Friday, April 28, 2006

Off the beaten path on West 27th Street

West 27th Street between 11th and 12th Avenues is a quiet, cobblestone street, free of the glossy commercial storefronts and strip clubs that have made surrounding blocks a major destination. Walking west, into the setting sun, it was easy to imagine the street in another era, warehouses and loading docks in full operation. The galleries here, situated only on the north side of the street, are smaller and more intimate, and have been here for only a few months. I visited three on Thursday evening - Plus Ultra Gallery (No. 637), Wallspace (No. 619), and Foxy Production (No. 617).

Plus Ultra Gallery is presenting an exhibition of miniature sculptures by Joe Fig, who portrays well-known artists in their studios. The exhibition’s centerpiece is a detailed replica of the Long Island studios of married artists Eric Fischl and April Gornik, filled with works in progress. Also on view are tiny recreations of contemporary artists’ painting tables, covered with their materials and tools. Beyond the marvel of such scrupulous reproductions, and their whiff of compulsion, is the question of why a young artist would undertake such a documentary-like project. The sculptures certainly form a record (they incorporate taped interviews with the artists), even a voyeuristic one, and they seem to be an homage; an older artist executing a similar project might come off as disgruntled.

Helen Verhoeven’s lush paintings at Wallspace reminded me of Edvard Munch, or perhaps he’s just very much on the mind these days. Born in the Netherlands, Verhoeven seems to tread the same psychological territory; her depictions of figures and interiors have a creepy quality, even when the subject seems banal. They seem remembered instead of observed, as if through the filter of a bad dream.

Michael Bell-Smith, at Foxy Production, is the first artist I’ve seen who convincingly uses digital imagery to examine and comment on its role in contemporary culture. And guess what: He has a blog!

Monday, April 24, 2006

Blind Spot benefit auction

Tonight's auction at Phillips de Pury & Company benefits Photo-Based Art, the non-profit organization associated with the photography magazine Blind Spot.

I couldn't stay for the entire auction, but I saw about half. Unfortunately, most of the works sold below their estimates.

One solid exception was Richard Misrach (American, b. 1949), Mono Lake #2, California - (negative) 1999, (print) 2005, 30 x 37 inches, which was estimated at $7,000-8,000. It sold for $10,000.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Weekend art links

Holland Cotter defends midcareer artists.

Art fairs steal the show from the auction houses, as some dealers exploit them to great effect.

For many artists, a 451-mile-long security barrier snaking through the West Bank has become the world's most inviting canvas.

On anonymity

I hate anonymity, and couldn't agree more with all the critics of anonymous blogs. Unsigned information has no credibility, a lesson taught most eloquently by information design guru and Yale professor Edward Tufte. Until I leave the financial services industry, however, I'm planning to stick with Porcupine.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

A look at which of today's young photographers might endure

reGeneration: 50 Photographers of Tomorrow is on view at the Aperture Gallery in Chelsea. The exhibition was organized by the Musée de l’Elysée in Lausanne, Switzerland, and aims to highlight not just the best young photographers coming out of the world’s top schools, but the most durable. The show is global in a truly 21st-century sense; just when you expect to find certain cultural conventions, borders slip away from you - most artists these days seem to be born in one place and living (and working) somewhere else.

Four of the artists participated in a panel discussion tonight - Chih-Chien Wang, Angela Strassheim, Josef Schulz, and Shigeru Takato.

Chih-Chien Wang is a native of Taiwan but lives in Montreal. His interest in photography grew out of filmmaking, and it’s easy to see how he has used it to examine his life as an outsider. His photographs – of himself, his girlfriend, and things in his apartment - are quietly clinical and insular.

Angela Strassheim (above) was the most interesting speaker for me. She is close to my age and went to college in Minneapolis, and I especially liked her photographs at the Whitney Biennial (see my earlier post). Once a forensic photographer for a city morgue, she has turned her eye on families and especially on young women who, as she says, are undergoing transformation. If there is such a thing as a feminine sensibility in art, I would venture to say that it can be found in her observations of family rituals and their replication in successive generations.

Shigeru Takato’s photographs of television studios around the world are exuberant affirmations of the powerful role of the media. The images register as otherworldly, with a flavor of science fiction. He describes TV stations as pockets of human emotional energy, sending out rays that reach beyond the planet and into outer space.

