What's on in New York: Lelong remembers Mendieta while Polke shocks chauvinists

Serra celebrates at Gagosian’s while Grey Gallery plays dress-up

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With map, sensible shoes, sun hat and no little amount of perseverance New Yorkers could, during the hot summer months of 1980, track down a diverse group of art works widely scattered throughout the northern reaches of Central Park. The show, called “Art Across the Park”, was the brainchild of independent curator Gylbert Coker and the works in it were by and large so insistently site-specific and so seamlessly meshed with the fabric of the landscape that most park users were completely unaware of their existence.

One of the most extraordinary works to be found was half hidden in a kind of naturally-occurring undercroft, itself nestled in an overgrown ravine. Peering into the semi-underground darkness you could see what looked like a great, jagged tear in the earth’s skin. It was in fact a silhouetted human form, violently blasted out of the soil by gunpowder. It was the work of a rising young Cuban artist, Ana Mendieta.

Her participation in “Art Across the Park” in 1980 was only one event in a year which for her was packed with momentous occurrences. She had just received her second National Endowment for the Arts grant; she had been notified of a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship; and, perhaps most importantly, she had for the first time since leaving it returned, now an adult, to her native shore, Cuba. Ana Mendieta died tragically and under intensely ambiguous circumstance in a fall from a 34th story window. The mark left by her body on the roof of the low building upon which it fell has doubtless by now vanished. But it is burned vividly and forever into the imaginations of those who knew her.

From 5 December to 11 January the Galerie Lelong has organized an exhibition documenting Mendieta’s work from its beginning in 1973 until the time of her inclusion in “Art Across the Park”. It is called “The Silueta Series” and it reflects many of her over 300 variations on the notion of her own physical outline. She once said “I have been carrying on a dialogue between the landscape and the female. . . I believe this has been a direct result of my having been torn from my homeland . . . during my adolescence”. The show includes her sketchbooks and photographic documentation she made of performance works done in Iowa, New York and Mexico. There is also a recreation of “Nañigo Burial”, an installation done in 1976 at the then pioneering alternative space, 112 Greene St, and works produced by means of a branding iron which she had fashioned in the shape of one of her hands. A catalogue with an essay by Mary Jane Jacob is available.

Turning furniture to political as well as to artistic account has been on Lauren Ewing’s mind for some years now. First there were tables, then armoires and now there are variations on the two secretaires by the eighteenth-century Newport cabinetmaker John Goddard which recently sold at auction for $9 and $12 million respectively. Reading the subtexts of such objects is one of Ewing’s specialities: what notions might such bibelots of the very rich suggest? To whom, ultimately, do they belong? She has carpentered her copies of the secretaires in question from scrap plywood—materials, here, make a vivid comment—and added, at the backs of each, a megaphone and a sheet of reflective plexiglass, references to the secretaire’s use as a repository of information (books) and a place from which the dissemination of words might begin (writing). She has also carefully documented the dimensions of all the other known Goddard secretaires and averaged them together. These measurements have been used to produce an edition of metal desks. The furniture showroom where all this may be seen is the new street-fronted Diane Brown Gallery (7-21 December).

Franz West is another sculptor who indulges in furniture-as-metaphor, chair and divan shapes often materializing in his three-dimensional work. New pieces by him along with paintings by Jurgen Meyer and a Jessica Stockholder assemblage are on view at Christine Burgin (6 December—12 January).

The furniture of modern hi-tech security and surveilance—chainlink fence, razor wire, closed-circuit televison and their progeny—is the stuff of Julia Scher’s fevered imagination and the raw material from which she constructs her installations. “Security by Julia 12” is the name of her show at Pat Hearn (until the 21st) and if you go be prepared not only to encounter Julia (in complete guard drag) at the door but to be closely monitored by T.V. cameras while enjoying the show. Know also that your image is being carefully stored away on tapes for Julia’s future nefarious purposes. Paranoids probably better stay home.

Ann Hamilton, who seems to have successfully negotiated the perilous boundary between “ fibre art” and “art”, has her first gallery-wide installation in New York all this month at Louver; Daniel Buren has once again taken John Weber for bestriping (until the 21st); and Laura Baird has transformed Josh Baer with the results of a ten year meditation on the Rev. Jim Jones’ orchestration of mass suicide thirteen years ago in Jonestown, Guyana. Upwards of a thousand people lost their lives in that ghastly testimony to the power of mass psychology.

The theme of death hovers over Michael Jenkins’ sculptures and drawings in his first New York solo exhibition (until the 21st) at Jay Gorney Modern Art. Boats—for the journey across the river Styx?—cardboard box towers with windows punched into them, mattress ticking and felt are all employed. The colour yellow, which the artist associates with illness and the relentless scythe of AIDS, pervades the installation.

