My 2-person exhibition with Alan J Klawans wraps up this weekend.  The weather forecast is great for today and tomorrow, so if you haven’t seen the show, drop by Artists’ Gallery at 18 Bridge Street in Lambertville, NJ, Saturday (4/30) or Sunday (5/1) between 11am-6pm.  I’ll be at the gallery all day on Sunday if you’d like to say Hi.

Center of Narrative Gravity #6, 20×20

 

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.

I enjoyed David Brooks’ column in today’s New York Times about the use of metaphor in everyday thought.  Ever since I read Philosophy in the Flesh, by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (referenced in the Brooks column), I’ve been interested in both embodied cognition and the use of metaphor in our daily reasoning.  I’ve tried to bring some of those ideas into my artwork in paintings such as Journey (we see life through a journey metaphor), In Light of Our Knowledge (we equate light with understanding in many metaphors), Moving Forward (time and our lives take on spatial metaphors with detours and leaps), and Having in Mind (where understanding is seen through a containment metaphor).

In Light of Our Knowledge, acrylic on canvas, 36x36

I’m very excited about my two-person show with Alan J Klawans, “Curves and Colors”, which opens tomorrow (Friday, April 8, 2011) at Artists’ Gallery in Lambertville, NJ.  We’re hosting an opening reception on Saturday, April 9, from 2-6pm and I hope to see you there!  Full details are available here.

Center of Narrative Gravity #12, acrylic on aluminum, 12x12

It’s just two weeks until my show with Alan J Klawans, “Curves and Colors“, opens at Artists’ Gallery in Lambertville, NJ.  The opening reception is on Saturday, April 9, from 2-6pm, and the show is up from April 8 through May 1.  I hope you’ll be able to make it!  Complete details, including a printable PDF page for your refrigerator, can be found here.  If you’re not familiar with Lambertville, I’ve put together a quick summary of where to stay and what else to do while you’re visiting.

One of the paintings in the show is this one, entitled Emergent Materialism #2.

Emergent Materialism #2, acrylic on panel, 30x24

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, art-chelsea.com, 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

I’ve been so busy getting things ready for my upcoming show in April that I haven’t had time to finish writing about last week’s art fairs.  But I did want to mention a few things about my second day in Manhattan last week.

I started the day at 9:30 up at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, since none of the art fairs open that early.  At first, as I was waiting outside with a bunch of people for the museum to open, I thought I was making a mistake.  But once I got in and quickly made for the Steiglitz, Steichen, Strand show, the early hour made for a nice, quite and completely private stroll through this fantastic show.  You never know if an old photography show will do much for you since we’re so overwhelmed with photographic images, but I found the show to be fascinating, comparing Steiglitz’ work with Steichen’s soft-focus drawing-like photos and Strand’s later graphic, straight-ahead images.

From there I headed downstairs to the Cezanne “Card Players” exhibition which highlights the famous Cezanne painting, a number of his studies and subsequent treatments of the subject, and a history of earlier card imagery — primarily etchings — from other artists.  It’s a nice little show because, well, it’s Cezanne, though I wasn’t as interested in the etchings, and you can see how the artist progressed from his initial sketches and oil studies to the final painting.

A reasonably quick bus ride to 34th Street brought me to Volta .  The 11th floor space has been the home of many art shows, but I always find it a somewhat awkward layout with no good path through the place.  One gallery had some insanely annoying audio playing over and over that was loud enough to hear quite a ways away.  One show that stood out was Jill Sylvia‘s at Magrorocca: the artist begins with ledger paper and then uses a drafting knife to cut out all of the little boxes in the sheet of paper, leaving a skeleton of just the lines on the page left over!  These remaining artifacts gently float off the wall, held in place by a few mere pins at the corners.  Lined up by the dozens, it makes for a striking exhibition of surprising beauty.

I had a quick lunch at “508“, a nifty little restaurant by the Holland Tunnel that stated off nearly empty but by the time I left had almost a full house.  A few blocks away, Scope NYC was my final art destination of the week.  I wasn’t sure if it would be worth the extra mileage on my feet but it turned out to be a fun show filled with creative artworks.  I enjoyed Federico Uribe’s playful sculptures that I’m calling “Roses with Hoses”, though I don’t know their real title.

Federico Uribe sculpture, petals from hoses, flowers from knobs

I loved Charles Pfahl’s “Revolution” at 101/exhibit, a large painting of metal parts that completely “pops” through its contrasting orange and blue colors.

For video, the artist known as “Marck” at Lichtfeld gallery displayed a few funky “video sculpture” pieces, including one showing a woman squirming around on video with a few spiked spheres rolling on top of the video screen, presumably attached and being driven by magnets underneath.  In another piece, a woman squirming her way through a series of pegs in a video is lined up nearly perfectly with actual pegs on the sculpture to make for an interesting construction.

Two amazing sculptures by Shi Jindian at Contemporary by Angela Li drew crowds.  In one, a full size motorcycle is crafted out of thousands of strands of wire to make a very substantial looking, free-standing object.  In the other, thousands of wispy strands of wire hang from supports above and form a cloudy, ghostly box in which a more densely wired bicycle floats within.  It’s hard to fathom how such a thing comes into being but it is fun to look at!

And now, back to getting ready for April’s show in Lambertville!

It’s art fair week in New York and I managed to hit four of them, plus some galleries and museums, over the past two days.

First up was The Armory Show at piers 92 and 94, which is divided up into “Modern” and “Contemporary” wings, though there’s not always a clear distinction as several artists I’ve seen in past Contemporary wings had migrated to the Modern side (e.g., Jason Martin, whose thick-wavy black monochromes have moved upstairs).  I moved through the Contemporary wing at a pretty brisk pace, deciding this year to look wide, see what catches my eye, and only then move in closer.  (I must have missed some good things, though, as I don’t remember seeing many of the pieces mentioned in Roberta Smith’s review or the Ten Best list from ArtInfo.)

This year I’m not going to detail too many of the pieces throughout the show that caught my eye, in part because my notes are too sketchy and I didn’t take many photographs (too many people *were* taking photographs and I didn’t want to be one of them), but also because it seems that very few galleries are providing images on their web sites about what they’re exhibiting.  It seems to me that in a world of social networking and blogging, it would be useful for galleries to have sharing-ready images of their artwork available at least for hot-linking.

One thing I noticed at all of the art fairs was that pure abstraction was a distinct minority.  Even pieces that were largely expressionistic, brushy, disfigured, or conceptual were in essence representational.  And there was a distinct whiff of Bacon, and I’m not referring to the surely pork-product smell wafting from the dining area at the Scope fair.  Rather, Francis Bacon seemed to be everywhere: a swirly, slashy, center-focused pseudo-portrait aesthetic in at least a dozen galleries.  Unfortunately, once you’ve seen real Bacon paintings in person (as opposed to reproductions), with their surprisingly beautiful paint application, these newer works don’t really hold up so well.

A few galleries exhibited some nice colorful abstractions, such as a classic Julian Stanczak at Danese, some buzzing stripes and colorful shapes at Jack Shainman (by Tim Bavington and Odili Donald Odita), a fantastic small Al Held piece tucked in the corner at Betty Cunningham, and a nice collection of bona fide op art at D. Wigmore, similar to work in their excellent “Structured Color”  show presently up at their Fifth Ave space (which I saw a couple of weeks ago but didn’t have a chance to blog about).

I loved a photograph entitled “Concert” by Julie Blackmon at Catherine Edelman gallery, depicting a young girl playing the violin in a large empty room at home with two (presumably) siblings in various states of paying attention.

A nifty sculptural piece by Aristarkh Chernyshev at XL Gallery uses a ribbon-like ticker of LED lights (à la Holzer) winding in an out of a wastebasket, displaying headline news, and entitled “Urgent!”.  To me, it mocked the perpetual “breaking news” graphic that’s ever-present on today’s pseudo-news channels.

