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The Art Crawl
By Keane A. Pepper
Highest Score:
5 Greenbergs

Emily Stern at
Schroeder Romero

The art world lull has passed, but this malevolent cold almost dissuaded me from finishing the first art crawl of the New Year. Nobody would accompany me on the rounds these last weeks, and I don't really blame them. The galleries seem to have caught a winter bug. The flu like cold appears to have congested the galleries with abstraction and a slight case of stuffiness.

Despite this minor malady, 2003 shows some initial promise. I didn't attend many openings this month, but the severe looking crowd at the Pierogi opening made me feel provincial and cheap like my second tier University degree and MFA were printed on toilet paper. My significant other concurred, although she has a fashion sense at least. At moments of crushing self doubt like these, I regroup and remind myself "None of these ivy leaguers are going to put pen to paper," and I go eat a free Pierogi and get a Lager.

Lets get right into this the best of this abstraction business before I go getting all anti-formal. Schroeder Romero has a handsome group show, Stroke (despite the not very subtle title) that has a pleasing range. Starting with Bellwether "crystal girl" Kirsten Hassenfeld whose graphite drawings of gem-like structures are more than just sketches for her intricate sculptures. The slightly awkward way the crystals are rendered reveal a delicate, tremulous hand. Even more beautiful in the "I'd buy it if I had money" way are Janice Caswell's immaculate, intricate works using lines and circles. The press release says something about mental maps, but they are just so delicate, I don't see any need to complicate matters by trying to attach subjective meaning. Her wall installation is sweet. Emily Stern's day dream like watercolors are fascinating little worlds that just escape frivolity and emerge unscathed by their likeness to countless other dreamy little worlds.

The rest of the show is competent and sturdy stretching from the muscular drawings of Anna Pedersen to the obsessive, graphite texture fields of James Nelson. There are some colorful, drippy things and some representation that is secondary to the processes that rendered them. All in all, the show warmed me after suffering the frigid air. Stroke runs through February 24th

While the abstraction of Stroke proved to be earnest, Nancy Drew recasts its spiritual and ideological leanings in lovely irony. Her engagingly conceptual solo show, Good Company, at Roebling Hall is stunning sans the groping sincerity of the aforementioned emerging artists. Drew remakes some of the greatest hits of abstraction with flocking, a kind of felt like material, and no shit, glitter. What gets me is how beautiful the canvasses are, how great a Barnett Neuman 'zip' looks made out of glitter and soft, fluffy stuff. One of the main criticisms of abstract Expressionism is its claim to universality, while everyone was like, its really all about dudes and 'action'. Drew glams everything up, makes them pretty objects again. Mondrian and Rothko look sexy, tactile. While Rothko would've probably slit his wrists at the thought of his beloved color fields being remade, I think Drew is amazing for inverting the sensuality from something masculine into something quite feminine. It really is worth the long, cold walk to the hall, through February 10th.

To lesser success, but not all bad is Beatriz Barral's Superaccesspace at Parker's Box. Coming in from the freezing cold (I skipped Lunar Space again, there was some kind of hideous, monster painting in the window), the day-glo colors were a stark contrast to the misery outside. I bounced about the room, checking out the odd compositions created by the convex mirrors placed on the walls while dodging pillow like sculptures on the floor. While the installation was cool, I felt a bit let down. She just didn't take her idea far enough. Where the colored walls meet the ceiling is a huge distraction, and the sense of immersion never really occurs. Instead of really inhabiting the space, I felt like I was looking at a diorama of an example of late conceptual installation in a museum in the future, seriously. I don't know; if you're going to create an escapist lounge, really make it happen. Superaccesspace runs all the way through March 17th.

What really killed me though, was when I bumbled into Sideshow Gallery on Bedford. There, on the back wall is this terrible painting of "s" shapes. I get up to this thing and its got this gold frame, and I'm thinking "the 60's called, they want their frame back". I avoid looking at press releases and such until I've checked everything out, but in defense of Dan Christensen's painting, "untitled", was made in '68. The rest of the show, weird op art, felt its age, except for Lori Ortiz's b-movie sci-fi paintings. One of these endearing little canvases, "S.O.L" looked like a dartboard stolen from the enterprise circa Captain Kirk. Well, as the economy continues to suck, the gallery owners drop the kids and start showing the established. At this point, it's probably nothing to criticize, since everyone has to pay the rent. I dare someone to go down there though, and honestly tell me how Li-Trincere won an NEA award for anything remotely like the stuff on the walls.

Maybe, just maybe, she won that award a while back when they still meant something. Hopefully they will take this down on February 25th.

