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Man About Town

A Couple of Sleeper Shows

October 2, 2012
Professor Tom Wolf

School is back, and so is the art season in New York, in full swing.  On my way around some much talked about shows in Chelsea and uptown, I have found a couple of gems that aren’t getting so much buzz but that are well worth visiting.  They also afford the great pleasure that when you see them you are not among throngs of people, but almost alone with the works of art.

In Chelsea you should definitely catch Thomas Hirschhorn’s dramatic capsized installation at Barbara Gladstone (530 West 21st, through October 20), Richard Phillips’ glamorous Hollywood treatment of Lindsay Lohan at Gagosian, with some immense paintings by Anselm Kiefer and two huge sculptures by Baselitz in the side gallery (for those of you who like Wagnerian sturm und drang), (555 West 24th, through October 20), plus Justin Lowe and Jonah Freeman‘s dystopian funhouse at Marlborough (the favorite of my Contemporary Art students, 545 West 25th, through October 27).  But a less trafficked show at Bruce Silverstein offers different pleasures.  Modestly titled Seven Americans after a 1925 exhibition, it features a group of major American modernist artists, those grouped around the great photographer and art impresario, Alfred Stieglitz.

Maine Seacoast Still Life, Hartley

Equivalent, Alfred Stieglitz

The gallery includes several works by each of the now historic Seven Americans included in Stieglitz’s original show:  Charles Demuth, Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, John Marin, Paul Strand, Stieglitz himself, and Georgia O’Keeffe, the one woman.  The modest sized works usually take nature as their subject, and often feature close up views, as these early 20th century modernists, especially Dove, come daringly close to total abstraction, while also retaining some reference to the real world.  Stiegltiz’s nine photographs from his Equivalents series exemplify this:  black and white expanses of sky and clouds with celestial light playing across them, they are tiny (around 3 1/2” X 4 1/2”) monochrome prints that capture infinite space.  In the show they are given equal status to the paintings, honoring Stieglitz’s early 20th century campaign to have photographs accepted as works of art, hardly an issue today.  Among the paintings, the exhibition features two compact nature abstractions by O’Keeffe, and a rare opportunity to see four Hartley still life paintings in a row.

Meanwhile, uptown the Regarding Warhol show at the Metropolitan Museum is a must, as it features a mini-retrospective of one of the most important and entertaining artists of the late 20th century, plus assorted works by 60 other celebrity artists who, like almost all of their contemporaries, could claim to be influenced by him.   Pick your time carefully—when I went for a second look this Saturday afternoon the entrance to the exhibition was so crowed you had to stand and wait to get in, and most of the exhibition is not spaciously installed (I looked at the splendid, recently re-installed 19th century American paintings instead).

Mike Kelley, Memory Ware Flat #49

Mark Kelley, Memory Ware Flat #41

Peter Scheldahl, in his review of the Warhol show in The New Yorker agreed with the general consensus that another 60 artists could just as easily have been chosen as influenced by Warhol—but he singled out Los Angeles artist Mike Kelley as a particularly conspicuous omission (and suggested a curatorial bias against the West coast).  By coincidence you can walk a couple of blocks south of the Met and see a splendid show of Mike Kelley’s Memory Ware Flats at Skarstedt Gallery, (20 East 79tth, through October 20).  I was alone in the gallery when I went on a Tuesday afternoon.   These works are rectangular conglomerations packed top to bottom with small mass produced found objects:  plastic jewelry, plastic toys, buttons, etc., held in place with tile grout. Between 6 and 7 feet in their longest dimension their frenetic surfaces recall Jackson Pollock paintings or Alfonso Ossorio’s combines, but their imagery evokes the bargain stores of Middle America as much as Warhol’s soup cans evoke supermarkets.  The assorted stickers, peace signs, and buttons include slogans such as “I know 50 Ways to Taco Bell,” “Drug Use Is Life Abuse,” “Mom’s Taxi—Buckle Up,” “I Was ‘Gangster’ Rocked,” and “Vote for Secretary Rachel Cortes—‘Cuz Character Counts.” In juxtaposition they suggest the rich diversity of everyday American life—the subject matter of Pop art in the 1960s.  Depending on the artist’s choice of objects, the works range from buoyantly multicolored to elegantly restrained–like Memory War Flat # 49, (2008), on the second floor, the most recent piece in the show, which the artist restricted to just black, white and gold objects.  The little plastic death’s head, positioned just below the middle on the central axis of the piece, can’t help reminding us of Kelley’s recent suicide; recalling the loss of this talented artist it adds an elegiac note to a handsome and exuberant exhibition.

