Pound Sign

New York City, pop culture, art and nightlife. Because nobody else is blogging about those things.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Dismantling of New York.

I wasn't born in New York, I'm a transplanted Midwesterner. I've been here for a fair number of years now though, and coming from the Midwest, where the farmland and downtowns of my youth are being swallowed whole by exurban sprawl and big-box retail parking lots, one of the things I immediately loved about the city was the sense of realness, of connection to its history, and a shared understanding among its residents that part of what makes it great to live here are the neighborhood businesses and creaky old apartment buildings that may have leaky radiator heat but also have genuine character...ok, that all reads like total cliche, but I think it's also true.

But quite frequently, it feels to me now like I got here just in time for what I call the Dismantling of New York. At a terrible Off-Broadway play earlier this week (that shall remain nameless) I was flipping through the playbill and read the last page about the Barrymore, that charming theatre-crowd hangout bar and restaurant on 45th Street, that closed in January after decades as a neighborhood staple to make way for a luxury hotel. Now, I had already read about that in the Times, because, like the late, lamented McHale's in the same neighborhood, the Barrymore was the kind of place that inspires writers to lament their passing-and with good reason! But, what really bums me out are the places you walk by every day in neighborhoods all over, where a small business has been closed to make way for another condo, without anybody noticing except the people who cared, right there in that neighborhood where it had always been. Perfect example; earlier this year, my wife and I met her brother for late (LATE) weekend breakfast at the Skyline Diner on the corner of 75th and Lex. The Skyline was nothing more then a typically friendly Greek diner with faded celebrity pix over the counter and worn-down tabletops (although it had a nice, distinctive frilled canopy over the corner entrance, with the name in neon), but it's exactly the kind of spot you want to end up on a chilly late morning for bacon and a bottomless cup of coffee. Literally the next day, we walked past it on the way to the 6, and it was closed, with a for-rent sign in the window. Just like that. Uncertain what will take it's place-it's a corner property so indications would point to sun-blotting condo tower, BUT it could also be that distictive sub-class of the Dismantling: the Bankification.

My neighborhood is overrun by bankification. Virtually every store that closes turns to a bank, that sits humming and glowing with its vast empty lobby. Who the hell needs so many banks? All the people supposedly moving into the new condos, I suppose.

If I see a nice, neighborhood place close so we can have another condo/bank, that I seriously doubt will inspire a Talk of the Town piece, I'm going to try to write about it. Honestly, Gothamist can't get to all of them.


Monday, March 20, 2006

Cleaning out the inbox: annals of "great" ideas past.

Jen was cleaning out her old emails and found something I had forwarded to her, over two years ago. Reading Nonsense NYC listings every Friday about the various efforts to reimagine childhood activities, mostly coming out of Williamsburg lofts, I was inspired with the thought to start a semi-serious Tag League. I suggested this to my friend Ben Fisher in Durham, who responded thusly:

"If you make an adult tag league, you have to make it all annoying and preachy, ala Adbusters. Keep using the phrase "we're reclaiming the playground of our souls" and shit like that. But try to make it falsely provocative at the same time. You know, or not. I can't get with tag, too much effort. Freeze tag maybe, or tv tag. or flashlight tag, the greatest game ever. or Ghosts in the graveyard. I could get into this. Too bad y'alls a bunch a suckas living in played out NYC."

True, true. Needless to say this idea went on the pile of "oh yeah, remember when we were going to do that?" And frankly, it's kind of a terrible, desperately hipster idea. Also, I hate running.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The one that got away....

There are lots of other great wrap-ups of the art fair weekend among NYC's art blogs. Catching up on them this week I am realizing that by missing Pulse, I missed the most exciting fair in town, which is a real drag. I can say that next year I will definitely make the time for it, but the way these events work, next year its organizers will be strenuously exerting themselves to become something larger, more institutionalized-that's the nature of market-driven art of course and it's hard to blame them. And the next alternative to the alternative will be taking its place as the most evocative, the edgiest, the don't miss....

Armory Show, post-game summary: neon is played out, Hannah Wilke is awesome.

