Midtown Galleries Looking Good

Last Thursday I headed up to the Midtown gallery district running along 57th Street around Madison and Fifth Avenues. First up on my list of shows to see was The Pace Gallery‘s 50th anniversary show at their 32 East 57th Street space. Like the shows in Chelsea, it’s a blockbuster show and a must-see. This particular exhibition focuses on “Thematic and Historical Exhibitions”, pulling together samples of such shows from the gallery’s past. I proceeded clockwise through the space and so started off looking at a comparison of De Kooning and Dubuffet, featuring one of those late De Koonings that I love for their sense of space, loose curves, peachy colors, and airy brushstrokes. One wall shows a fascinating lineup of figures: a Magritte surrealist painting with a sculptural shape playing the figure; a Dubuffet flattened, splayed woman (these works of his always give me the creeps); De Kooning’s “Woman II” (from MoMA); and a Picasso “Torero (Le Matador)”. A Matisse bronze sculpture foreshadows a fantastic collection of about half a dozen Giacometti standing and walking figures as well as a beautiful drawing. In a room focusing on color, a blue-green Ad Reinhardt leads off a lineup that includes a Josef Albers (much more exciting than the one downtown), a peaceful Mondrian, and a Rothko from 1948, just before he settled into his trademark style. The final room contains one cubist painting each by Picasso and Braque as well as a fantastic Calder sculpture; I’d consider it a “mobile” even though it stands on the ground as it contains a variety of moving parts that are beautifully balanced and proportioned. Upstairs at Pace Prints is a very nice show of Louise Nevelson works, including etchings, collage-like prints, and some “cast paper” reliefs, which look like small versions of her all-black scupltures framed and hung on the wall.

Across the street, The Fuller Building seems to be feeling the hurt from the recession; at least three or four galleries there have closed up shop or moved elsewhere. Fortunately, today’s trip there wasn’t a bust and I enjoyed the exhibition at David Findlay Jr Fine Art. The gallery often features artists who make bold use of color and the present exhibition, whose installation was in progress when I visited, displays the colorful abstract expressionist paintings of Jon Schueler. Schueler, a writer-turned-artist, was influenced by Clyfford Still and studied with Richard Diebenkorn on the west coast before moving to New York to join the likes of Rothko in the 1950s. His show here includes some beautiful, multilayered paintings, my favorite being Ballachulish Mist.

For a dramatic contrast (literally), visit Jason Mccoy Gallery at the other end of the hallway from Findlay. There, the exhibition Black & White (up through Oct 1) puts forth a very impressive collection of works that are mostly de-saturated (though not all entirely B and W). Included are a nice black Calder mobile, a large, spacious near-white Pousette-Dart, a white-on-black Robert Ryman, and a near-white Sugimoto corner photo.

I headed back over to Fifth Avenue to visit the galleries on the fourth floor of 745 Fifth. Most interesting was the exhibition of collages at McKee Gallery by Lucy Williams. Williams produces images by assembling carefully cut-out or carved materials that include paper, wood veneer, bubble wrap, foam sheets, Plexiglas, cork, and more. By precisely composing the cut-out shapes onto multiple layers and through the careful use of perspective drawing techniques, the artist creates perceptually exciting “two-and-a-half dimensional” objects; not dioramas but not flat collages, either. The subject matter includes indoor swimming pools, libraries, and building exteriors.

My last stop for the day was a trio of galleries at 724 Fifth Avenue. On the top floor, Tibor de Nagy exhibits recent paintings by David Kapp: expressive paintings about the dynamism of the streets of New York. The paintings use criss-crossing brushstrokes to show the criss-cross of people on the street; or they abstractly highlight the contrasts between light and shadow on a bright sunny day.

Down one floor at Babcock Gallery‘s back room is a very nice, small show called “Color Conscious” that features the work of four artists: Andy Warhol, Chuck Close, Marylyn Dintenfass, and Wolf Kahn. From Warhol comes two iconic images and the one you like more will probably depend on your age. One is a Liz Taylor portrait while the other, which resonated more with me, shows an astronaut next to a flag on the moon with wavy neon colors, reminding me of MTV from the 80s. A group of four Chuck Close prints fill the back wall, including two self portraits, one a very small aquatint and the other a much larger, 111 color silkscreen.

And last but definitely not least, I caught the very end of DC Moore Gallery‘s “Charles Burchfield: Fifty Years as a Painter“. If you liked the Whitney show you would have loved this exhibition, which included a large number of dramatic landscapes by Burchfield. I hadn’t known about this show ahead of time and so when I stepped off the elevator it was quite a surprise! Museum-quality works hang throughout the gallery, with more of the dynamic high-contrast landscape scenes similar to the ones that I liked from the Whitney show. A nice, high quality show to finish off a good afternoon in midtown.

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