Babies on Board

New York

Left: Artists Fritzh Welch and Rachel Lowther. Right: Artist Jessica Jackson Hutchins and musician Stephen Malkmus.

“Make It Now” at SculptureCenter presents new work from twenty-eight New York sculptors in its crumbly, Maya Lin-rehabbed factory space near the dead end of Purves Street in Long Island City. The curatorial premise as written was rather waffly—with so many different artists involved, all-purpose platitudes like “belief” and “politics” had to suffice (in the spirit of inclusiveness). But the three curators (Mary Ceruti, Anthony Huberman, and Franklin Sirmans) made good on their promise to bring together artists at different moments in their careers. The young and surging are well represented: For example, Gedi Sibony, an artist (one of four here) who is also in the nearby P.S.1 megasurvey “Greater New York 2005” and is clearly high on the hog—only the most sizzling can produce work that is so flagrantly unfinished for a widely seen show like this. Those whose careers are cresting—like Luis Gispert and Rachel Harrison, who have negotiated the museum system for a few years and are showing compact, signature pieces that reflect this fact—are also on hand, as are those artists, like Czech-born Klara Hobza, about whom no one really knew anything before showing up at the opening on Sunday. Hobza will finish her MFA degree at Columbia this month and, judging from the dealers’ universal enthusiasm for her large-scale video piece, she will make a very smooth transition to life after school.

The first hour of last Sunday’s opening was peaceful, with plenty of room to breathe and chat with the guards, including Angelo, my favorite. He was guarding Matthew Ronay’s Cum Like A Unicorn Horn—specifically, the delicate two-foot-long filament with dangling icicles connected to the wooden-cock-cum-grain-elevator that rises from Ronay’s calf-high landscape. In an act of unprovoked theatricality, Angelo mimed vigilance as visitors passed by the fragile and nearly invisible string; though it clearly did not come naturally to him, he was putting an awful lot into this cute routine. By halftime, however, the opening was complete pandemonium, so I went back to Ronay’s piece, curious about how my new friend was faring. The string had been broken in the stampede, but Angelo was still standing there. “I don’t know, man, I turned around for two seconds, you know. What can I do?” It’s not encouraging or particularly funny when a sculpture is damaged, but it was no one’s fault, and quickly fixed.

I have never seen so many babies at an art opening in my entire life; it was as if SculptureCenter had been teleported to Park Slope. Twins Ursula and Nanook were strapped to mom and dad, sculptors Rachel Lowther and Fritz Welch. Welch had an excellent piece in the show, a precariously stretched junk assemblage with highlights of color flaring through the muck of microphone stands, nooses, cans, and eggshell insulation, and I wanted to talk to him about the Throbbing Gristle logo he’d painted on the wall in what looked like vomit or curry. “It’s iodine,” was all he chose to tell me then, sensitive to the fact that newborns should probably only hear about Throbbing Gristle when in need of punishment. Janine Antoni’s six-month-old daughter was strapped to dad Paul Ramirez Jonas. And a very louche Stephen Malkmus had his newborn in a sling. Malkmus clearly did not want to hang, and his baby’s mother Jessica Jackson Hutchins’ anorexic and unpoetic papier-mâché faux Rodin was pretty tired too.

Left: The scene at SculptureCenter, with artist Peter Coffin (near left). Right: Artist Nancy Hwang.

Pretty girls with clipboards were trolling for the nebulous cause of Long Island City itself. The tourist board is really pushing for culture in L.I.C. these days—they’ve just rolled out a swish nostalgic sort of Coney Island-boardwalk logo. It is an amazing place: quiet; not clean but by no means filthy; and still safe for activities that are increasingly ghettoized in Manhattan. Any kind of freedom is hard to come by in New York these days, and it summed up a nice, loose afternoon at SculptureCenter. With its Sunday-social curatorial style and its refreshingly unhysterical approach to presentation, this mellow mixer was well suited to both kinds of babies: The drooling ones riding around in Velcroed papooses and the recently delivered children of the New York art world.