In addition to the primarily photo-based exhibitions I described the other day, I also visited a number of painting shows in Chelsea as well, a few of which are worth mentioning here.

First up, at Pace Wildenstein’s 25th Street gallery is a show of recent work from Thomas Nozkowski. Nozkowski was born in Teaneck, NJ, where I lived for most of the 1980s and which I consider my “home town”, so I have an extra interest in this artist. Although he’s been around for a long time, my familiarity with his work stems from a couple of shows at Max Protetch and his works on paper at BravinLee Programs.

The images in the show are so different from one another that it’s hard to have an overall opinion on “The Work” as a whole. What’s common is a playful sense of imagery, abstracted heavily from reality but still relying upon it, with a painterly touch that descends from Philip Guston or Caroll Dunham, minus the signature symbols of those artists. In some pieces, such as Untitled (8-93) , Untitled (8-109), and Untitled (8-107), I read the works as containing charming puppet-like characters and enjoy the formal as well as the “intentional” (what-it’s-about) aspects of the paintings. There are a few pieces, such as Untitled (P-19) or Untitled (8-100) where I find the peculiar compositions or lack of lead characters to be distracting — I can’t decide what to make of those works. For Nozkowski’s take on how he comes about his images, a short video on YouTube is helpful. In the You-do-the-math category: Nearly all of the 40 or so pieces in the show were sold or on reserve, at prices ranging from $30,000 to $75,000.

A fine new James Sienna show is in its last week at Pace’s other Chelsea gallery on 22nd Street. About a quarter of the 80 works on display (all since 2006) are enamel paintings on aluminum, with the rest being works on paper. The pieces I enjoy the most are the medium-sized enamel paintings that are full of patterns, rules, topography, and color. The rule systems that were fairly strict in past shows are relaxed occasionally here, to dynamic effect. Some of the larger works are drawn with India ink on paper and while interesting (e.g. a sort of tessellation of interlocking squiggles), they don’t have the kind of recursive design or evident labor found in the enamel paintings. There are at least two kinds of smaller drawings in the show — some greatly reduced, abstracted but essentially figurative forms and some “little old men” drawings. The more figurative works are full of scribbles and shadings that read as “hairy”, while the old people drawings are reminiscent of Hieronymus Bosch.

Finally, perceptual artist Julian Stanczak has a stunning show of work up at Danese. As you enter the gallery, the 50-panel piece “Parade of Reds” draws you in (and the online image comes nowhere close to capturing either the color or texture of the piece) . While examining the individual panels that comprise the parade, you also notice that the space in between the panels turns green and purple, a purely optical effect resulting from after images and bouncing light.

One of the paintings in the show — Uninterrupted Blue (2005 [unfortunately no image available]) — reminded me of the James Welling photograms, with it’s blue curvy lines and organic shapes.

The show catalog includes an excellent interview of Stanczak by Dave Hickey in which the artist explains his take on narrative, abstraction, and color. In comparison to, say Nelson Shanks (whose opinions on abstraction I mentioned previously), Stanczak explains, “I have the facility to be a realist — and I love realism — but that is not ‘my art.’ Realism demands storytelling, which doesn’t appeal to me. When I looked for ‘my’ art, I saw it in the beauty of abstraction, in the possibility of achieving some clarity of experience — as a mental challenge, a provocation.”1

He discusses how he was influenced at first more by Bonnard and then later more so by Monet, for whom “filtration of wavelength is more important than the reference of the image. He is more concerned with the behavior of color, with how he might make it airier, more atmospheric, and more volumetric.”

And in a point that I found especially interesting, Stanczak says that, “In my art, I do not dwell on ‘what is it?’ but rather on ‘what does it do to you?’ I want to leave my paintings open to interpretation. I tell my wife that if I had more time, I would be a minimalist. But then I imagine dishing out orange so that it can say proudly ‘I am Orange!’ Then I think, What about the metamorphosis? What about the interactive process through which paintings become alive?'”

[1All quotes from Stanczak interview with Dave Hickey. Julian Stanczak. New York: Danese, 2008.]

Today was a beautiful day to stroll around Chelsea (especially compared to the brutal winds on my last visit). With lots of time and no museum shows to visit, I was able to leisurely work my way from 19th Street up to 26th Street, enjoying quite a few of the exhibitions along the way.

One show I was particularly looking forward to — Gregory Crewdson at Luhring Augustine — didn’t disappoint. Even though I love photography, in many photography shows I find myself just moving from one image to another without any need to spend a lot of time on any one image. But the Crewdson photographs demand more attention and it’s worth it. They are beautiful on a purely formal level. The camera is placed for perfect composition and everything fits together: edges don’t touch awkwardly and positive and negative shapes give each other enough room to breathe. The photos are large (approximately 59×90 inches), perfectly printed (inkjet!) on luster paper. But beyond the formal, the images draw you in and as you look around the photo you find one symbol after another: a turned over shopping cart, a broken window, an illuminated street sign. In almost all of the images, one or more old American cars (Pontiacs, Buicks) share the stage with figures who are often alone standing outside a building or under a bridge. Occasionally a pair of figures are visible in the car or in a building window. I found the typical Crewdson cinematic setups to be less intrusive in this show than in the past and the narratives less creepy and more psychologically interesting.

