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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."


Happy Halloween!

In the latter part of October, I did get to 8 galleries in Chelsea and one in SoHo, but I've already been so verbose this month that I'll try and be a bit terser now. At Alexander Gray, I took in “Melvin Edwards: Sculptures 1964-2010" (closed October 16). Edwards is a poet of protest. The roots of his black welded steel sculptures lie in Picasso, David Smith and Julio Gonzalez, but the flowers, like strange fruit, comment upon social injustice – employing barbed wire, chains, and sharp implements suggesting knives and machetes to create their powerful visual effect. Such materials, however, play a double-edged role. Doubtless intended to evoke suffering, at the same time they convey anger at the suffering. The barbed wire, in particular, comes off as delicate and elegant, but also aggressively suggests imprisonment, a sweet-sour mix. Roberta Smith, who also reviewed this show, went for “Chaino” (1964), the largest piece in it. I preferred smaller work, including several wall pieces from the series “Lynch Fragments”---- “Weapon of Freedom” (1986), for example, that combines a curlicue of iron and a small spike with a hatchet blade, or “Bayou Talk” (2005), with a horseshoe and gardening fork, as well as a chain. Classically simple was “Tools at Rest” (1973), a slightly larger freestanding piece that utilized flat slabs and strips of found metals, and was particularly distinguished by a canny use of negative space.

Over at Lohin Geduld, Kim Uchiyama presented “Archaeo” (closed October 9). This show is not unlike the one by Uchiyama that I reviewed in 2008. Again, I saw small, pleasing, two-dimensional pieces, mostly oil on canvas, and uniformly featuring multicolored horizontal stripes. Now, the minute I say “multicolored horizontal stripes,” I am aware that the gold standard is Kenneth Noland; by comparison with him, Uchiyama’s color choices are less sophisticated, and more familiar, while the scale in which she works is less ambitious. Still, in their modest way, these paintings were quite appealing. Among those I liked best were “Stratum” (2008-10), mostly blues and greens; “Geo” (2009), with an emphasis on pinks, browns and greens; and “Territory” (2010), mostly browns, rusts and greens. I was particularly taken by the untitled watercolors on paper, mostly blues and greens but with broad and broader swathes of untouched white at the bottom. Delightfully fresh & unexpected.


Loretta Howard has moved to Chelsea, and is starting off her new place with a bang through a celebrity-studded exhibition entitled “Artists at Max’s Kansas City, 1965-1974: Hetero-Holics and Some Women Too” (closed October 30). The glamorous artists, musicians, wannabe artists, wannabe musicians & assorted hangers-on who frequented this upscale watering hole on Lower Park Avenue while Mickey Ruskin was in charge was also celebrated at Steven Kasher, with”Max’s Kansas City” (closed October 9). The latter show included some serious art (including a fine Larry Zox), but was mainly devoted to photographs of the various colorful types who patronized Max’s, and pegged to the launching of a book that reproduced many of these photos. An avalanche of press coverage greeted the two shows, with 2 articles in the NY Times, plus one apiece in the Wall Street Journal, Vanity Fair, The Huffington Post, Gothamist, Artnet, the NY Daily News, and the Brooklyn Rail. As might be expected, almost all of these articles focused on celebrity gossip, and either ignored or paid token attention to the paintings and sculpture in either show. The only commentary on such art was a one-liner by Ben LaRocco in the Rail, saying “Larry Zox, your painting never looked so good, “ (the rest of the article being the usual sort of commentary on the big names involved). The text of the Huffington Post piece was poorly edited, but at least it posted a handful of installation shots and shots of individual art, in addition to the sole piece of celebrity gossip that interested me, namely Paula DeLuccia saying that she met Larry Poons for the first time when she went to Max’s K.C. with Sherron Francis.

For me, the big fun at the Kasher exhibition was a juke box with a selection of records that were popular on the juke box at Max’s in its heyday. Visitors could select their choices–free of charge--and hear them played. This is the first time I have welcomed sound in a gallery or museum: I promptly opted for the Beatles playing “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” Most of the photographs at Kasher, showing people with weird makeup and overly shaggy hair styles and various extremist clothes, were taken by Anton Perich, a native of Croatia who got his start as a busboy at Max’s, but lived to become the publisher (in the 1990s) of a magazine called Night, in which appeared a few excerpts from my column back then.

