Uncanny Rally: “People” Is People, Which Is as It Should Be

People like to look at people. If you boil down the long and winding history of figurative sculpture to a single motivating kernel, that would be it. Some 40,000 years ago, when a Paleolithic man or woman in central Europe took a mammoth tusk and carved the Venus of Hohle Fels, it must have been that initial joy of looking at someone that sparked the idea. Then came further amendments: in Ancient Greece, the sculptor Polykleitos added muscular details, and suddenly we had not only a rendering, but an ideal representation, this time of the Spear Bearer in all his regal glory. Donatello suggested another revision in early-fifteenth-century Florence. His sculpture of Saint Mark, designed for the Church of Orsanmichele, was no fantastic, perfected vision. His saint is an old, bookish man, hunched over if stoic, worn down and scruffy after his years in the desert.

Emphases and forms have continued to shift and change, but the satisfactions have never abated; instead, they have only deepened and broadened. In the past hundred years, figurative sculpture has expanded in seemingly limitless directions. Artists as unalike as George Segal, Duane Hanson, and Fred Wilson together inaugurated a quiet but far-reaching renaissance even when their work was crowded out critically by more fashionable styles. Now, with the benefit of hindsight and an eye to the art of the present, we see clearly that figuration has long offered a rich set of traditions — and that it is now the wellspring for the best art of our time.

From left: Elizabeth Jaeger’s “Mudita” (2012); Martin Honert’s “English Teacher” (2010); Stefan Hablützel’s “1962-1929” (1997); Kiki Smith’s “Tale” (1992)

That’s the insightful lesson of “People,” a group exhibition at Jeffrey Deitch that’s remarkable for its flexibility and economy: 33 figurative sculptures by 29 artists, mostly working in the past 15 years. But the range of perspectives these works offer, and the variability in the responses they can inspire, is extraordinary. Part of the show’s cleverness comes through carefully considered juxtapositions. At the front of the gallery is Karon Davis’s striking And miles to go… (2018), a depiction of a weary black man made of crumbling white plaster bearing a child on his shoulders, her head resting on her father’s. Pressed in her tiny palm is an American flag, and here we have a succinct comment on the long and distressed road to civil rights.

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Next to them is Tony Matelli’s Sleepwalker (2009), an expertly rendered sculpture, stunning in its fidelity, of a curly-haired white woman wearing only a pair of white underwear, stumbling absent-mindedly with her eyes closed. Next to the man and his child, the woman looks vaguely strained and uncomfortable, but not enough to wake her, which amounts to a neat summary of race relations in America. (In 2016, a companion sculpture by Matelli of a man lurching lazily in skimpy white briefs — he must be the Sleepwalker’s husband — was shown on the High Line.)

Left: Elizabeth Jaeger’s “Mudita” (2012); Foreground: John DeAndrea’s A Classical Illusion (1987)

Many of the people in this gallery seem lost in thought. In John DeAndrea’s A Classical Illusion (1987), a nude woman leans dreamily against the marble fragment of a man’s bust and looks downward, gripped, presumably, by the fantasy of a perfect partner. Pawel Althamer’s Mohammed (2013), a grayish cyborg with the face of a child, sits on a bench with his eyes fixed on the floor. Then there is Duane Hanson’s striking and ingenious Cheerleader (1988), who fiddles pensively with her fingers and gazes outward. Her head is not turned away, but try to look her in the eye and she sees right past you.

Narcissister’s “Totem” (stacked); Duane Hanson’s “Cheerleader” (1988) (right)

Works like these emphasize the perverse pleasure of uncanniness. They also stress that stories are not everything. One of the most brilliant discoveries that figurative sculptors have made, especially in the past sixty years, is that naturalistic bodies can be warped into unsettling abstraction. Martin Honert’s English Teacher (2010) is short and flat-faced, as if his head and body were penciled in and then erased away. Behind him is one of the most intelligent and confusing works in the show, Stefan Hablützel’s cunningly naturalistic double portrait of two men in peculiar and dated clothing, titled 1962-1929 (1997). The men are attached to a wall, so they seem to be floating away, which makes sense — no matter how much they look like us, they come from another world. (Hablützel is like a dry Maurizio Cattelan — instead of humor, we get otherworldliness along with naturalistic precision.)

From left: Stefan Hablützel’s “1962 -1929” (1997); Martin Honert’s “English Teacher” (2010); Kiki Smith’s “Tale” (1992)

There are other disturbances, too. Throughout the exhibition, there is an astounding amount of sexual fright. Near the front door, there is a terrifying sculpture by Narcissister titled Totem (2018) of hypersexualized sex dolls, with enormous breasts and ruby red, puffed-up lips, stacked one atop the other, nearly reaching the ceiling. Not far are two naked women sprawled on the floor, both by Elizabeth Jaeger. One of them, Mudita (2012), wears an alarming smile as she leans on her back and holds her ankles; on closer inspection, she has no vagina. These pieces are especially enriched by Kiki Smith’s Tale (1992), a violent depiction of a woman on all fours with a long bloody specimen emerging from her genitalia.

Left to right: Vanessa Beecroft, “Blonde Figure Lying” (2008), Matthew Monahan, “Click Bait” (2018), Koffi Koffi Kouakou/Coulibaly Siaka Paul/Emile Guebehi/Nicolas Damas, “Untitled (Man Smoking with yellow pants and black and white shirt)” (1999), Aleksandra Domanovic, “Snowbird” (2016)

Remarkably, the quieter works in the show are not lost amid the commotion. One simple, lovely, and untitled work is by Koffi Koffi Kouakou, Coulibaly Siaka Paul, Emile Guebehi, and Nicolas Damas. It shows a man in sunglasses, bell bottoms, and a finely patterned black-and-white shirt who looks cool and collected despite the noise. And nothing seems to bother Kenny Scharf’s silly and joyous stick-figure-like man, Power Happy  (1987), with his pronounced erection and enormous smile. He points gladly at anyone nearby.

