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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."

 

TWO OLD FRIENDS, OR PERHAPS....

Stanley Boxer. Capturestheheartland. 1991. Oil and mixed media on canvas, 40 x 46 inches. Collection of Spanierman Modern.
Two old friends, or perhaps “professional acquaintances” would be less presumptuous, are having exhibitions in Manhattan at present. At Loretta Howard, you may see “Tim Scott in the 60s and 70s” (through February 25). I first met this gifted British sculptor back around 1970, when I was living in London and trying to write a novel. Clement Greenberg gave me Scott’s name, so I called him, and he and his statuesque wife invited me to a very nice dinner in their South London digs. However, I was still such a dummy that I didn’t ask to visit Scott’s studio.

If I had, I might have been able to see the sort of work that is the primary attraction at this exhibition---two huge, brilliantly-executed sculptures made of painted steel tubes, to which high-rising colored acrylic sheets have been bolted. With “Bird in Arras III” (1968), the steel tubing describes a giant, deep green arc 19 feet long and 6 or 8 feet high (with two flat pieces of steel that look rather like bird's feet to anchor it down at either end). Five rectangular sheets of acrylic rise up from this arc at right angles, the first three cream-colored, the next yellow and the fourth a soft brown. There is a kind of progression to these sheets, the first 3 rising, the last 2 descending, and the effect of the whole is galvanizing—deliciously tough, tight, lean and sinewy, while at the same time surprisingly graceful.

“Wine” (1969), the other sculpture on view from this decade, shares the same general characteristics, though its skeletonic steel tubing sits closer to the ground and its two trapezoidal sheets of acrylic rise higher in the air (to a height of 12 feet). The tubing is a deep reddish purple (as the sculpture’s name suggests), while one sheet of acrylic is a lighter, more bluish purple and the other, a metallic gray. The gallery had hoped to include a third sculpture from this period, “Bird in Arras VIII,” (1969) but it proved too big to fit into the gallery space. With eight or nine acrylic sheets, some orange and some yellow, the reproduction of this work in the brochure makes it look most enjoyable (at least, if you like color in your sculpture, though not all observers do).

The rest of the show is devoted to Scott in the early 70s. On view are four sculptures from the artist’s “Counterpoint” series, all executed between 1973 and 1976. They are chunkier and more compact than the earlier works, and mostly made of massive slabs and bars of clear Plexiglas, held together by steel bars. Although the contrast between the massiveness of the Plexiglas and its transparency definitely adds a piquant quality to these sculptures, it also meant that when I stood back from them at any distance, they became very difficult to see. Perhaps for this reason, I feel that the best of this series on view is “Counterpoint XIII” (1973-74), in which the Plexiglas is kept to a minimum and a sizeable slab of aluminum claims center stage instead.

Upstairs at Loretta Howard, one may see ”Cleve Gray: Silver and Gold 1967” (also through February 25). I never met Gray (1918-2004), but I know he was a New York-born painter married to Francine du Plessix Gray, and thus part of the extended family of Alexander Liberman, the sculptor and magazine executive (I’ve also seen paintings by Cleve’s son, Luke Gray) The Cleve Gray estate is now represented by Loretta Howard, and some of the abstract paintings she put on view are very attractive. All are distinguished by extremely loose, free paint application, and the use of swirls of aluminum and bronze paint, but the three which came off best for me were those where the color range was kept to a minimum, with little besides silver and various kinds of yellow, and/or pale brown: “Silver Ceres,” “Silver Ochre,” and “Silver Song” (all—as the title of the show suggests—painted in 1967).

BOXER AT SPANIERMAN MODERN

Like so many other modernist artists, Stanley Boxer benefitted from Clement Greenberg’s unique talent for milieu-building, though the two rarely got together in the latter part of their lives. I first met Boxer (1926-2000), together with his wife, the painter Joyce Weinstein, some time in the ‘80s or ‘90s, on the vernissage circuit, for he exhibited with several topnotch galleries known for their modernist orientation: André Emmerich, Salander O’Reilly, and (if memory serves correctly) also Stephen Long. Nearly twelve years after his death, however (and eighteen after Greenberg’s), Boxer still keeps going strong. His 2009-2010 retrospective, which I wrote about at some length, traveled from Richmond VA to Bridgeport CT and thence to Boca Raton FL, and the current exhibition, “Stanley Boxer” at Spanierman Modern, is a worthy successor to the retrospective (through February 18).

In all, the checklist has 21 paintings, almost all from the 1990s, but with two from the 60s, and one dated 1973. At the opening, I witnessed several painters exclaiming with pleasure over the earlier ones, but for me, the most distinctive were the later ones, made after Boxer developed his signature method of building and adorning his paint surfaces with glister, minuscule beads from supply shops for dressmakers, and granular elements, as well as tiny wood shavings and sawdust. Such was his genius that all these elements customarily blend perfectly together with his paints, creating an esthetic whole..

I especially liked the group at the east end of the gallery, with two winners that both had a lot of red in them, “Asnowsear” (1996) and “Capturetheheartland” (1991). The central display of three paintings facing the street (and visible through the gallery window) is also striking, especially the central, largest one, “Placeofwonder” (1996), a pale but vigorous study in orchard colors, with greens, leaf-like patches and peachy yellows. At the west end of Spanierman Modern, over a staff member’s desk, hangs a fourth very impressive painting, “Blacksnowssargasso” (1994), this one with a charcoal-colored field and a starry, seemingly revolving oval of dabs of pink, blue and white. And in the little viewing room, with its comfy seating arrangement, the large & handsome gray-on-gray with green and earth-colored accents is titled "Screamwithcalm" (1996). That title may sound like an oxymoron, but it’s a fair reflection of Boxer’s special talent: to unite opposites. .
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