A Nourishing Summer Meal

By Wilkin, Karen | The Hudson Review, Autumn 2004 | Go to article overview

A Nourishing Summer Meal


Wilkin, Karen, The Hudson Review


SUMMER IS THE SEASON OF GROUP SHOWS. Some galleries mount thematic exhibitions combining artists they represent with ones they don't. Others use the occasion to test the staying power of newcomers being considered for representation. Still others take the line of least resistance, profiting from the art world's traditional August doldrums to relax a little by showcasing their stable. "We're doing a summer installation of recent work by Mr. Group," an art dealer friend used to say and yawn ostentatiously, "so I can get to the beach." But even the most expedient shows can offer unexpected surprises and even the most unpromising assembly usually has a few things that reward attention.

There are also summer exhibitions that are neither expedient nor unpromising, such as "Ground-Field-Surface," at Robert Miller, a mix of highly respected abstract artists, living and departed, from within and without the gallery, among them Al Held, Lee Krasner, Yayoi Kusama, Joseph Marioni, Pat Passlof, Milton Resnick, Mark Rothko, Richard Serra, and Pierre Soulages. The selection included both signature and eccentric works from various periods, loosely united by an emphasis on all-overness and/or rich, tactile surfaces. Among the standouts: an early, brushy Held, less dispassionate than his familiar exercises in geometry; a truculent, relentlessly frontal Serra drawing; a juicy, brooding Soulages. I was glad to see a vintage Passlof, a distillation of landscape into rhythmic gestures, more pastoral and lyrical than her urgently brushed recent works, but with a similar undercurrent of passion. I was glad to see, too, Marioni's rich, darkly glowing monochrome, a cascade of apparently dense, viscid paint whose illusory robustness declared itself in spite of literal thinness and delicacy. Almost four decades and wholly different conceptions of what a painting can be separate the Passlof and the Marioni, but they were both memorable. (Note to the organizers: it would have been professional and courteous to have spelled Passlof's name correctly; given her long presence on the New York art scene, there really is no excuse.)

A few blocks further downtown, at Elizabeth Harris, the theme "Night New York" provided an excuse to bring together a witty, diverse group of paintings, photographs, and works on paper, all improvisations-obviously-on nocturnal urban motifs. At one end of the spectrum, Yvonne Jacquette's crisp view of the Paramount building tower, jammed against the girders of new Times Square construction, celebrated the irrational, Cubist relationships of New York buildings seen from high vantage points, translated into her characteristic flickers of golden light against luminous darks. At the other extreme, Alex Katz's deadpan 1981 profile of two men against a nighttime window relegated the complex imagery of the nighttime city to mere backdrop. Richard Bosnian flattened the pre-9/11 skyline of Manhattan and its reflection in the Hudson into a confrontational, jagged silhouette rationalized by scribbles of light. The diametrical opposite of Bosnian's picturespatially, coloristically, and in terms of execution-was Ron Milewicz's cool, close-valued Blackout, which made viewers feel they were hovering above an outer borough industrial wasteland in an eerie twilight. And more. Plainly, the curators had fun assembling this potpourri; viewers reaped the benefit.

Elsewhere in Chelsea, at Edward Thorp, the high points of an ecumenical selection included Matt Blackwell's loopy, enchanting expositions on his world of bears, goats, palm trees, and bear-men who play the fiddle. Space expands and contracts, as needed, under the pressure of his lush brushwork and rapid drawing. The combination of sensuous, sophisticated mark-making and wonky imagery was, as always in Blackwell's work, irresistible. Rebecca Smith's unraveling grids, clean-edged painted metal structures that seemed to hover against the wall, played with references to both construction and ruin, with a nod at the conventions of perspective, wrenched and dislocated. …

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