Over at the Modern section of The Armory Show, Galleria d’arte Maggiore exhibited two Giorgios in their space: de Chirico and Moriandi.  Though a strange pairing aesthetically, it worked and I enjoyed browsing the large number of quality paintings by two famous Giorgios.  Nearby, a small jewel of a painting at Allan Stone’s gallery was a surprising Willem de Kooning that you could easily have mistaken for a Miro.

What made this visit to the Armory Show even more appealing was remembering that MoMA membership grants you access to both the Armory Show and Volta, saving you $40 worth of entrance fees.  It’s a fantastic benefit for becoming a member at MoMA, though not one that seems to be widely advertised!

After the Armory Show, I headed up towards the ADAA’s “The Art Show” which is actually at the 67th Street Armory.  But first I took a quick stop through the Fuller Building, which now has an increasing and surprising number of high end hair salons.  I did find a couple of shows that made the detour worthwhile, in particular the maximum chroma show of recent abstractions by Emily Mason at David Findlay Jr Fine Art.  My eyeballs were happy to follow the subtle and not-so-subtle color transitions in these warm-and-cool contrasting paintings.

 

Emily Mason lights up the floor at David Findlay Jr in The Fuller Building

Upon entering the ADAA show (sadly, no museum membership discounts apply, though since this show raises funds for the Henry Street Settlement, I suppose that makes sense), there’s the sudden seriousness of the place followed by the anticipation of seeing so much familiar, quality work for sale (albeit mostly way out of my price range).  The highlight for me was at Debra Force Fine Art, where she’s showing a handful of wonderful Oscar Bluemners in various sizes and media, including a $1.35M (yes, million) oil paintings and a $15K colored pencil drawing.  I wish more of the dealers would put prices on the labels, but instead many (most) make you ask if you want to know…

That was all the art I could fit in on Thursday.  In my next blog post, I’ll cover Friday’s trip to the Met, Volta, and Scope.

 

Alan J Klawans and Andrew Werth

Art Exhibit: April 8 – May 1, 2011

Opening Reception: Saturday, April 9, 2011, 2-6pm

Center of Narrative Gravity #6, acrylic on panel, 20x20

Lambertville, NJ, February 25, 2011 – Abstraction takes a turn in April at Artists’ Gallery in a show featuring the work of Alan J. Klawans and Andrew Werth from Friday, April 8, through Sunday, May 1, 2011. A reception with the artists will be held at the gallery (18 Bridge Street, Lambertville, NJ) from 2 p.m. – 6 p.m. on April’s “Second Saturday,” April 9, 2011.

Andrew Werth’s paintings in this show comprise a body of work he calls “Centers of Narrative Gravity” where swirls of color interact with thousands of individually hand-painted marks to create interactive paintings whose appearance changes depending upon where you stand.

“I’m using a combination of color theory and metallic and reflective acrylic paints so that you’ll see something different up close than you will from far away or from an angle. The paintings read differently even as the light changes over the course of a day,” Werth says. He explains the show’s title, “Just like in physics, where a center of gravity is a useful abstraction even though it doesn’t exist in reality, the Center of Narrative Gravity is a useful metaphor for The Self – we are the centers of the stories we tell about ourselves.”

Alan J. Klawans’ work is the result of his observations on contemporary life. Decorative elements of buildings, ships, commuter trains and construction sites, as well as imagery from science and current events, make up the visual toolbox from which he draws. “The visual aspects of my environment, especially in an urban area, are constant sources of inspiration for me,” says Klawans. “The use of wood, metal salvage, and waste paper – in the form of digital shapes and textures – are my alternatives to the traditional artist’s materials of paint and canvas.”

Klawans’ is an award-winning artist who brings his long experience as a design professional and instructor to his artwork in the form of graphic watercolor paintings, ink drawings, and now in limited edition, original digital designs. His work is included in the collections of many prominent institutions including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the American Institute of Graphic Arts, the Pennsylvania Historical Society, and the Chemical Heritage Foundation. Klawans lives in Willow Grove, PA.

Andrew Werth received degrees in Computer Engineering and Information Networking from Carnegie Mellon University and has studied art at various schools in New York City including The Arts Students League, The School of Visual Arts, and The New School. His paintings have been exhibited at many tri-state venues from Philadelphia through Hudson, NY. Werth lives in West Windsor, NJ.

About the Gallery: Artists’ Gallery is located at 18 Bridge Street in the heart of historic Lambertville, NJ. The gallery is open every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. and by appointment. For more information about the gallery, visit www.lambertvillearts.com.  For more information about this exhibition, contact Andrew Werth.

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This month at Artists’ Gallery I have two paintings up in the group show, Love That Art, which runs from Friday, February 11, through Sunday, March 6, 2011.  There will be an opening reception on Saturday, February 12, from 4-7pm where you can meet the artists, check out all the art, and partake in some delectable treats as well.

One of my paintings up this month is Intentionality, whose central figure seems appropriate for this month.  The term intentionality is one used by philosophers to describe the way that minds can have thoughts which are about something and intentionality is often called “aboutness”.  When philosophers of mind and linguists think about how the thought of a rose might refer to a specific rose in the real world (or to some other abstract rose), they’re thinking about intentionality.

acrylic on canvas, 36x36

Also up this month is a painting from last year entitled, “Time’s Texture”, about the seemingly variable nature of time and the interesting reality that what we experience in our head as “now” actually occurred in the world a few milliseconds earlier.

acrylic on panel, 36x24

My next featured show at Artists’ Gallery in Lambertville is coming up soon and I’m hard at work finishing a whole new body of work for the exhibition.  The show runs from Friday, April 8, through Sunday, May 1, 2011.  Alan Klawans is my exhibition partner this year and we’ll be holding an opening reception on Saturday, April 9, from 2pm – 6pm at Artists’ Gallery, 18 Bridge Street, Lambertville, NJ 08550.  Mark your calendars today to reserve the date if you’d like to attend!

Many more details to come, but for now, here’s an image of a recent painting that will be included in the show:

acrylic on panel, 24 x 24

As with several of my recent paintings in this series, getting a single photograph to capture the painting is challenging.  I’m using various metallic paints that reflect light differently depending upon your angle of view, and so this piece will look quite different if you move a few feet to the side or catch the work in a different light.

I’m not sure exactly which neurons in my brain were firing when I decided to get off of the F train yesterday at 23rd Street.  I might have learned the answer, though, had I been able to continue to my target destination, the “Brain: The Inside Story” exhibition at the Museum of Natural History.  However, after waiting for about fifteen minutes while the train was stalled and then learning that “there was an unauthorized person on the tracks” and that the police were investigating while the MTA was shutting down power on the tracks, I decided yesterday would not be the day to see the brain matter.

Instead, I headed over to Chelsea to catch a few shows during regular hours and have some dinner before attending a few openings.  (For dinner, I’ve now had two excellent meals at Ovest on 27th St, whose warm pizza oven helped to thaw me out and whose ragu tasted like my Thanksgiving brisket on top of pillowy gnocchi…)

Starting on 27th Street, I visited Sundaram Tagore Gallery for the works of Ricardo Mazal.  Three distinct styles of paintings, making up a trilogy exploring Tibetan burial rituals, are shown.  One set of paintings are drawn from “prayer flags” that the artist finds on a mountain; these have prominent white backgrounds and strokes flowing around the canvas with triangular shapes representing the flags.  Another set is grid-based with blocks of color abstracted from the rectangular boxes of pigments the artist found in Tibetan markets.  The final set are large, mostly black-and-white abstractions of Mount Kailash.  At first I didn’t see how these were linked to the author’s digital photography source material, but then the gallery consultant showed me photos and the similarity is remarkable, especially given the means the artist used to make the paintings: a Gerhard Richter-esque drawing of a blade across the canvas with varying amounts of pressure to create that distinct “pulled” look.

