Gallery Chronicle

By Panero, James | New Criterion, June 2007 | Go to article overview

Gallery Chronicle


Panero, James, New Criterion


This is a month of reevaluations in the art world. The auction season has broken records. In May, at Sotheby's, Christie's, and Phillips de Pury, over 120 modern and contemporary artists saw their prices reach new highs. The auction houses realized $837 million in sales. A single Andy Warhol silkscreen, the gruesome Green Car Crash (1963), sold for over $71 million, going to an Asian buyer. That was four times the previous Warhol record, set last November. Meanwhile, Mark Rothko's White Center (1950) went for a similar amount to a Middle Eastern interest. As the price tag of art floats free on a rising tide of global wealth, quality has little effect on the evaluation.

Long before the auction houses turned art into a speculator sport, entering and encouraging a price war in the contemporary and post-war markets, the galleries oversaw a very different scene. Galleries managed and, at their best, nurtured careers. They not only found buyers, they also found the right buyers. They saw to the education of the buying public, a task for which they receive too little credit.

Far from the front pages of auction headlines, the galleries still operate in much the same way they did fifty years ago. This season, once again, the best galleries feature art in the best light. It may be ironic, but in these old emporiums, the din of the marketplace can seem a long way off.

Wolf Kahn, who turns eighty this October, has become our most direct living connection to the "push-pull" dynamics of Hans Hofmann, the legendary painter and teacher of the New York School. A refugee from Nazi Germany, Kahn came to the United States and crossed paths with the greatest artists and intellects of the American century: Hofmann, Allan Kaprow, Stuart Davis, Larry Rivers, Elaine de Kooning, Clement Greenberg, and Meyer Schapiro among them.

Much as Pierre Bonnard luxuriated in the after-effects of impressionism, Kahn revels in the color-based legacy of modernist painting. His effects are celebratory. Leafing through the catalogue of his show at Ameringer Yohe, I came to wonder if his confections might even be over-sweetened. (1) In reproduction, Kahn's landscapes of pinks and purples can seem like too much frosting on the cake--landscapes of corn syrup and Yellow Dye Number 5 and little of real sustenance. It didn't help that I found the cover of the catalogue, of mulled lavender and rose with a shock of grass green, allergy-producing.

But this latest exhibition has led to my own reevaluation of Kahn's power. Seaweed Fingers (1999), the same painting that caused such unpleasant irritation reproduced on the catalogue cover, is, in person, one of the finest paintings I have had the pleasure to see this year. Spread out across the gallery wall, over seven feet wide, the work becomes a view of the modernist sublime--a warm, lazy bay disappearing into a painterly haze. Go on. Blow out the candies and cut me a slice. I'm in for more cake.

Georg Baselitz came on strong in the 1960s with his own form of German painting, part Weimar and part Gustave Morean. Now at David Nolan, Baselitz has taken his iconic works and stripped them down to their symbolic core. (2) In his "remixes" as he calls them, Baselitz spins his old work like a yo-yo, whipping out the weight of age. Down goes Die Grosse Nacht im Eimer, the heavily impastoed work of a boy in green knickers that caused a sensation in the 1960s. Up spins an emptied-out figure of hatch marks and ink stains, a living skeleton. Each "remix" begins life as "feather pen on paper?' Often Baselitz overlays this with watercolor, india ink, and wash. At times the results come back a tangled mess. But sometimes the remix returns just right, as in 1962 (Hommage Wrubel--Remix) (2006), of a collapsed figure. Here, every line is urgent and new, as though this were the first time around.

Charles Burchfield (1893-1967) was "remixing" his watercolors long before it was a trendy thing to do.

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