(An Appropriate Distance)
FROM THE MAYOR'S DOORSTEP

by Piri Halasz

 

 

 

 

NO. 86: 15 OCTOBER 2009....REPORT FROM THE WEST.... The last time I was invited out to give a talk in Edmonton, and to see the annual exhibition of the Edmonton Contemporary Artists’ Society, was in 1998, eleven years ago. I had a great time then, and my report included a lot of little drawings that I’m still reproducing and talking about. I had a great time on this visit, too, and my report on this go-around includes a number of little reproductions. I’ve never done this before, and doubt that I’ll make a policy of it, but Edmonton is a part of the world that too many people never get a look-in on (unlike the New York galleries and museums that I normally frequent, and that feature art that a lot of people see).

 

 

 

Hilary Prince

Robert Scott

Mitchel Smith

 

 

 

Scott Cumberland

Terrence Keller

Brenda Christiansen

 

 

 

Rob Willms

Linda Maines

César Alvarez 

 

 

 

 

FIRST STOP, CALGARY

 

On Labor Day, September 7, I climbed abroad a Westjet plane to Calgary, and was greeted when I landed by David Duffin, the collector. He drove me to a comfortable hotel, and in the morning took me on to see his collection, in the exhibition space that adjoins his home in Dewinton, which is outside Calgary proper. Indeed, house and exhibition space sit almost by themselves high on a hill, with a terrific view of the surrounding countryside and the Rocky Mountains in the distance. Above the house rises a high, slender tower that (I think) is a satellite tower. As best I understand it, it’s part of Duffin’s business, Sharecom Industries, Ltd., which designs custom software for medical installations and other sophisticated uses, as well as sponsoring domains that house, among other artistic websites, the one for Clement Greenberg created by Terry Fenton in Saskatoon The tower itself is visible for miles around, and Duffin keeps a handful of purebred Arabian horses on his country hilltop as well (he likes riding better than golf). There is something about these wide open spaces and farm country that soothes and relaxes the soul, making it more receptive, I think, to art with noble ambitions, as opposed to the tense & anxious grubbing for recognition at all costs that too often seems to characterize the canyons of New York.

 

Duffin’s collection is beautiful. There is no other word for it. It includes a phenomenal number of remarkable paintings by John Griefen, whose career Duffin has been following for years, as well as classic work from south of the border by Noland, Olitski, Poons and James Walsh, but Canadians are by no means excluded. Rising high and proud in one corner is a tall sculpture by Peter Hide, “Conquest of Happiness” (1983) that Greenberg is said to have pronounced one of Hide’s best. Equally stunning is “T-Bar” (1973), by Jack Bush, a tall painting with pink and orange blips on a gray field. I didn’t get a chance to take notes on all the works I saw, but among other Canadians, I noted fine work by Joseph Drapell, Douglas Haynes, Jonathan Forrest, Fenton, Reta Cowley, and Giuseppe Albi. Moving right along, Duffin drove me down to see the collection of his friend, Jim Hill, at least the part of it housed in Hill’s offices of Pason Systems Inc. This exciting installation includes a large, brilliantly colored Bush, “Rose Red and Red” (ca. 1966) as well as a large, very handsome Caro and a powerful Olitski stain painting (from the early ‘60s). Among Canadians, I saw excellent examples of work by Robert Scott, Robert Christie, John King and Mitchel Smith, as well as Yankee work by Darryl Hughto and Darby Bannard (a really wild Bannard entitled “Orange Wiggle”). In the afternoon, Duffin led me to two downtown Calgary galleries, Newzones and Virginia Christopher Fine Art. At Newzones, whose senior partner, Helen Zenith, once attended a Triangle Artists’ Workshop, I saw work by William Perehudoff and Forrest (including a recent painting whose muted tonalities interested me much). Christopher had an early painting by Terrence Keller, as well as more recent work by Fenton.

 

ON TO EDMONTON

 

On Tuesday afternoon, Duffin put me on a plane to Edmonton, where I was met and driven into town by Mitchel Smith. Arriving in my hotel room, I found a box of homemade chocolate chip cookies and a vase of flowers from Linda Maines, who as president of ECAS had been masterminding my visit (and would continue to do so until I returned to New York). She had laid out my schedule for the next three days, but that first evening I was at liberty to explore the neighborhood. My hotel was on Whyte Avenue, a lively neighborhood close to the University of Alberta, with its hordes of students, and replete with the kinds of shops that appeal to students – eateries, hip clothing stores, tattoo parlors, etc. Edmonton is nearly as large as Calgary (each metropolitan area houses more than a million Canadians), but the big sky still arches overhead and the feeling of wide open spaces persists, with the continued resulting tolerance for big art.

 

History buffs may trace the arrival of Greenbergian formalism in this part of the world back to the founding of The Emma Lake Artists’ Workshops, in the mid-50s. Two Canadian artists, Arthur McKay and Kenneth Lochhead, longing for more contact with the outer world, began inviting New York artists & critics to the workshop they’d founded in northern Saskatchewan. In 1959, Barnett Newman was the invited guest, followed by Greenberg (1962), Noland (1963), Olitski (1964) and Caro (1967). However, as the Canadian Encyclopedia observes, “To attribute the entrenchment of modernist art on the prairies to the influence of Emma Lake and its leaders discounts the importance of the effects of geography and the particularly cooperative character of the prairie...art scene.”  

 

The history of ECAS is more recent. In the early 90s, Fenton was visiting Keller’s studio, and suggested that his recent work be shown. Keller pointed out that his chances of getting gallery exposure in Edmonton were limited, so Fenton suggested to Peter Hide that he and other artists get together and mount an annual exhibition of their own. Hide and Keller did just that, founding a society that held its 17th annual exhibition in 2009. On Wednesday afternoon, September 9, I was able to see and take notes on the show in its entirety, as it was already fully mounted in the spacious Peter Robertson gallery; in the evening, I gave a talk at the University of Alberta. On Thursday evening, I was invited to a very nice party given by Smith and Sheila Luck at their home, and on Friday evening, I attended the opening reception of the ECAS show. In addition, during the daytimes, I had the privilege of studio visits with Keller, Smith, Luck, Scott, Hide, Hilary Prince, and Common Sense/ The North Edmonton Sculpture Workshop, a combination studio and gallery-space occupied by three younger sculptors: Ryan McCourt, Rob Willms, and Andrew French. In this way, I like to think, I was able to get a broader picture of the Edmonton art scene than I might have done, had I only been able to see the exhibition – rewarding although the exhibition itself was.