For a completely different kind of photography, see Ion Zupcu’s show at Clamp Art. These small (15×15 inch) black-and-white gelatin silver prints are abstract, geometrical swirls and angles. A few of them look like aerial shots of Richard Serra sculptures, but in fact the artist is photographing black paper in natural light that the artist has folded, twisted, and sculpted into interesting shapes.

I’ve stumbled upon Devorah Sperber‘s work at a number of art fairs in the past: you’re walking down the aisle and at first you notice a wall of color splotches, but then you look into a small crystal ball and those splotches (really spools of thread all strung together) are shrunk and inverted, and voilà, you get the Mona Lisa or a Vermeer. When I stumbled upon her show at Caren Golden Fine Art this time, it was the subject matter that was most surprising: images from Star Trek! There are a few of the spool thread works, complete with mirrored balls that do the shrinking and pixelating, but when the images resolve you see Mr. Spock or Captain Kirk. In addition, there are a few pieces that are made from hanging strands of glass beads and these shimmering images read like figures in the process of being beamed up. There’s also a piece made with “chenille stems” (i.e., pipe cleaners!) to do the pixelation.

At the Dike Blair show at D’Amelio Terras, the room is filled with dozens of small inkjet prints of eyeballs scanned from the artist’s previous paintings. This reminded me of one of my own paintings from several years ago of my own eye. The question raised by this show, however, is: if the press release is itself an inkjet (or laserjet) print of one of the eyeballs in full color (albeit at a lesser quality), do I now own one of the artist’s works (unsigned, of course)?

Kim Foster gallery has two intriguing photography-based shows. First, Sherry Karver makes large black and white prints of digital images and uses them as a kind of grisaille for a subsequent oil painting. Layers of glazed color are added so that it’s hard to tell where the photo ends and the painting begins. The subjects are people caught moving about in a crowd, such as on the street or in a train station. Some of the figures are superimposed with fictional texts that are a kind of psychological description of the characters’ thoughts or hidden histories. I don’t usually enjoy text works as they demand a certain kind and direction of attention, but these were worth reading, full of sadness, insecurity, and sometimes humor.

The other show at Kim Foster by artist E.E. Smith contained a series of hyper-grainy “oil prints” made from cropped, enlarged photos. (The press release says that the artist hand coats watercolor paper with a light-sensitive coating in order to make the prints.) The resulting images look like conte crayon renderings. As with the Karver show, the subject matter is people caught in the act of doing their daily business and the grainy imagery of the prints has the look of surveillance photos.

One of the galleries in the huge David Zwirner space on West 19th Street contains a series of James Welling “photograms” (camera-less photographs, a few of which are also on view at the Whitney Biennial). The artist has taken window screens and cut, twisted, and sculpted them into torso-like shapes and then laid those shapes onto photo-sensitive paper to create beautiful, biomorphically abstract images.

Alexander Ross, whose works I loved several years ago at Feature Gallery and also at the Whitney’s “Remote Viewing” show, has moved on over to Marianne Boesky‘s gallery (see the NY Times article, “Dear Gallery: It Was fun, but I’m Moving Up”). Unfortunately, these works don’t seem to have quite the same dimensional pop as the earlier works which so fascinated me. Some of the large green paintings are still quite interesting — blobs of green organic shapes (based on the artist’s clay models) rendered with gradients of color on a blue background. But they look flatter than in the past and aren’t quite as playful. In addition to the large oil paintings, the show also includes some smaller collages that mix photos of the artist’s paintings (or perhaps photos of the clay models) with crayon-like scrawls on paper.

Thankfully, not everything that I saw today was photo-based! I’ll save the descriptions for some fine painting shows by Thomas Nozkowski, James Sienna, and Julian Stanczak for my next post.

The final morning of the conference was led by two more prominent portrait artists, Daniel Greene and Nelson Shanks. Greene started off by showing slides of some of the works from his ongoing series of carnival paintings, recently on view at Gallery Henoch in NYC and also extensively covered in the art technique mags. Greene is an articulate speaker and the remaining portion of his session was devoted to Q&A, supposedly on technical issues though more of the questions went to intent and background information. I’d have liked to have gotten a question in on palette choice and color mixing, but time ran out. Interestingly, although there was almost no mention of acrylic paints at this conference and all of the principals are oil paint sticklers (with an occasional nod to pastels), Greene answered a question about acrylics giving them full-fledged status without knocking them, though he admitted it wasn’t a medium he had used extensively himself. Interestingly, Greene mentioned that he lived for a while in the 1950’s East Village and occasioned the Cedar Bar when it was the regular haunt of de Kooning, Pollock, et al., but that abstract painting wasn’t for him: he tried it but found it “too easy” and so instead he set out to continually challenge himself with representational painting.

