Art-historical tabula rasa
Always a trend-setter, Gavin Brown is now among the first dealers to flee the dreary status quo of sad old Chelsea and establish himself instead on Leroy Street in the West Village, in a fine three-storey crenellated garage. Among the pleasures of this new location are an almost total absence of other galleries, and hence art-world people, but also the excellent food shopping just round the corner on Bleecker. Leroy is a very short street, indeed, and has almost no connection with art history, except, perhaps, the 1942 lithograph by Kyra Markham entitled “Flag raising in Leroy Street” of which there will doubtless be much to herald GB’s arrival. Now, could it have been the GB “Enterprise” itself that recently purchased Markham’s print (edition of 25) for a very solid $4,600 from Swann Galleries? It would certainly make perfect back office decoration.
In Manhattan as in London, it was increasingly necessary to be pro-war during the last little dust up, if only because all dinner party and cocktail conversation was otherwise reduced to a single unified bleat of liberal consensus. If nobody elected to take that thoroughly enjoyable role of stern militarist hawk, there was no grist to the mill and no further debate possible. Any social gathering united in its communal opinion is a dreary thing indeed. A similarly frisky ambiguity has long been displayed by that controversial Scottish “concrete poet” Ian Hamilton Finlay who has managed to generate many a frisson among the leftward intelligentsia with his imagery of, par exemple, aircraft carriers and combat planes. All the more reason to welcome him back to Nolan/Eckman Gallery where this month he has pulled out all the stops for taunting pacifists (a sport of kings) with a range of fetishistic paraphernalia including cast bronze guns. For example, a shrouded semi-automatic engraved with the bold word “ENIGMA” is accompanied by a set of equally menacing military instruments, ship bells and altogether shifty carved texts, united by the title “Maritime works”. All of these refuse to declare whether Finlay is an old fashioned pre-Enlightenment reactionary, nationalist radical or agrarian Separatist, the sort of deeper political mystery far too few contemporary artists manipulate.
Read the small print
The standard “bill of sale” form from LFL Gallery on West 24th Street contains in its small-print disclaimer what must surely be one of the most succinct and precise descriptions of the actual nature of the art business. “Market value of artwork fluctuates with economic conditions, scarcity, the quality and aesthetic appeal of the artwork and reputation and importance of the artist.” One could hardly put it better.
Industrial strength art
The word “industry” has long been used in Hollywood for the film business and here on the East Coast one all too easily feels a twinge of envy when hearing LA contemporaries admit “Yeah, I work in the industry.” Hence the potential pleasure in a recent email invitation to a hip-hop party which blithely promises. “Come socialise with New York’s power players in the fashion, film, music, and art industries.” Maybe New York should adopt this notion of its art world as an equivalent cultural industry to movies in Los Angeles, then we would all be able to say “I work in the industry…” For the visual art machine in Greater New York City must surely involve, in all its different incarnations, stages and degrees, just as many people as film does in LA, albeit on a radically different wage scale. Perhaps we should try launching the term this June, at the Basel Art Fair and in Venice, let’s all attempt with casual, self-explanatory swagger: “I’m based in New York, yes, working in the industry…”
Look for the similarities not the differences
Surely part of the pleasure of art is the parallels it casts between entirely different generations? Thus Matthew Barney’s “Cremaster” at the Guggenheim might seem worlds apart from the Christian Schad exhibition a few blocks south at Neue Galerie, yet, on closer analysis, a couple of strange synchronicities emerge. For example, the Schad show features a Dada poster from May 1920 starring Tristan Tzara’s “Vaseline symphonique” for 20 performers, almost as many as take part in Barney’s own “Hard core vaseline symphony”. And in the very next room is a striking “Portrait of a Freemason (Reinhold Vietz)” from 1929 (above), complete with Masonic tie-pin and formal suit and a dead ringer for one of Barney’s own Lodge.
One man’s drink, another man’s poison
A Washington DC boutique hotel “Rouge” has come up with a brand new concept. Every Wednesday night they host an “Art Attack” cocktail hour crammed with so called up-and-coming local artists among whom the ordinary citizen can circulate and presumably buy drinks. Amazing that in DC this idea should be considered a way to get people in to the hotel while in New York it would immediately guarantee mass avoidance of that bar.