 

LOOKING AT ECAS

 

In all, the ECAS show displayed work by 40 different artists, including some from Calgary, Saskatchewan and Thunder Bay, Ontario . I regret that I don’t have space to comment on all 40, but I did want to at least mention the names of 11 artists whom I can’t deal with in more detail. All helped with their ECAS membership dues to bring me to Alberta, and for that, I thank them. The range of media and subject matter in their contributions was indeed impressive.  They are: Mark Bellows, Douglas Bentham, Ann Clarke, Dick Der, Michèle Drouin, Bruce Dunbar, Edward Epp, Bernard Hippel, Kara Nina Maehler, Shawn Serfas, and Katherine Sicotte.

 

I also don’t have much to say about the contributions of 4 painters from south of the border, beyond appreciating their presence as concrete evidence of the international nature of the ECAS undertaking. Darby Bannard, John Griefen, John Link and Sasha Silverstein were present with representative work. I especially welcomed the chance to see the elegant painting by Link, with its swooping, swirling shapes, as Link is based in Michigan and this was my first chance to see his work in the flesh. I was also charmed by Silverstein’s small Matissean interior, depicting a room in Havana.

 

Two photographers exhibited good-looking work: Russell Bingham and Lelde Muehlenbachs, the former showing a starkly simple view of the backside of some Whyte Avenue buildings, the latter, an intriguingly detailed view of rooftops in Barcelona (Spain).

 

REPRESENTATIONAL & ABSTRACT PAINTING

 

The show included six very appealing representational paintings, all landscapes and nature studies: by Hendrik Bres, Nola Cassady, Brenda Kim Christiansen, James Davies, Gerald Faulder and Hilary Prince. Christiansen is a relatively new member of the Society, so I looked with particular interest at her contribution. A smallish oil on canvas, it was distinguished by a rich and succulent paint surface, in formal terms of very high quality. However, it depicted a fallen tree, a depressing subject, and the title, “Disillusion,” matched. At the Friday night opening, I met the artist, who explained that she concerns herself with nature as destroyed by humanity, and I thought, how like New York this is–where art with political content is commonplace. Since I’d come to Alberta in search of art I can’t find in New York, I must admit that I preferred the more tranquil landscapes of Bres, Davies and above all, Prince, whose “Alberta Blue,” an acrylic on paper, emphasized the wide open sky so much a part not only of the physical environment of Alberta but its spiritual one as well.

 

I looked longest at the abstract painters, because this is my special area of interest. The following stood out: Robert Christie, Scott Cumberland, Keller, King, Luck, Ruby J. Mah, Dennis J. Panylyk, Graham Peacock, Smith, and Libby Weir. Christie’s muscular “Red/White and Green” was hung as a diamond, with horizontal bands of red and white, plus further detail on the corners. Panylyk’s elaborate pilings of acrylic sheets from earlier paintings reminded me of later 90s Poons, but blessedly free of the cartoon imagery that Poons affected during those years. Luck’s colors were lovely, but her canvas as a whole had a slightly unfinished look (I think somebody told me that she’d had a lot of other responsibilities to attend to lately). Mah’s large glazed circular purple form struck me as a truly multireferential abstract, though I noticed she titled it “Eye of the Orchid.” Keller’s “Dog Days” was an impressive rusty brown horizontal, but actually, I liked better the “Indian Summer” that I saw at Keller’s studio, and have chosen to reproduce it instead.

 

I had problems with “Aleatoric,“ Smith’s contribution to the ECAS show. A large horizontal, it was essentially monochromatic, though with sweetish accents of mauve and baby blue, and a yellowish band across the top. Even with these coloristic variants, its horizontal broom stokes made it very clear that Smith’s point of departure was the monochromatic broom strokes of John Griefen. While it may be nice for Griefen (and his admirers) to have a Griefen imitator in Edmonton, I question whether it does anything for Smith’s reputation. Does he really want to be known as “the John Griefen of Western Canada” or would he prefer being known in his own right, as Mitchel Smith? Admittedly, the picture is very pretty, and was much admired by fellow ECAS members, one saying it was the most beautiful in the show, another calling Smith the most adventurous artist in Edmonton (I myself consider him one of Edmonton’s strongest painters, otherwise I wouldn’t be making a fuss). Smith defended his policies during my studio visit with him, arguing that his canvases were nonetheless “authentic” and pointing out that Greenberg never objected to artists making paintings that resembled Olitski. Certainly, this was true, and I know that Greenberg often maintained, during his later years, that quality was more important than newness. Another painter with whom I spoke recently recalled that in the 80s, when he himself was working out of Olitski, Greenberg said that Picasso and Braque hadn’t been able to tell their canvases apart, when they were creating Analytic Cubism together, but I don’t think this analogy applies to the present situation, and I question whether anybody really knows what Greenberg would be saying, if he were alive today.

 

In 2009, would he still be saying the same things that he was saying, thirty years earlier, in the 80s, or would he have moved on? During his lifetime, he evolved, referring frequently to the importance of “feeling” in art in the 1940s and 50s, but arguing that it didn’t signify in the 60s, celebrating Delacroix as the supreme artist of the early 19th century in the 40s but favoring Ingres instead in the 80s. And the circumstances surrounding Smith’s decision to follow Griefen are different. It is, after all, one thing to encourage a painter still in his 20s or 30s to work out of a senior master, but isn’t an artist supposed to have passed through his formative years by the age of 50, and achieved a mature style of his own? Certainly, paintings like “Aleatoric” complicate the task of a New York-based art critic who has come to Alberta to find something that she can’t already find being done, and done better, back in New York. I have nothing against Smith working toward extreme modernist abstraction, if that’s what he wants to do. It might be exciting to have two painters forging in the same direction (or rather, three, since Ann Walsh is also minimalist by nature). But must Smith really use Griefen’s signature broom stroke? To me, this is merely slavish copying of a mannerism, not really getting to the heart of what makes Griefen’s paintings so radical, but fortunately, Smith doesn’t seem to use it all the time. While I was in his studio, he showed me an attractive vertical, “Purple,” which seems to minimize that tattletale broom stroke, and that picture’s what I reproduce.