Monday, April 17, 2006

'A hunting sport'

"Though the conventional image of an artist's mentor is not generally a venture capitalist, such a presence is not so surprising in an era when collectors from Wall Street are underwriting high prices for contemporary art." Warhols of Tomorrow Are Dealers' Quarry Today (April 15)

Sorry I missed this in the New York Times, since I blogged about it on April 12.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

LOT 85 - Ham Jin

Thanks to BB for pointing out the brilliance of this miniature masterpiece, the weird and wonderful Boy Flying a Fly, which sold at the Contemporary Art Asia: China Japan Korea auction at Sotheby's on 31 March 2006.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

A Journey That Wasn't, at the Whitney Biennial

If things don’t work out between Matthew Barney and Björk, artistically or otherwise, I have a suggested replacement - French artist Pierre Huyghe (for either one of them). He certainly shares their interest in journeys by boat to faraway places.

I stopped by the Whitney Museum today for a second look at the Biennial because I missed Pierre Huyghe's film on my first visit. I don’t know how – it was right there on the first floor, to the left of the elevators. I worked at the Whitney back in 1993, during the infamous 1993 Whitney Biennial. Thirteen years later, I still recognize the security guards and the elderly volunteers at the membership desk. (Rumor had it that the security guards, who belong to a union, earned more than the curators.) When I learned that the receptionist for the administrative offices had a Master’s degree in art history, I more or less gave up on a career in the arts.

A Journey That Wasn't was filmed in two parts – one in Antarctica, where Huyghe chartered a boat to find a remote island and the solitary albino penguin, and one in Central Park, where he recreated the Antarctica trip at Wollman Rink. This description sounds strange, but it seemed to make perfect sense when I saw it. The two parts are intercut to the accompaniment of a symphonic orchestra, and the effect is romantic and ominous. The polar landscape is stunning and forbidding, and yet the trip’s retelling, against a Manhattan backdrop and with an audience, seems equally menacing. The Central Park performance, in turn, makes Antarctica seem like a theater, a stage for the penguins and the intrepid human travelers.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Math geeks never looked so good - Proof

Proof is based on David Auburn's prize-winning play of the same name - one of the few plays I’ve seen on Broadway. It stars the fair Gwyneth Paltrow as the daughter of a famous dead mathematician, who is played in flashbacks by Anthony Hopkins.

The “proof” of the title is a mathematical theorem that Paltrow’s character (Catherine) may or may not have written, but there is also the question of proving whether she wrote it. Catherine is either a genius or she is slowly going mad, as her father did at her age. Either possibility is alluring, particularly to a student of her father's played by a scruffy and sincere Jake Gyllenhaal. (Years ago a friend of mine suggested that we might try to meet nice, smart boys by hanging out in the math department at Columbia University; if any of them looked like Jake Gyllenhaal, she may have been on to something.)

Catherine fits squarely in the tradition of great misunderstood artists, which is why she gets away with her volatile behavior. The story is a psychological mystery played out in flashbacks, but its various strands – the chronicle of a gifted child, the process of grieving for a deceased parent, the burden of a parent’s legacy, the dynamics of sibling relationships – never really develop.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Glad we could help department (Tara Donovan)

Tara Donovan’s show at PaceWildenstein, a large-scale installation of plastic cups resembling a topographical landscape, has received a lot of praise. I liked it on several levels – the sprawling scale, the element of surprise when you realize it is made up of millions of cups, the play of light. But I was curious to find out what the critics would say about something that pleases on a rather visceral level, and I think I’ve found a good example:

"Tara Donovan’s art is phenomenological [phe·nom·e·nol·o·gy: the study of the development of human consciousness and self-awareness as a preface to philosophy or a part of philosophy] in the sense that her “site responsive” [why the quotes?] sculptures reveal the purely subjective aspects of consciousness. The vacillation between illusion and material reality prevalent in her work activates perceptual shifts [Is it a bunch of cups? Is it a landscape?]. So rather than say Donovan’s “Untitled (Plastic Cups),” (2006) doesn’t work [who said it doesn’t work?] because the raw material (plastic cups) isn’t completely transformed or because we have seen this sort of thing before, we should focus on the dissociation that takes place [OK. Focusing now]. Tara Donovan’s work creates a dramatic tension between what cognitive neuroscientist Uri Hasson [here we go with the experts] calls “activation induced by local object features and activation induced by holistic, grouping processes that involve the entire object or large parts of it.” [Interesting point. What does Hasson think about the show?] Donovan would have prevented viewers from seeing her artworks close up if she wanted to conceal the individual units that comprise the whole [I don’t think there’s any question that she wants us to see the cups]. The work currently on display at PaceWildenstein is a complex version of the vase-face illusion [the who-what illusion?]. It contains an inherent contradiction in the sense that its physicality immediately inspires neuronal activation that is not dependent upon the physical properties of the visual stimulus [it makes me think I am looking at the surface of the moon and not at some cups]. It works because both ends of the spectrum, the material reality of the stacked cups and the illusion of a natural or extraterrestrial landscape, absorb our attention [that is, it is satisfying to look at, whether it’s a bunch of cups or a landscape]."

