Numbers Game

New York

Left: Artist Francesca DiMattio, Guild & Greyshkul's Esme Watanabe and Sara VanDerBeek, and artist Adriana Farmiga. (Photo: Ryan McNamara) Right: Mary Ann Duganne Glicksman performs My Father's Diary at Greene Naftali. (Photo: Cliff Borress/Greene Naftali Gallery)

TO A DISCOURSE often ranging between earnestness and dutifulness, Guy de Cointet’s nearly forgotten melodramas from a few decades ago sound new notes, but slip into the didactic key. At their best, they morph to the point of magic realism with a European playfulness and the tinny histrionics of Hollywood. (The late Frenchman lived in Los Angeles for the thrust of his career.) At their worst, they become language lessons the pedagogical insistence of which irritates in the manner of Sesame Street for grad students. The three performances staged Wednesday night at Greene Naftali, within an exhibition of Cointet’s drawings, went from worst to best.

Mary Ann Duganne Glicksman had come in from Paris (or a village outside it, where, she said, she and a small group of artists from Los Angeles now live) to perform the monologues as she originally had. Cointet, like a movie director, tended to use pretty women, and it is clear that they bring a fair amount of luster to performances that today exist mostly in pictures. Wistful and charming, Glicksman was buckling her red patent-leather shoe in front of a television playing her younger self when I mentioned she had drawn a big crowd. “It’s not me,” she gasped, “it’s Guy!” In either case, people streamed into the white room, looking at the bright graphic drawings with text written, often backward (Cointet was ambidextrous), in florid script that resembles Arabic, and then settling into rows of folding chairs or onto the ground.

My Father’s Diary from 1975 came first. Glicksman plays Lucy, a character telling of a book (the green trapezoidal object she holds) that her father gave her on his deathbed. “It is a book indeed,” she explains, “filled with pages of text and signs and diagrams, lively drawings laid out in a particular way.” From there, the story sees a war broken out, a fiancé departed, a mass evacuation done under rain of fire and melting metal. There might be a stop at a beach hotel, or that might be a photograph described. (The narrative weaves in and out of the pages; to fade for a moment is to lose the thread.) Sometimes she pauses to “read” a page, her finger tracing crisscrossed lines or loops, the curves of which her intonation follows, and to display history’s effects on the diary: ruined diagrams, bullet holes, spilled blood. The story ends when the war does and Lucy has reunited with her fiancé.

Left: Greene Naftali's Jay Sanders with art adviser Thea Westreich. Right: Mary Ann Duganne Glicksman performs Two Drawings at Greene Naftali. (Photos: David Velasco)

The actress exited, but the presence of a Sneaky Chef lingered, as we chewed on a cookie of a soap opera with a semiotics exercise baked inside. Going to the Market, also from 1975, upped the ante with cleverness. The couple in this one, named Roz and Adul, split up at a party when Adul is perceived to be a two-timer and, in the end, reunite beside a marketplace. Serving as key to (or map of?) the story is a painting of letters and numbers, series of which Glicksman points to as illustration, spelling out names or the initials of phrases she is saying, revealing them as in a word search. Again, though, much of the work’s appeal is in cleverness, and what sticks most is the actress’s quick memory.

Two Drawings from 1974 is the earliest and the best of the three. On the wall hang two identical compositions of numbers. Glicksman’s character explains she bought the first painting, by a craft-fair artist named Jim Brown, for its “aesthetic values” and only “slowly became aware of other things.” These other things make up a narrative detailing still another split-up and the quick exit on the next Greyhound of the female, in whose spiraling psyche the narrator finds herself immersed: “The art of Jim Brown,” she exclaims, “is quite remarkable!” The second painting, a surprise gift from a friend, is somehow nearly identical to the first one but shows, deep within its composition, the goings-on at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore. The story becomes a Möbius strip curling in on itself and is stronger for not having the tutorial structure. It ends with a twist, the hotel within the second composition said to hold its own story about a pair of paintings, one of which is seen “glowing in the darkness, the letters shining in blinding flashes.”

Left: Guild & Greyshkul's Johannes VanDerBeek. Right: Artists Daniel McDonald, Ryan Johnson, Dana Schutz, and Daniele Frazier. (Photos: Ryan McNamara)

The image was similar to what the New York Times envisioned for an event Thursday night: “Gallery Goes Out in a Burst of Energy.” The artist-run Guild & Greyshkul opened its closing show, “On from Here,” with a party befitting a college dorm. The crowd was actually collegiate in origin and fell into two school groups. The majority had gone to Cooper Union together, pretty much the rest to Columbia together. As with any school, there was competition. “Totally stubborn,” one artist said about another and gestured to a solid, rectilinear sculpture. The curating seemed to be open-door, the artists list running on the press release to three columns, around forty names each. Sara VanDerBeek, one of the founders of the gallery, laughed—“I couldn’t be a curator; I’m not smart enough”—and went on to say: “All I did was put the call out. Everyone was responsive; they only had a few weeks, but still most made new work.”

The beer ran out early, prompting a wave of exits. Two people twiddled fingers together in salutation through a hole in a piece made by Ryan Johnson. Sculptures were felled. VanDerBeek’s brother and gallery partner, Johannes, had white paint on his fingers from fixing an area on a still-wet painting by Francesca DiMattio that someone had brushed. “You could have hung it higher,” I said. “It just looked so good there,” he laughed. “That’s our philosophy: aesthetics before pragmatics.”

Aesthetics alone, however, will not raise twenty-five thousand dollars every month (nine thousand dollars for rent). Such concerns are of course appearing all around. One aid to a troubled economy came up when Sara VanDerBeek mentioned her middle name, Nea, given by her father, the late artist Stan VanDerBeek, in reference to the agency with which he was supposed to meet the day she was born: the National Endowment for the Arts. But it too seems on the brink.

Kyle Bentley

Left: Artists Ernesto Caivano and Ellen Altfest. Right: Artist Glynnis McDaris, Museum 52's Matthew Dipple, and Guild & Greyskhul's Anya Kielar. (Photos: Ryan McNamara)

Left: Dia director Philippe Vergne. Right: Dealer Carol Greene, Mary Ann Duganne Glicksman, and Greene Naftali's Alex Tuttle. (Photos: David Velasco)

Left: Artist Dennis Palazzolo. Right: Dealer Lisa Cooley, artist Antoine Catala, artist Josh Kline, and dealer Jane Hait. (Photos: Ryan McNamara)

Left: Dealer Josee Bienvenu. Right: Artists Lea Cetera, Trenton Duerksen, Robin Schavoir, and Devin Leonardi. (Photos: Ryan McNamara)

Left: Sara VanDerBeek and artist Garth Weiser. Right: Artists Dustin Yellin, Anthony Titus, and Kon Trubkovich. (Photos: Ryan McNamara)

Left: Artists Devon Costello, Athena Razo, and Lou Laurita. Right: Kumi with artists Eric Fertman and Benjamin Degen. (Photos: Ryan McNamara)