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EXTREME BARNEY: 4 TAKES
It's all so choreographed. I feel ill watching the young couple kneel at an altar before an older woman--there is incest (or insects) between these three, all touching under the table. It's secret and feels like an initiation into an adolescent or repressive (American?) code of dirty sex.
It is worse than garbage, as Fred Camper, suggests--not at all like
rummaging through the day's cast-off debris in one's trash can, open
envelopes, discarded junk and coffee grounds. There's comfort there, and
the stuff of a modernist aesthetic--as Kurt Schwitter's showed in his
collages of candy wrappers and other detritus swept up in front of his
studio. Barney's vision isn't modern: it's wet and dark and fetid. It's the
sickness I like, the excess of controlled spiraling forms, the sticky and
shiny surfaces of a body, or a body of water so laden with salt a human
body floats differently in it. Robert Smithson's spiral jetty kept coming
to mind, with its recent emergence from the Salt Lake after years of not
being visible. The monumentality of that work signals a kind of hubris for
me, as does the grandiosity of Barney's Cremaster series. But Barney isn't
a conceptual artist trying to call into question the space of the gallery
as the space for art--or is he? He is certainly not a film maker at all--so
to compare him to the brilliant Ford, Sirk, Welles, or Brakhage isn't the
proper touchstone. The pace of Cremaster 2 isn't the pace of film, but of
the eye contemplating a painting. Maybe the proper touchstones are
interior decorating, high-end fashion, pornography, or advertising--low
forms which make up the perceptual fields we live in. Barney does make me
ill, but it's not because I'm yearning for great modern art.
The other event was the arrival in the mail of photos of Nina Levy's new sculpture at I-20 Gallery in Chelsea which show a life-size body cast of the artist, nude, holding her own over-sized, detached head up at arm's length like a basketball player about to sink a three point shot. The piece is installed on the roof deck of the gallery building so that its backdrop is the entire Manhattan skyline.
This dual vision, of a naked artist, albeit her effigy, about to pitch her own head overboard into downtown Manhattan and one of the most successful art dealers in the world being led out of her gallery in handcuffs for showing the work of a provocative artist really struck me.
Of course Boone wasn't looking to get arrested and feels sure the raid was just another ploy of Guiliani's to attract conservative voters. But the fact that he bothers to pick on artists, dealers and museums is somehow perversely touching, touching in that he and or his advisers assume that people care enough about art to make it worthwhile for him to mess with it for political purposes. Likewise, Levy's piece reflects an uncommon engagement with place. The violence or ecstasy of the gesture of ripping your own head off and throwing it off the roof of a tall building is presented in the context of the city where it happens for all to see. Indeed, rather than constructing something intended to be viewed in a sterile white box gallery here, there or anywhere, Levy has swept all of Manhattan into her composition.
I guess what struck me about these two events is that both reflect a kind
of passion, a level of engagement and an assumption of the importance of
art and art-making to everybody that is downright invigorating. Obviously
I don't condone police harassment of galleries. But what caught my
attention in both these cases, especially in the wake of the "Sensation"
sensation, is what appears to be the absolute agreement by very diverse
and even warring parties of the importance of art to the real life of the
city. I'd like to see more of that here.
continued on Page Four