Man About Town

Tom’s Gallery Picks

MAN ABOUT TOWN: November 2011

The winter art season in New York is in full swing, with more interesting exhibitions than any one person can see.  One major blockbuster is the vast survey of the career of William DeKooning at MoMA (through January 9).

de Kooning, Painting, 1948

Beginning with early realist works he made while a youth in Holland, it traces his path through 1930s flayed figures and still lifes, followed by the richly complicated black and white paintings of the post World War II years, to his most famous works, the Women of the mid 1950s, to his powerfully gestural landscapes.

DeKooning famously reworked his paintings constantly, scraping out, painting over, until the final product was a record of his painting processes.  He developed a unique style that combined the spatial ambiguities and geometries of Cubism with the spontaneous organic forms of biomorphic Surrealism. Almost every painting is layered with gestural strokes of paint that question their own power by being overlapped, partially erased, or otherwise canceled, and it takes a lot of time to thoroughly see a single painting, particularly if one also wants to think about the artist’s unusual sense of color.

Willem de Kooning, Woman 1, 1950-52

The popular MoMA exhibition features 200 works spread out over 15,000 square feet.  How to see it all?  A friend of mine has visited the show 4 times and intends to return 4 more; he is a MoMA member so he takes advantage of the member’s privilege of entering the Museum at 9:30, an hour before it officially opens.  That’s one way.

de Kooning, Garden in Delft, 1987

But even spending an hour running through it when it’s crowded will give a strong sense of DeKooning’s amazing career as a painter, leaving one with an experience that is emotional, complex, rewarding, and perhaps unfinished—like his paintings.

In the near vicinity of MoMA there are some wonderful exhibitions that you can see without having to squeeze around someone to look at a painting like at the DeKooning  show.

un effet du japonais, 194

Alexander Calder’s dozen sculptures, mostly mobiles, all from 1941, demonstrate the wonderful lightness and precise whimsy of the inventive sculptor at his best (Pace 32 East 57th, through December 23).

Harvey Quaytman has a richly austere show of abstract paintings at David McKee (745 Fifth Avenue, through December 23). All are composed of rectangular forms in square canvases.  But Quayman, who died in 2002, was inventive with materials and highly sensitive to them.  He will put two whites next to each other and they differ because one has ground glass mixed into the pigment creating a color and texture that subtly contrasts with its neighbor.

These are set against chocolaty brown areas made of iron rust, or deep matte blues and blacks painted over warmer colors that are allowed to sparkle through in tiny highlights.

Bounty, 1989

R.H. Quayman, one of the hottest painters on the art scene today, is his daughter (and a Bard alum), and although her paintings are very different you can see his legacy in her refined shades of white and gray, and her hyper sensitivity to the physical edges of her paintings.

Man About Town

Tom’s Gallery Picks

Per Kirkeby, Paintings, Michael Werner Gallery, 4 East 77th St., through October 29.

Andy Warhol, Paintings of the 1970s, Skarstedt Gallery, 20 East 79th St., through October 22.

Andy Warhol, Elizabeth Taylor, Gagosian Gallery, 522 West 21st St., through October 22.

Roy Lichtenstein Entablatures, Paula Cooper Gallery, 524 West 21st St., through October 22.

Doug Ohlsen, Panel Paintings from the 1960s, Washburn Gallery, 20 West 57th St., through November 12.

Per Kirkeby, Untitled, 2011

Despite a strong sentiment in some sections of the art world against painting as an art form because it lends itself so conveniently to capitalist commerce, there are scads of painting shows all over New York City right now, highlighted by the Willem DeKooning retrospective at MoMA.  To name a few, you can see recent German Neo-Expressionism in Per Kirkeby’s large floral landscapes recalling Emil Nolde at Michael Werner Gallery, and Skarsedt Gallery is showing Andy Warhol’s works from the 1970s that include lesser known of the Pop master’s subjects but demonstrate his exuberant slinging around of acrylic paint in his later works, plus his brilliant color sensibility.For a more classic Warhol theme you can see over 20 of his silk-screened Elizabeth Taylor paintings at the Larry Gagosian Gallery on 21st Street.

Andy Warhol: Liz

After the entry gallery with seven early works based on various photographs of the late actress, the main room features the famous Warhol image. As he did with Marilyn Monroe, the artist settled on one photograph of the actress’s smiling face and did color variations on it.  Several are just grainy black ink on a neutral background, and then a dozen in blazing color, her lips always crimson, her eye shadow always turquoise, her head set against a variety of color fields.

Other masters of the Pop generation on view downtown include Roy Lichtenstein with his entablature paintings, clever and gorgeous renderings of architectural moldings that are stunning in their efficient simplification (Paula Cooper Gallery).

