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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."

 

WHAT OUR GALLERISTS HAVE BEEN UP TO

Yunhee Min, Movements (swell 1), 2015. Acrylic on linen, 45 x 45 inches (114.3 x 114.3 cm). (AMY28111). Courtesy Ameringer | McEnery | Yohe & the artist.
Our enterprising gallerists have more than one way to promote the artists they believe in. Here's a rundown of a slew of displays of work during this past winter and spring that I’ve found worth prospecting.

Way back at the beginning of March, we had The Armory Show at Piers 92 & 94 on the Hudson, The Art Show at the Park Avenue Armory, and Art on Paper, on Pier 36 at South Street on the East River.

The New York Times Friday art section took a dim view of all of this, devoting only a back page to its reviews by its second-string critics—the big names, Roberta Smith & Holland Cotter, being occupied with filling the front pages with their reviews of the opening Met Breuer.

For once, I entirely agree with this journalistic decision. Though I diligently checked out Piers 92, 94, 36 and the Park Avenue Armory (on the weekend following the media preview for Met Breuer), I didn’t see any art that could be construed as wild and crazy art – the sort of thing that would make most readers of the Times salivate.

Nor, for that matter, did I see frequent displays of work that I myself went ape for (me with my minority taste). Still, I did make the rounds, and by the end of it all, found more than I’d expected to recommend – even though only a bit of it was made just yesterday
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FIRST, PIER 94—THE CONTEMPORARY

Pier 94, that portion of the Armory Show devoted to “contemporary” had a fine booth by Hales of London entirely devoted to five large paintings by Frank Bowling, including three recent ones. All were soft & elegant, best thing on the pier.

Aside from that, I found nothing I’d that I’d call either “newsy” or worth recommending, though I did notice a fair number of large, moderately attractive photographs with still life or landscape compositions, and more than one monumental portrait painting by Kehinde Wiley.

Certainly, everything looked like the kind of easily portable souvenir art that a buyer could pick up and take home with her or him.

In other words, the show was targeted at the kind of buyer who still wants to hang his or her artwork in her or his home or office and enjoy it– as opposed to the growing number of buyers who are better described as “investors” (or should I say “speculators”?) and who are only interested in storing their purchases until they can unload them at a profit.

We have all long suspected that this is what is driving the auction market, but on Sunday, May 29, two New York Times art reporters, Graham Bowley & Doreen Carvajal, made Page One with a fascinating article that confirmed those suspicions.

Entitled “Masterpieces Tucked Away to Appreciate, Not to Be Appreciated,” it detailed the existence of “free ports” in Switzerland and elsewhere, where art is treated as a commodity and stored (not hung in homes) in the expectation that it can be resold for a profit.

But I digress.

SECOND, PIER 92—THE MODERN

Pier 92 of the Armory Show was ostensibly devoted to the “modern” but included a deal of more recent and more Duchampian work of a type that I’d call “contemporary.”

There was also a lot of work by Sam Francis and other artists from the 50s and 60s whom I should admire but don’t.

I also found some good things here, including 1) a handsome selection of work by women artists at Michael Rosenfeld (among them painting by Alice Neel & sculpture by Augusta Savage), 2) a medium-sized painting by Olitski & a table sculpture by Caro at James Barron Art from Kent, Connecticut, and 3) a pale, late ‘60s Noland stripe painting at Armand Bartos.

Also admirable was 4) a large & lovely Frankenthaler at Hollis Taggart, entitled “Upon the Green.” Although dated 1982, it was blessedly free of those nervous little lines that do so much to detract from so many of this fine artist’s later work.

Also, 5) quite a number of galleries were showing mostly-smaller work by three great first-generation abstract expressionists who in my opinion are grossly undervalued: Gottlieb, Hofmann & Motherwell. I hope that this tardy attention may serve to enhance their allure.

THIRD, THE ART SHOW—WHAT MIGHT BE CALLED "OLD MASTERS" IN OUR HYPER-CONTEMPORARY AGE

Moving on over to The Art Show at the Park Avenue Armory, sponsored by the ADAA, I found a more sedate presentation but one that in its way suggested more fine art as opposed to mere novelty.

This is not because the art on view was necessarily older. Quite a number of booths were devoted to the work of single artists, and those selected were more likely to be pomonian than modernian.

But the gray rugs may have helped, if only to deaden the chatter, and the prevalence of chairs in the aisles for the art lovers to rest their feet—over at The Armory Show, most of the chairs provided were strictly for the exhibitors.

True, I found the solo display of Beauford Delaney at Michael Rosenfeld very appealing, but most art that I saw and liked best was in galleries displaying groups.