Is that clear? Good.

Yes, we have no memorial

"Eh, excuse me," a man says to me in a European accent, "Ground Zeh-ro?" We are on Vesey Street.

"It's right there," I answer, pointing behind him, "you've passed it."

For anyone living in New York who doesn't know, tourists descend upon the former site of the World Trade Center each day in droves. Indeed, they now arrive by tour bus and swarm out onto Church Street, perhaps around to Vesey or Liberty, or if they are really adventurous, over to the World Financial Center, for a view from the Winter Garden. They cluster around the metal barrier that forms the perimeter of the site, trying to take pictures through its grid. And they point.

At what? There is nothing to see. A construction site, a lot of vehicles, but not a lot of activity. What do they expect to see? Most of them never even saw the World Trade Center, so what does its absence mean to them? A couple of vendors sell cheap souvenirs with garish photos of the attacks, emblazoned with the word "TRAGEDY" in block letters, along with counterfeit FDNY baseball caps.

And so the tourists shuffle around, the office workers race past, the construction workers hold up the backdrop, and that is where we are four and a half years later.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Matthew Barney’s drawings

Matthew Barney’s The Occidental Guest is on view at the Gladstone Gallery in Chelsea in conjunction with the film Drawing Restraint 9. The film is the first to feature Barney with his partner, the musician Björk, who also scored the film.

Five or six years ago, the news that Matthew Barney and Björk were a couple struck the art world as the incarnation of a peculiar form of creativity; it seemed as if the two couldn’t have been better matched. Both artists have continually transformed themselves - Barney in his cool, conceptual sculptures and performances and Björk in her lush and experimental music - and both have cult followings.

The exhibition I saw today is like a visit to Barney’s mind, albeit with restricted access. I haven’t seen the film yet, but I’ve read enough to appreciate the references to a whaling vessel in the sculptures (or “models”) on display. But it was the feathery drawings that I found most amazing. They intimately relate his ideas about physical limitation and chart a course that lends logic to his imagery.

The next big thing

Are young artists being flogged like Internet stocks in the late 1990s?

A discussion on Edward Winkleman has me wondering about the apparent obsession with youth among today's collectors. Does youth signify limitless potential, the chance to get in on the ground floor, much like venture capitalists? After all, older artists have had a chance to prove themselves and may have reached a sort of stasis.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Apres Vous, in which men try to help each other

One more French movie tonight and then I'm going back to American movies - Apres Vous (2005), in which Daniel Auteuil plays a restaurant manager who saves a stranger from killing himself, and proceeds to try to fix everything in the man's life.

The movie could have been a great black comedy, but fell apart when Auteuil's character tried to resuscitate the man's love life. It also could have been a funny exploration of a codependent friendship between two straight men, with one meddling like an old lady in the other one's life, but it didn't work on that level either.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Un Air De Famille

"All I know is that a man's a man and a woman's a woman."

Un Air De Famille (1996) hopefully satisfies my obsession with Agnès Jaoui for a while.

A family gathers to celebrate a birthday, and the tension is excruciating: the mother yammers unhelpfully, the siblings are absorbed by their disappointments, and the daughter-in-law weeps.

Keep those apéritifs coming!

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Edvard Munch - Under a blood-red sky

Edvard Munch: The Modern Life of the Soul is at MoMA through May 8. It's a curious title - the modern life of the soul? (As opposed to its traditional life?) But 100 years later, Munch’s view remains the modern view.

The exhibition "charts Munch’s move away from Norwegian naturalism toward an unprecedented exploration of modern existential experience." The experience he explores, of course, is full of anguish and despair.

The best way to appreciate this exploration is to focus on his self-portraits as he ages. From a young and cocky bohemian smoking a cigarette, his figure dissolving into loose brushwork, to an increasingly tortured loner, the weight of his environment pressing in on him, Munch’s gaze seems to drill into the soul. The effect is gut-wrenching: hollow eyes that have seen death and madness, mouth turned down, arms hanging limply.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Luisa Lambri and Trading Spouses

Luhring Augustine is showing the work of Italian photographer Luisa Lambri. Lambri photographs the interiors of notable modern buildings, and the result is inevitably minimalist. The spaces are always empty, but they are not perfect, as depicted in sleek commercial photography; instead, they bear traces of wear. Some are overly suffused with light, like those scenes in movies that are meant to presage death. Many are of half-closed shutters that reveal tantalizing views outside. But if these photographs are supposed to evoke her personal relationship with these spaces, they don’t work. There is not enough in them - no narrative and no feeling. And because they are not formally complex, there is not enough to captivate the viewer.

