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."

THREE WITH BRIO

May 13, 2017

Tags: Catherine Perehudoff, Friedel Dzubas, Larry Zox

Larry Zox (1937-2006), Cordova Diamond Drill, 1967. Acrylic on canvas, 66 x 48 inches. Courtesy Berry Campbell.
There are so many lively shows around that some go by even before I can write about them—case in point being ”Catherine Perehudoff: Paintings” at Artifact (closed April 23). But a couple of other goodies remain open for your viewing pleasure: “Friedel Dzubas: Sketches” at Leslie Feely Fine Art (through June 30) and “Larry Zox” at Berry Campbell (through May 26).

CATHERINE PEREHUDOFF: COASTAL MUSIC

In Canada (if not the US), it is well known that William Perehudoff, the abstract painter, was married to Dorothy Knowles, the landscape (and floral) artist. Catherine Perehudoff, one of their daughters, has become an artist, too.

Perhaps not too surprisingly, she has taken after her mother rather than her dad.
At Artifact, on the Lower East Side, she got the front third of the gallery to display five paintings: three landscapes and two flower paintings.

As I’ve never seen her mother’s work in the flesh, I can only say that upon the basis of reproductions on google, the daughter’s style appears to be more linear than her mother’s, which is more impressionistic.

With Catherine Perehudoff, every leaf and blade of grass in this show was present and accounted for -- but this doesn’t mean that the paintings weren’t charming, for indeed they were.

Best and freshest was a coastal view of “Wild Waves of North Atlantic” (2015). Second best were two coastal floral studies, “Seaside Roses” (2017) and “Coastal Flowers” (2016). Also nice was a view of a lake surrounded by a woodland of evergreens, and titled “Trees, Mist and Rocks” (2016).

FRIEDEL DZUBAS: SKETCHES

Once again, Leslie Feely, on the Upper East Side, has come up with a fresh and juicy show, though perhaps surprisingly so, as a sizeable exhibition of work by Friedel Dzubas – including a number of his small “sketches,” or preliminary studies for larger paintings – has only just been taken down from its 18-month display in the lobby gallery of Tower 49.

Still, at Tower 49 these “sketches” were mostly mounted high on the wall, making it difficult to see them. Here 21 of the same type, hung in easily-comprehended groups of four or five, are at eye-level, accessible even to the near-sighted.

And, for purposes of comparison, there is the study for “Otero” and also the finished painting (1975)—which is even more glorious than the sketch.

All these “sketches” are from the artist’s mature period, beginning in the 70s, though there are a few finished and somewhat larger paintings from earlier periods, too. One of these, a medium-sized, untitled canvas from c. 1951, is a real winner.

In the upper part of the center are upwardly foaming dark shapes – blacks, browns and grays, highlighted by reds. Down below is much less organized, but the way that the whole picture steams toward the top galvanizes the whole.

LARRY ZOX: BAROQUE MINIMAL

This is an extremely handsome, interesting and worthwhile show – even if not quite what I expected. Since I’ve started writing this column, Stephen Haller has staged two or even three exhibitions by Larry Zox (1937-2006) that left me vaguely dissatisfied – because they combined what seemed to me extremely fine work from the 1960s with much weaker more recent work.

The 60s work was brilliantly colored, hard-edged geometric abstraction. The later work I can’t even describe, it made so little of an impression. But I gathered from my correspondence with Valentin Tatransky that at some point he and Zox had been friends.

Specifically, Tatransky reminisced that Zox had once shared with him some absolutely Grade A, top-quality heroin. Since neither man is still with us, I feel it’s safe to share this info, though I should add -- for the benefit of younger readers -- that in decades gone by, heroin was more acceptable to the in-crowd that it may be today. Autre temps, autre moeurs, as the French say.

Anyway, the fact that he and Tatransky had been friends suggested he had been at some point a member in good standing of the color-field school, and since the 60s works that I saw at Haller was so much better than the later work, I assumed that this was a situation analogous to the situation with Dan Christensen, with the color-field association strongest in the 60s and fading after that.

Since Haller closed down, however, the Zox estate has come to Berry Campbell ,and they have put together a whole show of 60s and early 70s work in their gallery in Chelsea.

Everything is vibrantly colored and hard-edged geometry—nor is it minimal in the usual sense, for the compositions are quite complex.