 

I don’t think there’s only one way to make forward-looking abstract painting today. Another route that seems to be getting taken by some younger painters is away from alloverness and back towards a figure-and-ground relationship. In the ECAS show, both John King and Scott Cumberland were taking this route with some success. King’s “Shogun Sky” was also distinguished by its intention of marrying hard-edge shapes (at the top and bottom of his canvas) with painterly areas in the center, which was also overlaid with smaller hard-edged black strips. From a formal standpoint, the painting was highly effective, though its emotional suggestion of freedom tied down by strictures was less happy. Cumberland’s painting also had a slightly ambivalent title (“Maybe It’s Art’) but the imagery was happier; a shape in the center like a giant clam shell, formed by swirling, free squeegee-formed ribbon-like strokes of black, white, aqua, pink, and rust – maybe not the most original colors in the world but definitely pleasing. Cumberland, another artist who has only recently joined ECAS, is still in his 30s. When I met him, at the opening, I learned that his knowledge of modernism came to him through books, not personal contacts, and more specifically from reading about Barnett Newman. He sees his current series as “baroque,” and acknowledges a kinship with Joseph Drapell – but only after the fact, as he had no prior knowledge of Drapell’s vaguely similar work when he started his own.

 

The best painting I saw in Edmonton wasn’t at ECAS, though, but seen during my studio visit with Robert Austin Scott. Although much of Scott’s painting is now done in a renovated Saskatchewan schoolhouse, ten hours away from Edmonton, he was able to show me a dazzling array of remarkably fresh, beautiful paintings – derived, perhaps, at some very distant remove from Olitski, but with Scott’s own individual stamp firmly embossed upon them. One in particular that I found hard to take my eyes away from was “Starburst, “ a towering vertical with a bright yellow star shape in the center, and spikes of yellow radiating out from the center. Two more, maybe even finer paintings, were big black-and-gray horizontals made from copper slag manipulated with garden rakes and brooms, then having had their imagery fixed in place with acrylic (Roplex). Immensely powerful and moving, they could stand the competition if they were hung in a New York gallery and form a decided improvement over most of what does get shown there. I reproduce one of them, “The Dance.”

 

THE EXCITEMENT OF SCULPTURE

 

At ECAS, however, most of the youthful excitement centered around the sculpture on display. Peter Hide was the catalyst here, not only with his own large, magnificent mild-and-cast steel “Sleepwalker,” but also through the enthusiasm he has instilled in a handful of his former students from the University of Alberta, in particular Linda Maines, Bianca Khan, Rob Willms, Andrew French and César Alvarez.  I suppose I should also include Ryan McCourt, for he too studied with Hide, but his contribution to the ECAS show was at cross-purposes with its main thrust. Theatrically titled, “The Eminence of Intuition,” it consisted of a life-size, very skillfully made and very realistic steel centaur, armed with a spear decorated with a banner and carrying a shield with a Medusa head on it. McCourt himself seems to be a kind man. When he arrived at my hotel to drive me to his North Edmonton Sculpture Workshop, I asked him to help me find a store that would sell me a battery for my aged Timex. He did. At the Workshop, he has also installed a veritable shrine in honor of Greenberg’s 100th birthday, with copies of all Greenberg’s books. McCourt’s centaur appears to have been a great hit with schoolchildren, and was featured in the Edmonton Journal. Such observers may have missed the attitude animating the sculpture, an attitude characterized by the artist himself as “in your face.” I, on the other hand, was acutely aware of this aggressive attitude – maybe because I see so much of it in New York. True, I haven’t seen any centaurs in the Big Apple, but the in-your-face attitude is like with me in every museum show of contemporary art in New York, and in 99.9 percent of New York’s gallery exhibitions. I don’t have to come to Edmonton to find it.

 

What I really enjoyed was the various ways Hide’s other proteges are gradually working their ways toward independent expression within a truly modernist frame of reference. Willms is still perhaps the closest to Hide’s idiom – yet the shape of his tall & slender “Sleight of Stature” resembled more his own tall, lean body shape. Made of welded & rusted steel, this sculpture had a graceful, swaying motion, and the combination surface appearance of rust and a greenish patina almost made it glow. Also impressive was the impishly-titled steel “I’d Rather Be Canoodling” by Maines. Small and low-slung, it had a fluid, horizontal motion. Maines explained to me that Hide encourages his students to take inspiration from their daily lives. Maines, whose day job is as an operating-room nurse, incorporates pillow-like shapes into some of her sculpture, and collections of metal strips resembling medical instruments into others. Khan’s background includes architecture, and from it she had taken glass bricks. “Bicuspid,” her sculpture in the ECAS show, combined a long, low-slung steel cart with 8 large glass bricks, for an intriguing combination of shapes and textures. French’s sculpture at ECAS was small and not striking, but at the North Edmonton Sculpture Workshop I saw two large pieces that he was working on, one green and one yellow, both characterized by massive blocky shapes and decidedly promising.

 

The most exciting new sculpture on view at ECAS was “Queen’s Beddings” by César Alvarez. Made of stained, waxed, & exquisitely pale wood, its surface was so sensuous that it made me want to caress it. The shape was also exciting: something of a table with what seemed a mostly flat top, but with all manner of startling new things going on below. Like more than a few other members of ECAS, Alvarez came to it –and to art in general--relatively late in life. Born in Chile, he migrated to Canada at the age of 24, taught himself carpentry and passed the provincial licensing exams to become a journeyman carpenter and cabinet maker. Later, he turned to art, and enrolled in Hide’s program at the University of Alberta, but “Queen’s Beddings” clearly demonstrates the importance of his earlier experience in wood-working. Alvarez, too, is one of ECAS’s newer members, and the work he is showing again has no equal in New York. True, Willard Boepple also works in wood, and sometimes with a comparably sensuous finish, but his sculptures are more graceful and (by comparison) more surrealistic, while Alvarez displays a sturdier, more workmanlike sensibility – two strong personalities, contrasting outlooks on life & art. As far as that goes, New York also has no equal to Hide, nor to such up-and-comers as Willms, Maines, etc.  I’m not saying this happy situation in Edmonton will last forever, but then who among us will? For myself, I just intend to keep going as long as I can, if only because it’s so boring not to. And, for the time being, I emerged from my visit feeling happy that I’d gone and gratified to see so much good new work being done.

 

ALSO FROM CANADA: A BOOK, A BOOK

 

A wise, concise and beautifully-illustrated book is “About Pictures,” by Terry Fenton (Regina: Hagios Press, 2009, $20.95 CND/$19.95 US). In a mere 83 pages, Fenton offers an all-inclusive introductory course to the history and appreciation of “the picture,” a category that includes everything from manuscript illumination to Matisse to Adolph Gottlieb to Greg Hardy. I say “introductory course” because the book is written upon a deceptively simple level. It should appeal to anybody looking for the basics in this field, but at the same time people who know a lot about art may find that they can learn from it, too. Starting by answering such elementary questions as “What is a picture?” and “Why are most pictures rectangles?” Fenton progresses on through intermediary topics like “Materials,” “Media,” and “Picture Types & Their Subjects.” Next, he tackles really thorny issues like “Art–what is it?” “Are some works of art better than others, or is quality just a matter of personal taste?” and “How can you tell the best works of art from lesser ones?” At the end, he even presumes to offer advice to would-be collectors, with pointers like “Don’t expect consistency from good artists,” and “Do learn whose eyes you can trust (not necessarily someone from the art world).” If you have a friend or business associate who has been asking you leading questions about art, this might be the perfect Christmas or Hanukkah gift.

