Once upon a time in the West, circa 1992, Paul Schimmel organized an ambitious group show, "Helter Skelter: L.A. Art in the 1990s," at the Museum of Contemporary Art. The exhibition did more than trace the lineages of post-'60s LA art as a well-spring for a new generation of artists who would soon establish the city as a mecca for all in pursuit of the hot, hip, and fresh. "Helter Skelter," in its juxtapositions of artists (and writers) of different generations, like Raymond Pettibon, Paul McCarthy, Mike Kelley, Dennis Cooper, Chris Burden, Charles Bukowski, Charles Ray, Jim Shaw, and Liz Larner, established an image of the scene--a freaky-pretty-haunted landscape--and a sensibility of "Sunshine and Noir" (the title of a later LA-themed exhibition at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark) that captured the perfervid attention of artists, critics, and dealers for the rest of the decade. Imagine that "Greater New York 2005" had strived for an analogous vision of New York's art scene today and with it, in the manner of such bygone novels as Edmund Wilson's Memoirs of Hecate County, John O'Hara's Butterfield 8, Dawn Powell's A Time to Be Born, and Jacqueline Susann's Valley of the Dolls, had aimed to realize an entire psychological-aesthetic phantasmagoria of Gotham.
Instead, "GNY 2005" seldom coheres, in large part because it lacks the kind of polemical agenda offered by the P.S. 1 exhibition's debut in 2000. The first "Greater New York" was explicitly staged to recuperate a notion of New York as a vital center of artistic production rather than just the art world's premier commercial conduit. At the time, artistic creation that evinced "vitality, energy, and exciting promise" purportedly occurred elsewhere--in Los Angeles, London, Berlin. The sheer expense of New York presented an enormous barrier to young artists (true enough), and the "hot" academies, particularly the art schools of Los Angeles, were far away. For those of us who lived in New York, this picture was depressing and unrealistic. "We" knew that there was plenty of exciting or at least curious art being produced here, and it was endlessly irritating to be told that the scene was D-E-A-D.
Circa 2005, the rest of the world presumably concurs. Months before the current show was unveiled, a prominent New York dealer queried, "What real stars came out of the first 'Greater New York?'" and then answered her own question: Paul Pfeiffer and Julie Mehretu. Yet there is no shortage of others who appeared in "GNY 2000" who have continued to exhibit extensively in New York and around the globe: Rachel Harrison, Piotr Uklanski, Elizabeth Peyton, T. J. Wilcox, Rob Pruitt, the late Mark Lombardi (forty-eight years old at the time), Ellen Gallagher, Ricci Albenda, Lisa Ruyter, Lucky DeBellevue, Rachel Feinstein, Erik Parker, Jeremy Blake, Do-Ho Suh, Steven Vitiello, Shahzia Sikander, Roxy Paine, Jennifer Bornstein, Julian Laverdiere, David Dupuis, Ruth Root, et al. Some of these artists had been exhibiting at least since the early 1990s.
So what does "GNY 2005" see as its raison d'etre? The press release opines that the exhibition "presents artists who have emerged since 2000" whose work "explores both [sic] this specific time period, during which New York City has changed dramatically ...; and anticipates new artistic directions." Given that "anticipation," it's surprising that painting rests secure as the dominant medium; too bad most of it is awful, strong on whimsy and weak on ideas. Certain stronger artists, e.g., Jules de Balincourt, are shown to so-so if not poor advantage. That de Balincourt is facile in multiple styles, as "proved" by the three small and stylistically disconnected works on view, isn't the issue--wasn't Gerhard Richter? This could be the conceit, but the individual works make a lame exposition for one of the most hyped artists in the show. As for Kristin Baker, a painter of substantial gifts and a driving concept (excuse the light riff on Baker's ongoing exploration of NASCAR culture), the curators chose two agreeable, collector-friendly canvases. …