Galerie St. Etienne, for example, had a worthy selection of Austrian and German Expressionists. It was presided over by a large reclining female nude in oil, executed ca. 1905-6 by Paula Modersohn-Becker, but the booth also included work by Kokoschka, Kirchner & Schiele.

Best of all was a small pen-and-ink drawing, likewise of a reclining female nude done in 1945 by Max Beckmann.

Also very likeable was the joint display of Howard Greenberg & Hans P. Kraus, Jr. of early photography by the Photo-Secession group. Works by the usual stars, among them Stieglitz & Steichen, were included, but fresher was that by lesser known and sometimes “pictorialist” photographers.

Among them were Gertrude Käsebier, Paul B. Haviland & George H. Seeley.

“Artists in Foreign Lands,” put together by Thomas Colville Fine Art, of Guilford Connecticut, had a nice small John LaFarge beach scene and a lovely little sketch of two lions by Géricault, done in 1820 & I believe the earliest work in the entire show, plus (sigh) a Sargent for a centerpiece.

Also worth a visit was “Spain and Its 20th Century Masters: Picasso, Miró and Dalí,” as staged by Jeffrey H. Loria & Co.

It featured a truly wild medium-sized Miró “Personnage” (1938), a gouache, pastel and charcoal showing a nightmare figure, with an agonized expression on his face & blood streaming out of a gash in his stomach.

Easily the standout for the entire exhibition, however, was the booth of Paul Kasmin, with a solo exhibition devoted to “Jules Olitski: Six Decades.”

Dominating the booth’s interior were four monumental and magnificent paintings, all from different periods and /or moments in the artist’s career: “Other Mother” (1989), “Basium Blush" (1960), “Heraclitus Step-Two” (1977) and “Dreamtime” (1986).

On the exterior was hung a beautiful untitled spray painting from 1966, while paintings from the ‘50s and the ‘90s were hidden around the edges of this memorable show.

FOURTH & LAST: ART ON PAPER AT PIER 36

This art show is a long way off the beaten path, and I was eager to revive myself with a cup of coffee when I got there (though I knew it was going to be overpriced).

Imagine my surprise when I was told they weren’t selling decaffeinated coffee—and my rage when, instead of apologizing for this oversight, the clerk gave me a snotty little holier-than-thou lecture on how decaffeinating coffee was bad for the environment because it uses so much water.

Like I shouldn’t even be asking – for what his booth is clearly too cheap to sell!

In despair, I ordered herbal tea, only to discover that they were also too puritanical to have artificial sweeteners, and were all out of their three kinds of regular milk.

The only milk they had left had cane sugar in it. Score one for the sugar lobby!

But to the art. It’s kind of a novel idea, to offer only works on paper, and this more or less ensures that they will be moderately priced.

Not too modest, though: dominating the entrance was a big exhibition of works on paper by Larry Rivers, staged jointly by 101/EXHIBIT of West Hollywood, and the Larry Rivers Foundation.

This was clearly a very fine show, if you like the art of Larry Rivers,. I’m willing to bet it was reasonably pricey, Rivers having been the third of the big three neo-dadaists of the 50s, along with Johns & Rauschenberg.

I too am willing to agree that he was a very fine draftsman, but his subject matter has never especially appealed to me.

Also dominating the entry was a huge & multicolored special installation of three-dimensional paper forms. According to the booklet they gave you at the entrance, this was named “Rainbow,” but according to my notes, it was called “The Emerald City.”

In any event, it wasn’t just green, it was also red and yellow, and created by a Beijing-based sculptor named Li Hongbo, who was born in 1974 and is represented by Klein Sun, a gallery in Chelsea.

I found it quite colorful, though I can’t imagine where I or any true collector would be able to put it. It was either destined for a museum – or, perhaps, one of those “free ports” in Switzerland where it can appreciate out of sight.

The main reason I come to “Art on Paper” is to see what’s up with Gallery Sam, since Evan Morganstein, the Bay Area entrepreneur who runs it, customarily includes work in his booths by Roy Lerner & Francine Tint, two artists whose work I admire.

This year was no exception. Tint had 5 small works on an inside wall of the booth, while Lerner had two larger ones commanding the outside. Among the Tint paintings, I especially liked the monochromatic one, though I could have done without the title: “Homage to Twombly” (Twombly is one of my very least favorite artists).

Both of the Lerners were eminently satisfactory, too.

Gallery Sam also showed a number of other brightly colored and beguiling abstractions. Louise P. Sloane & Richard Timperio were featured prominently facing the entrance.

Both artists were represented by work somewhat different from work by them that I’ve seen in the past. The picture I liked best was Timperio’s “Diamond Blue” (2015).

