"Brooklyn Dispatches: Resurrection of a Bad-Ass Girl, Part I," Brooklyn Rail by Fredrick Munk

By James Kalm

Where did they go, and where the heck are they now? If you’ve got more than a casual interest in contemporary art, and a memory that extends beyond breakfast, these questions can hold a morbid fascination. Pick up any copy of a Whitney Biennial catalog, or glance at a five-year-old art magazine, and you’ll undoubtedly run across artists who streaked across the art world firmament like comets only to disappear just as suddenly, a humbling note often overlooked by young artists with shortsighted career ambitions. The art game is tough, with bizarre politics, serendipitous trends, and general struggles with the vagaries of life; even for the few who do break through, it’s an extremely fragile achievement. Compound this with the notion that there are no second acts in American life, and you grasp the daunting challenge of gaining and remaining in the spot light.

Lee Lozano (1930-1999) was the name on the wall at P.S. 1 in 2004, and even though I pride myself on being an amateur art historian, I was totally oblivious of her work or back-story. Drawn from Life: 1961 - 1971 was a tantalizing overview of an intense decade; it followed Lozano’s development from Chicago Imagist to Pop, through Proto-Feminist Expressionism to text-based Conceptualism and Minimalism. As much as I enjoyed Drawn from Life, the troubling question was not how someone whose work was so prescient could slip through the cracks, but what kind of machinations and behind-the-scenes string pulling had enabled this oeuvre to suddenly reappear and garner so much attention? Was this an authentic new narrative of artistic alienation? A legend-in-the-making as memorable as slamming an Oldsmobile into a tree or hitting a pothole with a Harley on the way home from a New Year’s party? After all, none of this stuff just happens; there are no coincidences in the art world.

Longtime local painter Fred Gutzeit knew Lozano. He met her in the late ’60s soon after he arrived in the city. Lee was about ten years older than Gutzeit; they were introduced through connections at the Paley & Lowe Gallery in the nascent neighborhood of Soho. Because, at the time, his painting was abstract and based on scientific theories and mathematics, it was natural to assume he and Lozano would have something in common. Though they never became intimate friends (Lozano was known for her intensity and flighty relationships), the young Gutzeit considered her something of a mentor. He visited her at her loft, and is mentioned in her journal entries as one of her dialog subjects. Flattered, but slightly overwhelmed by her attentions and underground reputation, Gutzeit’s friendship with Lozano foundered and within a year they were no longer in touch. Lozano split New York for Dallas, Texas in the mid-70s, leaving a trail of wraithlike sightings among Soho’s bohos, but never again spending any extended periods in the city.

Before their parting of the ways, Lozano gave Gutzeit a notebook of graph paper similar to the ones she’d been using for most of her journals and text-based conceptual works. Inside the front cover is the inscription: “Love to Fred from Lee Lozano.” The notebook lay empty around the studio for thirty years, kept as a memento but never used. Even after Lozano’s death in 1999, Gutzeit couldn’t bring himself to draw in it. With the recent uptick in Lozano’s profile and a renewed interest in returning to earlier subjects, Gutzeit decided to create a gallery-filling tribute for Pocket Utopia in Bushwick, and the gridded notebook was finally put to use to develop his mural design.

Gutzeit has based his work in part on Lozano’s “Wave Paintings,” which were exhibited in an elegantly spare one-person show at the Whitney in 1970. These were Lozano’s final works in that medium and, as some postulate, the beginning of the artist’s disenchantment and withdrawal from the art world. For his part, Gutzeit has compressed the multi-paneled “Wave Paintings” into a single section on the left side of the mural. Using a combination of hand manipulations and computer programs such as Photoshop, the artist improvised a highly-keyed palette with gradient fades (Lozano had been criticized for the dour and “minimal” browns and grays of the originals) and extrapolated his own black and white forms from the wave rhythms that swirl throughout the rest of the piece. The completed design has been digitally printed onto plastic tarps using a commercial billboard process. At 12 × 60 feet, “Lee Wall” runs the entire length of the gallery’s west wall, enveloping viewers in a vibrating environment of high-contrast, hallucinatory swoops and ripples. A selection of collage-paintings and the above-mentioned notebook are also on display, a fitting tribute to a complex artistic persona, and perhaps a goad for further investigation and a greater understanding of the seminal work of Lee Lozano.

Worth More Dead Than Alive

Katy Siegel’s very insightful “Market Index” article from the April 2008 ARTFORUM clears up some of the questions surrounding Lozano: “Between the time I saw Lozano’s paintings in a barn in Pennsylvania, in 2001, and their appearance in (Art) Basel (2006), their prices had rocketed from the low tens of thousands to nearly a million dollars.” This fact would focus the attention of the New York art world like a laser. My own research into the “Lozano Case” has encountered obstacles and obfuscations that you might expect from a B-grade film noir. Again and again I was cautioned that comments were “off the record” or not for attribution. One dealer who’d exhibited her work simply said he was “uncomfortable discussing this” and abruptly hung up. Timelines were revised, relationships discovered. Friends from her Soho days were happy to recall her eccentric behavior, drug use, and contacts with an amazing network of art world stars, exemplified by a photo, prominently displayed in her loft, of Lozano mugging with Andy Warhol.

Having arrived on the scene in the early ’60s, with huge dark eyes and an attractive yet doctrinaire presence, by the late sixties she was seen by some younger artists as a role model, part of a group of emerging female artists that included Eva Hesse, Lynda Benglis, and Hannah Wilke. Her work was presented in two group shows at Dick Bellamy’s Green Gallery on 57th Street, who also represented the likes of Don Judd, Ronald Bladen, Robert Morris, and Larry Poons. Plans for her own one-person show fell through when Green closed, leaving the artists scrambling and flummoxed. Bellamy helped to arrange her presentation at Bianchini Gallery, and she debuted there in 1966. Like a natural-born surfer, Lozano rode the crest of every new wave of artistic expression, collecting artists from every neighborhood and clique. Somewhere in the late sixties, along with the dope, the social unrest, the constant strain of competition and perhaps the onset of middle age, things started to go wrong. The culmination of a decade of work was the exhibition of her “Wave Paintings” in the Whitney’s Lobby Gallery. Though critically well received, it didn’t lead to the kind of career-making recognition or financial security she had hoped for. A box containing nail clippings from her fingers and toes, hair and other bodily castoffs was included in the show, running counter to the austere Minimalist qualities of the paintings and causing some to question Lozano’s vision. Shortly thereafter, in arrears with her landlord, Lozano was evicted from her Grand Street loft. She stopped painting and began concentrating more on her notes and journals, which soon became her pioneering efforts in Conceptual art. The “actions” she set for herself, with titles like “Masturbation Piece” and “General Strike Piece,” were a program for her rejection of and eventual expatriation from the art world.

The preservation of one’s work is a constant concern of artists. Horror stories like the loss of Stuart Hitch’s life’s work occur all too often. It’s notable and fortunate for us that the cagey Lozano, having lost her loft, down on her luck with little cash and no permanent address, was nonetheless able to make an arrangement with a reputable collector from Philadelphia to maintain and store her work.

For a while she lived with Scott Billingsley, known later as half of the Underground Film team of Scott and Beth B. During these last scrappy years in New York, crashing on couches and living on air, friends began to notice the toll—she looked haggard and people believed she’d gone nuts. In the early ’70s she spent time in London and eventually ended up in Dallas living near her parents.

Once she landed in Texas the story gets hazy. Beginning in 1985, through her inclusion in a show at PS1, she was brought to the attention of Barry Rosen by Donald Knollbert. He, along with partner Jaap van Liere, committed to represent Lozano. They supported her with occasional sales and were eventually the executors of her estate. Van Liere was one of the few New Yorkers who remained in touch with Lozano via phone. When asked if Lozano continued working after leaving New York, van Liere mused, “Lee never denied, condemned or destroyed any work. She considered her studies and continuing dialogs as her art, but as far as creating objects, paintings or drawings? No. She made obsessive notes of her activities and lists but as far as we know that was it.” Apparently she spent much of her time in the library of Southern Methodist University reading Scientific America and other scientific and philosophical journals, and to an extent maintained her network of artist friends with occasional phone calls

In the late nineties Lozano was diagnosed with inoperable cervical cancer. As an appropriate last hurrah, a retrospective exhibition of the “Wave Paintings” was scheduled in 1998 at Hartford’s Wadsworth Athenaeum along with three concurrent shows in New York at Mitchell Algus, Rosen & van Liere and Margarete Roeder. The accumulative exposure and critical attention of these shows started wheels in precipitous motion.

Lee Lozano died on October 2, 1999, in Dallas, Texas, at the age of 69.

Part II of “Resurrection of a Bad-Ass Girl” will appear in a future issue of the Brooklyn Rail. I’d like to thank: Sarah Lehrer-Granwer, Katy Siegel, Jaap van Liere, Fred Gutzeit, and friends and acquaintances of Lee Lozano who wish to remain anonymous.

"Brooklyn Dispatches: Performance Anxiety," Brooklyn Rail by Fredrick Munk

By James Kalm

As a painting snob, I’ve always held performance art at arm’s length. I do appreciate the Feminist tactic of using its designation to elevate the drudgery of “women’s work” to an aesthetisized level, subverting the elite realm of high art. (Witness the glorious Wack! Art and the Feminist Revolution at P.S. 1—my nominee for one of the top five shows in New York in 2007—which included many such paradigm-shifting works.) On the other hand, there’s an element of spectacle in much performance that borders on schmaltz and publicity stunts, like David Blaine wrapped in critical theory. When asked specifically about the difference between “performance” and publicity stunt during his 2007 sculpture/performance piece “Flatland” ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6sUPYptuzNU) at Long Island City’s Sculpture Center, Ward Shelly stated “The context is actually the only real difference, and the intentions of the person doing it. Whether they want just to get attention or whether they want people to think about the subject. It’s really kind of a subtle difference. In a way it all depends on how it’s being presented and what we’re asking you to do with what we’re doing—not just what we’re doing, we’re asking you to think about it.”

Though “highbrow” syllogisms like these are what chased me out of the cafés and back to my studio, recent permutations of performance have become unavoidable, even for me. Perhaps it was Seven Easy Pieces, Marina Abramovi’s series at the Guggenheim Museum in November 2005, which recreated seminal works from the 1960s and ’70s by five different artists as well as two of her own pieces, that indisputably proved that performance might have a life beyond its fleeting moment of origin (and that it had been legitimized in the eyes of the bigs as a practice whose crowd pleasing bankability might one day match its purely aesthetic value). In this way it has been as influential to a younger generation of performance artists as the Saatchi Gallery’s Triumph of Painting exhibit was for new painters.

Young galleries have taken to using “performance” as a come-on to entice visitors to drop by an opening. The inevitable late start also gives the cash bar a chance to squeeze a few extra bucks out of a thirsty crowd. And so it was in early August at Fresh Meat, a mixed bag of a group show at Factory Fresh, on Flushing Avenue near Morgan.

At the entrance my hand is stamped by an affable, thick-necked “bouncer,” an affectation adopted from the club scene that seems a bit pretentious, even in this scruffy up-n-coming neighborhood. After perusing the works on the walls I hear a wave of whispers circulating the space. An area is cleared in the middle of the floor; rows of youngsters sit or squat in a circle. “Dream Story” by performance artist E. Greem is about to begin.

A figurative painting is laid out on the floor (ironically, a lot of performance work alludes to “Action Painting,” but that’s another essay). A heavily orchestrated classical musical number starts pumping through the sound system. E. Greem, cloaked in a white organdy veil that draws up to a recessed orifice over her still-shrouded face, whisks through the audience. She wears layers of blue and green undergarments, white tights and high heels wrapped in rough burlap. She kneels in front of the painting and, in sync with the musical flourishes, folds it in half, only to reveal another image on its back. Over the course of about five minutes she repeats this action several times, pausing at intervals to circle and observe her handiwork; each folding exposes another picture until the canvas (which by now has been replaced by smaller props) is reduced to the size of a saltine. As the music crescendos, she dramatically raises the bite-size painting and pops it in her mouth. Then, escorted by gallery assistants, she beats a hasty exit to a side door.

Despite the explanations I’ve received from the artist via e-mail (the pictures represent, among other things, various relationships and situations from the artist’s past), what stayed with me was the faux-mysteriousness and unexplained ritualism of “Dream Story.” Though masked, there was no question as to Greem’s gender, and, as I’ll discuss later, this allusion to the classic witch, sorceress or muse relates “Dream Story” to Essential Feminism and avoids the all too easy tropes of burlesque and hard core porn that infects much of today’s post-Feminist performance work.

Maximum Perception: Contemporary Brooklyn Performance at English Kills Gallery is the kind of late summer shindig that deserves mid-season primetime (except cold weather might require more clothing). Co-curated by performance artist Peter Dobill and English Kills director Chris Harding, Maximum Perception is conceived as an environment in which performance works could be seen in an ongoing context: four weekends, with performances all day from 1 till 9 pm, an all-encompassing block of action. To this end, the main gallery is surrounded by a battery of continuously running video monitors with headsets on plinths showing examples of the work. Documentary photos and artworks are hung nearby. Over the course of the show’s run, the project space is transformed for each piece, with some works spilling out of the gallery proper onto the sidewalks in front and Forrest Street as well.

