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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."



With most dealers, group shows are a way of filling in during off-peak days --- at Christmas, when everybody is out Christmas shopping, or in summer, when only tourists are left in town, and the regulars are in the Hamptons or on the Riviera. With Richard Timperio, however, a group show rates prime time, at least when it’s his annual anti-war extravaganza of 400-plus artists. This year the show is called “It’s All Good (Apocalypse Now)” and is on view at Sideshow (through February 20). I like these big shows of Timperio’s because there’s something for everybody here --- at least everybody for whom the visual arts are still visual (rather than audio or touchy-feely). This year, as one enters the door at Sideshow, one’s eyes are greeted by three or four big free-standing three-dimensional pieces, including a doll-oriented assemblage by Cate Woodruff and a ceramic sculpture by Tony Moore, which combines a large head laid sidewise with a small fountain beneath it in a pool of shiny glaze. The next gallery, too, has its centerpieces, including a lively, low-slung silver piece of tightly curled & interwoven steel rods by Peter Reginato, and a handsome minimal sculpture painted purple & orange by Robert Murray. Around the walls of both galleries, from floor to ceiling, are arrayed dozens of mostly little and mostly two-dimensional works, but interspersed with medium-sized and even quite large ones, some with a lot of shall-we-say textural interest. Timperio is not a fan of those shows with 100 pictures, all the same picture postcard size. He thinks they look too “homogenized;” he prefers variety.

Hung on the wall right next to the street entrance is a rack with copies of a little illustrated brochure by Charmaine Wheatley, entitled “What Does Jesus Think of Lap-Dancing?” It is meant to parody a Jehovah’s Witness leaflet, and attempts to show how Christianity welcomes sensuality, a point made largely by quoting from the Song of Songs---which, while admittedly hot stuff, comes from the Old Testament, not the New, and has accordingly nothing to do with Jesus. If Wheatley’s drawings were a little more tasteless, we might be confronted by the same sort of deliberate offensiveness that David Wojnarowicz posthumously managed to achieve with his image of ants crawling over a crucifix. It outraged some Catholics when it was displayed at the National Portrait Gallery this winter and forced the gallery to discontinue it---whereupon MoMA promptly announced that they would show it, and art historians got up in arms about “censorship” in the arts. (What would we do without Catholics to get angry at such japes? They renew all our faith in the power of dada to shock and outrage, and are accordingly the best friends Duchamp ever had – but I digress).

Over the Timperio door is a cage that, so I understand, held live chickens at the show’s opening (though their clucking, I’m sure, was drowned out by the sounds of 400-plus artists and their friends and relations all greeting each other and enjoying themselves). In addition to such antics, we have all manner of more serious contributors, including old-timers like Paul Resika, with a large semi-abstract (as opposed to the smaller and more representational paintings for which he’s known), some recent departures from our midst (Al Loving, Dan Christensen ), some artist-dealers (Pauline Lethen, Janet Kurnatowski), and some artist-critics (Robert Morgan, Phong Bui, Mario Naves and James Kalm, aka Loren Munk). While there are fewer photographs than last year, one that I liked, by Edward Shalala, shows a field with trees in back of it. Another photo that grabbed me is the tall vertical one by Brian Sullivan showing a man standing beside a body of water, with his body reflected in that water.

There’s also a goodly sample of very nicely done representational paintings and drawings, including a dramatic semi-abstract New York street scene by Kyle Gallup, a very delicately rendered child by Polina Barskaya, a neat little rooster with a flower on its back, in a style reminiscent of Persian or Mughal miniatures by Rumi Tsuda (“Who’s she?” I asked Timperio. “I don’t know much about her,” he confessed, explaining that she’d been a friend of somebody else who was in show & evidently just come along for the ride). Also worth a second look are a portrait by Garry Nichols that looks something like an Alex Katz but with more personality, a marvelously sensuous large acrylic by Sasha Silverstein showing a pair of hands cupping a pair of feet, two more of those small Flemish Renaissance portraits by Amy Hill, similar to the ones that I admired last year, and four nice small hyperrealist street scenes by Scott Williams. But my favorites among the portraits are the full-length ones of Chuck Close in his flying scooter by Marianne Nowottny and of Timperio and his daughter Cheyenne Timperio in what appears to be the Brooklyn promenade beside the East River, with the river and Manhattan skyline in the background, painted by Fulvia Zambon. (Cheyenne is also represented in this show by one of her fine small geometric abstracts.)

Of course, the biggest single reason I come to this show is that here abstract art of all kinds is welcome, and the wealth of abstractions by artists whose names are familiar to me boggles the imagination. Not all of their abstractions are of equal quality, but then that’s not the point, either. What’s going on here, in Timperio’s words, is simply “a celebration of creativity.” And a lot of the abstracts are a joy to see. This year I was particularly impressed by the contributions of Francine Tint and Randy Bloom, two very different kinds of painting. The Tint is wild & wooly, the image shaped vaguely like a 9 in loosely brushed black on a multicolored field of pink and brown with touches of chartreuse—but they all go together. The Bloom is by contrast serene, a tall rust-colored field with 4 narrow vertical rectangles in various shades of green. All the paint looks scraped on, a very interesting uneven but fresh texture. A splendid narrow, chartreuse John Griefen is hung horizontally above the Tint, thereby clearly demonstrating the range of possibilities now open to those who once shared a common indebtedness to Jules Olitski. Ann Walsh is well represented by a tall, free-standing vertical piece with stripes of black, medium purple and red, and Paula De Luccia shows an intricate but very appealing small study in ice whites, pale gold and gray—very flat but with raised strips of paint/gel, too. Roy Lerner’s small but cheerful canvas evidences his characteristic riffled surface. Other familiar names with works on view include James Walsh, Ronnie Landfield, Larry Poons, Lauren Olitski and Sandi Slone.

Still, there are also some fine abstract paintings by artists whose work I have only become familiar with relatively recently. Among these, the deep, rich colors --- ranging from deep blue through reds to pale blue --- by David Crum stand out, as do the vivid reds, oranges and yellows utilized by Michael Filan, and the red ink and wax crayons in Fran Kornfeld’s radiant little piece. The neat small black metal sculpture by Elaine Grove piqued my interest, reminding me as it did somewhat of Julio Gonzalez or early David Smith. Also charming is the contribution of Nicola Ginzel, which looks like a little stitched abstract built of whites and gold, and mounted horizontally so that one gazes down on it. Imagine my surprise, upon consulting the checklist, to learn that it’s made of not only gold leaf, metallic thread and oil paint, but also a Wendy’s Chicken Sandwich wrapper! That doesn’t harm its appearance, though, and it doesn’t smell.

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