Loretta Howard’s space, which has a downstairs & an upstairs, is a big bright white box, or at least its lower level appeared so for this show. Happily it recreated the ambiance of a Manhattan art gallery in the ‘60s or early ‘70s, with cheery examples of neo-dada, pop, early-stage minimal & color-field art: so-so Rauschenberg, Warhol & Rosenquist, representative Ronald Bladen, Dan Flavin, Frank Stella, Frosty Meyers and Larry Bell, top-quality Poons, Dzubas and Christensen. Upstairs is lighter and airier, since it has big windows giving out onto a small patio, but the art was a lot less interesting: late-stage minimal, conceptual & memorabilia such as a Max’s T-shirt. The best thing about it was the movie, featuring a number of mature artists (including Poons) reminiscing about the Bizarre Old Days at Max’s. There was even an “artwork” by John Chamberlain that you could sit on to watch the movie. Its title: “Untitled (Couch)” (ca. 1970).


I couldn’t work up too much enthusiasm for the four-gallery extravaganza with which Pace, one of our largest & most successful galleries, celebrated “50 Years at Pace.” The show was really four shows, with “Art in the Twenty-First Century” at 510 West 25th Street (closed October 16), “Minimalism, Phenomenological and Conceptual Art; Post-Modern and Post-Minimal Art” at 545 West 22nd Street; “Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art” at 534 West 25th Street, and “Highlights from 50 Years of Thematic and Historical Exhibitions” at 32 East 57th Street (all three closed October 23). Pretty much all the works in these shows were large and/or valuable, and all had passed through Pace’s hands or been exhibited by Pace at one time or another. The show on 21st Century art didn’t have much that looked very different from 20th century art–--Chuck Close and Hiroshi Sugimoto aren’t exactly hot news, though a life-sized motorcycle made of feathers by Tim Hawkinson was a pretty conceit. The “Minimalism, Phenomenological” show was full of large & arid pieces that failed to arouse any interest in me, but the show of abstract expressionism and pop was better—at least to the extent that it included a fine, untitled Still (1956; loaned by the Whitney), a neat Gottlieb,”Argosy” (1958; loaned by the Gottlieb Foundation), and the best Kline I’ve ever seen, “Cardinal” (1950; from a private collection).

The large examples of pop art here were also mostly loaned by prestigious institutions, including the famous Rauschenberg “Erased de Kooning Drawing” (1953; loaned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art). I frequently found the labels in this section of the show more interesting than the work. From them, it appeared that more of the pop was owned by museums, while more of the ab-ex was owned by private collectors. I can think of three reasons why this should be so: 1) ab-ex is not as popular as pop; 2) somewhat paradoxically, the examples of ab-ex in museums would have been too expensive in terms of insurance & transport for Pace to borrow, and 3) Pace, having been founded in 1960, was able to get in on the ground floor with pop, acquiring a lot of major work directly from the artists, whereas it was a johnny-come-lately with ab-ex, and has primarily been involved with this movement only in the secondary market. I would imagine all three explanations are to some extent valid.

The best show of the 4 (and in fact, the only one that I’d have recommended any of my readers visit) was the “Highlights” from historical shows at the 57th Street gallery. There were a lot of interesting brown Dubuffet collage/paintings from the’50s, a nice selection of mostly late Picasso sculptures, a bronze Matisse “Decorative Figure” (1908), a late-40s Rothko paired with a small Bonnard that well illustrated their coloristic affinities, and works by Arp, Calder & Noguchi that similarly illustrated their stylistic similarities—somehow I never realized that Calder was such a surrealist before. Best of all were the Braque and Picasso from the period of Analytic Cubism (which I am always a sucker for). They were meant to evoke & summarize Pace’s 2007 show dedicated to the proposition that Picasso & Braque developed Analytic Cubism because they were influenced by early movies. While I’m always glad to welcome an additional source for such multireferential paintings, I found the screen playing old movies, right in the gallery, distracting (in 2007 & also 2010). However, if you stood with your back to it, you could admire the paintings without interruption. The Picasso, “Head of a Woman” (1910) was an excellent painting, but the Braque, “Rooftops of Ceret” (1911) was nothing short of magnificent. Sent shivers up my spine.


Possibly because I know the artist, I had a better time at the champagne reception for her than anywhere at Pace. The show is “Randy Bloom: Color and Fashion,” at OSKA New York (through December 4). OSKA is a chic clothing store at 415 West Broadway in SoHo, but Bloom, a free spirit if there ever was one, has long been accustomed to displaying her art in unconventional venues (on previous occasions, it’s been a law office, a hotel gallery, and a showroom for vintage cars). On view in this exhibition are several large, handsome, and serene recent paintings, with four large vertical rectangles on a vertical field of contrasting color. A slightly earlier sequence of mostly smaller paintings employs still smaller circles within them, to create a lively, somewhat impish effect. Having visited Bloom’s studio this summer, all of the work just described was familiar to me, but a big surprise also awaited me in the form of a series of medium-sized, exceptionally luscious images made with pigment embedded in handmade paper, very simple — almost classic — all featuring a large circle plus maybe a few dots here or there. Smashing!.... (© Copyright 2010 by Piri Halasz)

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