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The Mod Squad


But Deitch is not discouraged. He has big plans for his remaining artists, including Shahzia Sikander, Inka Essenhigh, and Y. Z. Kami. Sikander, a 29-year-old Pakistani artist classically trained in Persian miniatures, first made a splash when her work was shown in the 1997 Whitney Biennial. "It was really bizarre -- the day after the Biennial opened, I got calls from ten different galleries," she says. "But I also do realize it's very fickle." Sikander, who left Pakistan in 1993, went to graduate school at the Rhode Island School of Design and lived briefly in Houston before moving to New York this year. Impressed by her work at the Biennial, Deitch gave Sikander her first solo show in New York last fall. Another solo show of her work is scheduled at the Hirshhorn Museum this year.

Sikander's meticulous style is misleading: She subverts classical images to create a new mythology, giving her material a sharp feminist spin. Recently she has moved from smaller, delicately detailed pieces to larger ones painted right on the wall. "They are more confrontational," she says. "My work may not look similar, but I feel an accessibility with all these other artists. There is a shared sense of history and desire to create narrative-oriented work."

A striking woman who speaks with a gentle lilt, she seems utterly, if quietly, confident in her own abilities. The stunningly intricate framed miniatures against the wall in her enormous loft on Franklin Street look as if they could have been created a century ago. Because of her Eastern imagery and themes, she is often compared to Francesco Clemente -- a comparison she resents.

"It only reflects on how people like to stereotype," she says. "My desire was never to subvert or reinterpret tradition but more to play and tease with it. It's removed from all nostalgia. Miniature comes out of a word that doesn't mean small at all -- it means refinement," she continues. "By doing miniature painting, I was immediately rejected out of the mainstream anyway, so the question of whether or not painting was exhausted didn't really apply. But I do recognize timing is crucial."

Inka Essenhigh, a 28-year-old artist who will have her first show at Deitch this month, paints carefully rendered, enigmatic, cartoonlike figures that look like a cross between Hokusai and Tin Tin. At first, the images resemble jigsaw-puzzle pieces, but eventually their antic nature is revealed: In one painting, a suburban landscape (Suburban Lawn) features two female figures sunbathing, one of whom is about to be removed by a giant spatula, the other melting in the spray of a sprinkler.

"They have a lot of Walt Disney in them," observes Essenhigh, an elfin woman with a dancer's bearing. "In terms of decoration, I've always wanted to make something that was distinctly American and elegant."

Unlike the younger members of Deitch's brood, Y. Z. Kami, 42, who has been painting for the past ten years, is not just jumping on the bandwagon. After leaving Holly Solomon, he had a show in the Project Room at MOMA; soon after, Deitch invited him to do a project. The paintings Kami created for his show in March were a series of sixteen highly realistic portraits that nonetheless had a slightly impressionistic feel, like painterly Gap ads shot through gauze. "I'm interested in the memory of a face," he says.

Born in Iran, Kami studied philosophy at the Sorbonne before turning to painting and had his first show in 1984. "I'm just painting because I love to paint," he says simply, identifying himself with neither the painting of the eighties nor that of the nineties. "I'm not part of a movement." He also creates photographic canvases -- beautiful blowups of architectural details.

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