I am so sorry to have to report that John McLean, the British painter, has died at the age of 80 from the Parkinson's disease that he had suffered from for years. Read More
Report from the Front
Art criticism, sometimes with context, occasional politics. Published in hard copy 5-7 times a year. New shows: "events;" hard copy rates & how to support the online edition: "works."
"Epic Abstraction: Pollock to Herrera" opened at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on December 17, 2018, but is "ongoing." By this the Met means that it isn't one of its usually admirable big loan shows but only a rehanging on those galleries that the museum previously devoted to its permanent collection of first- and second-generation abstract expressionists. Read More
On the Hudson River, north of Kingston, stands the picturesque town of Saugerties (population 19,000). On its outskirts lives Peter Bradley, the painter, in a handsome 18th century stone house. Downtown Saugerties is home to Emerge, a pocket-sized gallery that is currently housing a real humdinger of a show, "Peter Bradley: New Work" (through June 30). Though this show contains only six paintings, and the largest is only a little over 6 feet tall, every one's a winner. Read More
Recently, I joined the milling throngs visiting the Museum of Modern Art on a free Friday evening to view "Joan Miró: The Birth of the World" (through June 15). On view are approximately 60 works by the master Spanish surrealist (1893-1983), almost all from the museum's permanent collection, and tracing his career from 1917 to the mid-1950s.
I suppose he qualifies as a hero to postmodernists because he belonged to an underprivileged ethnic minority. But hey, if they want to make a fetish of him, it's quite okay with me. For he was a wonderfully wise, witty and whimsical artist -- one of the all-time greats. Read More
Since the spring of 2018, I have been pondering Mayor Bill de Blasio's plan to "diversify" New York City's three specialized or "elite" public high schools by getting the state legislature in Albany to abolish the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) that is required under the Hecht-Calandra Act of 1971 for all students who wish to enter these high schools.
De Blasio's argument is that these tests prevent all but a very few African American and Latino children from being invited to attend these schools, and that such de facto segregation makes a mockery of the city's professed claims to be truly liberal and democratic.
He wants to diversify the student bodies of these schools by increasing the number of African American and Latino children enrolled in them even if these children don't perform well enough on the SHSATs to be admitted on the same basis as the white and Asian-American children who currently occupy almost all of the seats at these schools.
This places me in a quandary.
Helen Frankenthaler was a great artist and a sympathetic personality – for me, at any rate. Though we were never that close, I feel privileged to have known her. When I met her, on the occasion of her retrospective at the Whitney Museum of Art in 1969, she was at the peak of her form and the work bowled me over. I wish I could say the same of "Helen Frankenthaler: Selected Paintings" at Yares Art (through May 18). Still, despite the problems inherent in putting together a show of work by an artist now eight years dead, there is much at Yares to be enjoyed and appreciated (or at least there was, when I last saw the show on March 27). Read More
Although the venue didn't send me, there is a lively, exhilarating show of 20 abstract paintings by as many artists in the grandly-styled "Gallery of the American Fine Arts Society" at the Art Students League on West 57th Street (through May 1). The show is entitled "New York – Centric" and it was curated by James Little, the hard-edged abstractionist whose work I most recently mentioned in my March 1 posting on "The Art Show." Read More
What, after all, is – or was – "Lyrical Abstraction?" You wouldn't believe what a web of confusion Wikipedia manages to weave around the term! But that shouldn't inhibit you, gentle reader, from going to --- and enjoying – a highly diverting show of 13 pocket-sized works entitled "Lyrical Abstraction: Small Scale" at Bookstein Projects, at 60 East 66th Street on the Upper East Side (through April 13). Read More
A few weeks ago, in my review of Judith Godwin's work, I discussed the first generation of abstract expressionists, and observed how each one of the original ten "created a single hallmark or image that stamped every one of his paintings with his individual personality after he achieved his mature style." But did Adolph Gottlieb, one of the greatest of that great generation, leave it at that? For the answer, I strongly recommend "Adolph Gottlieb: Classic Paintings," his absolutely stunning show at Pace in Chelsea (510 West 25th Street, through April 13).
