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The Experimenters Lombard Freid, New York
Curated by Kenny Schachter

Kenny Schachter

Encarsia-Formosa, 1987
Panamarenko, Dieter Roth, Donald Baechler
copper, iron, PVC, motor, batteries, 5" x 15"

The theme was allegedly science--the idea of the gallery not the curator--although without a press release in hand the connection was not so obvious. There were little contributions from a group of nearly 40 artists, ranging from the unknown, never-before shown, to the over-exhibited. In typical Schachter-style, the level of quality and consistency was roller-coaster steady. What for me were the most significant works were the ones completely ignored, or glossed over, in the press. Namely, a 1971 piece by Dieter Roth, entitled wurzelbehandlung, which was a two-color serigraph printed on a sheet of rusted metal. The central image of a sardine can with the lid partially turned back was incised in the surface, and seemed to be comprised of oxidized brownish-red corrosion. The work beautifully captured a sense of creative destruction, as the cartoonish image of the can appeared to be in the midst of an incremental state of decay. Another notable work was a mid-'60s yellow pencil drawing by Paul Thek, that was a schematic rendering for one of his lucite and fake meat sculptures. Thek is an enormously under-recognized artist in the US, as opposed to in Europe, where a large-scale traveling retrospective, "The Wonderful World That Almost Was," is on its last leg in Marseilles. Needless to say, the show won't be coming to a museum near you, and the catalogues are nowhere to be found in this country. Our loss. The 1987 Panamarenko contribution, encarsia-formosa, was a delicate and diminutive flying machine with a set of plastic wings, perched on top of a metal can housing a motor. The clear, fin-like wings that presumably fluttered back and forth, seemed at the same time ethereal, and capable of lifting the entire device in flight. However, the gallery insisted the sculpture be grounded by enclosing it in a plastic vitrine. Oh well. A newer work, by Via Lewandowsky, had the same European-esque sensibility, characterized by a feeling of degeneration and rot, mixed with loveliness. The piece, last call #2, 1996, was a signed, charred, stuffed glove clenching a radio transmitter, with a similarly burnt battery dangling from it, and affixed to the wall. This alluded to a Russian astronaut that suffered the same fate, though from top to bottom, some time ago. Nice.

Now on to the less consequential art works in the show. Donald Baechler added wispy drawings on what appeared to be tissue paper, with a stick figure resembling a swizzle stick. Richard Kern's porn-lite photo of a bound woman suspended upside down with her breasts fluttering really keyed into the scientific matters at hand. Damien Hirst, a must-be-included artist for any important group exhibition, weighed in with a ready-made Plexiglas cabinet that housed syringes and hypodermic needles, all neatly compartmentalized in the storage unit. Duchamp would have been proud. Robert Chambers filled a cluster of woman's hose with multi-colored hair gel; the scientific import of such a work remained elusive. Over the course of the show the "jelly" from legs partially evaporated--the mess melting into the floor--and raised the ire of the gallery owner. Mmm.

Nepotism. The joys and practices of a nepotist (the potential title of my upcoming biography). Firstly, the wonderful, vividly zany sculpture by Ilona Malka (did I mention she is my wife?), green with envy, was comfortably sandwiched between Peter Halley and Matthew Ritchie. A little treasure of a mechanized figure, endowed with a head that endearingly tilted to and fro, Malka's piece was a down-to-earth, comic, colorful, and kinetic Tinguely/De St. Phalle come-to-life. Devon Dikeou's added a slab of asphalt, encased in plastic, and resting on the floor like a highway Andre. Dikeou's minimalist floor work (isn't she the publisher of this mag?) was a witty, clever play on the notion of parking--a bit of an outdoor lot on the floor, indoors, for people to "park" themselves on. Whatever that means. Lastly, I included a work of my own (extreme nepotism). The piece, the title of which comes from an early Acconci work, seedbed, was described by the New York Times as a "small masterpiece" (actually "a bit rough around the edges," but let's not nit-pick). It consisted of a wooden replica of a pre-war bank, with rows of test tubes, containing the sperm of 24 seminal heroic male artists. From the structure hung a little pink banner that read: "First Artists International Sperm Bank." Isn't it darling?

Kenny Schachter

New York, New York

1997

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