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."

SOCIAL (& ESTHETIC) NOTES FROM ALL OVER

October 26, 2016

Tags: Darby Bannard, Friedel Dzubas, Kenworth Moffett, David Crum, Helen Frankenthaler, Kenneth Noland, Kim Uchiyama, Gerald Jackson

Gerald Jackson, A Blue and Green Painting, 2015. Acrylic and pastel on canvas, 30 by 24 each. Photo courtesy of Kim Uchiyama.
This has been a more than ordinarily social autumn season for me. True, two of the six occasions that I’ll be covering in this post were tinged with melancholy, but all were reminders that art – and life itself – go on.

First, on October 13, I attended the opening of “Walter Darby Bannard: Recent Paintings” at Berry Campbell. It was crowded despite the absence of its star—gathered to give him the best possible send-off.

Here I will merely report on the opening and deal with Bannard’s career and the show itself at greater length in my next post, as the show will be on through November 12, while one of the other shows I want to cover here will only be up until October 28.

Among those attending were: George Bethea and two more of Bannard’s former students, from Miami; Franklin Einspruch, from Boston); Cara London (one of several attendees from New Jersey); Sasha Silverstein (one of several attendees from Brooklyn); and a lot of people whose ports of origin may be unknown to me but are either well-known fixtures on the Manhattan art scene or friends and relatives of Bannard –or both.

Among them were Jim Walsh, with his wife, Ann, and with three more of his fellow members of the Berry-Campbell stable: Susan Vecsey, Eric Dever & Jill Nathanson.

Also Arlington Withers; Carl Hazlewood; Spencer Richards; Mara & Robert Bannard (the artist’s brother and his wife); Sandi Slone; Carl Gliko; Kathleen Staples (the artist’s widow); Darcy Gerberg; and Elaine Grove.

Also Phyllis Tuchman; Barbara Rose; Gail Levin; Peter Reginato; Francine Tint; Bruce Gitlin; Michel Ségard (of the New Art Examiner); & Frank Stella.

DZUBAS REDIVIVUS AT TOWER 49

On October 20, I was on my way to Brooklyn, but paused in midtown Manhattan to see what the exhibition of work by Friedel Dzubas at Tower 49 looks like now.

I had received an email from Ai Kato, the director of the gallery, suggesting that new works were on display in addition to those I had written about in my posting of March 24, 2016 (the whole show is now on view through April 2017).

As I wrote about that exhibition at length eight months ago, I don’t have a lot to add. Some paintings may have been added, though most looked familiar (maybe because they were in the 1983 retrospective organized by Charles Millard).

In the category of “new” to Tower 49, there are now 12 small preliminary studies on view in the ground-level lobby, as well as 12 more in the Sky Lobby on the 24th Floor, for a grand total of 24 grouped in two 12-piece ensembles. All these little studies are delightful and each one is different—a museum in miniature!

Among paintings that may have been there in March, but that I didn’t comment on is “Monk” (1960), one of the artist’s “black paintings,” composed of a thicket of black crisscrossed lines on a very dark gray field.

These “black paintings” were inspired by the artist’s visit to baroque and rococo churches in southern Germany and Austria in 1959-60—his fantasy was that he could have the whole interior of little baroque chapel to decorate, presumably with paintings like these.

“Monk” is one of four larger paintings in the Sky Lobby, but getting up there is a hassle. You must sign a list at the concierge’s desk and show the lady there your photo ID. Then she will issue you a temporary electronic pass, which you must feed into the gates leading into the elevator bank (and don’t throw it away after getting in, either, because you’ll also need it to get out).

Ordinarily, I don’t trouble my readers with reports on art that isn’t completely accessible to them. I have declined numerous offers from gallerists to step into their back rooms so that they could show me something “special,” but for reasons I won’t go into, I recommend you come & feast your eyes on Dzubas here.

MOFFETT CELEBRATION IN BROOKLYN

Later that same day, I attended the “celebration of the life of Kenworth Moffett” held by his daughter, Kay Moffett, in a very nice restaurant in the very nice Brooklyn neighborhood of Carroll Gardens. In June, I had attended a similar event for Moffett, held at his home in Stamford by his widow, Cynthia Horvath Moffett. Both events were very moving, but in completely different ways.

The Stamford event was intimate and informal, while the Brooklyn event was major and authoritative. It included a delicious dinner and a number of very evocative and loving talks that combined personal reminiscences with professional accomplishments.