Roy Lichtenstein, Entablature, 1974

They represent classic architectural details and are subtly humorous:  representations of walls that hang on the wall, their stretched out horizontal formats and bands of flat color gently satirize the contemporary stripe paintings of abstractionists like Kenneth Noland.

Across the street from the Lichtensteins you can glimpse a six-part panel painting from the mid 1960s by Doug Ohlsen in the window gallery of Grace Washburn, kind of an ad for his sleeper of a show at her uptown space at 20 West 57th Street.  Ohlsen, who died earlier this year, shows pristine, hard-edged abstract paintings from the late 1960s.  Typically each work consists of four to six vertical panels with spaces between them.

Doug Ohlsen, Avery, 1968

All are monochrome, but several have a square or two of another color near the top or bottom edge.  Their rich hues, pinkish violet squares against an orange field for example, evoke Mark Rothko, but stiffened up.  With their abstract austerity, luscious color, and concern with incorporating the wall within their perimeters they relate to the paintings of Blinky Palermo now on view at Bard’s Center for Curatorial Studies.  But given the vagaries and power structures of the art world, they are much less well known.

Man About Town

Tom’s Picks

Malevich and the American Legacy

There are some interesting shows in the Uptown galleries in Manhattan this spring.  Although Gagosian’s Kazemir Malevich and the American Tradition is a flimsy premise for a show—anything geometric by an American artist seems to qualify as being inspired by the pioneering Russian Constructivist painter—it is a large show with some great works, as well as some slight ones (980 Madison Avenue, through April 30).  It is a rare opportunity to see seven Malevich paintings, including a Cubist one from 1913 and several classic Constructivist abstractions from 1916.  Beyond that, the show includes a mediocre Dan Flavin in a corridor of its own (dark blue/purple fluorescent tubes that give off very little light, so what’s the point?) plus a spectacular Flavin installed in a small room of its own.  Vertical blue tubes straddle a far corner facing the room, on top of horizontal red ones that face away:  the room is dyed luminous blue, while intense flames up the corner walls.  Other galleries include Richard Serra’s classic One Ton Prop, four immensely heavy sheets of lead supported by their weight leaning against each other, and one of his pointless black grease pencil rectangular drawings (to coincide with the show of his drawings that recently opened at the Metropolitan Museum a few blocks north).  Always interesting and maverick Charles Ray shows a subtle and original black ink painting, and there are some trivial paintings by Ed Ruscha, along with two beautiful Don Judd sculptures, a great early Frank Stella notched silver striped painting opposite a large, somber, dark late Mark Rothko—just a dark gray rectangle within a deep purple frame, the purple creating complementary images of golden yellow on the gray.

Much more focused is a lovely little show of works by Eva Hesse and Sol Lewitt at the Craig F. Starr Gallery, (5 East 73rd Street, through May 27).  Lewitt and Hesse were close friends, but while he had a long, prolific career, hers ended tragically with her death at age 34, so her output was limited.

Eva Hess and Sol LeWitt

This is a good opportunity see some fine examples, many from Lewitt’s personal collection, in an intimate setting.  Although he is usually considered a geometrical Minimalist and she an organic Post-Minimalist, the resolutely abstract and materialist pieces in this show reveal the two artists had a lot in common–and in several of the modestly scaled works in the show they are at the top of their game.

Man About Town

Tom’s Picks

As the winter holidays approach New York art institutions are cutting loose with scads of fascinating exhibitions to attract tourists, locals and potential shoppers.

The Kissers

At Gagosian uptown you can see John Currin’s recent paintings.  All sold, they feature finely rendered, sexually suggestive women—and sexually explicit women (with other women).  These surround the center-piece of the show, a large painting of two middle aged men in shorts, one fitting the other for a new outfit.  Currin combines Old Master technique and virtuoso rendering with bizarre subjects.  A beautiful still life of a white tea set at the lower right of The Women of Franklin Street steals the show from the erotic high jinks above. (980 Madison Ave., through December 23).  Currin is often called a Mannerist, and to see why check out the weirdly proportioned, erotic mythological nudes in the memorable exhibition of Netherlandish Mannerist painter Jan Gossart at the Metropolitan Museum.  (1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street, through January17).

Currin’s hyper-realist and fashionably decadent paintings would also fit comfortably in the major, eye-opening art historical exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum, Chaos and Classicism. It surveys the artistic reaction to World War I in Europe, when avant-garde artists moved either towards a subversive Dadaism, or towards a new look at tradition.  The latter is the theme of this beautifully installed show, with works that range from the majestic (Picasso) to the unsettling:  long forgotten, or suppressed, Fascist and Nazi paintings and sculptures.

