PLAYFUL SLASH EROTIC
September 09, 2019 • New York • Scott Indrisek on New York gallery openings
IT BEGINS IN UTTER BLACKNESS. A Pierre Soulages kind of blackness, that is, uptown at Lévy Gorvy, where the nonagenarian French painter is being celebrated in advance of a major to-do at the Louvre later this year. I’m always impressed with, and a little confused by, the stamina of any artist who can find a winning formula and stick to it—Soulages has been making black abstractions exclusively since 1979—without succumbing to some deep boredom or soul-despair. The artist, says senior director Emilio Steinberger during press remarks, “is a bit of a unicorn”—in that he knew just about everyone, from Giacometti to Rothko and Motherwell—but has “always been a loner.” Now, the guy is an impossible ninety-nine, still enjoys whiskey, still treads and refines the same ground, year after year. The paintings are big and black and gorgeous, and the titles can’t be bothered to give a fuck, simply spelling out the exact dimensions of the canvas in centimeters and the date of their making.
Lévy Gorvy’s September lunch for journalists and hangers-on was billed as a proper “réentrée” into the fall season, and in my case, it’s a rough one. There’s always that mystical class of art-world people who spend their summers summering, and then reconvene to trade tales of what it’s like out there, in the world of leisure. I’d spent the last three months lurking for jobs on the margins of LinkedIn, writing content until my brain leaked, and feeding an unhealthy new addiction to the police thrillers of Jo Nesbø. After Soulages, at Ristorante Come Prima, I spent the afternoon talking about kids, not art, with a pregnant ex-colleague. A waiter, craggy and stooped and straight out of Fellini, slid over to offer congratulations and wisdom. Children, he intoned, were the most important thing, the most beautiful thing. “Everything else,” he said, “is just a handful of flies.” (Soulages, for the record, never had kids.)
Later that evening, I feel about ninety-nine years old myself, downtown at the Hole for “Meet Me in the Bathroom,” which has transformed the gallery into a scuzzy theme park complete with an actual, rancid, rock ’n’ roll bathroom. (Nonfunctional, I assume, though I don’t test it; the stalls are being hogged by Rob Pruitt sculptures.) The exhibition is based around the book of the same name, centered on the New York music scene from 2001–11; a memorable excerpt printed in New York magazine outed Ryan Adams as a sort of clingy heroin-troll, desperate to ruin the Strokes.
The Hole is unrecognizable, repurposed as a fanboy shrine to a particular moment in history. There’s some art along with the flyers and ephemera, though most of it seems like the accidental byproduct of too much fun. A gigantic bubblegum painting by Dan Colen does make sense here—what reads as elegant money when hung at Gagosian here comes into focus as the fantastic, idiotic, coke-fueled idea it once was. Elsewhere, a small drawing by Adam Green asks, “Why does the future smell so old?” In the back gallery, Christian Joy’s costumes peacock in front of the DJ booth, where Nick Zinner holds court beneath a massive Spencer Sweeney painting. It seems almost perverse to have the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s guitarist DJ what’s essentially a memorial service to his glory days; it would be depressing if Zinner wasn’t still so effortlessly cool, looking somehow younger than he did back in 2001.
Afterwards, I wander down Bowery to Volker Hüller’s show at GRIMM. The highlight is a sprawling, four-panel painting—a stained, scuffed, scribbly scene of dozens of weird souls hanging out in nature—that the artist assures me was a total pain in the ass to make. Worth it, though. Hüller approvingly points out a minotaur, in the middle, who is squeezing out a delicate, rainbow-colored shit. I run into Anna Park, a fantastic young artist who makessupercharged, hellish drawings based on photos of people dancing and partying. I first saw her work at New York Art Academy’s Tribeca Ball, a gala that was memorable for its stilt-walkers and oyster-shuckers, as well as the fact that it’s the same event where former NYAA board member Jeffrey Epstein, years earlier, bought a painting of Bill Clinton wearing Monica Lewinsky’s dress. After, I head to LMAK Gallery, where Tommy Kha has a series of photographs of him being kissed by various men and women. (In each, Kha looks a bit taken aback, as if he hasn’t signed on to the whole transaction.) “I told the boys to bring me flowers,” he says, wistful. The boys didn’t, so Kha bought himself a pink bouquet from the bodega.
The next day I steel myself for the true avalanche of openings: Thursday night in Chelsea, which somehow still has galleries in it, dotted around the furniture stores and luxury condos. Roy DeCarava at David Zwirner is a sedate place to start, all masterful black-and-white photos of men walking, men talking, the occasional hot jazz scene. At Fredericks & Freiser, the painter Jenna Gribbon is on a girl-wrestling kick. Most of the compositions portray her topless friends, grappling with each other in the strangest places (roadside, next to an overturned bucket of berries; or next to a campfire in the forest, which seems unnecessarily dangerous).
“What’s so interesting about naked women wrestling?” I ask Gribbon, before mentally answering my own silly question. “The wrestling trope has this coded homoeroticism,” she says, when men are the traditional subjects. “But you never really see that with women. . . It’s playful slash erotic.” To stage her compositions, Gribbon invites friends over for what she calls informal wrestling parties, which she photographs. “Could I be in the competition next time?” her eight-year-old son chimes in from the next room. Permission granted, he’s ecstatic: “Yes! Yes! Yes!”
The playful-erotic vibe spills over to Doron Langberg’s solo at Yossi Milo, though there’s not much here that’s coded. I watch a woman in a leopard-print dress cock her eyebrow while inspecting a massive canvas that celebrates the joy of ass-eating. The gallery is full of young men, many of whose likenesses appear in the works themselves. The painter TM Davy points out his own portrait; he’s depicted lying face down on the ground in a wooded, Fire Island cruising area popularly known as the Meat Rack (Davy prefers to refer to it as the Magic Forest). “There’s a lot of brush,” he tells me. “When I left, I had the most bit-up ass—some kind of forest mite. It was like those Pre-Raphaelite days, when the model suffers.” But what are friends for? Langberg graciously returned the favor, graciously posing for some nude beach portraits that are in Davy’s show at Van Doren Waxter, opening on Tuesday.
