At the Galleries

Article excerpt

At the Galleries

THE OVER-DETERMINED "CONCEPT BASED" ART encouraged by most present-day art schools is unlikely to disappear anytime soon, but some recent exhibitions were welcome reminders that not that long ago abstraction provoked by internal imperatives, not by carefully researched "strategies," was a dominant mode, commanding equal attention with Pop Art and Minimalism. Since the triumph of Duchamp-ian ideology over art that addresses the eye, New York museums have slighted work intended to stir the intellect and the emotions through purely visual, nonverbal means. But last season, if we were willing to travel from Chelsea to Midtown to the Upper East Side, we could patch together a crash course in the vibrant, color-based abstraction explored by the generation that followed the Abstract Expressionists. Although some of the work on view was made almost half a century ago, the best of it looked fresh, vital, and current, and managed to speak directly without explication.

"Fresh, vital, and current" certainly applied to the British sculptor Tim Scott's Plexiglas and metal sculptures, in "Tim Scott in the 60s and 70s," seen at Loretta Howard Gallery, in Chelsea. In die early 1960s, Scott, born 1937, was one of a group of inventive sculptors, including Phillip King, Isaac Witkin, and William Tucker, among others, who had studied with Anthony Caro at St. Martin's School of Art. Caro, who was just beginning to make the extraordinary abstract steel constructions that changed the language of sculpture, encouraged his students to experiment with unprecedented materials and to question entrenched notions of what sculpture could be. They met the challenge with audacious, often polychromed structures of glass, wood, fiberglass, plastic, and metal, rapidly attracting international attention - as Caro did - making them the first YBAs. Scott, who was trained as an architect, was particularly fearless about scale, making space-greedy works whose three-dimensional demands were as much a part of their meaning as their contrasts of color and materials.

At Loretta Howard, Bird in Arras III, 1968 - nine feet high and almost twenty across - stretched across the gallery, its splayed arch of painted steel tubing supporting a floating, twisting cascade of subtly colored, thin Plexiglas rectangles, pale and creamy - plus one darker element - against the clear green of the tubing. Nothing was quite what it seemed Our assumptions about symmetry, logic, and even the effect of gravity were constantly defeated by this seemingly airborne construction and, in dieir place, new kinds of governing "laws" were proposed. Something similar obtained in equally surprising works from the 1970s, constructed with thick slabs of clear Perspex, at once massive and transparent. Poised and angled, the paradoxically dense and insubstantial plastic rectangles at once supported and were connected by thick steel bars, dark and brutal against the visually penetrable planes, yet sinuous, in contrast to the geometric slabs, and often hovering in midair. The unexpected combination of these elements, along with their unpredictable placement, challenged all preconceptions of strength and fragility, mass, and delicacy. Bolts, saw marks in the slab edges, and other facts of construction provided counterpoint to the marvelous, contradictory play of visual weights. Scott was formerly seen fairly regularly in American museums and galleries - the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, did an exhibition of die entire Bird in Arras series in die 1970s - but has shown mainly in Europe since then. Let's hope the recent New York exhibition augurs more to come.

Upstairs at Loretta Howard, "Cleve Gray: Silver and Gold 1967" offered furdier insight into die aesdietic concerns of the period, this time from the viewpoint of an American painter, albeit one whose art education was largely in France and who was profoundly influenced by Asian art and philosophy. Gray (1918-2004) is hard to classify. …