In many ways, these two sculptures  are a world away from the Venus, the Spear Bearer, and Donatello’s St. Mark. In most of the works in “People,” the vague crudeness of the Paleolithic Venus has been refined; the certainty and optimism of the Spear Bearer are more muted; and the heroism of St. Mark, who speaks the word of God, has been replaced with a humbler sort of confidence. These qualities in new figurative sculpture are perhaps the natural outcome of a complex, pluralist society that has no single guiding light. We benefit from this lack: To the credit of the artists of our time, none of the brilliant works in this exhibition, in all their tremendous diversity, would have been imaginable until very recently. Our curiosity about one another’s perspectives and peculiarities seem never to have been deeper. At the bottom of that curiosity is a charming and inspiring sort of humanism. Because in the end, “People” is about people, which is what we are all interested in, one way or another.

Jeffrey Deitch
18 Wooster Street
Through June 30

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After Big Success in L.A., Will “Art in the Streets” Make It Back to New York?

On June 21, the Brooklyn Museum announced its cancellation of next year’s “Art in the Streets,” a graffiti exhibition that debuted recently at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA) in Los Angeles. The show had been scheduled at the Brooklyn Museum for March 30 through July 8, 2012, but was struck “due to the current financial climate,” museum director Arnold Lehman wrote in an official press release. Jeffrey Deitch, director of MoCA and long-time NYC art dealer, conceived “Art in the Streets” as more than just graffiti-style canvas paintings and examples of poster-art tagging—he also transported actual walls and panels that some of the better graffiti was originally painted on, reassembling them inside MoCA’s space.

As the exhibit closed in Los Angeles on August 8, Deitch declared that attendance ran between 5,000 and 6,000 per day, numbers comparable to the Met’s recent Alexander McQueen exhibition. It made “Art in the Streets” the highest-grossing exhibition in MoCA’s history. When asked whether returns such as these would change the mind of the Brooklyn Museum, its public information officer, Sally Williams, noted that it wasn’t an issue of whether the museum could recoup, but whether the up-front costs to bring it here could be met. “The show is extremely expensive to transfer,” notes Williams. “We’d love to host it, but we couldn’t raise the needed financial support.”

Despite the show’s cancellation in NYC, Deitch seems optimistic about finding a home for it in the museum world. “The Brooklyn Museum just expressed interest first,” explains Deitch. “But there’s so much interest in bringing this to New York.” Neither the Guggenheim, the Museum of Modern Art, nor the Whitney Museum would confirm any conversation with Deitch.

The show is not without its share of local New York detractors. Peter Vallone, city councilman for District 22 in Astoria, has vowed to continue his fight to stop “Art in the Streets” from ever being displayed here.

“Ever since I was little,” says Vallone, “graffiti has bothered me. That someone had the right to deface someone else’s property rubbed me the wrong way.”

“I’m against the promotion of vandalism in any way, shape or form,” continues Vallone, who feels that graffiti is a gateway to bigger criminal activity.

“[Vallone] should come and see our show,” counters Deitch, who claims that the demographic of MOCA visitors spanned from teenagers to elderly adults. “We haven’t had one reported instance of vandalism or violence from anyone who’s been to the exhibit.”

Yet if “Art in the Streets” attempts to legitimate modern graffiti with sweeping examples like Keith Haring’s early subway drawings, paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Kenny Scharf’s black-lit Cosmic Cavern, as well as works by less widely known artists such as Neckface, Teen Witch, and Ed Templeton, its greater effect might be to encourage a generation of graffiti artists to favor fine-art aspiration and commercialism over the streets.

According to a South Bronx graffitiartist who calls himself Dasic, the art form doesn’t need institutional validation. For him, the relationship between artist and authority requires more than simple legitimization.

“When we are painting in the streets, we are not thinking of crime,” says Dasic, a twentysomething who moved from Chile less than a year ago with no formal art school training. “That is a label from the system, as is the whole concept of privatization. For us, every space is a part of our art. It’s a hard concept for people who think in terms of ownership.”



Said Barack Obama regarding Shepard Fairey and his now-legendary “HOPE” image: “Your images have a profound effect on people, whether seen in a gallery or on a stop sign. I am privileged to be a part of your artwork and proud to have your support.” In other words, if Obama weren’t so busy doing president stuff, he’d definitely go to tonight’s opening party for Fairey’s exhibition May Day (which, by the way, will sadly be the final show for Deitch as its fearless leader, Jeffrey Deitch, is closing up shop in New York to take over as the new director of L.A.’s MOCA). “May Day” features new portraits of radical icons, including Jean-Michel Basquiat and Woodie Guthrie, that seek to inspire a sense of urgency to take action in the same way the “HOPE” image did. Said Fairey: “By now, we thought we would be in post-Bush utopia, but we’re still having to call attention to these problems. If we stay silent, there’s no hope, but if we make noise, if we put our ideas out there, then maybe we can make a change like the people in the portraits have done.” Plus, Fairey’s OBEY Clothing company has a pop-up shop from April 30 to May 16 at 151 Orchard Street

Mondays-Sundays, 11 a.m. Starts: May 1. Continues through May 29, 2010


Go Figure: Jules de Balincourt’s “Premonitions”

About seven years ago—just in time to kick off the art boom—a kind of get-rich-quick, end-of-history painting for the Bush era erupted out of MFA programs and onto New York’s gallery walls. Conventionally “radical” twists on the prickly challenges posed by an earlier cohort of figurative artists (think John Currin and Lisa Yuskavage), the tricked-out, dumbed-down daubing of painters like Dana Schutz and Kristin Baker, among others, nearly proved the haters of painting right. No matter how charitably one considered their pumped-up canvases, it was impossible for some—including this critic—to not see in their works’ banal good looks stroke material for the patriarchy.

