Upper East Side and a few Chelsea Openings

On Thursday, with the weather slated to be a perfectly cloudless day, I headed back into the city to catch a few shows before they closed and to attend a few openings. (I also thought about actually buying a painting that caught my eye last week, but alas it was SOLD when I returned to the gallery…)

I started off on the upper east side at the Whitney to see the Glenn Ligon show. I like the formal qualities of the disintegrating stenciled text pieces, but didn’t have the heart to really dig into the rest of the artwork, whose conceptual nature requires a consideration of the politics around race. (I am reminded of a recent paper that shows judges are unlikely to grant paroles right before lunch; after lunch, parole rates jump back to 65%… Perhaps I ought not see art right before lunch?)

On another floor, the “Breaking Ground” exhibition displays several rooms worth of art from the museum’s 1931 opening. The highlight was the room containing two Bluemners, Hopper’s “Early Sunday Morning”, a few Stuart Davis paintings, and a few Charles Scheeler — all great stuff (alas, no photography was allowed).

The Fuller Building, 57th & Madison

After the Whitney I headed south along Madison, where good lunch spots with room for one on a nice sunny day are hard to find, but did manage a decent meal on 60th Street. From there I proceeded to the Fuller Building where I finally got to see the “70 Years of Abstract Painting” show that includes a small piece by my former instructor, John Zinsser, as well as a nice collection of paintings by notables such as Anuszkiewicz, Albers, Held, Hofmann, Nozkowski, and others. The final room in the exhibition is hung salon-style and provides quite a feast for the eyes.

Across the street Pace has an exhibition of de Kooning figurative paintings and drawings (the best of which, IMHO, are the ones where he stayed within the color range of yellow-to-peach-to-orange without too much green), and around the corner D. Wigmore takes on an earlier slice of abstraction history than McCoy with a focus on (primarily) geometric American abstraction of the 1930s and 1940s.

I felt compelled to stop by MoMA to check out “German Expressionism: The Graphic Impulse” since I was in the neighborhood, but it wasn’t really my thing. I liked the Kandinsky and the Beckmann paintings, where color and brushwork are prominent, but the more graphic pieces, often woodcuts, aren’t as interesting, at least not on a quick stroll (this show might be worth another visit if I had some more time to spend with the graphic items, but there’s something about the drawing style of many of these artists that just doesn’t pull me in).

Jennifer Bartlett in the atrium at MoMA. Click for larger view.

I took the E train down to Chelsea and caught a few regular hour exhibitions that I had missed earlier in the week, most notably Tim Maguire and Donald Judd. Maguire’s gorgeous paintings at Von Lintel are exciting and they look great from across the room and from up close where you can see the overlapping washes of color (that mimic the printing process) and the purposeful disruptions to the surface in the form of splotches of color (or removed color) that reads almost as photographic grain from far away. The subject matter in this show is flowers, up close, and is an interesting contrast to the Naoto Nakagawa show I mentioned a few weeks ago in terms of close-up, macro views of flowers with a highly personalized style of coloring.

I wasn’t sure about heading all the way down to 19th Street to the Donald Judd show, since his work can be so hit or miss for me, perhaps depending upon my own mood. But I enjoyed most of these box constructions at David Zwirner. Each of the pieces in the show is a large open-topped “box” with a silvery finish. Looking into the pieces over the edges of the box you see a super-glossy floor, often in chromatic hues like bright orange. Crossing from side to side within each box are a number of thin vertical planks of varying heights and distances from the ground. In the best of the pieces, there’s some nifty color interaction going on that changes as you catch the work from different angles, such as when the orange floor reflects upon a bright phthalo blue plank causing the plank to look nearly black from one angle but bright blue from another.

After a quick bite to eat for dinner it was time for a couple of openings. One that I enjoyed was Torben Geihler at Leo Koenig. These large geometric abstractions, according to the press release, are based upon musical structures and the Fibonacci sequence, though I read them as crystalized, desaturated Brice Mardens, with some similar formal issues about approaching edges, overlapping structures, and pentimenti.

On 28th Street, there was a crowd, a buzz, and a lot of fantastic “photograms” at the Foley Gallery’s Edward Mapplethorpe show.  I wasn’t at all familiar with this artist until I heard about the exhibition a few days ago and then read the fascinating back story about his relationship with his famous brother, Robert (whose work is also on display the next block northward). In “The Variations,” Mapplethorpe creates unique photographic prints without a camera, purely through chemical processes and (I presume) creative exposure to light. The result are depth-filled, warm-toned, Pollock-like allover abstractions that, like Pollock, are exciting to examine at multiple scales, up close and from across the room. In many of the pieces, the splashy marks remind me of a Edgerton “Milk Drop Corona”. The artist looked happy and I can understand why, as the crowd was into the show and the exhibition looked great.

Photo Impressions of Rush Hour Traffic in Chelsea (c) Andrew Werth

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