I’m happy to report that one of my paintings, Figment, has been accepted into the Absolutely Abstract 2008 juried group show at the Philadelphia Sketch Club.  The exhibition is up through the end of November and the gallery is open Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 1-5pm.  The Sketch Club is located at 235 South Camac Street in Philadelphia.


I’m happy to report that I have recently joined Artists’ Gallery, an artists’ co-op in Lambertville, New Jersey. If you’re not familiar with the area, Lambertville is a small town on the Delaware River across the water from New Hope, PA, that features art galleries, antique stores, and other shopping and dining goodies. Artists’ Gallery has been around since 1996 and exhibits the work of some eighteen area artists working in a diversity of styles. I’m very excited about this opportunity to show my work more regularly, both as part of member shows each month as well as in a yearly featured two-person show (my first two-person show will be in September 2009).

This month (Nov 7-Nov 30) I’ll be exhibiting two of my “Strange Loops” paintings (Strange Loops 3 and Strange Loops 4) as part of the group show in the rear gallery space. Artists’ Gallery is located at 32 Coryell Street, Lambertville, NJ, and is open Fridays through Sundays from 11am – 6pm. The opening reception for this month’s two featured artists, Carol Sanzalone and Bonnie Schorske, is this Saturday, November 8, from 6-9pm. For more info, check out the Artists’ Gallery web site at


Strange Loops 3 Strange Loops 4

In between a late dim sum lunch in Chinatown and an early evening jazz concert uptown, I managed to squeeze in a quick visit to Chelsea on Saturday afternoon. I had a list of about eight shows I wanted to visit and several of them are worth mentioning.

At Gagosian gallery through October 25 is the latest show of paintings by Cecily Brown. Ranging in size from intimate to immense, Brown’s brushy, expressive abstractions invite close examination as well as distant appraisal. In some of the smaller works (perhaps 30″x30″ or smaller), squiggles of pinks, oranges, and red look like explosions of flesh. Many of the larger pieces (as large as 8’x12′) have more earthy tones and read like landscapes. As you allow your eye to wander around the composition, you start to perceive representational elements such as faces popping up between brushstrokes and even large, foreshortened figures that at first are hidden from consciousness. Some of these larger works reminded me of the most vigorous Joan Mitchell paintings, though Brown’s compositions are more “all-over” and incorporate elements of representation not found in Mitchell’s work. The Gagosian web site includes a nice (though slightly dizzying) video that provides a good sense of the work and its installation in the gallery.

At McKenzie Fine Art, Chris Gallagher exhibits about a dozen optically charged paintings consisting of finely brushed, often curved stripes of color. Many of the paintings look like close-ups of long exposure photographs of swirling planets. In some, the careful use of color and color transitions produces an optical depth to the work that pleases the eye. In others, the color choices provide for dramatic complementary contrasts which cause the paintings appear to vibrate (I had to check to see if the flickering I was perceiving was due to a faulty light bulb, but as far as I can tell the effect is purely optical illusion).

I wrote in September that I like my conceptual art to have a strong visual component and Vic Muniz delivered with his show, “Verso”, at Sikkema Jenkins (through Oct 11). Leaning against the gallery walls are nine “paintings” whose “fronts” are facing the wall. The viewer is left to examine the “backs” of these works and upon close inspection one finds labels, gallery stickers, and other signs of painting provenance. One reads, “Starry Night”; another, “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon”; and so on.  The artist has worked closely with museum curators (and with art forgers!) to fabricate these “trompe-l’oeils” (as the gallery literature describes them) of the actual backs of these and other famous paintings, right down to the nicks in the frames, the stains on the canvases, and the type of hanging hardware. You might think, “Why would I want to look at the back of these paintings?” but the effect is delicious. The desire to peek around to the “front” of these works to see what’s there is strong, but all you can do is look at the “backs”. And as you move from famous painting to famous painting, it’s fascinating to see what the backs of these works look like. You’ve seen Starry Night a million times, but probably have never seen its backside– how interesting to see the accumulation of museum stickers as well as the framing hardware!

I happened into ACA Galleries on 20th Street and saw a gorgeous show of representational work by Joseph Peller (through Oct 21). In the exhibition “Surviving the Darkness: Urban Fragments”, Peller paints pictures of isolation in the form of cityscapes, portraits, and urban interiors. The paintings are the kind you want to look at carefully to examine the brushstrokes, to enjoy the color transitions and use of warm and cool tones, and to think about the process the artist went through in making the painting.

