Jeff Koons

What's on in New York: Koons comes out of hiding and Struth returns from Paradise

Gagosian christens his Chelsea space with Serra sculptures, plus cutting-edge holiday gift ideas


o The mystery of Jeff Koons’ recent career—cancelled shows, stalled museum installations and regular reports from his studio of magnificently monstrous sculptures even larger than his reputation—deepened when “Easyfun” opened at Sonnabend. This is his first show of new work since 1991 and is as gaudy, garish and celebratory as anything he has dared yet. It coincides with a retrospective of Koons’ work at the Deste Foundation in Athens, organised by Dakis Joannu, one of the chief financial supporters of Koons throughout his relatively reclusive years. “Easyfun” is also one of the last shows in Sonnabend’s legendary 420 West Broadway address before they move to Chelsea.

o Also heading to Chelsea is Gagosian Gallery, inaugurating their new warehouse-sized 20,000 square-feet space with a mammoth new sculpture by Richard Serra, “Switch”. Unlike mere mortal dealers, Gagosian’s new opening is not matched by the closure of the previous: they have opted to keep the other New York locations, which include the SoHo garage and Madison Avenue duplex. Concurrent with the sculpture show, the uptown gallery will exhibit a new series of works on paper by Serra entitled “Out-of-round.”

o In contrast to such monumentality is the fragile, sly and often discreetly droll work of Tony Feher, having his second solo show at D’Amelio Terras. Using banal materials such as liquid in jam jars, ordinary marbles or styrofoam, Feher transforms them into an elusive aesthetic all his own. The work in this latest show will emphasise light and its manipulation, no doubt generating a metaphysics of the mundane. This work rewards slow contemplation.

o Another young artist of the same generation who is unafraid of the decorative is painter Richmond Burton. For the last ten years he has been playing with the patterns of abstraction in a manner that is never parodic and is always persuasive. Using classic modernist structures, such as grids and the painterly blob, Burton’s pictures remain sensually attractive, even as they mine the history of twentieth-century abstraction. His show at Cheim & Read promises to be as bold in colours as it is bright in concept.

o How Burton’s work relates to that of Sam Francis could fuel a long winter evening’s musings on meaning and intention in art, but, however one may rate him, Francis remains an ambiguous figure. The show of his early paintings and works on paper from the 50s presented by Lawrence Rubin Greenberg Van Doren Fine Art further stokes the fires of debate about his status. This exhibition will be followed next year by a similar selection of works from the 60s at the same gallery.

o An artist whose influence on modern American art is even more difficult to assess is Milton Avery. Knoedler & Company, who have represented his estate for the last year, now inaugurate an exhibition on a particularly interesting theme in his oeuvre: called “Edge of abstraction”, the show presents a series of paintings and drawings from the 1950s and 60s when Avery moved closest to pure abstraction. This work was crucially important to Rothko, Gottlieb and other first-generation Abstract Expressionists for its elegant lyricism.

o Richard Artschwager’s long career has been marked by a consistency of taste and resilient silence. Despite sometimes playful elements, such as the trademark giant exclamation mark sculpture, there is a seriousness to Artschwager’s trompe l’oeil that reveals a dry wit akin to Beckett’s. Five new paintings at Lehmann Maupin use characteristically sombre white, black and gray for imaginary landscapes and a large group portrait.

o By contrast, the solemnity in Martin Honert’s sculpture lies hidden under the surface charms of his playful and sometimes cute sculptures. Using simple colour and traditional figurative technique, Honert often features children and childish themes. His two new large sculptures at Matthew Marks Gallery deal specifically with the story “The flying classroom” by the German children’s writer Erich Kästner. These tableaux would be instantly recognisable by all Germans of a certain generation (Honert was born in 1953). German cultural identity and the country’s guilt-ridden legacy are surely at the core of his aesthetic, which is cumulatively sinister despite its seeming jolly innocence.

o Another German whose work obliquely comments on his national character is the photographer Thomas Struth. Known for his outsize, super-detailed images of cities, landscapes, faces and museum interiors, his latest show at Marian Goodman Gallery is provocatively entitled “New pictures from paradise.” It features sixteen typically gargantuan photographs from his world travels over the last two years, with emphasis on churches and other religious spaces in Italy, Australia and Japan.

o Yayoi Kusama, that eccentric and unclassifiable extremist, is one of the few major female artists on show in New York this month. From underground actress and installation artist in Manhattan’s Sixties downtown scene, to self-imposed exile and incarceration in a Japanese mental institute, Kusama’s reputation has been revived recently. Three large “sculptural installations” at Robert Miller were made between 1980 and 1991, but are being seen in this city for the first time and will confirm her importance, neither as a “feminist” nor a “Japanese” artist, but as a radical practitioner of the politics of the self.

o Seasonal contemplation is the subject of the work by more than forty artists in an exhibition interpreting Hannukkiahs called “Magic and ritual: Hannukkiahs seen through contemporary eyes”. Curated by Robert Schroeder of the Fort Wayne Museum of Art and elegantly presented by Steinbaum Krauss Gallery, this show will doubtless demonstrate the truth of the proverb that “the commandment is a lamp and the teaching is light.”