness. You feel as if you know or have met this average looking woman, and even with its simple broad brushwork, the viewer gets a sense of this woman's intelligence and confidence. Mission accomplished in terms of portraiture.

The last shot is Lisa Yuskavage's "Heart 96-97" done in her signature soft pastel fuzzy style featuring a female with large upturned breasts, this painting measures 84x72". Her Playboy cartoon-like females always create some discussion and/or controversy, mostly centered around if she is having a laugh at our expense or is there more here than meets the eye? The press release states that the "exhibition attempts to debunk the notion of the male gaze by providing a group of works in which the artist and subject do not relate as 'voyeur' and 'object,' but as woman and woman." So does Yuskavage's portrait of a woman on her knees masturbating satisfy this claim? As I said earlier, this show is fertile ground for discussion...

Friday, August 7, 2009

Yumiko Kayukawa at Joshua Liner

Yumiko Kayukawa shows frequently on the west coast, so it was a treat to see her large show at Joshua Liner Gallery. I've been a fan of her work for years and bought a painting by her about 4-5 years ago. I wish I bought more, now her work goes for 2k to over 7k (much more than what I paid) but still reasonably priced for her success and the quality of the work.
Kayukawa was born in Hokkaido, a northern Japanese island. Influences are pretty clear in her work: Japanese and American pop culture, young girls, graphic design and all critters great and small. Although there's a legitimate temptation to call her work cartoony, don't confuse it with anime. Her work does have a comic book feel to it, being delineated in black, but it's more sophisticated and layered. At times the pieces are a bit too precious and cutesy (as in Cookie Time), but "cute" is such a huge part of Japanese visual language and culture, it's hard to fault her for it.

The Japanese also have a preoccupation with very young girls, teetering on the edge of creepiness at times. Yumiko's girls have a sensual air about them, that heavy metal sexy schoolgirl posed vibe, or images where they are in on the joke, or images where they are more mature and simply in youth's full bloom. In an interview on she said, "Girls posing in sexy ways is just kind of charming and amusing to me."

Her compositions usually involve a girl or girls, animals, and Japanese lettering. Her palette is bright and pop influenced (Suzuchan and Marichan) yet she can tone it down a notch to create an altogether different feel (Lotus and Iris).

Yes, Yumiko's paintings are eye candy. Yes, they titillate. Yes, they're cute, funky, punk, elegant, colorful, fun, surreal, graphic, and well-executed...add all that up and you have some great work here.
The piece below with the candles is "Fate" and the other is "Kamen (masks)". She works with acrylic and ink on canvas and sometimes illustration board. Unfortunately the show comes down before you read this, but you can see most of the work online.

29 year old Vancouver artist Ben Tour has the second room for his "Crash and Burn" show. An illustrator that straddles the fine art world as well (a common occurrence in Pop Surrealism), Tour's show here has some striking images, but overall is uneven.

The work here consists mostly of portraits of women done in his signature style of loose, washy rendering with sometimes design-y and sometimes violent splatters and explosions of color. Some, like Cold 1, are visually arresting and hold up after the initial eye-pop is over. Therein lies the problem with some other pieces, particularly the Orphan Dreams series and Grief Girl. They're not fully realized, and when painting waif/model/thin young women, it's a thin line between relevance and cheesiness. These pieces seem incomplete and rushed, like first drafts, unlike Blood 1 which has a fullness and is simply rendered much better. (Blood 2 is pictured here as well as Cold 1). It'll be curious to see how Mr. Tour's work evolves from here because there certainly is some raw talent and youthful energy to his art.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Pierogi Gallery Summer Show

Checked out the Pierogi Gallery summer show in Brooklyn last week. Went to about 10 galleries - 3 closed for installation, 4 gone, 1 closing, and 2 open. Yikes!
In true Pierogi fashion, lots of drawing in the show. Two trends in most exhibited drawings over the past 2-3 years: lots of intricate "doodling" of small shapes and abstract organic and geo forms. Actually, they remind me of those Grateful Dead/weed/black light posters you could create and/or color that were popular in the 70s. However, some of these are sophisticated and exhibit a sense of intricacy, dialogue, and an amazing amount of patience. Left is a large piece by (don't have the artist's name) done on pieces of paper, a well orchestrated mix of abstract and representational.