Finally (about as far away from Cecily Brown as you can get), if you like the surface fetish California minimalism of John McCracken, you’ll enjoy his show in one of the David Zwirner galleries on 19th Street. Instead of his usual “planks”, this exhibition features narrower “beams” of highly polished, highly saturated color. If his previous works were like the white keys on the piano, these are shaped more like the black keys. The beams lean against the walls in groups, reinforcing this piano-key effect. The “sculptures” show well in the humongous gallery space, where the natural cool sky light coming from the ceiling reflects off the shiny objects to provide some contrast in color temperature, making the pieces less monolithic. The press releas goes a little overboard (“the works simultaneously refer to nothing and possibly everything”), but if you like your minimalism colorful, this makes for an engaging final stop in Chelsea.

I’m going to admit to something that might be heresy for a painter:  I went to the Giorgio Morandi show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Thursday and came away rather disappointed.  I had seen a Morandi exhibition in Chelsea back in 2004 and remember being impressed and wowed by paint handling, subtle use of desaturated colors, and interesting compositions built from bottles, pitchers, and vases.  For some reason, this large retrospective at the Met didn’t produce the same feelings.

For one, I remember that show at Lucas Schoormans gallery being very well lit and hung on white walls, a perfect way to see these mostly neutral paintings.  At the Met, the show is in the Robert Lehman wing, where it feels like you’re in a dungeon and the paintings look more dull than nuanced.  I think a part of it may have been my expectations perhaps coupled with a faulty memory of the past show.  In most of the still life works at the Met, the compositions are crowded and piled together, breaking many of the usual “rules” about composition (e.g., “kissing edges”, where the edge of one object lines up perfectly with those of the horizon or of another object).  From the wall texts (though contrary to at least one review of this show), we learn that this is what Morandi was trying to do — to explore mostly flat abstract compositions using traditional still life objects whose purpose was solely to provide shape.  Well, that’s a pretty interesting goal, but my memory of the Chelsea show was of very subtle, off-white colors with creative but not “stuck” compositions, and I had found those paintings fascinating and worthy of close scrutiny (though this could be a faulty memory of mine, or me coming at them at a different point in time).  At the Met, I found it hard to enjoy the compositions where the objects were all bunched up or aligned in forced ways.

One thing I notice is that in the catalog available at the Met, as well as in the images you can view online, it seems that the contrast has been pumped up a bit compared to the actual works.  For many of the pieces, that makes them look better (as traditional still lifes, at least) in reproduction than they do in real life.  The reproductions don’t, however, capture the brushstroke and paint handling that also is one of Morandi’s charms.

On my last few visits to the Met I have felt rushed, but on Thursday I had plenty of time and was able to enjoy a few of the museums other exhibits and treasures.  The famous Duccio painting that the museum acquired in 2004 for a huge sum of money (estimated at greater than $45 million) is presently on display, worthy of close inspection for its value, style, and historical import if not painterly technique.

I spent a good long time studying a Rembrandt self-portrait, trying to soak up some advice on portrait painting, partly through analysis and partly perhaps through “visual osmosis” (alas, I probably should have spent another hour or two looking at this painting…).

Finally, I made it to “Landscapes Clear and Radiant: The Art of Wang Hui“, an absolutely stunning show of Chinese paintings from 17th century master Wang Hui (plus a few much earlier works from artists who would have inspired and influenced Wang).  In some of the earlier work, Wang painted in the style of his predecessors using mostly black ink on either paper or silk supports, creating elegant landscapes that balance beauty and atmosphere with calligraphic detail.  The last room in the show contains two knock-your-socks-off paintings of incredible detail and size (one of them I think would reach 72 feet long if it were fully unfurled).  These are both color and black ink on large silk scrolls and each depicts a journey (of the emperor, I believe) across the land.  Tiny, but clearly drawn figures populate the landscapes; the people are working the fields, shopping in the marketplace, gathering in crowds.  There’s not a sign of any pentimenti anywhere in the scrolls — how did the artist draw such intricate designs without any mistakes?

But the best was yet to come:  As I was strolling through this exhibition I heard a familiar voice to my left.  When I looked over, I saw that it was indeed a very famous singer and artist (and avid museum-goer), explaining the Wang Hui show quite expertly to some friends.   [Hint:  He goes by a different name as an artist than he does as a musician and at one point became a huge hit on MTV.]

My painting, Arising, will be on display in a group show at Gallery 125 in Trenton from September 12 through November 8, 2008.  There will be an opening reception this Friday, Sep 12, from 5-9pm.  I should be there starting around 6pm if you’d like to stop by and say Hi.  Gallery 125, at 125 South Warren Street in Trenton, always has fun openings with a strong turnout plus food and drink and usually some live music.

In the sauna that was west Chelsea last night, a new art season began.  The hot and sticky weather didn’t keep the art-goers away, however, as the streets between 22nd and 27th were packed.  Fortunately, there were quite a few good shows worth mentioning.