The first of four opening receptions I made it to was the Keith Tyson “52 Variables” show at Pace.  The show consists of 52 mixed media works on aluminum panels with nifty white frames, all lined up on newly painted green walls.  Each is based on the back of an actual playing card obtained by the artist and the intent is to hint at ideas like randomness (how did these images get chosen?) and how imagery like the backs of playing cards can capture the zeitgeist of the time (e.g., a Twitter playing card).  Some objects looked to be paintings, others screen-prints, and others perhaps were inkjets embellished with some paint.

Next, with some friends I ran into on 25th St, I headed over to Walter Wickiser Gallery where fellow central New Jersey artist Thomas Kelly has a painting in an eclectic group show.  Kelly’s painting, “A Night to Remember”, in his familiar style, is as always fun with vibrant colors and a scene that calls out for narrative (and in this case fairly literal) interpretation.

A Night To Remember, Thomas Kelly, acrylic on canvas, 30x24

Over at Kim Foster Gallery there’s a group show, “Anonymous”, featuring several artists I’ve mentioned on this blog before, including Christian Faur and Sherry Karver.  Faur makes very cool looking pixelated portraits by stacking thousands of custom-made crayons into grids.  Karver creates hybrid painting/photograph/digital works with super-smooth finishes; the scenes feature “anonymous” people going about their days in crowded surroundings.  Several of the people in each image are superimposed with text, in this case third person descriptions that provide some (fictional) identity by revealing bits of information (e.g., one woman is identified, among many other things, as an Oklahoman coming from a long line of ping-pong players (Karver’s text is better than my memory of it!)).

Finally, I headed upstairs a couple of flights (more technological transportation glitches as the elevator wasn’t working!) for the amazing show of Patrick Hughes at Flowers Gallery.  I mentioned Hughes in my last blog post as I saw one of his “reverspectives” at a gallery in Los Angeles.  At Flowers, I got a chance to see about a dozen of them all at once and they will completely blow you away, a tour de force of trompe l’oeil.  Each work is painted onto a three dimensional support that protrudes out from the wall in pyramidal and similar shapes.  The images painted onto the supports are painted just so… just so that they fool the eye into thinking that what is nearest you physically is actually furthest away in the image.  What this does is cause your brain to generate a model in your head such that as you move left or right, the perspective on the painting changes perfectly and it appears that the painting is moving along with you in stunning ways.  (Lots of information about how this works is provided at the Hughes website.) In this show, many of the paitnings are full of loving references to the art world, with one depicting Matisse cutouts; another focused on Pop Art; another full of mini Rothkos and Mondrians.  I had a chance to talk with Hughes for just a moment and it was nice to get to meet him, albeit briefly, as I’ve enjoyed his paintings ever since I stopped short when I saw my first one at an art fair five or six years ago.

(One last transit trouble on the way home as the NJ Turnpike extension was under construction and I got stuck in standing waves of taillights stemming from multiple lane merges and rubber necking.  If only the neurons in my brain had fired differently and I had taken a different route, as I was considering, back to the Turnpike proper…)

Last week I was in Los Angeles to visit my brother and while there I took in a sizable sample of the entire L.A. art scene.

Monday
On the afternoon of my arrival I visited the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  The last time I was in town, LACMA was about to unwrap their new Eli Broad Contemporary Art Museum but I couldn’t get in because the opening had been sold out for months.  This time, I was able to explore the new building and its holdings without any crowds whatsoever.

LA County Museum of Art, from Wilshire Blvd.

You can take an outdoors escalator up the side of the building to enter on the third floor, where you get a nice view of Hollywood and surrounding neighborhoods.  Click on the image below for a surprisingly decent full size shot taken from my cell phone (I would have used my travel camera, except that United Airlines managed to misdirect my force-checked carry-on bag via Denver even though I flew through Chicago, leaving me change-of-clothes-less and proper-camera-less for 24 hours).

Looking northward from the top of the LACMA escalator

On the third floor of the new building you find an exhibition of Jeff Koons, Andy Warhol, and John Baldessari that includes some floating basketballs, a large cast “balloon” sculpture, a huge camoflage painting, and some Kellogg’s boxes.  The other half of the floor contains an exhibition called “Color and Form” that focuses on German artist Imi Knoebel and a few others including some John McCracken (with a few colored planks) and, most memorably, Peter Halley with a nice group of pleasing super-saturated paintings.

One floor down is a show that relates well to Color and Form, a retrospective of Blinky Palermo.   I quickly walked through a William Eggleston exhibition which had a few photos worthy of close inspection but which mostly didn’t do much for me.  Occupying the ground floor are some fantastic Richard Serra cor-ten steel sculptures, swirling in and out and around and around tilting this way and that.  With nobody else in the gallery, I could meander around them on my own terms.

I didn’t spend much time in the Resnick Pavilion which contained a weighty show of “Colossal Masterworks of Ancient Mexico”, some massive sculptures from the Olmec civilization.  Instead, I proceeded to the Ahmanson Building to review their excellent collection of American art.  One painting that catches your eye is Granville Redmond’s beautiful semi-Impressionist “California Poppy Field”.

Granville Redmond "California Poppy Field"

A side gallery that I almost missed contained two huge beach paintings, one by Alex Katz and the other by Eric Fischl.   I especially loved the Fischl both for its painterly style as well as its subject matter:  the artist’s wife and his friends, including Martin Short and Steve Martin.  (I’m currently reading Martin’s new novel, An Object of Beauty, which takes place in the New York art world.)

St Bart's Ralph's 70th by Eric Fischl

I finished up at LACMA with a slow, relaxing tour through their excellent modern art collection (some great Albers, a one-from-each-big-name room of AbEx painters, and more).  It’s an excellent museum with so much to see and it was a great way to start the week.

Tuesday
On Tuesday I started off in Beverly Hills, always a fun place to walk around, and went to Gagosian’s huge, multi-room gallery that featured a fantastic exhibition of work from Joan Mitchell’s last ten years.  Each of the fourteen or so large brushy paintings commands your attention and is worthy of contemplation from up close and further away.  The gallery was completely empty (save for the watchful but friendly security guards); in fact, over the course of my entire stay I don’t think there was a single gallery visit where I was joined by another patron.  Even on a snowy Tuesday in Chelsea you’ll find at least a few other gallery goers making the rounds, but I guess not so much on a gorgeous sunny day in Los Angeles.

Some Culver City galleries on La Cienega

I then headed south to visit the Culver City Art District where there are some 25+ art galleries lined up along La Cienega and Washington Boulevards just south of the 10 freeway.  The galleries were completely deserted in terms of customers.  Most were pleasant art spaces with reasonable lighting and a lot of room.  George Billis Gallery, a regular stop of mine in Chelsea, has a Los Angeles venue with a different aesthetic and a SoCal focus.  Few of the exhibitions in Culver City, however, stuck in my mind.  One that did was Laurie Hogin’s “Stories of Love and Hunger from the Candy Planet”  at Koplin Del Rio.  The show consisted of skillfully painted fantastical scenes full of dragons, wild bunnies, and various other creatures in bright and textured colors.  The artist writes that these paintings are commentary on our “current cultural context” where every need is fulfilled by some aspect of the free market.  Although not really my thing in terms of style, these were indeed very interesting to look at.

On Tuesday night I experienced a completely different kind of art, the Roger Waters concert at the Staples Center where he recreated The Wall from 30 years ago.  From amazing sixth row seats (thanks, Ted!) I was blown away by the performance, the music, the singing, the messages, and the incredible production.  My brother and I marveled at the precision with which the projectors were able to light up bricks in the wall as soon as they were installed in place.  In what you would think would be an emotionally draining performance, Waters finished off the night by saying that he was no longer the disaffected-with-rock’n’roll youth of his past but was now grateful and enjoying the present.  Waters indicated that non-flash photography was OK and so if you search on YouTube you can find many snippets from his amazing concerts (but the snippets won’t do justice to the real thing!).

