Precise Painting and Colorful Abstraction in Chelsea

It’s been a long time since I’ve had such a long list of galleries on my “must see” list for a visit to Chelsea.  I used a relatively new web site,, to plan out my itinerary.  The site makes it very easy to find shows that you’d like to see due to its simple interface and large, informative thumbnails.

Alas, quite a few of the shows I was really looking forward to turned out to be disappointments, but let me instead focus on those shows that were enjoyable and worth seeing.

The big event of the night was the James Sienna opening at Pace on 25th Street.  The reception was packed and the show looked fantastic.  I’ll have to go back to the gallery when it’s not so crowded to spend more time with the art, but Sienna is best known for his enamel paintings with algorithmic patterns filling up aluminum panels and this show has a bunch of them in a variety of sizes.  The enamel flattens out so these works are almost entirely brushstroke-free and the colors are clean and decisive.  All of the edges are crisp and each gives you something else to look at, whether it’s visual zigs and zags or other interlocking, nesting, or fractal-like shapes, some of which must have been painted with brushes that have but one strand of hair on them.  In the rear room are some paintings that incorporate figurative elements, and while it’s interesting to see how Sienna is looking to branch out in new directions, no matter who’s doing the painting and however interesting the brushwork I’m going to be less intrigued by genitalia art (a few of these pieces are interesting, though, looking like the graphic grandchildren of a Dubuffet splayed figure).

The James Sienna opening, just getting started

Across the street a smaller show that perhaps was timed to coincide with Sienna’s features the work of Laura Sharp Wilson at McKenzie Fine Art.  The similarity is in the incredibly small detail, tiny brushwork, and interwoven forms.  The effect is very different, though, as the color harmonies are more nature-derived and the imagery is clearly abstracted from reality instead of geometry or algorithms.

Still on 25th Street is a show of Joan Mitchell’s work from the fifties at Lennon Weinberg.  My favorite piece was an untitled painting from 1954-55 where, as you let your eyes settle in, you feel an instability between horizontal and vertical brushstrokes that’s not initially evident.  Way down on 20th Street Yolanda Sanchez channels the later, more chromatic Mitchell, at Kathryn Markel, with garden-themed abstract expressionist paintings in lively colors.

One of the artists whose work I always look forward to seeing is Tara Donovan.  At the 22nd Street Pace Gallery, her exhibition “Mylar” contains a single huge construction made up of thousands of sheets of silver and black mylar, folded, curled, and glued into hundreds of disco-ball like shapes and attached into a single large sculpture.   Donovan has been busy, and I never got a chance to write about her other recently closed show, perhaps my favorite show of the year.  In it, she stuck foam core supports with thousands of tiny pins in various patterns.  From afar you see the large scale patterns of the “dots” as graphic, almost magnetic field images.  As you approach, the reflections from the pin heads morph and you begin to focus on the texture, the silvery light and gray shadows, and how the surface reacts as you move around the gallery.

One particular painting at Mitchell-Innes & Nash’s Kenneth Noland show caught and kept my eye:  “Earthen Bound”, a 1960 acrylic on canvas that appears to be a simple combination of violet, yellow, and sienna, but when you stand in front of it the afterimages kick in and you get a sort of neon effect around the edges of the circle that was quite pleasing.

I’ve enjoyed Kate Shepherd’s monochromatic, blueprint-like paintings for a number of years.  In her current exhibition at Galerie Lelong, she lets things hang a little more loosely in that many of the architectural structures depicted on the highly glossed, colorful enamel backgrounds now look like they’ve had some starch taken out of their joints and are hanging out, a bit more relaxed, dangling from the tops of the multi-panel paintings.  (The exhibition also includes dangling wire sculptures, but I wasn’t really sure what to make of them…)

At Lohin Geduld, Kevin Wixted exhibits a dozen or so very appealing paintings full of lively colors, geometric shapes, and likable paint handling.  They’re playful in a Nozkowski-like way, though with less implication of narrative; these works are more clearly abstracted from reality: buildings, plants, other paintings from art history.

I hadn’t been to Claire Oliver gallery in a while, but the current show — different from much of their regular program — is a fun one to spend some time with.  Herb Jackson‘s multi-layer (as many as 200 layers, according to the press release) abstractions are full of color and texture.  The texture comes from the addition of mica and ash and from the carving and scraping into the layers of paint.  It almost appears as if the paint layers could have been torn up and collaged back together.  The surfaces sparkle from the mica and the compositions (and titles) hint at landscape.

Speaking of landscape, there were two representational shows along my path yesterday that caught my eye.  At ACA Gallery, Matthew Daub’s show “Kempton” alternates between watercolor and conte crayon paintings and drawings that skillfully depict the atmosphere of the deserted streets and alleys of a town (Kempton?  There’s no press release so I’m not sure!).  Capturing the more gritty atmosphere of New York City with looser, more “washy” watercolors is Tim Saternow at George Billis Gallery.  They make you feel the humidity in the air after a rainstorm or the heat on a smoggy stretch of industrial New York.  Thankfully, the real New York was only chilly yesterday, not too wet, windy, or smelly, making it a good day to stroll around and take in the latest art in Chelsea.

Fun with my phone on West 26th Street

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