A few days after the fact and I've finally recovered from the art fair madness...just about everybody who worked our booth caught the same cold. Hey, at Scope I hear they had rats, so it could have been worse.
After spending much of two days at the Armory Show, I have to say that despite the palpable feeling of being surrounded by transaction (like walking through a casino)the level of quality of work on display this year was generally really high-and with the smaller number of galleries than last year it never felt like the ridiculous crush of people and objects it had been previously. But one note to next year's dealers: neon is done. To death. It's cool the first several times you see artists repurpose the signage for the gallery wall, with an ironic or mysterious statement, or a single enigmatic word. But every three booths or so, it loses the impact. This was also true at last year's Fair. I'm just saying.
In the interest of your interest level, I'm limiting myself to 2 high points, one per pier. First off, Pier 90: Bill Viola's video work "Tempest (Study for the Raft)" at James Cohan Gallery. An audience stood quietly mesmerized by his silent yet operatic slow-motion vignette, in which a disparate group of commuters is crushed to a shocked and sopping mass by torrential walls of water crashing in, Red Sea-like, from the margins of the screen.
On Pier 92, an enormous color print of Marina Abramovic, standing statuesque during her recent week-long stand at the Guggenheim, greeted all entrants at the entrance to the Pier in the Sean Kelly Gallery's booth. Marina's image was for me the perfect welcome to the Ronald Feldman Gallery's mini-exhibition of Hannah Wilke inside. It was the highlight of the whole weekend for me, and I'm happy to echo Holland Cotter in Friday's Times by saying so. Her work felt profoundly anachronistic in the middle of the corporate commodity-driven circus. I ran into the writer Stephen Maine, and as he put it, it was like they "set off a handgrenade in there." Now don't get me wrong, the gallery wouldn't have spent $30,000+ on their booth to put up work that wouldn't sell, but her '70's era performance films and self-portraits are so genuinely socially and politically engaged, along with being terrific to look at and rough hewn in their pleasingly pre-digital age way. And, coupled with her challenging late color images documenting the ravages of cancer surgery, they stood out like a Guerrilla Girls action.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

scope, to sum up: crafty and porny, with guns.

Honestly, those three elements, in varied combinations, account for a good 80, 85% of the entire scope fair. With a few years under its belt as the most established alternative to the Armory Show, this year's scope seems to be making a bid for some institutionalized legitimacy, but without losing its street cred, and the end result is a crowded, grungy muddle that is neither genuinely raw or cleanly upscale.

And with the emerging artists, craft and porn continue to have their moment, with a healthy dose of gunplay in the mix...Sarah Bednark's life-sized, dreadlocked macrame couple screwing on a blanket (in London's Keith Talent Gallery) may have been called "Fucking Hippies" and be good for a laugh, but it was still just clever, not interesting. By the time I passed Suzannah Sinclair's delicate images of masturbating girls in watercolor and wood (at Samson Projects, from Toronto, I think), or Joseph Peragine's reproduction of a Sherman tank made from cardboard (at Atlanta's Solomon Projects), or 31 Grand's living installation of a very young artist dressed like Stevie Nicks and surrounded by machine guns and heavy metal mannequins, the trend was really settling in. It all reaches a literal height of absurdity at the booth for Chelsea's Proposition Gallery. Alfred Martinez's life-sized anti-aircraft gun, made of an assembly of found objects painted black, around the corner from David Caspe's giant c-print of a gore-drenched topless model pointing twin glocks at the viewer. When I asked him about Martinez's work, Ron Sosinski of Proposition told me "you know, he's the one who was in jail for forging Basquiats? We've gotten great publicity on him. He's out of jail now." That statement should be on the scope t-shirt, it really sums up the enterprise somehow. But there were red stickers all over the place. This stuff sells...as a coworker of mine, who's an astute observer of the art market, put it: this is the show that the young hedgefunders flush with cash can come to and buy something that they "get," that will probably appreciate, and as a bonus is also porny.

The fair was bisected by an ungodly mess of an installation that was apparently called "Winner Takes All" and curated by David Hunt and Franklin Sirmans: complete with a Coney Island "Shoot the Freak!"-style paintball range, a girl in hotpants and a bleached wig posing for polaroids, a droning art rock band, a fleet of those three-wheel electric scooters (the ones advertised for elderly people on latenight cable) tricked out with cow skulls and bass-heavy speakers...ugly, loud, grotesque, pointless, an effort to bank the fair's continuing edginess that completely flops due to its essential hollowness and self-conscious, artschool laziness. Around the corner was a feux outdoor space reserved for performance works, and the only compelling thing going on was the crowd staring at a woman breastfeeding her child on the "hill"-for the record it was impossible to tell if she was part of the installation or had just picked what seemed to be a quiet spot. I will say that another of the exhibitions within the fair, called "All Systems Go!" and curated by Rhizome's Marisa Olson (in the spirit of full disclosure, I work with Rhizome and I'm a bit biased), displayed an actual thematic sensibility. The Rhizomers also saved the day by having a bottle of vodka under their table to mix with the fruity energy drink that seemed to be the only official free beverage in the place.