The other trend is the deconstructed cityscape, or exploding scape, or post apocalyptical scape. I've seen many samples of work like this from pen and ink sketchbook pieces to whole room installations. When one sees these common threads, the question arises as to why? Are these reflections of a common sociological fear? desire for destruction? Coincidentally (or not) the piece below is titled "Fear and Hope" by Johan Nobell.

The entire show wasn't abstract geo renderings. There were text-based, cartoony, and realistic pieces as well. This exhibit is up until 7/26. Pierogi Galery, 177 North 9th Street Brooklyn, NY 11211 Tel. 718 599 2144

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

LOVE at the Spread Art Gallery

Went to the opening last week that my piece was in - Jethro Rebollar curated this show at Spread Art Gallery in Brooklyn, titled LOVE.
It was an old school small sized gallery opening with tons of people and tons of sweat. Painting, drawing, sculpture, photo - an eclectic mix all examining Love and whatever goes with it.

Some of the work was pretty straightforward, and I thought Filip Olszewski's "18 Gigabytes of Melissa Joan Hart Images" for $2000 was hilarious (first pic below).

Friday, July 10, 2009

"LOVE" art opening in Brooklyn

I have a large drawing ("Couple", below) in a group show titled "LOVE"!
Should be a great opening, and you are invited!
JULY 17th 2009 ~ 7pm
@ SpreadArtGallery
E. Williamsburg, Brooklyn. ~ 104 Meserole St.

Here's the official lowdown: This summer, Love comes to Brooklyn. Over a dozen artists from New York and around the country will be submitting to and attending the premier Love show hosted by the Spread Gallery art + performance space in E. Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The show will exhibit a generational cross-section of celebrated working artists and designers through their reflections on love. Love as a force of good, a force of malice, force of height, of hate, a force of God, creation, destruction, oppresion, and the many experiential et ceteras.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

"Bad" Barack Obama paintings!

The Zuke called me this weekend to make sure I saw the Sunday Times article about the growing Barack Obama art business. There are even websites dedicated to showing work made about the Prez and my fave is, get this, "Bad Paintings of Barack Obama"!
Now, in the name of good karma, you have to admire the work for its sheer earnestness and genuine feeling, which make up for the lack of training. Perhaps some enterprising entrepreneur will scoop it all up and get a booth at the next Outsider Art Fair? Anyway, here are two masterpieces. The one on the left is fascinating - US/Mexican relations, tacos (love the halo/taco hat on Barack), scantily clad chicks and lots of tighty-whities. Awesome. The website doesnt list titles, so I dubbed the one on the right "Barack Eyebama".

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Portraits, Powhida and Picasso

Continuing on the Chelsea gallery hop with Painter Lou and BAMA Chris, a large portrait in a window caught our eye and we popped into the Axelle Fine Art Galerie. The large, like 4x6' (?), pieces were from a series of self-portraits by French painter Laurent Dauptain. He's done over a thousand self-portraits ("A little narcissistic," mused Painter Lou). The formal training and approach is there, yet he is very comfortable with loose brushwork, and there is more of a hint of impressionism than abstraction here. A skillful use of color, shading, and just plain old solid painting. He also has some equally loose city scenes and scapes, but the portraits are more memorable.