As I peddle to the gallery on opening night, I nearly drove over Rob Andrews lying on the sidewalk against a dumpster, his ankle chained to a curbside lamppost. His stained yellow shirt, a couple of sizes too small, exposes a pudgy midriff; his tattered black slacks could have been ripped off a Bowery bum; his feet were bare. The only thing that cues you in that this isn’t just another homeless guy chained up in the street is the cobalt blue bull mask Rob wears. This is “Minotaur,” a signature endurance piece that the artist has performed at various locations. In this Brooklyn incarnation, among garbage cans and dumpsters, this recumbent ox seems somehow appropriate. Lying motionless for minutes at a time, the artist would occasionally stir, shake his head, scratch his crotch and rattle the chain like a cowbell, exuding a bovine petulance. I was told he started this action around 5 pm and continued it till way past dark.

In the main gallery, a sweaty, beer-lubricated crowd huddled around “hee-hoo / he who Meets Us will adore us,” a lengthy piece by Holly Faurot + Sarah Paulson that combines elements of dance, endurance and video. Two bare-breasted performers in gold satin miniskirts, accompanied by a third, clad in red shorts and top, who seems to lead the other two in a kind of movement call-and-response. Sometimes the dancers mimic a male figure that appears on one of three video monitors set up in the performance area. At other times, the monitors show a live feed from an overhead camera. As the piece progresses, the skirted dancers pick up thick slabs of stone and repeatedly lift them in front of their bodies until they’re so fatigued they nearly drop them. Then, setting the stones in front of the video screens, they retreat to platforms at the rear and to mimic the leg lifts of the red dancer. Catching only a brief part of the two-hour performance, any interpretation on my part would be a stretch, but the athletic exertion, the odd repetitions, the legs lifts in seeming supplication and the glistening perspiration on proud young breasts has a primitive erotic force that was stark, unignorable, and riveting.

A ladder leading six feet up to an open window in a black plywood wall is the entrance to Marni Kotak’s “Slumber Party,” another Maximum Perception offering. Climb up a few steps and peek through the frilly green curtains; inside is an over-scaled bedroom with a huge bunk bed (recalling Lilly Tomlin’s character Edith Ann’s giant rocker), a soda-and-chip-laden table, and a stereo blasting bubblegum hits. Several female performers lounge around in their jammies, interacting with visitors, joking and yakking like pubescent Valley Girls. Viewers are invited to climb in, join the party, and become part of the show.

Though I didn’t have the opportunity to experience all the performances, there are a few commonalities worth pointing out that seem to establish precedents and hint at future directions.

As with “Slumber Party,” the much discussed “retreat to infancy” is in play. This trend has analogous forms in painting and music and was a popular theme at the recent Whitney Biennial. It mixes childhood fantasy with pop culture and a dose of adolescent Surrealistic sexual angst. These can be potent subjects, but some works lose their bite and drift into a sweet blandness and a gutless aversion to the pathos of maturity.

A more macho vein is the endurance piece, like Andrew’s “Minotaur” or perhaps the work executed on the closing day by Mark Lawrence Stafford, “Temporal Exchange.” In “Exchange,” Stafford, dressed in a white, long-sleeved shirt, black slacks and walking shoes, spends eight hours trudging clockwise in circles on a field of granulated salt. He’s tethered to a black pole in the center of the space by a ridiculously long tie. References to punishment, dog runs, the mindless grind of office work and endless repetition are obvious. I calculated he’d walk about eighteen miles that afternoon.

Though I missed co-curator Peter Dobill’s performance, while speaking with him a few days later, he proudly displayed a series of small gashes running up the length of his arm (and further I assume) that he self-inflicted during his routine. Through video documentation and photos, I could detect the influence of the Austrian Actionists like Rudolph Schwarzkogler and Hermann Nitsch, as well as their American progeny, Chris Burden and Kim Jones. Much of this work is immersed in a grotesque infatuation with, and distortion of, the body’s forms, fluids and functions.

But perhaps the most disturbing and challenging are the post-Feminist works employing hardcore XXX-rated porn. Breasts, hips, thighs and buttocks are the universal eye candy that we’re saturated with daily. It was the degrading exploitation of these female attributes that so much consciousness-raising was focused on during the nascent phase of Feminism. A reaction against this kind of esteem-building (or perhaps an opportunistic glomming on to these same exploitive tendencies) is exemplified in the work of Leah Aron, stage name Amber Alert.

In a darkened gallery, dressed in high camp hot—platinum wig, skimpy satin bustier, garter belt, panties, high white stockings and platform high heels—the voluptuous Alert performs a bawdy pseudo-striptease to the soundtrack of a classical duet. Bumping and grinding, she removes article after article of clothing while applying white greasepaint to her breasts, then stomach, arms and thighs until the front of her body is covered. A video is projected over the performer, creating a visual frame; in the video, a crouching woman masturbates while her face is assaulted with ejaculate from a seemingly endless line of multi-racial penises. With each application of white paint (and each male orgasm), Alert seems to dissolve into the projection. Watching the audience, I couldn’t avoid wondering how many found this “artistic” presentation simply a convenient, guilt-free way to view porn on a balmy Sunday afternoon. Initially, I shuddered for the video porn queen, feeling her degradation, but after a while a desensitizing occurred and this all became pathetically, depressingly funny. While a performance like this can raise profound questions, is there a danger of pushing this genre too far? Will we move on to kiddie porn and snuff films next? Is the sensational and shocking just an attention-grabbing gimmick for the lazy or untalented? Should artistic ambitions or “aesthetics” trump decency and morality? Are there any limits? Should art care?

A video of "Fresh Meat" with E. Greem's performance can be viewed at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tolMg7ETQ90

A brief our of the "Maximum Perception: Contemporary Brooklyn Performance" opening can be viewed at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J7uBsa2zqMw

"Brooklyn Dispatches: Virtually Overwhelmed," Brooklyn Rail by Fredrick Munk

By James Kalm

“Hi, my name is James, and I’m an Internet addict.”

“Hi James!” A small circle of bleary-eyed geeks sit on folding chairs in a musty church basement.  

“It started a couple of years ago, when I started lurking around art blogs.” “Spawn of the Devil” mumbles an obese twenty-something wearing pajama bottoms and a Buddha patch. 

“I thought I had it under control, then I signed up for a Google account…” The hook was set: I was a blogger. 

*  *  *

The unstoppable proliferation of Internet art sites and blogs has turned online coverage into an ever-larger slice of my daily art fix. And as one of the few hardcopy writers following this new phenomenon, I’ve recently been tapped for involvement in developing its potential for a new set of aesthetics.

A couple of months ago I got a phone call about lending my art-critical chops to a project headquartered at Williamsburg’s Jack the Pelican Presents. As described in its blogspot (http://brooklyniswatching.com), Brooklyn is Watching (sponsored by Popcha!) is a conceptual art project by Jay Van Buren about “’cultural colonialism,’ marketing, the attention economy, critique, dialog, power-relationships, and the difference between potential and actual…” Quartered within the vestibule of the back room at Jack, a massive monitor tracks the status of BiW, which purports to span “the virtual, 3d space of Second Life, the two dimensional ‘traditional’ Internet and the ultimate hipster mothership, Williamsburg, Brooklyn.” Anyone entering the gallery is invited to interact with it as “an artwork, an entertainment product, a venue for critical dialog and a marketing vehicle.”   

Second Life, the creation of Linden Lab, was founded in 1999 as a virtual, three-dimensional world created by its residents. Millions of people use the site for everything from pure entertainment to-on-the-job training. To subscribe, you sign up, adopt an avatar and start exploring. You can buy land, build environments, run businesses, nurture families and do deals that supposedly render real cash (though I never saw a cent). Brooklyn is Watching has an open-call out to virtual designers to submit works to be placed on its island. Each week a panel assembles, sometimes at the gallery, sometimes virtually over Skype, to critique the latest crop of works, producing a podcast and ongoing blog posts. Technical design for the virtual island is provided by Boris Kizelshteyn, and Jay Van Buren plays ringmaster for the weekly critiques, which include real-lifers such as Tyler Coburn, Don Carol, and Amy Wilson, along with a rotating cast of Second Life luminaries like Patrick Lichty, Bettina Tizzy, and Shirley Marquez.
So far so good, and I applaud the opportunity afforded these artists to expose their work for consideration in a Williamsburg gallery setting. Leaving aside the artworks themselves and their concomitant aesthetics, which we’ll discuss later, I have to say there are aspects of Second Life I find just plain creepy. As a self-confessed technological caveman who’s having a bitch of a time just keeping up with his first life, my exploration of Second Life so far has been fraught with as much frustration as fascination. As a fan of sunshine, fresh air and the smells of the streets, why should I voluntarily enlist in a virtual existence? Like Neo in The Matrix, if someone offers me the red capsule and a chance to experience the “real world,” I’m gonna take it. But that’s not all; there’s also a strange political culture, a benign form of corporate fascism percolating through this world; although subscribers are supposedly free to create whatever their imaginations can dream up, there are restrictions and protocols that must be adhered to. Issues of censorship and morality, which have provided the premise for some of today’s most provocative real world artwork, are simply off limits. Recent tragedies and their accompanying multimillion-dollar lawsuits involving sites like MySpace and Facebook have, no doubt, put the management and lawyers at Second Life into a defensive posture to limit liability.

The artworks themselves, like any group show, vary in quality, intent and technical expertise. In many cases, an artist’s self-consciousness (aspiring to Art with a capital A) taints the work with sophomoric explication that circumscribes its visual and conceptual possibilities. Despite the constantly rotating roster of works, repeat exhibitors have emerged who have evolved an apparent affinity with the simulated space and the BiW honchos. Their attention-getting effects include: kineticism, or the ability to design elements that move and change; interactivity, which allows viewers to activate a range of reactions, some interesting, some just plain annoying (my avatar was attacked and dry humped by a Warholian Campbell’s soup can repeatedly spewing the text “Pop Art hates you”); and an apparently limitless palette of colors and surfaces that allow designers to simulate darn near anything in a fairly convincing way.

Despite all these options, there are drawbacks and questions. Are there simpler ways to build projects that would open up the space to artists who aren’t code-savvy über-geeks? Where does context come into play, with “sim” artists whose prime focus is recreating a version of the real world while others delve more formalistically into the particular properties of this new medium? (The possibility of Computer-Age-Neo-Greenbergian-Hyper-Formalism has been raised on the BiW blog.) If the corporate politics of Second Life dictate parameters on the kinds of art that’s allowed to exist there, how can one circumvent or subvert them? And finally, although there are no nails and sheetrock, how much does the time and costs of programming and code-writing limit a project’s scope and complexity? As Van Buren has stated, much of what happens in Second Life is about social relationships—a group of artists building a community and exploring the potential of a new medium. For those of you whose inner-nerds are crying out for affirmation, if you’ve got the time to invest in cyberspace, take a stroll through Brooklyn is Watching, see what you think of one of art’s burgeoning frontiers.

* * *

Meanwhile, at other locations on the web, I’ve noticed a decided change of tone; things appear to have darkened. The dynamics of many art blogs seem to go through a cycle of struggle, acceptance and recognition followed by burnout, troll attacks, and nasty personal assaults verging on slander. The free-flowing interaction of posters in real time is one of blogging’s most attractive features, but also one of its greatest vulnerabilities. The long established, much visited blogspot Edward_ Winkleman.com (http://edwardwinkleman.blogspot.com) recently invoked an oversight policy requiring all posts to be approved by the blogmeister. Although most sites enforce a basic level of decorum, the nasty snarking by some of the anonymous commenters at Ed’s site escalated to over-the-top personal attacks. Another hazard of the blogosphere is the unfocused blatherer. Some folks with too much time on their hands and maybe a little too much caffeine in their bloodstreams can hijack even the best sites, taking over the conversation thread with banal remarks or paragraphs full of off-subject twaddle. Last year I reported on paintersNYCblogspot (http://painternyc.blogspot.com), a site that posts a picture of a locally exhibited painting almost daily for critique. Since then the site has gone into partial hibernation. While it’s true that blogmistress painterpaparazzi is in preparation for an upcoming exhibition, I wonder how much of the site’s inactivity is an attempt to wean-away swarms of blatherers through benign neglect.

* * *

Finally, howsmydealing.com (http://howsmydealing.blogspot.com) is a site with a brilliant premise that’s gotten the attention of more than a few chagrined dealers. Posters are asked to comment on the treatment they’ve received from a long list of gallerists, curators and critics (even me). While providing the inside dope on plenty of local players (along with a hefty dose of misinformation), the anonymity of most of the posts encourages the vindictive and the petty with elephantine memories to flame the objects of their anger with gossip and ad hominem attacks (“I remember when he farted in Mrs. Wolinsky’s third grade class”). Rebuttals from hapless dealers have the tone of encounter group therapy confessionals. There’s also the potential for dealers to be trashed by competitors for commercial advantage.

The art blogosphere is a work in progress, and you’ve got to be vigilant of hidden agendas. As with anything online, take it with a grain of salt. Have fun, speak out, but don’t let it cut too much into your studio time; you might end up in a twelve step-program.

