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.]