Big Heads and Floating Bodies in Chelsea

I hadn’t been to Chelsea since January and so was looking forward to catching up on the scene yesterday on an art-filled day in the city.  I had my list of galleries to visit, planned carefully via ChelseaArtGalleries.com (which, sadly, seems to be missing more and more gallery listings these days) and the latest copy of ArtNews.  The weather was reasonably cooperative — gloves and scarf required but at least it was dry and not too windy.

Mexico City, Ridley HowardYesterday it seemed that a recurring theme in several of the shows I came across was “Big Heads.”  For fans of Alex Katz, you might be particularly interested in the paintings by Ridley Howard at Leo Koenig on 23rd St, up through April 11.  The figures are stylized — features are simplified into geometrical shapes but in a way that is beautifully painted.  The pieces include flat fields of color but also have enough articulation to suggest the third dimension more than most Katz paintings do.  (Particularly compelling was “Mexico City“.)

Gandhi, Lee WaislerOn 27th Street, another show of Big Heads — portraits of famous world figures — by California artist Lee Waisler is up at Sundaram Tagore gallery.  In this show, Waisler attaches thin strips of carefully shaped wood fastened to the underlying canvas as a drawing framework for his “dimensional portraits”, which are then fleshed out with acrylic paint in a sort of pop-art style.  The wood strips give the paintings a sculptural dimension (almost like Wesselman steel drawings) and I particularly enjoyed the smaller of two Einstein paintings and this colorful portrait of Gandhi.

Continuing the Big Head theme Erwin Olaf, van den Boogand moving towards Floating Bodies, over at Mike Weiss Gallery Piet van den Boog exhibits a number of large figurative works, including this one called Erwin Olaf (listed as Acrylic and Oil on rusted Steel).  The paintings in this show are worth looking at up close, where you can see the texture of the individual brush strokes with very little smooth blending.  The exhibition is called “Ophelia” (after the character from Hamlet who drowned, possibly by suicide, after being spurned by Hamlet and losing her father), and water and darkness play a role in several of the pieces.  The artist has a video of his studio along with a close-up of one painting posted on YouTube.  (Someone who has often painted big heads in the past, Rudolf Stingel, has a show of very small portraits up at Paula Cooper; these have a similar painterly texture to the van den Boog works but are monochrome and I thought not as interesting as other Stingel paintings I’ve seen).

At Von LintelKaoru, back on 25th Street, Izima Kaoru exhibits large intriguing photographs of famous Japanese models and actresses in fantasy scenes of their own deaths — in this show, the most common image is of a woman in a dark peach-colored outfit “floating” in a room of flowers.  You’re drawn to the blank expressions on the model’s face (with perfectly smooth makeup applications), the selective focus in the images, and the peculiar contradictions of bleak subject matter and well-executed photography.

Fortunately, not everything was big heads and floating bodies in Chelsea yesterday.  Larry Poons, detailAt Danese gallery, I caught the Larry Poons show of new paintings (Check out the very cool online catalog of this show, though don’t expect perfect color reproduction).  I was most familiar with Poons’ early dot and ellipse paintings, but these works are pure abstract expressionism, large canvases of colorful, vigorous brush strokes.  There are faint glimpses of things that could be read as figures — perhaps a face here, a body there, an overall sense of landscape — but mostly they read as abstract.  (They reminded me of the Cecily Brown show a few months ago, though the Poons paintings are more lyrical in their brush stroke and more harmonious in their use of color.)  Most of the Poons pieces in the show have a high key color palette, with the exception of one painting in the back room whose overall tone was aquamarine blue with punches of magenta, green, yellow, and orange (Calling You).

Finally, at Betty Cunningham there’s a pretty nifty show of “Diaphans”Alexander by Clytie Alexander.  These sculptural/painting objects consist of thin sheets of painted aluminum, perforated by hundreds of “hole punches” (probably drilled), floating four inches away from the wall by small rod fixtures.  As the ceiling light shines through these works (“diaphanous”), they create vague shadows on the wall that intermingle with the aluminum support and at times make the edges of the paintings appear hazy.  The backs of these paintings (which you can’t really see directly) are often painted a different color from the front, so that the reflected light tints the shadows on the wall behind the work.  In the back room, this is particularly interesting as pieces that otherwise look to be similar shades of white end up casting different tints of shadows on the walls behind them.  At the surface, these pieces can remind you of a Yayoi Kusama infinity net with hundreds of densely packed holes, while from far away you’re more likely to think of Robert Ryman, where white sits on top of color and the mounting against the wall is an important part of the piece. (Interestingly, as I signed the guest book, I noticed that Robert Ryman had in fact signed in just a few names before mine.)

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