"Location, Location, Location: Women in 20th Century New York Art History," paper delivered at the AIR Symposium at Werkstätte Gallery by Fredrick Munk

By James Kalm

First of all, I would like to thank the members of A.I.R. Gallery for the last thirty-five five years of incredible art they’ve given us the opportunity to experience.  I’d also like to thank Patsy Norvell for the idea and curation, and Karin and Alexis and compliment their insights and for the time and energy they’ve devoted to this exhibition.

My obsession with mapping began as a child.  I loved Treasure Island, and was fascinated thinking that I could find gold if I followed a map, X marks the spot.  Later in the Boy Scouts I learned to read a compass and find locations (how could you know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been).  In the Army I taught classes to plot the patterns of Nuclear Fall-out.  When I came to New York in the late seventies my first job was driving the delivery truck for an art supply store, so I had to learn where all our regular customers were located.  About ten years ago when I started this project, I decided it’d be interesting to put these skills to use and document the locations and enclaves of artistic actions in New York over the last 100 years.  Here are some of my findings:

Metaphysical vs. Realists the Early Duality

The New York scene might be diagramed as two separate but collaborative impulses that I’ve labeled the Metaphysical and the Realist.  These forces seem to rotate in recognition and prominence in almost decade long cycles, and with various permutations have remained consistent for most of the century.  In many ways the heart of the New York art scene has been downtown around Washington Square.  In 1857 about two blocks away at 51 West 10th Street the Artist’s Studio Building was constructed hosing dozen of studios, frame shops and galleries, and making Greenwich Village the city’s center for artists.  The influence of this structure resonates and still echoes today. 

By the turn of the century many of America’s best known artists were ensconced around the square and include Albert Pinkham Ryder, Albert Bierstadt, William Merit Chase, Frederick Church, R. A. Blaklock, William Glackens and Winslow Homer.  This group has a more mystical bent and I see as part of the Metaphysical persuasion.

The other central nexus for artists at this time is the Lincoln Arcade located at 1931 Broadway where Lincoln Center is now.  This rookery of studios because of it’s proximity to the National Academy, attracted a group of more conservative artists which I recognize as the Realists.   Many of them were from Philadelphia, the likes of Robert Heneri, George Bellows, also Milton Avery, and Thomas Heart Benton.

Alfred Stieglitz’s Photo-Secession, 291 Gallery New York’s first “Modern” art gallery was located on 5th Avenue between 30th and 31st Streets almost half way between these  poles and opened in 1905.  Other important galleries in this neighborhood included The Madison Gallery at Madison Ave. between 41st and 42nd   Street, Maris de Zayas’ The Modern Gallery 500 5th Ave. at 42nd Street, the Carroll Gallery at 44th Street and Fifth Ave. Macbeth Galleries 237 Fifth Ave. between 32nd and 33rd Street and the Grand Central Palace at Lexington and 43rd street where the Society of Independent Artists staged the exhibition debuting Duchamp’s “Fountain” in 1917.

The Women

Beyond artists, I’ve categorized influential women in several groups such as:  The Rich Wives/Heiresses, the Salon Dames, The Muses, the Dealers, and Critics/Activists.
At the top of our list is Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney an heiress, rich wife, artist and salon dame, who in 1914, established the Whitney Studio at 19 MacDougal Ally, a facility where young artists could exhibit their works, which evolved in 1918 into the Whitney Studio Club, and eventually in 1931 into the  Whitney Museum of American Art, at 8 West 8th Street (now the home of the Studio School).  Virtually every important artist in New York was or wanted to be exhibited there.

Walk just around the corner and north on Fifth Avenue and you’ll come to the Greenwich Village salon of Mable Dodge.  After a tragic early life, and an extended stay in Europe which brought her into contact with Gertrude Stein André Gide and Heneri Matisse.  In 1912 Dodge established herself at 23 Fifth Avenue during the development and presentation of the Armory show.  She became a staunch supporter of radical modern artists as well as radical politics having a torrid affair with the communist revolutionary John Reed.  During these evenings she entertained a cross section of downtowns artistic and political radicals including Emma Goldman, Margaret Sanger, Marsden Hartley, The Stettheimer sisters, Alfred Stieglitz and his young lover Georgia O’Keeffe.

Meanwhile uptown, in the late teens early twenties the eccentric and elegant Stettheimer sisters became the center attractions of their own salon at 102 West 76th Street.   Ettie was a novelist, Carrie a dollhouse designer and Florine the exquisite painter, host extravagant dinners that attracted the likes of Francis Picabia, Leo Stein, Man Ray, Charles Demuth, and Marsden Hartley.   They also subsidized the young Marcel Duchamp, hiring him as a French tutor while Florine paints portraits of him.

A few blocks south just off Central Park West, and very near the Lincoln Arcade in the Café des Artists Building at 33 West 67th Street we encounter the enigmatic and cerebral salon hosted by Louise and Walter Arensberg.  This group clustered around Duchamp who’s “Nude Descending a Staircase” had scandalized thousands at the Armory Show in 1913.  His sensibilities echoed the host’s interests in linguistic puzzles, puns and secret codes. This notorious group also includes perhaps one of the most influential female artists of the Twentieth Century, Rose Sélavy.  Frequent guests included Francis Picabia, William Carlos Williams, Man Ray, Charles Demuth and Katherine Dreier.

Across town Katherine Dreier a Brooklyn born painter and early abstractionist enlisting the help of Duchamp and Man Ray, and in 1921 establishes Société Anonyme, at 19 East 47th Street devoted to the exhibition and promotion of modern art.  During the 20 years of its existence the Société purchased over 800 works of art by living artists, and organized lectures and travelling exhibitions.  It’s the first   “Museum” dedicated to modern art in New York. About three blocks east of here and thirty-five years later Andy Warhol builds his “Silver Factory”

With the initial sensation of the Armory Show and the revelation of European Modernism gradually diminished by the horrors of WWI and with the waning days of the “Roaring Twenties”, a stasis is forming  that would hold for the duration of the Depression.

In 1928 while touring in Egypt, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller (Mother of Nelson) meets Lillie P. Bliss, an heiress and collector of modern painting since the Armory Show.  They begin to form a dream, a dream of a museum in New York dedicated to the exposure of Modern art.  While returning on shipboard, Abby meets another enthusiast and collector Mary Sullivan.  These three women change the course of Modern art when they engage the young Alfred H. Barr Jr. as director and found The Museum of Modern Art, on the twelfth floor of the Hechscher Building at 730 Fifth Avenue at 57th Street, the heart of the Uptown gallery scene.  With the art world’s usual impeccable timing the late November opening comes just a month after the stock-market crash of 1929    

Downtown Hans Hofmann, opens his school at 52 West 8th Street in 1930 and provides an important venue for students and young artists to connect and become part of the “tribes” of artists forming downtown.   The stasis caused by the Depression only begins to crumble with the unveiling in 1935 of the WPA which enlisted hundreds of artists both men and women and provided them with a heretofore unavailable means of income and networking.

Ambitious Greenwich Village artist and Hofmann student Lee Krasner made it a point of knowing every one and making connections between other “villagers” like a master electrician.  Her apartment at 51 East 9th Street was across from Franz Kline’s, John and Rae Ferren’s and Conrad Marca-Relli’s at 52 East 9th Street. She worked as an administrator for the WPA in the Poster division. Not only did she meet and marry Pollock but introduced Clement Greenberg to Harold Rosenberg hung out with John Graham, and promoted and introduced dozens of artists to her mentor Hofmann.

With the onset of WWII an influx of avant-garde artists and dealers flood into New York to escape the European conflagration.  Peggy Guggenheim arrives with an entourage of Surrealists and establishes a headquarters at her town house 165 East 61st Street.  With her marriage to Max Ernst, and engaging Marcel Duchamp as an adviser, she establishes “Art of This Century Gallery” at 30 West 57th Street showcasing the Surrealists.  During one golden moment the forces of the art cosmos aligned.  In late 1942 one could have strolled from the “First Papers of Surrealism” exhibition at the Whitelaw Reid Mansion at 541 Madison Ave. to McMillen and Co. where John Graham’s “French and American Painters” was hung to the Debut of Art of this Century. 

The beautiful Dorothea Tanning falls in love with Max Ernst.  Peggy Guggenheim catches wind and dumps him.  She says audios to the Surrealists, and hires Howard Putzel, a Californian with contacts to many young downtown artists, as her new advisor.  Abstract Expressionism gets its first moments in the 57th Street spot light.

The end of WWII brings waves of young solders to New York to study at the Hofmann School.  The presence of a very accessible Willem de Kooning at 88 East 10th Street as well as the Artists Club at 39 East 8th Street and the Cedar Tavern around the corner at 24 University Place create a milieu unique in American history which came to be known as the New York School or the 10th Street School.  Dozens of young artists seeking to rub shoulders with the most advanced practitioners move to the neighborhood.  Soon they organize co-op galleries which line East 10th Street with names like Tanager at 90, Camino at 92, Bratta at 89, Gallery Grimand at 92, Carmel at 82 East 10th Street.  Others in the area included Hansa on East 12th Street, and the Ruben gallery on 4th Ave. where many of the first “Happenings” took place in the late fifties.

Philip Pavia in his recently published memoir “Club Without Walls” mentions the fact that at its founding the Artists Club didn’t allow women to become voting members.  But within short order, this ruckus all night debating club relented and Pavia states that “A noteworthy point about “floor panelists”: Mercedes Mattter, Elaine de Kooning, Rose Slivka, Alice Yamin, May Tabak, and Grace Hartigan, week after week, hounded, badgered and out talked the podium panelists. There were tears in the eyes of the podium panelists but certainly no tears in the eyes of these women sharpshooters… They (the women) learned to flex their muscles at the Club.”

By the End of the fifties, the New York School and East 10th Street was stale. Pop Art is ascendant.   Other strips attracted artists who cross-pollinate each other with complimentary ideas.  Lucy Lippard, a critic/activist while married to Robert Ryman lives at 193 Bowery and begins to notice a shared sensibility among her neighbors.   She is crucial in formulating Minimal Art which is institutionally baptized with “Primary Structures” in 1966 at the Jewish Museum.  Her posse of “Bowery Boys” includes Don Judd, Sol LeWitt, Brice Marden, Mel Bochner, Robert Mangold, Dan Flavin, Tom Doyle and Bowery Girl Eve Hesse.


Looking for new cheap yet accessible territories artist began looking further south. One enclave was Coenties Slip, near South Street Sea Port which was the Studios of, Robert Indiana, Agnes Martin, James Rosenquist, Ellsworth Kelly, Jack Youngerman and Charles Hinman A few blocks away in 1963 a new co-op gallery is started called Park Place.  This gallery moves in 1965 to 542 West Broadway, its director is Paula Cooper.  By 1968, Cooper opens her own gallery at 98-100 Prince Street.  Soho is born.  Within the nest ten years there are over a hundred galleries and thousands of artists living and showing in the district.  Soho is the veritable Center of the Center of the art world.  Much of the attention is focused on 420 West Broadway where Leo Castelli opens in 1972,  Ileana Sonnabend soon becomes a tenant and in 1978 Mary Boone comes on board.  With is organic community of artists dealers curators and publications Soho is assumed by may to be the unassailable bastion of the avant-garde.  But by the 1980s rumblings are being heard form an old neighborhood long thought dead. 

The East Village begins with a string of galleries on East 10th Street, most notably Patty Astor and Bill Stellings “Fun” Gallery at 261 East 10th Street Gracie Mansion at 337 andNature Mort at 204.  Ironically when the Artists’ Club laid down its constitution those boys wanted to exclude Women, homosexuals and communists.  30 years later those were the exact people on this ravagedstrip of 10th Street who got the East Village ball rolling.  At its peak in 1985 there were over 75 galleries operating with a strong club and boutique scene to match.  But sometimes success is it own punishment. 

By 1988 the scene had collapsed, the community is devastated by the AIDS epidemic.  For those galleries savvy enough to survive Soho became the symbol of success.  A few of the EV DYI (East Village Do It Yourself) types stay on the look out for the next new neighborhood.  Pat Hearn started with a gallery On East 6th and Ave. B.  When the EV bubble bursts she moved to Soho. In 1994 she and partners Colin De Land, Paul Morris and Matthew Marks organized the first Gramercy Art Fair, which morphs into the massive Armory Art Fair,  changing the process of art dealing for the new millennium.    Then in 1995 following the DIA foundation she opened a spacious new gallery on the far Westside of 22nd Street an area known as Chelsea. Twelve years latter there are over three hundred galleries and it represents the largest art market place the world has ever seen.

Moving in the other direction was Annie Herron, who had been director at Semaphore Gallery East.  Looking at the active but underground scene that had been gestating for years in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, Annie opens Test-Site at 93 North 1st Street in 1991.  Though not a business success, Test-Site none the less gives impetus to several of the local art activists and soon a small but energetic group of weekend galleries and art venues begins to form a solid community.  Since 1985 the Williamsburg section has hosted over 140 galleries/art venues and has long since overtaken Soho as the largest concentration of artists in America, maybe the world.