I began my tour on 22nd Street where Keith Tyson has a show entitled “Fractal Dice” at Pace Wildenstein.  The show explores the use of rule-based systems to generate art works, while incorporating both randomness (the “dice”) and nesting of levels of abstraction (the “fractals”).  The artist has provided detailed instructions to the gallery for the fabrication of the pieces in the show, with rolls of the dice determining how a cube is to be deformed and colored and finally “instantiated” is an art object in aluminum and plastic.  I like my conceptual art to have a strong visual component and this show passed that test.    (My feeling regarding conceptual art is that I like it less if reading about a piece — or even seeing it in reproduction — provides about the same experience as seeing it in person.)  The sculptures consist of semi-matte, smooth surfaces in red, green, blue, yellow, black, and white in a variety of arrangements, some lying on the floor and some hanging on the wall.

Although Lohin-Geduld Gallery on 25th Street isn’t having the formal opening reception until next week, they had their doors open late last night for a show by Joanne Freeman and Kim Uchiyama.  Freeman’s works pop with optical contrasts and seemed to me to fit historically into a Stuart Davis / Bridget Riley / Brice Marden family tree, with my favorite piece being Electra.  Whereas Freeman’s works tend towards more vertical compositions, Uchiyama’s paintings consist of horizontal striations of color.

Who would have thought that marshmallows would provide such interesting subject matter for still life painting?  In the front space at George Billis Gallery, Derek Buckner exhibits a handful of beautiful paintings whose subjects are mounds and mounds of marshmallows, illuminated dramatically by a glowing yellow light.  The images on the web site don’t do the colors justice (they’re much more saturated in person).  The paintings are a study in temperature and value contrasts as well as adept paint handling.  Although the press release relates the subject to one of overcrowding and proliferation, I prefer to enjoy these works for their formal characteristics.  Thinking about the subject matter makes you first crave a stick and a fire but then you quickly recall the sickening feeling of one too many marshmallows!

Up the block at Dillon Gallery, Scott Redden exhibits his colorful, billowy landscapes in The Farmland Paintings.  Houses, barns, churches and other buildings sit atop mounds of rolling farmland, most often lit on one side by low yellow sunlight and the other by a cool blue sky.  I would categorize the paintings in this show into two types:  ones with large boulder-like “clouds” floating above the landscape and ones without.  I prefer the ones without these clouds even though they provide an ominous narrative to an otherwise still painting.  Though the paint handling is very different, the non-cloud paintings remind me of Hopper’s New England landscapes.  This is the second show of Redden’s I’ve seen at Dillon and in each of his paintings I notice one or more small drops of the underpainting in red, orange, or blue poking through the later layers, a kind of signature mark that the artist leaves behind.

Across the street at Gana Art is an exhibition of beautiful paintings by Korean artist Ko, Young Hoon.  In most of the show’s 10 paintings, a single object stands or floats in front of a white background: for several of the works the subject is an ancient Buddha statue, beautifully rendered in paint so that you can practically feel the texture of the sculpture.  Other subjects include ceramic jars also painted with incredible surface detail (though fortunately you can still see the brushstrokes upon close inspection).

Over on 26th Street, another Korean artist, Kwang-Young Chun, exhibits his now very familiar and yet still very fascinating “Aggregation” pieces.  Chun’s work, for me, falls into that category of “Darn, why didn’t I buy one of those earlier?”  When I first saw one of these pieces perhaps four or five years ago, I loved it immediately — it would have made a great investment then as the pieces on display his show at Robert Miller go for upwards of $150,000 now!  If you haven’t seen them, Chun wraps small polystyrene shapes with Korean mulberry paper covered with Korean characters and aggregates them onto a support that hangs on the wall.  The resulting pieces resemble rocky landscapes as the artist uses changes in value, texture, and size to suggest craters and hills.  This is the first time I’ve seen him incorporate color; tints of blue in some of the craters stand out from otherwise monochromatic surfaces.  These works are worth examining both from a distance and up close.

To top off a fine evening of art-going, over at the Betty Cunningham gallery I happened to run into Mel Liepzig and Linda Pochesci, both of whom I had the pleasure of exhibiting with in group shows this year (at D&R Greenway with both of them and at the Trenton City Museum with Mel).  The new season is always exciting and this year’s has gotten off to a stimulating start!

To paraphrase an oft-cited (and sometimes misattributed) quote about tourists, “If it’s group show season, why can’t we shoot them?”  Many of the galleries in Chelsea have group shows on display as their final exhibition before August recess.  Not that there’s anything wrong with group shows, but if you go to Chelsea often it does mean that you’ll get to see some pieces you’ve seen before.  Because many of these shows are just collections of the gallery’s artists, there might not be any curatorial theme to the show beyond, “Here are our artists.”