Speaking of abstraction, the final speaker of the conference was Nelson Shanks, who can barely hide his contempt for any kind of non-representational painting (not that he tries to hide it). “Realism is the only language an artist can really use,” he said (if my notes are accurate), though “if realism is to be a valid form of art today, it needs to break barriers and not just break competence.” His talk was fascinating, though he is incredibly off-putting if you like abstraction. He slammed de Kooning and Twombly and derided Matisse as having not reached a level of artistic competence comparable to prehistoric cave paintings. Shanks is undoubtedly a very fine painter – his portraits of Lady Diana and Pope John Paul II are stunning – but I would rather spend a day looking at a room full of de Koonings or Matisses any time! (Not a big Twombly fan, myself…) He opined that in later years Renoir must have been painting mostly from the heart, without his intellect, as his later output was “pretty pathetic.” He exhorted viewers to look beyond Sargent’s brushstroke, liking brushstroke to type on a typewriter versus the words that were typed (which I think was a quote from Robert Henri). (Interestingly, as one who appreciates good graphic design and likes to learn about typeface design, I find that typeface *is* important and can make a difference in how you read the work.)

Perhaps sticking his brush in the eyes of other speakers at the conference, Shanks claimed that color is as important as value, whereas at least three other speakers had put a premium on Value, Value, Value. Shanks said that starting with a gray background is limiting and boring, perhaps needling several of the other presenters who explained that they liked to start off their paintings on a neutral gray background.

Nelson Shank paints a nudeShanks has a very high opinion of himself and claims to consider quality to be of utmost importance. Yet he didn’t give his presentation the kind of effort one would expect: his opening remarks were scribbled down at 3am and he didn’t seem to know the format of his lecture; i.e., that he would be accompanied by video to which he was supposed to be explaining his process. The introductory video was something of a barf-inducing deification of Shanks, complete with classical music and worshipful quotations from his students. Fortunately, the video showing the artist in action was much more compelling and helpful. It included a high-speed demo of the artist painting a reclining model as well as a real-time performance of Shanks painting Marisa Tomei at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The main speakers at the conference – John Howard Sanden, Everett Raymond Kinstler, Burton Silverman, Daniel Greene, Aaron Shikler, and Nelson Shanks – are all very famous names within the portrait genre of American art, or at least within the community that they themselves nurture through conferences, workshops, and magazines like International Artist and The Artists Magazine. If I didn’t subscribe to those magazines, I might not have heard of any of them (though a few of their works, such as Shikler’s JFK portrait, are iconic). With the exception of Daniel Greene, I don’t think any of these names make it to any of the same galleries I regularly visit in Chelsea, 57th Street, or the Upper East Side, so it was interesting to participate in an event from a corner of the art world that has very little intersection with my usual familiar territory.

On Saturday morning, Everett Raymond Kinstler kicked off the day with a slide presentation about the portrait artists of the past who had inspired him, including:  Sargent, William Merritt Chase, Joaquin Sorolla, Anders Zorn, Giovanni Boldini, and James Montgomery Flagg.

Burton Silverman\'s demoFollowing Kinstler, Burton Silverman gave a demonstration entitled “Searching for the Truth”, though there wasn’t much philosophy in the talk and instead was pretty much a straightforward demo.  Starting with a scraped down canvas from a previous painting he hadn’t been satisfied with, he began a quick portrait of his sitter, Anne E. Hall, costumed in a deep magenta hat and black coat.  Starting with very brushy strokes and working all around the canvas (in a way that made you think at first he wasn’t going to get very far), he pulled together a very interesting piece in about 75 minutes of painting.

One problem with all of the demonstrations at the conference was that the video screens didn’t seem to be properly color calibrated – they were invariably too warm and too saturated.  In addition, sometimes the camera focusing on the model was cooler while the one focusing on the canvas was warmer so that it looked like the artist wasn’t doing a great job of mixing colors.  Yet when you looked at the actual canvas rather than the screen, you could tell that the colors on the painting were more nuanced and less intense, more closely matching those of the sitter.

David Leffel\'s demoDavid Leffel gave a demonstration about “finishing” a painting, though he started with a blank (toned burnt umber) canvas.  Rather than do a complete painting from life, he painted an eye (and then a nose) from memory and brought that portion of a painting to a decent state of completion.  Leffel says that most of his “consciousness” is on the tip of his brush, either on the palette or on the canvas.  He says the most important part of learning to paint is gaining the ability to manipulate paint on the brush with total confidence so that it will do what you want.

I skipped out early from the Aaron Shikler late afternoon session because the talk wasn’t particularly well prepared and wasn’t accompanied by any visuals (and I was tired!).  Shikler is the artist who painted the official White House portrait of JFK (painted posthumously) and has also painted official portraits of Jacqueline Kennedy and Nancy Reagan.  Unfortunately, by this time in the afternoon, I wasn’t in the mood for being awestruck and felt dinner was calling.

I just returned from the 3-day Portrait Society of America’s 2008 conference in Philadelphia. Why would I attend this conference, given that I am primarily an abstract painter? Well, I also enjoy painting representationally and every once in a while I paint portraits. So I went to the conference looking for some tips, some product information, and most of all for some inspiration. For the most part, the conference fulfilled my expectations.