Despite the hype he received, one painter who often beat the loweredexpectations of the noughties is Jules de Balincourt. More elusive, assured, and parody-resistant than most painters his age (say, Tom Sanford, with his bling portraits of rappers, or Josh Smith and his lame repetitions of his own name), de Balincourt retained a cranky intelligence amid the era’s demand for more surface and less depth. If his generation of artists today resemble the “21st Century Children of Gordon Gekko”—to employ a phrase recently coined to peg Wall Street traders—then de Balincourt is their Bud Fox: a figure whose slicked-back oil and acrylic routines have been known to provide, on occasion, nettlesome criticality to go along with prettily slathered-on paint.

De Balincourt’s latest solo show splits the difference between pleasing collectors and—in half the work—satisfying his own critical self. An exhibition of 16 new paintings ominously titled “Premonitions,” de Balincourt’s first and last presentation at Deitch Projects (Jeffrey Deitch, the P.T. Barnum behind this big top, is decamping to Los Angeles to reanimate that city’s Museum of Contemporary Art) includes pictures of various sizes and conceits done in his signature neo-folk art style. In keeping with this artist’s mercurial nature, some of these paintings burrow under one’s skin; others suffer from less-than-examined cultural chestnuts.

One example of de Balincourt’s not thinking things through is the painting Eyes of a Fortune Teller, in which a roughly drawn girl’s face is staggered vertically along a composition clogged with zippy skeins and pixel-like blocks of color. A portrait of social networking technologies—so says the gallery press release—this winsome piece is mum beyond cartoon foreboding on what should be called our era’s verbal incontinence, or blather-control problem. Another similarly handsome picture, Power Flower, presents a colorful Hanna-Barbera explosion whose pizzazz is philosophically indebted to the cliché of beautiful conflagrations—a nod to cherry bombs, one supposes, or to Karlheinz Stockhausen, who called 9/11 the greatest work of art ever.

Though it’s true that a painting is more than its putative subject—and that you can’t really pin down an artist by naming his favorite motif—de Balincourt’s artistic deficits appear most flagrantly where his industriousness and his generation’s intellectual laziness meet head-on. A painter whose signature move since his first New York gallery outing in 2003 consists of taped-off blasts of color, he repeatedly returns to this ribbony trope at Deitch (in instances like Power Flower and Eyes . . .), where his vague countercultural, pseudopolitical subject matter takes on the shape of ideas not earned or owned, but picked up “vintage.” (Note to de Balincourt: Channeling Francesco Clemente’s fringe-jacketed neo-surrealism in a painting like Kosmic Kissers is like trying on the Italian’s obsolescence.)

Other, more cohesive paintings find de Balincourt in greater control of both form and content, making for pictures in which visual pleasure turns unrecognizably, even disturbingly, awkward. There is, for example, a large work titled Floating Through It, an innocent-looking river landscape done in a Bill-Traylor-meets-Frederic-Church style. A painting that conjures up more Deliverance disquiet than other pictures here, it’s one of several instances where de Balincourt pursues layered psychological tension rather than the art world’s ubiquitous dystopian mood.

Another, much smaller painting, A Few Good Men, does something better still. In depicting an all-boy retreat rendered in trademark clashing acid and earth colors, de Balincourt asks embarrassing questions of himself and his generation’s relentless cultural joinerism. What one is to make of the adult figure being cut out of the picture or the blue-faced teen’s disappearing hand, de Balincourt won’t say. A painting as jarring in its formal properties as it is potentially icky, its fetching mysteries won’t submit to polite bromides—especially ones that, like much of the era’s handsome but vapid art, mistake appearances for depth, and success for achievement.


Kehinde Wiley’s Pomp and Black Circumstance

I wish I liked Kehinde Wiley’s paintings more than I do.

For about half a decade, Wiley has been painting young men posed in front of elaborate, patterned backgrounds. Initially, his subjects were African-Americans dressed in the uniforms of hip-hop—baggy jeans, hoodie sweatshirts, basketball jerseys, puffy down jackets—but arranged in compositions cribbed from haute 18th- and 19th-century European paintings.

He’s also painted rappers like Big Daddy Kane, Biggie Smalls, Ice T, and LL Cool J posing imperially against richly patterned backgrounds. A more whimsical series, shown at the Brooklyn Museum in 2005, found hip-hoppers floating in the clouds like the cherubim in Renaissance ceiling frescoes.

In these paintings, the sitters are all gesture and attitude, pomp and bombast. Wiley’s artistic stance is like that, too. On his website, he puts himself in a “long line of portraitists including Reynolds, Gainsborough, Titian, Ingres, among others.” But Wiley’s project is more than your ordinary bid for art-world domination: He’s redirecting the currents of power. Instead of painting rich white people—the customary subjects of Western portraiture—he’s painting young black men.

Recently, the 31-year-old artist, raised in Los Angeles, has taken his project global. In his series “The World Stage,” he relocates to different countries and recruits young men off the streets to pose for him. The paintings at his current Studio Museum show follow the same format as the earlier canvases, except that instead of copying European paintings, the sitters mimic the poses of African public sculpture.

Young men dressed in Western clothes—jeans, shorts, soccer jerseys, button-down shirts—assume the positions of a Dogon Couple or a sculpture in the Place Soweto (National Assembly). You have to flip through the catalog to see photographs of the original sources. Here you discover that unlike the European paintings, which came from the same school of naturalistic, figurative art, the African sources range from tribal/pre-colonial to quasi-modern. Wiley has also played fast and loose with the compositions, clipping figures at the knees or turning a (Western) peace-sign gesture into a clenched-fist salute.

But despite the positive, empowering vibes coming from these paintings, my sense of discomfort remains. Or maybe I should clarify: my sense of discomfort with the art world’s embrace of Wiley as “a history painter, one of the best we have” (to quote one review), or the descriptions of his work as “conceptually based critical works that are about representation rather than enactments of the process itself” (as one Foucault-heavy essay in the SMH catalog has it).

From the outside, the problem might seem merely that Wiley’s genre is stale. He’s coming late to the game of figurative art; what he’s doing isn’t particularly new or interesting, except that he’s depicting African-Americans and Africans instead of white Europeans.

