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art basel: moca and 125th street

Post #167 • December 3, 2003, 7:14 AM • 1 Comment

Tuesday night there was an opening of Inka Essenhigh and Richard Artschwager at MoCA. William Cordova's show, which opened last week, was in the MoCA pavillion, and the galleries across 125th Street were open in case anyone wanted to come in (although few did).

Artschwager's work is awful. Imagine Gerhard Richter at his stiffest and coldest, reproducing old black & white photographs on gessoed Kleenex. Some of the frames had been faux-marbled with seemingly deliberate clumsiness. The result is ugly, with no evidence of the import or feeling attributed to it by the museum:

Difficult to categorize, as it incorporates elements of Pop Art, Photo Realism, and Conceptual Art, Richard Artschwagers work has conventionally been perceived as cool and cerebral. He became one of the pioneers of appropriation art when he began using black-and-white photographs reproduced in newspaper for his paintings in the 1960s. Many of these paintings are on Celotex, a paper composite with a stamped pattern that breaks up and blurs the painted line. The photographic images give his paintings an objective, journalistic appearance.

In examining Artschwger's entire body of paintings, however, it becomes clear that there is a strong emotional element to these subjects. Artschwager, in fact, uses his paintings to record such events as his experiences in World War II and Battle of the Bulge, his family relationships, and the constant evolution of the urban landscape.

Nothing of the kind becomes clear. Embarassing wall text #1: for a black & white still life with one item of fruit painted pink, the label read, "Artschwager would discreetly apply colors to cause a 'disjunct which electrifies' the entire composition." Said composition couldn't get a pocket flashlight going.

I went into Artschwager expecting nothing and receiving it. I went into Essenhigh expecting much and not receiving it. Her paintings are morphed, duochromatic renditions of figures in varying states Daliesque floppiness and auto-abuse. They're okay, but I don't feel that they offer anything that hasn't been put forward already by Gerald Scarfe. Embarassing wall text #2: next to a 2001 canvas, "This is Inka Essenhigh's first oil painting." And we're very proud of her.

I went into Cordova's show expecting nothing and receving something. The installation (described as much as I care to repeat it here) did zip for me, but the collaged drawings, studies for larger projects involving his interest in castoff materials and urban culture, are compelling enough to linger over.

I found better work across the street at Ambrosino Gallery. Beatriz Monteavaro has drawn a six-inch high, 35-foot long narrative in which Adam Ant and Gary Numan go to a planet ruled by Siouxsie Sioux and her Planet of the Apes henchmen, get thrown in jail, escape with the help of their New Wave superpowers, and score a big stash of black eyeliner. The style is less grotesque than some of her earlier drawings of crack-addicted superheroes, but retains its low-art charm. An astonishing amount of labor went into the images, hatched with thousands of strokes from a set of colored Microns. She also has a row of moonscapes drawn in marker on TV screens which have had their antennae cauterized, and the static and snow shows through them from the back to produce a surprisingly atmospheric effect.

I also want to mention Tom Virgin's work at Leonard Tachmes. Virgin has made a series of woodcuts after the giant fake animals on the roadside that one encounters while driving from Miami to Key West. They are humoruous but spooky, and are accompanied by an insightful narrative about escaping, actually and metaphorically, to the Keys.

Comment

1.

Jack

December 23, 2003, 9:05 AM

Artschwager is gray as ashes and dry as dust--sterile stuff that made me feel imposed upon.
Essenhigh's work strikes me as surrealist cartoons blown up to very large size. Her forte appears to be line drawing. Going by this show, however, she will never be taken for a colorist, and what color there is tends toward the rancid. Trendy? Yes, if you think that's at all relevant.

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