One group show that does have a common theme is the nice collection of representational work at George Billis Gallery.  “City Light” contains a plethora of cityscapes by gallery artists.  Friend of a friend Andrew Jones has a fine oil painting in the show (“Bank Street Twilight”), part of his ongoing quest to capture the light on the stoops and iron railings near his NYC home.  Other memorable work at Billis includes some Rackstraw Downes-like panoramic cityscapes as well as a collection of very small, square, detailed street traffic scenes.

At Allen Gallery, Sharon Weiner’s exhibition “Dreamscicle” includes a number of corpuscular abstractions that are the stars of the show.  These layered paintings are full of red blobs that read as blood cells or, perhaps, figures.

The only other show I visited in Chelsea that really kept my attention was the Philip Pearlstein show at Betty Cunningham which contrasts some of the artist’s work from the 1960’s with work from the 1990’s through today.  I’ve always liked Pearlstein’s paintings and always enjoy studying them carefully, from composition to coloration to paint application.  In the early works, it’s mostly the figures who take center stage, though they are often cropped mid-limb for abstract purposes.  Later on, Pearlstein includes all manner of props (such as a Michelin man and a zeppelin).  I find that I can’t help but think about the artist’s process when looking at these paintings — what was the studio like, how did he choose the props, were the models posing at the same time?  As I’ve mentioned before, one of my criteria in evaluating an exhibition is whether it makes me want to go home and paint, and this one certainly does: as you look at the works you get a visceral feeling of palettes, paints, mixing, layers, and composition.  (And for some extra fun, I sometimes like to see who else has signed the guest book.  For this show, I signed right under art critic Jerry Saltz and artist Robert Bechtle, whose work I enjoyed at this year’s Whitney Biennial.)

I’ve been trying to post blog entries about shows that I’ve seen before I see reviews of those shows by others.  By doing this, I hope to both calibrate my eye as well as to declare my opinions untainted by the views of professional art critics.  Due to a busy schedule, though, I wasn’t able to write up this report on the J.M.W. Turner show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (through Sep 21) prior to seeing the review by Roberta Smith in the New York Times.  She managed to capture my impressions of the show exceedingly well:

“The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s ‘J.M.W. Turner’ is a beast of a show. With nearly 150 works in oil and watercolor spanning more than half a century, it will either win you over or wear you out. Or it will alternate, gallery by gallery, or wall by wall, as the art swings between overblown and moving, inspired and mechanical.” [Roberta Smith]

This is precisely the way you feel as you go through the show.  You see one piece of inspired, creative, brushy, abstracted mood, followed by rather boring, repetitive, flat seascape.  Having long admired the two large Turner paintings in The Frick Collection’s west gallery, I was expecting more work along those lines, beautifully capturing light and reflection.  I must admit that I hadn’t realized that Turner was so very… maritime.  If scenes of boats thrashing about in storm-tossed waters don’t do it for you, you’ll get tired of this show rather quickly.

Given that many of the works are expressive seascapes with brushy paint, it was surprising that so many of the surfaces of these paintings were relatively flat.  Not much in the way of crusty paint peaking off the canvas.

My favorite painting in the show was probably Saltash with Water Ferry (1811), which was beautifully composed and rendered and had a compelling mixture of crisp and soft edges.  This was one of the few paintings where, upon closer examination, the figures didn’t look cartoonish.  In most of the other works that include figures, it seems as if Turner couldn’t quite decide how much detail he should include.

It’s worth seeing this show, as it’s the first major retrospective of Turner in America and a chance to see a good chunk of his output all at once.  But one final quote from Roberta Smith:  “It is almost as if his drive to capture nature or history in motion was so intense that it didn’t leave room for anyone else, including the viewer. Maybe that’s why despite all his hard work and even the majesty of his vision, you can emerge from this exhibition impressed but oddly untouched, even chilled.”

In Euro-update update, the Cognitive Daily blog addresses the age-old question, “But is it art?”, with an amusing and heated discussion about whether a photo of a person staring at three white canvases is art (a follow-up to an earlier post about whether the three white canvases themselves are art).

The discussions are enough to make your head hurt but it’s interesting to see how passionate people still can be about this subject so many years after Duchamp (and Warhol, Prince, Minimalism, etc., etc.).

My own two cents: If something is created with the intent of being art, then it’s art; or, if something is displayed with the intent of being art, then it’s art.  Quality is an entirely separate matter, raising issues of taste, market forces, influence, originality, creativity, technical standards, and yes, intent (if the intent was to create three blank canvases, then the artist succeeded; if the intent was to create a lush green landscape, then the three blank canvases don’t do a good job).

Brooklyn-based artist John Zinsser, whose (highly recommended) New School class on Viewing Art Intelligently I have taken many times, will be giving a lecture this Wednesday on “The Fate of Painting.”  Here’s the info:

The Fate of Painting
A slide lecture by John Zinsser

Wednesday July 2, 2008
6:30 p.m. on the 6th floor
Mid-Manhattan Library — The New York Public Library
40th Street and 5th Avenue, New York, NY 10016

Elevators access the 6th floor after 6p.m.
All events are FREE and subject to last minute change or cancellation.

