The discreet jiggle that comes with the New York art world’s switch to summer hours–Monday to Friday instead of Tuesday to Saturday–acts as a blunt industry-wide signal: the people who buy and sell art at a high level have checked out until September. Some are chasing fashionable azure horizons from weekend to weekend, basically moving their operation to where the money’s camped for the season, while the rest are wealthy enough to take real vacations. Pressure eases beautifully in the top dogs’ absence. Unmonitored, the junior skeleton crews at the galleries unclench themselves, enjoying their jobs and smiling with more than just pursed lips, and the barn-like desolation and exquisitely tuned air conditioning make for a preferable July grime timeout than a bob into your hysterical avenue standby. So adios, Old Navy, it’s quirky summer group show time in Chelsea.
Your Gold Teeth II, which just opened at Marianne Boesky, announced itself with a freewheeling and polemical press release that claims, in between bits on Robert Lowell and jazz improvisation, that “the cultural bar has been lowered to the point of absurdity.” Curator Todd Levin throws himself behind a chunky thesis that indulges a lot of the man’s strongly expressed grievances about “hipness,” “facile irony,” and “posturing,” too many perhaps, but I’ll boil it down: Mr. Levin is looking for sincerity and openness on the contemporary scene. I’m not sure that the lyrics to the Steely Dan song of the show’s title need have been reprinted in full on the press release’s flipside, but this is what summer shows are all about. These seldom-remembered exhibitions clearly mean a great deal to the people who put them together, who know that the chance to volunteer their tastes without a cool, self-preserving hedge does not come around when the fearsomely stoic professional facade of this industry is at full strength.
At the same time, the seams of the business are revealed when the audience is not expected to be looking very hard. Marianne Boesky has dozens of mouths to feed whatever the weather, and Your Gold Teeth II presents bankable opportunities to the dealer, the curator (no stranger to the money game himself as the curator of hedge fund manager Adam Sender’s $100-million-plus collection) and, third in line, the loyal clients. A show like this can chase up-to-the-minute trends for quick flips, clean commercially tarnished gems, and dust off retrouve artists in hopes of establishing strong market values. It is a grab bag of techniques to make as much quick money as possible in the off-season.
Ceramics are hot this year, buoyed by certified art world events like Sterling Ruby’s home run at Metro Pictures in March and the global ripple from the ICA Philadelphia’s ambitious survey Dirt on Delight, so there’s a raft of ceramic work in this show that’s looking to glom on to the moment as a result. Older artists who’ve had a bump in visibility through well-received museum retrospectives and magazine cover-stardom have had early works plucked from collector walls and plonked in the show to see what they can do, from Mary Heilmann (New Museum, Artforum, Art in America) to Franz West (LA County Museum, Artforum) and Barkley Hendricks (Studio Museum Harlem, Artforum). Pieces that have been languishing on the secondary market at too high a price–I imagine the very nice Basquiat oilstick piece from ’82 has been knocking around for a while–are given a chance to benefit from new context and to shake the psychological dings and scratches that come from being tossed from dealer to fishing dealer.
These business matters are both interesting and obviously distasteful, but there is also a beating heart to this show. Levin’s aesthetic favors the handmade and the passed down, the spooky and the meditative, the crafty and the inventive, the unflashily, ineffably authentic. The 73 works on show are affable and all over the place, loose and ready to coalesce, generously, however the viewer sees fit.
Yoko Ono’s Painting To Hammer a Nail is a white wooden panel with bashed-in nails over its surface. A light-duty hammer hangs from a chain, and a tin of nails is pegged to the wall below. It wasn’t you, and I didn’t dare try, but somebody knocked in those nails, and their great pleasure in the act lingers as if it just happened. Fischli & Weiss’ 1987 Schublade is a wooden dresser drawer cast in black rubber, an object that hovers between Ikea banality and terrifying fetish. There’s an hour-long fixed-angle video from 1999 in which Bruce Nauman methodically digs a deep hole in a patchy desert field, while Rodney Graham’s four-minute film–super-8 footage of drifting ducks and wavy blossoms intercut with a Gibson guitar slowly, lovingly buffed with a fluffy white shammy–goes nowhere even more explicitly.
Roe Etheridge presents two photographs, a late afternoon platter of a perfect half-dozen Oysters and Sarah Beth with Pipe, wherein the willowy crumpet in question takes a heroic puff of grass. It seems preposterous that these brazen moments of leisure and simplicity grow to endear instead of offend, but this is the show working as it hopes to. Levin’s plea for sincerity takes hold as the gentle collective pulse of this grouping becomes harder to deny and the experience of taking pleasure in art approaches something like second nature. The commercial art world can never really take a holiday from its fundamental baseness and vulgarity. But this is the sort of show that reminds a viewer that art does have the power to trump money, for a few short months anyway.
Your Gold Teeth II is up at Boesky, 509 West 24th Street, until August 15th. Metro Pictures, PaceWildenstein and I-20 have summer group shows in progress around the neighborhood, and more are on the way, but start your investigation here.
Next week, Bones examines the jaw-dropping archive of ephemera and documentation from Destroy All Monsters, the Ann Arbor proto-punk rock outfit featuring now-famous artists Mike Kelley and Jim Shaw, on display at Printed Matter. What’s revealed in the details of a pin badge or a flyer?