First, some overall observations. I would guess that there were about 500 attendees at the show (although one speaker mentioned 800 copies of his brochure were printed), and it seemed that perhaps 70% were women. The crowd skewed older, with a large chunk of the audience probably over 50 years old; I think perhaps I was in the 15th percentile age-wise (i.e., 85% of the attendees were older than me). From the relatively small sampling of people I spoke with at the show, attendees came from all over the country (I spoke to artists from Ohio, Virginia, Tennessee, and Long Island, for instance.)

On Friday morning, things kicked off with some introductions and then a fine, long demonstration of premier coup (“alla prima”, or “first stroke”) painting by John Howard Sanden. Sanden was well-prepared and his demonstration of putting down the right brushstroke with the right color was effective, clear, and informative. He admits to not being perfect with the technique, where in theory you look at the model, look at your palette, load your brush, look back at the model, and then place the brushstroke on the canvas. His ten tips for the process were: (1) start with a toned canvas; (2) draw with your brush; (3) the 1st stroke is the final stroke; (4) base your marks on observation alone (not what you think it should look like); (5) every stroke counts; (6) use the largest brush possible; (7) work with speed & finish in 1 session; (8) every stroke is a drawing stroke; (9) tonal judgments are the most important; and (10) be deliberate and decisive.

John Howard Sanden's demo

Sanden uses a pre-mixed set of colors for his palette, which he also sells as a set called the “Pro-Mix System”, though fortunately his demo was not a hard sell for his product and the brochure he gave out tells you how to mix his palette yourself if you want.

In the early afternoon, Michael Shane Neal talked about some business practices that he has found helpful in his professional career, focusing on how treating your customers properly and with a formal courtesy (e.g., thank you letters) can pay dividends in the form of future referrals. During his demo, he added to a portrait-in-progress that he’s working on of Sandra Day O’Connor and he brought an example of another judge portrait that he’s finishing up (because the work wasn’t yet varnished, it had a rather uneven surface sheen, but if you caught it in the right light it was a fine painting). Shane is a dynamic and engaging speaker, and though his demo wasn’t as informative as Sanden’s, it was still helpful and worth watching.

The afternoon session, though, with Edward Jonas talking about the anatomical foundation of building a face wasn’t very helpful. It was his first time giving the talk and though he’s a clear speaker and I suspect knows a great deal about facial anatomy, the material wasn’t organized in a way that provided any actionable information to the audience (other than perhaps some book references).

In the evening, Michael Shane Neal addressed a packed room on the subject of John Singer Sargent. Although the day was long and the lights were out during the presentation, Sargent’s amazing portraits and Shane’s passion for the subject matter kept me awake. Shane (and other speakers at the conference) urged viewers to look beyond Sargent’s oft-regarded amazing brushstroke and to consider his color, composition, and especially the emotional understanding of his subjects.

After visiting The Armory Show, I had some time to kill until our dinner reservations and decided to head over to the Scope Art Fair in a tent at Damrosch Park by Lincoln Center. (My wife, who had her fill of art for the day, preferred to spend her time at the Time Warner Center.) For $15 you get an ice blue wrist band which gains you entry to the fair.

On a per-gallery basis, I think there was more quality work at Scope than there was at The Armory Show. At least, skill was more evident in more of the paintings. The crowd appeared to be much younger at Scope, as were most of the dealers. The Scope show is much smaller than The Armory Show, so that it was easy to cruise through the whole affair in less than 45 minutes and not feel like you’ve short changed anything.

I enjoyed some “manuscripted glass” pieces by an artist named Sidney Philocreon: guns drawn onto four layers of glass within a wooden frame, using inscrutable foreign language text rather than line for contours and texture, creating a simple 3d effect.

The best pieces at the show were by Yigal Ozeri at Mike Weiss, though these were works that I had already seen at the gallery on 24th Street a few months ago. They are gorgeous, beautifully executed portraits of a woman (“Priscilla”) with a Medusa-like hairstyle, tucked surrealistically into a forest landscape. Also included were some rather creepy but sort of beautiful paintings by Christian Vincent, such as “Capture“, showing multiple views of a woman in a pale yellow dress reaching up to pluck reddish butterflies out of the sky.

Another interesting piece was one that wasn’t for sale. At Galleri K, Steinar Jakobsen had several dozen oil on aluminum panels on display, part of a commissioned piece entitled “Look Back in Puzzlement II“. Each painting is a photo-realistic snapshot of an urban scene as if it were viewed through a “night shot” camera — green and black. The press release describing the piece, however, seemed to go a bit overboard about the meaning of the work and how one interprets the indeterminate city scenes that are depicted.

So this year I only made it to two art fairs in this massive weekend of art fairs in New York, and two was plenty. Last year I think I slogged my way through five or six fairs over two days, and was exhausted from the effort (and numbed by the overload). Two is much more manageable, although in the end I think that neither one was worth the price of admission since you can have a superior experience for free down in Chelsea.

(Side note: If you ever make it to Sapphire Indian Restaurant on 60th Street & Broadway, try the new chicken dish on their menu — Chicken Cafreal. One of the tastiest dishes I’ve had in a long time, it’s a Goan-style highly spiced chicken in a green sauce. Fantastic!)

