Artists on the Verge of a Breakthrough

Boy (2004) by Dana Schutz, courtesy of Zach Feuer Gallery/LFL

In 2000, P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center mounted “Greater New York,” a sprawling survey of local talent that helped fuel the breakout careers of Julie Mehretu and Paul Pfeiffer, among many others. The second version of the show opens March 13 with more than 150 artists, just as some 40,000 collectors descend on the city for the spring art fairs. To qualify for the first “Greater New York,” an artist couldn’t have had a solo gallery exhibition. This time around, curators Klaus Biesenbach, Bob Nickas, and Amy Smith-Stewart, recognizing that dealers were plucking artists straight from their M.F.A. thesis shows, specified only that the artists should have “emerged” since the 2000 exhibition. In this heated market (some say bubble), the stakes are high, and Armory Show shoppers are no doubt aware that the non-collecting P.S. 1 plays a major role in spotting promising acquisitions for its bigger sibling MoMA. We consulted with curators, gallery owners, and critics and then picked the ten artists of “Greater New York” we think have the best chance at making it big—in the market and on their own terms.

Photo: Frank Schwere

Dana Schutz
A recent grad of the buzzed-about Columbia M.F.A. program, Schutz still works in a windowless, unheated studio not far from campus. For her first solo show at LFL (now Zach Feuer) gallery in 2002, the Michigan native cast herself as the observer of a fictional “last man on earth.” Since then, she’s appeared in Vogue and Artforum and seen her work snapped up by the Rubells, Charles Saatchi, the Corcoran, the Guggenheim, and the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, remaining loyal to Feuer despite other offers. “She’s definitely an interesting one to watch,” says Amy Cappellazzo, international co-head of Post-War & Contemporary Art at Christie’s. In “Greater New York,” she’ll debut her biggest painting yet: a fourteen-by-ten-foot autopsy scene that suggests Rembrandt’s Anatomy Lesson glimpsed through a prism.

Video Still from Moby Dick by Guy Ben-Ner, courtesy of Postmasters Gallery
Photo: Frank Schwere

Guy Ben-Ner
Video Artist
Most parents find it difficult to get work done with their kids around, but not Ben-Ner. The Israeli video artist and stay-at-home dad (who came to New York for the Columbia M.F.A. program) gives his children Amir, 4, and Elia, 10, star billing. In January, Ben-Ner debuted two videos at Postmasters Gallery (where he also built a carpeted playground “so that the kids would have something to do at the opening”); this summer, he’ll represent Israel at the Venice Biennale—a breakthrough slot that marks him as a standout among the concentration of new talent from the Middle East. At P.S. 1, he’ll show the silent video Moby Dick, a slapstick performance staged in the Ben-Ner family kitchen and shown at MoMA QNS in 2004.

Hanging In (2004-5) by Wangechi Mutu, courtesy of John Berns and Brent Sikkema Gallery, NYC
Photo: Frank Schwere

Wangechi Mutu
Collage Artist
“I spent a year with my phone ringing constantly—everyone thinking they were the first to hear her name,” recalls Thelma Golden, the chief curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem, who included Mutu in the museum’s group show “African Queen.” The Nairobi native, who holds art degrees from Cooper Union and Yale and studied anthropology at the New School, has emerged as a hot ticket at art fairs (at Art Basel Miami Beach, Brent Sikkema reportedly sold out of Mutus before the event opened). Peter Norton and David Alan Grier were early supporters; MoMA and the New Museum own her work. Her collages combine National Geographic, motorcycle mags, and porn (for its “very realistic skin tones”); at P.S. 1, Mutu is creating a wall installation. “There’s a recycling mentality about my work,” says Mutu. “I take these pieces of women and give them dignity, a new home.”

Blind Faith and Tunnel Vision by Jules de Balincourt, courtesy of Zack Feuer Gallery/LFL
Photo: Frank Schwere

Jules de Balincourt
“I’m so sick of being pegged as an outsider,” says painter De Balincourt, frustrated with the market craze for faux-naïve painting. His canvases overflow with references to Americana—which doesn’t mean they’re folksy, or even especially American; born in France, De Balincourt was raised on the West Coast by his “alternative” mom. The 32-year-old artist is in his final year of the Hunter M.F.A. program, but his thesis will have to wait: He’s been holed up in Greenpoint completing work for “Greater New York” as well as a second solo show at Zach Feuer (opening March 3). Since the Rubells, Dean Valentine, Mario Testino, Rosa de la Cruz, and the Aldrich Museum are among De Balincourt’s collectors, it’s unlikely that the “outsider” label will haunt him for much longer.