Roger Waters (below) with guitarist (above) at Staples Center

Wednesday
Wednesday I headed down to Santa Monica to start off the day with some breakfast and a stroll around the 3rd Street Promenade.  The highlight there for me were the two art bookstores.  Arcana is great if you know exactly what book you want, but it’s a little harder to shop there as most of the volumes are encased in plastic sleeves, and don’t expect any discounts.  But for sheer art book browsing enjoyment, check out Hennessey + Ingalls Art & Architecture Bookstore.  You can spend an hour or two looking through all manner of art-related books, from history to critique to catalogs to technique books.

I then turned to the Bergamot Station Art Center, a collection of art galleries about two miles off the beach across the street from a hazardous waste treatment plant.  My expectations were low but in fact this is a very worthy art destination if you’re in town.  The quality of the work was high, the galleries were interesting and diverse, the gallerists were friendly, and there seemed to be some “buzz” that was lacking elsewhere.  The setup of the station makes it very easy to go from gallery to gallery.  I’ll highlight just a few of the shows here.

Bergamot Station (it's nicer than it looks here!)

One exhibition that I loved displayed the work of Andy Moses at William Turner Gallery.  Moses uses pearlescent acrylic paint on mostly concave canvases (curving towards you at the left and right edges) to create interactive paintings that change in appearance depending on your viewing location.  They tend to read as “landscape” even though there is no explicit representation in the image.  A few of the pieces are convex, bulging outward in the middle of the canvas.

Speaking of work that changes as you move around it, James Gray gallery had, in addition to some nice abstract paintings by Sheila Newmark, one of the most dramatically interactive Patrick Hughes paintings that I’ve seen.  Hughes is known for his “reverspective” pieces that are painted in three dimensions in such a way that perspective cues are reversed so that as you move your head, the piece appears to move along with you in a perceptually fascinating way.  (I’ve tried painting two of these myself using my own abstract style and while I’ve gotten the effect to work, it’s not as dramatic as in Hughes’ paintings.)

Martin Mull, the actor and comedian as well as fine artist, has a show of intriguing paintings at Samuel Freeman.   These low-chroma oil paintings, some on paper some on linen, are often semi-surreal composites that look like they’re taken from snapshot photos from some time in the past.

Even more photorealistic is the work of Yigal Ozeri at Mark Moore Gallery.  I’ve seen Ozeri’s work numerous times at Mike Weiss in Chelsea and it was a pleasure to stumble upon it in Los Angeles.  The show features portraits of “Lizzie [Jagger] in the Snow”, continuing his exploration of the female model in nature.  Ozeri often paints oil on paper, a not-so-common combination but one which helps make his paintings feel a little closer to their photographic source material.  They’re exquisitely painted (though we don’t know if they’re entirely by the artist’s hand) and in this series some of the most visually interesting paint handling occurs in the depiction of the model blowing smoke at the viewer.  (They’re also completely sold out, so somebody else must be looking at art in LA!)

Thursday
On my last full day in Los Angeles, I first headed back over near LACMA to visit some of the West Hollywood galleries.  In clicking through one of the LA gallery guides, I saw that there was a James Sienna show at Daniel Weinberg right on Wilshire Blvd.  I love Sienna’s work and the Weinberg show is full of gorgeous art objects: intricate patterns painted in enamel onto aluminum supports hung flat against the wall.  One of the paintings, the tiny (less than 8×10 inches) “Infinite Loops” reminds me of a kind of maze drawing I made as a kid and also makes for an interesting comparison with the Brice Marden show at Matthew Marks and one of the John Zinsser paintings at James Graham & Sons.  All three have paintings comprised of overlapping, interweaving ribbons of color that “play” with the edge of the support.  Marden’s work is huge and purposely shows signs of painting, scraping, blending, hiding, and revealing.  Zinsser’s not-quite-as-large “Circle of Thoughts” makes it appear that its thick yellow loops of paint were applied in one long continuous stroke.  Sienna’s very small work makes you think the artist used a magnifying glass, thin brushes, and endless patience to render so smoothly and flawlessly.  (Resting against the wall on the floor at the gallery were paintings by Andrew Masullo, whose Nozkowski-like paintings I had recently seen at Feature Gallery in the Lower East Side).

Sienna's Infinite Loops

Marden's Third Letter

Zinsser's Circle of Thoughts

Although the ACE gallery itself can be physically imposing, the staff that work there couldn’t be friendlier or more helpful, and the gallery’s two exhibitions were worth exploring.  In the very last room, Heather Carson has “sculpted” out of fluorescent light bulbs and supporting fixtures art objects that are inspired by the squares of Josef Albers.  By using white bulbs of slightly different color temperatures, you read both the bulbs and the shadows and lights produced on the wall behind them as being different colors.  While you don’t get the same depth effect of a top Albers painting since these are more about the “architectural underpinnings” of Albers’ homages, I thought these were very creative sculptures.  In the rest of the huge multi-room gallery, John Millei’s “Maritime” show features very large mostly abstract paintings inspired by aqueous themes.  Several of them are inspired by surfing and are about capturing the swirling water, with the bottom half of the paintings full of thickly applied curving stripes of paint and the top portion looking more like a dark Rothko.  The remainder of the paintings are huge, mostly monochromatic abstractions of the hardware that make up ships and their surroundings.  By painting the foregrounds very dark and the backgrounds in silvers and grays, one gets a sense of atmospheric perspective even in a work that reads as abstract.

Finally, I headed downtown to check out Los Angeles’ “Gallery Row”.  I had been expecting a couple dozen galleries based upon the Gallery Row website, but there are only a handful and they’re scattered about in much less of a “row” than Culver City.  The map I found at one of the spaces indicated only about six galleries “proper”, one or two of which weren’t open or weren’t really art galleries.  So, I was a bit disappointed with the scene.  However, I did see the work of Mira Schorr at CB1, which I was interested in because Schorr had recently been a guest speaker at a New School lecture that I attended.  Also, Bert Green Fine Art had two separate exhibitions of wall-based sculptural objects that were creative and well-made: the biomorphic, tentacled creatures of Laurie Hassold and the nautical gray mixed media collisions of Jocelyn Marsh.

The most exciting part of my downtown trip, however, was finding “The Last Bookstore” in Los Angeles on Main Street, where I found a couple of interesting looking books at bargain prices (one on design and another on creativity).  As I was eating lunch outside at a nearby cafe, I witnessed the filming of a scene, though for what I don’t know.  It’s one of those interactions with the movie industry that makes you realize what a pain it must be to make a movie: I watched them close off traffic, “roll ’em”, “action”, drive a 1950’s car about 30 feet with an actress leaning her arms up against a glass window (that had to be windexed in between each take), until “cut”.  They did this at least five times while I was eating lunch.

 

Filming a scene for something (?) on 4th & Main

Thus ended my brief but art-full visit to Los Angeles…  That’s a wrap!

After so many recent cold and wet Thursdays, it was a relief to finally have a gorgeous day in Manhattan for viewing art all throughout the city.  They day got off to a motivating start when my car radio played perhaps one of the most famous songs that nobody knows the title to: “Sirius”, the instrumental introduction to Alan Parsons Project’s “Eye in the Sky”, most known perhaps for its use introducing athletes at sporting events.  I made it to Chelsea by 10:30 ready to go.

I started off further north than usual at 29th Street, where I hadn’t realized there were so many galleries.  A few doors were still closed, but of the galleries that were open, most interesting was the (apparently new) Cristin Tierney Gallery exhibiting the work of Peter Campus.  The show features a series of “video” landscapes (via a metal-clad monitors connected to floor-mounted audio systems), each showing a blocky, though not exactly pixelated, scene (mostly seascapes), as if painted with a thick digital brush, accompanied by appropriate audio background sounds.

