Indeed, some think he's just a bit too receptive. But while Loeb's predilection for lifting images raised copyright issues that gave Deitch pause, Boone was eager to take the young artist on. "Mary really had enthusiasm," he says of his decision to switch galleries, "and she was willing to put the emphasis on the work rather than on potential legal aspects."
Though his work could pass for photorealism, Loeb bristles at the term. "I don't like photorealism because it's flat," he says. "I'm interested in environments. I am looking to cut holes in people's walls, but also to make them aware it's a painting. On the other hand, you step back and the pixels disappear, and suddenly you're looking through a window." What you're looking at is usually disturbing: a seductive young girl in the backseat of a car (victim or temptress?); a drive-by holdup with racial innuendos; an exotic Asian odalisque splayed in an Andrew Wyeth?style field.
"Up until last year, the worst things I could hear were it's too accessible and a little too narrative," Loeb continues. "And now, because the focus is on painting, I get away with what I really want to do. You know infomercials for starving kids in Africa? Every once in a while if it's shot well enough, you have a plunge in your stomach. That's what I'm looking for."
Loeb, who never went to art school, began painting nine years ago, shortly before the birth of his daughter, Cameron, who he says is one of the positive outgrowths of his "excessive eighties club-hopping."
The week Deitch signed him on, the artist overslept and nearly missed an appointment with Edward and Agnès Lee, collectors who were interested in getting an early glimpse at his work. At the last minute, he and his brother bolted two paintings together and carried them down to the gallery. The Lees bought the pair. That same day, British dealer Jay Jopling offered him a show at White Cube, a well-known gallery in London.
Mera Rubell, who with her husband, Donald, a Manhattan gynecologist (and brother of the late Studio 54 co-owner Steve Rubell), has collected contemporary art on a grand scale since the late seventies, bought two paintings right out of the artist's bare-bones studio (butt-filled vintage ashtray, beat-up couch, industrial-strength sound system). And Saatchi has also taken a look.
Loeb seems a bit amazed by his sudden success; just a few years ago he despaired of ever getting into a gallery. "Craft was shunned," he continues. "The SoHo art world was a huge fortress, and I didn't have the four years at art school that my peers had. Now I'm at one of the trendiest galleries around. It was almost like I was watching something tilt, and right when it was ready my work was also ready. I was very fortunate in the timing.
"Maybe it's because too many people have gone into big, white empty rooms with a dog bone in the corner. They are finally thinking, What is so different from that? Painting!" Loeb answers rhetorically, still sounding somewhat surprised.
"Painting might go into remission, but it never disappears," declares Mary Boone, who has shown, in addition to Loeb, Wegner, and Ross, a number of other young painters, including Karin Davies, Wayne Gonzales, and Ellen Gallagher. "Art seems to go in ten-year cycles," Boone says. "During the past ten years, we suffered a backlash against the eighties, which translated into a backlash against painting. But that's changing now. Suddenly you've got this whole new exciting generation of artists who are combining the best elements of cyberculture with the best elements of paint. This is a generation fixated by technology."