Small packages

Less is more at Swan Coach House show

Little Things Mean A Lot at the Swan Coach House Gallery follows on the heels of Eyedrum's charming All Small show as the second diminutive blockbuster of the year. On view through Jan. 12, Little Things takes a more holiday-oriented gift-giving approach to its version of the capacious group show, featuring a fair number of artisan tchotchkes and decorative gewgaws.

But Little Things also features remarkably clever work that seems to have taken the art-lite imperative as a conceptual challenge. Ever inventive photographer Gretchen Hupfel offers a clever self-portrait in miniature — a minimalist mug shot — of a solitary thumb. And Susie Winton's clever shadow boxes given over to creativity's effluvia — shavings of porcelain and metal — meet the demands of this format while playing with the idea of how small and inconsequential one can get. The better works play with this idea of the physically or emotionally delicate, whether it's Caroline Bullock's funny butterfly baby or Ilia Varcev's walnut-sized photographs. They are refreshingly slight in an age of monumental photography.

In the folksy category, Ken Woodall's paintings are engagingly nutty pictures of Southern free-for-alls: revivals so out of control a toddler wearing only her Pampers has crawled onto the pulpit and folks driven so crazy for watermelon they've cracked theirs open in the very field where they grow and are chowing down Night of the Living Dead-style on their gutted red and green carcasses.

Artist Robert Sherer is creativity's vampire, harvesting his own blood and that of HIV-positive friends to create the dark, often creepy illustrations in his current exhibition Bloodworks: An Exploration of Sexual Attraction in the Age of AIDS at the Center for AIDS and Humanity at 159 Ralph McGill Blvd. through Jan. 30.

Sherer's images, painted in a shockingly romantic style with human blood, are of a pair of rabbits huddled together, of roses with barbed wire thorns and bumblebees pollinating clusters of flowers. The paintings work on conflicting currents of life and death, repulsion and attraction, cuteness and horror. Look closely and the lush bouquets of flowers sprout blossoms shaped like breasts and penises and fat houseflies are drawn to the succulent, rotten scent. Sexual enticement has a bitter sting in Sherer's works, which assert the danger element in modern intercourse.

Sherer sees an equation between the flowers that recur in his work and the cruel laws of nature they imply. "Because most of my friends who were snatched early in life were the most beautiful ... therefore people found them sexually attractive, therefore they contracted AIDS."

Inspiration for Bloodworks struck three years ago in an accidental art epiphany straight out of The Hunger. Trying to free a jammed X-Acto blade from its holder, Sherer wound up stabbing an artery in his leg. The wound produced copious amounts of blood, which Sherer instantly embraced as a gory new palette.

For information on the show, call 404-874-7926.

Anyone anxious to see what kind of art would make Willem Dafoe plunk down $30,000 will have an opportunity in the Momus Gallery group show NYC: New York Artists of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow through Dec. 31. Nestled amidst an exciting representation of smart conceptual work is a $9,000 "quilt" by Brooklyn artist Tom Fruin, not unlike his piece "Sediment: (Alfred E. Smith Housing Project)," which Dafoe purchased last April. The piece at Momus is a kind of junkie's security blanket made from hundreds of tiny multicolored drug bags used by dealers to package everything from pot to heroin that have been stitched together.

Arm chair bad asses will find other equally edgy work in Spencer Tunick's documentation of his many all-nude "happenings." In Tunick's various projects large numbers of New Yorkers are recruited to congregate in various locations and shuck their duds for the camera. The image on display in "23rd Street and 10th Avenue, NYC 2" is of legions of naked men and women lying side by side on a gas station tarmac looking like an enormous carpet of flesh.

Nudity is used to even more shocking effect, and in many ways re-envisioned, in Manubu Yamanka's startling, bold silver gelatin photographs of elderly Japanese women. The images are shockingly confrontational but also heart wrenching for affirming a human vulnerability rarely seen in our New Flesh obsession.

The images are all the more significant when seen next to their moral doppelganger in the nightmare-Futurama envisioned by Amsterdam artist Margi Geerlinks.

The perfect, striven for New Flesh is the focus of Geerlinks' witty, creepy photographs of little boys created by a man at a sewing machine, an elderly woman polishing a pair of perfect breasts like some precious porcelain curio and a field of green grass where a crop of perfect human beauties grow. Cloning, plastic surgery, test tube babies and perpetual youth compose the subtext of these images, which look like advertisements for a world where nature has been overrun by science.