In addition, I noticed in particular five small, delicate, gold-framed paintings from the early 60s by Shirley Goldfarb.

Goldfarb was featured not long ago in the show of Americans in Paris in the '50s at Loretta Howard. I understand that Howard also gave her a solo show. I was sorry to have missed it.

On the way to see Gallery Sam, I passed several other booths with works I found appealing. Among them was Forum, whose solo exhibitions in Manhattan rarely appeal to me but whose selections at Art on Paper often do.

Here I saw lovely small watercolors portraying the beach scene at Coney Island. They were by David Levine (1926-2009). Levine was better known for his wicked caricatures but delighted when I combined his disparate oeuvres into one story in Time.

Also at Forum were splendid small pieces by Stuart Davis, Oscar Bluemner, Reginald Marsh, Charles Demuth, & Max Weber. My favorite was a late (c. 1949) portrait of a tailor by Raphael Soyer.

Finally, on the backside of the booth of Nancy Hoffman, I saw a large and excellent backlit watercolor of leaves and other plant life done by Joseph Raffael (b. 1933).

I remember this guy from the later 60s. He was a real hip type, in with the flower children and everything.

I forget the details, but he used to be known as Joe Raffaele and then he decided he had to have a certain specified number of letters in his name, so he changed it to Joseph Raffael.

Anyway, 25 years ago, he moved with wife to the south of France and has lived there ever since. More power to him!

NEXT STOP: AN AIRY WHITE CUBE OF UPPER MANHATTAN

Art fairs, of course, are only one of the ways gallerists display their treasures. A most interesting exhibition – as an exhibition – is “Donald Judd, Roy Lichtenstein, Kenneth Noland: A Dialogue,” on view at the 77th Street venue of Castelli (through June 30).

As a show, it’s very good-looking. On view are two or three large, authoritative pieces apiece of three major figures from the 1960s.

Donald Judd is represented by his smallish but long and narrow horizontal wall sculptures or reliefs known as “Progressions,” and Roy Lichtenstein is represented by his long, somewhat broader but equally horizontal paintings known as his “Entablature” series.

The idea behind the show, as explained in the press release, was to try and start “a dialogue” between the minimalism, pop art and color-field of these three figures, based upon Lichtenstein’s humorous observation that repeated motifs go back to the Greeks.

According to him, his “Entablature” series was a comment on both Judd and Noland, and was saying in a humorous way that “Minimalism has had a long history.”

This series portrays the repetitious horizontal decorative moldings upon the entablatures of classical temples in Lichtenstein’s familiar comic strip style (but without the human figures that lent his most interesting paintings of the early 60s so much humor & “relevance”).

In a word, these Entablatures look like cartoon versions of abstract paintings.

Given the fact that both Judd and Lichtenstein are represented by long, horizontal works, it would have made more sense to have Kenneth Noland, too, represented by his multicolored horizontal stripe paintings of the ‘60s.

But no -- instead he is seen by two other paintings, neither of them his best work.

One is a very weak, late reprise of his early “target” paintings, “Mysteries: Moonlit” (2001), with only two rings on a deep blue field (one colored a different blue & the other, black) plus a yellow ring in the center.

The other is a nearly monochromatic “chevron” entitled “Half Way.” True, it was done in 1964, a peak Noland period, and is masterly in manner, but it has only four colors, with maroon, brown, blue and white, all on a naked canvas.

Because of the narrowness of this color range, I suppose the painting could be called minimalist, and I suppose that is why it was chosen. But it doesn’t begin to give a hint of the range, sophistication and complexity of Noland’s palette (as one of his horizontal stripe paintings would have).

In other words, this is a very harmonious display but was achieved by dumbing down the best artist in it, and choosing atypical work for one of the others.

Nevertheless, you might want to go and see it. Although “Half Way” isn’t the best painting that Noland ever made, it’s a very fine painting nevertheless.

SUCCESSFUL BOXER AT BERRY CAMPBELL

A fair number of people by this time must know that I greatly admire the mostly-mixed- media abstract paintings of Stanley Boxer.

Since I started posting at this website, I’ve discussed his work four times, most recently and at greatest length when he showed at Spanierman Modern in 2012.

Before then – around 2009, I believe – I dealt at even greater length in reviewing his retrospective that premiered in Richmond, Virginia and went on to tour in New England and Florida.

I am happy to report that his recent show at Berry Campbell (closed May 21) carried on his unique gifts with many more pleasures.

“Stanley Boxer, 1926-2000” offered the viewer about 30 paintings, almost all from the 1990s, and often (if not always) delightful to contemplate.