On 25th Street, I got another look at the Thomas Nozkowski show at Pace‘s newest space (Nozkowski, by the way, was born in Teaneck, where I lived for most of the 80’s).  I attended the opening a few weeks ago and it was *packed*, which made for a fun event but made art appreciation difficult.  Yesterday the lights were off in the gallery and the back room was closed off, but the natural light and the less crowded space made it easier to look at the art on display.  The paintings are appealing and most would qualify as “playful” and open-ended; while abstract, the images contain discrete shapes and objects that naturally lend themselves to narrative interpretation.  (I noticed that at least two or three other galleries in Chelsea are hanging shows that seem to be directly influenced by Nozkowski.)

One show I’ve not heard anything about but thought was a tour de force of trompe l’oeil painting and was a lot of fun to look at was Claudio Bravo’s exhibition at Marlborough (I went to the opening a few weeks ago and never made it up to the second floor, so I’ve only seen the ground floor part of the show).  Mostly large scale paintings of flat packages wrapped in colored, crinkled paper, these paintings seem to quote the likes of Mark Rothko and Ellsworth Kelly in in a beautifully painted, hyper-realistic style.

I enjoyed “The Last Paintings” show of Hans Hartung at Cheim & Read.  Though the surfaces are mostly flat, the paintings exhibit a lot of visual texture through a variety of means including pours, drips, and splatters.  The works resolve differently depending upon how close you get, so that when you’re close you can focus on the controlled splatters and apparent coarse texture, while from far away you focus on poured lines and what becomes blurry background imagery.

On 24th Street, Gagosian is exhibiting a massive Anselm Keifer show populated by the humongous, thick and crusty, paintings that I enjoy looking at as well as a series of “vitrines”, gigantic glass enclosures filled with assemblages of various materials primarily in leaden, ashy gray.  I enjoy the paintings more for their formal qualities than for the symbolism (Keifer draws upon astronomy, the Kabbalah, history, and more in attaching meaning to his constructions) and you can’t help but wonder how they were made, moved, and hung, and how they will last wherever they end up after the show.

Matthew Marks Gallery has a fine show of those very likable Brice Marden loop abstractions.  Here, the paintings are less chromatic than some others I’ve seen with the colors mostly in subdued yellows, blues, greens, and grays.  In each, there’s a sort of “margin” at the left and right edges of the canvas which the press release says is related to an 11th century practice of Chinese calligraphy.  From a distance, the paintings are distinctly dimensional and read almost like you’re looking at a wire sculpture.

There’s an impressive show of works by Robert Rauschenberg at Gagosian’s 21st Street gallery, but unfortunately I can’t find any inspiration at all from Rauschenberg’s work.  There’s a diversity of surface texture and styles, but from the subject matter to the compositions to the use of color, nothing here makes me want to go home and paint.

After lunch and a lecture at The New School, I moved on up to the east side where there’s a lot going on.  I have a sentimental spot for John Currin as my wife and I had one of our first dates at the Whitney’s Currin retrospective in 2004 (he’s also a Carnegie Mellon alum, graduating 7 years before I did).  Back then I admired his composition and abstract use of color, if not entirely the subject matter or his Mannerist distortions of the human figure.  The show at Gagosian’s 980 Madison location (that’s 3 Gagosians in one day) contains a few paintings that I thought were beautiful, but others were awkward and had me moving along quickly (the press release admits that some of his depictions “enchant and repel, often in equal measure”).  I wonder if he’s thinking of Ingres, who, for all his virtuosic rendering skills, was disturbingly brutal to the shoulders and arms of many of his subjects.

One of my favorite artists has always been Edward Hopper and the Whitney has another show focused on the works of Hopper and his contemporaries.  It’s always great to see Hoppers (there was a fantastic retrospective in London a few years back at Tate Modern) and especially to see the Whitney ones in a different context.  Most of the Hopper paintings, though, are very familiar ones that are often on display as part of the regular fifth floor collection (as are some of the other paintings like George Bellow’s boxers and a Guy Pene Du Bois).  A couple of  precisionist Scheeler and Demuth paintings look great.  The catalog shows a couple of the Whitney’s best Oscar Bluemner paintings, but alas, either I missed them or they were not in the exhibition.  (As a side note, I’ve suspected for some time that Hopper’s famous Nighthawks was at least partly influenced by Bluemner’s Roosevelt Laundry from 1934.  I’ve never seen this documented, though, so it’s just a random hunch on my part…  Neither of these paintings are in the Whitney show.)

Hopper's 1942 Nighthawks and Bluemner's 1934 Roosevelt Laundry

After grabbing a quick dinner, I headed over to the opening of John Zinsser‘s latest show at James Graham & Sons.  Zinsser is back to exploring the workings of paint and color, this time with mostly very thick strokes of paint on smooth supports.  My favorite piece is a large one with a title along the lines of “Circles of Thought” that features a Brice Marden-like assortment of thickly painted yellow loops on a silvery gray background.  On the side of the canvas you see raw linen and just a trace of a white gesso that is covered by the gray background.  The foreground’s narrow yellow overlapping strokes really activate your eyes and there’s a fairly dramatic simultaneous contrast effect going on that pushes the gray background towards yellow’s complementary violet.  It had me wondering where could I fit a 6 1/2 by 7 foot painting???

Finally, I headed back down to Chelsea (this was a *long* day) and bought a ticket to the premier of a documentary film by gallery owner Sundaram Tagore entitled, “The Poetics of Color“, about artist Natvar Bhavsar.  The film was included in the Mahindra Indo-American Arts Council Film Festival taking place at the SVA Theater.  When I bought my ticket, the theater was quiet and empty; when I returned an hour later (suitably coffeed up), still an hour before the movie was to start, the lobby of the theater was packed shoulder-to-shoulder, leaving little room for samosa-passing waiters (and barely enough room to breathe!).  The crowd consisted of many friends and supporters of both Bhavsar as well as Tagore, both who were at the event.  Bhavsar paints large, beautifully colored abstract paintings by carefully, meticulously dropping many dozens of layers of pure pigment (e.g., no binder, just the powder) through funnel-like sieves onto horizontal canvases, somehow (not precisely explained by the movie) affixing the pigment via an acrylic medium.  The film includes interviews with several art historians and critics (including Irving Sandler, present in the audience) who provide some historical context and discuss whether Bhavsar, an immigrant from India in 1962, belongs in the post-abstract expressionist color field painting classification or not.  Either way, the creative paintings themselves stand on their own and make you want to paint, which regular readers of my blog may remember is my highest compliment for an artist.

My wife and I headed down to Washington, DC, for a long weekend to participate in Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity.  I’m a big Jon Stewart fan and wanted to be a body in the crowd to show support for sane discussions and “non-extremism” in politics.  We didn’t get to the mall early enough to have an up close seat:  arriving at 10:30am (an hour and a half before start time) we were so far away that most of our view of the show came from the video monitors.  This, however, I took as a good sign as it meant that Stephen Colbert’s early “fear” that nobody would show up for his rally, like most of his other fears, was misplaced.

The day before the rally, getting close was easy

This was our view of the stage

As is the case for every event I’ve ever participated in that was covered by the press, when I read about the event later on it seems that the media gets so many things wrong.  For just one example, I saw reports that “the crowd was mostly young”, which simply isn’t true or is at best misleading.  Perhaps up at the very front of the rally (by the press corps), where you had to arrive by 8am to get a spot, the crowd might have been mostly young people.  But where I was standing (and we did have to stand the entire time), the crowd was thoroughly mixed with plenty of gray hair and ages that ranged from perhaps 6 months to at least 75 years.  At my hotel in Bethesda, the early morning breakfast crowd was entirely full of rally-goers with a similar diversity of ages.