Wiley, though, isn’t even in the first generation of black men to paint the figure. Kerry James Marshall’s patchwork compositions are subversive confections of Eisenhower-era vignettes filled with tar-baby black figures and jarring texts. And then there’s Barkley Hendricks—in fact, Wiley’s paintings are a kind of juiced-up redux of Hendricks, with similar centralized figures and an emphasis on pattern. A recent painting by Hendricks of Nigerian Afrobeat star Fela Anikulapo Kuti showing him as a haloed saint has a yellow-wallpaper background that competes with the figure in the foreground, just as in Wiley’s compositions.

And despite the surface swagger, Wiley is a much tamer painter than either of these two artists. Marshall’s paintings carry titles like Black Power and By Any Means Necessary; Hendricks’s subjects range from women with foot-tall Afros and T-shirts that read “Slave” and “Bitch” to Fela, a musician whose 1977 hit album Zombie was an attack on the Nigerian military. (Hendricks’s Fela painting shows the musician grabbing his crotch—something that, despite the infamous lewdness of hip-hop, Wiley avoids.)

Wiley’s version of neo–Black Power is complicated, since it centers on the corporatized fields of sports and entertainment, and captures Africans dressed in the cheap outfits (born out of sweat shops and globalized commerce) that mean a young man in Lagos wouldn’t look out of place on 125th Street. Only one painting, Three Wise Men Greeting Entry Into Lagos, finds Wiley’s subjects dressed in African attire—well, African tunics worn over jeans.

Wiley’s work is also nearly devoid of women. He did a painting of the rappers Salt-N-Pepa and Spinderella in 2005, but the African canvases are like Elizabethan stage plays, with young men taking the place of women in paintings like Place Soweto and the even more clearly feminized Benin Mother and Child. Wiley’s work may be “about representation” and power, but the women who exist in the public spaces of African cities are dismissed from “The World Stage.”

There’s a reason for this. Wiley himself states that the works are about a kind of coded homoeroticism. (In some of his paintings, vegetal patterns in the background wind around the figures in the foreground, replicating sperm.) But in a catalog interview, when curator Christine Kim tells Wiley that one of his American models “left the building” during a panel discussion in Columbus when gay sexuality was brought up, Wiley backtracks, stressing that, in the studio, he attempts to create a “neutral environment.” You can’t have it both ways, however, and this neutrality spills over into the paintings, which feel most of the time like a hedging of bets between multicultural political correctness and messier gay/black politics.

In many ways, Wiley is a symptom of the age—or maybe a victim of the era and his own success. He shows with Jeffrey Deitch, the impresario whose mission seems to be to fuse art with entertainment. Like much of Deitch’s youth-culture-heavy stable, Wiley’s flashy eye-candy painting is framed as edgy and subversive, but it sidesteps the heavyweight, head-on politics of artists like Glen Ligon. By comparison, Wiley is glossy, market-ready, and safe—unless the feel-good, one-world/one-love vibe is a ruse, a way of making a large population fall in love with paintings that they might, under clearer circumstances, reject.


A Moveable Beast

Once a year, the streets of New York are returned to the freaks and geeks. Last year, the Whore Cops—a troupe of ersatz bad-to-the-bone police officers wearing hotpants—walked down West Broadway in Soho, weaving past inflated balloons of limos and bobbleheads. A gaggle of girls in nude suits rode by on bicycles, making the dancing troupe the Dazzle Dancers—who are normally naked—seem almost demure in their body glitter and equally glittery outfits. Somewhere amid the manic street preachers, there was an actual marching band.

The occasion was the Art Parade, the brainchild of downtown’s most ardent art supporter, Jeffrey Deitch, whose gallery, Deitch Projects—along with Creative Time and Paper magazine—sponsors the annual event, which turns three on September 8. The parade (which begins at 4 p.m. this year) started as a too-short romp down Grand Street in 2005, and graduated last year to the stretch of West Broadway south of Houston, snaking down and around to Deitch’s Wooster Street space, where an after-party commenced. Though the gallery owner says this year’s event won’t be capped with a bash, the parade is larger than it’s ever been. With 800 participants (up from 450 the first year), the event offers a rare opening for aspiring artists to get their foot in the door of the downtown scene. Should their application be accepted, they’ll be showing pieces in the parade, joining some of downtown’s most notable names—including Asuka Ohsawa, Tauba Auerbach, Steve Powers, EV Day, Assume Vivid Astro Focus, and Kenny Scharf, who’s serving as the parade’s first king.

“Every year, we can only work with maybe three new people [in the gallery],” says Deitch. “So this is a way to open up and work with some of the interesting artists we encounter.” Last year, the Art Parade led to Deitch’s discovery of Yale M.F.A. student Bob Snead, who has since been invited to show in the gallery.

Deitch points to 19th-century Dadaist and surrealist parades as one inspiration for the Art Parade. Pop artist Steve Powers, who also works under the moniker ESPO, says he’s seen a Doo-Dah Parade in California—an event that was a partial nod to the Dadaist tradition and a partial jab at the WASP-y, patriotic Tournament of Roses. And during the gallery’s first year in 1996, Deitch had a project called “Shopping” in which 26 different Soho shops hosted an art installation, which included a mini-parade of models.

“That’s the thing I really love and admire about Deitch Gallery,” says installation artist EV Day, “that they do things like this that are asking, ‘What does art mean in the community at large?’ You take a very conventional format, which every culture in the city uses—whether it’s the St. Patrick’s parade, the Puerto Rican parade, the Macy’s Day Parade with Batman and Bart Simpson. And then you say, ‘Here’s a whole art community—what would your parade be?’ ”

A parade format presents a challenge to the artists: It’s not their usual mode of operation. But artist Kenny Scharf had no problem figuring out his piece. For the first go-round, he entered a Cadillac that he painted 20 years ago. This year, it’s his late father’s golf cart, which will tow a throne created from a 1950s beauty-salon hair dryer.