Pressures from real-estate development and high rents have put stress on both the height end of Chelsea and the Lowend of Brooklyn.  Returning to form the latest hot spot to open a gallery or find a studio is again the Bowery.  With the unveiling of New Museum and a string of new gallery openings which at last count was 24 in a way we’ve come full circle back to Washington square and 10th street.  As usual with the story of art history there is never an endingmerely a brief pause labeled:  to be continued  

"Brooklyn Dispatches: The Brooklyn Canon: Airbrushed Out of History," Brooklyn Rail by Fredrick Munk

By James Kalm

He was a goner, a nonentity, and although he’s had a perfectly respectable career, to the forces that “streamline” history, he was invisible.

It was in Soho, at the Spring Street Bookstore (which gives you an idea of how long ago this was) that I picked up one of those small-run artsy publications with the punchy cover design (Russian Constructivism meets Hippie Bauhaus) and latched onto an essay featuring a set of nearly identical photographs.  In the first, with their shirts off in mock “muscleman” poses and lined up like a screen test for a Fassbinder movie, were a doughy-looking Julian Schnabel, a sleeker Marcus Lupertz, Jorg Immendorf, and, hanging at the end, the above-mentioned artist.  Evidently, this was a snapshot taken on some summer lark, four friendly painters hanging out and mugging for the camera. 

The second photo was identical to the first except that someone had cropped out the fourth artist, deciding his notoriety wasn’t sufficient to merit inclusion.  This “corrected” pic has been used in countless catalogs, textbooks, and magazines all over the world.  The gist of the article was the shameless alteration of actuality to tidy up reality from a certain preconceived angle, in essence to propagandize, create a myth and shape history.  I snickered, digging the subversive humor. Years later I’m still laughing, but the sinister aspects of the alteration have become more apparent.  Despite my awareness of the cropped-out artist, I can’t for the life of me remember his name.  Modern techniques of thought control are effective. 

What brought back this memory was Jerry Saltz’s “The New York Canon,” published April 7th in New York magazine(http://nymag.com/anniversary/40th/culture/45761/).  As an amateur historian, I love these kinds of overviews; Irving Sandler’s quartet of books, The Triumph of American PaintingThe New York SchoolAmerican Art of the 1960s and Art of the Postmodern Era make up the core of my bookshelf on the New York milieu.  “The New York Canon” reads like the beginnings of what could become, if fleshed out, a standard art history text that picks up where Sandler leaves off.  A couple hundred artists are mentioned, twenty-eight dealers, and forty-four galleries, as well as the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney, the Guggenheim, the New Museum and PS1.  Publications listed include the New York Times, ARTFORUM, October, Avalanche, the Washington Post and Saltz’s current employers, New York.  Among featured locations are: Soho (numerous times), 57th Street, Chelsea, Times Square, Union Square, the East Village, Washington D.C., Texas, Germany and other spots in Europe.  There’s even a mention, despite Saltz’s caveat that “the market is ruining everything” of the Brooklyn Museum’s controversial 1999 Sensation exhibition, organized and sponsored by super-big moneybag collector Charles Saatchi.

Far be it from me to argue with any of the items included in this litany. I did find one glaring, unexplainable omission, however: that among its nearly 6500 words, the one word that was missing was—Williamsburg.  Yeah, I’ve been accused of being a “provincial chauvinist” by one of America’s preeminent bloggers, but (in my finest Chamber of Commerce voice), “Williamsburg, Brooklyn is the largest enclave of artistic talent ever to congregate in one community in American history.”  Okay, perhaps a touch hyperbolic, and maybe at this point (which adds to the urgency) we’re talking in the past tense.  In any case, I’d like to offer a few humble suggestions from this side of the East River that might warrant consideration for the BIG PICTURE before airbrush-wielding historians and pundits consign the whole megillah to the eternal damnation of obscurity,

Let me add that, thanks to the scarcity of gullible types willing to bankroll venues and projects, and with only the Brooklyn Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Academy of Music as institutional presences, nearly all the actions and events here described have been Do-It-Yourself affairs relying on the energy, ingenuity and finances of a “coalition of the willing.”  While much of New York’s “mainstream” art history has been a function of exclusivity, one of the main strengths, or weaknesses, of the Brooklyn scene is its inclusivity.  Consequently, for better or worse I’ve solicited suggestions and ideas from dozens of local residents.  Despite the expected gaggle of “hey, my show three years ago was the most important exhibition of this century,” many intriguing individuals, events and venues were dredged up.

Manhattan has always been the place to be, but since artists typically live on restricted budgets while needing large spaces to work, Brooklyn has long been the closest and most sympathetic alternative.  And while it’s not my intention to go back forty or fifty years, suffice it to say that the long tradition of artists living and working here has seen the likes of Mark Rothko, David Smith, Barnett Newman, John Graham, Ben Shawn, Judy Pfaff, Vito Accocni, Ashley Bickerton and more, many more.  A recent wave of high-profile artists seeking maximum studio space in “real” neighborhoods has included Julian Schnabel, David Salle, Tom Otterness, Fred Tomaselli and Dana Schutz.     


The decade of the 1980s witnessed ironic, even reactionary changes.  Soho, which emerged barely ten years before as an alternative venue for young, downtown avant-sters, has hardened into its own worst enemy, strangled by formalist theory, market forces and a political elite.  Despite its dozens of galleries, opportunities are limited for recent art school graduates, women, and other out-of-the-mainstream artists.  At the beginning of the decade, however, a trio of groundbreaking exhibitions in Brooklyn establish precedents for grassroots art happenings in the borough and beyond.

In May 1981, the Monumental Show, a huge exhibition organized by Frank Shifreen, George Moore and Michael Keene (and which, no doubt, took its cue from the previous summer’s Times Square Show), presents a Brooklyn-sized cast of over 150 artists in a former Civil War munitions factory near the Gowanus Canal.  As one of the first mega shows, Monumental includes well-known artists like Nancy Holtz, Keith Haring, Komar and Malamid, Carl Andre, and Mike Cockrill along with dozens of lesser-known and unknown contributors.  The opening party, featuring rock bands and performances, draws 3,000 spectators.  After only three days, the landlord pulls the plug due to concerns over “toxic contamination”.  

On April 1st of the following year, a loose-knit community of artists living in and around Williamsburg is introduced to a larger group of downtown artists through the All-Fools Show.  As a condition for making the space available, for six weeks beforehand, the landlord on South 4th Street enlists teams of overly energetic artists as slave labor (I was one of them) working from dawn till dusk removing tons of baled rags and other garbage from his building, getting an expensive clean-up job for free.  All-Fools runs a month. Hundreds of artists participate and thousands attend. Contacts and alliances are established that blow back over the Williamsburg Bridge and influence the organization and tone of a nascent East Village scene.

By the time Terminal New York debuts during the summer of 1983, a standard operating procedure for gargantuan shows has been established.  This massive former military terminal contained more cubic feet than all of Manhattan’s museums combined, and its vaulted cathedral-like nave has the highest ceiling for the display of art seen in the city until the Museum of Modern Art reopens with its new atrium in 2004.  The big Brooklyn show is now been accepted by the establishment, and the list of stars in this production includes Uptowners, Soho-ites, East Villagers and Europeans. 

A Scene Grows in Brooklyn

During most of the eighties boom, with the media focused on the East Village and Soho, swarms of art school grads and dream-seekers pour into the city, with Brooklyn as the place for cheap studio and living space.  Small enclaves of creativity pop up in places with roguish names like Red Hook, Sunset Park, Dumbo, Vinegar Hill and Greenpoint.  Weekend loft exhibitions and guerrilla happenings become a ritual for hundreds of local artists.  A web of networks form, spanning the Manhattan mainstream, the East Village, the marginalized outer-boroughs and even New Jersey.  Because of its direct link to Midtown via the L train and its low-rise, semi-industrial building stock, Williamsburg becomes a magnet, developing the highest concentration of artsy types in the city.

As Soho reels, knocked off its plinth as the center of the art world, and the East Village garners a lion’s share of press, art activists in Williamsburg want to get in on the action.  Though accounts vary (after all, little of this made the New York Times or ARTFORUM), A Place Apart Gallery (“Formerly Sirovich Gallery”) opens at 230 North 6th Street. “A community gallery for artists of all ages and backgrounds,” it’s generally recognized as the first in Williamsburg. This venue, opened in 1982 and operated by Marguerite Munch, is where Chris Martin remembers meeting James Harrison, a legendary Brooklyn eccentric who worked the desk and ended up becoming a mentor to many young artists in Greenpoint and the ‘Burg.  Other alumni include Kathy Bradford, David Kapp, Tom Bills, and Rick Briggs.  Though not a commercial success, A Place Apart gives local artists a focal point around which to hang out and begin forming a network.

Certain buildings become havens for dozens of artists.  Though too numerous to list, a crucial pair are 252 Green Street, a former potato chip factory in Greenpoint, and 85-101 North 3rd Street. The Green Street space is home to Cecily Kahn and David Kapp, and provides studios for a group of sculptors that include Judy Pfaff, Tom Bills and Robin Hill.  Kahn remembers a studio on the third floor that “had a 3-inch layer of blackened potato starch on its floor which would soften in the summer months.”  85-101 North 3rd Street, with it dozens of studio spaces, has a rotating roster of artists including James Beiderman and his N3 Project Space, Russell Roberts, Michael David, and Kristen Baker, as well as the notable Berlin artist and founding member of Critical Realism, Wolfgang Petrick.  

When you’re overshadowed by the likes of Manhattan’s cultural conglomerates, you’ve got to try a lot harder to get a sliver of the spotlight. In 1983, the Brooklyn Academy of Music inaugurates its Next Wave Festival, a three-month annual presentation designed to focus the attention of the international avant-garde on this stretch of hardscrabble downtown Brooklyn.  BAM is now the American home of world-class artists and companies like Peter Brook, Needcompany, Sankai Juku and William Forsythe/Ballett Frankfurt.  But it’s their homegrown productions and revivals, like Philip Glass’ Satyagraha and (with Robert Wilson) Einstein on the Beach and Trisha Brown’s Set and Reset with original score by Laurie Anderson and design by Robert Rauschenberg, that have gained worldwide acclaim.  The list of collaborators at BAM is a virtual Who’s Who of the art world: Roy Lichtenstein, Louise Bourgeois, Keith Haring Steven Reich and Mark Morris, who opened his own studio/school next door in September 2001.
The entire East Village scene booms, crests and crashes in the five years between 1983 and 1987, leaving the city with a gaping hole where there was once edgy, sexy and subversive work. With the stock market crash in 1987 and the art market following suit in ’89, what better time or place to open an art gallery than the desperate and crime-ridden area of West Williamsburg?

A smattering of galleries emerge with names evoking the busted down and abject nature of the locale: Minor Injury in Greenpoint, founded by Mo Bock in 1985; Brand Name Damages, a cooperative started by The Justice League of America, a group of mostly Pratt Institute grads showing works by friends and members; Ammo; and The New Waterfront Museum, located between the anchorages of the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges and run by another small cooperative that rents studio space and utilizes the hallways for exhibitions. LedisFlam on North 6th Street is billed as the first “commercial” gallery.  Founded in 1986 by Lori Ledis and husband Robert Flam, this space raises the bar for the district during its four-year run there.  Due to the scarcity of foot traffic and the difficulty of attracting clients, they relocate to Soho in 1990, but not before giving early exposure to Amy Sillman, Terry Adkins, David Mann and Peter Acheson.  Lori Ledis dies prematurely in December 2000 of a heart attack; she’s forty.

One individual who played a decisive role in raising the self-esteem of the ‘Burg was East Village gallerist Annie Herron.  I’d met Annie several times at Semaphore Gallery on West Broadway where she worked as director in the early eighties.  She was known as someone on the move with a good eye and a soft touch.  Remembering her pursuit and very public courting by the then unknown Mark Kostobi still gives me giggles.  Mark painted a large portrait of her and stuck it in the show window of his Broome Street studio. He hoped Annie could assuage his loneliness and boost his career at the same time.  When the East Village took off Annie, as usual at the center of things, was dispatched to open Semaphore East on Avenue B and 10th Street where she showed Ellen Berkenblit, Martin Wong, Mike Cockrill, Mark Kostabi and Jane Dickson.  When the East Village bubble bursts in 1987-88, Annie is already looking ahead to the “next new thing.”  Having tripped over the bridge to sample the action out East, she’s convinced that with the right grooming the ‘Burg could be ready for its close-up.               

Brooklyn also has its share of tragedy.  In 1987, Christopher Wilmarth, a visionary sculptor who used the weight and balance of unique materials like etched glass, steel sheets and cable to capture light and arrest space, moves into a beautiful, spacious new studio in my stomping ground overlooking the waterfront at the northern end of Red Hook. With a career that seems charmed and a high level of critical and institutional recognition, it appears as if Wilmarth is poised to begin a sustained midcareer phase of creativity.  During a studio visit, Patterson Sims suggests we give Wilmarth a welcome-wagon introduction to the neighborhood.  Within a couple of months Wilmarth, who is apparently being treated for depression, hangs himself in the studio. He’s forty-four.