Panorama looking around from our spot, © Andrew Werth 2010

The weather was fantastic, not too hot and not too cold, as long as you were reasonably bundled up.  The show was excellent.  Some of the musical selections were a bit slow or out-of-genre for my taste, but one of the highlights was the dueling locomotives of Cat Stevens’ (now Yusef Islam) soft “Peace Train” against Ozzy Ozbourne’s demonic “Crazy Train”, brought together in synthesis by The O’Jays’ “Love Train”.  Stewart and Colbert really nailed their part of the show.  Everyone in the crowd seemed to be having a good time, even as our limbs wearied after five plus hours of standing.  Stewart’s final comments at the end were, to me, nearly pitch perfect: he understands who he is and what the expectations are and how his rally might be covered, but he wants to make important points and, dammit, if the “serious” press isn’t going to get it right then somebody has to explain what’s going on.


Panorama looking forward from our spot, © Andrew Werth 2010

The crowd was huge.  From my vantage point, it was literally as far as the eye can see.  The one problem with having such a huge crowd is that, well, it has to go somewhere once the event is over.  It was a long, slow slog through the crowds as the mall emptied out onto the surrounding streets in DC.  The Metro line was over-stressed and jam-packed as we waited, packed first like sardines in the train station and then in the subway itself as it took us another hour and a half to get back to our hotel.  But at least it was a very “reasonable” crowd — by definition, I suppose — and so it wasn’t really a problem at all.

Leaving the rally, walking up 7th St towards the Metro

There were tons of great signs along with quite a few goofy ones.  Here are a few that I liked and managed to get photos of.

Cogito ergo hic sum?

Tea... The New Kool-Aid?

And perhaps my favorite…

Hyperbole is the Worst Thing ever

Thanks, Jon and Stephen, for drawing attention to the need for reasonable discussion and for providing a way for moderates to stand up and be counted.

Last Thursday I headed up to the Midtown gallery district running along 57th Street around Madison and Fifth Avenues. First up on my list of shows to see was The Pace Gallery‘s 50th anniversary show at their 32 East 57th Street space. Like the shows in Chelsea, it’s a blockbuster show and a must-see. This particular exhibition focuses on “Thematic and Historical Exhibitions”, pulling together samples of such shows from the gallery’s past. I proceeded clockwise through the space and so started off looking at a comparison of De Kooning and Dubuffet, featuring one of those late De Koonings that I love for their sense of space, loose curves, peachy colors, and airy brushstrokes. One wall shows a fascinating lineup of figures: a Magritte surrealist painting with a sculptural shape playing the figure; a Dubuffet flattened, splayed woman (these works of his always give me the creeps); De Kooning’s “Woman II” (from MoMA); and a Picasso “Torero (Le Matador)”. A Matisse bronze sculpture foreshadows a fantastic collection of about half a dozen Giacometti standing and walking figures as well as a beautiful drawing. In a room focusing on color, a blue-green Ad Reinhardt leads off a lineup that includes a Josef Albers (much more exciting than the one downtown), a peaceful Mondrian, and a Rothko from 1948, just before he settled into his trademark style. The final room contains one cubist painting each by Picasso and Braque as well as a fantastic Calder sculpture; I’d consider it a “mobile” even though it stands on the ground as it contains a variety of moving parts that are beautifully balanced and proportioned. Upstairs at Pace Prints is a very nice show of Louise Nevelson works, including etchings, collage-like prints, and some “cast paper” reliefs, which look like small versions of her all-black scupltures framed and hung on the wall.

Across the street, The Fuller Building seems to be feeling the hurt from the recession; at least three or four galleries there have closed up shop or moved elsewhere. Fortunately, today’s trip there wasn’t a bust and I enjoyed the exhibition at David Findlay Jr Fine Art. The gallery often features artists who make bold use of color and the present exhibition, whose installation was in progress when I visited, displays the colorful abstract expressionist paintings of Jon Schueler. Schueler, a writer-turned-artist, was influenced by Clyfford Still and studied with Richard Diebenkorn on the west coast before moving to New York to join the likes of Rothko in the 1950s. His show here includes some beautiful, multilayered paintings, my favorite being Ballachulish Mist.

For a dramatic contrast (literally), visit Jason Mccoy Gallery at the other end of the hallway from Findlay. There, the exhibition Black & White (up through Oct 1) puts forth a very impressive collection of works that are mostly de-saturated (though not all entirely B and W). Included are a nice black Calder mobile, a large, spacious near-white Pousette-Dart, a white-on-black Robert Ryman, and a near-white Sugimoto corner photo.

I headed back over to Fifth Avenue to visit the galleries on the fourth floor of 745 Fifth. Most interesting was the exhibition of collages at McKee Gallery by Lucy Williams. Williams produces images by assembling carefully cut-out or carved materials that include paper, wood veneer, bubble wrap, foam sheets, Plexiglas, cork, and more. By precisely composing the cut-out shapes onto multiple layers and through the careful use of perspective drawing techniques, the artist creates perceptually exciting “two-and-a-half dimensional” objects; not dioramas but not flat collages, either. The subject matter includes indoor swimming pools, libraries, and building exteriors.

My last stop for the day was a trio of galleries at 724 Fifth Avenue. On the top floor, Tibor de Nagy exhibits recent paintings by David Kapp: expressive paintings about the dynamism of the streets of New York. The paintings use criss-crossing brushstrokes to show the criss-cross of people on the street; or they abstractly highlight the contrasts between light and shadow on a bright sunny day.

Down one floor at Babcock Gallery‘s back room is a very nice, small show called “Color Conscious” that features the work of four artists: Andy Warhol, Chuck Close, Marylyn Dintenfass, and Wolf Kahn. From Warhol comes two iconic images and the one you like more will probably depend on your age. One is a Liz Taylor portrait while the other, which resonated more with me, shows an astronaut next to a flag on the moon with wavy neon colors, reminding me of MTV from the 80s. A group of four Chuck Close prints fill the back wall, including two self portraits, one a very small aquatint and the other a much larger, 111 color silkscreen.

And last but definitely not least, I caught the very end of DC Moore Gallery‘s “Charles Burchfield: Fifty Years as a Painter“. If you liked the Whitney show you would have loved this exhibition, which included a large number of dramatic landscapes by Burchfield. I hadn’t known about this show ahead of time and so when I stepped off the elevator it was quite a surprise! Museum-quality works hang throughout the gallery, with more of the dynamic high-contrast landscape scenes similar to the ones that I liked from the Whitney show. A nice, high quality show to finish off a good afternoon in midtown.

It’s a new season in New York and there are changes all over.  Even though I feel like I’ve been visiting every month or so, quite a lot seems to be different now that Fall is here.  A brand spanking new PATH train to the city with clean seats and clear signage (though it doesn’t seem to travel any faster!).  New restaurants (Cosi near the New School is gone, replaced with a cafe/gelateria that happens to have pretty good coffee).  Even the venerable Strand Books was different: no longer do they have you check your bags upon entry (hooray!).  But of course what I’m most interested in is the new art for the new season and yesterday I finally got a chance to visit the new round of shows in Chelsea.

I don’t usually go for the installation-type shows as my preference is for paintings, but there are quite a few of the sculptural-object-installation exhibitions and some of them were compelling.  At Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, Sarah Sze puts on a jaw-dropping, smile-inducing, visually stimulating exhibition in the gallery’s four rooms.  Each piece is an amazing assemblage of string, wood, shelves, lights, fans, water, felt, stones, dirt, plants, and hundreds of other everyday objects.  The items are all carefully composed into room-sized works of art that you can walk around and through, taking in the thing as a whole (“Holy cow! Where do I start?”) and as parts (“Look at the fan tug the string across a pulley to move a piece of metal that creates a trench in a small pile of dirt and clanks a key onto a glass”).  I wasn’t sure what it meant, but it was very enjoyable to walk around each artwork, give it some time, and contemplate how the artist could have managed to put it all together.

At Ameringer-McEnery-Yohe, Jude Pfaff has a number of playful sculptures that hang off the wall in twisty, curvy, spiraling forms of wire, metal, glass, cardboard, paint, and other materials.  The exhibition surveys five decades of Pfaff’s work; on the one hand all of the sculptures feel like they come from the same artist, while on the other the variety of methods and materials gives each a different sense of heft, space, and form.

