This year, the second week of September inaugurated the last New York art season of the century; plan on seeing a lot of millennium shows well into the new year. With all that upon us, the art world is gearing up to promote the latest in its revolutionary-seeming, much-trumpeted, entirely cosmetic moves. With summer over, the stock market bullish and sales brisk, galleries are once again trying anything to get a leg up in the race for art dominance in the coming century.
The starting gate, everyone now unanimously agrees, is located somewhere in Chelsea. Soon to be recast into buff vapidity by a glut of greenbacks (goodbye Pakistani delis and taxi dispatchers), once-dowdy west Chelsea is rushing to accommodate a second, definitive rush of big galleries to the area. Tony midtown dealers Robert Miller and Mary Boone are leading what might turn out to be a larger diaspora from the imperial heights of 57th St., with Miller staking out a football-field size space on 26th St. that would be the envy of most roller rinks. Meantime, the bleeding of galleries from Soho continues, appearing ever more complete with each passing month (save for solid stalwarts like Tricia Collins and Deitch on Grand St. and Marianne Boesky, Jack Tilton and David Zwirner on Greene St.).
Take the legendary 420 W. Broadway building. Once home to the big three Soho galleries, Castelli, Emmerich and Sonnabend, the lead covered wagon finally appears to have found a buyer. Sonnabend, along with other galleries, among them Paul Kasmin, Feature, Lombard-Freid, Sperone Westwater and Pace, are all currently in the process of moving shop to, where else? Chelsea. To boot, once-solid Basilico Fine Arts has just closed its doors, leaving a stable of perfectly good artists in the lurch. It's as if with the passing of Leo Castelli, the original Soho Manifest Destinist, the remaining settlers got together, pulled up stakes and headed west before the Indians (read suburbanites) ran roughshod (read retail) over the entire homestead. Soho we hardly knew ya!
Amid all the hubbub about moving is news of impending museum blockbusters. There is, for one, "Sensation," Charles Saatchi's much hyped, three-year-old collection of Young British Artists, due to open at the Brooklyn Museum in October, thanks to a curatorial fumble by the Guggenheim and the smart opportunism of Brooklyn Museum director Arnold Lehman. (Rumor has it that Saatchi is now out and about in New York, contemplating shopping trips to Chelsea and Brooklyn.)
Fall's other mega-art show is the Whitney's "American Century, Part II," a gaggle of high-tech electronics and post-1950 masterpieces set to open later this month. Curated by Lisa Phillips, the director of the New Museum, the second half of "American Century" boasts what the Whitney promotional literature calls "cultural sites"?multimedia islands that explore, through advertising spots like Coca-Cola's "Perfect Harmony," magazines like High Times, 2 Live Crew's album As Nasty As They Wanna Be, and gewgaws like lava lamps and beanbag chairs, "how the culture at large affects the visual arts and vice versa." Gee, what a novel idea!
Several belated New York gallery exhibitions of YBAs are also in the works, chiefly as spinoffs from the "Sensation" show. These include exhibitions of last year's Turner Prize-winner Chris Ofili (the elephant excrement guy), Rachel Whiteread (the large-plaster-cast gal) and, most prominently of course, Damien Hirst (the dead cow, pig and shark in formaldehyde guy), ringmaster extraordinaire of what is certainly Britain's most celebrated and overhyped art generation ever.
Among American-born-and-bred gallery extravaganzas, there is the much rumored comeback of Jeff Koons, still impersonating an artist after all these years, and also the latest cinematic installment of Matthew Barney's Busby Berkeley-meets-Alain Renais work. In a nutshell, Cremaster 2 stars a rickety Norman Mailer as Harry Houdini helping Matthew Barney, poor boy, look for his permanently ascendant scrotum. (Isn't it absolutely infantile to make expensive serial films about a tiny jig like the cremaster muscle, the principal culprit in what George Costanza calls "shrinkage"?)
But what is there to see here and now, you may demand, in the infant weeks of the vaunted art season? Well, initial explorations into the upper reaches of Chelsea from 20th to 26th Sts. turned up little of value, save for a smart, simple installation of colliding, ping-ponging dishes floating in pools of water (Céleste Boursier-Mougenot at Paula Cooper), a bizarre, drug-induced slice-of-life story told via drawings and a video game (David Shapiro at LiebmanMagnan) and an excellent exhibition of wild, mind-altering paintings by artist Giles Lyon at Feigen Contemporary.
Lyon's large paintings look like bric-a-brac jumbles of swirling lines in bright, pill-chart colors, suggesting, among other seriously unstable possibilities, a Homer Simpson acid flashback. Made up of wormy, extruded-looking, intestinal forms; small stalagmites of paint and random incorporations of studio debris (including dirt, bits of string, hair clippings and produce stickers from Granny Smith apples), Lyon's surrealist-inspired automatic line and Pollock-style numinousness mine a recently popular cartoon esthetic. Like many of his young painter contemporaries, Lyon juggles influences high and low, standing for the moment on pop flipness while reaching ambitiously for the laurel bough of highbrow painterliness. Lyon, who is 32, and appeared last year in Cecily Brown's influential essay "Painting Epiphany" (published in Flash Art), is very much of a piece with the most gifted of the youthful paint-on-canvas set. More importantly, for the time Lyon's is the best art exhibition to be seen in Chelsea by quite a ways.
A similar traipse through more generous Soho begat the following observations: Katurah Hutcheson's process-minded pieces are a poet's paean to the throwaway and the recycled (at Paul Kasmin); Yutaka Sone's marble sculptures and potted jungle environment turn enigmatic miniatures into commentary on the natural and manmade (at David Zwirner); Wei Dong's orgiastic and irreverent updates of traditional Chinese brush and ink paintings at once meld history and personal fantasy (at Jack Tilton); and Lane Twitchell's fanciful paper cutouts are among the most inventive, publicly oriented artworks being made today (Deitch Projects).
Twitchell's work demands extra space here because of its singular doggedness. An artist with a pointed devotion to vernacular artistic forms, Twitchell has developed a unique fold-and-cut paper technique that connects his work to traditional handicrafts like quilt- and lacemaking, while allowing him to reference Pollock paintings, American history and the dream-turned-nightmare of American suburbia. Twitchell, raised a Mormon in Utah, lets a growing multiplicity of ur-American elements inhabit his colorful cutouts. There are famous Mormons Joseph Smith, and Philo T. Farnsworth, the inventor of the first all-electronic television; the logos for the Stardust Casino and the Kennecot Mining Corp.; the Idaho state bird and flower; and, not least of all, a panoply of silhouetted symbols, from lawn grasses to satellite dishes, rendering in spectacular, obsessive detail a dream not deferred but lost forever amidst the cheap junk and highway signage of strip-malled America.
Baudelaire once said about Paris: "The shape of a city changes faster, alas! than the heart of a mortal." This is a sentence into which one could perfectly well transpose the words "America," "New York" or, come to think of it, "Soho."
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