Among the speakers were Kay Moffett, her husband Neil Parker, Sandi Slone & Sarah Greenberg Morse. Edmonton’s Graham Peacock was represented (in absentia) with a tribute read aloud for him, and the talks were followed by a rhythmic guitar salute from Roy Lerner.

This event was well attended, not least by people who had come a long way to be there. Chris White had come from Maine; Ken Carpenter from Toronto; Darryl Hughto & Susan Roth from Syracuse, NY; Bruce Piermarini & Marjorie Minkin from Massachusetts; and Anne Low, from Alabama.

Among locals I noted were Bruce Gitlin, Ann & Jim Walsh, Richard Timperio & Francine Tint, but there were many others whose names I didn’t know or can’t remember (I do hope nobody will take offense at this reportage—which is either too spotty or not spotty enough). Anyway, Ken Moffett most assuredly had a widespread and affectionate community of friends.

DAVID CRUM’S CIRCLES

Friday evening, October 21, I was invited to come and look at recent work by David Crum at the loft in the East Village that he shares with his wife, Katie Crum.

I have admired David’s work since 2007, when Katie first showed me reproductions of the poured paintings that he was then making; I reproduced one from 2008 when I wrote about him in a “supplement to the print edition” that I published on July 15, 2010.

But it was very pleasant to look at more paintings from this period, as well as earlier work going clear back to the late 60s and early 70s—when David was staining instead of pouring, in a way that recalled techniques pioneered by Helen Frankenthaler, but with entirely different shapes and a muted palette very much his own.

On Friday evening, the 21st, prior to a tasty light repast of Katie’s homemade minestrone and watercress salad, I was introduced to David’s latest undertaking. This is a series of small paintings, either on canvas and measuring maybe 12 x 16, or else on paper, measuring maybe 22 x 30.

The central (and indeed only) image is a circle, but composed out of many different strands of color that appear to weave in, out and around each other, either in the manner of a lush green Christmas wreath, or – to be more accurate – the tangled narrow sinewy browns and spiky reds that one finds in autumn holiday wreaths – appropriate for Halloween or Thanksgiving.

Not, of course, that these circles are all in this color scheme. Indeed, a sizeable appeal of these small paintings is that they come in every possible hue of the rainbow, and a number of hues that you won’t even find there. Very lively & entertaining!

“PERSONALIZED” AT FREEDMANART WITH KEN CARPENTER

Saturday morning, October 22, Ken Carpenter and I met at Corrado on Lexington Avenue. As Ken is now an emeritus professor at York University, he was able to stay on from the Moffett memorial and get in some NY art-seeing.

After grabbing some “coffee and,” we headed up to 73rd Street, where Freedmanart is displaying “Personalized: Friendship, Celebration, Gratitude” (on view for an indefinite period).

This jewel of an exhibition features 34 mostly small works that were given by the artists who created them to friends—fellow artists, dealers, collectors, curators and critics.

Most of the entries on the checklist list the owners demurely as “private collection,” but some of the inscriptions are more revealing.

Thus we have a colored postcard with a Kenneth Noland target image, cleverly decorated with verticals on either side of the target to suggest (to my twisted mind, at least) the impression of a place setting, with fork, plate and knife.

It is inscribed, in pencil, “FOR KAREN FROM KEN/ON A SUNNY AFTERNOON/IN SO. SALEM/6.18.92.”

Another gustatory treat is a hand-colored collage by Helen Frankenthaler with the label from a sauvignon blanc bottle, and an affectionate inscription to Freedman herself.

It reads, “1 June 77/Cheers!/To more!!/Ann Dear/Remember 30March? “Enfin” (Amer. Trans./for American [good] wine: “at/last”)! Painting the studio/floor and found encl., worked on/for you. Love Helen”

Less clearly identified but still illuminating is a mellow-toned piece of glazed stoneware, entitled “Yellow Pearl” (1980). According to the checklist, it is signed on the verso, “To Jules + Chris May ‘86/with love + gratitude from Darby.

Another entry with personal associations for me is an uncharacteristically gentle ink drawing on paper inscribed “For John + Bob/Philip Guston 1966.” John Heliker & Bob LaHotan were both representational longtime teacher-artists, Heliker at Columbia University’s School of Painting and Sculpture, LaHotan at my alma mater, Dalton.

