Archives for posts with tag: chelsea
Don Voisine Pan

Pan, 2011 Oil on wood 13 x 24 inches, © Don Voisine, Courtesy McKenzie Fine Art, Inc.

On a mini gallery crawl in Chelsea, topping my list was McKenzie Fine Art, Inc., where I stopped by to see Don Voisine’s show just before the opening. I was disappointed to not be able to take in all the energy of the opening, but there was a great advantage of having the gallery to myself – the calm before the storm. It was electrifying!

Voisine is a notable player in an increasingly visible contingent of artists painting in an abstract, hard-edged geometric style. Neo-geo, minimalism, I’m not sure what the current tag is for this work, but the jargon and semantics hold little interest for me, especially when the work itself is so compelling. I believe the loosely connected group of artists, if one would call it that (more like a Facebook friends’ mutual admiration society?), might be clustered around a vision of  ‘reductive abstraction’ or something like that. I suppose labels are effective marketing tools, but that’s not the point of what’s going on here.

Don Voisine

Off Register, 2011 Oil on wood 16 x 17 inches, © Don Voisine, Courtesy McKenzie Fine Art, Inc.

The artist and blogger Joanne Mattera is among the ranks of these seasoned and sophisticated painters, and happily she has found a way to use Facebook for good instead of evil. Recently, she asked her Facebook friends who are working with geometric abstraction to send her images of their work featuring rhomboid shapes. Mattera then curated a wildly varied and potent on-line exhibition of these works.  A piece by Voisine is included, and the grouping is a great overview that demonstrates the startling variety of approaches and visions within this relatively cohesive bunch of contemporary artists. Introducing the show, “Rhomboid Rumba,” Mattera writes, “The works in this scroll-down reflect a variety of ideas: tectonic shift, Archimedian displacement, spiritual thinking, a textile sensibility, references to the body, constructivist principles, optical challenge, formal push/pull, and the pure pleasure of geometric abstraction. Materiality, another of my interests, is very much in evidence here as well.” Minus Space is another place to visit to extensively explore work in this vein. (Voisine can be found here too, along with some others worth knowing about like Karen Schifano and Douglas Witmer.)

Don Voisine

N, 2011 Oil on wood 20 x 16 inches, © Don Voisine, Courtesy McKenzie Fine Art, Inc.

Voisine’s bold blacks and crisp compositions have enough of the artist’s hand visible and enough sensuality to engage the viewer immediately. The work is hard-edged but with a dry wit instead of just being dry. It says HEY to get your attention, but the conversation immediately gets deep.  The paintings slyly change as you move in front of them, rewarding the patient eye over and over with their idiosyncratic symmetries, subtleties and shifting planes and voids. Voisine’s self-imposed limitations result in a flourishing body of work that feels anything but restrictive and repetitive. These are paintings made to stand up to a lifetime of looking.

I recently saw Voisine’s work at the American Academy of Arts & Letters Invitational exhibition, and had hoped to have a chance to write about it then. Happily, I heard he received a coveted Arts & Letters Purchase Prize, so the work can still be seen at the gallery on Audubon Terrace until June 12th, as well as at McKenzie until June 11th, and I will definitely be making another trip to revisit this show before it closes. Here’s congratulating Don Voisine for doing terrific work and garnering well-deserved recognition for it.

Don Voisine

Otto, 2011 Oil on wood 32 x 60 inches, © Don Voisine, Courtesy McKenzie Fine Art, Inc.

I sometimes make note, at least a mental note, when gallery owners or staff are either exceptionally talented or awful in their dealings with the public, collectors, press, and/or artists. In this case I would like to recognize gallery owner Valerie McKenzie for her friendly and knowledgeable interaction. Her enthusiasm and astute conversation about the work she is representing are superbly refreshing. She sets the bar a little higher for others in the field.


Sure enough, people were lined up down the block on January 10th, waiting for Metro Pictures to open their doors.  If I were Bill Cunningham of The New York Times, I would have had lots of material for a feature on stylish glasses and fabulous winter hats.  Just marvelous! There was an idea floated out that there was a small fortune to be made if one were prepared to back up the offer of “Cocoa! Get your hot cocoa here!”  But at that moment, the crowd began to flood into the gallery for Postcards from the Edge, the benefit for Visual AIDS.  Obviously, at the preview party the night before, many savvy collectors had pinpointed the pieces they were intent on buying.  In a nonstop blur of activity, things flew off the walls.  My little drawing was purchased before I even located it myself.  This annual benefit not only presents work of surprisingly high quality, but it tends to be managed extremely well thanks to smart staff and va-va-voom volunteers.  The atmosphere is like a big party, and there really does seem to be something for everyone.  My hope is that Visual AIDS raked in scads of dough, and I’ll look forward to the recurrence of this event next year.