It’s been a few years since I last saw Pipilotti Rist at Luhring Augustine.  The main attraction here is in the center ring, so to speak, where “Layers Mama Layers” fills the entire middle gallery.  Hanging diagonally throughout the darkened room are numerous sheer (“diaphanous”, as the press release puts it, and that is always a word one likes to use whenever possible 🙂 ) sheets of fabric that serve as translucent video screens upon which multiple streams of videos are projected.  It’s sort of like walking through a three dimensional “Laser Floyd” experience, where the multiple parallel screens produce a repetition of forms not unlike two mirrors reflecting into themselves.  It’s quite dazzling visually, though I will admit to not remembering what any of the video was about.  The rear room of the gallery has a large chandelier which is bathed in colorful, moving light; upon more careful inspection one finds that the chandelier itself is covered with, um, dozens of pairs of underpants in a variety of sizes and styles.  I don’t know why…

Of course, most of the shows in Chelsea were of the strictly two dimensional, hang-on-wall type.  At George Billis Gallery — in their new new space (they moved again), now on 26th Street — Ephraim Rubenstein has some beautiful mixed-media black and white drawings of “Temples and Cathedrals“.  At first, they appear to be charcoal, but upon closer inspection one finds, in addition to black charcoal, ink spatters that provide a sense of life and energy to the otherwise archaic objects.  There’s quite a bit of texture up close, resulting from the variety of materials (including wax, pencil, pastel, and ink) used in these drawings; as you pull away the works pop crisply into place with satisfying coherence.  (Way back when, I once tried to get into Rubenstein’s class at The Art Student’s League but the class was too full and I unfortunately never made it in…)

At Gallery Henoch, Mercer County’s own Mel Leipzig has a fantastic show of mostly recent paintings in “Artists, Architects, and Others”.  I’ve seen some of these before at the New Jersey State Museum in Trenton, but many were completed 2010.  Using Golden Acrylic Paints in just three primary colors plus white, Leipzig paints incredibly detailed portraits of his friends and their environs, mostly their studios and offices.  I enjoy walking back and forth and left and right in front of Leipzig’s paintings.  From up close you see the brushstrokes and the work of the artist’s hand, and as you move back you can find the “sweet spot” where the strong perspective and all the details pull together.  The artist isn’t intimidated by clutter; indeed, he seems to particularly enjoy (or at least frequently challenges himself) with scenes of studios filled with books, art supplies, textured floors and ceilings, and more.  At the opening I ran into Linda Pochesci, a one-time student of Leipzig’s who is now an artist and art teacher and who currently has work (highlighted recently in the NJ section of the NY Times) at the Pierro Gallery in South Orange through October 17.

The big event of the night (aside from the sudden violent cloudburst which I avoided through a fortuitious timing of dinner) was the opening at the various Pace Galleries in Chelsea.  Celebrating “50 Years at Pace”, it is an amazing blockbuster exhibition of “great and greatist hits” from all of the names you know.  The reception was packed (most recognizable was Chuck Close, who by the way was recently on The Colbert Report to promote two recent books (Chuck Close: Life and Work).  The exhibition will be worth visiting again to spend even more time with the art and especially the historical time-line of the gallery on display in the back room on 25th Street.

Two unexpected (by me, at least) pieces quickly jump out at you, both saturation reversals of sorts:  an orange painting by the usually white-paletted Robert Ryman and a low-chroma, hard-edged late Mark Rothko.  When you turn your head you’re in for another big surprise:  a huge Clyfford Still from the Whitney, the kind of piece you never see in a gallery setting.  As you continue along, a fantastic Alfred Jensen painting brightens up the far wall in the next gallery with progressions of colors and symbols composed in a diagonal grid.  Moving to the last room of the gallery, a large diptych of 50 Marylins (25 in color and 25 in B&W) from Andy Warhol captures your eye (I’ve recently been reading I Bought Andy Warhol, so it was timely to see this piece in person as I missed the recent show at BAM).  Robert Rauschenberg’s famous “Erased De Kooning Drawing” is there (for the complete story on erasing De Kooning from the mouth of Rauschenberg himself, take a look at this video).  Another iconic image is found on the stairs leading to the annex room:  Saul Steinberg’s 1975 New Yorker cover, “View of the World from 9th Avenue.”  All of this and more (Pollock, Johns, Katz, Lichtenstein, Newman, etc!), and that’s just on 25th Street (plus, I didn’t even realize there was a second 25th Street gallery space, so I’ll have to go back again).

At Pace’s 22nd Street gallery, the crowd was a little bit thinner but the show was still full of highlights, with a focus on minimalist and post-modernist art.  I loved the James Turrell room, “Sensing Thought”, made from wood, Plexiglas, and “computerized neon” light, which will emblazon magenta on your brain.  There’s a gorgeous Donald Judd “stack” of stainless steel & colored Plexiglas and a nice Chuck Close “finger-painting” portrait.  Only a few of the examples here are less than top notch:  a mostly colorless Josef Albers and a truncated Bridget Riley (one of my favorite artists) in reds and oranges, for instance, are not as exciting as other pieces from the same artists.  Overall, it’s an exhilarating and memorable collection of art, the kind of exhibition you rarely get to see outside of the finest modern art museums and a great way to start the new season.

September is traditionally the start of the new art season and this month I’ll have two new paintings up (along with three older ones) at Artists’ Gallery in Lambertville, NJ.

The Explanatory Gap is a tough one to capture in a photograph: what you see will vary depending upon the lighting and the angle with which you view the painting.  From one angle, you’ll see a golden curvy mesh (Turing Pattern style); from another, a different scale of marks and contrasts will appear in blues, grays, and greens.

The Explanatory Gap, acrylic/panel, 24x24

Also up this month (once I get around to hanging it later today) is Center of Narrative Gravity #4.

Center of Narrative Gravity #4, acrylic/panel, 24x24

The opening reception for this month’s show, featuring artists John Treichler and Richard Harrington and “New Jersey Blues”, is Saturday, September 11, from 6-9pm.

Also, a quick reminder that tomorrow (Sunday, September 12, 2010) is the artist reception for the Absolutely Abstract show at the Philadelphia Sketch Club (235 S. Camac St, Philadelphia, PA), from 2-4pm.  The show is only up through September 14, so this is sort of a “closing reception”.  My painting, Connections, is included in this large assortment of abstract art.

I’m very pleased to announce that one of my paintings, The Reality Problem, has been accepted into a juried show at Muse Gallery in Philadelphia.  The show runs from August 6 through August 29, 2010.  The first day of the exhibition is Philadelphia’s “First Friday” when galleries in the Old City part of town stay open from 7-9pm.  There will also be an Artists’ Reception on Sunday, August 8, from 1-4pm.  Muse Gallery is located at 52 North 2nd Street, Philadelphia, PA  19106.  I hope to see you there!

The Reality Problem, acrylic/panel, 24x24

I recently returned from a 10-day trip to Hungary that included a brief stay in Budapest followed by a visit to the southern Hungarian city of Pécs (pronounced variously like “Peach”, “Paych”, or “Paysch”).  Aside from making a nice vacation to a place I’d never visited before, the purpose of the trip was to attend Bridges 2010, a conference that “brings together practicing mathematicians, scientists, artists, educators, musicians, writers, computer scientists, sculptors, dancers, weavers, and model builders in a lively atmosphere of exchange and mutual encouragement.”  I’ll keep this blog post focused on the conference, but hope to eventually add some more information about the rest of my trip.

