Thursday, December 18th, 2003

Urban Baroque at Plane Space, Jeremy Blake at Feigen Contemporary, Aristides Logothetis at Cue Art Foundation, Augusto Arbizo at Michael Steinberg

“Urban Baroque” at Plane Space through December 21 (102 Charles Street, between Bleecker and Hudson Streets, 917 606 1266)

“Jeremy Blake: Autumn Almanac” at Feigen Contemporary through December 20 (535 W 20 Street, between 10 and 11th Aves, 212 929 0500)

“Aristides Logothetis: Speculative Grammar” at Cue Art Foundation through January 24 (511 W 25 Street, between 10 and 11 Aves, 212-206-3583)

“Augusto Arbizo: Rise and Fall” at Polytechnic at Michael Steinberg Fine Art through December 23 (526 W 26 Street 9F (between 10 and 11th Aves, 212 924 5770)

Ian Dawson Assmann ICB 300 2003 plastic, 57 x 49 x 86 inches Courtesy of James Cohan Gallery
Ian Dawson, Assmann ICB 300 2003 plastic, 57 x 49 x 86 inches Courtesy of James Cohan Gallery

“Urban Baroque” is an astute, focused four-person show at Plane Space, the handsome, year old West Village gallery. London-based curator Lisa Ivorian Gray has brought together three established young Brits, Ian Dawson, Anya Gallaccio and Steve McQueen, and an emerging American, Drew Lowenstein, in a refreshing, intelligent mix.

While the title has a good ring to it, the use of the word Baroque doesn’t bear too close scrutiny. It ought to connote emotional excess, knowing rule subversion, and theatrical directness. Roman bells and smells can also help. The artist who best most evokes this last attribute is Ms. Gallaccio. She has been active on the London scene since the 1980s and has devoted her career, to the best of my knowledge, to a single idea. Luckily, it’s a cute one: She arranges fresh cut flowers in a modernist grid under a sheet of thick glass, either on the floor or, as on this occasion, on the wall, and leaves them, over the course of an exhibition, to their inevitable, inexorable decay.

Mr. McQueen is a Turner Prize winner and video artist of subtlety and depth. Alas, his somewhat slight contribution here conforms to a stereotypical (think Damien Hirst) view of young British art: pristinely executed renderings of vague nastiness. The seven C-prints sealed within plexi that capture rolled up rags rotting in gutters are hardly Carravaggio. On the other hand, Mr. McQueen and Ms. Gallacio set a tone of slick rot which the other two artists extend in more suggestive ways.

Drew Lowenstein Lazlo 2003 oil and charcoal on canvas, 63-1/2 82 inches Courtesy Plane Space, New York
Drew Lowenstein, Lazlo 2003 oil and charcoal on canvas, 63-1/2 82 inches Courtesy Plane Space, New York

The juxtaposition of Mr. Dawson’s enigmatic sculptures and Mr. Lowenstein’s graffiti- and Sci-Fi-inspired lyrical abstraction is what makes this show worth the journey. Mr. Dawson, who was given a solo exhibition this summer at Chelsea’s James Cohan Gallery, subjects found plastic industrial containers to the blow torch to produce weird contortions, a kind of postmodernized Arp. The sense of nature reclaiming artifice with avengance connects with the flowers and rags, but Mr. Dawson’s rich, ambiguous work is more individual and laive than his copatriots’. His sculpture has just the right mix of banality and otherness.

Drew Lowenstein is genuinely Baroque in his collision of salon abstraction and street attitude. He favors raw canvas and seemingly arbitrary stains for his grounds and a highly developed calligraphy (plus occasional bursts of cartooning and graffiti) for his figure. His mark-making is at once fastidious, fiddly, expressive and aloof. It looks as if he has mastered some lost semitic script, and like Islamic or Jewish micrographers, who arrange text into motifs or geometric patterns, he has his marks accumulate into vaguely depictive forms: In his case, what could read as space ships or ancient cities are poised on the brink of legibility. By showing Mr. Lowenstein with three emissaries of Cool Brittania, Ms. Ivorian Gray has emphasized both the funkiness and earnestness of this underrated New Yorker.