An unplanned stop presented a pleasant surprise as I once again got to see work by William Powhida. Simply put, he makes lists. But that is far too simple a description. They are like pages torn from a journal that he replicates in graphite that at first glance seem like journal scrawl when in fact there is an order to them, a graphic anarchy that seems about to burst into wild scribbling like a kid ignoring the coloring book lines, but that never happens. He's funny, satirical, observant, factual and bitchy. "Book Ideas" and "Chronology" are drawings, and he also has painted pieces including some of his signature appropriated newspaper and magazine articles, often about movie and art world "celebrities".
"Relational Wall" (below) is a large painting surrounded by photos of art world figures. In it he replicates their images with text and arrows in a wild informal flow chart. Under or near these artists, critics and dealers are facts and observations ranging from the person's job title to pithy opinions like "shows mundane work." Ballsy, skewering, and definitely worth going to see. This show is up til May 16th at Schroeder Romero Gallery, 637 W 27th. Oh, and go to his website, it's also well worth the trip, too:

We trekked over to the 21st St Gagosian Gallery with the museum quality exhibition of late Picassos, "Picasso: Mosqueteros" featuring work by Pabs from 63-73, mostly his musketeer pieces. I saw the last show of late Picassos at the Guggenheim in 1984 and thought this was better. I'm not going to attempt to analyze Picasso here, there are dozens of books by writers more able than I to do that. Unfortunately, many fall into what I call "the cult of Picasso." He was surrounded by sycophants (often with his encouragement and enticement) who, like many writers, think that every stroke by him was a stroke of genius. No denying his genius, but some of his late pieces seem as if he fell victim his own cult of personality and was playing "Picasso" as he painted.
The thing I like about the Gagosian show is that it's clear when he was bored or uninspired or just noodling around on some pieces, and then on others you can see his enthusiasm and energy bursting through when he was pushing himself and working hard - color mixing, brushwork, and the image itself. Musketeers, lovers entwined, interpretations of old masters are here in this large show which is up til June 6, 2009. Picassos are best appreciated in person.
"I enjoy myself to no end inventing these stories. I spend hour after hour while I draw, observing my creatures and thinking about the mad things they're up to."
--Pablo Picasso, 1968

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Gallery Hoppin' 4/28/09

Part of an artist's homework is "Gallery Hopping." Doing your due diligence, research, homework - however you label it, hitting the pavement serves several purposes. Before you submit work to a gallery, you have to make sure your work is right for that space - a gallery showing realistic cityscapes isn' t likely to be interested in your minimalist canvases painted black and covered with beeswax. Gallery Hopping helps in many other ways, but I'll save that for another post, today I wish to write about some recent shows I saw.

First stop was to see the AIKO "Love Monster" show at Joshua Liner Gallery. AIKO, born in Tokyo and now residing in Brooklyn, was part of the group FAILE that did street art, wheatpasting their way through cities around the globe. Her work is obviously pop and influenced by street art, kawaii ("cute" in Japanese) culture, and "globalized depictions of female sexuality" mixing screens, stencils, and blowups of images (many from comic books) repeated throughout the show. There are many artists doing this type of work (Greg Gossel comes to mind) and it's eye candy and draws you in, yet in some ways the artists paint themselves into a corner and the works become a one-trick pony. My impression is that AIKO is aware of this compared to others, so it'll be interesting to watch how, and if, her work evolves.

Tony Shafrazi Gallery had a large show by Theodore Knobloch of Germany, his first solo in the US. Many of the paintings of are of a seaside town - boats, children playing, shacks, all painted realistically but somewhat deconstructed with large areas of color, taped straight edges mixed with loose brushstrokes and cropped composition. The show loses some steam compositionally with several paintings having an image (ladder, pole etc) going straight down the middle - clearly done intentionally, but to the detriment of the overall image.

Mike Cockrill showed his "Sentiment and Seduction" paintings at Kent Gallery ("Hatari" left and "Tag" on the right). First impression was of John Currin and Lisa Yuskavage influences, the slightly off-kilter, sexually-undertoned scenes of daily life. Snapshot like moments (not as photo-realistic as Martin Mull's or Eric Fischl's work) where someone or everyone's guard is down and there's some naughtiness afoot. The statement suggests he is exploring the "rich transition from the world of childhood fantasy to adult awareness in a manner that is both playfully innocent and sexually charged." "Flag Day" shows a girl scout, shirt unbuttoned and becoming aware of her own sexual prowess next to an oblivious boy (you know, girls develop quicker) whose hormones havent kicked in yet.
Cockrill grew up in an area of Virginia where most men worked for the CIA, FBI and State Department and secrets abounded, a state of mind that is present in these pieces. You really sense this in "Hatari" - notice the middle boy staring straight up the woman's dress and ya gotta love the Sinatra album on the floor next to the Hatari soundtrack.
Next: Portraits, Powhida and Pablo

