Art vs. Real Estate at Marianne Boesky

It’s been centuries since frescoes first became paintings and broke out of church walls, but we’re still looking at them

It’s been centuries since frescoes first became paintings and broke out of church walls, but we’re still looking at them indoors. So the question remains: Can art ever be as interesting as real estate? To confront the question directly, you could, as Marianne Boesky has done, lease a townhouse on East 64th Street with a tiny backyard, a skylight on the top floor and beautiful moldings and woodwork, and furnish it with the work of three dozen artists in a group show called “dwelling.”

Ask Salvatore Scarpitta to make a single wooden ski and paint it red. Lean it carefully by the door, pointing up, toward the top floor, where the furniture has been turned to sculpture. There’s Sarah Lucas’ Cigarette Tits [Idealized Smoker’s Chest III], a schoolroom chair of plywood and steel wearing a bra filled with globular breasts made of cigarettes, and a naked mattress, by Pier Paolo Calzolari, from which grows a single rose. There’s also sculpture made in the appearance of furniture: David Baskin’s Figure 74 (chair), a dusty white armchair made of gypsum polymer, and Rachel Whiteread’s IN OUT-II, an equally white door leaning against a wall. Robert Gober’s Untitled, which looks like the squashed, empty box for a little drugstore apple pie, is actually made of painted copper; Maurizio Cattelan’s Cheap to Feed, apparently a little white terrier curled up asleep on another armchair, really is a dog–just not one that will ever wake up.

But a multipaneled mirror made by Claudia Wieser is harder to place–it could almost be used as a mirror. (Ms. Wieser also covered one corner with almost-wallpaper made from a beautiful series of patterns xeroxed in black and white onto brown paper.) Friedrich Kunath’s 54 framed photos of the backs of people’s heads arranged on a black lacquered table shaped like a piano probably should have used a real piano, whether in this context or not. But is Donald Moffett’s framed floral silverprint about the practice of hanging art on the wall, or is it just art that’s been hung on the wall?

This last unsettled categorical flirtation–art being used to represent art–continues with Shio Kusaka’s elegant ceramics, white with blue dots, lining a mantelpiece, with Martin Honert’s photo lightbox Schneeman (Snowman), and especially in the ground-floor study, with Jessica Jackson Hutchins’ Self-titled #2, a sparse collage on a found framed mirror. It’s displayed here leaning against a larger framed mirror built into the wall, so that the comment, whatever it is, is more about the piece than in it.

This study is, nevertheless, where art and architecture make their peace, in theater. A scaly gray desk by Jay Heikes, with a frightening wrought-iron throne and a working desk clock that flips through out-of-sequence roman numerals, sits with its back to the window. A black rubber candle by Fischli & Weiss, Lucy Skaer’s long, black, heavily simple monoprint Mahogany Cinema, and Urs Fischer’s nightmarish, imperfectly separated Siamese chairs (Stühle) complete the sense that you’ve walked into a set. Down the hall is a black mouse made of polyester resin by Katharina Fritsch. Jonas Wood’s colorful painting of a potted plant and Ms. Hutchins’ mirror add depth without dispersing the fog. Is this the very heart of the art world? A petrified desk in a beautiful townhouse on East 64th Street? Mr. Heikes’ piece is called Private Hell.

Once someone began making high-end, ultra-realistic latex sex dolls, it was inevitable that someone else would start taking art photos of them. (Philip Dick probably predicted it.) And Laurie Simmons, already well known for shooting dolls and dummies and other frozen, not quite human figures, is the woman for the job. So she ordered herself a pretty, plastic, life-size, 60-pound, fully bendable, fully functional–and easily cleaned–new model direct from Japan, and some of the resulting pictures, numbered according to the day of the doll’s tenure as Ms. Simmons’ model, are on display at Salon 94.

They’re large, deft, in color, pretty and conventional, alluring without being explicitly sexual. (The doll is naked in one photo, but also playing with a puppy. Mostly she jumps over walls and stares at jewelry and into mirrors.) In other words, the photographs could almost have been shot for a catalog, and so what you make of the project must depend heavily on how you feel about the dolls themselves. Concerned at how much energy we spend trying to simulate humanity? Undecided about whether photographs of dolls get at the central falsity of art, or illuminate, by contrast, the ineffability of real life? Lonely? Sad? Amused? The fact is that these very expensive dolls exist only because people buy them–and not for art’s sake–and it would be hard for any photograph to be quite as strange as that.

Art vs. Real Estate at Marianne Boesky