Jeremy Blake Reading Ossie Clark 2003 three stills from the DVD and right: Where to Begin 2002-03 oil on canvas, 12 x 10 inches Courtesy Feigen Contemporary
Jeremy Blake, Reading Ossie Clark 2003 three stills from the DVD

If Urban Baroque puts you in the mood for perfidious Albion, be sure to catch Jeremy Blake’s retro riot of a DVD, “Reading Ossie Clark,” on show at Feigen Contemporary through this weekend. Clark was the great celebrity fashion designer of 1960s Swinging London.

Choice quotes from Clark’s recently published diaries (“Marianne bought a suede suit trimmed in python with a fluted peplum and never asked the price”) are narrated in a suitably plush, Julie Christie-like accent by New York artworld impresario Clarissa Dalrymple. Phrases like “She comes in color” and “One snort of cocaine makes me into a new man, and that man wants two snorts” rub up against a montage of period film clips and fashion plates over which abstract psychedelic animation is louchely layered in correspondingly gaudy hues.

Where to Begin 2002-03 oil on canvas, 12 x 10 inches Courtesy Feigen Contemporary
Where to Begin 2002-03 oil on canvas, 12 x 10 inches Courtesy Feigen Contemporary

The result would have been nine delectable minutes of an acid trip down memory lane were it not for the fact that you have to pass a display of puny paintings to exit the gallery. Mr. Blake’s whimsical and ephemeral vision is perfectly suited to the editing room, but his painting, in the now ubiquitous knowingly inept “it’s okay that it’s crappy because it’s only from photographs” style is a real let down. You need to watch your back if you’re painting Celia Clark, Ossie’s Missus and the muse of David Hockney.

Aristides Logothetis Blorb 2000 fabric and tennis balls, 8 x 8-1/2 x 7 inches
Aristides Logothetis, Blorb 2000 fabric and tennis balls, 8 x 8-1/2 x 7 inches

For more fun and games with clothing, check out Aristides Logothetis at Cue, the admirable new non-profit space in West 25th Street’s Whitehall Building. Cue awards debut (or “too long since”) shows to emerging or neglected artists who are picked for the honor by guest curators. Athens-born Mr. Logothetis was the choice of William Fagaly, former assistant director of the New Orleans Museum of Art.

Mr. Logothetis orchestrates a rapturous interplay of forms in paintings and sculptures that reference DNA models, microscope slides, fashion, and Fifties decor. One piece, “Protein,” (2003), a five foot high open-form sculpture made from Bermuda shorts joined at the leg openings and filled with foam and cement, puts you in mind of a giant cell structure, perhaps the protein of the title. The pulsating blobs and lozenges of “Tabla Bubbly,” (2001), a riff on early Ad Reinhardt or Bradley Walker Tomlin, assume a new significance in company with the assemblages.

There is a cheeky subversiveness to the back and forth banter throughout this show between garish plaids and minimalist grids. The deft interaction of tennis balls and fabric in “Blorb,” (2000), in which bright colored stripes are suggestively pulled and stretched, looks like an unlikely collaboration between Louise Bourgeois and Ellsworth Kelly. There is all sorts of nifty play with biomorphized handbags and writhing neck-ties. Never has the modern sculptural convention of the “disagreeable object” looked so agreeable.

Augusto Arbizo Sign 2003 acrylic on canvas, 70 x 52 inches Courtesy Michael Steinberg Fine Art
Augusto Arbizo, Sign 2003 acrylic on canvas, 70 x 52 inches Courtesy Michael Steinberg Fine Art

A more sedate set of connections, sanctioned by art history, nonetheless produces sumptuous and suggestive results in the work of the Phillipenes-born painter, Augusto Arbizo. His show, entitled “Rise and Fall”, marries the romantic landscape idiom and abstract expressionism.

Readers of Robert Rosenblum’s classic text “Modern Painting and The Northern Romantic Tradition: Friedrich to Rothko” would be forgiven, however, for pointing out that this couple have already been living in sin for quite a while.

Mr. Arbizo starts his large, weird, glossy canvases with chance gestures which he proceeds to interpret, discovering in the congealing paint a glowing moon within forlorn trees or a dense forest of algae.

Of course, this strategy extends much further back than Professor Rosenblum and his romantics (original and latter day) to Leonardo, who extolled the suggestiveness of stains and accidental patterns to the landscapist. While Mr. Arbizo more closely recalls Rorschach tests, Max Ernst’s forests, and Jay DeFeo’s legendary Rose (currently on view at the Whitney incidentally) than Leonardo, he adds a welcome contemporary twist to the occult strain in landscape painting.