PRINT Summer 2003


David Rimanelli

Balloon designed by Takashi Murakami, New York, 2003.

April 11

TAKASHI MURAKAMI’S LOUIS VUITTON SHOW opens at Marianne Boesky. “Sandy Brant, Ingrid Sischy, and Marc Jacobs invite you . . .”—to Hell? Pert but raptorlike PR girls screened you at the door; a velvet rope herded the queue. Inside, a stifling environment packed with more PR flacks, video cameras, fashionistas galore; Patrick McMullan snapping pics; security guards with earpieces. A dearth of celebrities, or so it seemed—gasping for air, I stayed all of ten minutes—and scarcely any art people, save for Julian Schnabel, who was coming in as I left. Also Jeffrey Deitch and Mariko Mori, the latter swaddled in very spiritual, snow-on-plum-blossoms white (something Sei Shonagon mentions in her list of “Elegant Things” in the Heian-era Pillow Book). What art I could see looked bad, disappointing. In the elevator going down, even stalwart paparazzo McMullan expressed exasperation at the crowds.

I made a second visit to the gallery during regular hours: plenty of cash-register art—Murakami/Vuitton logo paintings and the like, a large but uninspired sculpture standing on an antique Vuitton steamer-trunk pedestal—but good stuff, too. Watched the “promotional” anime video for Murakami/Vuitton three times. When the archetypal wide-eyed waif, her adventures ended, opens her cell phone to discover a single green leaf, a talisman of the panda that had swallowed her and her phone, leading into fantastic Superflat Vuitton World—a touch of Lewis Carroll here—I couldn’t have been more entranced than had I seen Judy Garland clicking her red heels for the first time.

Spencer Tunick and Andrew Einhorn, The Saatchi Gallery, London, April 15, 2003, still from a digital video, 5 minutes 45 seconds.

April 15

COCKTAIL RECEPTION FOR THE OPENING OF THE SAATCHI GALLERY’s inaugural twenty-work Damien Hirst survey (plus selections from the permanent collection). A London mole writes: “A strangely eclectic guest list signaled one purpose of the gallery: publicity at almost any cost. B-list actors (from British soap operas) and celebrities, editors of dailies and glossies, agents, artists, journalists, flotsam and jetsam. Goldie, a DJ famous for his diamond-encrusted gold teeth and guest appearances on EastEnders, drove up in a Spider sports car whose license plate helpfully spelled out GOLD. Miranda Richardson, Jeremy Irons, and Stephen Fry added luster to the party. Only very little of the art was outflanked by the occasion, the guests, or the installation in grandly self-confident Edwardian office space: Lining a paneled corridor, Sugimoto’s sepia photos of waxwork wives of Henry VIII looked all too much at home. The effect was exacerbated by Charles S’s passion for fake-baroque frames. Labels made grand claims for minor works: ‘Each cigarette butt is like a tiny portrait, a tribute to the passing of time, three tobacco-consumed inches closer to the smoker’s death’ (re: Damien Hirst’s giant ashtray). Exposed so often, Tracey Emin’s squalid bed begins to take on a diminutive, anecdotal look: This Is What I Did When I Was Dumped. Otherwise, the quality of the work transcended the space and the occasion. Not in detail but in its overall impact—the showmanship of Charles S.

“Spencer Tunick’s ‘installation’ of two hundred naked men and women happened on the river terrace diagonally across from the Houses of Parliament. At one point, some twenty lined up kneeling on the balustrade with their bottoms facing the photographers, who almost outnumbered the viewers. Howard Hodgkin commented that the most erotic sight was the neatly stacked piles of clothes.”

Left: Daniel Reich, New York, 2002. Photo: Jason Frank Rothenberg. Right: Flyer for “Karaoke DEATH Machine,” Daniel Reich Gallery, 2003. Design: Albert Tien.

