Wonder Women

A season of old masters, Gumby, biomorphs, and cell phones

In the visual arts, the avant-garde is always about 30,000 years behind the times: The Chauvet caves in France contain sophisticated paintings, drawings, and engravings of animals; perfect stencils of the human hand; abstract dots and stripes; and even found art in the form of a bear skull placed atop a boulder by an unknown Paleolithic designer. Still, there's always room for new voices, and this spring it's women who have a lot to say. Kathleen Gilje is a skilled art conservator with an amazing ability to mimic old-master techniques that allows her to pull icons of the past through wormholes of deconstruction and art theory to create alternate-universe replicas. In 1997, she "restored" a "lost" Caravaggio "copy" of The Musicians, one of the baroque genius's masterpieces at the Met. Accompanying X-rays reveal that the boy holding a love madrigal in the original version is actually stroking his erect penis in the "newly restored" alternate. Gilje has applied such sleight-of-hand effect to artists ranging from El Greco to Artemisia Gentileschi, and in a new series (at Francis M. Naumann Fine Art, 22 East 80th Street, 212-472-6800, opening April 5), she will present portraits of current art-world scholars grafted into the objects of their study: Linda Nochlin, feminist art critic, becomes the full-frontal barmaid in a knockoff of Manet's 1882 Bar at the Folies-Bergere.

Also in April (opening on the 14th at Zach Feuer, 530 West 24th Street, 212-989-7700), Nathalie Djurberg will be updating a more recent art form: Claymation. It ain't your father's Gumby, though—this Swedish-born filmmaker's short videos are filled with rollicking humans and animals and occasional combinations thereof: A still from 2004's Tiger Licking a Girl's Butt delivers more truth-in-advertising than most Hollywood fare. The three-and-a-half-minute Florentine tells the story of two young girls ultra-violently turning the tables on a man who spanks them. Whatever Djurberg is working out through her art, the tiny sets are charmingly askew, the costumes colorfully flamboyant, and the action comically grotesque.

Eva Hesse (1936–70) also explored the grotesque with her achingly beautiful sculptures: large globules in distended net bags, boxes filled with tiny plastic filaments all pointing and gathering inward like geometric sea anemones, suspended matrices of strings gloppily coated with fiberglass or latex. But rather than outrageous humor, Hesse, who died at 34, an age when most artists are still stylistically and emotionally callow, sought to imbue her era's minimalism and "process art" with a warmth that encompassed not only the physical facts of her materials but also the organic forms that inspired her oeuvre. On May 6 the Drawing Center (35 Wooster Street, 212-219-2166) will unveil 150 works on paper by this woman who was at the vanguard of her moment, including 50 never-before-seen working notes and drawings, which should help our own time rediscover the accomplishments of a seminal and influential artist.

Eva Hesse explores the grotesque in this untitled piece.
Tony and Gail Ganz Collection, LA
Eva Hesse explores the grotesque in this untitled piece.

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    And what could be more seminal to our moment than cell phones? (Or, with their Top 40 ringtones and celebrity wallpaper, more crassly commercial?) The art world knows from crass commercialism, but in early June, Zone:Chelsea Gallery (601 West 26th Street, 212-255-2177) will showcase a globe-girdling project that aims to counter the profit motive by inviting artists from all over the world to donate digital audio/visual content, games, and—shades of John Cage—"silences wherein the callers can express themselves," which will be accessible when the hoi polloi dial a special number. Big deal, you may grouse, it's not hard to get artists to donate their time—they're used to being underpaid. But Jennifer Bahng, the project's originator, has convinced electronics giant Samsung and other global corporations to donate cell phones and minutes to designated sites worldwide, plus give 1 percent of the generated phone bill to the Vox Populi Foundation, which has been set up to distribute the money to local charities in participating countries. Anyone can call the number, interact with the software, and literally get his or her two cents in.

    The project will be physically manifest at the gallery through sculptures (also with direct-to-charity price tags) using colorful arrays of cell phones encased in paper molds made from reprocessed food waste and cannon shells discarded by U.S. troops in Korea. Joseph Beuys once said, "Jeder Mensch ist ein Künstler"; Vox Populi confirms that, indeed, "Everyone is an artist," and gives the public a chance to put corporate money where its mouth is.


    Listings by R.C. Baker

    'Women's Work'
    March 22–April 15

    Greenberg Van Doren, 730 Fifth Ave, 212-445-0444

    Large-scale works by 10 women painters, including the patterned figuration of Jennifer Bartlett, Joan Mitchell's and Helen Frankenthaler's brushy abstractions, Moira Dryer's moody visions, and the shaped, exuberant canvases of Elizabeth Murray.


    Markus Hansen
    March 23–April 29

    Virgil de Voldere Gallery, 526 W 26th, 212-343-9694

    This German-born photographer approximates the clothing of his subjects, then mimics their postures and expressions, becoming, in the resulting side-by-side photos, not a twin or a replica but a doppelg When he teams up with a woman or a person of a different race, his underlying empathy easily trumps any surface differences.


