Artists Entertain the Junior Set

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The New York Sun

On a recent evening in midtown, a few dozen fashionably dressed 20-and 30-somethings milled around the Marlborough Gallery. The gathering is one of many that the Museum of Modern Art’s young patrons group, the Junior Associates, have access to. For $500 a year, members are invited to join gallery visits, curatorial walk-throughs, and trips to artists studios. On this evening, they perused Marlborough’s summer group show, which included works by the gallery’s emerging artists.

One current artist, Steven Charles, spoke to the group about his abstract, drip paintings. His drips aren’t Pollocklike splatters, but thin rivers of paint painstakingly applied in regular patterns. Each of two large, circular paintings in the show took him almost three years. In a short speech, he described his process, which included dripping paint in a line, then rotating the canvas a few degrees and doing it again. The result looks like skeins of multicolored yarn. Sharp tendrils of paint curl off the edges of the canvas, like the spines of an exotic fish.

Unlike the Junior Associates, who were in cocktail attire, Mr. Charles wore a faded pink T-shirt and paint-splattered, lime-green clogs. On the right shoe was written, “WHAT” and, on the left, “EVER.”

“People ask me: ‘What do you paint?'” he said.”I say,‘Things you’ve never seen before.'” He explained that he moved to New York in 1997 with only $200 and worked as a freelance production assistant. In 1999, he took one of his paintings to a dealer, who sold it for $2,000.

“He handed me the money, and my lips started quivering — I’d never seen that much money before,” Mr. Charles said. “I had three solo shows in Brooklyn, and they all sold out.” He paused, looking consternated. “I don’t want to make it sound like it’s all about money, but when you don’t have any money, it’s all about money!”

He explained how he chose his titles. Standing in front of a circular painting called “Self Portrait,” he said: “So, you’re like, ‘Why is this a self-portrait?’ Well, when I finished, this thing” — he pointed to one of the twisty spines — “was bending like this. I have a cowlick right here,”he said, pointing to his hairline. “It reminded me of myself.”

He composes many of his other titles, he said, by taking the first two letters of each word in a phrase. For example, “doeafo,” the title of one of his smallest paintings in the show, stands for “Don’t Eat Food.” The title of one large blue painting is quite a mouthful: “qubumealabthblpayotw.” This stands for: “Quit bugging me, Alex, about the blue painting, you –– .” (“Alex” is Alex Klebanoff, a member of the gallery’s staff.)

One young man asked if the artist makes sketches and plans out his paintings. No, Mr. Charles said. “I’ve done so many paintings; I’ve gone through a dictionary of possibilities,” he explained. “To say I don’t know where it’s going is like — ooh, ‘mystic.’ I plan, but I plan to make mistakes. I plan to break the plan.”

When the crowd was finished questioning Mr. Charles, another Marlborough artist, Michael Anderson, spoke. Mr. Anderson makes large collages out of street posters, which he rips down from walls in cities all over the globe. He soaks the posters in water until the layers separate and then tears them into pieces. The assemblage happens quickly, but the collecting takes years.

For a piece called “Flesh graf,” Mr. Anderson gathered posters in New York; Berlin; Frankfurt, Germany; Venice, Italy; and Mexico City, among other cities. Abruptly cropped faces and body parts of models mingle with the famous New York Post headline: “Headless Body Found in Topless Bar.” There’s a partially obscured image of Michelangelo’s “David,” and a picture of the famous classical sculpture “Laocoön and His Sons” only with Laocoön tangled in strands of spaghetti. He found that one in Italy. “There was a knife and fork on either side, too, but I took them out,” he said.

Mr. Anderson acknowledged that he tears down posters on the subway. “I took some nice pieces from the subway on the way here tonight,” he said. Even on the street, where removing posters is not a crime, the police sometimes stop and ask what he’s doing. “I say, ‘Aren’t street posters illegal?’ They look confused,” he said, “and then they say: ‘Well, make sure you take everything!'”

He had a show recently in Naples, Italy, which he said was like dying and going to “poster Nirvana”: “You park your car for 10 minutes, and there’ll be posters on it.”

The Junior Associates laughed, finished their wine, chatted a while more, and went home — looking more closely than usual, no doubt, at the street art they encountered on the way.

Until September 5 (40 W. 57th St., between Fifth and Sixth avenues, 212-541-4900).


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