Still from Wrestling (2002), by Jen DeNike
Photo: Frank Schwere

Jen DeNike
Photographer and Video Artist
As a student in photographer Stephen Shore’s master class at Bard, DeNike captured the Hudson Valley landscape with an eight-by-ten view camera. Less idyllic beauty now interests the young shutterbug, who has appeared in group shows all over town (six in the past year alone) and earned a spot in the Bronx Museum’s Artist in the Marketplace program, which helps young artists learn to position themselves in the art world. Her video projections in “Greater New York” show high-school boys wrestling. An ongoing series (popular with major collectors like David Raymond, Bernard Lumpkin, Carmine Boccuezi, and Carlton de Woody) portrays teen vampire-attack victims; the perpetrator is nowhere in sight. “It’s the photographer,” she says, grinning to reveal a gap between her front teeth. “I’m the vampire.”

Sepulcher (2004), by Matthew Day Jackson, courtesy of Bill Orcutt
Photo: Frank Schwere

Matthew Day Jackson
Inspired by Russian Constructivism, Jackson is a different kind of Young Pioneer: a sculptor who repurposes frontier symbols for political aims. The Rutgers grad had one grandfather who was a cop and another in the Marines; his background filters into projects like Tomb of the Unknown, based on a tank barrier and made of the wooden particleboard found in prefab homes. “It’s about the people going to war being cast aside,” he says. His contribution to “Greater New York” is Sepulcher, a commanding sculpture based on a Viking burial ship; for the sail, he stitched his own punk-rock T-shirts into the form of a Mondrian painting. Jackson calls it “a monument to my own death at the age of 30.” Considering that he’s already landed a solo gallery show during the boom fall season—in November, at Perry Rubenstein—we’d say it’s more of a rebirth.

Detail from NFA-NorthEastCompany (2004), by Adam Helms
Photo: Frank Schwere

Adam Helms
Conceptual Draftsman
Meet the New Frontier Army, a fictional guerrilla group. Inspired by Chechen-rebel Websites and frontier paintings, Helms “documents” the Army’s buffalo-worshiping members in pencil-and-gouache drawings. The Tucson native studied with Mel Bochner at the perpetually hot Yale M.F.A. program and is represented by Sister in L.A. (an offshoot of ACME); he’s appeared in group shows at Feigen Contemporary, Lehmann Maupin, and Nicole Klagsbrun. Major collectors have been drawn to Helms’s insurgents, including New Museum board member John Friedman, Craig Jacobson, Klaus Kertess, and artist Slater Bradley. At “Greater New York,” Helms will show a hideout littered with M-16s. “It’s about empire-building, the push across the continent,” he says.

Black Star Press: Black Star, Star Press Star (2004) by Kelley Walker, courtesy of Ellen Wilson
Photo: Frank Schwere

Kelley Walker
Multimedia Artist
“I really don’t like the term appropriation,” says Walker, while taking a break from prepping for his current show at Greene Naftali. A collaboration with fellow “Greater New York” artist Wade Guyton, it’s an installation of coconut lights and silk-screens that borrows freely from advertisements for Ketel One vodka. “He has a rich and complicated practice he’s been developing over many years—he’s not a flash in the pan,” notes Artforum editor Tim Griffin. Despite Walker’s feelings about the A-word, his non-collaborative output (including scanned images from the Birmingham race riots, smeared with chocolate and toothpaste) is represented by Paula Cooper, a gallery known for appropriation artists. He’s also sold his art in CD files that can be manipulated with Photoshop, an enlightened approach to digital piracy. Perhaps that’s why Ketel One agreed to sponsor his book-release party.

Adventures in Poetry, by Carol Bove, courtesy of Maccarone Gallery
Photo: Frank Schwere

Carol Bove
Multimedia Artist
“When I graduated from NYU,” says Bove, “I just wanted to draw pretty girls. But then I thought, That is so dumb!” She needn’t have worried: One of her ink drawings, inspired by a vintage Newsweek picture of Twiggy, recently landed the coveted Artforum cover slot. And then there’s Bove’s intellectual streak, which expresses itself in sculptural installations of cultish sixties books like The Feminine Mystique. The Red Hook resident recently jumped from Team Gallery to Maccarone Inc.: Bove has already had solo shows at the Kunstverein Hamburg and the Kunsthalle Zurich, as well as Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art. Europeans have been especially hot for Bove’s work; “the Belgians love me,” she jokes. She’ll have a prominent spot in Maccarone’s booth at the Armory Show and launch her first show at the gallery in 2006.

Still from My Birds...Trash...The Future, by Paul Chan, courtesy of Greene Naftali Gallery
Photo: Frank Schwere

Paul Chan
Digital Artist
Paul Chan doesn’t want you to see his face—and not just because he’s camera shy. As a member of Voices in the Wilderness, an activist group under federal indictment for violating sanctions against Iraq, and the co-creator of a map called “The People’s Guide to the Republican National Convention,” he’s trying to keep a low profile. His art is another story, in the spotlight this past year at the Carnegie International and in a first solo show at Greene Naftali (those who missed his haunting digital animation My birds … trash … the future will be able to see it at “Greater New York”). The Carnegie piece, Happiness … , was acquired by MoMA; supercollectors Dakis Joannou and the Rubells own his art. “For the work to survive, I have to disappear,” says the artist. To which we say, good luck.

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Artists on the Verge of a Breakthrough