View of Pecs from our hotel

This was my first time attending the Bridges conference and I only learned about the gathering a few months ago while randomly searching the web for something or another related to art (tessellations, I think).  One of the more interesting subtexts throughout the conference, though seldom explicitly part of the presentations, were the ideas of “What is art?” or “Is that art mathematical?”  So, a painter who was fully engaged in the art world might look at a visual representation of some complex mathematical construct and wonder if the computer-generated image “counts” as art.  On the other hand, some of those more focused on the mathematical side of things wondered whether paintings or photographs that aren’t explicitly based upon equations of some sort were appropriate for the conference.  Fortunately, most of the crowd seemed to be open-minded about and interested in both art and math — thus the apropos appellation “Bridges”.

The best of the talks (formal paper presentations) were fascinating and stimulating and had me writing down topics to explore in the future, tools to track down, and ideas for further reflection.  I’ll highlight a few of the talks here.

Early on the first day, Christopher Carlson kicked things off with an excellent presentation about using the powerful tool Mathematica to interactively explore visual designs such as for corporate logos.  Recently, I had been thinking about Douglas Hofstadter’s ideas about “knob-twiddling”, where he says that, “Making variations on a theme is really the crux of creativity.” (Hofstadter, 1985)  Carlson’s talk was a perfect example of “knob-twiddling as creativity”.  He starts with a basic logo modeled in Mathematica (a tool that he made look incredibly simple), figures out what the “knobs” should be (i.e., how to parametrize the logo), and then starts twiddling.  If you pick the right knobs, you end up with an incredibly powerful way to explore a visual space of logos and find things that would probably have been too difficult to design from scratch.

Later in the morning, Joel Varland, a professor at Savannah College of Art and Design, summoned another author whose work I’m fond of, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, in talking about “flow” in math and the arts.  Flow, as described by M.C., is the mental state you obtain when working with focus on activities requiring both high skill level and a high degree of challenge.  When I’m working on my paintings and things are going well, this is the state where time flies and you’re completely absorbed in the work.  Varland explored some of the more literal definitions of flow as they relate to the arts, such as in the dynamics of lines, gestures, and composition.

Craig Kaplan gave a talk about Parquet Deformations, another topic made popular by Douglas Hofstadter.  Parquet Deformations depict a kind of metamorphosis (a la M.C. Escher) where a tiled pattern varies slowly across space into a different pattern.  They’re fun to look at, hard to draw manually, and Kaplan explained the tools he’s built to help explore the possibilities (more knob-twiddling!).

On the second morning of the conference, Bih-yaw Jin from National Taiwan University explained how he and his students were able to string together some beautiful molecular structures out of ordinary beads.  Focusing on “fullerene” structures (roughly spherical carbon molecules), he explained how by looking at the “sprial code” of a particular molecule, you can learn how to string the beads together such that each bead only needs to be “strung” twice to construct sturdy models.  In his constructions, the beads represent bonds between atoms, not the atoms themselves.  I was fortunate enough to be one of the early birds to his talk and received one of his sample C80 molecules, which has inspired my wife to explore bead stringing designs herself!

C80 molecule in beads by Bih-yaw Jin

In several of my paintings, I’ve used a procedure that I developed in Photoshop to take an image and abstract it into what I found to be pleasing patterns of interacting positive and negative shapes.  It wasn’t until Jonathan Mccabe’s presentation, though, that I learned that these patterns have been around for a long time and were in fact discovered by Alan Turing, one of the fathers of computer science.  (Excitement: Turing found the same thing I did!  Dismay: It’s been around forever and is apparently well known, though not by me!)  Turing described a “morphogenesis” process in terms of chemical producers and consumers and hypothesized that this sort of process could be the cause of zebra stripes.  Mccabe explains his model for generating Turing patterns by simulating the activator and inhibitor dynamics in a randomized grayscale image, and then shows how he can use Turing patterns at multiple scales within the same image to create complex, dynamic, beautifully biological artistic images.

A few of my paintings that include Turing patterns:

Artist James Mai gave a talk about simultaneous color contrast which started with “color theory 101” but then moved on to his own work, paintings that are specifically about the interaction of colors and the ways in which adjacent colors affect each other in our perceptions.

On “Hungarian Day”, István Orosz explained the motivation and technique behind his double meaning and anamorphic artwork.  In work such as “Durer in the Forest”, Orosz places one image within another, often “hiding” (in plain sight) a portrait of a person that the rest of the image relates to.  In his anamorphic work, a geometrically distorted image is constructed on a flat surface so that when it is viewed as a reflection in a mirrored cylinder, the “correct” image pops into place.  In the best of his pieces, such as in “The Raven (Edgar Allen Poe)”, the anamorphoses are composed so carefully that the image has two meanings, working well without the mirror as one image and then revealing another meaning once the mirror is in place.

Durer in the Forest, from Wikipedia

Later in the day, Ernő Rubik must have been feeling the love from the crowd and he received the full celebrity treatment in giving a talk about the phenomenon of the Rubik’s cube.  With cameras flashing left and right, Rubik explained (in English, for which he apologized that he wasn’t as lyrical as he would be in Hungarian) how he struggled against those who thought the cube couldn’t be successful because it was too hard.  The allure of the cube was through its combination of simplicity of concept with complexity of solution, and its TV-friendliness hit the sweet spot of 80s culture at exactly the right time.

Rubik at Bridges 2010

The fourth day of the conference was “Excursion Day”.  First up were the Vasarely and Zsolnay ceramics museums in Pécs.  Vasarely is one of the fathers of Op Art and the museum provides examples of his work from throughout his life.  (My wife and I also visited another Vasarely museum in Budapest, but that one was a bit of a disappointment as the lighting was poor and the lady at the front desk tried to rip us off while buying tickets; if I’m generous I’d say she was just bad at math, but realistically it felt like she was trying to take advantage of tourists not familiar with Hungarian language or currency… Fortunately, mathematics is universal and subtraction is simple and we paid the correct amount.)  The Pecs museum lights many of the works with perfectly aligned track lighting that makes the paintings appear to glow from within.  This large, flat tapestry appeared to bulge out of the wall.

Tapestry at museum in Pecs

After the museums, we took a trip out to the town of Villány for lunch and a wine-tasting, followed by a visit to a local sculpture garden.

Traditional Hungarian lunch plate

In the wine cellar

On the final day of the conference, Henry Segerman gave a short talk that explained the causes of some interesting artifacts (e.g., the spokes and rings) that occur when you color in a “sunflower spiral” according to a Fibonacci-related metric.

Henry Segerman's Fibonacci metric coloring of sunflower spiral

A few months ago I finished a painting that also made use of a similar sunflower spiral in its underlying composition (which coincidentally had a similar color palette).

Center of Narrative Gravity #3

Nearing the end of the 5-day conference, David Reimann spoke about using Bézier curves to create interesting tilings based upon Truchet tiles.  For the non-mathematicians reading this, a Bézier curve is a way to draw smooth, continuous curves (Wikipedia has excellent animations).  Truchet tiles are squares divided into two triangles (e.g., one black and one white), which when laid out in a grid and rotated in various combinations produce pleasing patterns.  A variation uses two curves from midpoint-to-midpoint rather than a diagonal line to divide up each square.  Reimann showed how using various curves (with both one arc and two arcs per side) on tilings can create aesthetically appealing patterns (reminding me of Brice Marden paintings).  This talk had me thinking about my painting, Conceptual Framework, which has a tiling of curves very similar to those of Truchet tiles.

Conceptual Framework

There were many other talks, but these were the ones that I found most interesting and relevant to my own art.

Two of my portrait-based paintings are included in the show Face Value — The Art of Portraiture at the Trenton City Museum (Ellarslie Mansion) in Cadwalader Park, Trenton, NJ.  The show runs from July 31 through September 5, 2010, with an opening reception on Saturday, July 31, from 5-7pm.  The show is put on by TAWA, the Trenton Artists Workshop Association.

Introspection, acrylic/panel, 36x24

The Self, acrylic/panel, 36x24

Update: I’m very pleased to report that The Self received a Best in Show award (tied with a wonderful pastel painting by Rhoda Yanow)! Thanks to everyone for the very kind comments about both paintings at tonight’s opening…