"Greater New York"

Article excerpt

P.S.1, NEW YORK

"Greater New York" sprawls. With two museums, thirty curators, one hundred and forty-nine artists, and neither catalogue nor stated mission, the show obviates usual questions of cohesion and taste. P.S.1. director Alanna Heiss dodges the bullet in the press release: Referring to the show as a "laboratory," she offers, somewhat vaguely, "The artists reveal what it is to be a New Yorker at the beginning of a new era." Capturing the contemporary is a paradoxical task complicated here by the fact that P.S.1. is now an affiliate of the Museum of Modern Art (which, as anyone who has visited Fifty-third Street lately knows, is having a tough time with the past, never mind the present). Balancing the young, unknown stars of tomorrow (P.S.1's arena) with well-established artists (MOMA territory) raises the stakes, with no clear outcome.

As a result, "Greater New York" resists reviewing. Perhaps the only thing that emerges with any decisiveness is that new New Yorkers seem to inhabit very small studios: Much of the work is modest in scale, either in its overall dimension or in the size of the bits and pieces that compose it. Rob de Mar's tiny oases perch atop tall pedestals; Clara Williams's quiet pastoral is desktop-size; and Michael Ashkin's diorama reprieves his signature minimal miniaturism. Mick O'Shea's Artworld, 1999, a model train set, is a little too cute to function as an effective critique of its semi-serious subject. Taking on the still deeper issues of progress and technology, Paul Etienne Lincoln's brass-and-aluminum New York--New York (model), and Julian LaVerdiere's ghostly installation of a ship model fare better with a straight-faced approach. The collective BIG ROOM's deceptively recessive representation of an airport tunnel and Roxy Paine's faux fungi win you over with sheer technical bravado. Admiring the intensity of th e illusions, it's hard not to ooh and aah.

The best painting and drawing tends toward the small as well, most notably Ruth Root's oils on paper, which keep playfulness on the right side of whimsy; James Siena's more geometric paintings; Tim Gardner's watercolors of young men; and David Dupuis's wonderful biomorphic drawings. Also in evidence is the funny subgenre of "chart art." Its best-known practitioner is the late Mark Lombardi, who details political conspiracies in antiseptically clean flowcharts. Erik Parker does the same for the art world--albeit as a fan, not a critic--detailing a family tree of influences from high to low. My favorite charts are by Elizabeth Campbell, who mixes free association and free-floating anxiety to map out various choices in love, career, and diet and to detail their consequences, which range from stardom to extreme weight gain. …