Saturday, May 20, 2006

Rain in New York

I think there's a germ in Chelsea. It's making people weak and sickly, and in their weakened state they are taking their mental cues from their clogged up nasal passages, which make them feel beleaguered and misunderstood. They are becoming cantankerous and, truth be told, a little, well, demanding. They want orange juice, and for people to bring them things, and they hate everything. You bring them magazines and chicken soup and they dash it to the floor and yell at you that they have taken a turn to the vegetarian and they want nothing to do with your chicken soup and your middle-class cold remedies. They want oscillicosenum, and they want it from France. They hate you and they hate themselves and they wish you would take your pretty smiling face out of there and stop trying to cheer them up. They don't want your damned sunshine and quote unquote ideas, they want to sit around watching old Barney Miller and hating every minute of it.

It's best to leave them alone at times like this.

Which is to say that a random survey of this month's shows in Chelsea, taken between 2 and 5 yesterday afternoon in a rainstorm revealed a weird preponderance of art that seemed to be infected by a negative nostalgia and little else: there were paintings of family photographs with everyone's eyes gone all red and demonic, and ink pen drawings of mean cheerleaders from the seventies and giant paintings of old Doors album covers made to look stupid, stupid, stupid! I went up to Chelsea last month and saw tons of great stuff, so I'm hoping it's a phase. It feels like one. You can walk through the galleries and hear the art yelling, "I hate you, Dad! And I hate your stupid music and nobody understands me!"

But what can you do. Everybody gets a cold sometimes and no one behaves well under the influence of a malicious germ. Plus I hear the rents are going up, which is bound to weaken one's immune system.

There was some great stuff too: I liked the James Lee Bryars and Nicole Eisenman is up to some nice new tricks that are good to see. And there's a funny Basquatch/Dubuffet show at Pace that featured cow paintings. And there was a really lovely show in the back section of the Cue Art Foundation. Man, that was good. It was work by an artist named Valerie Hammond and it made me wonder what genius curator had picked up her work: it turns out the show was curated by Kiki Smith. Shows ta go you. Valerie Hammond's work is gorgeous and kind and humane and interesting: a marked contrast to the preponderance of superior stuffy-nosed art we saw in a lot of the rest of the galleries. Definitely worth a look- pictures don't convey the beautiful fragility of her pieces.

Hatshepshut at the Met was great too. Apparently around Hatshepshuts' time there was an Egyptian fad for seated sculptures in which the figure becomes a simplified block with a tiny indication of hands and feet on the top and bottom. Those were gorgeous and moving: I love the idea of the mix between written language and image in these.

And check out the feet on this chair from 1548 BC! Guess that caught on.

We also went to see Kara Walker's After the Deluge, which was gorgeous and sad. My mother just went to New Orleans for Jazzfest, and she told stories about driving through the outer districts at night. She said it looked like a war zone, and described seeing a house that floated off its pilings leaving everything inside a mess except a closet with neatly hung white shirts floating in the stream of the headlights. She talked about crowds of people at Jazzfest crying as they sang and the shock that you can see on people's faces as they are forced to really realize that the government does not care. The trash is still piled up to the second story windows and the National Guard is being deployed to the border to protect us from illegal immigrants. It's awful, and there's a sense of Kara Walker reacting to that obliviating pain in the exhibition. She made some new work and rifled through the Met's collections to make a sad poetry of objects that included this incredible Winslow Homer painting that somehow says it all:

(Click here to enlarge. )

Or maybe not all. Kara Walker also says this, which is more to the point.

It's hard to see this image on the web, but the smoke has ignots and silhouettes of African Americans and buildings and all kinds of devastation in it.

We couldn't see everything in this exhibit because yesterday's rainstorm had caused leaks in the roof of the contemporary section, which had caused the galleries to be closed off. One painting was removed and there were little wastepaper baskets catching the leaks in front of an Anselm Keifer, which had been half-covered in plastic in a funnily sweet kind of way. The scale of the Met makes you think that they'd have high-tech rain catchers and massive white-suited teams to protect the Keifer, but no: somebody's office lost their garbage can.

The last thing I saw at the Met was one of my favorite things: Florine Stettheimer's Cathedrals series is out again. I love Florine Stetheimer, and her Cathedral of Art is so funny and terribly eternal. Her work doesn't reproduce well, I've found, but next time you're in the met, go see Florine. She's amazing. She was very famous in her own time, was friends with Duchamp, wore fabulous outfits, and used cellophane, a newly invented material, to decorate her Manhattan apartment at one point. There's nothing not to love about her.

(This is a bad image of the work, but if you click the link above you can see it better.)

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