Gallery Going, by DAVID COHEN          
      A version of this article first appeared in the
New York Sun, June 16, 2005



Schütte until July 2 (24 W. 57 Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, 212-977-7160).

Zittel and Ashkin until June 18 (525 W. 24 Street, between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues, 212-627-6000)


archive of David Cohen's Sun articles


Marian Goodman Gallery

Andrea Rosen Gallery

Andrea Rosen Galery

Thomas Schütte One-Man Houses V 2005
birch, mixed media, 82-1/2 x 39-3/4 x 53-1/4 inches, plus crate
Marian Goodman Gallery

My heart missed a beat when I first started looking at Thomas Schütte’s architectural models at Marian Goodman, though not necessarily for respectable aestheticreasons. Maybe it’s because I’ve been renovating an apartment for the past year whose distinctive layout—pied-à-terre footprint, cathedral ceiling—is echoed in Mr. Schütte’s modernist, modular fantasies.  Maybe there’s just some repressed childhood yearning in me for a doll’s house. In any case, these spare, nifty, models in birch ply and other materials, with their dinky, to-scale furnishings induced the kind of “awww” most people reserve for puppies.

Some artists would be horrified by so trivial and subjective a response. Others would delight in it, even actively court it. It is hard to tell which would be the case with this German artist. His art takes numerous forms, ranging in medium and mood from loosely expressive figurative sculpture to *echt* conceptual constructions, and it is emotionally and intellectually as disparate: ironic one moment, turning out mock monuments wherever possible; earnest the next, with its prim cerebral authority; and sometimes whimsical.

His modular housing proposals are a case in point. In a way, they grow out of his “ghosts,” a series of steel Michelin man-like golems who were a kind of anti-Modular Man — dystopic and absurd, rather than representatives of le Corbusier’s rationalist humanism. Mr. Schütte’s architectures have a tongue-in-cheek quality, as if poking fun at utopia. In place of a punchline, however, there is a dainty functionalism. These wouldn’t be so bad to live in.

Five modular houses, each displayed on its own shipping crate, are in one gallery. A more ominous-looking model of a neighborhood of such houses, made of plastic and tin arranged on mirror on a reduced scale, is in an adjacent viewing room. In a separate gallery still is a decorated room of furnishing prototypes, with stenciled wall painting, bed, chairs, vases, and lampshades.

Mr. Schütte’s work is an enigma, in the all-too-familiar way of conceptual art: It seems too much like architecture and design to be art, but when you realize how thin in conception and shoddy in execution it often is you thin,, ah yes, *Art*. Then the objects begin to function poetically: Their very crappiness has value, or at least purpose.

The models seem at first neat and coolly professional, but on examination feature quirky, clownish recyclings. A lighting fixture is a CD, the kitchen hobb is screws and washers. Indeed, all his furnishings and models are made from pertinent materials. The wooden furniture, with its vaguely Arts-and-Crafts beading, is actually constructed from hollow-core doors. The shades are laminated papers. Other elements are precisely rendered from real materials in miniature: plexi for the bathroom walls, enamel for the sinks. The purist shapes of the houses themselves, meanwhile, like the gorgeous rotunda skylights favored in a few houses, are actually found shapes — HVAC ducts and bathroom piping being two favorites.

Mr. Schütte is constantly flitting between art that is a satisfying thing in itself and art that’s a knowing, aloof model of itself. Like so many artists torn between an aesthetically correct Dadaist iconoclasm and an innate desire to generate beauty and meaning, he likes the have his cake and eat it. But then, to mix idioms, we have to lie in the bed he has made.


installation shot, Adrea Rosen Gallery. click here for full credit details

Mr. Schütte’s architectural and design forays echo a show by the doyenne of mock functionalism, Andrea Zittel. Her work — which segues into her domestic arrangements and wardrobe — takes many forms. All, however, are dinky, dainty riffs on modernism and the modular.

Ms. Zittel constitutes a one-woman corporation, “A-Z enterprise,” which describes itself as an “institute of investigative living.” According to her website, “Home furniture, clothing, food all become the sites of investigation in an ongoing endeavor to better understand human nature and the social construction of needs.” Her trademark sculptural installations are cubicles for living, working, sleeping and entertainment, a cross between utility apartments, Japanese commuter hotels, and Barbarella’s spaceship. At their absurdist, multi-functionalist best, they are a sexy tease.

Her latest show at Andrea Rosen is not her most riveting, but it gives some flavor of her charm. The installation seems a dig at overdesigned architectural museums; a brown stripe goes around the walls, over and against which furnishings, dresses and various small paintings and etchings  oare artfully displayed.  This recalls Matthew Ritchie and many others—the décor is a knowing way to humble the saleable framed image and at the same time elevate it to the cooler medium, installation.

In Ms. Zittel’s vaguely biomorphic wooden wall-fixtures and related furnishings, Richard Neutra meets the Flintstones. A fiber-form stool looks like a carved boulder, for instance, and there’s a suitably iron-age felted rug. Kitchenware recalls Meret Oppenheim’s notorious fur teacup. A series of Paintings titled “These Things I Know for Sure,” have a retro billboard quality. They boast such truisms as “It is a human trait to want to organize things into categories” and “All materials ultimately deteriorate and show signs of wear.”

These hardly have the pointed cruelty of Jenny Holzer or Barbara Kruger’s anti-capitalist sloganeering, but they exude enough “attitude” to dispel fear that her nerdishness is in earnest. Some gouaches with titles like “Me wearing a Flame Fiber Form in front of driveway at A-Z West” — evidently self-portraits — suggest this latest show is much like its maker: thin and pretty. 

Michael Ashkin Adjnabistan 2005 (detail)
recycled cardboard and gypsum, 46 inches x 11 feet x 21 feet
Andrea Rosen

Michael Ashkin’s rather stunning “Adjnabistan” (2005) is a dark, romantic coda to Ms. Zittel and Mr. Schütte’s crate-and-container fetish. Filling Rosen’s project space so that the viewer must scrape around the sides of the room, the 11-by-21-feet sculpture (on a 46-inch support) depicts in aerial view a desolate, post-apocalyptic township of shipping containers, caravans, and makeshift observation towers on some prairie or steppe. The ground is actually nine pairs of sheetrock, the habitations made with dexterous precision from recycled cardboard and gypsum.

The piece recalls the ornate military models that fill the basement of the National Museum in Lille, France, from the Napoleonic era. It also brings to mind, in its focus and obsession, the model a character is compelled to make in Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” The work maintains a compulsive and sparse rigor, balancing all-overness and precision, investment, and casualness. André Breton once described Picasso paintings as “tragic toys for adults.” The dinky nihilism of  Mr. Ashkin’s dollhouse makes a similar appeal.


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