Our next stop was just down 24th St at Fredericks and Freiser, for John Wesley‘s show A Question of Women (through Feb 7).   My biggest exposure to Wesley‘s work in person was at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, and perhaps then my mind was just too caught up with the overwhelming presences of Donald Judd and Dan Flavin to be able to fully appreciate him.  This well-curated show was my Wesley moment of enlightenment.  It brings together a number of canvases from private collections that have not shown in New York before and some from the artist’s studio that have never before been exhibited.  Their collective impact is disarming, disturbing, and delightfully captivating.  Painted between 1992 and 2004, these paintings should be considered in context from an artist who, born in 1928, has been perfecting this style for over 50 years.  As cool and controlled as they may be, given the tightly drawn lines, the flat application of paint and the specificity of palette, they are startlingly dramatic.  Naughty and erotic in a slightly Betty Boop kind of way, the abstract elements of the canvases — the colors, the quirky shapes (those eyelashes!), the negative spaces — hold powerful sway in the overall experience of the paintings.  It is tempting to think that the simplicity of art employing a comic-book style makes it easy for digital images on the web to adequately stand in for the in-person experience.  That notion is particularly false with Wesley’s paintings and although I’ve included links, I would strongly urge you to go see the show before viewing all the images on the gallery’s website.  With 65 solo shows under his belt, this may be one of Wesley’s best yet, and that’s saying something.

The next stop was BravinLee Programs on 26th Street, where John Lee treated us to a fascinating walk-through of Bhakti Baxter’s exhibition After Certain Amounts of Breath (through Feb 14).   In order to enter the main room of the gallery, you must detour around the remaining fragments of sheetrock and metal studs that once comprised a dividing wall.  There’s a short, vicariously cathartic Youtube video of the artist creating (or should I say deconstructing?) it.  The wall, and all the pieces in this show, relate to themes of temporality, mortality, and the pure energy of matter as it relates to existence.  The featured work in the main gallery is a sequential series of large drawings on mylar depicting the gradual dissolution of the skeletal remains of a human couple, and their transformation or return to a kind of cosmic energy.  The back gallery continues the idea, but on a more conceptual level.  It has the makings of an intimate, yet spare, living room, in which one can sit and reflect a while.  The decor of the room is subtle, yet purposeful:  an Eames rocker invites the visitor with a possible reference to Charles and Ray Eames’ film “The Powers of Ten”, a film that looks at similarities of macro- and microcosmic views (Baxter offers another way to rock as well: there’s a cassette deck playing, for those of you who remember what cassettes are); wall murals channel Albers’ extensive series Homage to the Square, and ideas of harmonious proportions; there’s even a drawing of an agave plant to bring to mind the wonders of the Fibonacci sequence (a plus for this Fibonacci fan).  The references may be a bit obscure, but the ambition to coalesce themes of love, life, death, decay, harmony, scientific phenomena, art history, and even some gentle humor, is heartening, particularly in that cynicism and fear are nowhere to be found here.

Beating me to it, the New Yorker just highlighted Emna Zghal‘s exhibition at M.Y. Art Prospects. Emna’s work may have been under your radar, but not long ago, she won a coveted purchase award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. This was her first solo show here of oils on canvas (as opposed to works on paper), and in the dead of winter, it gives you hope that Spring will indeed return. Without sticking to earthen tones or expected shapes, the bold colors and non-representational marks, lines, and gestures of these poetic canvases convey a love of nature: The rustling of leaves, the flow of water, the movement of a creature not quite seen, but sensed. They feel like fresh air and the outdoors without being sentimental or sweet. They express an energetic and layered space in a way that would have been impossible without Pollock, but which in no way seems derivative of him. This selection of work, finely done but never fussy, feels as refined and carefully edited as a sonnet.

Upstairs in the same building at Aperture Gallery (3rd floor) we saw It’s beautiful here, isn’t it…, photographs by Luigi Ghirri (through Jan 29).  This show views like a romantic symphony in several movements.  It is breathtaking to see the breadth of work by this important yet under-known photographer who died in 1992 at the age of 49.  The show is extensive with too much varied content to cover here, but if perhaps you’ve recently been to see the Morandi show at the Met Muse, Ghirri’s photos of the artist’s studio will likely seem especially poignant.  It’s beautiful here?  Yes, Ghirri shows us how true that is.

