New to You

Linda Yablonsky around New York fall openings

Left: Artist Dana Schutz. Right: Art Production Fund's Yvonne Force Villareal and artist John Currin.

EVERY SEASON PROMISES the discovery of what’s new. But what can be new in art today? We seem to be in a holding pattern. The new bubbles up from what we missed before, or it introduces the unfamiliar. Both were visible in New York last week, when the fall season opened in a sweat.

That was partly due to an unseasonable heat wave. The calendar made a contribution too, when Labor Day arrived a week later than usual. Instead of a gradual climb to peak form, well over a hundred galleries opened at the same time as Fashion Week, in the middle of the US Open. As if this convergence weren’t feverish enough, the Museum of Modern Art blew its lid off with “Picasso Sculpture.” By 9/11, a day most dealers consider off-limits to the market, it was more apparent than ever that New York has more places for more kinds of art than any other city in the world.

Here’s a sketch of what I can recall from an intense (and pleasurable) seventy-two hours with the resuscitated, reimagined, or reemergent forces that combined with the unfamiliar to welcome the new.

On Tuesday, the 8th—the thirtieth anniversary of Ana Mendieta’s still suspicious death—dealer Mary Sabbatino hosted a memorial tribute to the artist at Galerie Lelong. Raquel Cecilia, the artist’s niece, screened a touching eight-minute documentary for at least one of her aunt’s former lovers (Hans Breder) and a number of loyal friends (Carolee Schneemann, Ruby Rich, Dottie Attie), just as Joan Jonas, art attorney John Silberman, and Helen Tworkov spilled out of the fresh bump that dealer Alexander Gray is giving the late Jack Tworkov, whose estate he now represents.

Left: Artist Adrián Villar Rojas. Right: MoMA curator Ann Temkin (right) with her daughter Rachel Hendrickson. (All photos: Linda Yablonsky)

Meanwhile, Jeffrey Deitch marked his official return to Grand Street with such selflessness that he wasn’t even present to distract from the opening of “Cameron: Cinderella of the Wastelands,” a show of witchy drawings and collages that recalled the dealer’s fractious tenure as director of MoCA in Los Angeles, where he first presented some of this material. Attendance was weirdly sparse.

Farther east, another small group was gathering at Marc Straus for a panel on the notorious Viennese Actionist Hermann Nitsch. He is a large man with a long white beard. Dressed in a three-piece black suit, a black straw hat pulled low over his mischievous eyes, he sat in the front row surrounded by spattered paintings from past and recent performances. “There’s more upstairs,” he said.

Outside, artist Matt Mullican and his wife, the curator Valerie Smith, had a spontaneous sidewalk conference with dealer Janice Guy about the difficulties of nailing an Uber during Fashion Week, before heading up to Nathalie Karg a few doors away. There, the seventy-something potter Wayne Ngan was having his first show in New York, organized by the Vancouver-based curator and former dealer Lee Plested in tandem with new works by John Riepenhoff, the artist-dealer from Milwaukee. Up a white ladder and through a hole at the bottom of a white box bolted near the ceiling one could spy another exhibition—of drawings by one Gordon Payne, an untrained artist that Riepenhoff discovered while making his plein air paintings of the night sky above Ngan’s studio on Hornby Island in British Columbia. “This is the smallest gallery I could make,” he said of the latest in a series of “John Riepenhoff Experiences.” If nothing else, it’s intimate, all right.

Left: Artist Hermann Nitsch. Right: Dealer Jeff Poe and curator Alison Gingeras.

Newness showed up on Wednesday morning with Adrián Villar Rojas’s quiet—very quiet—and site-specific, daytime solo debut with Marian Goodman Gallery. The show’s title, “Two Suns,” refers to the double spots of daylight streaming through parted, sound-absorbent, silvery gray blackout curtains blanketing every wall and window, rendering the otherwise unlighted gallery’s infrastructure (including its offices, personnel, and reception desks) invisible. A man delivering flowers was completely disoriented in the dim hush. “Hello? Hello?” he called out. “Anyone here?”

Throughout the long gallery, the Argentinean artist had also installed a new floor of handmade concrete tiles that he embedded with cigarette butts, an iPod, feathers, peach pits, coins, burnt wood, and other detritus from what he said was “typical of an Argentine barbecue.” Awaiting intruders at the gallery’s southern end was Michelangelo’s David, which Villar Rojas has re-created to scale in cracked, raw clay. Only his “David” is a sleeping giant with erect nipples, its enormous body resting uncomfortably, one leg atop the other to hide its privates, on low plinths supporting only head and knees. “I wanted it to be deformed,” Villar Rojas said. If felt like a mortuary in there, or a secret chamber for witnessing the death of classicism in the womb of its rebirth. I liked it.

From there, wandering uptown past Alicja Kwade’s towering clock with an unstable face—a project for Public Art Fund—I knocked at Michael Werner for a peek at Gianni Piacentino’s first show there. Piacentino was the youngest in Germano Celant’s original group of Arte Povera artists, and also the first to split. “I hear he can be difficult,” dealer Gordon VeneKlasen confided. Perhaps that’s because he disdains fabrication. “I make everything myself, by hand,” he said when he arrived with Andrea Bellini, director of the Centre d’Art Contemporain in Geneva and chief instigator of Piacentino’s revival. In fact, the artist was positively jocular.

After that pleasant diversion, and another with the elegant historical matchmaking at Dominique Lévy that brought together Gego and Senga Nengudi, I came to Blum & Poe’s New York outpost, thinking I knew what I would see in “The Avant-Garde Won’t Give Up: Cobra and Its Legacy.” Not even close.