Thursday, April 2, 2009

MIchael Rakowitz at Lombard-Freid

Happened to catch an interesting show by accident at Lombard-Freid Projects titled "The worst condition is to pass under a sword which is not one's own," an interesting installation by Michael Rakowitz.
You're first greeted by a large replica of Hussein's Victory Arch, made from deconstructed GI Joe figures, papier-mache from Saddam's novels, and toy light sabres.

Seems the premise of the show is Saddam and Usay Hussein's fascination with sci-fi, especially Star Wars. At the base of the faux Victory Arch are helmets cast in resin I believe, with more toy parts mixed in. The odd thing is that these helmets are just like Darth Vader's minus the front face part, which along with ski masks and curved swords were actually the uniform of his paramilitary group. It seems like a parody at first until you realize the eerie reality of it all.

Along the walls are long framed drawings on paper done in pencil and ink. These explore the second aspect of this show, "the intricacies and complexities of how science turns into science fiction and vice-versa, capturing imaginations and becoming militarized." Going from hot air balloons to young Gerald Bull's story to the CIA, Saddam, super-guns, and into the bizarre intertwining of the movie Star Wars and the Husseins' twisted reality. It seems so adolescent and would otherwise be easy to laugh off if the events weren't so close chronologically. "On the eve of the Gulf War, the Star Wars theme music played as Iraqi soldiers marched underneath the monument for Iraqi TV cameras."
This show is up til 4/4/09 at 531 W. 26th St between 10th and 11th Aves in NYC. (Click on any image to view larger)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

George Lois at MoMA

Squired the lovely Pamela around town yesterday as her visit to NY winds down, and we went to the Museum of Modern Art where we caught the George Lois show. Lois is one of the most renowned art directors in the history of graphic design, known best for his iconic covers at Esquire in the 60s. Given complete creative freedom, his covers turned Esquire from near failure to one of the most popular magazines of its time.
Lois also did the "I Want My MTV!!" ad campaign as well as created a new marketing category (gourmet frozen foods) with Lean Cuisine. Taschen is putting out one of their amazing books in the fall which will be a collection of his covers. Show at MoMA is up til May 09.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Art Fair Mania - Part 2

I started at the Bridge Art Fair, which for me was the most fruitful of all five. Some really good work, lots of interaction with the galleries, and networking. There was quite a bit of representational work here- realism, pop, surrealism, street, cartoon - some excellent and some simply fun eye candy.
Opus One from England had plenty of enthusiasm for its pop and street art inspired artists, among them Hush, Dave White, and Polaroids by sculptor Marc Quinn (of the solid gold Kate Moss statue fame). Hush's collage pieces were another trend I noticed emerging, similar to Greg Gossel's work (Shooting Gallery at Scope Fair). Another gallery showing low brow/pop surrealism was Headbones Gallery from Toronto, which has dubbed this genre "Neopriest" - New Pop Realists Intellectually Engaged in Story Telling. Another off beat take on comics was the "Queer Batman" series at Kathleen Cullen FIne Arts.
Ginocchio Galleria from Mexico had well-crafted pieces by Hugo Lugo, appr 20x30" sheets of watercolor paper with blue lines and shredded edges just like a page ripped from a spiral bound notebook, with doodle type illustrations. McCaig Welles offered more pop with Eric Joyner's fun robots and donuts paintings - yes, robots and donuts. Charlotta Janssen displayed her own paintings inspired by Obama's victory and paying homage to those that paved his way (MLK, Rosa Parks and others) with painterly, limited palette replicas mixing arrest photos, handwriting and vintage images. Brooklyn's Like the Spice Gallery had three pieces by Dean Goelz, known primarily for his anthropomorphic sculptures. Here were appr 11x14" delicate drawings of odd faces with hundreds of tiny dots of paint forming swaying draped figures. Forster-Art from Switzerland had dreamlike paintings by Sergev Leonid and when I said I liked his work, she replied, "Well, why don't you buy one?" Not having 20k on me, I grabbed a card instead.
I ventured over the Westside Highway to what appeared to be a barge which hosted Fountain, the smallest and most funky, loose, old school east village/Brooklyn type of all the fairs.
Leo Kesting Gallery had lots of pop fun from young artists like Casey Porn and her line cut like drawings of critters (right). Curator John Leo has a good eye, and also showed collages by Ray Sell. Mixed media collage frequently has the feel of here's the collage/here's the paint, but Sell manages to blend them seamlessly. He told me that his day job is architecture and the attention to detail and craftsmanship shows in his work.
Shawn Bishop Leo
(below),like the aforementioned Greg Gossel and Hush, creates lush and layered pieces with photos, magazine imagery, vintage wallpaper and three dimensional elements.