Kudos to the folks running The Armory Show for attempting to manage the crush of people attending the annual art fair on the west side of Manhattan. (Last year was a total mess, with lines into the street, shuttle buses canceled, and taxis confused about where to go.) However, they only earn a “C” for execution. It seemed at first that the decision to purchase tickets online ahead of time was a smart one: my wife and I went straight to the E-ticket line and avoided about 200 feet of outside line-waiting. But, for some unfathomable reason, once inside the building we were shuffled from one queue to another, finally waiting about 10 minutes to move four spots on line to reach the single staffer who was equipped to scan our E-ticket.A maddening start to the show.

Unlike the Whitney Biennial, The Armory Show has lots of paint. I guess it’s easier to sell a painting than it is to sell an installation piece of golf balls, Gatorade, and flowers. Alas, though, there really wasn’t all that much to catch the eye. And yet, “The Art Newspaper” (handed out at the entrance) reported that sales were strong, much stronger than had been anticipated by dealers who worried about the economy’s meltdown.

There were at least a few delights throughout the show. A Swedish gallery (Brändström & Stene, I think) showed five paintings by Glen Rubsamen, similar to the ones exhibited at Robert Miller Gallery in December 2006: Landscapes with a brightly colored background and snippets of foreground at the bottom of the painting in silhouette. I don’t really know why I find these pieces interesting, except that they remind me of various photographs I’ve taken in the past.

Jon Kessler had an interesting sculpture entitled Hanging Swan. It was an assemblage of twisted, torqued metal that resembled a mask in a Picasso portrait. Hanging as part of the sculpture about a foot away from the “mask” was a mini camera, pointed right at the mask, with the video from the camera displayed on a monitor hanging on the wall. Viewers would raise their face into various configurations of the mask and watch as their visage appeared Picasso-esque on the monitor. (The “Swan” piece is a part of a series that is apparently a commentary on TV makeover shows.)

Perhaps the most interesting pieces in the fair were Zan Jbai’s untitled near-white portraits (see Jbai’s site for an example). These two oil on canvas works at first read as solid white, but upon further inspection you see that through a variety of brushstrokes, changes in the glossiness of the paint, and perhaps an underpainting that’s been painted over in white, you see that the works are actually very subtly toned, low contrast portraits.

Another near-monochrome piece, by Jason Martin, was also worthy of closer inspection: dark oil paint brushed with perhaps a 12” brush over a purple underpainting on a large aluminum panel read as wavy dark hair (you can see a similar piece here).

Galerie Gebr. Lehmann exhibited a nice Ellen Harvey piece, taken from her ongoing Museum of Failure series ($35,000), though it didn’t have the complexity of the piece on view at the Biennial.

A nice Sol LeWitt gouache on paper was already sold for $45,000 (for some reason, “red dots” to mark sold pieces seemed to be out of fashion at The Armory Show this year and almost none of the galleries had prices posted on the walls).

Pace Wildenstein had a “greatest hits” group show with lots of favorites: a great Bridget Riley stripe painting, a nice blue Robert Mangold column structure painting, some Michal Rovner animated-people-on-stone-tablets (I always get a kick out of these), and a quaint but delightful James Siena “powers of two” painting.

But for $30, I would have hoped to find more at the show to like. In the end, I’m left with the feeling that The Armory Show of 2008 was not worth the price of admission. Most of the work on display shows better in a traditional gallery space than it does in these makeshift “white boxes.” It costs nothing to walk around the galleries in Chelsea and it’s much less of a hassle.

I’ve just finished a new painting called Phenomenal Character (acrylic on panel, 30 x 30 in., 2008). The term is one sometimes used in the philosophy of mind or in cognitive science and refers to “what it is like” to have a perceptual experience. In a more ordinary sense, the phrase could imply a narrative or refer to one’s moral traits (or perhaps just describe a really great bit of typography).

Phenomenal Character

It wasn’t the best day to walk around New York City, with gusty, cold winds belying the first day of spring. But I managed to see quite a few shows in Chelsea, several of which are worth mentioning.

First up, at a gallery I had never visited before – and one that’s technically not in Chelsea – was Anoka Faruqee at Hosfelt Gallery. (In Feb 2007, I visited Princeton University where the California-based Ms. Faruqee was scheduled to be a speaker; to my dismay I was the only one there as the talk had been cancelled due to a bad snowstorm!) I enjoyed seeing her work in person this time, in what is a very nice gallery space (though rather far out of the way, half a block from the Javits Center). This show is comprised of two kinds of paintings. In her “fade paintings”, thousands of repetitive marks, such as asterisks or swirls, fade into the foggy background colors of the canvas (or perhaps are in fact being obscured by a misty foreground). Although these works have some similar formal issues to my own paintings, I in fact found the second set of works in the show more interesting: each work consists of two paintings, one large piece full of stripes with various color interactions, the other a smaller “copy” of the larger, though the copies appear to be more intuitive replications rather than exact copies. I found these to be particularly interesting to look at in terms of color, surface quality, and paint handling.