April 23

“KARAOKE DEATH MACHINE” AT DANIEL REICH. The final show in Reich’s tiny apartment gallery in Chelsea, before he moves to more capacious storefront digs this fall. Albert Tien is credited with the concept, and the invite shows Shoko Asahara, leader of Aum Shinrikyo, the Japanese cult responsible for the infamous 1995 poison-gas massacre in the Tokyo subway. The young dealer’s new stars, the collective Forcefield and Christian Holstad, very prominent; maybe one hundred other modest works in a pop-psychedelic vein by some twenty-five artists. Very homo, or what Reich discreetly refers to as a “heavy aesthetic element” (e.g., Paul P.’s pictures of available-looking jeunes hommes en fleurs). “Paul P. is from Toronto, where there is a very big gay-and-lesbian archive, and he makes portraits from ’70s porno he finds there,” Reich explains. “The decorative motifs in the backgrounds of the paintings are actually taken from Whistler, but I don’t think it’s as much an appropriative thing as it is a subconsciously recognizable element which augments his subject matter. He also does flowers and bats.”

Andy Warhol, Shadows, 1978–79. Installation view, Dia:Beacon, 2003.

April 26

A friend and I drive to DIA:BEACON on a rainy Saturday for a special “pre”-preview. Michael Govan and Lynne Cooke are going to walk us through the space. The in-house press woman sort of got started describing the “approach” to the vast compound. I know it’s just her job, but I really wish she hadn’t. She kept talking about “Bob” (Robert Irwin) and his intentions. Bob wanted this; Bob didn’t want that. Bob really loves the hornbeam trees—really quite special, as trees go. The plantings—my word, but Bob and the Dia people are right in not referring to this as a garden—are quite unattractive and probably the poorest major design element here. Still, this is a far cry from Irwin’s folie at the Getty, which resembles a sort of giant topiary toilet bowl. Did the press woman describe Irwin’s Beacon lawn-cum-concrete as a sculpture? It’s not, even if he is, on his non–Gertrude Jekyll days, an artist.

Govan amiably leads a thorough tour. “His work is sort of a combination painting, sculpture, and storage,” he says of Imi Knoebel’s installation, with what seems like bemused irony. Rather un-Dia—irony, that is. On his cell phone (to Lynne Cooke?): “We’re in Bourgeois.” Later: “We’re in Palermo.” Govan has already shown us most of the exhibition spaces; Cooke joins us in the Ryman galleries late in the tour. After the Rymans, some of which are rather unexpected and lovely, we proceed to the Agnes Martin galleries: in one room, historic, tedious, and/or sublime paintings, as well as two new paintings from Martin’s recent PaceWildenstein show, which she gave to Dia:Beacon apparently because she was so pleased with what they had done with “Innocent Love,” the 1999 series she had made specifically for them (now installed in the second gallery). Maybe Dia shouldn’t be as pleased as desert sage Agnes; the series is rather ugly, even tacky—sorta Santa Fe.

On Kawara room. Special Japanese burnt-cedar layer placed under the regular floor, at considerable expense presumably: This acts as a natural ionizer, purifying the air. Govan explains that this system is often used in Japanese temples—and corporate boardrooms. “Secret luxury,” my friend remarks.

The art: fantastic overall, as one would expect, almost all of it by ’60s artists (an exception, Louise Bourgeois; some of her most celebrated pieces occupy a creepy-crawly, decor-by-Miss-Havisham “attic” gallery, an ideal milieu for her art). Almost everything is superb: Warhol’s Shadows, 1978–79; the fabulous and insane Hanne Darboven installation Kulturgeschichte 1880–1983, 1980–83; twenty of Dan Flavin’s “Monuments for V. Tatlin,” 1964–90; the three Richard Serra “Torqued Ellipses,” 1996–97, first exhibited in New York a few years back and a final, really huge piece, The Union of the Torus and the Sphere, 2001; Michael Heizer, Robert Smithson, Walter De Maria; Beuys’s Arena, 1970–72, and lots of felt; austere and flashy Judds; Blinky Palermo’s superbeautiful and ultraclassy To the People of New York City, 1976, and so on.

The Kantian Sublime. Dia:Beacon is it.

John Currin, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2003.