The BMA Steps Up

Despite the scenes on Sex in the City where taxi drivers refuse to take fares across the East River bridges, The Brooklyn Museum of Art has long been a destination for serious art tourists.  Regardless of its quirks, it’s proven itself as a wonderful museum of last resort, hosting important exhibitions that haughtier Manhattan institutions are ether too fully booked for, uninterested in, or see as box-office losers.  A personal favorite is the Albert Pinkham Ryder show, organized by Dr. Elizabeth Broun, that opened in September 1990.  Ryder, although a longtime denizen of the West Village / Washington Square neighborhood, is a quintessential inspiration to many a scruffy reclusive local painter.  Though cited by Marsden Hartley and Jackson Pollock as the essential American Proto-Modernist, this is his first revival since a Whitney retrospective in the 1940s.  The show includes not only his signature nautical scenes under looming night skies, but also a display on the strange physical condition of some paintings due to his unusual material sensibility: the cracking, oozing, slippage, and general decrepitude of some pieces that miraculouslykeep them bound in a perpetual death throes.  This local love affair with Ryder leads to an homage exhibition curated by Phong Bui in 2000 at State of Art Gallery (an early outpost in Greenpoint) which includes adoring Ryder fans from the ‘Burg like Bill Jensen, Margrit Lewczuk, Chris Martin and Kathy Bradford, as well as Gregory Amenoff and others.

Also in 1990, the Brooklyn Museum hosts Joseph Kosuth’s installation The Play of the Unmentionable, a protean manifesto that probably wouldn’t happen at our less “offensive” institutions.  With the culture wars raging and the controversies over government funding of “progressive art” driving the Moral Majority nuts, Kosuth, working with the BMA’s team of curators, hangs works from the museum’s vast holdings on neutral gray walls, paired with blown-up quotes from some of our favorite fascists, moral reformers and do-gooders.  This sardonically stinging institutional critique is one of the best-attended and critically well-received exhibits of the season.  

Things Get Crazy

Like the street warning “don’t corner a rat,” with the Manhattan scene in a slump and no prospects on the horizon, Brooklyn hipsters feel they’ve got nothing to lose.  More people open their studios to happenings and exhibitions.  A communication tree forms to spread word of impromptu raves and potlatches in vacant warehouses and the dilapidated piers fronting the East River.  More ad hoc galleries and art spaces like Jimenez & Algus on South 11th in 1989 and 4 Walls Project, founded by Mike Ballou, Adam Simon and Michele Araujo in 1991 (relocating from Hoboken), appear.  These “projects” have more esoteric programs and a greater commitment to “keeping it real” than turning a buck.  Coteries based on shared aesthetics and approaches to the public begin to distinguish artists and activists who will eventually rattle the world beyond the borough. 

As the momentum builds, ambitions and liabilities increase, and impromptu events soon outgrow studios and begin to migrate to the waterfront.  Cat’s Head, an “interdisciplinary rave happening” is so notorious that word spreads though the international underground, and its organizers are invited to re-create it in Dublin, Ireland.  Other mass actions like Lizard Tail and Fly Trap keep the energy flowing and begin the process for a more sustained scheme, something with a legally sanctioned location.

“Organism,” a watershed occurrence, is the brainchild of a group of Williamsburg art activists who were part of a meeting in the loft of Ebon Fisher on February 15, 1993: Phil R. Bonner, Megan Raddant, Al Arthur, Ruth Kahn, Stevie Allweis, Robert Elmes, Jeff Gompertz, David Brody, Yyvette Helin and Anna Hurwits.  In subsequent meetings they’re joined by Fred Valentine, Don Gibson, Matthew Schneider, Michael Henery and soon others.  The idea is to pool their money and rent a space large enough to house a number of projects dealing with the concept of an organism’s systems.  The vacant Old Dutch Mustard Factory at 70 Metropolitan Avenue fits the bill.  Numbers of artists contribute projects, and an estimated 2400 curious revelers join in for an all-night fest.  As Fred Valentine writes in an e-mail, the impetus was “Let’s do here what we and others can’t do anywhere else.  What we became was a combination of Bacchanalia, anarchy, social club and creative space.” An extensive web site documenting Organism can be found at http://www.artnetweb.com/organism/manifesto.html.

During the remainder of the lease, the Mustard Factory becomes a testing ground for creativity, a laboratory for exploring just how much an arts community can tolerate.  With abundant media coverage and growing international recognition, it also baptizes the ‘Burg as having arrived as a destination for the cultural cognoscenti.  As of this writing, the location of the Mustard Factory is a fenced-in construction site awaiting the completion of yet another luxury condo tower.

The ‘Burg Goes Button-downed

What ever you might think of Rudolph Giuliani, his campaign to clean up and tame the city after a decade of devastation from crack wars, rampant murder statistics and the AIDS plague, comes at an opportune moment for a district trying to attain a level of respectability, or at least give the impression of stability and a ceasefire. Snazzy bars and boutiques begin to show up.  By 1993 Williamsburg becomes a favorite backdrop for trendy fashion shoots, and references in movies and TV put it on the lips of the nation.  Even so, the physical challenges and financial drain of trying to maintain a gallery force many spaces like Test-Site and Jimenez & Algus to fold after a couple of seasons.  Regardless, a group of more “professional” venues begins to take shape, forming a strip near Bedford and Metropolitan Avenues where visitors can drop in on four of five shows, drinks, shopping and maybe hear some poetry or jazz during a weekend safari. 

Rumblings from other areas are heard with shoestring operations like Florence Neal’s Kentler International Drawing Space, specializing in works on paper by local and international Red Hook artists coming on the scene. Relocating from Soho, Arena in Carol Gardens brings an elegant if diminutive sensibility to Cobble Hill courtesy of Reneé Riccardo.  In 1995, Smack Mellon debuts in Dumbo with loft shows organized by visual artist Andrea Reynosa and musician/composer Kevin Vertrees. Thanks to support from the Walentas Family and Two Trees Management, Smack Mellon shows hundreds of artists’ works in some of the city’s most dramatic venues, while providing studio space to hard-strapped artists.  GAle GAtes et al., a performance and visual arts company started by Michael Counts, tests the boundaries between artists and audience and winds up on the résumés of bunches of artists in 1999 with Size Matters—a marathon group show curated by Mike Weiss, an ambitious young dealer now ensconced with Chelsea’s big boys on West 24th Street.  Dumbo Art Center starts up during 1997 in the wake of the first Art Under the Bridge festival.  Their program solicits proposals from independent curators, arranges for site-specific installations and publishes local guides and organizes studio tours.

Meanwhile back in Williamsburg, Annie Herron is busy scurrying about being midwife, den-mother and stage manager, organizing various happenings in the burgeoning environs.  1992 sees Salon of Mating Spiders, an Art-Palooza extravaganza at Test-Site, a major signpost on the history turnpike.  Check it out—half the artists in Williamsburg’s Curriculum Vitae begin with Mating Spiders, a street fair, New Music performance, picnic and art happening, all rolled into one.  Even with community recognition and press coverage, Test-Site folds.  Herron retreats to Soho for a brief stint with Black + Herron but can’t resist the pull of Bedford Avenue.  While curating a multi-site show, Dyad in 1994, she convinces a recent arrival from California, disappointed with the difficulty of breaking into the art world, to participate. 

Joe Amrhein gets hip and takes Annie’s advice.  Deciding to open Pierogi 2000, he begins assemble what will become the world-famous Pierogi Flat Files, currently representing over 700 artists.  By 1996 word of the Flat Files and other developments reach the BMA, and Current Undercurrent, a Working in Brooklyn show organized by Charlotte Kotik, features the collection.  Moving east on North 9th Street and opening a new space in 1998, Pierogi becomes the cornerstone of the Williamsburg scene, and is credited with promoting the “big drawing,” massive works on paper that has been recognized by critics as one of the few commonalities to distinguish local work produced during this period.   Along with debuting and / or showcasing artists such as Jim Torock, Dawn Clements, Jonathan Schipper, John J. O’Connor, Kim Jones, Jane Fine, James Esber and Ward Shelley, Pierogi is instrumental in promoting the seminal conceptual drawings of Mark Lombardi.

After receiving a bachelor's degree in art history from Syracuse University, Lombardi moves to Houston where he runs a small gallery and works at the Museum of Contemporary Art.  Though still practicing painting, he becomes fascinated with diagramming financial and political scandals collected from the popular press, interpreting them through the lens of Herbert Marcuse’s theories of social activism.  He shows these drawings for the first time in 1995, and receives greater public exposure in 1997 when he’s included in an exhibition at Soho’s Drawing Center.  He moves to Brooklyn in 1998 and has his first Pierogi 2000 show, Silent Partners.  At forty-eight he’s taking off like a rocket, with a supportive dealer, international curators knocking and inclusion in the career-making Greater New York 2000.  Friends and admirers are struck dumb when word comes of his suicide.  It’s reported that he hanged himself in his South 5th Street studio on the 22nd of March, 2000; years later, rumors still circulate suspecting foul play.

Strength in Numbers

The mid-nineties is a period of consolidation and recognition.  Other galleries, some with public funding, join the fray and form a core community.  Momenta Art, begun in Philadelphia by Eric Heist and Laura Parness, pitches camp in 1995 on the north side and features a program of conceptual work, much of it with a biting institutional critique.  Feed, founded in 1992 by Lisa Schroeder and Barry Hylton on North 3rd, starts casually and goes through several mutations, eventually partnering with Sara Jo Romero and absconding to Chelsea as Schroeder Romero in 2006.  Roebling Hall is kicked off in 1997 by Joel Beck and the controversial Christian Viveros-Fauné.  Taking their name from their Roebling Street location, they move in 1998 to larger digs on Wythe Avenue and present artists Eve Sussman, Christoph Draeger, Sebastiaan Bremer among others before heading to West Chelsea in 2005.  The Williamsburg Arts & Historical Center at Broadway and Bedford anchors the south end of the Bedford strip.  Housed in the landmarked Kings County Savings Bank, this edifice was home and studio to the notorious time-traveling art team of McDermott & McGough before being purchased for the museum by Yuko Nii in 1996.  Under the direction of “eccentric anarchist” Terrance Lindall, the WAH Center presents Brave Destiny in the fall of 2003.  Bombastically billed as the largest Surrealist exhibition in history, Brave Destiny includes nearly 400 artists, with big names like H. R. Geiger and Ernst Fuchs taking part.  Though originally skeptical of the gamy tang of this “outmoded” genre, I’m now thinking that Brave Destiny could, in part, be credited with many local artists’ current infatuation with Pop Surrealism.

As Soho fades in the late nineties and the colossus of Chelsea embodies a new paradigm, a flock of galleries join the Brooklyn chorus.  Some have deep ties to the community, while others see Williamsburg as training camp for the big leagues.  Galleries to the east spring up, including Flip Side, Dam & Stuhltrager, Front Room, Naked Duck and Jessica Murray Projects.  

Annie Herron teams with Larry Walczak’s “eyewash” in 1998.  Over the next ten years “eyewash” presents over 125 artists while pioneering some challenging collaborations with local businesses, like the current ARTWALKING: Bedford Avenue, a project employing 28 store windows.  In 2002, Annie—with her indomitable energy and organizational and social skills—is unexpectedly stricken with leiomyosarcoma, a rare form of cancer.  Though continuing her hectic non-stop schedule of curating, lecturing and travel while under going chemotherapy, Annie, at age 50, succumbs in September 2004.  With the ‘Burg’s big sister gone, a drifting away begins.  

The Williamsburg Gallery Association decides to cash in on their outsider status and in 2000 organizes Elsewhere (the rubric that the ‘Burg is listed under in the New York Times). It’sthe first neighborhood-wide collaborative celebration, with late-night openings, shuttle buses, food, drink and performances.  At this point, the WAGMAG Guide lists over twenty-five galleries.  But with increased desirability, pressure from real estate development makes it tougher to stay in the district. Bellwether, Black & White, Plus Ultra, 31 Grand, Foxy Productions, LMAK Projects Monya Rowe, Jessica Murray Projects andPriska C. Juschka all exit to Manhattan nirvana (though some still maintain Brooklyn presence).

Sensations and Beyond, the Wrap

In March 1997, The Brooklyn Museum announces its selection of Arnold L. Lehman as its new director.  Though a Brooklyn native, Lehman left the borough at the age of eight and had spent the previous thirteen years heading the Baltimore Museum of Art.  Lehman is seen as an innovator who, it is hoped, will nudge the BMA out of the doldrums and spearhead the museum’s massive renovation project. But these lofty expectations are eclipsed in 1999 as Sensation raises the hackles of local conservatives and brings down the wrath ofMayor Rudolph Giuliani.  The prime target of contention was Chris Ofili’s painting “The Holy Virgin Mary,” a glittering expressionistic rendering which included porn-mag crotch-shots and rested on two lumps of varnished elephant dung.  The museum is picketed daily, the Mayor threatens funding, and the show becomes an international cause célèbre signaling the rise of the Young British Artists and the power of a new breed of “art capitalists.”  Controversies surrounding its sponsorship by Charles Saatchi and the subsequent sale at auction of a number of pieces call the Museum’s ethics in to question.  You can’t buy this kind of press.

In spring 2004 the Museum unveils it $63 million Polshek Partnership-designed entranceway with choreographed fountains and a gleaming glass rotunda.  Brooklyn’s front stoop is pimped extraordinaire, and this world-class collection finally looks the part.