So, smacked by history, I expected more of contemporary abstraction over at Pierogi. Noriko Ambe's really, really labor intensive sculptures are sort of scary in their implications. If someone made the Grand Canyon, it would've gone something like this. Ambe stacks thousands of sheets of cut out paper to create topographical reliefs. Wait, are they really all that abstract? Nah, the artist does the same thing on books and the whole strange room feels like a science project gone bad. In the back Lee Etheridge IV marvels at the way type looks on paper like nobody, not every art school undergrad, has done this before. He types on paper and photographs, creating abstract fields of text, boo! Hangs around until February 3rd.

To end this little diagnosis of abstraction and before I forget, Suzan Dionne has three glazed, atmospheric canvases featuring ropy black shapes at Rome Arts. The press release for this show is startlingly vague; all talk about malevolence and humor. Well, they don't do all that, but they have an odd presence due to the way the black shape hovers in the well-crafted surface of Halo I, II, and III. As abstraction ages and grows even more sub-genre branches, I'll always marvel at what people say the work is about, like a complete abstraction is about a lunch date they had, or their fear of small dogs. If the press release says horror movies, are the shapes scary then? Well, I thought the paintings were pretty, and I didn't start looking over my shoulder for some monster. Like Donnie Darko says "I just don't debate it anymore." Thankfully, the spate of abstract shows is a sign of diverse art community that can easily handle this kind of thing once and awhile.
The show runs through February 16th.

Crashing the gates of such beauty and idealism are the rest of the new crop of shows. I have to make a confession about Ion Birch's show at Bellwether. Initially I had balked when I saw all of his high school-quality pencil renditions of sexual terror and dysfunction had sold. I was stunned, second-guessing my personal taste, questioning my eye. Should I leave New York and never return? Here before me was a sold out show of dubious character. Well, you can imagine my relief when I heard through the grapevine that Joaquin Phoenix had acquired the show on opening night. Apparently, Ion and Joaquin are old friends. In my opinion, if Phoenix hadn't purchased the show, I don't think any would've sold. The slightly creepy penis drawings would have languished in the flat files for years, until someone took a hit for team art and bought them in hopes that Birch would be recognized as a 'genius' or something.

Rating: (2 Greenbergs for novelty)

Out front at Bellwether are probably the most poorly shot videos in recent art history, but oddly, that works in their favor. Christopher Miner's "This Creature I Am", in Space I features some fine dramedy of the religious persuasion. Being a mixed breed Christian with reasonable doubt myself, I enjoyed Miner's works like "How to Make God Happy" where he reasons masturbating to thoughts of himself couldn't possible be construed as lust in God's eyes, since the artist is not attracted to himself in the least. Why he is thinking about this is a hilarious setup. Miner focuses on his perceived shortcomings with a god like scrutiny, a task he no human could live up to. Stick with the videos despite the fact they look like they were shot with a shoebox, a piece of broken glass, and some magnetic tape. Joaquin might have done him a solid and bought one of his tapes. These guys are having a pissing contest until February 10th.

When you brave the cold, its nice to get a cup of hot cider, like the industrial designers at Dam Stuhltrager offered me. Now their generosity hasn't affected my rating of their show (a 5 out of 5) at all. Nah, but really, American Cheese is funny and fucked up. Without being too mean about it, every object in the group show by the design collective Elsewhere is a satirical dig at cheesy kitsch. Come on, they had scented motor oil, a piece of fabric to toss over your messy coffee table that will transform it into topographical 'artwork', and a huge rack mounted pair of fake, fake tits. All this and an ashtray you stick on empty bottles called an 'ashhole'. All the work is labeled with gaudy Walmart like price tags, and there is an accompanying 'score'. It's by a guest composer playing on CD players still in their packaging hung about the room. The show lives in badness, so it's pretty hard to critique. I got sucked into the irreverence and enjoyed the free cider in a wedge shaped mug that was part of somebody's piece. While I was there the artists were bitching about a lack of foot traffic. I didn't have the heart to tell them that I stopped by out of my sick sense of loyalty since I'd seen a good show there with robots awhile back.

Dam Stuhltrager is around the corner from Bellwether kids, so if you can try to swing by for the next show, because American Cheese will have reached its expiration date. Rating:

Here's a recommendation for visiting the next two shows in order. First, get warm in Momenta, but if you are feeling emotionally blue, take your Prozac. George Kimmerling's installation," Clipped", starts out innocently enough with confessional kid drawings and colorful rectangles with headlines. Once you start reading the headlines and clippings, a narrative of men and boys gone bad starts oozing out of the walls. The cumulative effect made me feel like a case was being made and I was on a jury. All of the evidence seemed to indicate that people are "gasp" fucked up. Not that things lighten up at all in Deborah Stratman's movie, "In Order Not to Be Here", 33 minutes of nocturnal activity and emptiness in the suburbs. Each frame seemed like an establishing shot for a noir film. Well, call me a coward, but I couldn't sit in the dark for more than 10 minutes, and bolted.
Last chance is February 3rd.

