Friday, May 09, 2008

China Syndrome

Or how I learned to love the bomb.

Where to start? I was out on the town last night. The Saint Clair Cemin's exhibition was opening at Sikkema Jenkins and I wanted to say hello.

Saint Clair Cemin
Apollo, 2008
72.05 x 39.37 x 19.69 inches
183 x 100 x 50 cm

It was a lovely spring evening, and there were a lot of openings, so I took the time a walk around. I made it as far as Pace on 25th Street where I was arrested by the crowd. (Well not exactly arrested, that happened on a previous occasion when I was ticketed for "possession of an open container..." but that's another story.) So Pace, what can I say?

The data transmission must have gone something like this.
?? ??,????
????? ?? ????? ????
Please to send 12 gross large teddy bear in brown color, item ????,???
???? ??????

So they did, but things got a little mixed up in the translation.

Zhang Huan
Giant No. 3, 2008

Ok, I'm sure I don't get it, but this teddy bear is the white elephant of the 2008 season, out-gauching even Piotr UklaƄsk's recent effort at Gagosian It's BIG, as BIG as the gallery, HUGE, right up to the ceiling sprawled out in a corner, giving me visions of Josef Virek, as slumped jelly floating in his vat in Stockholm, only fuzzier. [1]

Did I say it was BIG? Well it was, a BIG lumpy form covered in a patchwork of hides, attached with nasty looking 3 inch fasteners that looked like staples. But it was BIG, looking like a teddy bear with a patchwork-leather-ghetto-pimp-disco outfit. Ok, so it was BIG. What's next?

In the adjacent room, Pace and Huan get down to business, after all, this extravaganza of excess must be paid for, right? After all, art is not leisure, right? [2] Anyhow, in the next room, there were several examples from Huan's series "Memory Doors" These pieces are exquisitely crafted, representational relief carvings made on old door slabs. When I say exquisitely crafted, I mean just that, the carving is amazing, grass or a tangle of branches reproduced in exquisite detail. These objects are visual puns, with deep perspective space and maintain ancient traditions of carved furniture. I missed the smell of aromatic cedar which was one of my fondest memories from childhood visits to the Chinese Antique stores in LA. While I found these pieces fascinating to look at, they were not satisfying after my initial viewing, I'm sure there is a joke in there somewhere, I'll let it pass.

Ok, so that's it, right? head out the door for the next gallery? Oh nooo, I hadn't noticed on the way in, maybe I was too early, but when I walked out the door, the whole fleet of Manhattan Pedicabs, replete with "Zhang Huan at Pace" advertising, were lined up out front like rickshaws in Shanghai, ready to ferry us to the 22nd street gallery. Whee! I walked, taking the time to let my stomach settle and for the painkillers to kick in. Off to 22nd street to see Saint Clair Cemin's exhibit, and the rest of what I was now realizing was the Chinese full court press of Zhang Huan and Pace.

Walking west, towards the setting sun on 22nd street, from a distance I spot two green and white striped circus tents, covering the whole sidewalk the entire width of the Pace space. In retrospect this may have been nothing more than a rain defense but it certainly added to the festivity, I was positively giddy by the time I was within striking distance. I noticed they were serving bottled water, lots of it, from the Yangtze river? No, but there was lots of it, rows and rows and rows of plastic bottles.

As I approached the gallery entrance, I had to wind my way between the poles supporting the tent, and the stanchions holding the black velvet rope which funneled an endless queue of visitors into the gallery. People undressed and left their coats with a coat check person, and entered the gallery queue to climb up onto the viewing ramp 20 feet above the gallery floor. I didn't, I'm afraid of heights, the painkillers hadn't kicked in and my knees hurt, so I just took in the ground floor tour. You couldn't see much, what felt like a metaphoric version of the great wall of China hiding everything, mondo scaffolding supporting the viewing platform, and a very elaborate rolling bridge which allowed the beautiful assistant to work on whatever it was I couldn't see behind the wall.

If I may digress for a moment and compare this installation extravaganza to the mechanics of an ink jet printer. An ink jet printer has three primary parts, a printhead, a carriage for moving the printhead, and a method of moving the paper. Huan's installation consisted of three parts as well. A long track, on both sides of the wall which allowed the gantry to move along the lengthwise dimension instead of the paper (well whatever it was down there, hidden from me) A gantry, which is like a bridge which allowed the print head to move back and forth across the width of the paper. Seated on the moving platform on the gantry was the printhead, the beautiful assistant who was consulting a photograpn, selecting the proper shade of temple incense ash with a delicate looking scoop, precisely dropping the spray of ash onto the image, forming one more of the thousands of fuzzy tonal dots which visually coalesce into the image. There were two examples, around the corner a skull which I liked and some MIG 15's on multiple panels which I thought were less successful.

With all the ash around, the fire department eventually came rolling down 22nd streets, flashing lights ablaze, and sirens blaring, I think it was a false alarm but by then, after having looked at Saint Clair's surrealist sculptures and talking with a few people in the gallery, I was out in front of Sikkema Jenkins not smoking a cigarette after sex, but wishing I was. I didn't bother to go see what really happened.

The sun went down, and I started walking east towards the 23 street E train. Waiting with me on the platform was a gentleman I had seen in the gallery and we spoke a bit until the train came. Sitting on the plastic bench seat of the E train we continued our conversation and eventually I asked him his name, "David Diao" he replied. To understand the serendipity in all this Catherine Spaeth's blog has a nice piece on David's paintings which I commented on. We looked at each other in surprise and thought "it's a small world"

Finally, to leave you, the reader with an image which sums up the last few years in the art world. Recall a few auctions ago, the swarthy "mystery man," frantically waving his paddle from the back of the auction room, indicating he was willing to spend over one hundred million dollars for a Picasso. Something changed that day in the art world, greed took on a new dimension.

[1] See, William Gibson, "Count Zero"
[2] Julian Schnabel, "Art is not leisure; art is a utilitarian thing that people can use to find a way into their interior life." :-)

1 comment:

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