What's on in New York: Serra’s solemnity and size at Gagosian

Posthumous popularity at Max Protetch, last works at Matthew Marks mapping at James Cohan, psychedelic audio-visual art at Feigen effective excellence at Zwirner, and homage at Universal Concepts


The sheer size of Richard Serra’s new sculptures at Gagosian Gallery makes the prospect of writing some hundred little words on them sadly futile. Serra’s work defies language, defies gravity and defies one to snicker at their potential pomposity. There may be something suspect in the insistent solemnity of Serra’s methodology, its emphasis on the "authenticity" of weight and scale of metal, but the results are triumphant. Those who thought Serra could not top his Venice Biennale bigness will be staggered again by this massed display of rusted grace and latent power. Two works are titled after recently dead friends "Sylvester" and "Bellamy" (no need for other names) and Serra also pays homage to the equally combative "Ali-Frazier", two gargantuan forged blocks separated by identical rooms. This is Serra’s biggest show in New York since his 1986 MoMA retrospective.

Alfred Jensen is one of those unclassifiable painters who hover between "Outsider" status and no-status-at-all during their lifetime only to be acclaimed and revered when safely dead. Jensen’s work, with its infinitely complex numerical systems and private Kabbalistic references, its scientific theories and colour codes, its singing palette and fat impasto, was never easy to "understand", but always to enjoy. Thank heaven for the Dia show and an equally rich display just down the road at Max Protetch which includes the seminal "Goethe" from 1957 and a chunky four-canvas work from the early 60s. Jensen’s neglect while alive was due to the sheer difficulty of his personal symbol language, and his insistence that one to try and follow the paintings inner logic.

Late last works have a poignancy and mystery of their own, even in a society which emphasises beginnings, novelty, the young, the youngest. The show at Matthew Marks Gallery entitled “Willem de Kooning: the 1987 paintings” gathers together for the first time the 12 paintings the maestro made in his last year as an artist, some half of which have never been exhibited before. These bright, rough paintings are beautiful, but also touching, almost as if the artist were tracing his own fading synapses and trailing sentences across the canvas, their spaces full of lost connections and demi-recollections, smears of oblivion.

There should be some sort of permanent Robert Smithson exhibition organised in New York, so every generation of art student and creative neophyte could go and re-energise itself with the sheer oddness and variety of his oeuvre. Smithson appeals to art school audiences because he never lost his boundless curiosity or infectious innocence and, in lieu of a "Smithson Study Hall", we must content ourselves with the exhibition of his map works at James Cohan Gallery. With a typical Smithson title, "Mapping dislocations", and assortment of photographs, works on paper and sculptures, this exhibition investigates the link between his "mappings" and his "non-sites." Smithson infused the strict logic of minimalism and earth works with the fictive and surreal, which makes attempts to re-construct his strange thinking all the more enjoyable. The show also includes a fabled big sculpture, "Mirrors and shelly sand", not seen in America since 1969.

The world of audio-visual video work is littered with false starts, mistakes and dreary dead ends, and for every artist who picks up a video camera, another viewer turns away yawning from a monitor. Jeremy Blake is our young star of brand new audio-visual technology, and rightly so, as his vision manages to be hypnotically beautiful, wildly energetic and even funny. His latest shifting extravaganza, "Mod lang", at Feigen Contemporary has a preposterous scenario involving an English Mod(ernist) who goes flying off his scooter to turn into an insane-genius-visionary architect, his plans and prototypes being the C-prints, DVD loops and drawings here on display. Blake mixes his weird fictional psychedelic scenarios with an astute sense of MTV showmanship and art history, feeding Colour Field painting through experimental architectural theory with a big blob of mad rock muzak on top. If this bizarre meta-narrative sounds like Robert Smithson, it is Smithson’s super-smartness filtered through a wah-wah feedback of modish high saturated, pure Pop “lurve”, knowingly fashionable and blaringly NOW.

More austere is the work of Stan Douglas, one of the handful of people currently using film and video, sound and vision, who fortunately redeem the entire genre. Like most major American cultural figures, Douglas turns out to be Canadian, and like some of the most intriguing conceptualists (Stanley Brouwn, Adrian Piper), the fact that he is not "white" is neither here nor there nor irrelevant. Douglas uses all the elements of cinema for his own cryptic purpose, whether the travelling shot, physical grain or the whole notion of the "set" as in mathematical set or wooden box.

His new work at David Zwirner, ominously entitled "Journey into fear", feeds B-movie tropes through that specifically northern atmosphere shared by a clan of great Canadian re-visionaries from Guy Madden to Michael Snow or Egoyan. Is it art, is it film, is it video, is it installation? No, it’s effective, excellent.

It should be impossible ever to mention video art, even en passant, without pausing to pay homage to Frank Gillette, grizzled originator of that medium, whose experimental daring was always matched by his intellectual chops and tough smarts. Gillette is back, or rather refused ever to go away despite the vulgar vagaries of fashion and market, with a show at Universal Concepts Unlimited, an aptly named space for Gillettian aesthetics. Entitled "A tangled bank", the show displays Gillette’s trademark technological mesh of political and aesthetic issues—after all this is a man who understood the nature of internet needs before the internet even existed.

The sub-title of the exhibition is "The dogs of war unleashed" and the entire event is being held in memory of his close friend Michael Richards, the young Jamaican-American artist who died in the attack on the World Trade Center.


u Richard Serra, “Torqued spirals, toruses and spheres” at Gagosian Gallery, 555 West 24th Street, New York 10011, Tel: +1 212 741 1111, fax+1 212 741 9611 (until 15 December)

u Alfred Jensen, “Paintings and works on paper” at Max Protetch, 511 West 22nd Street, New York 10011, Tel: +1 212 633 6999, fax +1 212 691 4342 (13 November to 22 December)

u Willem de Kooning, “The 1987 paintings” at Matthew Marks, 522 West 22nd Street, New York 10001, Tel: +1 212 243 0200, fax+1 212 243 0047 (until 22 December)

u Robert Smithson, “Mapping dislocations” at James Cohan Gallery, 41 West 57th Street, New York 10019, Tel: +1 212 755 7171, fax+1 212 755 7177 (until 24 November)

u Jeremy Blake, “Mod lang” at Feigen, 535 West 20th Street, New York, 10011, Tel: +1 212 929 0500, fax+1 212 929 0065 (until 24 November)

u Stan Douglas, “Journey into fear” at David Zwirner, 43 Greene Street, New York 10011, Tel: +1 212 966 9074, fax+1 212 966 4952 (until 31 December)

u Frank Gillette at Universal Concepts Unlimited, 507 West 24th Street, New York, 10011, Tel: +1 212 727 7575, fax +1 212 727 7676 (until 10 November)