 

RETURN TO THE BIG APPLE

 

Back in the Big Apple, I found it very hard to concentrate on shows that so many other people have already seen. I will be covering nearly 20 of them, but as briefly as possible. All I want to do is single out exhibitions that either were worth seeing or are still on the boards and worth seeing now. I regret (though not much) that I didn’t have time to make the rounds of all (or indeed any) of the comedian-artists in galleries and museums. Perhaps another time.

 

POLITICS & THE ECONOMY

 

I also regret that I don’t have space (or inclination) to discuss politics & the economy at greater length. The Dow Jones Industrials briefly breasted the 10,000 level in mid-October, giving rise to general euphoria, but now appears to be headed back down – giving rise to equal if not greater disappointment and discontent.  The government’s stimulus program appears to have staved off layoffs of hundreds of thousands of teachers, but its remaining funds are dwindling. Nor do I think the Obama administration would be able to go to the well for more money any time soon – certainly not for the massive spending packages that were approved by Congress at the beginning of the year. Indeed, the resentment caused by those packages – as the President himself has said – transferred into resentment against the government’s proposed health care reform – though I add that this resentment doesn’t surprise me as much as it appears to have surprised liberal activists like MoveOn, who are firmly convinced that they’ve been in the majority ever since last election day.

 

Myself, I believe that the pool of conservative and uncommitted voters is far larger than most liberals would care to admit. I believe that the victory of Obama personally, and of the Democratic party generally, owed more to the stock market having tanked so disastrously at this time last year than to any basic change in sentiment. Seeing their 401 (k)s dwindling into insignificance seems to have persuaded millions of voters that CHANGE was necessary, never mind what those campaigning for it were promising and/or stood for. Anybody but another Republican President and Congress was the sentiment. Now that Obama and the Democrats don’t appear to be bringing an end to overseas wars or the recession any time soon, a lot of voters are most likely reverting to their original middle- to right-wing orientation. That, at any rate, is how the Republicans and “Blue Dog” Democrats in Congress read the tea leaves, and why not only health care reform but also legislation for policing of the securities markets and ecological progress all seem to be bogged down – moving toward enactment (if at all) at a snail’s pace.

 

I’m more than willing to concede that the country badly needs a national medical insurance program of some sort, but, speaking as a senior, I only hope to God that it doesn’t come at the expense of Medicare. There is a lot of talk about the wasteful tests that Medicare is supposed to sanction, and that can be eliminated without any loss of service, but if the already scandalously-low fees to doctors and hospitals are cut back yet again, more and more of those doctors and hospitals are going to be forced to just plain opt out of Medicare (as a number already have). Then where will the seniors be?

 

HALASZ ON THE STUMP

 

A big reason I haven’t been gung-ho to get to the galleries is that I’ve been busy yakking it up myself, with two talks since I returned from Alberta. The first, on October 4, was at Sideshow in Williamsburg, where its proprietor, Rich Timperio, performed miracles to make it possible for me to give a PowerPoint presentation. The turnout was SRO and I sold all the copies of the book that I brought. The second talk, on October 15, was given to Barnard classmates up at Morningside Heights. This time I used printed handouts, but had a capacity audience and again, sold all the books I brought. The class president, Toni Coffee, announced the event online to everybody in the class, including those outside NYC. One classmate who responded very positively was Barbara Florio Graham, an Ottawa-based and much-published author, teacher, and communications consultant who offers online tutorials in “Tapping Your Innate Creativity.”

 

AT THE MUSEUMS: “KANDINSKY

 

Five (count ‘em, five) of our fair city’s museums are offering worthwhile viewing experiences. The big show is “Kandinsky” at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (through January 13).  This comprehensive survey, with nearly 100 of Kandinsky’s most important canvases from 1907 to 1942, is supplemented by more than 60 works on paper, and not only fills the rotunda of the museum but spills over into some of the “annex.” It was organized by the three museums with the largest Kandinsky holdings: the Guggenheim, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and the Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus und Kunstbaau, Munich. Curators were Tracey Bashkoff at the Guggenheim, with Karole Vail assisting; Christian Derouet, at the Pompidou; and Annegret Hoberg, in Munich. The Guggenheim is the final stop on the show’s three-city tour, and it was packed the day I attended. A century ago, this artist was way out in the forefront of artistic developments, but today he’s a popular favorite. It’s easy to see why – not only the rich, seductive colors but also the tantalizing compositions, hovering with the best work somewhere between abstraction and representation, at least to 21st century eyes. When they were made, of course, during Kandinsky’s Munich period, in the years just before World War I, they seemed completely abstract, to the artist himself and to observers – as Analytic Cubism did, at much the same time, in Paris. It’s only in retrospect, and with much more purely abstract work created in the decades since, that we can see the representation in these paintings.

 

Reviewing this show in the NY Times, Roberta Smith tried to rehabilitate Kandinsky’s late, Parisian period, when in the 1930s and 40s he moved into a surrealist vein (influenced, though he wouldn’t admit it, by Miró and Arp). Well, I wasn’t very impressed with this work, but New York at present is more attuned to surrealism than it is to classical modernism, so one can’t be too surprised. The abstract expressionists, going against similar preferences in the 1940s, knew that Kandinsky’s Munich period was his greatest, nor do they seem to have concerned themselves overmuch with his subject matter. Art historians since the 1960s, most notably Rose Carol Washton-Long, have written about Kandinsky’s religious and philosophical sources for these Munich abstractions, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that not all the work from the Munich period can be said to utilize such pretentious subject matter. Instead, there are “impressions” and even “improvisations” based on a concert, people strolling in a park on a Sunday afternoon, a policeman, a park, and “rowing” – the same sort of down-to-earth modern-life subjects favored by the impressionists. Kind of brings the master back to normal human mortality. The other pleasant surprise in the show was a series of works on paper executed in the later 1920s and tinted with a finely-sprayed background that made them look like abstract versions of Klee – not surprisingly, since this was Kandinsky’s Bauhaus period, when he and Klee were living in conjoined houses and both teaching at the Bauhaus. I still wouldn’t equate Kandinsky’s work of this period to that of his Munich period, but those little works looked better than I’d have guessed.