Like any ecosystem, art scenes ebb and flow.  As the Bedford/Metropolitan nexus is swamped with pricy towers, a group of rugged down-and-dirty spaces have emerged in Northern and Eastern Williamsburg with names like Brooklyn Fire Proof, The ‘temporary Museum of Painting, vertexList, Janet Kurnatowski, English Kills, Pocket Utopia and Ad Hoc Art.

Despite what William Powhida proclaims, tongue planted very firmly in cheek, in his “Williamsburg Eulogy” delivered in 2006, Brooklyn will survive.  In personal research I’ve compiled a list of over 140 arts venues operating in the neighborhood since 1982, far surpassing the East Village in number and duration.  With thousands of resident and visiting artists showing here, Williamsburg has long ago hit the “tipping point.”  If and when the Broadway musical based on the ‘Burg comes out, rather than a dramatic ending, in tragedy and death, like Rent, the ‘Burg will, more likely, fade and crumble without a whimper, burdened under its own ennui and the pressures of the real estate boom. To all the pundits and historians seeking to “streamline” the story and clean up the narrative, you’re going to have to get a bigger airbrush.

I’d like to thank the following for their suggestions and contributions: Peter Acheson, Mitchell Algus, Joe Amrhein, Kathy Bradford, Mike Cockrill, Jennifer Junkermeier, Stephen Maine, Licha Jimenez, Cecily Kahn, Chris Martin, Ward Shelley, Fred Valentine,  Don Voisine and Larry Walczak

"Kim Dorland “North” At Freight Volume," Brooklyn Rail by Fredrick Munk

By James Kalm

I can still remember the exact moment, the exact brush stroke.  I rounded a corner and fixed my eyes on “Marschland (Dangast),” a 1907 painting by Erich Heckel.  I was visiting the small, secluded Brücke Museum in the Grunewald in, what was still at the time West Berlin.  The landscape, measuring about two by three feet, is a panorama with a couple of massed trees and a scarlet and vermilion path that angles off to the horizon.  Situated in the lower-right corner is a clunky slab of striated paint which, due to its broad mass, is out of character with the rest of the surface.  Because of its insistent presence (and not so much that it represented anything beyond itself), it seemed to command the rest of the picture plane.  I’d seen a lot of paintings go from thick to thin by Rembrandt, Courbet and Van Gogh, but I fixed on this clump of pigment as something different, an odd mutation in my thinking about physical matter and the sticky subject of paint’s ability to change perception.  When I first came to New York during the heyday of Neo-Expressionism, the question of paint as a vehicle for developing spatial illusion versus paint as a significant substance with alchemical properties embodying its own unique set of forces was a significant factor in the debate that attracted international attention to the “new” painting.

North, the New York debut by Canadian artist Kim Dorland, emphatically declares that “chunky painting” is still a viable direction for practitioners not afraid to get their hands dirty.  I’ve been followed Dorland’s work for years, since stumbling across it at the room of the Toronto gallery Jamie Angell during a SCOPE New York Art Fair.  It wasn’t that I liked the work so much (though, as mentioned above, I’m a fan of “gooby paint”), but that I found its acidic fluorescent orange and red underpainting, clunky, quotidian subject matter, and slacker urgency—somehow evoking your favorite garage band with all the bad production values and strip mall expediency—kept resurfacing in my memory.  With each subsequent encounter the works grew in scale, and the subject matter veered from a somewhat kitschy focus on deer in forests (what was the deer image craze anyway?) to a dreary rendition of kids sauntering through the unpaved back alleys of sub-suburbs, cruising among the parked pickups, RVs and camping trailers. 

Alberta, identified as the site of these pictures, is known as the breadbasket of Canada. I imagine vast plains and overwhelming skies with widely scattered hamlets, a few thousand families clustered around a local railroad hub, phosphate mine or lumber mill.  There’s a palpable tinge of desperation in the wandering figures central to many of the compositions in North, as if these skate punks are aimlessly trudging in search of some action, some mischief, some beer, some joints or some sex that might deaden the pain of their tedious, irrelevant existence.  In “Alley # 4” and “Shortcut,” both from 2007, we see departing youngsters rendered as blocky squibs of paint walking through anonymous back streets.  The figures are surrounded by haloes of hot underpaint, a kind of illuminated shade, as if they’re in the focus of some electric force-field that designates them as “slacker saints” or conveyers of a vibrant life energy. 

Dorland composes his pictures with a confident sense of contrast to his sinewy bands and angular abstract fields.  Shadows are stark; skies, lawns, parking-lot pavement, and the sides of buildings become blocks of color, differentiated not only with strong tone and harsh hue but by various paint applications—dripping washes, spray-can puffs and scribbles, lumpy and clotted fields or turd-thick shrieking green shrubbery.  The people, like the cars and trucks, are abbreviated, reduced to featureless hunks of ragged color, with the slide, speed and heft of the rendering stroke becoming shorthand for posture and bearing.  Often, as in the largish picture “Hoarfrost # 4”, despite the peeks of brilliant underpainting, parentheses of heavy pigment surround the figures, envelope their forms, reinforcing the contiguousness of the picture plane.

To quote Yogi Berra, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”  With North, Dorland is faced instead with a “brush in the paint,” an obvious struggle between figure and ground.  In the larger landscape paintings, like “Hoarfrost #4,” “Woods # 2” and “Northern Lights #2,” human figures comprise a minor compositional element. Despite areas of exuberantly thick paint, he’s flattened his compositions to the extent that a couple of these works even echo Alex Katz with their populist naturalism, distilled layouts, elegantly subdued palette and compressed space.  The current mode of ultra-thin painting, popularized by painters like Elizabeth Payton, Karen Kilimnick, Luc Tuymans and Peter Doig seems in direct conflict with most of Dorland’s proclivities.  Conversely, in a group of single-figure paintings and portraits like “Blue Hoodie” and “Lake Louise,” where turnip-sized globs form cages and exoskeletons around the shapes, Dorland piles the paint with such abandon that it becomes bas-relief, verging on the performance/conceptual action of artists like Geoff Davis, Johathan Meese and Scott Richter.  Whether these tendencies continue in their polar directions or coalesce into some wacky hybrid is a coin-toss, but at least they provide enough interest to keep our eyes open for future developments.

In conversations with other painters and pundits after the latest round of art fairs, I couldn’t help lamenting on the strange irony that although America gave the world Abstract Expressionism with its concomitant ideas about gutsy paint-handling and truth to materials, so few New York galleries were showing the native version. Hopefully this audacious display by Dorland a cat from “North” of the boarder will help folks be less intimidated by the muck. 

"Brooklyn Dispatches: Computer Brain, Or Human Stain," Brooklyn Rail by Fredrick Munk

By James Kalm

WARNING: If the frank discussion of bodily fluids and their excretion make you squeamish, perhaps you should skip the first paragraph of this essay.

While going to college in the early seventies, my older brother worked for a local cleaning service.  Most of their jobs amounted to scrubbing and waxing floors in supermarkets after hours and cleaning windows at office buildings.  Occasionally they labored at private residences after fires or plumbing disasters.  In one instance, as my brother related later, they were hired to clean a house as part of an estate sale.  It seems an old lady, a neighborhood stalwart for decades, had passed away leaving her modest Victorian home to out-of-town relatives, this despite the fact that she had a son who had lived with her well in to middle age.  As it happened, the son was mentally or emotionally “challenged” and ended up being institutionalized.  As the job progressed, they vacuumed, removed stacks of domestic clutter, squeegeed windows and tried to make things presentable for the real estate agents.  When they went to check on the son’s room, tucked away upstairs under the eaves, they found a small, spare cubical with a chair, a small writing table and a bed pushed against a wall.  On this bedside wall was a thick, pealing accumulation of what my brother described only as “a forty-year residue of God-awful human gunk”.  Despite their best efforts with scrub brushes, steam machines and putty knives, they finally had to slap up new pieces of sheet rock, tape, spackle and paint over this smutch.  In the years since I’ve often thought about this Boo Radley blotch with a kind of comforting disgust.  But it wasn’t till I’d come to New York and involved myself in the marginal underground art scene that I came to realize the pathetic appeal of the skuzzy nature of life. 

It’s not just famous works like Vito Acconci’s 1971 performance piece “Seedbed,” Carolee Schneemann’s 1975 “Interior Scroll” (the actual “scroll” in all its discolored and Scotch-Taped glory is currently on view in the terrific WACK: Art and the Feminist Revolution show at PS1) or the grandiosely rotting, long-term sculptures built by Dieter Roth that attracted and repelled me.  Work by anonymous unknown artists, the “Outsider” and “Art Brut,” also had a new resonance.  If the initial attention-tug was Dadaist anti-art shock, eventually the recognition of human frailty, decline, death and decay, and our pathetically gallant struggle despite this knowledge, led to an enhanced appreciation of work that retained an authentic residue of existence.  The hard-worn and piss-stained seemed an undeniably fitting artistic reliquary.

In a way, this was a reaction against the super-slick presentation of the Minimalist artists (think of Don Judd’s pristine metal boxes, Ryman’s über-elegant white canvases or the statements by Warhol the he wanted to “be like a machine”).  Sentiments like these were gaining credence at the time, and led to a cluster of works apparently “untouched by human hands,” produced by followers of the French Deconstructivists and marketed as Neo-Geo and Consumer Art.

Time has passed.  The computer has altered our vision and become a standard studio tool.  Photoshop and animation programming have replaced anatomical drawing and painting classes in some university art departments, and with the ever-expanding galaxy of the Internet, virtual art is becoming an institutionally accepted and vibrant form.  As we’re becoming more accustomed to artificially intelligent accessories infiltrating every aspect of our lives, I can’t help but see on the horizon a final aesthetic cleansing: art by machines for machines, an Academy of the Mechanical.

With The Tunnel, his latest exhibit at Parker’s Box, Patrick Martinez displays works employing various media and concepts—including ballpoint-pen drawings, sheets of paper, hand cut into meandering ribbons and video—buta couple of works using laser cut paper were what made me take a second look.  In one, “The Web” (2008) Martinez tapped the expertise of the New York Design School at CUNY and programmed its sophisticated computer-driven laser cutter to incise a twenty-sided web pattern into a piece of heavy drawing paper.  The impossibly fine cuts have left behind filaments of thread-thin, scorched browned paper that appear so delicate that a breath might break them off and send them drifting across the room.  The other paper piece that intrigued me, “Winter Tree” (2008), was a silhouette of a tree backgrounded against two grids of tiny rectangular holes cut to form a horizon line.  Again the precision was impeccable, and far beyond human capability.  For these pieces Martinez spent uncounted hours using Illustrator to draw the files.  The process required another six hours of cutting time by a laser mounted on an articulating arm. What troubled me was probably not that different from what bugged the19th century French critic Paul Delaroche when, upon seeing his first daguerreotype spouted, “from today painting is dead”.  Now laser paper-cutting probably won’t mean the end to collage or scissors or X-acto knives, which Martinez used before he got his hands on the laser, but with such a reliance on mechanical and computer-aided techniques, how can the artist introduce and maintain a human presence?  Can the viewers’ expectations for humanly-derived inspiration and ingenuity be satisfied, or should they surrender to the technology? 

In the case of Martinez, the web piece seems to have pushed the laser cutter to its maximum capacity, slicing the strands so thinly as to confound the practical application of the apparatus and push its abilities to a level useless for anything beyond art (in a phone conversation, the artist admitted to testing the capability of the machine to the point of setting the paper on fire).   I felt a certain relief thinking that overly enthusiastic programming could overload the system and goad the machine to levels it wasn’t designed for, leaving evidence of a mischievous hand.

What look like high speed vapor trails or curving tracer shells weaving through crisp modernist architectural space are the subjects of recent paintings by Yoon Lee at Pierogi.  Lee’s approach is yet another take on computer-assisted work with a subversive twist.  On my initial viewing at the opening, I was faced with what appeared to be huge photo-silkscreened images.  Though more textural, and with a considerable overlaying of paint, their facture on PVC board gave every indication that these pictures were produced in some massive commercial print shop with the latest in high-tech digital imaging.  Obviously a lot of thought and effort was expended to create this “machine-made” quality.  When I came up with the idea of writing a piece about art by machines for machines, I Googled Lee and skimmed some reviews.  I gleaned that her pieces are actually produced by hand, using a squirt bottle and other mysterious techniques to paint a composite of scanned images.  A second viewing in an uncrowded gallery was enlightening as was an as yet unpublished catalog interview by Joe Amrhein and Susan Swenson.   Lee refers to as her reliance on “digital interfacing” and its ability to introduce the illusion of speed into her forms.  An echo of Warhol’s “I want to be like a machine” no doubt plays a part in justifying the tedious replication of Benday dots, massed and haloed forms,  and other telltale signifiers of photo and commercial computer graphic techniques.

At seven by twenty feet, “JFK” (2008) fills the entire back wall of the gallery, its swooping, abstract vector lines lacing through a realistically painted wall of windows, reading like the afterimages of the blastoff a superhero or some galactic speedball from a computer game or an animated feature.  Broad fingers of yellow green paint taper precipitously from the right margin toward a left-center vanishing point.  Other trails arc through the central space like the rings of Saturn, dissipating into screens of dotted mist.  Strangely, it’s impossible to tell whether the implied momentum is approaching or receding.  Punctuating the foreground are small abstract silhouettes, many in unnamable tones of pinkish grays or beige that could be figures or signage in a parking lot.

