Relatively speaking, Thursday wasn’t such a bad day to walk around New York City to see art. The “cool” 90 degrees was bearable and with some strategic south-side-of-the-street-shade-walking, the worst of the heat could be avoided (“…walking on the sidewalk hotter than a match head…”). The No. 6 train uptown, with its working air conditioning, was downright comfortable, if a bit aromatic. I began my day heading uptown to the Whitney.
Starting at the top floor, I finally caught the “Collecting Biennials” show that I had missed during the Biennial proper and am glad I did. It mostly felt pretty familiar, with staples such as Hopper’s “Early Sunday Morning” and Duane Hanson’s “Woman with Dog”, but many such as Peter Blume’s surreal “Man of Sorrows” were memorable and new to me.
The real reason I visited the Whitney, though, was for the Charles Burchfield exhibition. (Note that if you visit, the show proceeds clockwise — start to your left as you exit the stairs — which is the reverse of many shows at the Whitney). It’s a diverse show, with beautifully composed high contrast landscapes alternating with somewhat chaotic, vibrating images in which it seems the artist was attuned to waves of energy from the objects in his scene. I liked the more graphic (and less chaotic) pieces best and a few of the paintings that dealt with atmosphere and seasons were sensational. Burchfield is often grouped into the same set of American modernists as one of my favorite painters, Oscar Bluemner, and so I went to this exhibition with comparisons in mind. Although there are some formal similarities in the occasional use of stark trees and repeated patterns in abstracted architectural elements, to my eye the Bluemner paintings are so much more exciting. Hopefully, once the Whitney expands into a second space in Chelsea there will be enough room to show more of both artist’s work at the same time and on a more regular basis.
I headed to Chelsea and began exploring, this time starting all the way down on 19th Street at David Zwirner Gallery for a show entitled, “The Evryali Score.” It’s a group show of largely conceptual art — not usually my thing, but I point it out because of a few items that caught my eye. One piece, a portion of a composite work by Mary Ellen Carroll entitled “Alas Poor Yorick”, consisted of a large sheet of paper full of tightly scribbled black ink marks that reminded me of the work of one of my colleagues at Artists’ Gallery, Jennifer Cadoff.
I was surprised to find several pieces by Fred Sandback that were not of the threaded space-slicing sort. Instead, they consist of framed sheets of paper with a phrase or two of typewritten text. The text defines, as a sort of a database query onto the world in the style of a linguistic discussion on referents, the existence of a sculpture. For instance, one piece reads, “There exists a sculpture consisting of all infrared radiation present in my studio on 11th street in Brooklyn.”
Another piece was a head-shaker: a blank canvas hung on the wall — that’s it (remember the old Batman episode where the Joker creates a similarly empty painting and calls it, “Death of a Bat”?). Well, in this case it was the metadata that made the difference in Bruno Jakob’s piece (or at least made it entertaining): “The BRAIN Untitled”, Invisible painting: brain on unprimed canvas. It’s not everyday you see a work where the medium is listed as “brain on canvas”!
Moving along, I found another conceptually interesting but much more optically pleasing exhibition at Kim Foster Gallery in the work of Christian Faur. Faur uses thousands of “hand-cast” crayons in varying tones as the pixels in pointillist portraits taken from Depression-era photographs. The crayons are stacked in a grid and bound within a frame so that there’s a three dimensional element to the works: as you move from left to right you catch more or less of the length of the crayon. Though the crayons are colorful, the overall image reads as a toned black-and-white (or sepia) image through a kind of optical integration that changes depending upon your distance from the work.
Upstairs at Kathryn Markel Fine Arts, a small group show contains a number of eye-catching abstracts. In particular, I loved the two curvy, colorful abstractions by Julie Gross that combine biomorphic shapes with careful geometry.
At The Pace Gallery on 22nd Street, a show by the enigmatic Tim Hawkinson entitled One Man Band takes a minute or two to register and at first I thought it would be an in-and-out experience. However, the carefully engineered musical objects are each worthy of some study. Most of the objects are wired up to motion detectors so that as you approach the piece they “turn on” and something starts moving in such a way as to cause the object to make musical sounds. For instance, in my favorite piece, a long string of carefully spaced beads winds around pulleys mounted on a large tree branch so that when the beads trigger one or more sensors, a slide whistle receives a burst of air and an adjustment to its length, producing a stream of playful toy instrument notes.
After some much needed fueling up with some friends at The Half King, I went to the opening reception of “New York Moments” at George Billis Gallery. This group show contains several dozen very finely painted images depicting scenes from around New York. David FeBland, whose work I first came across during one of the TriBeCa open studio tours five or six years ago, shows a piece that was instantly recognizable as his: I remember his work specifically because of the appealingly expressive textures in the often watery scenes of people splashing through the streets of the city. Andrew Jones has two fine “stoop paintings” remaining from his solo show last month (featuring lovingly painted handrails and stairs from local neighborhood stoops). Several artists were inspired by the views from rooftops (“…gonna meet you on the rooftop…”) with water towers featuring prominently, including paintings by Ephraim Rubenstein (whose drawing class at ASL was always full so I never managed to get in) and Lucy Gould Reitzfeld, whose Landscape Painting class at The School of Visual Arts I was fortunate enough to be able to attend. Her painting, “Snow Light“, is part of her recent series of “Mercer Street” paintings that capture the light and atmosphere of views from atop a building on Mercer Street at various times of the day and year. The reception was packed and unlike another opening I attended that night, the A/C was working (“…despite the heat it’ll be alright…”)! A New York themed show was a nice way to finish up a day of exploring art around the city (“…in the summer, in the city / in the summer, in the city…”)