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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."

 

OPENING NIGHT

Well, I’m not often this much on top of the news, but I did get out yesterday to see four shows that were just opening.

First, I took in Yuriko Yamaguchi’s “Interconnected” at Howard Scott (through October 15). The gallery bills her as a conceptual artist, but actually this show has considerable visual appeal (a quality that conceptual art is often unprovided with). The works in this show are wall pieces or relief sculptures composed of irregular bits of colored resin mounted on tangles of fine copper, brass and stainless steel wire. The ones with the larger pieces of resin, brightly colored red or blue, don’t work for me as well as those which incorporate smaller and more delicately colored bits of resin, and leave more of the wires showing, but at their best, as with “Season of Change” (2011), the latter sort are quite appealing. I do think it is difficult to get full control with this manner of procedure, but even with its haphazardness showing, the work commands attention.

From here, I sashayed downstairs to take in “Maja Lisa Engelhardt: The Fourth Day” at Elizabeth Harris (through October 8). These are abstract landscapes by a Danish artist, inspired by the Book of Genesis, in which God is said to have created the sun, moon, and stars on the fourth day of his momentous undertaking. The colors in these paintings are very pleasant, lush and radiant, and the imagery (such as it is) is attractive enough, but the brushwork is off-putting. Although it’s acrylics, the gooey quality reminds me of gestural oil painting, not so much from the 1950s as from the 1980s, when Neo-Expressionism was in style (whatever happened to Neo-Expressionism, by the way? Where are the snows of yesteryear?). Anyway, back in the 80s I was already commenting on how soft and easy to sink into Neo-Expressionist brushwork was. That hasn’t changed in the ensuing decades, and by me, “easy” isn’t a compliment. Then again, maybe I’m just the wrong person to comment on abstract landscapes, as they tend to look to me like an attempt to create a product for two different audiences at the same time, and winding up as succeeding in neither ambition – neither flesh nor fowl nor good red herring (to use an antique metaphor). I'm not saying the artist had these intentions. I'm just saying that's what it looks like.

On to “Ronnie Landfield: Structure and Color,” at Stephen Haller (through October 15). Here are yet more abstract landscapes, and given my feelings about abstract landscapes, I should perhaps recuse myself from evaluating this show. Still, I’m not totally opposed to all abstract landscapes. I like those of Milton Avery. Landfield’s paintings are less firmly rooted in nature than were Avery’s. With Landfield, the main reason the viewer tends to think that these are landscapes is that the top part of the canvas is usually blue or some off-white color reminiscent of a cloudy sky. Blue and even off-white are receding colors, so this area of the paintings usually fades away, back into space. In the middle part of these canvases are broad arcs of more brightly colored paint, several inches wide and suggestive of hills or upland pastures—despite their colors. These reds, yellows, greens and so on show Landfield at his strongest, as his color sense is highly pleasing. Across the bottom of the canvas is usually a rigidly ruled flat band of paint in yet another color. Once again, the impression that this creates is of an artist reaching out again to two separate audiences, those who go for post-painterly abstraction as well as those who favor the painterly. There is also something rather formulaic about this approach: at times, i feel like I'd been looking at the same Ronnie Landfield for decades. Still, sometimes the formula works, as most notably in “Franz Kline in Provincetown,” where the black across the bottom is matched by a dark brown area in midsection and a darker than ordinary sky at the top to bring the whole into unity. And even with the lesser paintings, the paint application is a lot livelier, and the colors far brighter, than Engelhardt’s. This is because Landfield comes out of the color-field tradition, where Frankenthaler and Morris Louis paved the way with their stained canvases, as opposed to slathering on paint. That stained surface creates a fresher impression.

Nevertheless, there is still a lot to be said for pure abstractions, as opposed to abstract landscapes, and Richard Timperio has created a highly pleasurable series of just such pure stained-paint abstractions, on view at Art 101 in Williamsburg (through October 9). I must confess that I enjoyed myself at this show more than at any of the others (and not just because I got there after the opening-night reception had started, and was distinguishing itself by hors d’oeuvres of an unusually high caliber). What I liked particularly was the vitality and variety of the paintings on view, both those on paper & those on canvas. Timperio, of course, is best known as mastermind of the Sideshow gallery. He got started on the current series of paintings last fall, after he showed a group of smaller works on paper in a group show at this same gallery. In the summer (when the gallery was closed), he was able to progress to larger works on canvas. But I’m not going to discuss this show in detail just now. I want to go back to see it when it isn’t so crowded, and I can study the paintings more carefully and at greater length. After I’ve done that, I hope to flesh out this review. In the meantime, anybody who happens to be in Williamsburg might want to check out this show for themselves.
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