New York

“Penetration”

Marianne Boesky Gallery / Friedrich Petzel Gallery

How to revitalize the summer group show? What would guarantee notice? Hmm, gee—what about “Penetration”? As guest curator Mark Fletcher noted drolly in his gallery statement, his concept was “conceived” to link two galleries that “lie one on top of the other.” He interpreted the motif in a functional, as opposed to metaphysical or philosophical, sense; nevertheless, the insinuations were architectural, psychological, and corporeal. Upstairs, at Boesky, and downstairs, at Petzel, an A-list of artists engaged the formal and associative properties born from one thing entering another; and, on the whole, an interesting escapade ensued.

In the street-level Petzel gallery, the viewer was greeted by Rudolf Stingel's pink Styrofoam screen with peepholes. Beyond waited the inevitable—one of Jeff Koons's silk-screened photos of himself fucking Cicciolina. The syrupy bizarreness of this image, its acid kitsch, worked well here, as the piece was juxtaposed with an equally theatrical castration fantasy in a photograph from Matthew Barney's CREMASTER 4: Three Legs of Mann, 1994. Nearby was Douglas Gordon's weirdly mesmerizing Blue, 1998, a video in which two hands fondle and stroke. The work's manual erotica rhymed with the violent fingers in Bruce Nauman's neon Double Poke in the Eye II, 1985, just as Jasper Johns's target drawing called out to Andy Warhol's silk-screened gun, and as the positive/negative play of Stingel's panel echoed that of Ricci Albenda's sculptural pair (both 2002). Bulbous but aerodynamic, the latter's white fiberglass nodule dangled from the ceiling as if newly sprung from a matching concave mold carved into the wall.

The two best works at Petzel were also the least lascivious. Literally penetrating the ceiling to continue in the Boesky space, Sarah Sze's assemblage of strings, pulleys, fans, paper, and ink achieved her signature state of absurd grace, snaking over beams and around corners. And there, tucked out of the way at baseboard level, waited two tiny elevators by Maurizio Cattelan. Their shiny metal doors opened; little buttons glowed. How enticing: to shrink, step in, press CLOSE DOOR, and be lifted into the building's inner reaches .. .

Instead, one went upstairs to the Boesky section like a normal person and saw a show that was less focused than its downstairs counterpart. Sigmar Polke's drawing of a couple in coitus and Donald Moffett's drawings of penises wedged themselves into a niche already occupied by Koons's image; a figurative gesture was important, but any one of these three graphic images would have sufficed. Works by Chris Burden and Gregor Schneider were good choices, but the former's documentary photographs of himself in bondage and the latter's crawl-space video were overwhelmed in this installation. Most provocative were a totemic sculpture by Louise Bourgeois and a “cut drawing” and recreated wall-cut by Gordon Matta-Clark. Deftly reflecting the architectural interventions of Albenda, Sze, Stingel, and Cattelan, Matta-Clark's incisions into the viscera of the building and the epidermis of the stacked cardboard supplied metaphors for all kinds of insights and invasions, while performing one simple act of access into two tangible surfaces.

It bears mentioning that only two of the twenty-one artists here were women. Why should the ratio be so radically off? Certainly the possibilities among women who deal with boundary-blur and spatial infiltration (not to mention sex) are myriad. Instead of rehearsing male prowess and anxiety, why not further complicate the idea of potent entry? Why, for example, exclude Sue Williams, Collier Schorr, Jane Fine, Justine Kurland, Anna Maria Maolino, Carole Rama, Carolee Schneemann, Eva Hesse, Yayoi Kusama? Ultimately, it seems, when you lie down with a reductive-essentialist concept, you wake up with a reductive-essentialist concept.

Frances Richard