Chelsea, October 2009

After visiting PhotoPlus Expo at Javits, I decided my feet weren’t tired enough and so I hoofed it on down to Chelsea to see some art.  There were quite a few shows that I enjoyed and found worth noting.

At Stephen Haller Gallery on 26th Street, a Ronnie Landfeild show celebrates 40 years since the artist’s first solo show in 1969 with large, wonderfully colorful landscape-inspired abstractions.  Several of these acrylic paintings are grounded on their bottoms by solid, hard-edge stripes of color, above which large fields of paint intermingle and blend together.

London-based artist Andy Harper has his first US solo exhibition at Danese.  The paintings in this show (viewable in the gallery’s very nice online exhibition software) read as abstract from a distance but up close are seen to contain twisted, interwoven organic forms:  leaves, tendrils, vines, hair.  One is struck by the amount of detail found at every level of these paintings and the amount of work that must have gone into them (and wondering what tricks might have been used to assist in the process).

Two years ago, while on one of my regular Chelsea expeditions, I noticed about a half dozen shows featuring mostly monochromatic, chiaroscuro atmospheric abstractions.  Two of the artists from Nov 2007 are back, exhibiting once again at the same time:  David Mann and Mark Sheinkmann.  At McKenzie Fine Art, David Mann’s  paintings are full of biological, cell-like (or perhaps amoeba-like) shapes that are something of a signature mark for the artist: perhaps a careful half-twirl of the brush, perhaps more meticulously rendered.  The compositions are relatively straightforward — either based around a central form or around one or two horizontal or vertical bands — but the surfaces are fun to look at from varying distances.  (This exhibition reminds me of another show I saw earlier in the week, photograms of glass arranged in plankton-inspired compositions by Laura McClanahan at the Hunterdon Museum of Art.)

Mark Sheinkman
is once again at Von Lintel (now on 23rd Street) with smokey monochromatic wisps of oil, graphite, and alkyd on canvas.  This time, the paintings are more minimal and the wisps are less smokey, more ribbon-like.  I very much enjoy this artist’s work, though in this exhibition I found myself wishing for something a little deeper perceptually, even if was perhaps a different (maybe gloss?) finish on these matte works.

Sticking with the monochromatic theme, Abby Leigh’s show “The Sleeper’s Eye” at Betty Cunningham is something to behold.  Although the press release doesn’t mention it, to me the title referred to the “lights” you see when you close your eyes before going to sleep after glancing at your nightstand light bulb.  If you stare at the center of any of these paintings some wonderful perceptual effects take hold as simultaneous contrast and optical afterimages cause your perception of the paintings to change over time.  In fact, the subtle, circular compositions can completely disappear so that it appears that you’re viewing a solid plane, until suddenly as you relax your eyes a bitand the image reappears once again.  In addition to these paintings, a series of drawings made (somehow) from smoke call up target designs by Kenneth Noland as if drawn by Sol LeWitt.  Less dramatic perceptually than the paintings, these drawings still keep your eye moving with their inky wash texture.

Anselm Reyle’s show “Monochrome Age” at Gagosian (24th St) is in fact only partially monochromatic.  Two pieces in the show were most noteworthy:  Eternity, a highly reflective, violet swirl of a bronze sculpture; and Relief, a multi-panel mountainous wall installation back-lit with LEDs that change color over time.

I’ll mention one last monochromatic show:  Jaume Plensa’s “In the Midst of Dreams” at Galerie Lelong.  The front rooms display several alabaster sculptures of elongated female heads.  The artist works from photographs with digital tools to laser-cut the alabaster to form.  The resulting pieces look as if they can’t be sculptures, but rather must be projections or reflections.  Somehow the distorted shapes trigger an expectation of a certain kind of form that doesn’t really mesh with the marble-looking alabaster.  In the back room, a single multi-figure piece takes up the entire space.  Three humongous resin white heads, lit from within, are situated staring at each other among a field of white stones.  Carved into the heads are words describing “states of being”.  I didn’t really know what to make of this piece meaning-wise, but it was interesting to look at.

Finally, for something completely different, there are some beautiful still lifes up at Gallery Henoch.  Ranging from the baseball-themed (sold!) Daniel Greene “Throw ‘Til You Win” from his recent carnival series to the (also sold!) hyper-precise painting of stacks of newspapers (“Recycle”) by Steve Mills, this show is full of finely painted pieces to look at and provided a nice change of pace in the middle of my journey through all the abstract work in the surrounding galleries.

After all of that art, and all of that expo hall walking, my legs had just enough energy left to get me back to Penn Station for the quick and thankfully uneventful ride home.

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