“Untitled, 2008” is the only vertical painting.  Again, swirling bands of protoplasm seem to emanate from just over the central horizon.  These have a more organic feel and present a more persuasive pun on the image of paint slinging.  Lee’s colors are muted, with swirls in ochre, black, and powder blue.  There’s a sense of explosive energy and velocity, like an attack by military jets: by the time you seem them coming, it’s too late.  Imagistically, they relate to Pop Abstraction in their knowing use of mass media graphics and slick, crisp finish.   That Lee is able to fake this kind of mechanical precision and also use a variety of transparent and opaque colors is impressive.  Despite the “digital interfacing,” her imitation machine-making bespeaks a technical prowess that subverts the premise with a painstaking, hand-wrought style.  Computers may not yet rule the world, but they make up an ever-larger part of the artist’s toolbox.  Maybe this is just a fad, a new toy to explore, or perhaps unknowingly, artists have already become their tools.

"Brooklyn Dispatches: Groundhog Day All Over Again: Lowbrow, No-Brow, Pop Surrealism," Brooklyn Rail by Fredrick Munk

By James Kalm

“You know, I’m completely ignorant of that artist’s work.  I try not to pay any attention to art history”.  I heard these words from a slight, young European artist, a lock of hair strategically hanging across his left eye, just frazzled enough to be chic.  I wanted to smack him upside the head; thought better, maybe just a headlock and some nuggies.  It wasn’t like I was talking to him about some cult figure from Albania or Bushwick. I was referring to Robert Rauschenberg, the Robert Rauschenberg

I’d bumped into this kid after closing time on a Sunday afternoon in the “killing Room” at a Williamsburg Gallery.  I’m usually running around looking at shows in the off-hours, trying to get an unobstructed view of the work.  Seems young artists on the make have picked up on the idea, since it’s a great time to talk to exhausted galleriests wrapping up the weekend, their defenses down.

Hans (not his real name) is proposing an installation piece for the gallery, a large kiddy clubhouse of corrugated cardboard boxes on flimsy wooden supports.  From the jpegs on his ultra-sleek notebook computer, I couldn’t help but recall Rauschenberg’s Card Bird series from the early seventies (probably several years before he was born).  Some of these pieces were dead ringers. 

I was still incredulous, wondering if Hans was pulling my leg, playing naïve to deflect any questions of derivation.  Thinking back, I once loved to tweak geezers just to get a rise out of them, but in this case I had my doubts.  As fashion and the market have become the sole forces shaping current art production, the concept of historical legacy, or its relevance to today, seems to have been relegated to some far-off garret of academia having nothing to do with studio or post-studio practice.  After an excruciating ten-minute animated Flash presentation with alternative-punk musical accompaniment, a far cry from the manila envelope, slide sheets, and black tie portfolios I’d hauled around, I made a diplomatic dash for the door.  Weaving my way down Driggs Avenue I tried to console myself with the thought that perhaps my concern about art history was a personal hang-up, a real buzz-killer if you want to mingle with Williamsburg’s youngsters.  Maybe it’s more important to just do art.  A big enjoyable part of being young is being dumb.  Unfortunately, the fearlessness of youth seems to have been replaced with a reluctance to venture out of the nursery. The trend towards infantile scribblings, childlike narratives, and exhibitions that could pass for kindergarten projects has gotten stale.  I imagine dozens of recent art school grads, curled in fetal positions, wrapped in cuddly skuzzy blankets sucking their thumbs and afraid to leave babydom, endlessly rehashing images from afternoon cartoon shows but refusing to risk the uncomfortable realization that childhood wasn’t meant to last a lifetime.           
“Those who do not learn from history are domed to repeat it.”  Yeah, it’s a well-worn cliché, but reliving history is preferable to being stuck in a one-note prehistory, and Santayana’s sentiments seem to be playing out in our amnesiac art world in evermore swiftly repeating cycles.  The original movement/manifesto of the morning is supplanted by its post/neo version in the afternoon only to be pasted over with a cynical post-post kitsched-up neo-nuevo edition by dinnertime.  Then it’s all repeated with minor variations the next day.  Maybe Hans was right, forget the timeline, just make the work, even if it looks just like stuff done fifteen, thirty or fifty years ago.  History is for “highbrows”.

Pop Subversion, an exhibition provocatively curated by Andrew Ford at Ad Hoc Art, presents a broad group of works that raises a range of questions about the current state of New Figuration, Street Art, Low Brow and Graffiti.  Presiding over this diverse group is an engagingly bizarre little canvas “In the pavilion of the Red Clown,” (2001) by the Californian cult favorite Robert Williams.  Williams started out as an art director for Ed (Big Daddy) Roth, which are all the credentials I need.  “Red Clown” is a masterfully illustrated set piece—a blitzed-out, one-legged clown holds up a bird cage with a white viper inside, the bulge of an undigested birdie preventing the serpent from slipping through the narrow bars, while a showgirl in a star-studded costume recoils in shock against a backdrop of circus props, a prosthetic leg, and half a dozen empty vodka bottles.  I called this an illustration, and William’s style and technique borrows a lot from magazines and comic books of the fifties and sixties, yet it begs the question: do we still need the divide between high and commercial art or has all art become commercial, with “high” referring only to the price tag?  Perhaps critical rhetoric has evolved into an artifactual wardrobe, a reversible one-size-fits-all casual/formal cloak, draping the object in whatever conceptual garment fits the occasion?

Pop Subversion lies on this cusp, and subverts not just from the bottom up but from the top down.  Since its New York flowering in the early seventies, Graffiti has morphed from underground bad-boy turf marking to chic gallery darling to corporate logos and back.  Local “Old School” Graf, with its broad arm swings, twisted interlacings and rugged spontaneity, has a more than a passing relation to New York School Action Painting, and as with the waning of the “Tenth Street Touch” when pressed on whether we’ve now entered a state of Post-Graffiti Mr. Ford demurred, stating he couldn’t answer that question.  However, works on display like “Power Girl Black” and “Power Girl Green” by AICO, which maintain a scruffy aerosol facture while melding erotic cartoon images of a bounding buxom super-babe with the stencil technique now popular in contemporary street art, seem to imply we have. 

“Landscape” is a nightmarishly comical scene by Joe Vaux that intermingles a hallucinatory cast of goofy mini-monsters, anthropomorphized trees and mutant birds.  Its gestalt—Hieronymus Bosch meets Joan Miro on Nickelodeon’s Martian channel—and its slick surface and peachy color scheme wouldn’t look out of place on the cover of a children’s fantasy sci-fi book.

Although not hung entirely salon style, mostly the works are packed in without much breathing room.  The claustrophobic feeling lends a streetwise sincerity to the installation—akin to standing shoulder-to-shoulder on a packed L train—but it suits most of the medium to small-sized works well.  Strolling around the gallery just when I thought I’d gotten a fix on some commonality, a piece like “See No Evil” by Robert Steel would pop up.  This black-and-white drawing of a girl and boy in a tenement back lot next to a graveyard in Washington DC Is an engaging character study, and though realistically detailed with a nice rendering of textures and skin tone, it doesn’t quite fall into the hyper-realist category.  The use of deep raking shadows and subtle gradations seem to radiate heat from a glaring grisaille sun.

The eyes have it, and there were certainly a sizable contingent of the “Big Eye” school of painting.  I heard comments a couple of years ago during the Armory Show Art Fair about the glut of figurative pieces with big eyes.  At the time, it seemed to reflect the influence of Japanese anime on “Chick Art.”  In this show, the works of Gil, Camilla d’Errico, Fawn Fruits, Sandra Chi and Benjamin Lacombe, the glistening iris-and-deep-pupils trend has continued in an apparent homage to that still-active avatar of twentieth century kitsch, Margaret Keane.  Even so, the “Big Eye” girls in Camilla d’Errico’s paintings get an edgy twist, wearing hats swarming with white mice and centipedes or receiving licentious kisses with mouths full of honeycombs.

Brendan Danielsson contributes sharp-focus portrait drawings depicting unsettling, sexually ambiguous grotesques.  The man/woman in “Texas Tea” could be from a long-faded photo of a pioneer couple who have somehow melded together.  On the right side, a grizzly, weather-beaten settler in a stiff suit and collar, black beard and curling mustache, grimaces while he/she transitions to an equally tough female left side with flowing black hair and an exposed breast squirting milk over the prairies. 

Perhaps an aspect of Post-Modernist thought is the attempt to transcend our obsession with novelty and the post-neo-newest, to jump the timeline and see history as a ball rather than a strip, an ocean rather than a river.  After all, the Gothic style was vibrant for three hundred years.  Surrealism, though perhaps not quite so durable, keeps coming back like a persistent skin rash.  And rather that asking ourselves if it’s a failure of artistic originality that an image might echo something done decades ago, we might rather ponder what kinds of shared impulses an artist in Paris in the 1930s, San Francisco in 1969, or Brooklyn in 2008 would lead to such similar results?

A video tour of “Pop Subversion” with an Andrew Ford interview is available at:


"Brooklyn Dispatches: The Ethics of Aesthetics," Brooklyn Rail by Fredrick Munk

By James Kalm

Little did I realize when I wrote “The Gangs of New York” (Brooklyn Rail July/August 2007), on the new phenomenon of the art blogosphere, that shortly we’d be witnessing a major power shift as some of these bloggers flex their newfound muscle.  Until recently, their torrent of opinions, reviews, and excruciatingly clever snarking about artists, critics, curators and other bloggers has been ignored by the mainstream press and art establishment.  Because, in the “democracy” that is the Internet, where anyone can start a blog, those who succeeded in building a readership did so through the uniqueness of their voices, the consistency of their entries and the thoroughness of their cross-linking. With time the cream has risen to the surface, creating an online network despite the near-impossibility of generating income from a site and the amount of time and effort it takes to maintain a blog, while the desire to take part in the larger conversation keeps lesser talents bent over keyboards clicking away in the pursuit of relevance.

It wasn’t till last fall that a valid possibility for the blogosphere evolved: that of moralistic watchdog, in essence, an art world “Bullshit Detector”.  In his October 9th posting on ANABA (http://anaba.blogspot.com) titled “Jerry Saltz is an UNDEAD ZOMBIE,” the untiring Martin Bromirski took New York’s favorite (and one of its most influential) art critics to task.   Bromirski, an ardent fan, complained about Saltz recycling several phrases verbatim in his October 15, 2007 New York Magazine essay “Has Money Ruined Art?” from an earlier essay “Seeing Dollar Signs” published in the Village Voice January 18, 2007.  Bitching and moaning are the bread and butter of blogging and for an influential critic, like Mr. Saltz, this kind of carping comes with the territory.  (Indeed, Teresa Duncan, one half of last summer’s bizarre double suicide had railed relentlessly against Saltz and his wife Roberta Smith on her popular blog The Wit of Stair Case (http://theresalduncan.typepad.com/witostaircase/art/index.html) in the weeks just prior to her OD.)  But the nose of the camel got into the tent when Saltz immediately published a mea culpa and admitted in part that “I was guilty of using many of the same ideas, lines, and quotes that I have used in previous articles. The blogger called this ‘very lazy’; actually, he/she also called me ‘an undead zombie.’ I’m afraid I agree; it was lazy. It’s also unfair to the reader and undermines my credibility”.  Though the response was appropriate—the reference to Mr. Bromirski as he/she not withstanding (maybe a holdover from the gazillion Shemale adds in the Voice)—many times in the past these types of screeds would simply be ignored.   This tidbit and its aftermath must have induced a wave of nausea rippling through the upper levels of the critical “Good Old Boys and Girls Club” as they realized an uncomfortable precedent had been set.  Chalk one up for the bloggers.  

Charlie Finch, our favorite grump, in what may have been a preemptive blitz to discredit the entire blogging enterprise, and no doubt trying to cover Saltz’s back, staged a counterattack from his artnet.com column titled “The Not-So-Vast-Right-Wing Conspiracy” from October 26, 2007.  If equating bloggers with the Right Wing wasn’t heinous enough, he goes on to say “Unfortunately, the proliferation of art blogs has taken all the day-tripper fun out of criticism by circle-jerking, recycling and regurgitating the effluvia of critique beyond the wildest fantasies of Rosalind Krauss.” And further that “They all refer and link to each other, since their primary audience is themselves.”  Finch goes after Tyler Green with special gusto, saying he ”… sucks up to every curator on the planet, and I wish him well on his world tour of speaking engagements at obscure museums, cashing his money orders at the bus station.”

On the heels of Finch’s trash talk, Peter Plagens gathered together five leading art bloggers from diverse cities across the country for a roundtable discussion in the November 2007 Art in America titled “The New Grass Roots.”Included are Regina Hackett who writes for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (http://blog.seattlepi.nwsource.com/art/), Jeff Jahn, based in Portland Oregon,  (http://www.portlandart.net/), the above-mentioned Washington, D.C., writer, Tyler Green, (http://www.artsjournal.com/man/), the Philadelphia team of Roberta Fallon and Libby Rosof (http://fallonandrosof.blogspot.com/), and our own former-Williamsburg-now-Chelsea-hotshot-galleriest, Edward Winkleman (http://edwardwinkleman.blogspot.com/). This very informative dialogue covers basic question about motivation, number of page views, financial arrangements, and the editorial responsibilities of online art critics. 