The crisis of AIDS is addressed in another way at Paula Cooper where dozens of young artists have been invited to contribute works to be sold (until the 21st) for the benefit of ACT UP, the militant band that agitates in a not always pleasant but undeniably effective way on behalf of AIDS victims.

Two large exhibitions on at the moment in two of New York’s major museums provide galleries with opportunities to show related works this month. The Metropolitan Museum is currently surveying, in detail, the career of Stuart Davis, the jazz-inspired American abstractionist who died just as Pop Art was hitting its stride in 1964 (it will run until 24 February). For the occasion Salander O’Reilly, which represents the artist’s estate, has dipped into its reserves to present an informal survey of their own (until the 21st). Out at the Brooklyn Museum Charlotta Kotik, that institution’s canny Curator of Contemporary Art, has the bright idea of bringing to New York the dashing Sigmar Polke retrospective seen earlier this year at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Thanks to her, New Yorkers’ eyes are currently out on stalks as they circumambulate the spacious Brooklyn galleries and view the work of a German artist who took the Pop Art ball and ran with it for all he was worth. Americans, who have a way of being stubbornly parochial at times, went blithely unaware of him through the Sixties, Seventies, and most of the Eighties, except, that is, for a few clever artists (whose names will not be mentioned!) who diligently mined his inventions and proffered them here as their own. Matching images with dates in the show has been a source of revelation for many. In any case, Mary Boone, Polke’s New York dealer, is presenting a kind of P.S. to the Brooklyn show in the form of recently completed works (until 21 December).

Jurgen Albrecht is a young German artist who is having his first New York exhibit all this month at Blum Helman (until 11 January). His materials are modest, as are the sizes of his sculptures. He makes small boxes of cardboard and paper whose intricate interiors may be peered into. Boxes of another sort by a Finnish artist, Juhani Harri, are being presented all this month and next at the Center for Contemporary Art. He is the first of three Finnish artists which the Center is featuring in shows which will run until the end of the coming summer.

A few months ago Joe Fawbush and John Good trekked to Buenos Aires to see what was going on in the Argentinian art world. The results of their adventures may now be seen at their respective galleries and at Amy Lipton’s as well. At Good are Luis Beneditt’s socially aware objects; at Fawbush Norberto Gomez’ sculpture with political overtones and at Amy Lipton you can see Jacques Bedel’s sculptures of electroplated polyurethane resin. These take the form of pedestalled books whose open pages reveals three-dimensional labyrinthine landscapes. Each of the three shows is on from 6 December - 4 January.

New paintings by Richard Bosman are at Brooke Alexander (until 18 December), by Jake Berthot at McKee (until 21 December), by Imi Knoebel at Barbara Gladstone (ending 11 January) and by William Wegman at Sperone Westwater and Agnes Martin at Pace (uptown) (until 4 January). New sculpture by two Frenchmen, Bernard Venet and Jean Pierre Reynaud is featured at Baghoomian and Castelli respectively and by a German, Gloria Friedman, at Curt Marcus (all three until 21 December). Richard Serra inaugurates the new Gagosian SoHo space with one of his familiar “plate” pieces and two completely new in-the-round solid objects made of forged steel (each 64" high by 89" in diameter and of floor-reinforcement-time weight) (until 11 January).

The Frumkin-Adams gallery has organized a “Bronze Invitational” show, on all this month. Among the invitees are Robert Arneson, Leslie Dill, Ming Fay, Shannon House, James McGarrell, Robin Winters, David Weinrib and Tom Otterness.

As long as there is art history—and who could imagine a future time when there won’t be?—artists will doubtless continue to comment on it (as opposed to merely being influenced by it). In a show of new Japanese art held a few year ago at N.Y.U.’s Grey Gallery viewers could ogle an example of Yasumasa Morimura’s giant art history quotations: Manet’s “Olympia” with all her trappings meticulously rendered—except that when you looked her in the eye you saw Morimura ( the artist also appeared simultaneously as her black maid). With the aid of extensive make-up, stage props and digital image manipulation Morimura presents new variations on this notion in his first New York one-person show, until 21 December at Luhring-Augustine.

One of the motifs to which Picasso remained firmly attached throughout his long life was that of the bull and bullfight, often metamorphosed into the legend of the Minotaur. This month, until 21 December, Jean Krugier has gathered together “Tauromachia”—drawings, prints, sculpture and unique ceramics by the Master of Malaga which relate to this theme. Also shown are recent Cibachrome photographs of the corrida by Lucien Clergue, who was born in Arles and who photographed Picasso many times during the last twenty years of the painter’s life.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Polke shocks chauvinists'

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