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Report from the Front

Art criticism, sometimes with context, occasional politics. Published in hard copy 2-4 times a year. New shows: "events;" hard copy rates & how to support the online edition: "works."

 

NOODLING AROUND THE NEXUS

Richard Timperio, Dancer, 2015. Acrylic on canvas, 39.5 x 33.5 inches. Courtesy the artist.
All the art fairs have been the nexus of the art scene in Manhattan this spring, but obviously hundreds of other viewing spaces have been showing their prides and joys as well. Four whom I’m going to highlight (alas, belatedly) in paragraphs below are 1) Jack White at Peg Alston (closed May 16); 2) “The Space Between” at the New York Studio School (closed March 22); 3) “Once Upon a Time and Now,” at The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center (officially closed April 6, though its permanent works remain on view) and 4) Louise P. Sloane & Richard Timperio at André Zarre (closed May 9).

These are all smaller venues, but that’s the way it’s been this season. I just haven’t made it to my beloved Metropolitan Museum of Art all spring, though a trusted source tells me it has a whole gallery of excellent paintings by Hans Hofmann on display.

Another museum with what sounded like a stellar exhibit was the Museum of Biblical Art, which was simultaneously celebrating its 10th anniversary and planning to close after this spring show. The show was was entitled “Sculpture in the Age of Donatello: Renaissance Masterpieces from Florence Cathedral” (closed Jun 14).

And indeed, this show turned out to be very attractive, well installed (in pristine white surroundings) and featuring 23 sculptures either created to decorate Florence Cathedral in the early Quattrocento or else created in conjunction with those masters responsible for that decoration.

(Today, all this work has long since been taken down from the cathedral. It is owned by the cathedral's museum, though all of it isn't always on view).

True, only 2 sculptures in the show were entirely by Donatello, but one was that marvelously dour and bald-pated standing figure nicknamed “Lo Zuccone” (“Pumpkin Head”). Said to depict the prophet Habakkuk, it's Donatello’s second most famous sculpture (after his “David,” the first known free-standing nude statue produced since ancient times).

The other 100 percent Donatello in the show was also most impressive, a muscular seated "St. John the Evangelist" (1408-1415). It was originally situated to the right of the main portal of the cathedral, and could easily have been seen by Michelangelo, as it is clearly a forerunner to Michelangelo's similarly seated "Moses" (1513-1515).

A third sculpture billed as a Donatello turned out to be a joint effort by Donatello and Nanni di Bartolo. Its subject was "Abraham and Isaac" and it was very graceful but not as tough and forthright as the two sculptures by Donatello alone.

There were also 7 more smaller sculptures that might or might not have been by Donatello, most either "attributed" or done by him in conjunction with his workshop. They were very nice looking, too.

However, I was more taken by a number of sculptures in the show by other Florentines from the same period, including 3 hexagonal reliefs by Lucca della Robbia, and two sculptures associated with the name of Nanni di Banco.

The one known to be by Nanni di Banco was the large, majestic "St. Luke the Evangelist" that once stood on the left of the great portal of the cathedral (balancing Donatello's "St. John the Evangelist" on the right).

The other, merely attributed to this artist, was a "Profetino" (small prophet) that originally graced the top of a pinnacle. He had a slight, boyish figure, and a lovely free-standing sway to his body.

The small models of Brunelleschi's great dome to the Cathedral were interesting, too.

JACK WHITE AT PEG ALSTON

The last time I saw work by John H. (“Jack”) White was at a group show at Judith Klein in 1997. Before that time, he’d been born (in 1940) in Brooklyn, and studied at the Cartoonists and Illustrators School (now the School of Visual Arts) two nights a week while he was still in high school. Upon graduation, he enlisted in the U.S. Army. Stationed in West Germany, he was able to visit many European museums. After he was discharged, he went to Ibiza, where he became good friends with Bob Thompson.

Thompson encouraged White to pursue a career in art, and so, after returning to New York, he continued his studies at the Art Students’ League. After receiving a fellowship to the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire, he had his first group show in 1968, and his first solo exhibition in 1996. Since then, he has had four more solo exhibitions, and participated in six more group shows.

The paintings he exhibited at Peg Alston were small- to medium-sized, oil-and-plaster abstracts, composed of many small forms plus a few larger ones (squares). Reds, blues and yellows were most prominent, but many other colors were intertwined.

These small, deft forms reminded me of the paintings of Larry Poons at Danese/Corey that I’d also recently seen (and reviewed in my post of May 16), except that where Poons had used a brush to create wavy or rounded lines, White’s pictures were composed of sharper, straighter little shapes that looked as though they’d been scraped on with a palette knife. The effect was different but equally admirable.

The smallest works came off best in this show, although some of medium-sized ones were good, too. Two small ones that really sang were “Galaxy Cluster #46” (2006) and “Galaxy Cluster #29” (2003). Also worthwhile were the slightly larger “Galaxy Cluster #38” (2004) and ”Strutter” (2005).

“THE SPACE BETWEEN” AT THE NY STUDIO SCHOOL

This intriguingly-titled show, curated by Jennifer Samet, contained work by thirteen present and former faculty members of the school; the title is “an aesthetic idea that links the teaching philosophies of distinct individuals who have presided over the School and influenced generations of artists.” Of the thirteen, only six stood out for me.

“View from Studio Window” (2003-4), by Stanley Lewis, was an appealing graphite drawing, showing a rippling view of trees and their branches in snow. Ruth Miller’s untitled oil was a likeable semi-abstract still life, with shiny green and purple balls.

