Shout Magazine

Mark Kostabi on Penetration

Summer is when most galleries put on their group shows of gallery artists. So how does on gallery stand out from the rest? Give the group show a theme. And how does a particular theme show get the attention of this Shout writer? Title it Penetration.

Having already curated a show for Friedrich Petzel called Electrify Me! (which I would have reviewed also, simply for the snazzy title), Mark Fletcher, a former director of the prestigious Anthony d’Offay gallery in media-obsessed London, was asked by Marianne Boesky if he could combine her summer group show with Friedrich Petzel’s, making it a joint effort.

Boesky’s gallery is directly on top of Friedrich Petzel, on West 22nd Street. Fletcher asked himself, “Hmmm, how an I make a coherent exhibition between two separate galleries…in this case on top of the other? How can I penetrate the floor/ceiling that separates the two spaces?” And so the provocative theme was born-a practical solution to a dealer’s arbitrary collaboration request.

Picasso said the title is the least important part of a painting. Duchamp said the title is the most important part. For a summer group show, Duchamp is probably right: To cut through the clutter, the title matters. Penetration will make most people think about sex. But only two of the artists in this show overtly deal with sex: Jeff Koons, of course, with his Wolfman and Sigmar Polke with an erotic watercolor. Most of the work deals with other kinds of penetration, like Chris Burden shooting at a plane. (Burden shooting himself in the arm or crucifying himself on a Volkswagen would have been equally penetrating.)

Bruce Nauman’s Double Poke in the Eye was an appropriate choice. And so was Ricci Albenda, a recently popular artist who’s been dazzling Chelsea with his exquisitely crafted wall manipulations-the walls bulge or contract with strange white biomorphic sculptural events. Sarah Sze was enlisted to create one of her delicate and elaborate sculpture installations made out of toothpicks, match-sticks, wire, screws and a million other little found things. Her piece literally penetrates from one gallery into the other, visible in both spaces. Gordon Matta-Clark is represented by one of his “cut” walls. Matthew Barney exhibits a photograph from CREMASTER 4 of a scrotum pierced seven times with ribbons coming off of the rings. Also on display is a work by newcomer David Hines, a young, New York artist who makes aluminum panels with accreted surfaces and holes, which penetrate the wall behind the painting. Andy Warhol is present with a gun painting. (Bullets penetrate.) Other penetrators included are Louise Bourgeois, John Bock, Maurizio Cattelan, Mat Collishaw, Robert Gober, Douglas Gordon, Jasper Johns, Donald Moffett, Gregor Schneider, Rudolf Stingel, and Franceso Vezzoli.

Images of penetration have appeared throughout art history from crucifixions to Saint Sebastian, from Caravaggio’s masterpiece, The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, to the close-up of a woman’s eye being slashed open with a razor in the film Un Chien Andalou by Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali… and to the threat of penetration in Man Ray’s unforgettable modern art icon, The Gift (1921), a flatiron with tacks projecting from the bottom.

Now we can see the latest updates to this, um, fertile theme. For this intelligently curated show is bound to penetrate the media with its clever title, at first seemingly sensationalistic and obvious but ultimately surprisingly subtle and though provoking. The combination of world-class artists and a good, provocative theme in two esteemed galleries is a winning formula.

Penetration, Marianne Boesky and Friedrich Petzel Galleries, 535 West 22nd Street, June 6 through August 15, 2002

June-July 2002