Contemporary art and its audience are moving into ever new and challenging territory. Yet painting, as a historically-established medium, always remains central to the dialogue. John Zinsser will provide a larger art historical context to frame the current paradigm shift. He argues that we have entered a time of increased “lexical crisis” as artistic practices collide freely with viewer responses. Modernism, and its attendant painting developments-cubism, expressionism, geometric abstraction, pop and minimalism-have launched a hybrid visual genealogy. And its recombinant qualities have only just begun to be explored. The lecture will move forward from the European model of Picasso and Mondrian to the American response of Pollock and Warhol. Now, we see a 21st Century aesthetic forming from the likes of painters Luc Tuymans, Karen Kilimnik, Anselm Reyle and Wade Guyton. What marks this movement? And where will it take us?

I’m happy to report that I have two paintings that will be included in the upcoming TAWA Summer Show at the Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie Mansion, in Cadwalader Park, Trenton.  The show runs from June 28 through July 27, with an opening reception this Saturday, June 28, from 5pm – 8pm.  Hope to see you there!

The two paintings in this show are Phenomenal Character and Strange Loops 4.

Strange Loops 4

I’ve just finished another painting in the “Strange Loops” series.  In this one, I’ve tessellated an overlapping triangular pattern, turned it into a loop, and then painted it with color progressions in such a way that you might detect a slight rotating motion if you look at the painting’s periphery.  (It’s a very weak version of a documented kind of optical illusion called the Peripheral Drift Illusion or the Fraser-Wilcox illusion; for an incredibly strong version of this effect, see Akiyoshi.)

Strange Loops 6

On Saturday I visited the Museum of Modern Art for the stimulating Olafur Eliasson show (up through June 30). The show at MoMA consists of about a dozen separate pieces whose primary medium is light and whose “support” is our perceptual system.  The most memorable piece is called “Room for one color” (1997), which occupies two hallways.  The regular hallway lights have been replaced by monofrequency yellow lights — i.e., rather than give off a spectrum of frequencies like most white lights (and even most colored bulbs), these lights must emit light in a single frequency (or perhaps a very narrow range).  Everything in the hallway — you, your clothes, your bags, etc. — becomes a shade of yellow ranging from nearly white through very saturated yellow through black.  No matter what color surface you bring into the room, the only frequency present and the only one that will be reflected to your eye is yellow.  This has the amazing effect of making it seem like you’ve walked into a sepia photograph!  If you stand just outside the hallway and watch other museum visitors enter or exit the room, you see them suddenly switch from full color to monochrome, and it’s quite a nifty effect.

Another crowd-pleaser in the show is one of the few pieces not directly related to light entitled “Ventillator.” An electric fan dangles on its very long power cord from the ceiling in the middle of the museum’s large 2nd floor atrium.  The fan is its own propulsion device, sometimes causing the fan to accelerate as it swings back and forth but at other times acting like brakes.  As the cord hanging the fan twists around, the fan changes directions chaotically and swoops at times perhaps just seven or eight feet off the floor (watch your head!).  For such a simple idea, it delivers mesmerizing visual fun.

In the multi-piece work “Mirror Door”, spotlights on tripods are aimed at mirrors along the walls at various angles.  The three pieces on display at MoMA — “user”, “spectator”, and “visitor” — perhaps refer to the different vantage points of an art viewer and are related to where the spotlights are aimed (e.g., reflected from the mirror back onto the tripod’s base).  It’s a simple conceptual piece but an effective one.

In “I only see things when they move”, a bright light in the middle of an otherwise dark room shines through rotating planes of color-effect filter glass, producing bands of color along the walls of the room.  As with most of the works in this show, you as the viewer become immersed in the artwork and have to look in all directions to take it in.  Look towards the middle of the room to see the planes of glass reflecting the bright light; look towards the wall to see the bands of light and the shadows of the other museum-goers.

The show includes a piece I had seen at Tate Modern in London a few years ago called “360 degree room for all colors”, in which you enter a small round space whose light-emitting walls vary in color over time.  The show’s brochure explains that “rather than illustrating a particular scene, Eliasson’s installation immerses you in the color spectrum itself.”

A few pieces didn’t keep my attention — “Moss wall” is an entire wall full of thick, plush live moss; it’s supposed to change color and smell over the course of the exhibition, so it’s tough to appreciate it in one visit.  And “Your strange certainty still kept” seems like perhaps it wasn’t quite calibrated correctly:  a strobe light is supposed to freeze falling droplets of water in mid-air, but it didn’t quite seem to do the trick.

In addition to the show at MoMA, another 25 pieces Eliasson’s work are on display at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center in Queens, which I haven’t seen but hope to catch before it’s over.

