Divergent at Galerie Lelong and Summer Color at Elizabeth Harris
“Divergent” at Galerie Lelong until August 1
528 West 26th Street, between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues, 212-315-0470
“Summer Color” at Elizabeth Harris until July 18
529 West 20th Street, between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues, 212-463-9666
Summer is for group shows, with themes and premises kept seasonally light. The economic determinant is traffic, likewise light. No one wants their hard-won solo appearance scheduled during the slow months. Some group exhibitions are genuinely ends in themselves: The curatorial total is greater than the sum of exhibitor parts. But most groupees are more smorgasbord than salad: Pick as your appetite dictates.
In “Divergent,” at Galerie Lelong, a compelling, if unstated, plot unites nine protagonists of varying style, generation, and reputation. It has to do with freshness within formula. The best artists here work out ways to achieve expressiveness within self-imposed constraints. For some, modernist grid or minimalist palette provides the straightjacket; others push against limitations of trivia or slightness.
Sean Scully sets the tone: If this were a jazz band, he’d be playing bass. His presence is beefy and lethargic, yet infused with warmth and subtle humor. He’s like a blockhead whose terse remarks are disarmingly eloquent. His trademark composition is a patchwork of broad rectangular forms presented in vertical and horizontal pairs. This painterly quilt is stitched together by a muscular but unfussy brushwork. Tones are usually dirty and subtly modulated. Another typical trait, evident in “Wall of Light Burren” (2003), is to have his dull thuds of paint reverberate against a shrill ground occasionally glimpsed in the cracks between forms. There is an extraordinary range of emotion within this almost insolently reductive mode. And incredible light.
The late Frederic Matys Thursz, whose work is hung next to Mr. Scully’s, is similarly a minimalist made from an Abstract Expressionist repressed. The richly invested surfaces of his pair of monochrome canvases from the 1980s are matched in painterliness and theatricality by sumptuous colors: a bloody red and a deep, almost ecclesiastic purple.
Opposite Mr. Thursz a cut relief by Richard Tuttle plays its own games with richness and delicacy. The piece, “New Mexico, New York #14” (1998), comprises two overlapping sheets of irregularly cut fir plywood; crimson acrylic traverses the two sheets, exposing a lasso-like form. Wobbly lines (both depictive and in the carving) give a delicate illusion of fabric to the piece, which by the standards of Mr. Tuttle’s self-consciously feeble aesthetic is almost bold and declaratory.
The Thursz and Tuttle sandwich a wall of paintings by Kate Shepherd in a curatorial flourish that highlights the younger artist’s knowing combination of minimal structure and post-minimal touch. Upon subtly varied multi-panels of seamless smooth glossy monochrome, Ms. Shepherd adds sensitive lines of enamel paint that are gently suggestive of slats or floorboards. Traversing the panels, these add depictive spatial dimension while somehow allowing the vacuum which is the hard-edge ground to remain inviolate.
Ms. Shepherd is an example of how to derive genuine poetry out of engagement with painterly problematics. Co-exhibitor Peter Wegner is not. His pretentious and impenetrable wall installation and elegant enough but prissy abstractions in different whites built up of “unnamed” paint samples are examples of neo-conceptualism at its most institutionalized and dull. Luckily, relief is at hand from Simone Adels, who brings a Tuttle touch to similar territory in a way that suggests that she is being playful with her own preciousness: There are color chart-like grids, but these are subverted in a trompe l’oeil depiction of overlayed paper.
The remaining younger artists in the show connect with Ms. Adels and Ms. Shepherd in the way they play with language. Francis Alÿs achieves an energetic tension between the emblematic and the observed in his painting of the rears of three dogs, their tails looping together like some obscure heraldic symbol. Jane Hammond is an artist whose usually dense and involved collisions of language might have stirred things up nicely here but is represented instead by somewhat lame decorations. The role of wild card (to do with kitsch what others do with reduction) is dealt by Ann Craven. In terms of “bad girl” aesthetics, Ms. Craven occupies similar territory to Lisa Yuskavage – only she actually has the means to achieve interplay of depth and surface, detachment and investment. At their best/worst, her lavishly lurid bird paintings are like clones of Jeff Koons and Audubon.
“Summer Color” at Elizabeth Harris is a tad like a Macy’s window in its seasonal obviousness, but is an unpretentious, jolly celebration none the less of the erotics of color.
A leitmotif is color forcing itself into sculptural shape. Lisa Hoke has pop-semiotic fun with splashes of bright paint in plastic cups stacked in irregular pyramidal configurations around the four sides of a column. Others go for more floppy, gooey arrangements. John Monti mounts a sculptural relief high on the wall in pigmented resin and rubber. Scott Richter, who regularly works in humungous wads of solidified paint, is relatively restrained in “Also Slicker” (2003), the sides of which densely accumulate paint while the surface comprises a sickly smooth expanse of pea green sweating medium.
It is left to Alex Stolyarov to construct an ingenius puddle of congealed, discrete colors. Rebecca Smith creates a cheery wall-installed collage of various tapes – duct, masking, metallic, and webbed. Carolanna Parlato’s “Walking Line” (2003) brings a cartoonish hard edge to her depiction of a gestural drip in shiny orange against sky blue. Markus Linnenbrink, who recently completed a stunning mural for the entrance to the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, packs a riot of vibrant drip into “Gruenlicht” (2002), a work in epoxy resin on wood.
There’s slightly subtler play with color in Robert Yasuda’s impressionistic cornerpiece and an understated work by Jim Long, but generally, these artists set a mood of chromatic frivolity which leaves richer, subtler offerings from Pat Passlof, Melissa Meyer, and Phil Sims to chill out in the shade. Mediation between the two parties is at hand from the meditative Stephen Mueller, as ever between two worlds. His mandalas and sacred vessels, depicted in a tight, cautious graphic hand, float against a ground of pulsating stains. His art is at once funky and ethereal.
This article first appeared in The New York Sun, July 3, 2003.