But you know, as I worked my way through it, I found myself thinking, no, this is not color-field. At first, it was just a feeling, a sort of sixth sense ticking in. Then I tried to analyze it.

For one thing, there was a tendency to regularity that I don't associate with color field, and in most cases a tendency toward the overly complex. If that sounds contradictory, then all I can say is, go and see this provocative show for yourselves, and find out what label works for you.

“Baroque minimal” was the closest I could come to an adjective to define this complicated experience (hope that doesn't strike too many of my readers as an oxymoron).

It is not an insult, though. Many minimal artists from the 60s have demonstrated remarkable staying power, from Brice Marden, Richard Serra & Robert Mangold through to Jo Baer & Larry Bell (two 60s heroes currently serving as the Whitney Biennial’s patron saints).

Among minimalist sculptors from the 60s, Donald Judd is up for a big retrospective at MoMA, and Robert Morris & Carl Andre have also recently come in for major exposure.

Nor would I say that Zox was a hard-core postmodernist (he was too good a colorist for that). Much of his appeal is that this 60s work of his defies close association with any one school or point of view.

Nevertheless, looking at the informative brochure that accompanies the show, and researching Zox’s exhibition record online, I am prepared to say that in the 60s, he was if anything playing for the other team.

Peter Schjeldahl, for example, is quoted in the brochure as an admirer. But in the 1980s, when I first came across Schjeldahl’ s name, he was writing in Art in America that Clement Greenbergwas the Reverend Sun Myung Moon of the art world, and most of the artists he more recently has been picking to praise in The New Yorker are of a piece with that point of view.

Zox wasn’t in Greenberg’s 1964 “Post-Painterly Abstraction” group show (possibly because he’d only just begun to exhibit).

He was included in “Systemic Painting,” a 1966 group show of abstractions at the Guggenheim organized by Lawrence Alloway, the British critic who was best known as a supporter of pop art. Alloway used this exhibition to equate minimalism to color-field by including everybody from Noland to Baer and Agnes Martin.

During the 60s, Zox exhibited in New York with Jill Kornblee, who had a lively & eclectic gallery in the East 70s, just off Madison Avenue. I can recall visiting it regularly while I was writing about art for Time.

The artists I saw there ranged from Jason Seley, who made sculpture from chrome automobile fenders, and Malcolm Morley, a precursor of hyperrealism, to Michelangelo Pistoletto, an Italian artist who painted human figures in gray on mirrors (those mirror paintings were all over the place at the 2017 Armory Show). But I don't recall any artists whom I would now consider color-field painters.

It’s not until 1975-76 that Zox exhibited with André Emmerich and in 1982 with Salander O’Reilly, two galleries more directly associated with color field. And there’s what looks to be a very fine, very soft and painterly Zox, dated 1981, and reproduced in the catalogue of the Greenberg collection in Portland.

So it looks as though, to the extent that Zox was ever a true color-field painter, it was from the mid-70s onward. However, to judge from what I saw of that later work at Haller, and what I see online, it would be difficult if not impossible to put together a show of this later work equal in quality what we have to enjoy at present at Berry Campbell.

And, as I say, there are many very handsome paintings in this show. I say handsome rather than lovely because these are very masculine paintings, with a stop-the-presses quality that brings to mind the word, pugnacious. Colors and shapes interact very dynamically with each other.

It comes as no surprise to learn that Zox’s Manhattan studio, in his prime, welcomed jazz musicians, bikers and boxers (as well as fellow artists) – and that (being a large man himself) Zox occasionally sparred with visiting fighters.

One of my favorite paintings in this show is the relatively serene “Rotation B” (1964). It has broad horizontal bands of color and notches on all four sides made in the color of these bands to insert long, narrow triangles, mostly of white.

The broadest band, in the center, is a placid apricot, with narrower bands of yellow, magenta and pale pink above and yellow and blue below.

Also standouts are two paintings built around steeply vertical diamonds. The bigger one is “Esso Lexington” (1968). It has a black field to the right, and descending diamonds to the left, outlined in white and filled in with magenta, orange, two greens and a black.

The smaller one, hanging over the reception desk, is “Cordova Diamond Drill” (1967). This one has only two colors, the field which is dark gray and the diamond design, which is pale pink. Its classic simplicity lends it distinction, although it also glitters very slightly. Zox sometimes mingled a little mica with his paint to get that glittery effect.