Boxer’s specialty was abstract pictures with accretions of various sorts, including choppy areas of paint, sometimes small glittering bits of matter, and sometimes merely sparkling pinpoints of light.

On the whole, I feel he did best – in this show, anyway – with muted colors, especially grays and browns. I also liked more of the paintings with matte surfaces, although occasionally one with a glossy surface appealed.

The gallery was wise to hang so many of these types of paintings facing the entry to the gallery and in its first alcove.

Right at the entry, I especially liked “Quarriedsigh” (1991), a tall narrow piece,
“Nighplay” (1994), a horizontal, and “Awinteringoarkdapple” (1993), a granular horizontal that completed this welcoming trio.

In the first alcove, I found two winners: “Enchantingcalm” (1995), with lots of gobs of matter, and “Devinecaprice”(1996), a fiery combo of reds and blacks.

Further back, I was very taken with “Nightandstone”(1996), reading from left to right like a sunset, and “Insularsaunteringsnowsatbay” (1979), one of the rare glossy pix that I liked.

And I was charmed by the display of ten little paintings at the very back of the gallery, all clustered around the only slightly-larger “Partingcuts” (1993), with its delicate skein of superimposed thread.

LEE KRASNER, LIBERATED

Also in Chelsea I took in “Lee Krasner” at Robert Miller (through June 11). Oh, I suppose I’d gotten the press release early on, but I’d failed to be inspired by it.

Then my interest was piqued by a photo on Facebook showing the back of a contemporary painter whose work I admire. She was standing in front of a large and colorful Krasner, most likely from the late ‘50s or even the ‘60s, with its trademark vocabulary of large, semi-circular, flower-like forms.

Another painter whose work I also admire had “liked” this image, and commented, “Nice picture!”

It wasn’t clear whether she meant the Krasner itself, or only the photo with the fellow artist standing in front of it, but either way, I thought to myself, maybe I should check out this show myself.

I knew that back around the time that these paintings were recent, Clement Greenberg had condemned them as “hollow.”

There’s a whole segment about it in the Greenberg biography by Florence Rubenfeld.

The incident she describes took place while Greenberg was a scout for French & Company. He wanted to do a Pollock show for them, but Krasner (who controlled the Pollock estate) wasn’t willing to cooperate unless he also gave her a show.

Rubenfeld carefully set up the incident to make CG look like a son of a gun and Krasner a persecuted saint, but funnily enough I read it just the other way around.

Anyway, I wondered if I should take another look. Maybe, considering what has come along since, these paintings look better now than they did in the ‘60s.

These paintings could have been ahead of their time – or, conversely, they may look better today because our standards have declined. This could be what happens with the arrival of what Greenberg called “decadence.”

Going in to the show, I thought, maybe it’s time I did a Krasner story because I haven’t done one in some time. Then when I got there, I suddenly remembered that I’d dealt with her only a year and a half ago, in the fall of 2014 season when she appeared in tandem with Norman Lewis at the Jewish Museum.

However, I also remembered that I’d very much liked the Lewis retrospective that I saw in Philadelphia in the fall of 2015, not least because that show liberated him from the need to focus on pictures that looked like Krasner’s.

Similarly, this show liberates Krasner from the need to focus on pictures that look like Lewis’s.

That is all to the good. But even thus extended, the work was still not that unfamiliar to me – if only because I’d dwelt extensively on the big retrospective that played the Brooklyn Museum in 2000-2001 after a nationwide tour.

I mean to say, we all revere Lee as a person. If her mate was the father of us all, then she could be considered a mother figure, too.

Certainly she did a great job of taking care of Jackson, seeing to it that he could paint free and undisturbed – or at any rate as freely and suffering from as few disturbances as possible, given his inner demons.

She did a great job of promoting him, too. Ed Harris’s movie suggests that Jackson wanted to have children and she didn’t. No wonder. Taking care of Jackson was pretty much like taking care of a child itself.

But as a painter---does it surprise anybody much that so many contemporary female abstractionists prefer to trace their lineage back to Frankenthaler instead?

Not that these aren’t good paintings at Robert Miller, very straightforward and simple -- without being simple-minded. Colors are pleasant without being spectacular.

But as this is only a gallery exhibition by the gallery that represents the estate, it can’t cover all the phases of the artist’s career in equal depth. Instead, the emphasis must be on what's left in its inventory.

Specifically, although there are a few anticipatory early works (including a mock Mondrian and a 1942 cubist painting startlingly reminiscent of Arthur B. Carles), there is little from the ‘40s, when her charming small works most reflected Jackson’s larger ones.