Deitch has as much affinity for performance as he does for more traditional works. One recent Deitch project was a collaboration with the Scissor Sisters, which included a re-creation of the first location of the infamous gay bar the Cock. The culmination of the event was a performance on top of the bar, just like the old days.

“Jeffrey’s an event guy,” says Powers. “He pulls off events beautifully.”

“I’ve always been interested in this total work of art where you have performance, sculpture, music, all combined,” Deitch says.

A former art manager for Citibank, Deitch has been an art-world fixture since the ’80s. From the opening of his twin galleries in 1996 (he’s debuting a third this fall), he’s dedicated himself to the downtown community, following in the footsteps of Andy Warhol, continually committing himself to pushing what he calls “radical art.” He’s featured everyone from unknowns to up-and-coming stars to big shots—including Mariko Mori, Vanessa Beecroft, Barbara Kruger, Yoko Ono, Kehinde Wiley, and David LaChapelle—and has been known to make waves by hosting controversial, attention-getting shows like Terry Richardson’s “Terryworld,” which featured Richardson’s arguably pornographic photography blown up to mural size.

Yet Deitch was also the first to host a show featuring burlesque performer Julie Atlas Muz’s initial foray into fine art (she was part of the recent “Womanizer” exhibit), and frequently gives a platform to performers normally found in seedy nightclubs. In many ways, the Art Parade is the culmination of the Deitch galleries’ 10-plus years in the city a chance for the galleries’ greatest hits to get together in one big shebang.

“I have known Jeffrey since the ’80s,” says Scharf. “I have been watching how he’s taken over and created this role for himself, this niche which he’s filled, having a lot to do with the performance-art world. He gets everyone going and provides a great forum for all these fun people to let it fly. He’s the perfect guy to do it.”

“You’ve got to like people,” says Powers, who first started working with Deitch in ’99. “I know Jeffrey gets a bad rap for being kind of unapproachable and maybe a little cold, but he loves people, man—he loves just watching it go down and making it happen.”

One of Powers’s pieces (making a repeat visit) is a blow-up, floating limo sculpture called No One Rides for Free. “Yeah, the limo’s a perennial—forget it,” says Powers. “The limo’s like the Rocky and Bullwinkle blimp for the Macy’s parade.”

“For two years, we had Yoko Ono’s ‘Imagine’ peace banner,” says Deitch, “which is really important. Certain terrific projects, we’ve asked for an encore.”

Muffinhead and Amber Ray, costume designers turned
human sculptures, are two of Deitch’s parade favorites. And few pieces can top the 2006 Fischerspooner float featuring a pile of people dressed in London designer Gareth Pugh’s silver, gold, and black outfits.

“It’s really something we take very seriously, the tradition of radical art performance,” says Deitch. “We’re always trying to break ground, but art is also about connecting to a great tradition. It has a lot to do with the past as well as the present, so I embrace the tradition of Soho as the center of where artists lived and created. If people don’t make an effort to keep all this going, then it’s just going to become homogenized and a big suburban mall. But it doesn’t have to be that way.”

As EV Day says: “My favorite part of the parade is that it actually exists.”


Band of Gypsies

There aren’t too many female performers I’d like to see replicated 1,000 times. Madonna or Debbie Harry might be fun, but consider the prospect of that many Courtney Loves. It takes a special lady to withstand thousands of impersonations over the course of 17 years, which is exactly what Stevie Nicks has done, indirectly, as the subject of the annual Night of a Thousand Stevies, thrown by the Jackie Factory and helmed by Chi Chi Valenti, Hattie Hathaway, and Johnny Dynell.

Friday night at Hiro Ballroom, everywhere I looked was a Stevie, from door girl Abby Ehman to the cashier to the twirlers onstage (including Amber Ray). The DJ, Poison Eve, spun an all-Stevie set while looking the part. The performers included one Justin Bond, not in total Stevie Realness drag, but lovely just the same. I spied Mike Albo under a Lindsey Buckingham wig. Later, Sherry Vine turned up in a blonde wig that must have made her eight feet tall in heels. Inexplicably, however, one patron appeared to have gotten lost on the way to the Night of a Thousand Janis Joplins.

It was a dazzling sight, made even more dazzling by all the white-winged doves who twirled and shook their tambourines (inscribed with the NOTS logo) to such hits as “Stand Back,” “I Can’t Wait,” and “If Anyone Falls”— the originals and every remix ever recorded. Sitting with promoter Daniel Nardicio, we swooned over one performer in particular: Legend of Stevie Realness Nicole Nicks, a NOTS veteran turning in her farewell performance to the night’s official theme song, “Edge of Seventeen.” She had every single detail down, from the way Stevie dances to even the slightest of head movements, which along with the absolutely perfect patchwork of frizzy, waist-length, butterscotch-and-bronze tresses made us believe that She was really there.

Chi Chi first got the inspiration for NOTS 17 years ago, when she went to see Stevie at Jones Beach and ran into Joey Arias and Dean Johnson—together, they decided to host a one-off event at Mother, the legendary now-defunct nightclub. The event was such a success they repeated it the following year, but Chi Chi says, “It never dawned on us along the way that we’d actually reach the edge of 17.” Since then, it’s gone through three venues (Hiro Ballroom is the event’s latest and biggest home), and has even inspired a movie called Gypsy 83, a road flick about two Stevie obsessives that culminates with their arrival at the event. Through the years, celebs like Cyndi Lauper, Madonna, Boy George, and yes, even Courtney Love have attended or performed.

While she’s been invited every year, Stevie herself has never come. But Chi Chi says fans think otherwise: “Many people believe she was there at the last one at Mother, and that she came as just another Stevie. People who are in really deep said, ‘We recognize the patterns in her retinas.'” Chi Chi suggests Stevie has instead sent people to film it. “I totally understand why she’s never come. I think it would be too much to see 800 or 1,000 people dressed as you, crying and singing every word and fetishizing the leg warmers you wore in a video.” Funny, the part about the retinas would be enough to freak me out.

