East Side Up and Down

On Friday, light holiday traffic made for an easy trip to Manhattan for a day of East Side art viewing.  While the Turnpike was empty, though, the Metropolitan Museum of Art was packed.

Starting with a splash of color on Park Avenue

I began at “Rooms with a View: The Open Window in the 19th Century“, an excellent medium-sized show of European paintings from around the 1820s.  Many of the paintings were worth spending time with, looking at how the artists approached the value compression that occurs when you’re trying to accurately depict a darkened interior as well as a brightly lit sky through a window.  Most artists dulled down the interior colors with umbers and grays.  I liked the perfect composition of Kerstig’s “Couple at the Window“, even if the painting is a bit “illustrative”.

Jakob Alt’s “View from the Artist’s Studio” was beautifully executed and full of light, with plants in a window that foreshadowed my later visit to see Jane Freilicher’s show at Tibor de Nagy.  Martinus Rørbye’s “View from the Artist’s Window” was a real eye catcher, grabbing you from across the room.  And take a look at the size of Caspar David Friedrich’s mahl stick in another Kersting painting.

Rørbye's "View from the Artist's Studio"

Moving from the interiors of 1820 to the drawings of Richard Serra is a shock to the system.  I’ve never seen the Met’s special exhibition gallery set up this way: no carpeting, all white walls, an exposed ceiling.  I love Richard Serra’s trademark cor-ten steel sculptures: they’re fun, exciting, visually forceful.  The drawings are a completely different animal, in this show primarily consisting of heavily applied paint stick (or perhaps a paint brick, at least according to one photo I saw) on huge sheets of paper.  In most cases the paper was completely filled with the thick oil paint and textures range from slightly coarse to downright shaggy.  In several of the rooms of the gallery, entire walls are full of the dark black painted paper, distorting space like a cartoon character who draws a black tunnel on the side of a cliff.  These are very conceptual drawings and it takes a while to get into the flow if you’re coming from the Interiors show.  Whereas Rooms with a View was very crowded, the Serra galleries were almost completely empty, all the better to get into the more meditative mood required.

Heading down Fifth Avenue, I proceeded to Craig F Starr gallery for an exhibition of drawings and paintings by Sol LeWitt and Eva Hesse.  This was an easy transition from Serra, though there’s always some intimidation entering those galleries that require you to hit the doorbell in a fancy building off of Fifth Ave.

A tasty, though not quite hot enough, double-Nespresso helped to fuel the rest of my journey southward.   I hoofed it over to the Fuller Building where I had hoped to see the “70 Years of Abstract Painting” show at Jason McCoy, but alas the gallery was closed for Good Friday.

Across the street I quickly took in the circular canvas conjunctions of Robert Mangold, where not-quite-sinusoidal waves of paint traverse polar coordinates across brighlty colored backgrounds.

Around the corner I headed for Tibor de Nagy, where two artists are featured this month.  For years, Sam Francis was one of the artists whose name I never remembered or whose work I never could recognize, but every time I’d see an abstract work I liked and would go up to it, it seemed it was by Sam Francis.  Well, after so many art fairs, where his work is plentiful, now I can spot a Francis from across the room and this show is full of his frequently used colors splashed especially around the edges of the paper support.  In the adjacent room, Jane Freilicher exhibits muted compositions of flowers in windows looking out at cityscapes beyond.  I’ve enjoyed Freilicher’s work in the past and once even painted an homage (which I won’t share; recommended, though, is this book full of lively, bright images).  This show is a little sad, though, as the flowers all look past their peak (are they sulking or just getting older?), the buildings are hazy, and the colors dulled.

Mikimoto was looking very Sam Francis

In a gallery I don’t remember ever visiting before, I very much enjoyed the chromatic, textured paintings of Mel Rosas at Maxwell Davidson Gallery.   They called to mind Steve Perrault’s portals that lead to the ocean but with dimensional paint handling, and Edward Hopper’s moody lighting and compositions.

Tiffany's was looking very Magritte

The weather was holding up — cool but not cold, cloudy but not wet — and so after catching the F train to East Broadway I was able to take another stroll through the galleries of the Lower East Side (my second exploration, though I never got to write about the first one).  By this point, though, my shoes were feeling uncomfortable:  I wonder how many art reviews turned sour because of poorly fitting shoes on the art critic?  I like walking this area, but there’s not a simple path that will get you to every gallery without much back-tracking.  I didn’t, however, come away feeling particularly inspired by most of the art, at least not on this trip.

One show that I did enjoy was the Naoto Nakagawa exhibition at Feature, where the artist renders closeups of flowers and their occasional insect visitors in concentric, highly saturated but monochromatic rectangles.  Place a beautiful quinacridone gold, perhaps, adjacent to some phthalo greens and things really pop color-wise.  Imagine looking at flowers through a macro lens with a Josef Albers filter.

Caetano de Almeida‘s work is also full of color at Eleven Rivington, where taped stripes and curves of color sometimes produce a Moire dynamic between the foreground and background.  Each piece has its own sort of logic, texture, and color scheme, with enough diversity to make you want to think through each painting.

By the time I finished the Lower East Side, it was approaching dinner time.  But the growing crowds in SoHo, where I ended up, made it seem unlikely that I’d find a good spot to eat, so I grabbed a train down to the World Train Center (figuring that the WTC PATH would be easier to get to than the 6th Avenue line) and found a very empty, but quite nice Asian fusian restaurant, Koko, where the service was friendly and helpful and my dish was nice and spicy.

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