 

AT THE MET: VERMEER & WATTEAU

 

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is currently staging two smallish exhibitions of European Old Masters (both on view through November 29). The first is “Vermeer’s Masterpiece The Milkmaid,” commemorating the loan by the Rijksmuseum of Amsterdam of this celebrated painting by an even more celebrated master to the Met in honor of the 400th anniversary of the historic voyage by Henry Hudson from the Netherlands to what was first Nieuw Amsterdam and is now, of course, New York. The exhibition includes the five Vermeers that the Met itself owns, together with other 17th century Dutch paintings from the Met’s collection, a wall-sized installation with photographs of the 36 known Vermeers, supporting engravings of secondary esthetic value to illustrate the supposedly lecherous implications of milkmaids in Vermeer’s day, a vitrine with the same sort of crockery that is depicted in “The Milkmaid” and the usual raft of wall texts. It was all curated by the Met’s Walter Liedtke, and well attended the day that I was there. Personally, I felt that a show with a very excellent but modest amount of art had been puffed up by a lot of ancillary material of lesser worth so that it could be promoted to the many not-very-sophisticated people who somehow know (if they know anything at all about Vermeer) that his paintings are very rare and correspondingly expensive. But there’s no denying that “The Milkmaid” is a lovely painting, a study in blues, browns, rusts and off-white with no green, no black, no yellow, plus those softly rounded forms and particularly, that dazzling northern clarity and light.

 

The second, and (for my money) far more ambitious Old Master show at the Met is “Watteau, Music, and Theater,” but because Watteau (1684-1721) is one of the lesser known and least understood of geniuses, this show was practically deserted when I was there. Maybe the problem was that–wonder of wonders–there are no wall texts in the exhibition itself, and only a single, very general one on the wall leading to the two galleries devoted to the show. The first gallery is works on paper, including eight of those marvelous Watteau drawings (along with other work by other artists, and a vitrine with a musical instrument in it). Tough, meaty, with relatively large and substantial figures, those incredible Watteau drawings amply demonstrate that even a true Rubeniste such as he was could draw with the best of the Poussinistes. More importantly, though, he was in the colorist tradition – not surprisingly, when you consider that he came from Valenciennes, a northeastern town in France not too far from where Henri Matisse was born, and where Rubens was raised. The second gallery of this show displays no fewer than 15 paintings by him (along with paintings by other artists, plus a vitrine with porcelain figurines and musical instruments). The Watteau paintings, assembled from many cities in the U.S., UK, and Continent, feature delicate, fanciful figures in various, mostly bucolic settings. They may (or may not) be based upon the theatrical and musical amusements that were the rage in Paris in the early part of the 18th century, including the French Theater and the Italian Theater (based in the improvisational commedia dell’arte, with its stock figures of Pierrot, Harlequin, and Pantaloon, among others). The figures in these exquisite paintings are wistful and graceful, their depiction incredibly detailed and employing the tiniest of brush strokes (the largest painting is no more than 30" x 37", the smallest 7½” x 10"). Their faces have the innocence that I somehow seem to find so often in the paintings of our greatest artists – Rembrandt and Bruegel spring to mind. This extraordinary exhibition was organized by the Met’s Katherine Baetjer, with Georgia J. Cowart, professor of music at Case Western Reserve University. A copy of the catalogue (on a stand) is the only scrap of educational material in the exhibition proper, but, if you want to know all about the theater and music in Paris during Watteau’s years there, that catalogue has a splendid essay on the subject by Prof. Cowart.

 

AT THE WHITNEY: ABSTRACTION BY O’KEEFFE

 

The Whitney Museum of American Art is exhibiting “Georgia O’Keeffe: Abstraction” (through January 17). This lengthy look at O’Keeffe’s ventures into abstraction features more than 125 paintings, drawings, watercolors, and sculptures by the artist, and was assembled (according to the press release) over “many years” by a team of five: Barbara Haskell of the Whitney, Barbara Buhler Lynes, of the Georgia O’Keeffe Research Center, Bruce Robertson, of the University of California, Santa Barbara, Elizabeth Hutton Turner, of the University of Virginia and The Phillips Collection, and Sasha Nicolas, also of the Whitney. It travels to The Phillips Collection in Washington (February 6 – May 9), and the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe (May 28 – September 12). With all that buildup, I wish I could be more enthusiastic about the show itself, but alas, the first two galleries were the only ones that struck me as socko. Granted, they are terrific, the first being small to medium-sized, very simple early drawings, done in charcoal (gray, black and white) or watercolor (blue and white), and dating from between 1915 and 1917. Stark, dramatic, dynamite! The second gallery was also impressive: smaller but multicolored watercolors from 1917-1919 – wobbly, blobby forms but still light years away from “reality.” With the third gallery, alas, as we enter the 1920s, the show starts to disintegrate. These are larger, more ambitious oil paintings based on vegetal forms, still abstract but becoming a bit labored, and those pale, super-sweet colors are off-putting. With the fourth gallery, we are ever more into abstract flower or landscape shapes – still radical for the later 20s, but wearing less well than the earlier work. After that, I’m afraid, Georgia lost me altogether. As I perambulated through the 5th through 9th galleries, I thought of Greenberg’s description of her work, in 1946, when she was given a retrospective at MoMA, as “tinted photography.”  I was also reminded of chitchat that we researchers used to have on Time, back in the 1950s. Someday, we used to say, Time should do a cover story on sacred cows. Our unanimous candidate for the cover portrait was Helen Hayes, the actress, but nowadays I can’t help feeling that O’Keeffe would be a dandy candidate, too. This summer, the Sterling and Francine Clark Institute in Williamstown did a joint show of abstractions by O’Keeffe and Arthur Dove. I understand – from those in the know – that Dove pretty well wiped the floor with O’Keeffe. Wish I’d seen that show. Still, if all we’ve got in Noo Yawk is O’Keeffe, those two first galleries are worth a look.

 

MONET, THE ATRIUM & THE PERMANENT COLLECTION AT MoMA

 

Well, I hied myself to the Museum of Modern Art to see “Monet’s Water Lilies” (through March 29). This show, organized by Ann Temkin, chief curator of painting and sculpture at MoMA, is right next to the museum’s Café 2 (maybe some people intent on feeding themselves will wander in on their way to or from food?). The main attraction is the two huge water lily paintings that MoMA has long owned, and that were supposed to be permanently installed in the central atrium of the new building (until the trendies started replacing them with revolving exhibitions, mostly of the trendier sorts of what for lack of a better name we call art). The gallery where the water lilies are is spacious, though I wish its ceiling was higher – the present arrangement feels kinda cramped, but the two big MoMA paintings are arrayed on the two long walls of the space, with seats in the middle, and four smaller water lily paintings, including loans, on the two end walls.

