Right Stuff

New York

Left: Meredith Darrow, David Scanavino, and Mathew Cerletty. Right: Vito Acconci.

With the Bush twins sighted recently at hipster hotspot Freeman’s and indie provocateur Vincent Gallo proclaiming his admiration for George W. and Nixon while promoting his last film (spawning the label “hipcon”), painters Mathew Cerletty and David Scanavino’s “Neocon”—a show of young downtown artists (and one father figure, Robert Moskowitz) at Gavin Brown’s Passerby—couldn’t be more timely. I was half expecting a show cooked up by the Project for the New American Century (the invite even sported a Ronald Reagan commemorative stamp), and the show did offer up a sampling of neocon-inspired values (modernity, denial of nostalgia—however feigned). Gray was the order of the day (with the notable exception of a NASCAR-hued work by Kristin Baker, the sole female artist in the show) with muted tones solemnly inaugurating (or mourning?) utopic/dystopic returns—what the press release refers to as “tempered optimism.” A deadpan iconographic everyday (and perhaps an interest in postwar industrial design) characterized much of the work, from Scanavino’s balloon and school-desk silhouettes to Kevin Zucker’s trompe l’oeil Venetian blind. Moskowitz’s ambiguously historical smokestack-void, a study in figurative restraint, anchored the show.

Despite the rather extreme wind and rain—I watched a scaffold collapse on Twentieth Street and was chased down Tenth Avenue by a trash can—the opening brought out the crowds. Artists Dan Colen and Sissel Kardel chatted in a corner, Elizabeth Peyton came by, and Gavin Brown made his appearance early on. Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez of Proenza Schoeler arrived separately, confirming their blogged-to-death breakup (of note: First daughter Barbara interned with this very design duo). Speaking with the painter-curators, I asked what was the relationship between the work’s interest in, as Cerletty and Scanavino put it, “early modernism, constructivism, Russian guys,” and neoconservatism. Cerletty deadpanned: “Idealism.”

Left: The sign announcing Philippe Parreno's exhibition. Middle: Jutta Koether. Right: Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore.

A kind of ambivalent idealism also set the tone at Philippe Parreno’s “The Boy from Mars” opening the same night at Friedrich Petzel. A pulp-sci-fi neon sign outside the gallery advertised the show; but indoors, visitors were greeted with a seemingly empty gallery space. While the timid hung nervously near a bookshelf lined with minimally packaged DVDs of Parreno’s film, the more adventurous pushed right through: The white shelves turned out to be a secret door, a camp device that somehow seemed unfamiliar when presented in the context of the white cube. (Vito Acconci marched into the gallery and hardly paused before heading into its hidden bowels.) Behind the trap door the rest of the space was dark—and empty—save for Parreno’s film playing on a monitor in the rear gallery. Documenting an improbable construction built with architect Francois Roche on Rirkrit Tiravanija’s cooperative farm in Thailand, the film resonates with a history of tropical utopian innovation, from the Swiss Family Robinson to Tacita Dean’s Bubble House. The ravage of the elements that insures the ruin and rot of these structures finds a parallel in Parreno’s DVDs available for free at the opening: Once removed from its protective wrapper, the disk has a lifespan of only forty-eight hours before its chemically treated surface will oxidize and erase itself.

Two blocks down Jutta Koether laughed and chatted amid a decade and a half of her work at Thomas Erben. All the tinsel and Mylar looked postprom and very punk in the one-room show. Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore stood grimly near the middle of the gallery marked by a large silver exercise ball. In a room full of brainy art, their sagelike presence seemed almost a part of the installation.