Is the Big Apple still the navel of contemporary art? New York is currently centrality-challenged by Los Angeles and the rise of a New Regionalism, a global scattering of equally important epicenters. Yet, the art star in Zimbabwe or Guatemala still requires a solo show in Manhattan to take it to the next level. And the Peruvian transplanted to Brooklyn probably has a better shot at big-time art status than her homegrown compadres de arte, no? Plus, global nomads still spend more time looking at contemporary art in "The City" than anywhere else.
A retrospective of the wacky work of Gordon Matta-Clark and his spectacular architectural interventions delivered at the Whitney. As did a screening of Johan Grimonprez's film Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y from 1998. This clever compilation of news clippings, old Cold War propaganda, and doctored documentary concerning the phenomena of airplane hijacking was scary funny and chilling in light of 9/11.
The new escalator-laden MOMA works. Matisse and Mondrian look fantastic in their new locations, and the Comic Abstraction show was great. The realm of cartoon imagery is still providing a rich field of exploration for contemporary artists. A retrospective by light-box pioneer Jeff Wall illustrated that the intersection between advertising and art also remains fecund. Though best was revisiting the Pipollotti Rist video in which she pleasantly smashes car windows with a large tropical flower.
The gallery scene in Chelsea is a letdown. As contemporary art at auction shoots through the roof, the specter of market forces and commodification casts a pall over the district, making the vibe in these cavernous white cubes cold and snooty. The smaller upstairs spaces are as schlock-full as Santa Fe's Canyon Road, and in the big deal galleries the strongest art is usually the brushed steel and frosted glass entryways. Architecture seems everywhere on the rise while the art lags behind. Still, there where some notable exceptions.
At Paula Cooper Gallery, Pierre Bismuth presented enormous versions of the exhibition's two-page ad in Artforum. These bigger-than-billboard-size monochrome squares were squeezed into the space at strange angles in a hairsplitting pop strategy where advertising, art, and architecture were collapsed into each other to cynically suggest that promotion of the artist is the only Art left.
Piero Golia, at Bortolami Dayan Gallery, displayed a machine set to periodically send skeet smashing against the wall along with a machine set to a motorized broom that endlessly swept away the seconds. This neo-conceptualist from Naples has found funny ways to mark time in New York.
Another highlight was the new Chelsea Art Museum and a show called Dangerous Beauty. The vibe here was friendlier, and pieces concerning body image and the cruelties of fashion intrigued. Entering the show one walked across a Carl Andre-type grid of bathroom scales, all of which registered slight differences in weight, thanks to artist, Jacob Dahlgren.
The best thing in Chelsea had to be the photo-collage figurative sculptures at Max Protech by artist Oliver Herring. They raise cool questions about how we situate the real, while videos of his audience-performed interventions recall the strategies of Rirkrit Tiravanija.
Finally, the moment was all about Global Feminisms at the Brooklyn Museum. Truly a great attempt to cover the whole world, it remains light on South American and Islamic nations. What? Women don't make art in Paraguay? While reviews have been tepid, there are some great pieces here. Bulgarian artist Boryana Rossa's digitally altered video of two hilariously hysterical women reacting to unseen stimuli is a short and sweet pleasure, though whether it constitutes a critique or a celebration of female emotiveness is up for grabs. Sperm Thing by Sarah Lucas amuses as an attempt to deal with the realities of the male role in reproduction. Patricia Piccinini's bizarre hyperrealist Big Mother sculpture of a larger than life Neolithic monkey mama is poignant and disturbing.
Fortunately, most of the videos in this video-heavy exhibit are in white rooms rather than black (it really helps). And curators Linda Nochlin and Maura Reilly include tags with running times so you know what you're in for. My personal favorite came courtesy of the French artist Aude du Pasquier Grall from her series Male Cycle in which we first see a female photographer shooting an unseeable male subject followed by another fifteen minutes focused solely on his nude posing and arousal. The reversal of the gaze is refreshing and held intriguing conundrums. Especially telling was the body language of the women watching the video. As our boy became erect they took stances of rapt neutrality, stances that seemed like nothing so much as the passive, protective but attentive poses most men assume at strip clubs, say. Maybe we aren't so different after all. Fifty years from now the Sackler Center for Feminist art can be re-named the Artistic Center for Gender Role Dialogue, and everybody can show off his or her belly button.