For the answer to my question -- did Gottlieb leave it at that? -- I find myself thinking of a line from Shakespeare's "Antony and Cleopatra." There a character called Enobarbus describes the hold that Cleopatra has over Antony. "Age cannot wither her," he says, "nor custom stale/ Her infinite variety."
And this seemingly infinite variety is exactly the magic that Gottlieb (1903-1974) worked so well. A hallmark image can so easily become monotonous and even boring, if the artist doesn't ring enough changes on it. Variety, to quote another very old saying, is the spice of life.
Gottlieb's best-known image was the "burst," which in its original form set two forms on a white field, with a round red "sun" above and a bushy black "earth" below. This was not his only image, and the show at Pace has a few examples of others as well (most notably, variants upon his "frozen sounds" series).
However, 15 of the 20 paintings in the original checklist (which contains many loans from major museums) are variants of the "burst," as done between 1956 and 1973. And what a lot of changes he managed to ring!
These changes fall into three principal categories: changes in color, changes in shape, and changes in scale. Closest in shape is "Purple over Green" (1960), the painting that leads off the checklist and appears in the first of the four large spaces in the gallery. But as the title suggests, its color is far from red above and black below.
Another painting in the front gallery that is close to the original format in color is "Cadmium Red above Black" (1959), but instead of a disc above, there is a solid oblong shape.
Next we get to a radical variation in both color and shape, in "Descending Arrow" (1956), which hangs in the second of the four large spaces. As this painting is owned by the Museum of Modern Art, it may be one of the artist's better known images.
Even though it depicts an open black pentagon up top and a downward pointing arrow below, all on a mostly rose-colored field with a band of pink across the top, it remains somehow instantly recognizable as a Gottlieb.
At 8 feet by 6 feet, this is one of the larger paintings in the show, and to that extent characteristic, but right next to it hangs an untitled painting from 1969 that differs radically not only in color and shape but also in scale.
The field is a deep maroon, with a small greige disc up top and two small, straight horizontal strips of color (black and pink) instead of the bush below. It measures only about 20 by 16 inches, and looks even smaller by comparison with "Descending Arrow." It struck me as very witty -- and hilarious.
And so it goes, throughout the entire show – endless variety, endless variations on a theme. "Burma Red" (1973) is a tall, narrow painting with a small round sun above, on a field of white, but instead of a black bush below, we get an impish, ethereal and very Miró-esque upward-trending spatter of black below.
"Expanding" (1962) has a large blue sun above, and a rust-colored bush below all set on a field of green.
My own favorite of the four spaces was the side space adjoining the second space, where the colors were especially rich and Augustan, and the images varied the most from painting to painting.
The image I've chosen to illustrate this review is from this gallery, and the inclusion of a spectator gives a good idea of the scale of some of these majestic paintings as well as their remarkable color and variety in image.
To the left of my image, you see "The Crest" (1959), owned by the Whitney Museum of American Art. At 9 ft. high and 7½ feet wide, it's one of the largest paintings in the show, and with some of the most off-beat coloring – blackish-brown for the sun above, and pink for the earth below, all on a field of golden-brown.
Catty-corner, to the right of my image, you see an even more radical revision of the theme in "Aftermath" (1959), with no bush at all below, and only a very small sun up top – colored a deep gold on a field of very warm gray.
It's really too bad that neither the Whitney nor MoMA can be bothered to show the work of this great artist in their own space. No, no, no, we must have trendier art instead! But that's all the more reason to make a beeline for Pace and get to enjoy this marvelous show for yourselves…
When Rich Timperio was staging his "Nation" shows at Sideshow, I often saw small sculptures by Harvey Citron there. They were very realistic, nay even academic, but well done and I have an appetite for realism (when well done), so I'd mentioned them in a few of my reviews. Thus when the New York Academy of Art, where Citron teaches, staged "Harvey Citron: Faculty Sabbatical Exhibition," the artist sent me an email about it. I regret that I only got down to Tribeca to see this show day before yesterday, and I am only writing about it now, two days before it ends. Still, if this review makes you want to see it, it's right there in the lobby of the building at 111 Franklin Street, and open today (Friday) and tomorrow (Saturday)from 9 am to 9 pm, as well as on Sunday from 12 to 8 pm. Read More