Left: Artist David Lamelas (right). Right: Artist Ron Nagle and New Museum associate director Massimiliano Gioni.

On three floors was a group show of hardly new but quite surprising work by artists associated with these postwar AbExers from Copenhagen, Brussels, and Amsterdam (hence Cobra), who are little-known here. “I’ve been obsessed with them for ages,” Alison Gingeras, the show’s curator, told me during a dinner at Alsace that evening attended by about fifty people, including the daughters of the late Cobra artist Shinkichi Tajiri (a Japanese American who settled in Amsterdam), NSU Museum director Bonnie Clearwater, and Julian Schnabel. “I feel like I crashed a party,” dealer Jeff Poe said during his toast to “magical thinking.” The show really should have been in a museum, he said. “But this is how things go now.”

I was surprised that Schnabel had not been at MoMA, where I touched down after flying through a few Lower East Side galleries, including Jackie Saccocio’s romantic abstractions at Eleven Rivington, Nari Ward’s homage to copper at Lehmann Maupin, and Takura Kuwata’s “crazy cake” ceramic sculptures at Salon 94 Freeman’s.

“I think it’s good to shake things up now and then,” the Whitney Museum’s Donna De Salvo was saying, as I hit the Picasso show at MoMA. She must be right. Not only does the show affect prevailing perceptions of the artist—for the better—but it actually changes one’s experience of the museum itself. Curators Ann Temkin and Anne Umland took a radical step by removing the permanent collection works normally installed on the museum’s fourth floor and replacing them with a solo show of 140 sculptures that Picasso made for fun, not profit. (Imagine.)

Their scale fits each of the dozen galleries like the proverbial glove. One work is a small metal hobbyhorse that Picasso made for his grandson, Bernard Ruiz-Picasso, a small boy at the time. He loaned it to MoMA. “In the catalogue, there’s a picture of me riding it,” he said with a grin. Diana Picasso was also spieling personal anecdotes about one work or another. Jeff Koons, who looked closely at everything, loved the show’s clarity. To him, the work felt liberating. “I know it sounds trite,” the beaming Temkin said, “but it was really an honor to do this show.”

Left: Artist Jeff Koons. Right: Bernard Ruiz-Picasso.

Upstairs, on six, was “Transmissions: Art in Eastern Europe and Latin America, 1960–1980,” a collection show organized over the past five years by Stuart Comer, Roxana Marcoci, and Christian Rattemeyer. Nearly all the works had been in MoMA’s storage till now, even though half of them came into the collection when they were new. It’s a big show, a little messy, as contemporary art is wont to be, and hard to absorb after so substantial an experience as “Picasso Sculpture.” “I think it’s fantastic,” said writer Lynne Tillman, who started the evening there. “People don’t know or understand what we did,” observed the Argentinean radical Marta Minujín, one of several artists in the show—David Lamelas was another—who came for the opening.

Thursday brought a deluge to Chelsea, in more ways than one. After weeks of clear skies, the heavens opened and it rained, rained, rained. After the summer hiatus, the fifty or more openings clogged the streets with people and umbrellas. It was hard to get around—but worth it! The installation of Ron Nagle’s exquisite ceramic sculptures at Matthew Marks was breathtaking. “I’ve wanted this my whole life!” the artist exclaimed.

Dana Schutz was happy with her new paintings at Friedrich Petzel. Will Ryman was happy with his elemental new sculptures at Paul Kasmin. Christian Marclay was happy with the installation of his silent, dizzying, film installation at Paula Cooper. (“It’s a musical composition is what it is,” he said.) Josiah McElheny was happy with his Hilma af Klint– and Maya Deren–inspired show at Andrea Rosen, who was happy to meet Scott Rothkopf’s new flame, Go Set a Watchman publisher Jonathan Burnham.

Left: Artist Rachel Feinstein with filmmaker Sofia Coppola. Right: Dealer Andrea Rosen with Whitney Museum chief curator Scott Rothkopf and publisher Jonathan Burnham.

There simply wasn’t time to take in everything. At Tanya Bonakdar there wasn’t even room, so long was the line to get into Sarah Sze’s new exhibition, made on site over the past several weeks and including a sound piece, an elegiac video of a bird in flight, and an uncanny waterfall of white paint that hung from the ceiling like frozen rain.

Dinner for Sze at the Hotel Americano went late and brought out quite an extended family: Sofia Coppola, John Currin and Rachel Feinstein, the Burning Man–obsessed Yvonne Force and Leo Villareal, Jenna Lyons and Courtney Crangi—friends from school, Sze said, though she wasn’t talking about art school but the one their children all attend.

Chelsea also felt like a family estate on Thursday afternoon, when I returned to catch up on shows I’d missed the night before, like Mike Kelley (at Hauser & Wirth) and the Flavin/Matta-Clark combo at David Zwirner. Wolfgang Tillmans, Clarissa Dalrymple, Christopher Williams, and Ann Goldstein all had the same idea, now that the weather was brilliant and the sidewalks were empty. I found Liz Glynn standing in Paula Cooper’s display-window gallery with her show of anguished, black clay masks derived from a very ancient source, Aristotle. “It’s the other side of the argument,” she said. “Pathos.”

Left: Artists Angel Otero, Rashid Johnson, and McArthur Binion. Right: Artist Marta Minujín.

Left: Artist Liz Glynn. Right: Author Siddhartha Muhkerjee with artists Sarah Sze and Robert Gober.

Left: Dealers Nathalie Karg and Josee Bienvenu. Right: Artists Laurie Simmons and Jackie Sacoccio.

Left: Artists Eli Sudbrack and Judith Eisler. Right: Artist Josiah McElheny.