A few weeks ago, a massive branch from one of the trees in our backyard fell down.  After going to work with the chainsaw to clear up most of the mess, I was left with a beautiful piece of wood that I thought might be interesting to work with.  I sliced off a few disks of wood with the chainsaw and then used a sanding disc attached to a power drill to smooth one of the surfaces.  I sealed the wood with a couple of layers of clear acrylic gesso and then began work on this painting, “Zentral Park.”  It’s based on a photo I took some years ago in Central Park of a peaceful scene in NYC.  This kind of piece makes for a nice change of pace from my abstract paintings.

I visited Chelsea again yesterday, both to catch up on the latest shows as well as to attend the opening reception at Walter Wickiser Gallery, where fellow central NJ artist Thomas Kelly is participating in a group show entitled, “Just the Figure.” Along with three other artists, the show focuses on painterly images of the human form (go figure!). Yu Zhang has two soft-focus baroque-style works whose figures stare out from heads on top of elongated necks; in one, the edges softly fade out to the underlying linen support. Mark Kurdziel shows rougher, more expressionist pieces on coarse-textured linen. One of Michael Price’s paintings is a Cezanne’ish figure surrounded by swirls of color. Thomas Kelly’s contribution includes a wall of a half dozen or so of his illustrative, playful compositions of figures in scenes that practically call out for captions. Rather, the painting titles provide a strong hint as to the narrative intent leading up to the snapshot moment of the paintings. For instance, in “Don’t Block the Sun”, a woman struts her stuff in high heels past three people sitting on a park bench — you start to wonder which one of the four figures is thinking the title’s thoughts? The paintings, all acrylics on canvas, are painted mostly with a light touch, and often look like they could be watercolors. In Helping With the Dress, you notice the careful composition of the figures within the surrounding space as well as the balance of warm and cool colors.

I attended a couple of other opening receptions, including one at Bravin+Lee that featured the works on paper of Thomas Nozkowski and James Sienna (together again) as well as Chris Martin and Jonathan Lasker. A show like this makes me once again wish I had invested in a James Sienna about 6 years ago when I first enjoyed his work, as even a 20″x16″ work on paper now goes for $20,000.

Speaking of Nozkowski, the painting “Rake” (2007) by Tom Holland at Charles Cowles Gallery reminded me of Nozkowski’s Untitled 8-107 (2008) recently on display at Pace Wildenstein. I enjoyed the Holland show, which features a number of epoxy enamel paintings on aluminum or fiberglass supports. These “paintings slash sculptures” include cut sheets of aluminum riveted to the base so that the colors and compositions can work in three dimensions.

The two Gladstone Galleries on 24th Street and 21st Street feature excellent exhibitions of the sculptor Anish Kapoor. At the 24th Street space, Kapoor explores the color red with pieces that seemed overtly sexual, though the titles pointed elsewhere (“Drip“, “Blood Stick“, and “Two Corners“). In Drip, a large, boob-like sculpture hangs from the wall and it’s impeccably smooth, polished surface provides the perceptual indeterminacy and satisfaction that I’ve come to expect from Kapoor’s work. Upon entering the second room from the back of the space, Here for Alba at first looks like a nuclear reactor made out of gridded fiberglass, and my initial reaction was, Huh? But, as you walk around the piece you find an opening slit that dares you to enter the reflective red interior. As you do, your eyes struggle to focus and your depth perception becomes fuzzy. Your steps become tentative in order to avoid accidentally knocking into the convex inner surface of the piece (which also reminds me of a much larger Richard Serra piece I saw in Fort Worth a few years ago — see below).

Richard Serra in Fort Worth, Anish Kapoor at Gladstone Gallery

For even more perceptual fun, head over to the 21st Street Gladstone Gallery, where Kapoor bends reality with highly polished mirrors made from stainless steel. The initial impression is of Fun House Mirror, but in fact some of the scupltures are worth much more time than that. The curved “Vertigo” is amazing: if you stand in just the right spot, your own reflection looks more real than any mirror image you’ve ever seen of yourself. Perhaps it’s larger; perhaps it’s just so smooth; I think it has to do with the concavity of the mirror and how the rest of the space around you becomes distorted. It’s a remarkable effect. (The photo below doesn’t do justice to the work “Non-Object (Door)“, but it’s fun anyway.) For more information about the Kapoor shows as well as his current retrospective in Boston, see today’s NY Times review by Roberta Smith.

At Sundaram Tagore‘s second floor gallery there’s a very nice exhibit of works on paper by Vittorio Matino. Several of the pieces are vertical color studies, either pastel or mixed media, where colors are side by side and overlapping to make up a vertical column on a solid background. The remaining paintings (mostly “mixed media”) are more vigorous, full of expressive and dynamic strokes and scrapes.

