Art and About 

For a few years now, we’ve noticed that most of our friends still standing have adopted the 99 and 44/100% pure way of life. They can almost walk on water. Of course there are paltry few means of recourse other than this way… We humans are in danger of wiping each other out if we don’t start cleaning up our acts.
While reminiscing and wincing over embarrassing past pie-eyed and blackout states, you might take heart and ease your guilt with the information I’m about to enlighten you with. Allow me a few paragraphs to set up the scenario before I get into the juicy stuff.

Archaeologists in Central America who concern themselves with Mayan culture just discovered and old floor. It’s a big deal because the floor is the oldest handiwork of man ever found in the Americas. Once the floor of a community center or “party temple,” it dates back to the time prior to the great Pyramid of Cheops, even prior to Stonehenge, and that means more than 4000 years, give or take a few thousand. So this makes the “new country” seem even older than the “old country.”

Anyway, near the floor they found a wall with ancient graffiti art and they also found pieces of come sort of bowl with paintings on it. On the wall was the image of a bound and strained man whose intestines were falling out all over the place and his face distorted in pain…No wonder. The archaeologists didn’t know what to make of this except to suppose that this image represented and unlucky sacrificial victim, and they chalked it up to the cruelty of the times.

But when they pieced together the bowl and saw that was painted on it, they had to rethink their theories. On one side of the bowl was the image of a guy disemboweling himself, and he was smiling. Then on the other side of the bowl was the image of a guy who was about to cut off his own head with a sword. Sure, those times must have been tough and weird, but come on, there must have been a reason to go this far.

After careful analysis, further study and the help of some anthropologist, the archaeologists found out that these ancient Mayans weren’t just some high livers or lowlifes committing suicide because of personal problems – no. Those Mayans pictured were: (1) completely plastered (2) grand priests and rulers (3) trying to see their gods.

Through the use of intoxicating substances they hoped to see, feel, hear their deities, so they took every drug and liquor known to man for the purpose of seeing those gods and maybe communicating with them. This, most likely, wasn’t antisocial behavior…. Any man with enough chutzpah to kill himself could join the fun. It was probably the center of their belief system, their salvation, the quick road to their muses. And what a road! It was probably also good entertainment for the wise womanfolk. A couple of chuckles, anyway.

Okay. After all thse drugs, if they still didn’t see their gods, they figured they’d better kill themselves, because then for sure they’d see something. And besides, how would they ever live that night down? So take heart, all you ex-druggers and ex-boozers out there. Don’t let your tiny transgressions of the past smudge your memories. At least you didn’t stagger away from the bar and decapitate yourselves, not literally anyway.

Yes, take heart, but don’t allow yourselves an imperious attitude when it comes to judging the Mayans. Sure, those times must have been really dark, sinister and creepy, with restless spirits everywhere. But look around. Take a gander at the Middle East and give those guys a piece of your mind. Tell them something like this: “Hey you crazy bloodthirsty maniacs over there…. You better clean up your acts. Your enemy isn’t who you think it is.”

I was beginning to think the art crowd was slipping, losing something, maybe drying up. Hardly. The huge crowd that turned out for the opening night of David LaChapelle’s and Elaine Reichek’s show at 56, Bleecker Gallery wasn’t on bit dull, insipid or shriveled up. Everyone looked just the opposite: fluffy, ripe and in blossom. The place ablaze with personalized radical chic, but these weren’t hollow hipsters, these were people with actual substance inside their decorative shells. People were bandying their imaginations about and their art observations as well. No vapid spine-chilling trendies here, these were good-looking art-worlders. It struck me that here truly was the young avant-garde. So the crowd was here, and the art? That was here too.

LaChapelle’s work is big, first of all. These photographs are t least forty by sixty inches. What one would call them are “manipulated” Cibachromes, I suppose, meaning that there is more here than just camera work and Cibachrome shine. His show, titled “Your Needs Met,” was announced in the mail by a large card with the image of a gorgeous child-man wearing a piece of fluff and framed in roses. I guess this advertising brought some of the crowd there. It just looked right. The work was stylized mythic-religious-poetic: lots of hunks with angel wings in supplicant poses, innocent children and sweet madonnas attempting transcendentalism. The photographs were all in vivid color, yet misty, like dreams newly converted Christians living in the 1950s would have had when they slept. (Or maybe the dreams of sex-starved missionaries living in the 1950s.) When I saw this show, earthly problems just fell away.

All the work is mounted beautifully, an added enhancement making many of thse Cibachromes truly collectible art pieces. Our needs are met.

Elaine Reichek’s work is a step away from NYC reality, like a far trip away. Somewhat akin to collage, yet never as chaotic, the overall motif has to do with the beckoning song of the Pacific islands. Hawaii, Fiji, Tahiti, Bali, “Balai-Hai.” Her work is refreshing. She created an entire installation under the skylight, complete with palm tree and coconuts strewn about the floor.