    Amy Sillman
    April 7–May 6

    Sikkema Jenkins & Co., 530 W 22nd, 212-929-2262

    Sillman's imagery has long fluctuated between abstraction and goofy, even cartoonish, characters. And then there are her bright, often garish clashing colors. Yet when she nails the balance of such high-risk elements, she's one of the most compelling painters around. This new work strips down the compositions to starker figures in sparer environments; the best ones always like to work without a net.


    Dennis Hollingsworth
    April 7–June 10

    Nicole Klagsbrun, 526 W 26th, 212-243-3335

    Hollingsworth loves paint, and in the past has slathered it on, leaving disks of pigments stacked like pancakes, thick brown burrs jutting out an inch from the canvas, and palette-knife gouges deep in the fat surfaces. Such virtuoso technique never marred his chromatic smarts and boisterous compositions; it will be interesting to see how much weight his new work throws around.


    Long-Bin Chen
    April 21–June 3

    Frederieke Taylor, 535 W 22nd, 646-230-0992

    Like a sculptor working in granite, this Taiwanese artist carves his work from large blocks. His material, however, is considerably less durable: One large bearded face is crafted from a stack of 10 Brooklyn phone books, leaving striations where the covers join; veins of light and dark are determined by the areas of text and white space. Chen's forms retain a veneer of solidity while conveying an existential transience.


    'Never Mind the Bullocks, Here's Amanda Lear'
    April 21–June 3

    Envoy Gallery, 535 W 22nd, 212-242-7524

    Lover to Bryan Jones and David Bowie, a Salvador Dalí muse and stunning looker—though her guttural voice incited rumors that she was a transsexual, which didn't halt her rise to disco divadom—Amanda Lear had quite a time of it this past century. Now pushing 60, her own artwork, plus the work of nine others inspired by her exploits, continues the legend.


    Lee Mullican
    April 25–July 15

    Grey Art Gallery, NYU, 100 Washington Sq E, 212-998-6782

    After a wartime stint with the Army Corps of Engineers, Mullican (1919–1998) used the patterning he'd seen in aerial photos and topographical maps as inspiration for his small (as compared to typical abstract paintings of the '50s) canvases. His decorative, densely crosshatched, and carefully applied brushstrokes convey both the charm of a vibrant tiki bar menu and the breadth of a complicated, rolling landscape.


    Mary Temple
    April 27–May 27
    Mixed Greens, 531 W 26th, 212-331-8889

    Temple paints trompe l'oeil shadows of plants and window frames, sometimes trailing down to the floor, on both interior and exterior walls, causing viewers to hold their hands in front of the work in an attempt to determine the light source. This upcoming show features a complex shadow cast in a windowless room, a moment in time frozen in place.


    Marco Boggio Sella
    May 13–June 17

    625 W 27th, 212-337-9563

    In 2004, this Italian-born artist, who splits his time between Turin and Brooklyn, reimagined Matisse's L'Atelier Rouge as an environment of rough-hewn red walls, ceilings, and floors, festooned with equally rough sculpture, furniture, easels, and brightly colored paintings whose subjects ranged from 19th-century etchings to '70s comic-book panels. His upcoming show "Dreams and Nightmares of the African Astronaut" is a collaboration with artists in Africa, some of whom are skeptical that men ever walked on the moon.


    Jerome Powers
    May 18–June 24

    Margaret Thatcher, 511 W 25th, 212-675-0222

    We all know what happens to horses that get carted off to the glue factory. Well, like a chicken omelet, Powers takes horse hair and places it—sometimes in straight lines, like a Barnett Newman "zip," other times in overlapping curves—between layers of poured Elmer's glue. The hair (or sometimes pencil lines) applied in the earlier layers gets blurrier beneath successive applications of the glue, lending the work an atmosphere reminiscent of bugs trapped in prehistoric amber.


    John Salvest
    May 18–June 24

    Morgan Lehman Gallery, 317 Tenth Ave, 212-268-6699

    Taking the Latin inscription "Omnia tibi felicia" ("May all things bring you happiness") as inspiration, Salvest makes art from humble materials: wine corks, rubber bands, stubby chalk remnants, and chewing gum. For this show, the gallery's courtyard will be filled with 247 red, white, and blue milk crates stacked in the shape of Old Glory. In the past, Salvest has spread plastic lids on the floor in the shape of a map of the U.S., so expect him to use all available surfaces for his clever aesthetics of detritus.


    'Sweet Taboos: A Mini Tirana Biennial in NYC'
    May 24–July 1

    Apexart, 291 Church, 212-431-5270

    Albania was once one of the Communist bloc's most repressive and backward members. After Communism collapsed across Eastern Europe, artists got some sense of what they'd been missing in the West. Last year's third incarnation of Tirana's Biennial allowed international artists to work on sites throughout that city for extended periods of time; a sampling of the results exploring "the taboos of contemporary society—what are they, what do they mean, how do they apply to the Albanian context, and how does one deal with them artistically"—is crossing the ocean for the edification of us jaded New Yorkers.

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