 

Wandering around, I was delighted to discover that the central atrium of the museum was occupied by three paintings by Helen Frankenthaler and two by Morris Louis – all paintings owned by the museum, but rarely if ever exhibited at the same time. The three Frankenthalers were “Jacob’s Ladder” (1957), “Mauve District” (1966), and “Chairman of the Board” (1971). I guess “Jacob’s Ladder” is my favorite, but the others are fine paintings, too. The two by Louis are a “veil” painting called “Russet” (1958), and an “unfurled” called “Beta Lambda” (1961). The only thing that bothered me was that “Jacob’s Ladder” and “Russet” are normally displayed as part of the permanent collection. I didn’t like to think what would happen to them after they were removed from the atrium, especially since an article by Ted Loos in the Sunday NY Times for October 25 told how Temkin, since taking over from John Elderfield last year, has been rearranging the permanent collection and doesn’t think of it as “permanent” any longer. I therefore checked out the permanent collection, to find some things I liked better, and a few not as much. The good things are that “La Danse” by Matisse and “Australia” by David Smith have been rescued from stairwells, where everybody walked by them, and restored to prime gallery space. The Pollock gallery is virtually unchanged, and “Ma Jolie” has been accorded a slightly more prominent position. The worst thing is that the Noland and the Anne Truitt have been sent to storage, to make room for an extended and (in my opinion) unnecessary gallery full of art works by Joseph Beuys. Other changes that I can live with, although clearly politically motivated, are a full gallery devoted to Mexican art, a full gallery devoted to German art of the 1920s and 1930s, and the replacement of Pollock’s “She-Wolf,” formerly front and center at the beginning of the fourth floor permanent collection, with an ugly white-and-aqua concatenation of spiky forms by Louise Bourgeois (the “She-Wolf” is now in the Pollock gallery). I’m not very impressed with what’s in the gallery formerly occupied by Louis & Frankenthaler. The Motherwell is still there, fortunately, but do we really need a second (altogether inferior) Kline, and a third (late, murky) Rothko, at the expense of ignoring Gottlieb altogether?

 

2 SHOWS AT THE MORGAN:

ONE FOR CEREBRAL TYPES, ONE FOR VOLUPTUARIES

 

For a second time within six months, I’ve started out to see one show at The Morgan Library & Museum, but been seduced instead by a second that I hadn’t expected to like (both on view through January 3). The one that I started out to see was “William Blake’s World: ‘A New Heaven Is Begun’, ” organized by Charles Ryskamp, Anna Lou Ashby, and Cara Denison. It includes more than 100 works, including watercolors, prints and illuminated books of poetry, since Blake was a poet as well as a painter and printmaker. I went into this show expecting some large, bizarre and spectacular works on paper. What I found was some enchanting images, but few large enough to avoid the necessity of focusing and concentrating hard on all the fine little writing and pictorial details. Much as I enjoyed looking at them, it wasn’t easy going. Thinking it over later, I realized that I must have been remembering the giant Blake show at the Met in 2001, which I dearly loved – but going back to re-read my review of that show, I saw that most of the works in it had been smaller, too, and equally requiring of a “close reading” (to use a recent buzz word in art historical circles).

 

Having given it my best shot, I was preparing to leave when I saw across the entry hall the announcement for “Rococo and Revolution: Eighteenth-Century French Drawings.” This exhibition, though drawn largely from the museum’s permanent collections, includes about 80 works on paper and was organized by Cara Dufour Denison, curator emerita at the Morgan. No sooner had I started looking at these drawings than I started rejoicing and thinking how much better this was than the Blake as art. Such a concrete sense of the world around us! Such relish for natural phenomena, whether plant life or human figures, in the boudoir and out! The English may be more cerebral in their artistic tastes, at least if Blake is any indication, but the French fascination with surface appearances makes for warmer, more sensuous drawing. To judge from my response to these two shows, I guess at heart I’m really more of a voluptuary than I am an intellectual. Even if I’d seen some of these drawings before (and I very well may have), they’re still worth looking at again – work by all the biggies, with entrancing examples by Watteau, Boucher, Fragonard, Greuze, Gérard, and David. Even lesser lights look good here: Saint-Aubin, Hubert Robert, Lancret, Jean-Baptiste Hüet. Go, and take a holiday from the cares that bind you – go and enjoy.

 

AT THE GALLERIES

 

Who would have thought that the modest office space of the Consulate General of the Republic of Serbia on West 45th Street would house a gallery? But it does, and that’s where I went to see “Suknovic: Recent Works” (through October 30). I first saw paintings by Miljan Suknovic in a group exhibition of work by students from the Art Students’ League. This is a progress report. The current exhibition falls into 2 parts, with some 8 paintings exhibited in all. The ones that seem most accomplished & sure of themselves are paintings composed of very narrow stripes, 2 with vertical stripes, one with horizontal ones. Goodness knows, stripe paintings have been with us since the 1960s, Noland having excelled in horizontal stripe paintings, and Gene Davis becoming known for paintings with vertical stripes, but Suknovic’s stripes are narrower and more intense than either; also his color sense is slightly different. Best was the one with the horizontal stripes, dominated by different shades of mauve, complemented by orange, green, rust and red.

 

It was at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts that I first met Mary McDonnell. The year was 2001 – we saw 9/11 in from that distant vantage point together, and I’ve reviewed several of her shows since. Gradually, her work has become wilder and freer: the current show is the wildest yet. “Mary McDonnell: Touch” is at James Graham & Sons, at their new location on 67th Street (through November 7). This show is mostly black-and-white, large gestural abstractions, but not too many gestures in each picture. This “bare bones” look is more effective than earlier work, despite inevitable reminiscences of Kline, Pollock’s black-and-white stain paintings, Motherwell, etc. The paintings in the north gallery work better than those in the south gallery, especially “Untitled (FMTTM,) “ a large horizontal oil on panel painted black but with a jazzy design in white on top of the black. Also effective is “Untitled (KG 109),” a large white paper piece with black ink verticals to the left, and horizontals to the right. Finally, I was impressed by the diptych in the lobby, “Untitled (TBZT).” An oil on two panels, it shows 2 sets of loosely brushed, broad black horizontal stripes on white fields.