The night’s biggest revelation is Joe Zucker’s 100-Foot-Long Piece, a wild assemblage painting that covers an entire wall, roving restlessly between styles and motifs. It’s a postmodern sampler; if you get bored of one bit, just move on to the next. The artist made the work between 1968 and ’69, only showing it to friends in the studio; it wasn’t exhibited properly until 1992, and hasn’t seen the light of day again, until now. Meanwhile, over at Metro Pictures, the Berlin-based sculptor Judith Hopf has a carved-brick installation—a huge wall with a hole in it, plus a few pears, some with bites taken out of them. “They’re shaped like gravity,” she muses, when I ask her what’s with the fruit obsession. Partly it ties back to a German politician from her youth, Helmut Kohl, who was often compared to a pear. And unlike apples, she says, pears are pleasantly disappointing: slender up top, bulbous down below. “Maybe we all start to look like pears,” she shrugs, “as we’re getting older.”
Tell that to John Giorno, who, at eighty-two, has yet to succumb to a pearish fate. At the Last Light rooftop bar on Bowery the artist, fit and beaming, chummed around with the likes of Bob Nickas, Michael Stipe, and his longtime partner Ugo Rondinone. The occasion was his solo show at Sperone Westwater, where upbeat phrases (“Do the Undone,” “Now At The Dawn Of My Life”) are blasted across rainbow-soaked canvases and into large hunks of rock. It’s all about finding new “venues for poems,” as he puts it. Is Giorno, I wonder, a glass-is-half-full sort of person? “I’m an optimist and a pessimist,” he tells me. Or rather: He’s a Buddhist. In any case, it takes an earnest chutzpah to answer the twenty-first-century with such ease. Or, as one large canvas proclaimed, The World Just Makes Me Laugh. I bike home in the breeze, listening to Big Thief, feeling profoundly okayish about it, too.
Friday night is all about the nascent little gallery empire that’s cropped up in Tribeca. CANADA, having lost their Broome Street lease to a luxury hotel, is now on Lispenard. They’re exhibiting abstractions by Xylor Jane: funky, crafty, and weird, with plenty of lo-fi optical effects. The finishing touches have just been put on the space, industrial columns touched up with paint hours before the opening. At Andrew Kreps—formerly in Chelsea, now tucked into Courtland Alley—the handsome, bi-level gallery is showing off new photographs by Roe Etheridge: boys on motorcycles, snakes on newspapers.
Nicolas Guagnini’s ceramics at nearby Bortolami bum me out, but maybe that’s the point; so many lumpen piles of smushed heads, ears, body parts. Paintings and drawings from the 1960s and ’70s by Key Hiraga, at Ortuzar Projects, are equally grotesque, but with a welcome dose of whimsy (if by “whimsy” one means engorged, milk-squirting breasts, and cartoon sperm swimming everywhere). And James Cohan—another recent relocation to the neighborhood—is worth a trip just to see a new triptych sculpture by Josiah McElheny. It’s the sort of thing that photographs well and looks better in person, using handblown glass and mirror tricks to dead sexy effect.
A clutch of Tribeca galleries had banded together to host a collective afterparty at the Walker Hotel. The strikingly underwhelming space is due to officially launch in a few weeks (this opening is so soft that the art books ostentatiously arranged on the lobby shelves are still in their shrink-wrap). Evidently Xylor Jane, one of the evening’s fêted artists, walked in, took a look around, and walked right back out again. Those who stayed include artists Leigh Ledare, Darren Bader, Katherine Bernhardt, and B. Wurtz; gallerists Anton Kern, Stefania Bortolami, and Ellie Rines; New York mainstay Jerry Saltz; and a few hundred others. The crowd eventually filters up to a small, chilly terrace, one that resembles the austere roof deck of a Williamsburg condo built in 2005. Someone starts talking about the newfound dangers of vaping. Someone else says that, hey, only four hundred people have died so far. From popcorn lung! All of this will require a belated factcheck.
But just to backtrack a bit. Before the party, my night takes a diversion over to OCDChinatown—located in a mall beneath the Manhattan Bridge—for a sold-out performance by Young Boy Dancing Group. The international collective (which, incidentally, includes both men and women) got its start in Amsterdam, organized by a group of art students who staged performances for YouTube. “We all had the same interest—doing something undefined,” member Manuel Scheiwiller tells me. “Not trying to be one direction of dance, or voguing, or strip dance, or whatever—it’s just a mix of everything.”
He’s not kidding. Over the course of an hour-and-a-half set, YBDG wrestles with each other, tugging and dragging bodies across the grimy floor carelessly, like so much luggage. It’s sloppy, sensual, vicious, absurd, the sort of thing you’d want a safe word for. The group staggers around, dead-eyed, with elaborate hair, like zombies who happen to hang out in Eckhaus Latta, drugged into some arcane ritual they don’t even understand. One member ends up trussed in a harness that hangs from the ceiling, slowly spinning, with lit candles in his hands, mouth, and asshole. It’s either an homage to 1970s performance-art extremism or a deleted scene from Midsommar. Brutal to watch but, of course, more brutal to endure. Afterward, I ask a banged-up, sweat-drenched Schweiller what the most difficult part was. He pauses, quizzical, as if the question doesn’t make sense: “I don’t think there’s a hard part, really. . . . ” Now that’s dedication. I can’t wait to see what he’s up to when he’s ninety-nine.
— Scott Indrisek