Across the street at 33 Bleecker Street, Barbara Braathen has newly opened, beautiful gallery space. With the work of artists Stefano Castronovo and Jamie Dalglish, it was cause for celebration. Stefano did Goya appropriations and Dalgish did Dalgish appropriations. Yes, photo doubles of his own paintings, which were inspired. As for Stefano…. He’s prolific, innovative, and gifted, master technician. These paintings are beautiful.

To benefit Tiber House, a nonsectarian, educational, cultural, not-for-profit institution, the Brooklyn Academy of Music hosted a performance by Laurie Anderson, Spalding Gray and Suzanne Vega. The evening was co-hosted by the likes of Richard Gere, Philip Glass, Bianca Jagger, Elizabeth Avedon, Joseph Kosuth, Estelle Parsons, Francesco and Alba Clemente, Debbie Harry, etc., etc., and eneded with dinner and dancing at Indochine. This was the first annual benefit, and it was extremely successful.

Carl Apfelschnitt’s art was recently shown at Katzen Brown Gallery. Always his work speaks of things other than this plane. Maybe he’s a necromancer using toolds of that trace: gold dust, crystals, dragon’s blood. Or maybe he’s a romancer flirting with substances that work spells for him. Either way, the work holds more than is apparent at one’s first brief glance. There are universal mysteries here, but also the tools for tapping into them. Without sounding too vague (space doesn’t permit me to be more vague) I’d say that Apfelschnitt is interpreting some ancient knowledge for us. All we need to do is regard and understand.

At the Curt Marcus Gallery there was an exhibition of the work of Hannah Collins, Pepe Espaliú, Gloria Friedmann, Nan Goldin and Time Hawkinson. This was a show that I warmed right up to. Espaliú successfully sculpted with Spanish leather. This work was somewhat evocative of finely crafted saddles or beautifully made violin and French horn cases. Each sculpture has an accompanying illustration, which puts sculpture and leather in new perspectives.

Hawkinson’s work more than stirs the imagination. Think of it! Here is a bound and polyurethaned chicken skin sculpture – just the skin, the shell, the whisper of the roast that might have been. And here too, a scrimshaw scalp. Never heard of them? Where have you been? Listen up! Actually this piece is an old-fashioned long-haired toupee with the inside part, the part that lies to the scalp, engraved with the image of a New Bedford whaling boat, the same kind of etching old salts used to decorate narwhal or walrus tusks. All this is in a circular frame, looking like a mystery cake with curls. To trap and hold forever this piece of genius, layers of polyurethane were applied. There more you ponder each piece, the more bizarre and complex it becomes. Mystery upon mystery. Things are never simple when you mix your metaphors.

Nan Goldin had two shows in two months, and at Pace/MacGill and this one at Curt Marcus. There was a time years ago when Goldin’s work was misunderstood and misinterpreted. It was considered too radically avant-garde or countercultural, but now that everybody is avant-garde or countercultural, or pretending to be, Goldin’s work is finally sought-after, as it always should have been.

In the office of this gallery, next to the huge window that was lit up with a panorama of a red NYC dusk, was a photograph by Barbara Ess. Just recently she had an exhibition there, but I missed it. Ess’ work is original, there isn’t anything else like it. Seeing one of her photographs is like opening a door and looking at an uncharted world.

Another unexpected surprise was a group of photographs and a slide show by Sheyla Baykal Cipriani. I was visiting Bill Rice and Cipriani and East 3rd Street and never guessed there would be entertainment. While the men’s shelter guys entertained passersby and fried their brains in the tenacious heat of a NYC blast of hell, I was sitting right across the street in Rice’s cool quiet basement studio, with the balmy breezes stirring the ghetto palms in the backyard oasis.

Cipriani darkened the room and showed us slides of a different time in New York City, a time not so long ago…. just ten or so years, but it certainly seems like more. Many of her subjects were and are her friends who happen to be known to almost everybody below 14th Street. These people were and are most famous on the lips, not on the front pages…. People like Jackie Curtis, Alexis Del Lago, Candy Darling, Taylor Mead, The Angels of Light, Harry Koutoukas, John Heys, Peter Hujar, The Bloolips, Bill Rice, John Eric Broaddus, etc., etc… our friends and near-icons. Many of these photos are intimate, many were taken when these people were in drag or at least showboatin’. All of these photos are about an era that’s gone and unfortunately not so well documented. It might be about time for a big fat coffee-table book of our most beloved dragettes, dragons, and dragoninnies.

In these portraits the real deal shines through the lashes and the lipstick, and Cipriani certainly has all the required real-deal grist for a few hefty visual chronicles.

Text By Cookie Mueller

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