PAINTING DOMINATED THE SPRING SEASON in New York, with two outstanding exhibitions of sculpture maintaining the honor of the discipline: constructions by an American who came of age in the wake of Anthony Caro, and small, intimate works by Caro himself. And on the other side of the Atlantic, that British master installed an impressive selection of his large works on the grounds of a legendary stately home, while another post-Caro British sculptor constructed an exhilarating site-specific work in a former brewery in a picturesque Suffolk market town.
First, painting. Caio Fonseca's recent works at Paul Kasmin were more severe, muscular iterations of his earlier compositions. The latter depended on what Fonseca called "working backwards" - isolating portions of loose, layered, often polychromatic expanses with crisp (usually) white over-painting, so that we seemed to see through and into rigorously defined patches of activity, as if offered a privileged glimpse of an impenetrable but desirable zone. Fonseca's recent works, by contrast, read as confrontational "walls." Progressions of vertical bands of variable width, interrupted with curves and horizontal breaks, erased the difference between figure and ground. Almost all were constructed with a saturated hue - black, red, ultramarine - and with white, for maximum contrast and equality, plus one small, close-valued, memorable taupe and white picture. Swelling "positive" and "negative" shapes competed for dominance, jostling and defining one another. Rectangles and squares of varied dimensions punctuated the bands, their placement and proportions creating fleeting suggestions of unstable space that were contradicted by the path of scattered blocks and suave curves across the surface; these rhythms, in turn, were slowed by ridges crossing the canvas, records of the ideal proportions of the Golden Section, inscribed within the rectangle, like scaffolding.
Spare and graphic, from a distance, Fonseca's new paintings, seen close up, revealed a host of intimately scaled, complex, delicate incidents. Seemingly uninflected areas of color turned out to be veiled with fine spatters of contrasting hues, which, it appeared, we had already subliminally noted, interpreting the faint vibration of spatter and ground as chromatic intensity and/or subtle modulation. From a close view, small "anchoring" touches, staccato "stitching," and tiny blocks became visible, and, in the largest pictures, faint traces of a generating grid. We discovered new paths, new spadai implications. And then die bold, generously scaled, interlocking shapes asserted diemselves again.
I kept thinking about the enigmatic sculptures of Fonseca's father, Gonzalo. What appear to be minimally shaped blocks of weathered stone, at first viewing, prove to be full of small, unexpected doors and hidden compartments, sometimes containing mysterious objects -entry points into a secret world, enriched with bits of wood, leather bindings, and geometric fragments. The spatters and touches in Caio Fonseca's recent paintings, visible only from a close viewpoint, acted upon us in die same way as the secret "places" in his father's sculptures, making us mentally transport ourselves into a fictive microcosm that coexists with and enhances the large shapes tugging at each other across the canvas. Is this part of a shared, inherited aesthetic? (Caio Fonseca studied with the painter Augusto Torres, the eldest son of Joaquín Torres-García, Gonzalo Fonseca's teacher.) Whatever their lineage, Fonseca's recent works looked strong, fresh, and vigorous.
"William Bailey: New Paintings" at Betty Cuningham Gallery included a selection of die timeless, imagined still lifes for which he is best known. But die high points of the show were what the gallery terms "open courtyard paintings" and "figure-in-landscape" compositions that staked out new territory for this accomplished artist. Forged, like the still lifes, from …