LaHotan was never my teacher there, but when I was still in college (if I recall the time correctly) he was briefly engaged to my first cousin, Suzanne West (later Suzanne Doherty).

The engagement didn’t last long, but I do remember he gave me a pretty little oil painting for my birthday one year, a sweet study of clouds and pigeons, all pink and blue and white. Don’t know whatever happened to it, alas.

Most of the rest of the work doesn’t betray to whom it was given or when, but a lot of it is nonetheless exquisite. Among the standouts I include “Rondo #40” (1985), a fierce little Robert Motherwell India ink on paper with atypically sharp and narrow shapes; and the best Lee Bontecou I’ve ever seen, a terse little study of tight curlicues in colored pencil on black paper.

There's a large and handsome, light gray and very characteristic Susan Roth entitled “Ghost Dancer” (1983), with acrylic on two layers of canvas; an expert, small and very representational Richard Diebenkorn, “Untitled (Nude Woman in Blue Chair)” (1959); and the best John Walker that I can remember, a very small untitled, thickly impastoed oil on paper dated 2003 and suggesting a white moon in a dark sky with a long reflection of it reaching down into a dark sea.

Also a neat small & nubbly, many shades-of-gray untitled 1983 Larry Poons; and finally, a hauntingly pale untitled 1970 Adolph Gottlieb “burst.” It’s only a gouache on paper, and measures only 11 ¾ by 9 inches—but it’s monumental.

As I said at the top of this post, it would be heavy on social notes—nor was this visit to Freedmanart an exception. I didn’t know the young lady who was in charge of the reception desk when we arrived, but as I often find Ann Freedman’s daughter Jessica Freedman and/or William O’Reilly buzzing around, I inquired after them – as did Ken Carpenter.

Pretty soon the two of them descended from the gallery’s offices on the floor above, and we all broke into happy speech. Presently we were joined by Ann Freedman herself and everybody shook hands.

While Ken, Bill and Jessica were deep in conversation, Ann took me on a personally guided tour of the entire show, with fascinating stories about and insights into many of the works on view. What a treat!

As I wasn’t taking notes, I can’t share with my readers any of the things she said, but believe me it was a most felicitous encounter, and even without it, the show—as the Guide Michelin might say---rates at least three & maybe four stars.

ALL ABOUT ART: 21ST CENTURY ABSTRACT PAINTING AND SCULPTURE:
CURATED BY GERALD JACKSON


After we left Freedman Art, Ken and I parted company. He wanted to look at “Humor and Fantasy—The Berggruen Paul Klee Collection” at Met Breuer (through January 2). I wanted to get down to Chelsea, to see “21st Century Abstract Painting and Sculpture: Curated by Gerald Jackson" at Rush Arts (through October 28).

Two of the participating artists, Kim Uchiyama & Jill Nathanson, had emailed me announcements, and I tend to like the work of both, but even more of an attraction was the name of the curator, Gerald Jackson.

An elusive soul, Jackson has lingered in my memory ever since I admired a work by him in a show of “Small Gems” curated by Randy Bloom, held at A Gathering of the Tribes in 1997 and written up by me in issue #2 of FMD.

A year later, I myself was given the opportunity to curate a show at Tribes, and I wanted to include a work by him, but he was nowhere to be found. It was like he’d dropped off the face of the earth.

Now here at last would be a chance to see not only work by him but an entire exhibition that mirrored his taste and sensibility!

I’d tried to get to this “21st century” show of his the previous Saturday, but there was a panel discussion about to begin when I looked in. A lot of expectant-looking younger people were perched on folding chairs and waiting for the speakers to speak. It was clear that I wasn’t going to be able to look at the art in peace and quiet, so I beat a retreat.

This Saturday was different. I had the place to myself, except for the young lady at the desk (in the guest book, though, I noticed that David & Katie Crum had already been there, and jotted “excellent” beside their names).

I was very glad I’d come, too. Though Nathanson is the only artist here who can boast a clear line of descent from the Greenbergian artists dominating the show I’d just been to, many and maybe most of the others were well worth a gander, too.

This was very simple, straightforward abstract art, with none of the phony flamboyance and pretentious gimmickry that today’s more fashionable younger abstract painters affect.