At this point, the blogosphere is garnering more positive attention than at any time in its still nascent history.  But for art world insiders, good word of mouth and media buzz, especially on the Internet, are short-lived.  What really gets their attention is money or the exercise of raw power, and that’s the crux of this brief recap.

When Christian Veveros-Faune, the recently installed replacement for Jerry Saltz at the Village Voice, sat for a three-part interview with Tyler Green, he probably wasn’t expecting to do more than kibitz and wow an out-of-towner art writer with his hip insights. (Full Discloser: I’ve known Christian for years, reviewed shows at Reobling Hall while he was a partner there in Williamsburg, and interviewed him in his capacity as a critic at the Village Voice.)  In the ensuing chat, Green went after Ververos-Faune’s apparent conflict of interest, asking how a critic can also function as a curator for two commercial art fairs (the Volta fair which runs concurrently with the Armory Show locally, and the Next Fair in Chicago).  In an editorial epilog Green calls on Ververos-Faune to either separate himself from the commercial fairs or for Voice editor Tony Ortega to “stop publishing him.”  When the dust settled, Ververos-Faune was out of his job at the Voice (leaving us with one less reason to pick up the paper) and drawing undesired attention to his two other positions as art fair organizer.  Beyond that, Green’s questions and implied standards have art world operators looking at their tally sheets and dance cards and questioning whether they were in compliance with this new blogger-enforced code of ethics.

Response was instantaneous (a tactical advantage of online media) and expected.  Most bloggers cheered, hailing Green for nailing an influential critic, and dealing Ververos-Faune his comeuppance.  Many members of the New York critical community just grumbled and circled the wagons.  Some blamed the new pusillanimous management at the Voice for folding so fast.  The final results, other than driving thousands of eyeballs to Modern Art Notes (Green’s site), and giving the fingers of countless bloggers a thorough workout, is yet to be seen.  For anyone with local experience, the art world is and always has been nothing other than one giant knot of conflicting interests, whether political, financial, institutional, professional, sexual, or pharmaceutical.  As a fan and champion of both the art blogosphere and the New York scene, I’m conflicted.  Yes, it’s great to see the real world take action when prodded by the virtual but, call me a chauvinist, I don’t think out-of-towners possess a realistically sensitive view of the subtle relationships that make up this particular milieu.  Are art critics, as Green asserts, mere journalists, that report only the facts of who, what, where, and when?  If, as Camus implies, the making of art is an act of rebellion, then shouldn’t its most impassioned commentators likewise be rebels?  What of pathos and poetry?   Is it time for an art critical code of ethics, complete with signed affidavits and oaths?  Geez, I hope not.  Good critics, first of all, have to love art, and that is in itself a conflict; second; they have to voice strong opinions which, in this all too politically correct era, keep many mum for fear of alienating possible allies; third we want them to be entertaining, make art viewing fun, challenging, risky, and spare us the market analysis (this is art, not financial instruments we’re talking about).  If we extend this to “purge trials,” then let’s start at the top with the museum boards, their directors and curators.   How do their personal, political and financial interests impose boundaries on what and who gets shown? Then let’s go after the big time commercial art publications, their editors, advertisers and critics, then on to government and private foundations and their grant selection process.  Let’s not forget academia and the vagaries of tenure and funding and on and on and on. If this is a harbinger of a reformation, a cyberspace nailing-of-theses-to-the-door moment, then there’ll be plenty to keep bloggers typing for an eternity.  But after they’ve all worn their fingers bloody, and all our eyes are bleached by cathode rays, will any of this make for better art or art criticism?  As Granny said, don’t believe everything you read in the newspapers.

"Memories of Future Amnesia “Willliamsburg Without the Fluff” ," Saatchi Online Magazine by Fredrick Munk

By James Kalm

Opinions vary; ether it’s over, done, dead, soooo last millennium, or it’s vibrant, challenging, a great place to experiment, push the envelope, take your shot at the “big leagues”.  In many cases declarations like the former, are delivered with rolled eyes, smug sneers or raised brows, made by blabbermouths who, though not openly admitting it, got their ignominious beginnings within the Williamsburg community. 

When I was approached to write yet another Williamsburg over-view essay (seems I’ve written this at least five times since 1997) I decided to cut the crap scrap off the fluff and tell it like it is.  Williamsburg is Williamsburg, a neighborhood in transition, a real estate developer’s dream, a place under incredible pressure brought on by its own success, a boom town with oblivious crowds mining for that last nugget, a place where “fucked up shit happens”, where careerist goals and opportunist ambitions twist relationships like pretzels and still, occasionally, magic. 

Welcome to Williamsburg 2.0.  So what’s new?

Like the terrible mixed metaphors of the proverbial blind man and elephant (if you can’t see the big picture it’s a totally different critter depending on whether you’re touching the trunk, the leg or the tail), and “you don’t want to see how sausage is really made”, Williamsburg fills a messy and complex yet profound place in New York’s cultural heritage.

Let’s Remember

As part of a research project involved with my exhibition “Greater Williamsburg: We Are Our Own Art History” I was able to document during the years between 1985 and 2006, the existence of over 140 galleries/art-spaces in the neighborhood, a number nearly twice as large as the East Village in its heyday.  Remarkably, nearly all these spaces were founded by artists who felt shut out of the EV, Soho, 57th Street and Chelsea systems.  To remedy this, these intrepid pioneers developed a DIY (Do It Yourself) attitude that is still a hallmark of local endeavors.  Collaborative happenings like “All Fools Show”, (1982) “The Mustard Factory” (1993), “Cats Head” and bunches of other transitory cultural potlatches influenced groups and individuals and resonated far beyond the Bedford/Metropolitan Avenue nexus.  By using a highly developed informational grape vine, organizers, on short notice, could summon swarms of energetic artists to clean up, prop up, and show up for art raves/exhibitions/concerts.  In the late eighties, as the East Village scene foundered, a few brave souls sans business plan or marketing strategies came over the bridge and started impromptu galleries.  Ward Shelley’s famous “Williamsburg Timeline Drawing” designates this period as the “Golden Age” and for some, in their own prime, it was. 

I began to establish my own art critical beat here in 1997 when you could walk between the half-dozen or so galleries in twenty minutes, but without the now numerous coffee boutiques and juice bars to refresh ambulating explores.  Then, as now, most galleries schedules were weekend affairs squeezed in after grueling day jobs.  As central Williamsburg became more pricy the adventurous began to pitch camp ever farther north, south and east.  Enclaves in Greenpoint, east of the BQE and south to Flushing Avenue have come and in some cases gone.  With pangs of nostalgia I picked up a crappy mimeographed listings (perhaps computer simulated mimeography) published by something called Godsofmars informing us about a cluster of risky galleries at the burg’s eastern boarder with Bushwick, once again raising hopes for a new destination to cruse.  Unfortunately, no sooner than reports of the establishment of spaces like NUTUREart3rd Ward, Ad Hoc Art, Pocket Utopia and English Kills come, than we’re informed Taste Like Chicken, the ground breaking neighborhood venue, has been forced into paralysis by an anxious landlord.

At the risk of seeming insensitive and stirring up hurt feelings I’d like to mention some of those who have passed through the nab and gone on.  Though they might play it down or deprecate their associations, several of Chelsea’s hottest young galleriests are Williamsburg veterans.  Leo Koenig, golden boy dealer and scion to one of Europe’s most influential art families, recipient of a New Yorker Magazine profile, weathered his apprenticeship with his first gallery attempt at Four Walls, the same location now occupied by VertexList.  Becky Smith together with three friends maxed out their credit cards on their way to founding Bellwether in the upstart Greenpoint district.  She then went solo, relocated to Grand Street, and left mobs of grumbling locals still pissed off at her meteoric rise and eventual departure to raise havoc in Chelsea.  Joel Beck of Roebling Hall and his former partner Christian Viveros-Faune (who has forsaken art dealer-hood to peruse criticism for the prestigious Village Voce) were community stalwarts and opened first a satellite gallery in Soho, eventually relocating the whole shebang, like many former burgsters, to West Chelsea, beyond 11th Avenue.  The above are just a few of the many who come to mind, and though some Brooklyn hold-outs bare grudges both personally and professionally, we all recognize that Williamsburg is still the place where ambitious kids come for on the job training in creating their own art world.

Beyond the petty beefs that fill our gossip quotas we’ve also had a roster of real tragedies:  we lost Annie Herron, credited by many as having opened the first “commercial” gallery Test Site in the early 90s, to a rare form of cancer.  When Sophia Loren (or as rumor has it, a Sophia look-a-like) visited his show at Pierogi, it was too late for Mark Lombardi who’d committed suicide in 2000 just as he was beginning to taste the fruits and receive serious recognition for his maniacal mapping of international political networks.  Steve Parrino was killed coming home on his motorcycle from a holiday party in the wee hours of the new year 2005 and won’t see his draped and “misshaped” canvases gracing the walls at Gagosian on Madison Avenue this October.

Despite all the buzz killers, Williamsburg is still the territory of unique events and venues that could happen no place else.  The now legendary Christmas exhibition that’s morphed into “The War Is Over” show at Side Show is one of New York’s largest independently currated affairs.  The 2007 edition featured the works of nearly 300 artists from three generations and lends credence to the notion that the burg is not just a place where the young come to break into the scene, but where mature practitioners (some with impeccable credentials) who’ve fallen from grace, can be rediscovered.  It may be counterintuitive considered the ever expanding square footage of Manhattan galleries, but here, thinking small may be a good thing and Holland Tunnel is ahead of the curve.  This garden-shed cum gallery has hosted national and internationally known artists’ work in a space about the size of the average urban bathroom.  And speaking of small, David Gibson, the hardest working curator in the neighborhood, has been organizing shows for the past four years at Real Form Project Space in the very heart of the scene at Bedford and North 5th Street. Gibson took over this 6 x 3 x 7 foot store window from Larry Walczak, whose eyewash productions now exists as a “migratory gallery”.

Clement Greenberg said that art on the edge might initially “look ugly”, weird, or strange, not in a good way.  Some venues here have pronounced agendas supporting “new media”, “techno art” or gadgets and installations that challenge our norms of aesthetics.  A cluster of galleries on the Williamsburg/Greenpoint boarder have displayed an allegiance, at least in part, to questioning the connections of technology and art.  Vertexlist specializes in work that crosses the line between high-tech gizmos and sculpture.  Artmovingprojects also delves into the techno as well as video and on-line new media.  On the South-East side Dam & Stuhltrager consistently presents installations and sculpture that might be as dangerous to the viewer’s life and limb as they are to their excepted ideas of beauty.

Every aficionado seeking a forum that reports and critiques on all things cultural from a Brooklyn perspective owes a debt to the Brooklyn Rail, its publisher Phong Bui, and the art scene staff headed by John Yau.  In the interests of full disclosure, I’ve been a writer for the Rail for nearly eight years now, and I’m proud and amazed at the dedication of its reporters and the determination that has taken what was an armature journalistic project and developed it into one of New York’s most influential arts publications.  Much of the critical attention and examination of local endeavors has come from the Rail.   Beyond the hard copy, the Rail has organized discussions and symposiums, giving natives a connection with the grand flow of New York art history.  An intriguing panel, held at Pierogi concurrently with the Philip Guston retrospective at the Met, was attended by Irving Sandler, Wolf Kahn and Nicholas Carone, all three members of the famed “Artists Club”, the ad hoc organization responsible for the establishment of the “New York School”.

The WAGA (Williamsburg Art Gallery Association) has been tirelessly organizing district wide events with galleries and art venues, a feat akin to herding cats.  Williamsburg Every Second is a second Friday of every month shindig featuring openings, late gallery hours, special performances and rollicking gallery crawls.

A brief story by way of comparison: While visiting some galleriest friends (former Brooklynites) at their new digs in one of those massive, airless, windowless Chelsea gallery buildings, the clock struck 6:00.  Our conversation stopped.  Designer jackets were slipped on, elegantly spare briefcases toted.  On cue, my friends and the six neighboring dealers walked out, locked their shop doors, waved to each other and headed to 10th Avenue to flag cabs for home.  I jumped on my bike, peddled across town and over the bridge.  By the time I hit Grand Street it was way past closing time, but lights were still on in many of the galleries.  Folks in grungy paint-stained camo shorts were yakking in the front doorways, people watched the pigeons wheeling overhead.  Antsy women with facial piercing and breaded strands of torques and magenta hair debated reviews in the Rail.  Everyone was engaged, and mostly the subject was art, real, genuine, messy, stinking art.  They were living it, they were talking it, and they were making it, not just trying to sell it.  Sure you can stroll the hundreds of look alike white box galleries in Chelsea (I still do) leaving a trail of bread crumbs so as not to get lost in the endless maze of simulacrum. But lest we forget, for over twenty years now Williamsburg, despite all the confrontations, is still the place to go for an authentic, unfiltered, free range art experience.