Chelsea, Upper East Side, and a Film Festival

After so many recent cold and wet Thursdays, it was a relief to finally have a gorgeous day in Manhattan for viewing art all throughout the city.  They day got off to a motivating start when my car radio played perhaps one of the most famous songs that nobody knows the title to: “Sirius”, the instrumental introduction to Alan Parsons Project’s “Eye in the Sky”, most known perhaps for its use introducing athletes at sporting events.  I made it to Chelsea by 10:30 ready to go.

I started off further north than usual at 29th Street, where I hadn’t realized there were so many galleries.  A few doors were still closed, but of the galleries that were open, most interesting was the (apparently new) Cristin Tierney Gallery exhibiting the work of Peter Campus.  The show features a series of “video” landscapes (via a metal-clad monitors connected to floor-mounted audio systems), each showing a blocky, though not exactly pixelated, scene (mostly seascapes), as if painted with a thick digital brush, accompanied by appropriate audio background sounds.

On 25th Street, I got another look at the Thomas Nozkowski show at Pace‘s newest space (Nozkowski, by the way, was born in Teaneck, where I lived for most of the 80’s).  I attended the opening a few weeks ago and it was *packed*, which made for a fun event but made art appreciation difficult.  Yesterday the lights were off in the gallery and the back room was closed off, but the natural light and the less crowded space made it easier to look at the art on display.  The paintings are appealing and most would qualify as “playful” and open-ended; while abstract, the images contain discrete shapes and objects that naturally lend themselves to narrative interpretation.  (I noticed that at least two or three other galleries in Chelsea are hanging shows that seem to be directly influenced by Nozkowski.)

One show I’ve not heard anything about but thought was a tour de force of trompe l’oeil painting and was a lot of fun to look at was Claudio Bravo’s exhibition at Marlborough (I went to the opening a few weeks ago and never made it up to the second floor, so I’ve only seen the ground floor part of the show).  Mostly large scale paintings of flat packages wrapped in colored, crinkled paper, these paintings seem to quote the likes of Mark Rothko and Ellsworth Kelly in in a beautifully painted, hyper-realistic style.

I enjoyed “The Last Paintings” show of Hans Hartung at Cheim & Read.  Though the surfaces are mostly flat, the paintings exhibit a lot of visual texture through a variety of means including pours, drips, and splatters.  The works resolve differently depending upon how close you get, so that when you’re close you can focus on the controlled splatters and apparent coarse texture, while from far away you focus on poured lines and what becomes blurry background imagery.

On 24th Street, Gagosian is exhibiting a massive Anselm Keifer show populated by the humongous, thick and crusty, paintings that I enjoy looking at as well as a series of “vitrines”, gigantic glass enclosures filled with assemblages of various materials primarily in leaden, ashy gray.  I enjoy the paintings more for their formal qualities than for the symbolism (Keifer draws upon astronomy, the Kabbalah, history, and more in attaching meaning to his constructions) and you can’t help but wonder how they were made, moved, and hung, and how they will last wherever they end up after the show.

Matthew Marks Gallery has a fine show of those very likable Brice Marden loop abstractions.  Here, the paintings are less chromatic than some others I’ve seen with the colors mostly in subdued yellows, blues, greens, and grays.  In each, there’s a sort of “margin” at the left and right edges of the canvas which the press release says is related to an 11th century practice of Chinese calligraphy.  From a distance, the paintings are distinctly dimensional and read almost like you’re looking at a wire sculpture.

There’s an impressive show of works by Robert Rauschenberg at Gagosian’s 21st Street gallery, but unfortunately I can’t find any inspiration at all from Rauschenberg’s work.  There’s a diversity of surface texture and styles, but from the subject matter to the compositions to the use of color, nothing here makes me want to go home and paint.

After lunch and a lecture at The New School, I moved on up to the east side where there’s a lot going on.  I have a sentimental spot for John Currin as my wife and I had one of our first dates at the Whitney’s Currin retrospective in 2004 (he’s also a Carnegie Mellon alum, graduating 7 years before I did).  Back then I admired his composition and abstract use of color, if not entirely the subject matter or his Mannerist distortions of the human figure.  The show at Gagosian’s 980 Madison location (that’s 3 Gagosians in one day) contains a few paintings that I thought were beautiful, but others were awkward and had me moving along quickly (the press release admits that some of his depictions “enchant and repel, often in equal measure”).  I wonder if he’s thinking of Ingres, who, for all his virtuosic rendering skills, was disturbingly brutal to the shoulders and arms of many of his subjects.

One of my favorite artists has always been Edward Hopper and the Whitney has another show focused on the works of Hopper and his contemporaries.  It’s always great to see Hoppers (there was a fantastic retrospective in London a few years back at Tate Modern) and especially to see the Whitney ones in a different context.  Most of the Hopper paintings, though, are very familiar ones that are often on display as part of the regular fifth floor collection (as are some of the other paintings like George Bellow’s boxers and a Guy Pene Du Bois).  A couple of  precisionist Scheeler and Demuth paintings look great.  The catalog shows a couple of the Whitney’s best Oscar Bluemner paintings, but alas, either I missed them or they were not in the exhibition.  (As a side note, I’ve suspected for some time that Hopper’s famous Nighthawks was at least partly influenced by Bluemner’s Roosevelt Laundry from 1934.  I’ve never seen this documented, though, so it’s just a random hunch on my part…  Neither of these paintings are in the Whitney show.)

Hopper's 1942 Nighthawks and Bluemner's 1934 Roosevelt Laundry

After grabbing a quick dinner, I headed over to the opening of John Zinsser‘s latest show at James Graham & Sons.  Zinsser is back to exploring the workings of paint and color, this time with mostly very thick strokes of paint on smooth supports.  My favorite piece is a large one with a title along the lines of “Circles of Thought” that features a Brice Marden-like assortment of thickly painted yellow loops on a silvery gray background.  On the side of the canvas you see raw linen and just a trace of a white gesso that is covered by the gray background.  The foreground’s narrow yellow overlapping strokes really activate your eyes and there’s a fairly dramatic simultaneous contrast effect going on that pushes the gray background towards yellow’s complementary violet.  It had me wondering where could I fit a 6 1/2 by 7 foot painting???

Finally, I headed back down to Chelsea (this was a *long* day) and bought a ticket to the premier of a documentary film by gallery owner Sundaram Tagore entitled, “The Poetics of Color“, about artist Natvar Bhavsar.  The film was included in the Mahindra Indo-American Arts Council Film Festival taking place at the SVA Theater.  When I bought my ticket, the theater was quiet and empty; when I returned an hour later (suitably coffeed up), still an hour before the movie was to start, the lobby of the theater was packed shoulder-to-shoulder, leaving little room for samosa-passing waiters (and barely enough room to breathe!).  The crowd consisted of many friends and supporters of both Bhavsar as well as Tagore, both who were at the event.  Bhavsar paints large, beautifully colored abstract paintings by carefully, meticulously dropping many dozens of layers of pure pigment (e.g., no binder, just the powder) through funnel-like sieves onto horizontal canvases, somehow (not precisely explained by the movie) affixing the pigment via an acrylic medium.  The film includes interviews with several art historians and critics (including Irving Sandler, present in the audience) who provide some historical context and discuss whether Bhavsar, an immigrant from India in 1962, belongs in the post-abstract expressionist color field painting classification or not.  Either way, the creative paintings themselves stand on their own and make you want to paint, which regular readers of my blog may remember is my highest compliment for an artist.

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