Not stocking stuffers

Guess it's not too often that a group exhibition in this town includes such luminaries as Jonathan Borofsky, Francesco Clemente, David Salle, and Eric Fischl (sounds like class reunion of Art Stars '86). Leave it to Turner and Runyon, the one contemporary space in these parts that fairly ignores local artists in order to showcase once-and-future Whitney Biennial/Documenta names. The gallery's current group show boasts these and several dozen more West-to-East-Coast best and brightest in an exhibition titled Encyclopedia 1999.

The art is split into three categories: language, figure, and landscape, and for consistency and space's sake, all the pieces are fairly modest in size--which wouldn't be a big deal unless you knew that many of these artists just don't work small. Forget the theme. Just look at it as a room stocked full of really precious stuff, and enjoy.

Some of the pieces are fascinating, and surprisingly, the best works aren't by the above-named luminaries. (Borofsky's "Dark Flying Figure" suspended overhead is OK, actually--very standard Borofsky. But the Salle in particular looks like something the artist pulled out of his nether hole on a bad day.)

The late Peter Cain kicks off the feast with his sketch "Omega," a study for one of his ultra-fantasy concept machines, so technically perfect and tasty with its one giant wheel and Cyclops headlight that it looks like Honda could (and should) build it anytime now. One of Suzy Spence's unblinkingly tacky portraits of the Spellings, "Tori & Aaron, Portrait of Two Artists," shows the two quasi-icons in a disturbingly close embrace: father and daughter, or evocation of all the old rich geezers out there with snow-bunny brides? Lily van der Stokker's "This Building" crosses illustration with Popeye cartoonishness, and the effect is charming. Vanessa Beecroft's "Show," actually a glossy print from her earlier Guggenheim installation, is by far the most eye-catching, for all the obvious reasons: miles of legs and vacant stares and tiny boobs and even tinier string bikinis--a field of models forced to stand stock-still for hours in semi-military configuration. Vanity taken to extremes at the expense of the vain. Word on the street is that some of the models eventually surrendered to their stiletto heels and collapsed on the floor (vacant stares intact).

Turner prizewinner Chris Ofili's silently regal bust of a woman only skims the surface of his talent and the hype surrounding him these days. And Sean Landers, the oft-irritating Gen X spokesman featured monthly on Spin's back page, has the funniest piece in the show, "Snorkel Coat," complete with his trademark stream-of-consciousness hand-painted text that covers everything from why he paints (to survive) to the lifestyle of Eskimos.

And Barbara Kruger's piece "(Untitled) I'm Just Looking" depicts a pair of rather shocked eyes that, with some imagination, are glancing around the gallery and then at the price sheet in utter dismay. Won't be taking a Clemente home for Christmas this year, will we?

--Christina Rees

Encyclopedia 1999 runs through January 16 at Turner and Runyon Gallery, 2642 Elm, Dallas. Call (214) 653-1130.

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