Speaking of freaky, who knew a bar called the Cock could be art? That’s what it was on May 5, when the Scissor Sisters, back for a hot minute from touring the world, hosted a night at Deitch Projects on Wooster Street.

The warehouse-size art gallery was transformed into a near-exact replica of the old Cock on Avenue A (which closed in 2005, and moved to the former Hole on First Avenue and First Street), with a long bar, bedazzled in black paint and glitter, stretching down the right-hand side of the room; to the right of the bar, where the little stage used to be, three wigs on microphones rested under the spotlight while music played. (That’d be Scissor Sisters art prank, Wigs on Sticks.) Torn, old billboards for nights long past were plastered everywhere, including an ad for the infamous Foxy, the original panty party where people took their clothes off for money—that poster hung behind the DJ booth where Cock regular DJ Miss Guy was spinning. The bartenders were half-naked, of course: Go-go boys wiggled their butts at us. And near the front door, the old club’s hallmark—a red neon sign in the shape of a cock (the bird, not the male organ)—shone brightly. You had to pay 10 Foxy dollars to get in (marked with the Scissor Sisters logo), which the Cock’s legendary doorgirl, Irene, happily accepted.

“Excuse me, I’ve got to get ice put in my drink,” said Casey Spooner, who’d wandered over. “They made it gay-bar strong.” The total Cock realness extended to the celeb sightings:
Gina Gershon, Debbie Harry, and Pat Field took it all in, while the crowd, which included current Cock owner Allan Persiflage, smoked to their heart’s content. The Cock at Deitch: Best. Art. Installation. Ever.

Justin Bond, who spent many nights woozily helming the stage at the Cock, assumed his former position on the bar and introduced the Sisters, who were in their original trio formation, dressed in their authentic pre-stardom S&M getups and singing along to their early hits, including “Electrobix.” It was, as old pal and Scissors frontman Jake Shears said to me before jumping on the bar, “So dumb!” But in a good way. I raised my gay-bar strong drink to Ana Matronic‘s can of Pabst Blue. Here’s to the past! “I’m 26!” I happily told everyone within earshot at least three times. “It’s ridiculous,” Jake said later. “It’s nostalgia for something that was really only four years ago.”

I called former Cock co-owner Mario Diaz, the man responsible for my introduction to New York nightlife (you can all lob rotten tomatoes at him for this), to tell him that “the only thing missing is Jackie Beat, and the ceilings are too high!” Mario was sad he wasn’t there to revel in a re-creation of his creation. I was sad, too, so I joined the others in a measly attempt to drown my sorrows at the afterparty, held at Little Italy’s Goldbar, the luscious-looking space owned by the peeps behind Cain. Deitch owner Jeffrey Deitch, Alan Cumming, fashion designer Zaldy, Adam Dugas, Ladyfag (dressed in Kabuki glam), and Ladyfag’s fiancé, Rainblo, filled the joint.

Around midnight, it suddenly turned into a nightlife episode of Lost. A dark cloud of repressive sameness hovered in the air as the Others started arriving: square dorks in buttoned-up shirts, and girls with shiny tops and $400 jeans. It was time to go before we all turned into pumpkins, or worse, boring bankers. So we headed to the new, current Cock. “This is the fifth Cock, or the fourth Cock, or something,” Jake explained. We went over the history of all the different Cocks—the Fat Cock, the Hole, and the new Cock were all at the location we were dancing in now. We’d just been to a redone version of the old Cock. And of course, there was the original Cock itself. That’s a lot of Cocks in one night— enough to spur a new tradition. Night of a Thousand Cocks, anyone?


Artsy Fartsy

Parades are boring. Once a way to inject razzle-dazzle into our dull existence, parades have turned into an endless series of corporate floats blasting bad music and featuring said company’s lame employees wearing matching T-shirts and waving to the crowd like we care.

I have a solution. Just let Jeffrey Deitch run all the city’s parades. Gay Pride, St. Patrick’s Day—give him Thanksgiving too. If all parades were like the first ever Deitch Projects’ Art Parade on September 10, instead of stupid blow-ups of Garfield you’d get the Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black, singing live on her Tarantula Mobile. Or you’d get a cartoonish car bouncing around in the sky, called No One Rides for Free, designed by artist Steve Powers. The Dazzle Dancers, shiny and glittery (and wearing some clothing, so as not to frighten the adults), would march alongside Jeremiah Clancy, Vanessa Walters, and Alexia Stamatiou‘s JVA Flag Corporation, a “cheerleading” squad wearing little white shorts and shirts with a bunny rabbit donning a beret on the front (Art Translation: prolific ideas) and a glowing lightbulb on the back (AT: illumination).

It was so visually arresting I felt high. (Ahem.) It didn’t help when Amber Ray and her hubby Muffinhead waddled down the road wearing outfits made of black and white balloons and curly hats, looking like Whos from Whoville. Perfectly, they were dubbed The Conundrums. Julie Atlas Muz‘s Whore Cops,Little Brooklyn, Lady Ace, MsTickle, and boylesquer Tigger threatened to tie everyone up. Then two giant fluffy multicolored monsters with big teeth came bouncing along—Scissor Sisters Jake Shears and Baby Daddy guided by Ana Matronic and Heatherette’s Amy Phillips. If their “hair- babies” looked like real muppets, that’s ’cause they were made by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, based on Shears’s sketches.

Deitch was pleased with the results. “I wanted to keep it homegrown and spontaneous,” he said. “Maybe next year it will be bigger.”

Post-parade on Wooster Street, Andrew Andrew hawked another one of their fashion projects: their own identical red versions of a preppy polo-type shirt that had been taken to a shooting range and blasted with bullets. Said one of the Andrews: “We were gonna do it during the parade, but you can’t open fire on the street.” Andrew Andrew should have a new name: Crazy Crazy!