Several floors up at the Allen Gallery is a nice, small show of (mostly sold out) paintings by British artist Helen Brough. The exhibition, “Urban Movements”, features oil paintings on aluminum panels depicting highly abstracted or blurred urban imagery, as if taken from long exposure photos from around New York City.

Finally, James Cohan Gallery features some impressive “marquetry” works by Alison Elizabeth Taylor (I had to look it up: marquetry is when you inlay a material such as wood or ivory into intricate designs and fasten it to another support surface). The artist uses a variety of wood veneer panels of different tones and textures to assemble remarkable representational “paintings”. My favorite is Hank (image #2), showing a man riding a bicycle through the desert mountains: each spoke of the bicycle is a separate piece of wood veneer laid side by side and the texture of the wood veneer works well for recreating the tones of the landscape.

On Friday night, after a round of gallery-going in Chelsea, I attended the Curator’s Choice panel of the Artists Talk on Art (ATOA) series at the School of Visual Arts. The panel includes the six winners from this year’s Curator’s Choice juried competition. Although the paintings I submitted weren’t selected, I was interested in learning about the jurying process as well as seeing the kind of work that was chosen.

Juror Jim Kempner from Jim Kempner Fine Art explained his selection process as going through multiple iterations over several weeks, each time narrowing down the field until he found his winners. Over 100 artists entered the competition and only six were chosen, so the competition is definitely a long shot. I was very impressed with not only the quality of the work but also by how articulate each of the artists were in describing their processes and goals; this left me feeling less bad about not being chosen (though only slightly less jealous ;-).

Of the winners, I was particularly impressed with the work of recent RISD grad Celeste Rapone, whose figurative works exploring the meaning of being brought up Catholic were well executed and full of meaning. Rapone uses her illustration background to good effect, creating paintings that are graphic, memorable, and poignant (see Creme Filled, which shows a puffy-faced young girl surrounded by more culturally ideal bikini models).

Kate Teal (I couldn’t find a web page for her) presented a series of oil paintings depicting her and her husband sleeping in bed at night, derived loosely from photos that were automatically snapped every 30 minutes throughout one night. By selectively applying color for the figures’ flesh and by rendering the folds in the pillows and sheets, they are a nice balance of abstraction and representation.

Keun Young Park (no link available) exhibited figurative images collaged together from torn up, creatively Photoshopped photographs, including symbols such as birds to represent the human spirit in her compositions.

Iowa-based Thomas C. Jackson presented composited photographs primarily from his “American Slice” series. Each image consists of two or more slices of larger photographs, spliced together (usually vertically), occasionally with some Photoshopped mirroring or flipping, to create images with compositional interest. The artist says that although all of the images have specific meanings, he prefers to allow viewers to bring their own interpretations to the works.

It was hard to see the details of Michele Bova’s abstract oil paintings in the slides (and the only link I could find was here), but it seemed that they fit nicely into the family of brushstroke-filled abstraction presently seen on West 25th Street that I described in my last posting.

Judd Boloker described his colored pencil on bristol board drawings that are based upon photos he’s taken from places like the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. Starting with one or more photos, he abstracts them into graphic images (see this firework-inspired Papyrus Plant) through the heavy application of colored pencil to the support.

It was an informative evening, though I had been under the impression that more of the work submitted to the competition would be screened prior to the panel presentation. I was hoping to see how my own slides showed up on the big screen and where they might have fit in among the rest of the competition. If you would like to see the work of any of the winning artists in person, they will be included in a group show at Jim Kempner Fine Art, though the date of the show has yet to be determined.

It wasn’t exactly the trek to de Maria’s The Lightning Field, but getting to Chelsea today was quite a slog: suspended train service and persistent, driving rain lengthened the inbound journey to Manhattan to over 2 1/2 hours. Though my mood was only slightly soured, it did mean I had less time to view all the shows I had planned and the rain forced a more rapid pace through the streets.

Fortunately, there were some good shows to see. Most of the action today was on West 25th Street. Three galleries featured brushy abstract expressionism. I try not to miss Joan Mitchell shows and the exhibition at Lennon, Weinberg was worth the visit, though primarily for the one full-scale painting Buckwheat, a 1982 edge-to-edge combat between blues, yellows, and oranges. The rest of the show is comprised of smaller paintings and pastel works on paper. Unfortunately, most of the other pieces don’t capture the magic I find in Mitchell’s large paintings. The pastels consist primarily of scrawly, straight vertical lines or blocks of color rather than her usual curvilinear brushstroke and whether due to scale or medium prove to be less than compelling to look at.

