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Can a 33-years-young institution be considered venerable? When said outfit traffics in confrontational public art, would it even want to be? Although Creative Time once put AIDS prejudice in your face by plastering city buses with Gran Fury’s color photos of various gender and racial combos swapping spit, this local alternative arts organization began in a more staid manner: In 1974, a group of fiber artists worked behind glass walls in the economically distressed South Street Seaport area, diverting passersby with chromatic weaving and knot tying. Today, through this exuberant tome’s color plates, you can enjoy details from each of Creative Time’s 313 projects to date, including Vik Muniz’s clouds, created by skywriting planes on clear blue days; Survival Research Labs’ 1988 assault on Shea Stadium, where 30-foot robots tore each other limb from limb in a bone-jarring demolition derby; and 18 years of spectacular light installations, performances, and skateboard tricks in the Brooklyn Bridge’s soaring Anchorage. There’s even a reproduction of Paco Cao’s $35-per-hour “Rent a Body” contract-a Brooklyn church paid him to play Christ on the cross at Easter; another time he was hired by a woman in need of a verbal punching bag. Each cover is adorned with a unique, abstract print graphing the prevailing weather, sound, and color at sites documented by Creative Time’s “Urban Visual Recording Machine,” a glass-sided truck loaded with sensors that traversed the city last fall. For those not willing to spring for the book, Creative Time, as usual, is offering the public something for nothing: 32 plaques have been placed around the boroughs, commemorating such cultural landmarks as Max’s Kansas City (watering hole for trendsetters like Warhol and the Ramones) and the Hellfire Club, where, John Waters reports, “you could be standing there having a conversation about a literary new best seller and an erection would poke through a Glory Hole and hit you in the back.” To add your vox to the populi that will choose the content of plaque no. 33, go to creativetime.org.
There are horizon lines—dark on the bottom and lighter blue or gray above—but the only terra firma presented in these two-foot-wide panels comes from oil paint, thick and laid down wet into wet. White’s grounds convey nature, but the spidery networks of red and ochre that he conjures from flicks and arabesques of his wrist are distillations of the eye and hand, that coordination of the senses which, even after 30,000 years or so, continues to make the melding of painting’s form and content so visually thrilling. Andre Zarre, 529 W 20th, 212-255-0202. Through June 30.
Reminiscent of Bacon or Soutine, this group of paintings is about as shy as a butcher’s ax. Titles such as
Skinned, Red Bride, Red Death, and Death Mask are of a piece with the gelatinous, abstract smears of scarlet and white on shadowy grounds. There are intimations of globs of entrails and gristle stretched over chest cavities, but skillful paint handling and passionate brush flourishes keep grotesqueness at arm’s length. Collings gets credit for titling one work Clown Evolution, thereby tossing associations of bad taste, pop culture, and disgust (think of the booming market in mass-murderer John Wayne Gacy’s clown paintings) into a postmodern sausage grinder. Envoy, 535 W 22nd, 212-242-7524. Through June 30.
Don Van Vliet and Charlie Hammond
I once worked for a house painter who blasted Captain Beefheart’s Run Paint Run Run (sample lyric: “You got hot paint and yer havin’ fun”) from a boombox lashed to our swing stage, suspended four stories above the street. Poet, musician, and painter, Van Vliet and the Captain are one and the same Renaissance man, and this group of paintings displays all of his talents. A tall canvas with the lyrical title Parapliers the Willow Dipped (1987) features vague figures, some heavily outlined in brushy black, and cymbal-crash bursts of emerald green and purple. Van Vliet often paints thick white over fat drips, giving his surfaces the rough, elementally grand spirit of cave paintings. In the back gallery are Hammond’s more formally elegant, smaller paintings, some of which feature a red-and-white-checked tablecloth pattern in such shapes as pipes and eyeglasses. The allusion to café languor is tempered by the artist’s method of attaching his brushes to a power drill and slathering macaroni-like spirals across the surface, lending the images a blurry, diaphanous depth. Anton Kern, 532 W 20th, 212-367-9663. Through July 6.
“Not Your Parents’ MTV”
Although we generally ignore press releases, the Best in Show staff has decamped for a woodland retreat, and we feel it our duty to alert any loyal readers not in Venice or Kassel to a promising-sounding diversion from Gotham’s swelter. Tomorrow, Postmasters opens “Music Videos From Hell,” which offers Michael Paul Britto’s “The Super N Word” and “I’m a Slave 4U,” Abe Lincoln & Marisa Olson checking in with “Abe and Mo Sing the Blogs,” Kenneth Tin Kin Hung’s “Because Washington Is Hollywood for Ugly People” (which seems appropriate to our eternal primary season), and the group MTAA, running a gamut from “25 Concrete Examples Why John Cage Is Not Our Father” to “Karaoke Death Match 100.” While books cannot be judged by their covers, it might be worth gambling on videos with these titles. Postmasters, 459 W 19th, 212-727-3323. Through July 28.