Nor is there more than a smidgen of work from the early ‘50s, the period when Greenberg felt Krasner did her best work.

Nor do any of the few pieces on view from either the 40s or the 50s represent the artist at her best.

Most of the show is the often large and often floral paintings from the late ‘50s and the ‘60s (plus a few of those really unfortunate experiments from the 1970s when she cut up & collaged early charcoal figure studies done under the tutelage of Hofmann).

My three favorites in the show as a whole were: “Seed No. 4” (1969), a small gouache with blue, green and mustard dots and dribbles; “Rose Red” (1958), one of the large brightly-colored florals, with lots of empty space, and “Kufic” (1965), one with outlines of abstract shapes but only two colors – a tan canvas with the design in mustard on it.

Looking back as I left the gallery, I also noted the show’s centerpiece, “The Eye Is the First Circle” (1960). This is an 8-by-16-foot canvas on the back wall facing the entrance, covered with curly, eye-like shapes in browns and blacks on a tan field.

At first, it seems very impressive, but then you realize it is all too reminiscent of one of Pollock’s magisterial poured paintings, particularly “Autumn Rhythm” (1950). Yet from a distance it looks like it had been done with brushwork instead of pouring, and the effect is stiff rather than fluid.

What ghosts that woman must have had to live with!

OLD(ER) & YOUNG(ER): ESTEBAN VICENTE & YUNHEE MIN

On May 21, I visited Ameringer McEnery Yohe in Chelsea. It was the last day of “Esteban Vicente,” an exhibition of paintings done in the 1990s by this veteran of second-generation abstract expressionism.

Born in Spain in 1903, Vicente didn’t begin to make his mark in Manhattan until the 1950s, but he lingered long after most of his contemporaries, dying only in 2001 at the age of 97 at his home in Bridgehampton on the South Fork.

The paintings at A/M/Y were distinguished by their pretty, pale and muted colors, blending into each other but with little detailed abstract elements superimposed.

In tone, they were gentle – perhaps a little too gentle -- some even bordering on the weak or vacuous.

This perhaps (I mused) was not too unexpected, since they were the handiwork of a very old man (the artist was between 87 and 96 when he made them).

Even so, there were some successes. My notes list some of them as “Interval” (1995), with red, blue and green accents on a rust and orange field; “Composicion” (1998), with vaguely surrealist little stick-like shapes in various colors, floating on a field of tan; and “Intuition #2” (1995), composed of two blues with small rust-colored shapes near the edges.

In order to jot down these notes, I took advantage of the luscious upholstery in the little viewing room at the back of the gallery – and there beheld a preview of the gallery’s next show.

These were more good-sized abstract paintings, consisting mainly of broad, vertical stripes but employing much more vivid colors -- applied with much, much more vigor and energy.

These paintings were obviously the work of a much younger artist.

She turned out to be Yunhee Min, born in 1964 in Seoul, South Korea and educated on the West Coast, with a bachelor’s degree from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena (plus further training in Germany and a master’s from Harvard).

Min lives, works and teaches in the Los Angeles area. Although she’s had many shows on the West Coast and elsewhere, her CV suggests this is her first solo in New York.

Naturally, I had to come back, to see her full show, “Yunhee Min” (through July 1).

It turns out to consist more or less exclusively of paintings with these broad vertical and filmy stripes.

Their colors are very clear, pure, and handsome but compositionally these paintings verge more toward the minimal than the modernist.

One observer thought they resembled the work of Jill Nathanson. I was more reminded of the paintings of Paul Jenkins (1923-2012), a passionate admirer --and imitator -- of Frankenthaler, though credited by H. W. Janson with the invention of stain painting in his male-chauvinist history of art, back in the 1970s.

I found Min’s work refreshingly free from the gimmickry and poor taste of Keltie Ferris & Jackie Saccoccio, those two media darlings from the season just past. Will this tell against her in the current abysmal Manhattan climate? Very possibly – and if so, what a pity.

Min’s vertical bands of color, made of acrylic on linen, are delicately painterly, semi-transparent, with a bit of overlap along their edges – very likeable.

One could wish that she would explore more offbeat color, and compositions of greater complexity, yet on the whole the show is uplifting to contemplate, at once restful and deeply pleasurable.

The best picture in it is “Movements (surge 4)” (2016), with two contrasting yellows on its sides, and blues and browns in the middle. However, this painting looks like nothing in reproduction, so for my illustration I have chosen “Movements (swell 1)” (2015).

In this picture, large orange and smaller pink stripes over on the left are balanced by a cherry band and a broader pink band on the right, with a band of flesh down the center. Like many paintings in this show, it is a little off-centered – but, in this case, not too.
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