Strange Days


Artists who have the ability or the willingness to make their work strange to themselves have the potential of making great art. One can only imagine what Philip Guston must have thought of his late figurative paintings after he had spent decades essentially painting irradiated abstract fields.Lately in this department there is a batch of artists who are simply starting out strange, notably the squirrelly comedic Magritte-ian Jamie Isenstein, who has hidden in walls so that only her hand is showing within a picture frame, or sat inside an altered chair so that her bare arms are the arms of the furniture. Now there’s Xavier Cha, an equally subtle but more aggressive and high-strung UCLA grad who has carved her name into hedges and dressed as a shrimp in front of an L.A. sushi bar and a life-size fingernail in front of a nail salon, turning herself into human advertising.

In her dilly of a New York debut at Taxter & Spengemann (an outfit that specializes in artists with oddball sensibilities), Cha, who like Isenstein and many of these artists would have really spiced up the current Whitney Biennial, is performing three pieces, one each week. The first saw Cha wedged inside a huge cornucopia brimming with produce, with only her feet showing. A hunk in a gold toga massaged her toes at the opening. Later in the week I watched the marvelously strange Rachel Mason, who once made a sculpture of herself kissing George Bush, sing love songs to Cha inside the cornucopia. Another evening two Korean belly dancers writhed around it.

Strange or otherwise, Cha effectively combines performance, sculpture, costume design, installation, cruising the Web for weirdos, happenings, and humor to make art that is smart, smart-alecky, and even badass.