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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."



Recent shows by a couple of painters bring the pleasure back into gallery-going. Neither of the artists are young, but they made me feel so. I was sorry not to get to the opening (on March 12) of “Larry Poons,” a double cornucopia of paintings at Danese and Lori Bookstein, but I did make it before the shows closed (on March 19). At 73, this indefatigable creator is still spinning out a multitude of images, the best (and the most abstract) being the most richly multireferential. In the complex interweaving of brush strokes, into an intricate panoply of colors, one can perceive a relationship with tapestries, tropical gardens, and underwater plant life, while at the same time remaining essentially paintings, works of art. The best paintings were (at Bookstein), the predominantly green “Abruption” (2009) and the predominantly pink “Coney Isle” (also 2009). At Danese, the huge “Railroad No More” (2009) stood out, with its underlying vertical columns of color (light blue, brown, darker blue, gold, green). Also the smaller untitled canvas facing the elevator (2010), based in gold, umber & green, but shot through with other colors (pink, blue, etc.)

One show you can still get to – if you hurry – is “Jackson Pollock: Drawings on Paper, Canvas and Sculpture” at Washburn (through March 29). If you like your Pollock small, early and semi-figurative, you will love this show --- and even if you most admire Pollock’s large, later and purer abstractions, you may well find this show delightful. I know that I did: the wiry energy of Pollock’s line and his determination to cover with imagery whatever surface presented itself remains irresistible. The title of the show is a bit of a misnomer: actually, there’s only one drawing on canvas (an off-centered black & white fish shape from ca. 1951) and only one sculpture (a small, gnarly terracotta , ca. 1959-50, painted grey & black, and looking like the shards of a burning bush). The rest of the show is small drawings on paper or cardboard, the largest being 27¼ x 20¼ inches and the smallest --- done on a matchbook cover --- only 3 3/8 x 3 ½. Although almost all the ink is black, the papers are in several colors. Most date from the mid-40s or even the ‘30s, and the imagery is mostly surrealist, Picassoid or both, Pollock’s roots rather than his flowering. One may easily perceive heads, women with big bosoms, a bull, a bird and other familiar icons. Everything is untitled, but my favorite was the largest, an untitled drawing from ca. 1945 done in brown ink on blue paper, with a large but undecipherable image off-centered and nearer the bottom than the top, incorporating what looks like musical scores, with notes.

On another subject, the New York Times on March 7 carried a story by Colin Moynihan about Steve Cannon, poet, author, creator of a gathering of the tribes, the literary magazine, and a gathering of the tribes, the East Village gallery. The Times story was headlined, "A Place Where Emotions Became Poetry Is for Sale." It concerns Lorraine Zhang, the woman who in 2004 bought the building in which the gallery, publishing headquarters for the magazine, and residence of Cannon himself are located. Cannon sold it to her on the understanding that he would be allowed to continue to occupy his quarters (a second-floor apartment) for the following ten years, but now she has put the entire building up for sale, asking $2.9 million and telling prospective buyers that none of the apartments in the building are regulated & all their tenants could be evicted if the new owner wanted to convert the building back into a town house (its original use). Cannon doesn't know yet how he is going to deal with this problem, but would like to either find a lawyer who can prevent Mrs. Shang was selling the building, or else putting together a group who might buy it & turn it into an artists' residence and cultural center. Cannon has been a good friend to this art critic. In 1998, he allowed the gallery to be used for a show I curated, on "A Year in the Life of Present Modernism," and more recently, he has invited me to contribute on several occasions to the online edition of a gathering of the tribes. If anybody has any ideas or any money to contribute, they would be very welcome, and should contact a gathering of the tribes (a non-profit organization).

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