Having said all that there were definitely some highlights:
LA's Merry Karnowsky Gallery showcased Camille Rose Garcia's Tim Burtonesque hellbound glamour girls; her sparkly canvases augmented by an installation of a giant plushy squid with sickly green skin and her trademark heavy-lidded pinup girl's eyes and goth-black beestung lips. She's the Juxtapoz magazine-annointed queen B of the lowbrow West Coast scene, and proud of it.
Brooklyn's Metaphor Gallery showcased Nina Levy's new series of sculptures and photographs, called "Family Resemblences." Her toddler son's face as a ceramic mask covering the faces of his parents, or a giant smushed Nina-head, dropped from the second floor balcony by a life-sized sculpture of her son; eerie and ambivalent portraits of the "joy" of parenthood. I ran into Nina taking pictures of her installation; asking her about the switch from her previous work, which was completely defined by her own physicality, she said with a weary half-smile "I don't get to think about MY physicality anymore." She soon after made herself scarce with a mention of relieving the babysitter.
A new discovery to me was the work of Tracey Snelling, represented here by San Francisco's Brown Bag Contemporary. Handmade dollhouse-like constructions of brothels over late night diners, fleabag hotels and drive-in theaters, either realized as installation (incorporating small video screens in the windows to allow us to leer in on seedy interactions), or in color photographs set in front of dusty, lonely roads and neon-lit landscapes. David Lynch by way of the McCoys...this is crafty homage to poptrash-Americana done right, haunting and with a brilliant sense of place.

Oh, there was some other nice stuff too. But this is really, really skippable.

Art fairs: I'm only one man!

The art-money orgy has begun and I began my weekend last night at the curators preview of Scope (or, I'm sorry, -scope, as the organizers insist on writing it), and frankly I'm already exhausted. But I'll be doing my time at an Armory Show booth over the next two days, and hitting the Williamsburg galleries later tonight...I have no idea when I could possibly make it to Pulse and from what I hear it's the one not to miss this year, but what can you do? And the alternative to the alternative-alternative art fair, the one that's all digital and new media? Yeah, that's in Battery Park City. Maybe next year.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Doesn't it get tiring writing the same review every 2 years?

I'm an artist! (Slap!) I'm a curator! (Slap!) I'm an artist and a curator!

As usual I'm playing catch-up and coming to this conversation a bit late, but Art Fag City, who incidentally was nice enough to give a shout out to the opening of my show in the Bronx, even though it included a dig at my unoriginal use of the title (aw, snap!), brought my attention to From the Floor's diatribe about current "masturbatory" curatorial practice. Good points are raised and I completely agree that curators should never emphasize their own thematic agenda over the importance of the artists. Absolutely, every exhibition is about the artists. Where he and I differ is on the point about raising curatorial practice to the status of artmaking-his example of the Wrong Gallery's contribution to the Biennial being the latest example of curatorial self-aggrandizement is off the mark. There is something more subtle then curator hubris going on there-it's a collective work of installation art taking the form of an exhibition. Outside the realm of the "traditional" curated exhibition there is nothing BUT room for curators to reimagine their practice as an artistic endeavor. A great example is Michael Conner's 2005 Raiders of the Lost ArtBase, an archeological dig through layers of antique Internet art in blog form. Conner's nostalgic, insightful and humorous musings were ongoing, and redefined an online exhibition from a static page of links and a text block to something organic and worth checking out more then once. This is a new definition of the curator's job, one that doesn't lessen the importance of the artists to the process. Is this curator as artist? I don't think Michael would ever think of it that way, but I also don't think the concept automatically indicates disrespect for artmaking either.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

"Well, I've seen enough to be disappointed for two years"

I heard that snarky sentiment getting off the elevator tonight at the Whitney, during the second of their multiple openings for the Biennial. It fit comfortably with the reaction I received from every coworker and art pro I ran into. General consensus: "eh." That of course is the required response to the Biennial; regardless of the strength of individual works, as a whole we are all predisposed to be unmoved by the experience.
Of course the opening is all about seeing and being seen-and the interminable line to get in. I've worked enough doors at enough openings to know how hard the Whitney's junior staffmembers, stuck shivering on bouncer detail, had it tonight; the art crowd does not like being treated like bridge and tunnelers at Marquee. A friend on the inside would secure you a ticket this year, but no bypassing the line, we discovered. But hey, it's a sexy crowd, and the farther away from the bar you get, the more artwork could actually be seen. In the great mass of works, subtlety loses and only the strong survive: Marilyn Minter's immense canvases of glitter-coated eyelids and grimy feet in rhinestone heels...Francesco Vezzoli's hilariously spot-on big Hollywood trailer for a faux remake of Gore Vidal's Caligula...Urs Fischer's astoundingly literal deconstruction of the fourth floor....
Let the arguments begin!