 

I met Gary Tenenbaum through McDonnell, when the two were sharing an exhibition. At that time, their work was comparable in detail and scale. Since then, it seems that while her work has gotten bigger and flashier, his has gotten more miniaturized and precise. “Gary Tenenbaum: Chromatic Fields” is at Bodell/Fahey Umbrella Arts (through November 22). It includes 18 small, jewel-like paintings composed of dozens and even hundreds of small dots, most of which form a field, while a relative few dance about in curving lines. Fifteen of the paintings are oil and wax on linen; they range from 12" square to 36" square. Three little ones, all untitled and only 8" square, are gouache, watercolor and pencil on handmade paper. I confess that I really went for those three little ones. “Untitled I” has bright reds and yellows on deep purple paper; “Untitled II” has green plus occasional yellow and black dots on brown paper, and “Untitled III” has deep blue and brighter green dots on deeper purple paper. I also very much liked the largest piece in the show, “Gold Variation IV” with brown linen around the edges of the painting. The prevailing dots are gold and yellow, amidst which dance a pattern of contrasting dots in stalk-like configurations – white, purple, red, and green.

 

The exodus from 57th Street to Chelsea continues. Even Washburn has taken a “window” on West 21st Street, though it is only used to promote shows being staged uptown.  Moving in its entirety is Lori Bookstein Fine Art, to 138 Tenth Avenue, and the gallery formerly known as Ameringer Yohe. In addition to relocating to 525 West 22nd Street, this gallery has acquired a third partner, Miles McEnery, and is now known as Ameringer McEnery Yohe. I stopped by Bookstein and A/M/Y, both of which have handsome new spaces. A/M/Y has a front gallery, for special exhibitions, and a back viewing space for individual works. In that back viewing space, I saw a Frankenthaler, a Krasner, and a sensational 1959 Olitski, “The Holy Virgin.”  I couldn’t identify the Olitski at first. It had a dark, rich, textured surface that made me think of Bram Bogart, Fautrier, and the French word, “matière” (though I couldn’t have told you why). There was definitely a French feeling to it, but the paint was more sensitively applied than either Bogart or Fautrier, and the color sense was far superior. When I was told, Olitski, all the pieces fit. This is the kind of painting that Olitski was doing when Greenberg first saw his work, and liked it well enough to sign his name in the guest book for the show.

 

NOW, TO MAINSTREAM MODERNISM

 

In late August, I had the privilege of a studio visit with John Griefen. It was in Brooklyn, where he has been living for some years, though at present he is occupied with moving to a house in the Dordognes region of France. I certainly hope that he gets back to the Big Apple once in a while; it will be an emptier place without him. At his Brooklyn studio, he showed me many works painted over the past five or ten years, and enabling me to see how he has gradually evolved into his current radical style. It was clearly not a rationally thought-out process, but rather a deeply felt, intuitive progression. He also amazed me at the variety of his output. If you see just one of his paintings, you think that’s all he can do. but actually every painting is different. Each color requires a different size and a different shape.

 

On September 3, I went down to Richmond, Virginia, to see “Rememberingstanleyboxer: a retrospective 1946-2000" at the Joel and Lila Harnett Museum of Art of the University of Richmond. The show is no longer there, but will be at the Housatonic Museum of Art, in the Housatonic Community College of Bridgeport, CT (February 11 – March 28); thereafter at the Boca Raton Museum of Art in Florida (April 20 – June 13). I first became aware of Boxer’s paintings in the 1980s, after André Emmerich had put me on his mailing list, and I continued to follow them after Emmerich closed in the mid-90s, and Boxer moved on to Salander O’Reilly. The Boxers I saw in the 90s made me think of stardust. The artist didn’t choose the “mixed media” he used because of any associations they might have (the way that Rauschenberg and Schwitters did). Rather, the ultra-fine glistening granules that he used, sequins, delicate strings, sawdust, minuscule wood shavings and other mystery ingredients were chosen for purely esthetic reasons. How they looked mattered more than what they said, how completely they could be integrated into airy paintings whose subtle surfaces of soft, luminous colors shimmered with hundreds of tiny points of darkling light.

 

Effortless as these paintings appear, as with Griefen they were only achieved after decades of evolution. This evolution is documented in the small-scale but satisfying retrospective. Drawn almost entirely from the artist’s estate, and curated by Elizabeth Stevens, the show offers the first prolonged look at Boxer’s career since his death in 2000 at the age of 73. Included are 48 paintings, 13 sculptures and 6 drawings. While the drawings are nice, and a few of the sculptures come off, Boxer was a painter first and foremost.

 

The Harnett owns four fine Boxer paintings. That was why Joyce Weinstein, the artist’s widow, contacted Richard Waller, executive director of the University of Richmond Museums, and suggested the show. He liked the idea because it allowed the museum to show off its own paintings, and locate them within the artist’s oeuvre. The Housatonic and Boca Raton museums also own Boxers and will be taking this exhibition in order to do the same.

 

The earliest works in the show were semi-abstract, semi-surrealist figure studies from Boxer’s student days in the later ‘40s. His first Manhattan show was in 1953, but the earliest pure abstraction on view in Richmond was “Green Winterwhite” (1969). This tall, narrow collage-painting had five vertical strips of fabric, the center one pale green, the others pale gray. The title was also the first with a compound word. Such titles, inspired perhaps by James Joyce and perhaps by the compound words in German, would reach jawbreaking lengths.

 

In the next few years, the artist created some handsome, relatively thinly-brushed abstractions, among them “Lafayettecrossing” (1972) and “Sunbraid” (1973). By the end of the decade, he was layering his paint in fat dabs that covered his canvases and created an impression of “alloverness.” Greenberg likened this work to that of Olitski, but Boxer had arrived at his own synthesis independently. “Lacedplumeinabam” (ca. 1985) was a particularly fine example of this period.

 

In the ‘90s, Boxer attained his zenith, with the stardust paintings that so much moved me originally. The last gallery in Richmond was the best, especially six sensational paintings hanging together, from “Aheartsdarkkeep” (1992) on through “Lostnight” (1997) to “Atimethattime” (2000).  This last, serene horizontal had fields of snowy whites and tans, with browns and sawdust at its lower corners, plus showers of tiny brown objects that resembled raisins or precious ores, mostly surrounded by individual little creamy puddles. It was like a miraculous snowfall that warms as well as cooling.