McCaig Welles, also at Bridge, had a large installation, "Donkey Party Game" by Gregory Habenry Yum Yum Factory done in their self-proclaimed “Pre-Apocalyptic Expressionist” style- scattered paintings, collage, and bits and pieces of everyday life. Definition Gallery from Baltimore had more pop surreal work. I met owner Daniel at Red Dot last year but he was at a Phish concert today. Paintings of the Jersey shore by illustrator John Puglisi, paintings by Bethany Marchman (also owner of Rabbit Hole Gallery in Atlanta), and Sylvia Ortiz.
Lastly, I forgot to mention my one purchase - a print by political activist artist Kudzanai Chiurai from Zimbabwe at South Africa's Goodman Gallery. A silkscreen of a shopping cart filled with weapons and below it the words SHOPPING FOR DEMOCRACY.

Art Fair Mania - Part 1

Going to attempt to sift through and make sense of the pile of cards from the 5 art fairs I attended from March 5-7th. The art fairs are basically art gallery trade shows - large spaces in which galleries rent booths and show work. The big boy is The Armory Show, and I also attended Scope, Pulse, Bridge and Fountain.
On Day 1 I hit Scope and Pulse. Jonathan Schorr was showing Wayne Coe's work (which I saw previously at McCaig Welles). He built these retro model kit boxes featuring scenes from Guantanamo and AbuGhraid - Human Pyramid, Guantanamo Guard Dog, etc. Well designed and darkly humorous, sad comments on the CNN-ization of conflict. New pieces were these pencil drawings about 9x12" of old gay x-rated theatre marquees. Wayne told me that a friend of his showed him photos of these and that it reminded him of the "film hyperbole" style of ads in Art Forum hyping hot and/or blue chip artists. So the drawings substitute the porn stars' names with artists names (like John Currin) see pic. Jonathan said that some of these artists were quite pissed and a few were bought to be hidden or destroyed!

The Fernando Pradilla Gallery from Madrid had these large blue Bic pen portraits by Nelly Penaranda (?), in the 3x4' range. Nothing groundbreaking, but scale and execution made these attention grabbers.
Being that Scope was my first stop, I was pretty jazzed and took more pics here than the other fairs. Here's another one from dFaulken Gallery, figurative paintings by Karim Hamid. Most of the figurative painting at the fairs was traditional studio posing or photo realistic. In general the loose, gestural work looked more unrealized than worked through (except for Hamid's who had some great energy in his pieces). That was a theme for the fairs, especially Armory. So much work was weak in the sense of looking like very early career or even art school levels of exploration into different styles and genres. More on this in the Armory show section.

Christopher Cutts Gallery had these child-like portraits of artists by Matias Sanchez which I found audacious and amusing in their simplicity. Part of the reason I liked them is that I imagine these artists would've appreciated the naive style of the paintings.

