Manhattanism

The new season in New York's Chelsea galleries offers a mad mixture of artful objects, photo-optics and cinematic play

The exhibition of An-My Lê's photography, 29 Palms, showing at Murray Guy, offers a strange and amazing display of the already-perverse at work in the machinations of war. Lê has photographed the U.S. military's war games in the deserts of California. In ongoing preparation for the war in Iraq, Marines regularly stage a "virtual Iraq and Afghanistan," assigning Americans roles as both American fighters and would-be native insurgents in order to play out the various and sundry what-ifs of combat. The military's verisimilitude is so precise that they have spray-painted anti-American graffiti on the walls of the mock set in pidgin English. The choice of subject matter is what emboldens these images, as they are straight-shot simple photographs. Bringing to mind the photographer Nan Goldin, it is Lê's presence that becomes so important here, her ability to negotiate picture-taking under what might be otherwise difficult circumstances. Lê's success is the result of a sleight of hands, her own and the American military's.


The large-scale paintings of Will Cotton, now showing at Mary Boone, depict epicene humans, creatures neither fully male nor female, unfurled in pink and frothy cotton-candy landscapes. His paintings provide a window-like view onto fantastic and dreamlike landscapes offering a phantasmagoria of the object--a fetishization of both imaginary lands far away and painting as a commodified thing. With respect to painting as a commodity, Cotton does with the two dimensions of the canvas what Jeff Koons did with vacuum cleaners, basketballs and the Plexiglas containers in the '80s. He makes gads of money.

While showing in two separate galleries, Kirsten Hassenfeld (at Bellwether) and Sofi Zezmer (at Mike Weiss Gallery) seem the least disparate of all. The American artist Hassenfeld and German Zezmer fashion pretty sculptural objects from fragmented form. In her Objects of Virtue, Hassenfeld has made white, Rococo-esque and chandelier-like sculpture that comes across as pretty and precious as well as crystalline and raw. In "Re-Source," Zezmer has sutured together once-useful objects, everything from salt and pepper shakers to plastic threading, in order to make free-standing sculpture and wall-bound installations. They are colorful paeans to form without use.


Titled New Season, New Girls, New Looks, the exhibition of the Rotterdam-based artist Amie Dicke at D'Amelio Terras has a pleasantly tough punk-rock feel about it, as though it were put up five minutes before the doors were opened. Dicke works according to a process of negation. She appropriates fashion advertisements from various places, magazines to bus shelters, depicting scantily clad women as a means to sell merchandise. Using an X-Acto knife, she artfully negates parts of their bodies and faces. In transforming their once-legible figures into lacy abstraction, Dicke performs an act of defiant objectification, objectifying that which was already objectified in ways more in keeping with priceless ornaments than merchandise to be pushed.

Jane and Louise Wilson are up to their madcap high jinks once again, playing on what they know best, that they are twin sisters. Their new show Erewhon, now at 303 Gallery, consists of a five-screen video installation and exposé of new photographic works. The title of the show, "nowhere" spelled backward, comes from a Victorian-era novel written by Samuel Butler. In keeping with the dual theme of Victorian-era morality and topsy-turvy-ness, the Wilson twins have staged battling video projections of girls in an old gymnasium moving about slowly in period exercise dress. The rhythm of the facing projections is out of sync, and the two sets of screens are at odds with one another, further riffing on the artists' activities as both individuals and twins.

The video installations of the Swiss-German artist Pipilotti Rist are endlessly mind-probing yet suggestively playful. Showing at Luhring Augustine, Herbstzeitlose (Saffron Flower or Fall Time Less) brings together four of Rist's video-cum-sculptural objects, the most piquing of which is the one showing in the main gallery. With the same title as the overall show, this work uses video as but one element in the creation of a total environment. Encompassed by video projection on three different walls, one gazes at the wall on the right where Rist herself appears in large and happy form, frolicking in the vibrantly green landscape of her native Switzerland. Images of landscape and homey neighborhood appear in the video projected in front, and the ebb and tide of a sea occurs in a video to the left. Also to the left, hanging overhead, are large wooden branches from which dangle Calder-like cast-off plastic containers. Behind where the viewers sit, Rist has installed the façade of a mock "local" house. Rist creates an ecology of the plastic and unreal that makes us question the validity of our sense of local in a globally interconnected world.


Odd though it may seem, if you squint your eyes in just the right way, move briskly down the street at just the right hour of day and cast your head upward toward the towering ends of our own patch of skyscrapers, downtown Dallas (especially Main or Commerce streets) seems oddly Manhattan-like.

Who am I kidding? That Dallas is Dallas--exotically familiar and only on rare occasion New York-esque--is what ultimately makes it special. Let Dallas be Dallas and New York be New York.

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