Saturday, June 13th, 2009

1992009 at D’Amelio Terras

February 28 – April 25, 2009
525 West 22nd Street, between 10th and 11th avenues
New York City, 212 352 9460
Installation shot of the exhibition under review showing, foreground, Demetrius Oliver Parallax, 2008. Digital c-print, anthracite
Installation shot of the exhibition under review showing, foreground, Demetrius Oliver Parallax, 2008. Digital c-print, anthracite

In After the End of Art, Arthur Danto writes, “By contrast with the exultant, even feverish art market of the mid-1980s, which a certain number of grudging but not altogether misguided commentators at the time likened to the famous tulip mania that swamped the characteristic thrift and caution of the Dutch with a kind of speculative fever, the art world of the mid-1990s is a triste and chastened scene.”  Many would now predict that this description will serve equally well for the art market’s shift in the 2000s.  Prediction is certainly not foreign to the art word–a speculative market if there ever was one–prediction, in fact, may be the art market’s primary currency.  Danto’s view of the future continues,  “…the complex of casual determinants that accounted for the appetite to acquire art in the 1980s may never recombine in the form they assumed in that decade.”   Here Danto’s crystal ball proved cloudy, the 2000s saw not only a renewal of appetite, but the creation of a seemingly insatiable one–a veritable tapeworm in the collective stomach of the art-acquiring class.

The real irony, however, is that Danto would be bothering to make predictions at all in a book dedicated to announcing the end of art history.  Of course, the benefit to announcing the end of any history is that one gets to be that history’s final prophet.  Prophecy unites the theorist, the art dealer, and the author of science fiction–each pedaling their vision of the future.  It is in this vein that D’Amelio Terras gives us 1992009, a group show with a catchy sci-fi name that offers the theory that 1992 and 2009 share not only similar cultural landmarks–the replacement of a Bush in the White House with a Democrat, the war in Iraq, and fiscal failure–but also an artistic vision.  Thus heavyweights of the 90s–Christopher Wool, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Sue Williams–are paired with younger artists represented by the gallery, such as Sara VanDerBeek, Leslie Hewitt, and Heather Rowe.

The cynical read conjures an obvious ploy to lend credibility to the gallery’s roster by billing these younger artists as stars of the future–imagine a 2029, this show whispers, in which Jedediah Ceasar is the new Robert Gober.  Such gestures–recession marketing, if you will–abound in Chelsea at the moment.  Witness the close proximity of solo shows by Jennifer Dalton and William Powhida, at Winkleman and Schroeder Romero Gallery respectively, which both offer cute, topical takes on the art world’s monetary woes.  Elsewhere, it is easy to imagine financial considerations as the motivator for a gallery’s selection of works even when this might not be the case, easy to see the recession lingering behind every hopeful show of mid-sized and polite paintings, and screaming behind sure-to-please blockbusters such as Picasso at Gagosian.

1992009 offers neither overly polite works nor guaranteed crowd pleasers.  The show’s relationship to the dates that form its title is largely the matter of the curatorial statement, rather than a topical consideration of the art, so it is easy to ignore this premise and focus on the work.  And here cross-generational relationships do emerge.  Nicole Cherubini’s vessel and pedestal are connected by a thin, wobbly arc that turns the whole sculpture into a sort of cup, creating the sense that the real purpose of ceramics is to offer a set of conventions that can be undone, and Steve Parrino’s canvas lies across its stretchers bars with the unruliness of a slept-in bed–here too it is the misuse of a set of material traditions that provides the work with its substance.  Noah Sheldon and Maggie Peng’s oversized, motorized wind chimes are a little bit beautiful, a little bit mysterious, and a little bit silly in a way that is not dissimilar to Kiki Smith’s white wax figure, crouched on the floor with long, outstretched arms.  Peter Missing tags the gallery wall with red lines representing an overturned wine glass atop three marks slashed through by a forth; this improvised hieroglyph mirrors the question mark slashed by two lines in Jessica Diamond’s graphic red and black wall painting.

“What money?” Diamond’s painting reads, the most overt reference to recession in the show.  That her work would have responded to the art market in such a fashion only makes sense, in the 90s Diamond’s paintings were primarily concerned with capitalist critique.  That this is not a cause unanimously championed by the other artists in the show doesn’t prevent meaningful relationships from forming among much of the very good work in 1992009, but it does contribute to the shows  failure to create a gestalt.  Despite the 2009 dating of many of the younger artist’s contributions, these pieces came out of bodies of work formed not during an art market bust, but rather in the height of its boom. Art is inevitably a product of the time in which it was made, but how this financial crisis will affect art, it is still too early to tell–even for a prophet.