Inside, Kehinde Wiley performed with Shaquita, backup singers, and four manservants. They were dressed in Beethoven-esque outfits (white wigs, frilly tops) and retooled modern songs as dirty, classical romps. At the end, they busted out mid-’80s dance moves to the strains of Salt-n-Pepa‘s “Push It.” I believe they did the headache, the cabbage patch, and the Roger Rabbit. They also brought the house down. That is certain.

Before his show, a Citizens Band member, a nervous Adam Dugas (yes, Mrs. Jack White performed, as did Rain Phoenix), lamented the separation from his BF, Casey Spooner, who has been in Ibiza for three very long months, during Fischerspooner‘s residency at Manumission. Spooner was supposed to be the parade’s grand marshal, but nabbed a weekend gig with Tommie Sunshine in Moscow.

At Scenic at Tommie’s Monday party Degeneration, the usually hyper DJ was sick as hell, but stuck it out to watch the New York debut of his new favorite band, L.A.’s She Wants Revenge, who sound so much like Interpol I half expected Carlos D. to appear in a plume of white smoke. But SWR are more Joy Division than Interpol supposedly are—in the dance-rock spectrum, they fall closer to dance. When everyone else was about to fall down drunk, Sunshine held the wall and did the least rock ‘n’ roll thing I’ve seen in a club (or the most): He pulled out a packet of Alka-Seltzer and popped it in his water.


Wack Job

TERRY RICHARDSON might be a perv, but he’s an artsy perv. It’s amazing how garden-variety pornography becomes art if you blow it up real big and put it in a gallery. At the “Terryworld” opening at Deitch Projects on Wooster Street, the crowd, including SONIC YOUTH‘s KIM GORDON, FISCHERSPOONER‘s CASEY SPOONER, and dashing downtown performer ADAM DUGAS, gaped in wonder, horror, and amusement at the various positions of Richardson and his numerous nubile young girls and chicks with dicks. On the street, an estimated 3,000-strong throng milled about waiting to be discovered by Terry—or maybe for something exciting to happen.

They almost found it in the glass booth set in the middle of the masses, fronted by a suited blond man. He explained he was the salesman for the Imitation of Christ “store,” which was selling only one item: a pair of antique glass eyeballs for $400. I asked Spooner what he thought of the store, and he cracked, “I didn’t like it.” He paused. “I couldn’t find anything.” Fittingly, ANDREW ANDREW bought the eyeballs from proprietor TARA SUBKOFF.

The Richardson show apparently caused a ruckus with some of the gallery’s employees. JEFFREY DEITCH, who was surprised by the strong negative reaction, gave the employees who took issue with the show a month of paid vacation. “I respect that some people do not like the content of the show. I hope that people can respect Terry and respect that the gallery wants to show something a lot of people want to see and take seriously.”

If that wasn’t enough, just a few days before the big shebang—which Deitch said was their biggest opening yet—a landmarked building next to his Grand Street space, where “Terryworld” was supposed to open, started collapsing, apparently due to an adjacent construction pit that flooded during the recent heavy rains. Two neighboring structures, including Deitch, were emptied. Given just a few minutes, the staff saved the gallery’s computer server and any art they could.

At the Richardson after-party at the Maritime Hotel’s bar, Hiro, a throng of people bum-rushed the door around 11. Deitch himself stood outside the mob scene and told us that Richardson had yet to show up for his own party. Richardson eventually made it inside, where there were more enlarged images of cum shots, people sporting big black plastic “Terry” glasses, and—almost as scary—VINCENT GALLO. We blew the joint, but not the Brown Bunny filmmaker.

We sent Casey Spooner as our stand-in reporter to Sunday’s APC in-store party, where JARVIS COCKER DJ’d and Spooner’s partner, WARREN FISCHER, debuted new Fischerspooner tracks. The duo hope to finish their record by November, and are focusing on imaging and package design, which is, as you can imagine, a supremely huge task for artsy-fartsy types like FS. (You can stalk Casey, Warren, and Adam at their weekly Salon in Billyburg on 110 North 1st Street, every Thursday from 7 to 11, with their new fave DJ, ANDY BUTLER, spinning.)

There couldn’t have been a more appropriate end to Fashion Week than the Vice show at the Ukrainian National Home. Usually fashion shows feature pretty girls plodding down the runway with morose expressions, but the Vice “models” staggered out wearing jeans, T-shirts, and hoodies from the company’s store, grinning widely, with cans of beer in their hands. Another batch of mannequins was sent out in glittery, barely- there dresses, with mean scowls and knives, in case anyone was thinking of asking them out on a date afterward.

The event was to be a showdown between the Vice crew and voguing families the HOUSE OF GIVENCHY and the HOUSE OF NINJA. “Not a fair fight,” admitted Vice co-founder SUROOSH ALVI later, since his people got their asses beat by the voguers, who sashayed, kicked, and danced their way down the catwalk, demonstrating feline flexibility. The finale came when a nearly naked lady demonstrated yoga-like poses that would’ve made MADONNA jealous—and Terry Richardson horny.


Outside and In

Growing up, Scott Hug probably wasn’t too upset when his parents told him to go to his room—at least, if the room in question was anything like this one. Hug has transformed John Connelly’s cozily proportioned Chelsea gallery into the definitive adolescent retreat, in conjunction with the third issue of his magazine project K-48. Wallpapered floor to ceiling with juvenilia, cluttered with albums and action figures, and animated by Hug and his partners in crime, this rebel rec room is less about romanticizing those awkward years than offering an irreverent alternative to the flawed, mundane world of grown-ups. A mission statement asserts, “Teenage art is not an attempt to reclaim youth after it has passed, but an effort to expose the dishonesty of the domesticated adult experience.” Call it the new Outsider Art.