Messerschmidt Head

For some more bizarre art on the Upper East Side, check out the Franz Xaver Messerschmidt show at the wonderful Neue Gallerie.  Messerschmidt was a late 18th century sculptor, an expert portraitist until he developed mental problems and turned to his unique 3D studies of people’s faces making extreme expressions.  This is the first U.S. exhibition of his work, and it is comfortably small, consisting of around 25 heads, upstairs from the lovely exhibition of early 20th century Viennese art and design on the second floor.  If you visit, you might want to save some time for the truly delicious coffees and deserts available in the Café Sabarsky, which is so popular that there is usually a long line—but downstairs the same menu is available in the recreation of Viennna’s Café Fledermaus, which is much less crowded—so far.  (1048 Fifth Avenue at 86th Street, through January 10).

Man About Town

Tom’s Picks

Portrait of Ivan Karp, Portrait of Allan Kaprow, 1961

Lots of great shows in NYC now, including a chance to get a great dose of one of the masters of Pop, Roy Lichtenstein, who currently is featured in three choice exhibitions.  If you only can only see one of them, pick The Black and White Drawings at the Morgan Library (225 Madison Ave. at 36th St.), which also has the virtue of being on view until January 2.  But Mostly Men at Leo Castelli (18 East 77th) and Reflected at Mitchell Innes & Nash (534 West 26th) both through October 30, are well worth seeing.  Both include rare early works, as well as stunning recent pieces.

Also on view are two exhibitions of works by masters of abstract art:  Gerhard Richter:  “Lines which do not exist,” at the Drawing Center (35 Wooster Street) through November 18.   The 50 drawings in the show reveal a lesser-known side of Richter, most famous for his paintings.  They are mostly abstract, mostly small, mostly black and white, with a wide range of marking techniques, from thin lines to broad tones, from erased strokes to flurries of graphite spots.  They amount to grisaille versions of his abstract paintings, which are supplemented by a few representational images, a wall of large-scale drawings, and several watercolors where the paper is flooded with blazing color, sometimes played against barely visible passages of line.

Last month the Pace Gallery flexed its considerable muscles with a four-gallery show honoring its fiftieth anniversary, featuring great works by artists such as Calder, Pollock, Johns and on.  This month it opens a new space, 510 West 25th, with a show of abstract paintings by Thomas Nozkowski, who fills the big spaces with dozens of drawings and paintings that show a range of wit and inventiveness that make Richter’s drawings look austere—through December 4.

Man About Town

Tom’s Picks

After looking at Judy Pfaff’s exhibition in Chelsea, don’t miss Dan Flavin’s light pieces at Paula Cooper (534 W. 21), and Sue Williams’ mini-retrospective the at 303 Gallery (547 W. 21).  It omits some highlights from her career, but she is a fine painter.  As much as she tries to gross you out, she always brings along her painterly finesse.  And check out Bard Prof. An-My Lê’s luminous, large-scale photographs taken from the decks of battle ships by this world traveler, at the Murray Guy Gallery (453 W. 17).

Manning the Rail, USS Tortuga, Java Sea, 2010

You can see an earlier example of An-My’s work front and center at the critically praised The Original Copy:  Photography of Sculpture, 1839 to Today at MoMA (11 W. 53), a wide-ranging and original exhibition that also includes Bard Prof. Larry Fink.  The show is right next to MoMA’s Matisse, Radical Invention 1913-1917, a not-to-be missed survey of one of the modern master’s most daring artistic periods.

Man About Town

Tom’s Picks

Jim Toia, Pewter Ant Colonies Submerged, 2010

“Christian Marclay:  Festival”:  sounds and art works by a pioneer of turntable music.  See and hear Marcel Duchamp talk! (on film).  Ends September 26, but if you’re there by September 19 definitely check out the sleeper show of the summer on the 2nd floor: “Off the Wall:  Thirty Performance Actions,” featuring documentation in various media of performance pieces ranging from Old Masters Acconci and Nauman to the present.  Ends Sept. 19; Part 2 opens September 30:  Whitney Museum of American Art.

Greater New York at PS1 in Queens.  Works by around 70 young New York artists; see what’s happening–plus some of what has already happened and what will happen.  Includes film programming by Bard’s Ed Halter.

Bard alum Jim Toia’s (’85) 6th exhibition at Kim Foster Gallery in Chelsea http://kimfostergallery.com/ opens Thursday, September 9 from 6-8, and runs through October 16.   Speaking of Bard alums, check out pieces by Shannon Ebner (’93) and Walead Beshty (’99) on campus, in the fabulous At Home/Not At Home show currently at the CCS!

Man About Town

Man About Town

Baudelaire by Manet

Prof. Tom Wolf will recommend various  gallery and museum exhibitions in New York City, as well as other art events of interest in the Hudson River Valley and elsewhere.  This will be a regular feature of the blog.