In Chelsea proper, another California artist, Tom Leaver, has a show at McKenzie Fine Art that shares some formal characteristics with the Faruqee fade paintings. The Leaver pieces read as large, brushy, drippy landscapes whose foregrounds are prominent (though unidentifiable) but whose backgrounds fade out through a “turpentined” aerial perspective.

One of my new favorite gallery buildings is at 547 West 27th Street. Not only does the building contain a diverse selection of quality galleries, but the people working in many of the galleries are very friendly and willing to talk with you about the works on display. On the first floor is Sundaram Tagore gallery, which always has high quality shows. Today, they have an excellent pan-Asian group show. My favorite painting was a piece by Hosook Kang, “Autumn”, full of orange and blue rippling waves of color. Also in the building were the Buddhist-inspired works of Tenzing Rigdol & Palden Weinreb (that’s a mouthful) at Dinter Fine Art and eyeball abstractions by Yuichiro Shibata at the funky Monkdogz Urban Art.

Robert Miller gallery has a gorgeous collection of large photographs by Dirk Braeckman. Although the imagery itself in the photographs isn’t particularly exciting – corners of a room, curtains, a figure – the silver gelatin prints themselves are worthy of contemplation. The matte finish and grainy texture make them look like charcoal renderings. The show also includes one huge inkjet triptych print that runs from floor to ceiling which details the light and texture on what looks like a fancy carpet runner.

Byron Kim, whose piece “Synecdoche” I noted from the MoMA Color Chart exhibition, also has a solo show up at Max Protetch. The first painting in the gallery immediately reminded me of the Robert Irwin sculptures I had seen in several Los Angeles museums a few weeks ago. Indeed, the gallery press release explains that this painting (and another similar one) is based on a photo reproduction of Irwin’s sculpture from Kirk Varnedoe’s book, Pictures of Nothing (an excellent book, I might add). Another interesting piece in the show was “Delacroix’s Shadow,” consisting of a painted yellow panel casting a shadow from carefully aligned lights onto a rectangle of gray paint (the title comes from a story about Delacroix noticing how yellows in Paris cast a violet shadow).

At the Valerie Jaudon show at Von Lintel, each painting is a tessellation of squares, with each square containing the same pattern either mirrored or rotated. The forms consist of strips of white paint, some straight, others curvy, thickly painted on raw linen with clear and distinguished brushstrokes. The only problem with the show is the similarity of all the works – although they each use different patterns that are evident upon patient examination, from a macro point of view the pieces tend to all look alike.

I should mention two representational shows worth seeing. First, at BravinLee Programs, Amparo Sard creates wonderful “pointillist” works on white paper using thousands of pinpricks as her mark. The pricks are used for both contours and also for texture and shading (the denser the pinholes, the darker it reads). Most of the works in the show are figures, often of a woman interacting with some sort of planar surface such as a mirror, rising waters, or abstract rectangular shapes.

Finally, I loved Kim Cogan’s brushy, atmospheric cityscapes at Gallery Henoch. The most stunning piece in the show was “Stairway,” which perfectly captures the lighting at night of a stairway between two buildings.

I’ve just launched a completely new design for AndrewWerth.com — whew! There are still a few kinks to work out (especially here on the blog page, which uses different software from the rest of the site), but I hope you’ll like the new look. It should be cleaner, better looking, and easier to maintain. Most importantly, I hope it will display the paintings more clearly and without the high-chroma distractions of the previous version of the web site.

I made it up to the Whitney on member-preview day shortly after the noon opening for the 2008 Whitney Biennial. The first impression that sticks with me was the show’s relative lack of paintings. Since I’m a painter and I like to look at paintings more than anything else, this focus on other media almost necessarily limited the amount of enjoyment and interest I would find in this Biennial. It seemed that the galleries had quite a bit of sculpture, assemblage, film, and other objects that weren’t paintings.

Another thing I noticed rather quickly was that almost the entire museum-going population was women, mostly over age fifty. (This was in stark contrast to the MoMA design show, where there was quite a diversity of viewers, many under age 13!) I’m guessing this was due to the fact that it was a mid-day, members-only preview, so there wouldn’t be many tourists or 9-to-5’ers.

Finally, although this Biennial had quite a few video installations, it was much quieter and more subdued than I remember from the last two Biennials. No fluorescent rooms with flashing strobe lights; no loud, repetitive, driving sounds.

(Put these last two points together and you get a chance to hear everyone’s opinion, especially those of people who make it a point to shout their opinions to their friends across the room…)

On to the artwork… By far the piece that I enjoyed the most was Ellen Harvey‘s “Museum of Failure — Collection of Impossible Subjects & Invisible Self-Portrait in My Studio”. In a small gallery by itself, the viewer is first presented with a brushed shiny Plexiglas “mirror” that has been engraved with drawings of ornate picture frames. The wall is illuminated from the rear by fluorescent lights so that the engraved markings appear to light up. In place of one of the frames on this wall, though, is a space cut out so that you can see the wall behind. On that wall is a multi-panel painting that shows the same picture frames fully rendered in oil paint; filling those painted frames are paintings of mirrored reflections of components of the artist’s studio. I loved this piece because it gave you a lot to think about: figuring out what it was, how it worked, and how best to look at it. Also, the rear wall paintings are beautifully handled and would stand on their own aesthetically without the front mirror. Together, I found it conceptually interesting and exciting to look at.