Now, to balance the mood, swing by Priska C. Juschka and watch the break-dancer spin on his digitally looped head for 2 minutes, count each second. Then turn and look at the wooden mock up of an airport x-ray system. The extreme vapidity of both works should clear up and lingering feelings that last show might have drudged up in your super blasé self. While Nicolas Jasmin's "Breaker" and Josh Muller's "Explosion Detection System" are both topical and cool, it was like having a bit of sorbet to cleanse the palette before the next dish. I guess I'm just not as wowed by looped video after Paul Pfeiffer locked that one down, or want to be bothered with anything related to 'terror'.
If the x-ray machine was also a skate park or something. . . Until February 16th.

Thankfully, Tricia Mclaughlin has something witty and intelligent to say with her inveterate narrative featuring the Hefty Man and Slender Woman at Star67. These two characters and their clones populate McLaughlin's peculiarly designed world. This show is all over the place with a large sculpture in the middle of the gallery called "Toilet/Sink Combos with animation", yup, an animated video of the main characters playing musical chairs, alternately pissing and washing. Then there are these little condos with pictures of the character fucking and sucking all over the house. They are a sort of swinging middle class representation living in a stripped down alternate universe. The highlight of the show might be her animation "Day/Night Unit" where the characters live out 24 hours in what are essentially modified hamster wheels. Watching it, I had an awful, existential pang. Regardless, it was good, twisted fun with a dark undercurrent. Through February 9th.

At Plus Ultra, you'll find the teensy gallery occupied by the polite, artistically composed photographs of Stacey Greene. You'll stroll by each one, feel a bit sentimental if you ever visited a drive-in or read W magazine. The gentle narratives are quiet and laid back. Like the title of the show "Movies That I'll Never Make" the show carries a strong whiff of resignation. Why not make those movies? Surely, Greene could be a bit more ambitious like some of her previous videos. An unnamed curator and I wondered where her videos might have gone. I really enjoyed flipping through her big, black book at the gallery. It seems like she's had quite a run in the burg. Bring that back, and leave the pretty pictures for the fashion section. Through February 16th.

Competing for ugliest shows this month are 31 Grand's, Girls and Guns, and Jessica Murray Project's main show, The Princess Project: Dust. Hands down, Bonnie Collura, Princess Project, takes the prize with her abject sculptures and grandiose titles. While I will concede there were religious references her titles and symbols in addition to the Mickey Mouse bits and pieces, you couldn't tie me down and make me listen to what the press release says. Badness holds sway, and I could barely bring myself to view Mark Dean Veca's drawing show in the back, Royale. In these twisted little worlds, Archie and Jughead via R. Crumb do the nasty among lumpy shapes. Ouch, this show put me on the train home. Wait until after February 9th to drop in.

Sure, Girls and Guns displays all kinds of bad taste, at least it has some self-awareness. The artists' in the show are well known for their determination to make bad art good with projects like Charles Krafft's porcelain switch blade and gun set. The funny thing is, it's mainly guys putting the girls in the odd situations. Only Helen Garber who I read about one of my girlfriend's girly magazines, actually shows girls and guns. I guess Shymala Joshi could be a woman, but it could be a guy working with Steve Grasse on the whacky video, "Bikini Bandits" featuring such notables of bad taste like Jello Biafra, Corey Feldman, and Dee Dee Ramone. Should it even be an issue to have a show called girls and guns made by men? Probably not, everyone tossed their feminist readers years ago. I really did like Brad Kahlhamer's Praire girl drawings, although I suspect Mr. Kahlhamer makes his rent money crapping out illustrations in the same style. If I'm wrong, then good for him. Through February 9th.

So, did I say the New Year looked promising? Well, the outbreak of abstraction actually proved to be quite invigorating. Overall, yeah, it's a good start, but I'm waiting for the knock out punch, something that I love or hate so much, I'll be overwhelmed. Wouldn't it be great to see something daring? Oh, I still have no idea where the new Dietch Gallery is. I was indisposed, drunk as hell, during the opening. I heard a rumor that some other drunkard took a swing at little Jeffery Dietch. Now that would have been a knock out to see. Isn't it just fabulous when a Brooklyn opening is shown for what it is, just a big ole' frat party with hipsters? See you next month art lovers, when it's warm enough to take a forty along and reveal my inner frat boy.

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[email protected] | February 2003 | Issue 35
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