We braved on through the snow and weren’t disappointed when we arrived at Sean Kelly for Ressonância Resonance Resonanz, a three-artist exhibition by Iran do Espírito Santo, Callum Innes, and Wolfgang Laib (through January 31).  Missing from the show’s press release is a curatorial credit, and the pieces here have been selected and installed so successfully that credit is certainly due to the people behind the scenes as well.  The exhibition brings together paintings, drawings, sculptures, and installation pieces from three accomplished artists whose approaches, as the press release states, “…whilst seemingly very different, share many conceptual, intellectual, formal and emotional resonances.”  All three artists, whether using paint, granite, glass, crystal, beeswax, rice, or hand-collected pollen display an almost reverent love and sensitivity to their materials that emanates from the completed works.  The gallery seems transformed by this resonant exhibition into a sanctuary for contemplation.

It will be difficult to follow-up such a winning line-up of shows with the next gallery crawl, but I’ll see what I can come up with for February.  Advance notice of next month’s crawl will be posted here, and as always, all are welcome to come along!

[images starting at top: John Wesley, Question of Women, 1993, Acrylic on canvas: 42 x 49 inches; Bhakti Baxter, left to right: After certain amounts of breath 2008 india ink and dirt on mylar 59.25 x42 inches; Residual bodies 2008 india ink and dirt on mylar 61×42 inches; A dispersed way of being 2008 india ink enamel and dirt on mylar 61 x 42 inches; Emna Zghal Tree Threads, 2008, oil on canvas, 25 x 37 inches; Photograph by Luigi Ghirri at Aperture Gallery; Gallery view of Sean Kelly Gallery, detail of Wolfgang Laib’s piece The Rice Meals, 1983, 33 brass plates, rice and hazelnut pollen approximate length: 640 inches (on floor), and two Callum Innes paintings Untitled No 13, 2008, oil on linen 81 1/2 x 79 1/2 inches and Untitled No 30, 2008,oil on canvas, 81 1/2 x 79 1/2 inches.]

Here’s the line-up for Saturday’s gallery crawl.  We’ll meet at Metro Pictures at 11 a.m. when the doors open for the Postcards from the Edge benefit show for Visual AIDS (see my previous post, below).  It will be a madhouse as people run around trying to figure out which amazing artist contributed which piece, so be prepared.  You’re guaranteed to be tempted by something, so you might want to have your credit cards, checkbook, or 75 American dollars readily available. [FYI, check payments require photo ID.]

Postcards from the Edge at Metro Pictures, 519 W 24 St.

Question of Women, John Wesley at Fredericks & Freiser, 536 W 24 St

After Certain Amounts of Breath, Bhakti Baxter at BravinLee Programs, 526 W 26 Suite 211

Against Reason, Emna Zghal at M.Y. Art Prospects, 547 W 27, Floor 2

Ressonância Resonance Resonanz, Iran do Espírito Santo, Callum Innes, Wolfgang Laib at Sean Kelly, 528 W 29 St.

The gallery crawl tends to be an organic thing.  There may be some random stops thrown in depending on time, energy, mood and whim.  If you want to join us midway, just call me at 917-992-4001 to find out where we are.

After Chelsea, I’ll head down to Soho to see Marking Time, a showing of Douglas Navarra’s works at OK Harris, 383 West Broadway.  The artist will be at the gallery today from 3-5pm.  This show is up through February 7th, and worth a visit if you’re in the vicinity and craving an eyeful of fine work that will feed your vision and make you think.

“In these drawings the artist starts with found paper documents and responds by adding his own marks, as “interventions” that set up a dialogue with the linear quality of the penmanship, original marginalia, and the stains and tears that have accumulated over the centuries. When his own personal history is added to a 200 year-old piece of paper, it transforms the context of the page from a minor historical record into a work of contemporary, visual documentation.”

[above image: Douglas Navarra, Palimpsest – 2004, gouache and pencil on found paper, 14.5 x 12 inches, copyright Douglas Navarra, all rights reserved. Courtesy OK Harris Gallery.]

An aspiring writer, one of my towering, affable nephews blew through town recently.  We decided to grab some grub at the writer-owned-and-frequented watering hole The Half King (good brunch!) and then see what there was to see at the “art mall” at 529 W 20th Street.