Tonight I also saw an episode of Trading Spouses on Fox. What does this have to do with art? Not a single thing, but someone in my office knew one of the spouses. The premise of the show is simple: Two wives change places and hilarity ensues. But this wasn’t the typical switch, such as a white-trash housewife with an ambitious go-getter. The families were both accomplished, affluent, and intellectually equivalent.

The Plonskers are a serious, goal-driven family and the Welsh’s are a fun-loving British family. But Patty and Jeff Plonsker spend all their time working and financing an upscale urban lifestyle, while Sheila and Barry Welsh find time to horse around with their sons. Patty finds the brash Barry (a rocket scientist) rude and out of control; she herself employs an etiquette coach for her family. But her own husband Jeff, who dyes his hair and adds “ster” to everyone’s name, takes calls on his cell phone during family dinners. Meanwhile, unaccustomed to housekeepers, British Sheila feels like the Plonskers’ maid, and bristles when Jeff ignores his children.

The Plonskers are consumed with aspiration; the Welsh’s like to go wild. The Plonskers want to impress with their material possessions (and Sheila sees through it); the Welsh’s want to seduce with their antics (Patty gets drunk on champagne on her first day). The show isn't over, but I'm already impressed: First, that these families would go on a reality TV show, and second, that Fox paired them.

Friday art link

The Walker Art Center has blogs!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Enron's synergistic corruption

"When Jeff Skilling got Lasik on his eyes, everyone at Enron got Lasik."

I mixed up the dates for the Matthew Barney show at Barbara Gladstone, so instead I watched Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room. The 2005 documentary tells an absorbing tale of "synergistic corruption," full of damning footage and memorable quotes. Most interesting is the characterization of Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling as former nerds who made it big. But they don't compare with Lou Pai, former head of Enron Energy Services, who left Enron with more money than anyone because he sold all his stock after he divorced his wife to marry his stripper girlfriend who was having his child. (See, I don't remember this particular detail being on the news.) This passage is helpfully supplemented with generous footage of strippers in nightclubs.

That's probably the best part about the documentary, apart from the music; when the footage runs low, there's lots of skydivers and daredevils falling through the air.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Movies I am watching

NetFlix has changed my movie-going habits; namely, I don't "go" to any movies. Instead I sit at home and they come to me, and I can indulge any whim I may have. So far I have managed to watch every episode of Absolutely Fabulous ever made, every Hayao Miyazaki movie available here, some depressing Danish movies, and a whole lot of garbage.

Lately, though, I've been watching a lot of foreign relationship movies. This week was Eros (2004) - Wong Kar-Wai, Steven Soderbergh, and Michelangelo Antonioni - and 5X2 (2005) - directed by François Ozon, in which a deteriorating marriage is chronicled in reverse, from divorce to cavorting on an Italian beach.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Blogs are the new 'zines

I was reading The L Magazine, a nifty little giveaway weekly, on the N train. (Someone is spending a serious amount of time editing it.) Something in the magazine reminded me of 'zines in the 1990s, and how I wanted to start one when I lived in Minneapolis and spent an inordinate amount of time in coffee shops, in between my five part-time jobs, and how now I sort of have one.

I didn't go to any art shows today because I went to hear a band instead. They are known as Felix Unger for reasons unknown to me, and they played their second show ever today at Cake Shop (152 Ludlow Street). Because I don't wander around the Lower East Side as much as I'd like, I decided to check out all the food places that I've read about on one of my favorite blogs, The Girl Who Ate Everything. I went to BabyCakes, Tiny’s Giant Sandwich Shop, and Sugar Sweet Sunshine (I had the Ooey Gooey - chocolate cake with chocolate almond buttercream). What a cute area - I am sure it will morph into a mall (yes kids, here I go again). I have to admit that this excursion was more fun than some of the art shows I've been going to, but maybe my luck will change.

(And a sidenote: What is the story with 190 Bowery? A gorgeous 1900 building on the corner of Spring Street that looks completely derelict. How could this be? Why has Vornado not turned it into a mall?)

In the meantime, I might try to emulate the spirit of 'zines, though I could use the help of Minnesota's own Dunn Brothers!

(Another sidenote: I just read the History page on the Dunn Brothers Web site. Apparently the founder chose the Twin Cities area because it has "a large coffee drinking population and a prolonged hot coffee drinking season." Hmmm. Minnesota = cold, coffee = hot. See, this is the kind of reductive business model that even I can understand.)