A better show of similarly brushy allover abstract expressionist works by Milton Resnick is found down the block at Cheim & Read. The humongous (approximately 27 feet wide) painting Swan seemed to capture the rainy atmosphere of Chelsea today with its drippy slate gray and blue paint, while the slightly smaller (16 feet wide) Tilt to the Land’s pastel colorings hinted towards a more sunny spring season. The confusingly named Wedding features an even field of olive greens with drops of yellows, oranges, reds, and brighter greens peeking through.

Another visually exciting show whose lineage clearly descends from Resnick and Mitchell was by the unknown-to-me, mononamed artist Haessle at the off-the-beaten path Kips Gallery (in the back hallway of ground floor galleries at 531 W 25th). The gallery features some large (7-foot) and some much smaller works from the last twenty years by this artist whose resume at least lists occasional NY solo shows going back approximately forty years.

Joan Mitchell, Milton Resnick, Haessle in Chelsea on W 25th Street

Perhaps the best show on 25th Street (and of all the shows I saw today) was at the *huge* (7,000 sq. ft), relatively new to New York Arario Gallery. This was the last gallery I visited today and I almost missed this show by the Korean artist Park, Seo-Bo, but I’m very glad I didn’t. To get to the gallery, you have to open a suspiciously loose door on the ground floor at 521 W 25th Street and then climb up a flight of steps that you feel could collapse into a sliding ramp should the gallery owner not welcome your presence. But once you’re there, it’s a gorgeous art space and the Park show is worth seeing. The show is entitled “Empty the Mind” and it features highly saturated acrylic paintings on layers of hanji (mulberry) paper. Most of the paintings follow a similar template: vertical “corrugated” strips of color stand out from the textured background, with a carved out rectangular color field providing what the artist calls “breathing space” somewhere in the canvas. Usually there are one or two horizontal strips of color that also project out from the canvas as small ledges and which add compositional interest. As you walk from side to side and your angle of view changes, the retinal image adjusts as you see more or less of the background and more or less of the projecting strips of color. The pieces all seemed to be named Ecriture (individually numbered); I had to look it up: écriture is the French word for writing and in English it asserts that all writing has a style that shapes our view of the world [answers.com].

For even more color, Dillon Gallery features the highly saturated work of Hector Leonardi, whose bright abstractions are full of layers of drips, marks, and stipples of acrylic color, with underlying forms revealed through masked areas, sometimes in grids and sometimes more organically.

To finish up my highlights of 25th Street, the Jeff Bailey Gallery has a nice little show of graphite drawings on paper by Will Duty. There are several lunar drawings which include repeated instances of a crescent moon as though from a multiple-exposure photograph. But the more interesting images are ones like Untitled (00020), which include some perspective and almost a “pixelation” of light and dark.

A remarkable show by Zhang Huan at the 22nd Street Pace Wildenstein requires a bit of effort to get the full effect. At least during the opening weekend, the artist is completing a monumental “ash painting” in the gallery. To view it, you have to climb up a temporary stairway leading you to a narrow platform overlooking a gigantic slab of compressed ash (looks like concrete) measuring nearly 6′ high by 20′ wide by 60′ long. The artist [or one of his studio assistants] sits on a mechanized contraption above the piece with some brushes and a palette consisting of 8 small buckets of various tones of ash. He [or she] dips his brush into one of the buckets to pick up some ash, leans over, and then taps the brush over the artwork to apply value to the work. The remarkable painting in progress is based on a vintage photograph of Chinese laborers digging a canal.

One final show worth noting was the museum-quality exhibition of mostly minimalist art at David Zwirner (Selections from the Collection of Helga and Walther Lauffs). It features a nice Yves Klein body painting, a very interesting Lee Bontecou “wall relief”, and an small but elegant Fred Sandback cord-and-metal rod installation. (The gallery provides a very helpful online checklist/brochure listing all of the works.)

I have finally managed to properly photograph my painting Strange Loops 5, which was recently on display at the Mercer County Artists Show at The Gallery @ Mercer Community College. This painting is the fifth in my mini-series of “Strange Loops” paintings. The phrase “strange loop” comes from Douglas Hofstadter, first described I think in Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, but elaborated on more fully in his 2007 book, I Am a Strange Loop.

Strange Loops 5

The notion of a strange loop refers to a kind of recursive hierarchy of multiple levels of abstraction that eventually loop back to where you started from. Hofstadter often uses as a kind of metaphor the idea of pointing a video camera at a TV showing the output of the video camera — it’s possible to end up with rather startling feedback loops that seem to take on a life of their own. Hofstadter talks about “The Self” as being a kind of strange loop within the brain. My paintings in this series try to capture some of this, though I don’t think you can look at them in any sense as “pictures” of strange loops. But, as Hofstadter is a big fan of Escher, I use Escher-like tessellations of patterns, wrapped around in one or more loops of various kinds as the foundation for these paintings. I also try to imbue the works with multiple levels of colors, layers, and patterns that might click differently depending upon how you look at the work.