Words I jotted down on my checklist: “pert, fresh, insouciant, appealing, oddly innocent – refuses to believe that people don’t want to look at painting any more, and offers them a banquet for the eye.”

It was all plain, straightforward, naked abstraction—and I liked it the better for that.

Back in my boudoir, I did some background research. Point of departure was the statement made by Jackson and emailed to me by the gallery’s pr. In it, he explains that he wanted to bring together Rush Arts, which has long been in the forefront of artistic innovation, with concepts about the history of American abstract art –which as he sees it, even today springs directly from the New York School of the mid-20th century.

His inspiration for this particular selection was the famous photograph of “The Irascibles,” taken by Nina Leen for Life Magazine and published in January 1951.

As almost any true modernist art historian can tell you, this photograph portrays fourteen men artists and one woman artist who together were protesting the selection process for a singularly boneheaded exhibition of contemporary work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

All of the big (& still living) members of the first generation of abstract expressionism were included---Pollock, de Kooning, Rothko, Still & so on.

Jackson’s somewhat wry idea was that it would be more in keeping with the 21st century emphasis on diversity and female achievement to turn the proportions around, and have fourteen women artists and one man. He calls his group "The Essentialists," and says they are all descended artistically from the first generation of abstract expressionism.

All I can say is that it makes for one helluva good show.

The artists chosen come from all over the US and occasionally abroad; the range in age is considerable as well. Needless to say, I liked some of the thirteen paintings and two sculptures better than others, but all the artists were clearly accomplished, and I find – upon googling them – that all or most have extensive exhibition records and bibliographies, though most of their names were new to me.

The two sculptors are Rebecca Smith, with a low-slung floor piece, and Lynn Umlauf, with a wall assemblage. Among the painters are Addie Longford, Elizabeth Hazan, Jennifer Riley, Pat Badt, Cecily Kahn, Julie Shapiro, Marthe Keller & Linda Geary.

I was delighted to see “Wave Quartet”(2016), a characteristically filmy and graceful study in pale shades by Jill Nathanson, but as I have written about her quite recently, I won’t dwell on her contribution.

New to me was Rai Alexander, whose vigorously tinted “Colored Kline” (2015), a combination of paper and matte medium on canvas, suggested (to me, anyway) a forest glade with a dark tree trunk dominating it—but not to the point of being obvious about it.

Also impressive is “Neuroplastic Nobility” (2016) by Annika Kappner, which carries Pollock’s pourings to an exciting new extreme, with shimmering, shining, swooping waves of acrylic resin and holographic glitter that make the surface literally sparkle.

Moving on up my list of admirations, I was tremendously taken by “Light Study #46” (2016), the handiwork of Kim Uchiyama. A tall vertical with horizontal bands of subdued but glowing colors, it gave me echoes of Rothko even as it differed from his work: instead of painterly rectangles of greens, blues , reds or purples, the palette here is four hard-edged bands of beige separating (at the top) a broad band of gold; (in the middle) a medium-sized band of silvery gray, and (near the bottom) a slightly broader band of black.

The one male artist here is Jackson himself, and his painting sets the tone for the entire show. This painting is called “A Blue and Green Painting” (2015), and that’s what it is, but with subtle embellishments. Atop the blue rectangle in the upper half of the canvas, and to the left, is a vertical yellow line. It is balanced, almost miraculously, by red and yellow vertical lines on the right-hand side of the lower half of the canvas, which is otherwise green. This workmanlike combination of fields and stripes is somehow strangely quaint – but also fresh, strong and simple.

AN ADDITIONAL ANGLE

In the wake of the publication of the above review, Gerald Jackson called me, to thank me and to point out that there is an additional angle to this show that I didn't mention. It concerns racism as well as sexism. According to photographs supplied to him by BOMB magazine, Norman Lewis, the African American abstract expressionist, attended the lunch that preceding the taking of Nina Leen's famous photograph of "The Irascibles." Yet he does not appear in the photograph itself. Whatever happened?

The present show includes no African American artists, because the 21st century African American women artists whom Jackson most admires are into narrative, not abstraction. They like to portray objects that evoke their African heritage, but (as Jackson says) it is hard to work black-eyed peas or a pork chop with gravy into an abstract painting. However, there is an African American woman associated with the show in an organizational, supervisory capacity. She is Oshun D. Layne, who is manager of exhibitions and programs for the Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation, which oversees the Rush Arts gallery.