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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."



Jung Ho Lee, Untitled IX, 2018.  Oil and acrylic on linen, 28 1/2 x 24 inches.  Courtesy Lichtundfire.




A show of contemporary art that I related to was "Remember When It Winter Was" (closed January 12). It was at held at Lichtundfire on the Lower East Side, and despite its political window-dressing, was (thankfully) mostly about the visual in art.


The show was all about ice, snow and winter.  Visually it hung together well, as it was all or mostly very pale or off-white paintings, collages and assemblages, and this couldn't have been more appropriate.  The window-dressing was a fat paragraph in the press release to the effect that this show was all about climate change, and isn't it sad that we are heading into a dystopia where winters will no longer  be as snowy as they were in the past.


To me, art belongs in the art section of the papers, and climate change belongs in the news section, but the art scene these days likes to blur the distinction. To me, attempts (by artists no less than critics) to highlight the politics in contemporary art mostly conceal the lack of formal innovation -- to say nothing of concealing the lack of esthetic quality.


This show reminded me of a much older and more poetic context, the wonderful ballade written by François Villon, back in the 15th century, which wonders what has become of all the beautiful women of the past, and has for a refrain, "Mais où sont les neiges d'antin?"  This means "Where are the snows of yesteryear?"  Evidently climate change was already a phenomenon in the late Middle Ages – or at any rate, the tendency to remember the past as more desirable than the present.


(Looking at the political scene these days, I too am apt to feel nostalgic for the past, say for the Swinging Sixties or even the stuffy but also calm and prosperous Fifties -- the last whole decade when rich people paid their full share of taxes, and income inequality as a result was lessening, not growing.


(Still, there are some ways in which even our turbulent present does things better than the past did – in its treatment of women, for example, and its treatment of minorities…however much we may complain about these situations today, they were considerably worse in the past…. But enough about politics!)


"Remember When It Winter Was" included seven artists, in most cases represented by two or more pieces.  There was a considerable range in materials, and a degree of variation between abstract and semi-abstract.   Martin Weinstein, for example, showed acrylics on multiple acrylic sheets.


Gretl Bauer showed one piece, "White Forest," that had a single vertical strip of found wood, painted white, plus cut paper and pencil.  Another of her works, an untitled delicate basket-like contraption, was placed on the floor, by the entrance from the street – and made of found wood, thread and paint.


Olga Ozerskaya also showed mixed media art, while Sallie Strand displayed oil on wood, and Vian Borchert, acrylic on canvas.   And the two artists who really stood out for me in this show were both represented by similarly conventional media and grounds.  Both were also resolutely abstract and stylistically powerful: I related strongly to both.


Francine Tint, who is well known to my readers, created the best painting in this show.  It was entitled "Looking Glass" (1984), was made of acrylic on canvas, and dominated by a vigorous sidewise curved sweep of pale color.   Unfortunately, it doesn't reproduce well online. 


I am therefore illustrating this review with the second-best painting in the show, which was also stunning.  Done by a Korean-American artist named Jung Ho Lee, it was acrylic and oil on linen (although I see from this artist's website that his choice of media isn't always so traditional).  Called "Untitled IX" (2018), this painting was darker than Tint's, but similarly decisive, being composed of broad, equally vigorous and mostly resolutely straight verticals.


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