I keep an eye out for trends in art at these fairs and noticed several. For example, there were several large portraits done in mixed media - an Obama portrait made of cereal, faces made up of chamomile flowers, thread spools as well as 2D images composed of shapes or images repeated to create a portrait. There was very little naturalistic photography, most of the photos were digitally manipulated and layered to create surreal images. These fantasy like realms, situations and people were prevalent in not just photography but across several genres - seemed more like the visual influence of video games and high-end CG effects from film rather than a desire for escape. Thickly impasto'd paintings (to the tune of 2-3" thick) were a common sight, oil and turp wafting through the booth. There was a number of Chinese galleries showing paintings of young girls with huge heads and big eyes, a cross between 50s Keene paintings and Japanese anime only loose and painterly. I asked the 798 Gallery about it and Jin Zi's paintings (right) are representative of this. I was told this is indeed a big trend amongst Chinese painters right now. I'm not a fan of these, but they were everywhere.

I hopped the shuttle downtown to the Pulse Art Fair. Pop Surrealism made its presence felt here at galleries like Copro Nason from Cali and Okay Gallery from Austin. The young guy from Okay who was in NY for the first time said, "I had a hundred bucks in my pocket yesterday, and today I have like ten, and I have no idea where it went!" I replied, "Welcome to New York!" There were also galleries showing original works by Robert Crumb and Robert Williams. Stopped at Lyons Weir Ortt Gallery which show alot of tight realism. Last year they showed work by Cayce Zavaglia which blew my mind!
I thought it was a portrait painting until I got closer to see that it was all thread!! Words cannot describe the skill and intricacy of these pieces. She does about two a year, and last year they were going for 14k and now they're 20. Worth every penny. PLEASE go to the gallery website and look at her work. LWO also had paintings by Fahamu Pecou - think Kehinde Wiley (several of his beautiful works at the fairs, too) only in a looser, more hip-hop style.
Space Projects from Slovakia had these silly jackets by Otis Laubert, one pictured here covered with stamps (Postman's Coat), one with matches (Fireman's coat, duh). Thought this one was fun.

Onto the Armory Show...
It's the big boy - the most booths, the anchor, whatever. Costs thirty bucks to enter. There are so many people that you can tell it is very exhausting for the exhibitors, making it difficult to engage in conversation about the work. However, if you dress nice and wear a jacket, I discovered that they think you're a collector and come up and start chatting! But seriously, the concensus seems to be that this was by far the worst show of all the fairs, and I agree. I have no pics because I forgot my camera, but there wasnt much that would've motivated me to shoot. An exception was Hope Gangloff's pen and ink drawings of nightlife at Susan Inglett. They appear in the weekly email I get from, or something like that. Also, Kenny Scharff's installation was playful and typical of his style, and had energy and enthusiasm that made it stand out from the (over?)abundance of exhibitors.

The Parisian galleries as a whole were pretty awful. They were showing avant garde and conceptual work, but so much of it was weak and unrealized. Had the feel of a first draft, retreads of old work that the artist was doing as part of their process to explore beyond it but hadnt arrived there yet - so why show it? Germany had many galleries showing similar work (one German gallery told me there are 420 galleries in Berlin!) but it seemed like their work was pushing the envelope more, edgier, trying some things that even though they weren't very successful, were dipping their toes into new pools.

I have my likes and dislikes. But I've learned over the years to look at work in its own context and so on, and I don't like to dwell on the negative. However, it baffles me how a gallery can spend thousands for a booth, airfare, hotel, etc and show such weak work! Want examples? A blurry mirror. 20-30 framed primitive pencil drawings of a penis. A piece of material with a pink oval in the middle (ooooo! it looks like a vagina! oooo! - puh-lease!). Appr 50 (yes 50) framed 11x14" drawings of a pink circle with the words (not exact) "Similar to a color in Jackie O's makeup compact" written in pencil under each one. A canvas painted white. A canvas painted black. Two aluminum(?) bananas.
Next year, I think I'll skip Armory. Pulse and Scope are keepers.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Art and the City