Hug invited some 70 of his closest friends, who happen to include popular kids like Lucky DeBellevue, Robert Melee, and Tracy Nakayama, to contribute to his project. He then arranged more than 100 of their works together with such indispensable teenage paraphernalia as 1970s blacklight posters, a thrift-store painting of Michael Jackson, and an Alyssa Milano workout tape. At first take, it all looks like the work of an anarchist pack rat, but innocence and experience are deliberately and expertly juxtaposed; Nietzsche shares the bedside-reading pile with Tolkien and the Cub Scout Handbook.

Hug is actually living the teenage fantasy, at least for the duration of the show: He sleeps in the plastic race-car bed, plays with the vintage Atari, and hosts parties for his friends after gallery hours. With a wiry frame, a mop of brown hair falling over his eyes and an initial aloofness that quickly morphs into enthusiasm, Hug, who says he’s 30, could probably pass for 17. Most of the “Bedroom” detritus is stuff he’s saved from his own childhood in Missouri or picked up in secondhand shops over the years. He admits to occasional forays onto eBay, particularly if an item has personal significance. “The town where I grew up was really white. When I was little, I wanted a black friend, so my mom got me a Lester doll,” Hug says, pointing to a printout of his latest coveted object.

Hug’s not alone in his regression obsession. Photographers like Justine Kurland, Collier Schorr, and Helen Van Meene have been fixated on the under-18 set for a while now, but most have a tendency to treat teenagers like exotic game. Here, the kids have a more authoritative presence. The students in Lucien Samaha’s yearbook-style portraits circa 1986, made while the artist was substitute-teaching at his former high school, overcome the indignities of bad perms and goofy, braces-studded grins. The plump, bikini-clad girl in Jay Massacret’s Rockaway radiates attitude that borders on sexual confidence; she’s worlds away from Rineke Dijkstra’s painfully self-conscious beachgoers. The confrontational subject of Ryan McGinley’s Eric, Jerking Off is, whatever else one might say, master of his domain.

Collage and drawing prove ideally suited to the rebel mind-set, perhaps because, as Rachel Howe’s “Teenage Art Manifesto” offers, “The tools of the teenage artist are cheap, simple and accessible.” Joe Grillo’s manic cut-and-paste jobs look convincingly like a misfit could have made them in art class, between sniffs of rubber cement. So do David West’s graphite sketches of his “Rad Friends,” if you squint a little. Aïda Ruilova’s delicately penciled vampire heads and Howe’s wistful, girly lap dogs are more assured, but still not too cool for school.

Part catalog, part zine, the corresponding issue of K-48 reproduces many of the “Bedroom” projects plus some notable extras, like Solvej Schou’s tribute to ’80s Brat Pack underdogs, Liz Armstrong’s Ghost World-esque tale of flirtation with a pathetic older man, and the DJ Kid 606’s impassioned defense of Britney Spears (“It’s not her job to be reading Maximum Rocknroll and Punk Planet and moving to New York. It’s just not who she is”). There are also more than a few teenybopper shots of electro groups, part of a music and fashion scene that seems inseparable—for better or worse—from the whole project.

One of the more studied contributions to K-48 is Mike Paré’s Teenage Geography, a CD-ROM video and text exploring “places where adults don’t go, places where only the underage hang out, such as beneath bridges or in hidden areas found on rural private property.” He could be describing the landscape of skateboarding, as mythologized in the recent film Dogtown and Z-Boys. “Skaters by their very nature are urban guerrillas,” wrote Craig Stecyk, an artist and hanger-on who clearly fancied himself the Walter Benjamin of Dogtown, in a 1976 piece for Skateboarder magazine. “They make everyday use of the useless artifacts of the technological burden, and employ the handiwork of the government/corporate structure in a thousand ways that the original architects could never dream of.”

Dogtown‘s legacy, the empty swimming pool that led to the aerial that led, roughly, to Tony Hawk and the half-pipe and skateboarding as we know it, inspired the centerpiece of “Session the Bowl” at Deitch Projects. Titled Free Basin, it’s a wooden version of an empty pool, fabricated by the New Mexico collective Simparch. It was last seen at Documenta where, Jeffrey Deitch recalls, “it was treated as a big post-minimal sculpture.” The kidney-shaped bowl is a fascinating and sensuous object, constructed on an elevated platform, with curved supports visible from beneath that suggest the ribs of a giant whale. Peering down from the bowl’s edge after hours, when it is empty, one can see scuff marks and streaks of shoe rubber on the pale wooden surface.

When the gallery is open, there are usually at least 10 skaters lining the rim of Free Basin, dropping one at a time into a free fall that gives way to a few seconds of controlled swoops. A sign warns, “All Skaters Must Wear Helmets,” but most don’t. The tremendous noise they make—an ominous rumbling like an elevated train, punctuated by the thwack of wheels and bodies hitting wood—is part of the show’s visceral experience.

Scattered around the gallery is an uneven assortment of work from artists associated with the skateboard scene. There’s an interesting wall of text-based collages from Daniel Joseph, who is also in K-48; a pornographic skateboard from Larry Clark of Kids fame; a great large painting from Barry McGee and a good small one from Chris Johanson. There are also numerous photos of sullen teens shredding, just to remind us what we’re looking at, and lots of what amounts to contained graffiti from authentic street artists such as RoStarr and Doze. It all looks a bit contrived, like Martha Cooper’s interactive tag wall, though the kids pausing on their way up to the bowl don’t seem to mind.

Playing the permissive parent, Deitch notes that there have been spontaneous parties in the gallery after hours, not to mention an opening extravaganza that was shut down by the police. With a recent show on the birth of hip-hop and another on Keith Haring just opened, he’s riding the wave of old-school nostalgia. Skate culture is already so commercial, though, that any attempt to claim it as an “anti-establishment art community” is beside the point. According to a 2000 statistic from the National Sporting Goods Association, more American kids ages six to 17 skate than play baseball. The X Games, televised on major networks, draw millions of viewers. Still, the sight of all those skaters zipping around the basin like heated molecules is something special. In the end, it’s their presence in the gallery, and Hug’s in the bedroom, that make us want to stay and hang out for a while.