 

EDUCATIONAL EXCURSION

INTO THE PAST

 

A New York opening that I missed because I was in Alberta, and sorely regretted missing, was the one for “Circa 1959" at Jacobson Howard. This most interesting and provocative show, the brainchild of Loretta Howard, attempted to chart the evolution from the gestural 1950s to the post-painterly 60s by exhibiting pairs (or occasionally trios) of works by 9 artists, the earlier works done in the mid-50s, the later done toward the end of the decade or even the beginning of the 60s. The 9 artists chosen were Richard Anuszkiewicz, Darby Bannard, Ronald Bladen, Norman Bluhm, Gene Davis, Friedel Dzubas, Helen Frankenthaler, Al Held, and Frank Stella. Howard was also fascinated by the close ties between many members of this group: Bannard and Stella had been good friends at Princeton, Dzubas and Frankenthaler had shared a studio, Held and Bladen had come to New York from California with each other, and in 1959, Bluhm, Stella, and Dzubas were all showing together at Leo Castelli’s gallery. The problems with this approach, it seems to me, were 1) not all these artists evolved all that much in the late 50s; some didn’t move into a post-painterly phase until the early or even mid-60s, 2) finding paintings that fit the needed dates for the show, and thus illustrated its argument, wasn’t always possible, and 3) finding paintings that fit the needed dates even approximately didn’t guarantee quality (as Terry Fenton advises in his little book, quoted above, “Don’t expect consistency from good artists”). The result was a somewhat uneven show, viewed from a formalist perspective. Frankenthaler and Dzubas were two of the most gifted artists in it, but only the smaller Frankenthaler and the earlier Dzubas showed those artists at or near peak form. Stella’s very post-painterly “pinstripe paintings” date from 1959, but in this show his later painting was the still-gestural “Requiem for Johnny Stompanato” of 1958.  And so on. The undoubted star of “Circa 1959" was Bannard, whose gorgeously sunny “Yellow Rose” of 1959 made him look like the only artist in the show to have decisively emerged into a post-painterly phase by the end of the ‘50s. Even his earlier contribution, “The Hours” (1958), was one of the more enticing gestural paintings I’ve seen, with its clear and lightly-painted red, whites, greens and blacks.

 

REDISCOVERING BURIED GOLD

 

I’ve been following the career of Dan Christensen since the 1960s, when he created a stir with the raw vitality of his tightly-coiled “spray paintings.” As art writer for Time, I saw to it that Time reproduced one of these paintings in color in 1969 (I later learned that Newsweek had featured Christensen in 1968).  I always thought that these spray paintings were Christensen’s best, but the works on view (through November 14) at Spanierman Modern offer a truly worthy sequel. The show is called “Dan Christensen (1942-2007): The Plaid Paintings.” Painted between 1969 and 1971, these paintings may lack the energy of the spray paintings, but compensate by offering a wonderful calm and serenity instead. To be sure, “plaid” is a bit of a misnomer, for these paintings are not characterized by many narrow crisscrossed bands of color, à la Noland (or a Scottish tartan). Rather, one sees broad, simple bands of color and/or rectangles – sometimes vertical, sometimes horizontal, only sometimes overlaid to create a “plaid” effect. Facture is neither painterly nor hard-edged geometric, but in between – straight edges that nonetheless exude life.

 

I first wrote up this show for David Cohen's webzine, artcrtical.com. As he did not put what I'd written online immediately, I thought he was not going to use it, but it now turns out that he has. Let me therefore simply direct my readers to his website for a more detailed discussion of Christensen's use of color. Here is the link.

 

NOT LOOKING BACK

 

At Stephen Haller, we have “Ronnie Landfield: The 40th Anniversary Exhibition” (through November 28). The title of this show led me to believe that we might be getting a chance to see again the paintings Landfield exhibited at his first solo exhibition in New York in October 1969 (the month after I’d quit Time). Or at least paintings from this vintage. I’d seen individual paintings from this approximate period that I’d very much liked. Landfield’s colors are always pleasant, and in the earlier paintings that I’d seen, his painterly sweeps of paint had gone clear up to the top of the canvas (instead of settling down near the middle of it, to create abstract landscapes instead of pure abstractions). Too, I’d noticed that some of the earlier paintings dispensed with that flat matte band of hard-edged color that runs across the base of so many of Landfield’s paintings. I’m bothered by that band; 99 times out of 100, it kills the joy in the upper part of the canvas for me. I once mentioned this to the artist. He replied that Greenberg had questioned the band, too. So at least I know I’m in good company. I will say that in the present show, one painting with a band still comes off. It’s “Atlantic,” the only painting in the show that does date back to 1969/70 (everything else is from the 90s or more recently). “Atlantic” comes off as well as it does because the pale apricot band at the bottom of the painting is echoed by a more painterly shape of matching apricot at the top, pulling the composition together. In fact, the whole painting has singularly harmonious colors: besides the apricot, we have pale yellow, pale mauve, mint green and palest blue. The other painting in this show that I really like is “Spirit on High” (1995).  It dispenses with the matte band, and its horizontal sweeps of painterly color are not all that horizontal. Some tilt at a 45-degree angle, and/or rise up toward the top of the canvas, avoiding the sat-upon look of the abstract landscape and becoming more of a pure abstraction.

 

SEMPER FIDELIS

 

One opening I did get to, and very much enjoyed, was “Kenneth Noland: Shaped Paintings 1981-82" at Leslie Feely Fine Art (through January 9).  I was happy to see the artist, and happy to see the art – tall, narrow, bravely-colored and eccentrically-shaped canvases that reminded me strangely of maps of Manhattan. Some of these paintings can be hung as horizontals, too, but the artist, who supervised the hanging of the show, decided that for it, he wanted all of them vertical. Almost all are pointed at the top and pointed at the bottom, between 7 and 8 feet tall and between 1½ and 3 feet wide. They have solid colors in the middle and narrow strips of contrasting colors along some (though not all) of the sides. Some of the paintings’ centers are in the middle range, some have a pale color and some, a very dark color. I liked some of the darkest and some of the palest best. Especially I liked 1) “Sequent” (1981), with a charcoal gray center and side strips of lemon, royal blue and mauve; 2) “Warming” (1981), with a peach center, a double strip of lemon and royal blue at the top, and a darker strip of peach at the bottom; 3) “Strand” (1981), with a white center, a strip of russet on the upper right, and a narrower strip of lime on the lower left; finally 4) at the entrance to the gallery, “Jamb” (1982), with a chocolate brown center, pale pink strip on one side, pale blue strip on the other. Such an ever-fresh and distinctive color-sense! Makes most other artists look as though they were making mud pies.

 

 

OUT OF TOWN: “Darryl Hughto: Diamonds,” at the Sam & Adele Golden Gallery, New Berlin NY (through November 21); “A Painter’s Touch: Oils by Cara London,” at Waltuch Gallery, Kaplen JCC on the Palisades, Tenafly NJ (November 1-24); and “Jonathan Forrest: ‘More Pieces of the Puzzle’” at art placement, Saskatoon SK (November 7 - 26).

 

IN THE SUPPLEMENT TO THE DELUXE PRINT EDITION: MARJORIE MINKIN.... (© 2009 by Piri Halasz)

 

 

 

 

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