Graham Nickson’s “Expulsion I” (1991) was a strong charcoal drawing, showing a plowed beach, with a woman on the right, maybe taking off her robe (?). “Standing Woman in an Interior Space” (2011-2014) was a graphite drawing by Bruce Gagnier –not bad, crude but unexpectedly poignant.

Mercedes Matter (1913-2001), the lady who did more than anybody else to start this school, was represented by a untitled, richly abstract/cubist charcoal on canvas board, with lots of provocative, spiky forms.

Queen of the show was Jilaine Jones, with "Combination I” (2012), a medium-sized sculpture with outlined horizontal forms in steel, to which clung slightly-lighter-looking shapes in ceramic. Altogether tantalizing, picking up where David Smith left off.

“ONCE UPON A TIME AND NOW” AT THE LGBT COMMUNITY CENTER

Dirty old woman that I am, any mention of S-X in the staid New York Times makes me pay close attention, so when Holland Cotter talked about it in his March 6 review of “Once Upon a Time and Now,” I resolved to follow in his footsteps.

This show was staged in a building that I’d actually visited once before, when a social club to which I belong had rented one of its rooms for a party.

The show itself, organized by Ian Alteveer of the Met, combined 15 pieces that were created way back in 1989, for an exhibition commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, together with four more pieces by younger people.

These 19 works were installed all over the building, not excluding a former men’s room and the stairwells: when I got to the center, I was given a brochure, with diagrams showing the location of every work, and with its aid, I started out on my treasure hunt.

By God, I got to all 19, though Cotter had hit the high spots before me (none of which had been contributed by the youngsters). The four pieces I related to most strongly began with “Nijinsky,” a diptych mural by Barbara Sandler, in the ground-floor auditorium and portraying on the left, the famed Russian dancer in his role as The Faun, and on the right, a wolf-headed man (Anubis?) holding a heart stuck with spikes.

Next, as I proceeded upwards, I found the most famous work in the collection, a Keith Haring mural entitled “Once Upon a Time”. Maybe 12 feet long and 8 feet high, it’s on the second floor in what was a men’s room (5 urinals and 2 sinks have been removed, though chairs were stacked to one side, as the room is sometimes used for meetings).

Made with black paint on the white tiles in the artist’s familiar comic strip/graffiti style, it’s a paean to the penis, showing this member being sucked, dancing by itself, lined up, with 7 figures successively penetrating each other, and so on. A jolly show.

On the same floor, but in a stairwell at the back of the building, is an untitled floor-to-ceiling acrylic mural by Martin Wong. The sky-blue background for the central image is crackling but still intact, while the central image is in even better condition. It’s a large erect phallus made out of red bricks to resemble a building. A bit offbeat, but not too.

Hidden away at the very top of the front stairwell (and enclosed by a door that I had get opened) was my favorite: “Room” by Arch Connelly. On the four walls of this tiny space, maybe 4 x 9 feet, and with window and door to further cramp the space, is an exuberant monster collage.

It combines dozens and even hundreds of small cutout photographs of figures—or parts of figures—all of beautiful young male nudes, all races, all hair colors, and in every conceivable pose. Interspersed with them are cutout photos of shiny pieces of precious jewelry—rings, pins, necklaces, bracelets, etc. Thus the whole room appears to sparkle.

LOUISE P. SLOANE & RICHARD TIMPERIO AT ANDRÉ ZARRE

Louise P. Sloane commanded the front gallery at Zarre with an eye-catching display of nine of her oft-admired, brightly-colored, and thickly-impastoed paintings of squares upon squares. I wish I had more to say about them, but they looked so much like the paintings in her 2011 show at Sideshow that I can add nothing to my two reviews of that show.

As I hate to repeat myself, here are the dates for those reviews: posted here on November 6, 2011, and in artcritical.com on November 11, 2011.

I thought some paintings in this show looked fresher than others. Here I would single out “Bintel Blues” (2014), “OOCBT” (2015) and “OOVS” (2014).

The nearly as brightly-colored sixteen paintings of Richard Timperio in the two back galleries at Zarre didn’t have the machine-tooled professionalism of Sloane’s work, but they had more life and variety—not least because the artist appeared to have been experimenting with new shapes and forms.

Not all of these experiments came off, but at least they give this beleaguered critic something to write about.

More importantly, as Clement Greenberg long ago suggested in a letter to Jacob Kainen, an artist has to take risks. Hofmann & David Smith, he continued, took those risks, and were able to keep renewing their art over the years. Pollock didn’t—and couldn’t.

In the past, although Timperio has employed wiggly lines and circles, I’ve been more conscious of his rectangles and other rectilinear shapes. This time, I was struck by the larger and more prominent squiggles, as well as concentric ovals.

Too often, I fear, the concentric ovals looked too much like racetracks, and sometimes the squiggles looked too cartoony, but “Green Slide” (2015) had just one curved shape at the bottom and worked very well, while “Dancer” (2015) outrageously combined a vertical wiggly yellow shape with vertical trapezoids, and came up with an excellent image.

Three other paintings deserve comment; all were predominantly rectilinear. “Navaho Dreams” (2014) had entirely satisfactory vertical bars up top, and a horizontal one at the bottom, though the vertical diamond in the center – while it may have reminded the artist of Navaho blankets -- reminded me more of Kenneth Noland.

“Open Road” (2015) also succeeded, with a vertical black curve that bled into other areas of color, while “Red Flag” (2015) combined hanging verticals of red and blue at its top with horizontal wedges below of red, yellow and brown.

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