The only other representational paintings that stick in my head are Robert Becthle’s near photo-realist California streetscapes whose sienna underpaintings glow through subsequent layers of paint and provide some texture to look at in otherwise smooth paintings.

Echoing the Color Chart show I saw earlier in the day at MoMA was Daniel Joseph Martinez‘s “Divine Violence.” The gallery is full of rectangular panels painted with “automotive goldflake” paint, each labeled in the middle with the name of an “organization around the world attempting to affect politics through violent means.” Obvious choices like Hamas or Al Qaeda are present, but also included are “Central Intelligence Agency”, giving the piece a different kind of slant.

A few graphic works were of note: Matthew Brannon filled a small gallery with letterpress graphic images whose textual elements contain puzzling or pithy or poetic or humorous contrasts with the imagery. Seth Price had three well-composed graphic “Gold Key” panels (though his other piece, “Untitled”, which looks something like a disconnected map of the US with Texas dangling off, wasn’t as catchy).

Adam Putnam‘s green hallway was beautiful and interestingly constructed. The viewer enters a small, darkened room. In the middle is a platform upon which a small glass & mirror sculpture rests. Dangling from the ceiling is a cord that holds a single light bulb right in the middle of the sculpture. The light is bounced around and cast against the dim gallery walls and the cast, colored shadows on the walls look like spooky three dimensional hallways.

Finally, the most puzzling work in the show was Phoebe Washburn’s “Birth of a Soda Shop”, a large assembly of wood, pipes, tanks, golfballs, Gatorade, and flowers. Yes, it’s a rather unconventional choice of materials. In the piece, flower bulbs are growing in tanks whose “soil” is either orange or yellow golf balls and whose water appears to be orange or lemon Gatorade. If you walk behind the piece, you can examine the pump system and witness a few more tanks of flower bulbs. I really don’t know what to make of it, other than it caused much head scratching, though it did at least hold my attention for several minutes as I tried to figure it all out.

Much of the work in this Biennial doesn’t quite stand on its own. That is, without some additional explanation about the artist’s intentions or background, it’s difficult to know how to interpret the work. Very little in the show catches the eye at a purely aesthetic level, and with only a few exceptions I don’t recall there being a lot of color anywhere. But being the Whitney Biennial, it’s still worth seeing, even if it doesn’t get your creative juices flowing like some of the past Biennials.

While the Color Chart show was practically empty during most of my visit, the other sixth floor exhibition space was completely packed, both with people and with things to look at. “Design and the Elastic Mind” is a fascinating, fun show that deserved more time than I had to give it yesterday. One problem was that because the show was so crowded, you feel rushed to read the display cards and move along quickly. Yet many of the objects on display require some contemplation and reading the placards is important to understand what you are seeing. (If only they could “design” a better way to put on a show like this…? I guess the online interactive interface is pretty nifty, though it’s very hard to read on my screen and a bit overwhelming.)

The exhibition is about innovation and how designers are trying to solve some of the problems the world faces in a time of rapid change and major dislocations. Mostly what I got out of it was a sense of how exciting it might be to be a researcher or product designer working on these problems. (Not quite exciting enough for me to think about reverting to my prior career, however.)

Of the dozens and dozens of items on display, there are a few that particularly stick in the mind. Philip Worthington’s Shadow Monster had people lining up to give it a try. You enter a room with a giant lightbox behind you and a large screen in front of you, ostensibly with your shadow being cast onto the screen. Yet something is not quite right: the shadow isn’t exactly you, but rather a monstrous (in a playful way) adaptation, with chirps, burps, and roars of audio as well as amazing cartoon-like shadow animation (e.g., flick your wrist and you can cause your shadow monster to flick off some flying birds, or open your hands like jaws and your shadow somehow has teeth!). This one had the kids giggling and the grownups laughing along as well. (I should note that, unlike the Color Chart show, Design and the Elastic Mind was full of kids.)

A number of information visualizations caught my eye. Aaron Koblin used North American flight data to create a dazzling, firework-like sparkler of flight paths. In a similar display, the “New York Telephone Exchange” animates the volume of phone calls between New York City and the rest of the world. Various parts of the globe grow and shrink over time as the volume of traffic ebbs and flows (though it seems we have a lot of traffic to and from India no matter the time of day).

Many products on display aim to help the world, from “solar-powered” water decontamination jugs to efficient space heaters. At a time when the world sometimes seems out of control without much cause for optimism, I found that, at least a little bit, it was a relief to be presented with some evidence that there are people out there coming up with very out-of-the-box, transformative solutions to some challenging problems. If you have any interest at all in technology, design, or what the future might look like, I’d highly recommend a visit to this show.