I’ve been frustrated of late by encountering a lot of work that relies on accompanying written materials to justify and explain the artists’ intentions.  I’m well-versed enough in the language of art that I figure I should be able to “get it” without reading the manifesto, a.k.a Art Babble.  However, this recent visit to Chelsea had me thinking a bit differently about the pros and cons of the additional reading material and how it affects my experience and assessment of the work.

Walking into bitforms gallery, there was a show where the work itself was all about reading. Up until October 11th, the gallery is presenting Politics As Usual, the first US solo exhibition of composer, artist and performer R. Luke DuBois.  The room is filled with letterpress prints formatted like eye test charts, with large-lettered words at the top which decrease in size with each line.  A droning sonic hum permeated the gallery.  I looked around and my first reaction was to heave a sigh as I reached for the printed materials.  “Okay,” I thought, “bring on the manifesto.”  But in this instance, the written materials were concise and useful.  The letterpress pieces, it explained, comprised a series called Hindsight is Always 20/20, which “examines the history of American political discourse through the metaphor of vision.  Drawing from the annual State of the Union addresses given by Presidents to Congress,” each print culled words from their speeches, with the largest words being the most frequent to the smallest, least frequently used.  “The result is a startlingly clear snapshot of the lexicon of each presidency, containing a mix of historically topical keywords and rhetoric unique to each president and the time period in which they served in office.”  I couldn’t say it better.

George Walker Bush (2001-2009)

R. Luke Dubois, "George Walker Bush (2001-2009)", copyright the artist

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933-1945)

R. Luke Dubois, "Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933-1945)", copyright the artist

The exhibition’s soundtrack called SSB, is a recording of the national anthem as performed by soprano Lesley Flanigan and then “digitally stretched to last four years (the length of an American election cycle).”  For a dose of irony, “the resulting sound, with its repetition, echo, and microtonal nuance, is reminiscent of an adhan, or Islamic call to prayer.”

As we gear up to this election, what a fascinating perspective to have on our country’s history.  In spite of my initial resistance to reading the fine print, it made all the difference in this case.

I have found Howard Scott Gallery an inviting, intimate environment where I can reliably count on seeing sophisticated, strong work by confident, mature artists.  Encountering Tom Schmitt‘s works on paper seemed to confirm that expectation.  The works, mostly under 8″ square, were mostly from the past few years, with a couple of slightly larger early pieces from the 60’s as well.  The reductive, minimal works were full of nuances that engaged the viewer.  Colors, carefully considered edges, and subtle gradations were used to maximum effect, imbuing the small pieces with depth and mystery.  Architecture, nature, and iconic symbolism all came to mind from these non-objective starting points.  I looked at the exhibition check list, and all the recent drawings were listed as “ink on paper.”  The precision of the handling of the ink, especially the gradations really amazed me.  It was hard to imagine that even the steadiest hand could master such technique.  Turns out I was right.  Reading more of the gallery’s materials on the show, Arnold Lehman’s essay in the press materials states, “Forty years have passed since I first saw and admired Tom Schmitt‘s work. Since then, everything around us has changed. On first glance, so had Schmitt’s work, now created by computer instead of his steady hand.  Technology had been harnessed by the artist to serve the intrinsic nature of his work.”

Black Grey, 7.5 x 7.5 2008 (2006?).  Copyright Tom Schmitt

Tom Schmitt: Black Grey, 7.5 x 7.5" 2008 (2006?). Copyright the artist

I concur that the pieces Schmitt has created and printed using computer technology are powerful and in keeping with his overall artistic sensibility.  However, something about this didn’t sit right with me.  While on-line some of the work is noted as “computer ink on paper,” in the gallery, these pieces were identified as ink on paper, implying they were one of a kind drawings, which they were not.  These were, in fact, digital inkjet prints, which should bring up archival questions for potential collectors.  Also, I would think potential collectors would want to know if the artist plans to reprint an unlimited number of these pieces, and if not, shouldn’t each one be presented as a signed and numbered limited edition?  At any rate, they are not unique pieces, and not made by hand.  I had to ask myself, how much of the value, intrinsic merit, and importance of the work is tied up in its being a unique artifact made by a human hand?  It’s a thorny question that I’m still pondering, but the truth of my gut reaction was that I felt differently about the work once I had discovered the means of its production.  It also made me feel that, intentionally or not, there was some deception implicit in presenting the digital prints as unnumbered pieces of “ink on paper.”