May 9

JOHN CURRIN STUDIO VISIT. A passel of unfinished paintings and numerous drawings, sketches. Currin’s Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, show opened last week, and he’s just back from Boston, where he curated an “artist selects” exhibition drawn from the permanent collection of the Museum of Fine Arts. “I wanted to point out differences between American and European painting,” he says, or, as he concludes his text for the MFA show, “I know that at times I really do wish I was a European painter, and then I take a good look and get creeped out by Europeans and European culture and think, Thank God I’m an American. To drive a tiny car and have stackable red, blue, and yellow coffee cups in my little Conran’s flat would be a nightmare. . . . But I have to say they make amazing paintings.” He didn’t quite have the run of the museum he had hoped for, but he got many great paintings—Velázquez, Poussin, Courbet, van Gogh, Manet, Monet, Matisse, Hopper—and some great terrible ones, mostly by American artists, like Joseph Hirsch’s WPA Portrait of an Old Man, 1939. “It’s an awful painting of a Bowery bum, but it turned out good. I hung it next to this fantastic Pellegrini, which looks in places like a hack thrift-store painting itself. Then I got a Copley pastel of a woman but her mouth’s sort of rubbed out. There’s a beautiful painting of a cockatoo, hilariously ascribed to Heade, but it’s thrift-store, and yet it has the soul of a great painting. I placed it next to the Velázquez portrait.” Imaginary sound track: Madonna’s “American Life.”

“In the early ’90s, when I started showing, it didn’t take much to make people uncomfortable,” Currin recalls. “Some ’80s art, like neo-geo, seemed so bombastic, funny, tasteless, like it was coming out of Schnabel. The real return to order was the ’90s.” We talked about The Moved Over Lady, 1991, which I think Peter Schjeldahl once praised for its compositional daring, but the artist demurs: “It’s an incredible cliché of ‘vanguard’ composition. Maybe she’s exploited just by being moved off center. I thought, ‘Nobody will come to the defense of these paintings of liberal, menopausal, divorced women—right-thinking PBS subscribers who’ve overdosed on the Times.’ This was my own Blue Period. Suddenly I understood the harlequins and the hokey subjects. In the ’90s there was a growing philistine idea that subjects should be well-meaning and progressive. And, consequently, so easy to mock, like it’s easy to fart in Sunday school. It’s no longer worth it to get a laugh at their expense.” In conversation with Chrissie Iles at the Whitney (April 15), Currin also referred to the motives behind being Bad: “When I made the middle-aged-women paintings, that was the first time I showed in New York and got reviews, and the reviews basically said I was a creep and that I was a sexist, a bad painter and a sexist creep on top of that. I take issue with the ‘bad painter’ part.” It’s all too easy to accuse Currin of a certain disingenuousness here, but I’m with him regarding the early-’90s retour à l’ordre: being force-fed someone else’s notion of goodness just makes you want to be bad.

May 11

CONTINUOUS PROJECT #1, a new arts journal produced by Wade Guyton, Bettina Funcke, Joseph Logan, and Seth Price, debuts at Maccarone, Inc., in Chinatown. The title seems to refer in some vague way to Robert Morris’s Continuous Project Altered Daily. The inaugural volume is a photocopy of a 1970 issue of Avalanche with Joseph Beuys on the cover. Pages from the photocopy (sold for its original price, $2, which given the quality of the paper stock made me think there was a hint of the Sylvie Fleury shopping bag at work) lined the gallery walls. Rachel Harrison called my attention to one ad for a gallery, Milgo Art Systems, somewhere in Brooklyn—an out-of-the-way area she says is only now on the brink of colonization—where Forest “Frosty” Myers was exhibiting. The picture shows Myers and another circa-1970 dude sitting inside an open-form pyramidal sculpture belonging to the Park Place Gallery genus of Minimalism. “This will be a great picture to show to students,” Rachel said, “because they tend to assume that Minimalist artists looked Minimalist themselves—like Liam Gillick, I guess (short hair, better grooming, designer labels)—instead of being scruffy long-haired guys with shabby clothes and beards.”