My first stop (after a mediocre breakfast at a cafe on 53rd @ 7th Ave) on a busy art day was a visit to the Museum of Modern Art. This was a day when museum memberships prove their worth as I was able to avoid the very long lines outside the museum and stroll right in at the 10:30am opening time. The nice thing about getting in at 10:30am at MoMA is that if you know where you’re going, you can beat most of the crowd to the exhibits and have a chance to look at things more closely before the throngs start clogging the galleries.

The Color Chart show focuses on the use of systems, chance, and ready-made colors in art since 1950. I found the show quite stimulating to look at, though it was perhaps not the kind of “inspired-to-go-home-and-paint-right-away” exhibition that I might have expected. Most of the work displayed little brushstroke or other articulation, with flat color application the norm. That said, there were a number of pieces worth noting.

Francois Morellet had a piece in the first room of the exhibition which filled a grid of something like 40,000 tiny squares with either red or blue paint, using numbers in the phone book to determine which color to apply. Even numbers yield one color, odd numbers the other. If I hadn’t read the wall label to learn that the numbers were thusly distributed, I would have stared at the painting longer to see if it “popped” like a 3d stereogram.

I’m not usually a big fan of John Chamberlain’s work (they’re fun, but if you’ve seen fifty…), but I enjoyed the enamel (car-paint?) coated panels on display here with names like “Elvis”. I think these are the first time I’ve seen Chamberlains that weren’t crushed cars.

I also don’t usually get excited by the light sculptures of Dan Flavin, but a particularly playful (and very bright) installation here at MoMA was worth the green afterimages it produced in my eyes. In the room following Flavin, Byron Kim’s “Synechdoche” seemed to glow green and purple in between the flesh-colored panels, either my eyes playing tricks on me or more likely the lingering effects and leaking light from the adjoining Flavin display. (In the aptly named piece — Synechdoche is a type of metaphor where a part is used to stand in for the whole — Kim paints each panel a different flesh tone based on a real person’s actual skin color.)

A Blinky Palermo piece made from dyed cotton stood out with its simple, Ellsworth Kelly-like composition of red & blue rectangles. (Kelly is also included in the show with his random grid of colored squares.)

I love Sol LeWitt’s work and Wall Drawing #91, a grid with each square marked by “non-straight” lines of three separate color pencils, didn’t disappoint (though it was not as exciting as a work I had seen at MoCA in Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago).

Near the end of the exhibit in a side nook, a suite of Katharina Fritsch paintings practically glowed. Each piece consisted of a panel or canvas of smoothly applied color surrounded by a deep metallic frame that reflected color and light from the center of the piece as well as from other works in the room.

In the last gallery, I found a video by Cory Arcangel somewhat compelling. I can’t recall the exact algorithm described on the wall panel, but here’s the gist: Arcangel digitally reworked the movie “Colors” so that it consisted solely of vertical bands of color based on pixels in the original movie. It’s intriguing to watch the stripes dance on the screen in sync with the audio and to note how the color themes change depending upon the scene.

On a final note, the staff at MoMA wore Daniel Buren-designed vests of variously colored, presumably 8.7cm-wide stripes. I asked one of the guards if they get to keep the vests after the show. He looked at me, perplexed, and shook his head, “No.”

Yesterday was an art-filled day from start to finish. I took the train in to NYC where my first stop was MoMA to see the “Color Chart” and “Design and the Elastic Mind” shows. From there, I headed north to the Whitney Museum for the preview day of the Biennial. Pushing forward, I hoofed it up to the Met to check out the Jasper Johns “Gray” show. With a little bit of time left before needing to catch the train back home, I slogged through the Courbet and Poussin installations at the Met, probably not giving them enough time but without any interest in going back for more. Finally, after returning to Jersey, I attended the opening reception for the “Mercer County Artists” show at The Gallery @ Mercer County Community College. I’ll report further on these in separate posts.

This afternoon I participated in an artist panel discussion about the “personal landscape” at D&R Greenway, a land preservation non-profit organization in Princeton, NJ. Below is a view of approximately half of the main gallery, with my two pieces hanging along the left wall. Curator Jack Koeppel opened the discussion with an intro to D&R Greenway and explained why he felt that art was important to the mission of “The Greenway.” Mel Leipzig added some commentary about the nature of landscape painting and also about the social relevance and impact of making art. Each of the seven artists on the panel then introduced themselves and spoke a little about their work, particularly as it relates to the concept of the personal landscape.

Although my work was perhaps least directly a “landscape,” these paintings in my Embodiment series are indeed about how our “selves” are related to our environment. Landscapes are an artist’s personal interpretation of the external world, and in that way these paintings are my interpretation of how we perceive the world.

Other artists on the panel included Mel Leipzig, Linda Pochesci, Harry Naar, Dan Finaldi, Jamie Greenfield, and Jan Applebaum.

Installation View

I’ve decided to finally enter the blogosphere. In this blog, I expect to focus mostly on the following topics:

  • Upcoming exhibitions that include my paintings
  • New paintings as they’re added to the website
  • Art reviews of other exhibitions (if I’m feeling particularly bold; if not, I’ll just make mention of shows I feel are worthwhile)
  • Reviews of books that relate to my work or my artistic/philosophical interests

Please bear with me as I tweak the design and interface of the blog!

Enjoy!