Who can explain that metal structure in the window of Helmut Newton Parfum in SoHo, which appears to be a sculptural model house by Louise Bourgeois the walls of which are punched-out with the lit text “WE LOVE HELMUT”. Maybe Bourgeois really does love Helmut’s clothes and perfumes, maybe she loves the man himself, but surely this is a rather blatant public acknowledgment by any standards? Does the lovable Helmut own this work, did he actually commission it, or should we dread the onset of old age for the otherwise seemingly compos mentis Louise?
Shurely shome mishtake?
An insight into French intellectuals’ knowledge of modern English art can be gleaned from the otherwise excellent Barbarie de l’ignorance, a book-length interview between George Steiner and Parisian journalist Antoine Spire. Talking of painting, the words of Professor Steiner are thus transcribed: “C’est en Angleterre, par Bacon, Freund, Hobbarth, Ekita, Hockney, qu’il y a un surgissement de génie dans la peinture.” Freund okay, but who might Hobbarth and Ekita be who have helped UK pictorial genius to soar again?
At an otherwise rather low-key if not grim Maastricht fair this year comes the glad news that there was at least one new collector in attendance. 13-year-old Brahm Wachter from New York bought a Rembrandt etching, The Agony in the Garden, 1657, at David Tunick, also from New York. It is the young collector’s first purchase of art. He bought the etching from the money he received for his Bar Mitzvah.
Booked in Chelsea
Because art costs relatively little to make and can be re-sold for an absurdly large profit, art dealers can support other areas of culture which would not otherwise survive. As small bookshops shut across America, 192 Books opens in Chelsea, thanks to Paula Cooper and her husband Jack Macrea. The latter has long worked in publishing, his family owned Dutton, he was the editor of eco-hero Edward Abbey and he currently edits both fiction and non-fiction at Henry Holt. Occupying some 700 square-feet of an ex-frame shop just round the corner from Cooper’s gallery, the shop will exhibit art, but be far from an art bookshop, stocking, instead, the sorts of titles one would expect at any high-class free-willed store. There will also be regular readings, starting with radical luminaries David Fromkin and Jonathan Schell, small shows, discussion groups, signings and round tables. As Cooper says; “I had a bookstore here at the gallery and now there’s nothing in the area. We will not overlap with DIA, Printed Matter or Ursus. Books tie in with art, so people interested in art are usually also readers. Yet all independent book stores are dying.” The opening show “Human wrongs” is on the literature and art of protest, the same theme Paula Cooper opened her gallery with back in 1968. Almost simultaneously VOLUME, a ground-floor gallery on West 24th Street, devoted to books, art books, the art of the book, illustration, text, contemporary art and everything in between has also opened. One of the owners is Nick Lawrence whose hot contemporary gallery LFL is separated only by a sliding door, and it is very chic indeed, with frosted glass panels, raw concrete, funky cases, smart lighting—the very antithesis of any fusty second-hand book bin. Mr Lawrence has long been interested in “livres d’artistes” and conceptual art-books (his parents work in publishing and are family friends of Mr Macrea) and in his other gallery, DNA in Provincetown, he has mounted many book-related shows. The other partner in VOLUME is John W. Wronoski, who owns the fabled Boston organisation Lame Duck Books, as well as co-owning two Manhattan shops that specialise in avant-garde publications, Locus Solus and Jan Van der Donk-Rare Books, Inc. The first show at VOLUME is on Russian-born animator-illustrator Alexandre Alexeieff and includes material from his voluminous archive, which is also for sale. VOLUME is planning many projects, on Cage and New Music, Borges, and in-house limited editions on artists and writers. A typical sample of stock includes a signed photograph of Tolstoy, a boxed, complete set of the Internationale Situationiste ($4,500), and a letter from Diego Rivera. Bridging the gap between conceptual ephemera and classic illustrated artist books, VOLUME might at last overcome that cultural paradox whereby a page in a book is worth so much less than the same piece of paper when framed on the wall.
o 192 Books is at 192 10th Avenue between 21st & 22nd Streets, New York 10011
VOLUME is at 530 West 24th Street, New York 10011
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Raising the flag in the West (Village)'