I recently saw the film, “Milk,” about San Francisco politician and gay activist, Harvey Milk. I was struck by something early in the film when Harvey and his lover moved to SF. Apparently he was an avid photographer and almost on a whim decided to open a shop below the apartment they shared in the Castro district, selling film and photo processing. What struck me was how easy it was - rents were very cheap, and the income not only was enough to keep the shop going and put money in his pocket, but he was able to hire people to work there while he spent most of his time and energy getting involved in local politics! I think the reason this stayed in my mind is that I’ve been toying with the idea of opening another business for awhile, but the biggest problem is getting the numbers to make sense. Rents are particularly high in most cities as compared to back then, and throw in insurance, all the taxes, red tape, etc, that are part of doing business nowadays and the nut just gets bigger and bigger. If Harvey tried to do that today, he probably wouldnt have had the money to open in the first place, probably not have been able to afford hiring staff, and he would have had to work long hours and not had the time or energy to get involved in local politics. So the thought arises: how many potential Harvey Milks are out there now that can’t do what he did because city life is so expensive, yet being in a city is part of the formula?

Two other examples come to mind. In the late 50s/early 60s, the rents in Soho were very cheap. Artists could rent large live/work loft spaces for next to nothing. Larry Rivers wrote in his bio about the camaraderie and support between artists such as himself, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein and many others who interacted on a daily basis visiting eachothers’ spaces, looking at their work, socializing, sharing ideas, etc. (similar to the abstract expressionists before them). Artists today cannot afford loft spaces in Soho unless you’re a high ticket established one. Frequently I read and hear about artists who move far away and get a big space and cheap rent. This enables them to focus on their art, and if not surviving on that alone, they can get by with a part time job or roomates or their spouse working. The result is that they get to focus and work, which is what Rivers, Johns and others sought in NYC as well. However, it’s highly unlikely the artist out in Wherever USA has the interaction with other artists that they had, not to mention the lack of galleries and museums to visit. In a city you have a higher concentration of artists, not just visual artists, but writers, musicians, performers and venues - the aforementioned museums and galleries, music venues, performance spaces, theatres, foreign and indie films, and so on. Again the thought arises - how many potential Rauschenbergs are out there in the suburbs or the country toiling away in solitude that may never have those synergistic influences to light their blastoff into new realms of creative expression?

The East Village in the late 70s/early 80s is another example. Rents were very cheap mainly due to the fact that the area was in terrible shape and full of drugs and crime. I saw a documentary on Blondie (they lived on Bowery off Houston) and one of the band members said that people could live in that area at the time and be an artist or musician or poet and focus primarily on what they wanted to do and get by with occasional gigs. Watch the film, “Downtown 81” starring a 19 year old Jean-Michel Basquiat and you see that the east village looked like the Gaza Strip does now, so I’m not trying to romanticize things. The point is, if you were willing to make sacrifices, you could do your art, mix with like-minded people, and thrive. The list of artists and musicians who blossomed during that time in the east village/bowery area is staggering. While I was painting a mural at the first Howl Festival in 03 in Tompkins Square, this older painter told me that in the early 80s within 1 block of the park were about 40 galleries!! Many of the old buildings had mixed use apartments on the first floor, so artists would live there and make the storefront a gallery and/or studio. Some make the argument that its still cheap in Bushwick, but for how long? As for the east village, there is still alot of artistic activity there, but they are struggling and working their butts off (unless they’re trust fund kids) and stressed out due to the overhead.

I have no answer, or any point really. That scene in “Milk” just triggered this chain of thought. I mean even in Asbury Park the rents are high enough to have pushed out many artists. Perhaps the way grunge was born in Seattle, maybe there’s a similar city, away from New York, LA and Chicago where rents are cheap, creatives are gathering and before it gets gentrified something exciting will arise. Maybe with this bad economy, it might even happen in New York somewhere again.