criticismBooks
Saturday, August 1st, 2009

Books in Brief


NAMIES AND NEWBIES: THE KRAMARSKY COLLECTION

560 Broadway A New York Drawing Collection at Work 1991-2006, edited by Amy Eshoo, with contributions by Derrick R.Cartwright, James Cuno, Elizabeth Finch, Josef Helfenstein, Glenn D. Lowry, David Mickenberg, Ann Philbin, Earl A. Powell III, Jock Reynolds, and Townsend Wolfe.  Fifth Floor Foundation in Association with Yale University Press, 2008, ISBN 9780300135398, 200 pages, color plates

New York/New Drawings 1946 – 2007. Exhibition catalogue, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Esteban Vicente, Segovia, Spain, 2009, 319 pages, color plates

Marjorie Welish Study for Small High Valley 52 1992. Oil on paper, 9 x 12 inches. Collection Sally & Wynn Kramarsky (#2554). Photograph by Ellen McDermott

Marjorie Welish, Study for Small High Valley 52 1992. Oil on paper, 9 x 12 inches. Collection Sally & Wynn Kramarsky (#2554). Photograph by Ellen McDermott

A pair of handsome, substantial publications document Sally and Werner (Wynn) Kramarsky’s singular collection of American, predominantly reductive, abstract art, with its focus on works on paper. 560 Broadway celebrates the fifteen years of exhibitions at that SoHo address, gallery-office of the Fifth Floor Foundation, until 2006 when the collector moved his operation to smaller premises uptown.  As Elizabeth Finch notes in an introductory essay, Wynn Kramarsky gravitated both towards established figures within the movements that interested him, with an emphasis on Minimal and Conceptual art, and emerging or relatively neglected individuals whose work excited him and whose careers, he felt, warranted patronage: the “namies” and the “newbies” as he and his staff nicknamed the respective groups.  The book also acknowledges the Kramarskys’ proactive generosity as lenders to their artists’ shows, instigators of traveling exhibitions of the collection, and – pace the awesome fifty-odd page catalogue at the end of the book – donors of works to leading institutions.  The Vicente Museum catalogue, which accompanied an exhibition in Spring 2009, contains a transcript of the riveting, insightful, often raucous interview with Kramarsky conducted by poet William Corbett at the CUE Foundation in 2008 in which his background, character and collecting philosophy are all probed.  The catalogue pairs plates with texts by 27 artists in thecollection plus Corbett, including, for instance, Joel Shapiro on Trisha Brown, Terry Winters on Barnett Newman, Jill Baroff on Esteban Vicente himself (a 1951 collage), and Joan Waltemath on Frank Stella.  Among the blue chip Minimal and reductive artists in this balanced selection is a very healthy contingent of “newbies,” many of whom are by now on their way to being “namies” thanks in part to Kramarsky patronage.

SCULPTURE

Tim Scott. Exhibition Catalogue, David Moos and Ken Carpenter,  with foreword by David Mirvish. DM Books, Toronto, 2008,ISBN 9780969075912, 128 pages, color plates

Arthur Carter Sculptures, Paintings, and Drawings, by Charles A. Riley and Peter W. Kaplan.  Abrams, New York, 2009, ISBN 9780810905955, 207 pages, color plates- $50.00

Tim Scott’s catalogue marks two exhibitions and celebrates the restoration of an early work.  Collector David Mirvish, who used to run the commercial gallery that bore his name in Toronto from 1963-75, has a deep commitment to abstract art (Color Field painting, formalist sculpture, etc.) of the period in which he was active as a dealer.  He already owned sculptures by Briton Tim Scott from 1972 and 1983 but had missed the opportunity to acquire something from the artist’s first period, when Scott worked in synthetic materials and correspondingly assertive colors. This was an art historical moment, as Mirvish deftly describes it, in his foreword here, when “the optimism that pervaded the Art World once more supercharged the dialogue between painting and sculpture.”  Then a couple of years ago he was offered – from a museum – a large multi-part construction from 1967 titled Sestina that had been in storage since it was first shown and required extensive “refurbishment.”  Mirvish invited Scott toToronto to complete the restoration, during which time the artist also moved forward on a body of work in clay, a material he had begun experimenting with in the 1990s, producing a series of model house constructions of “intimacy and monumentality.”  Mirvish borrowed various works from the 1960s to exhibit alongside his own holdings, including Sestina, in a rented warehouse in the outskirts of Toronto, while Corkin Gallery, elsewhere in the city, presented the House of Clay series.

If Kramarsky (above) and Mirvish, in their respective ways, demonstrate the creativity of a collector’s interaction with art and artists, Arthur Carter takes that dynamic one stage further, by actually making art.  As this lavish monograph recounts, the Wall Street tycoon turned publishing mogul (he is the former proprietor of the New York Observer and now a board member of the Nation) is also the author of a substantial body of linear metal sculpture.  Like Scott, Carter is indebted to the innovations of David Smith and Anthony Caro, but he equally looks further back to the traditions of Calder, Russian Constructivism and (especially in his works on paper) De Stijl.  There is a striking affinity with Alexander Liberman, a fellowstraddler of the divide between publisher and maker.

SKETCHBOOKS

David Reed, Rock Paper Scissors. Edited by Jochen Kienbaum, Iris Maczollek, and Anke Schmidt, Snoeck, 2009, ISBN 9783940953018, 79 pages, color plates

Will Barnet A Sketchbook 1932 – 1934.  Essay by Robert C. Morgan, Foreword by Will Barnet. George Braziller Publishers, 2009, ISBN 9780807615980, 90 pages, color plates – $49.95

American Dream Drawings from a Rough Childhood by Chuck Bowdish.  Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects, 2009, ISBN9780615276366, copy number 248, 40 pages, plates

Sketchbooks can be endoscopes for the artist’s mind.  Here are three books of very different artists that present, in facsimile, working papers or portfolios that offer insight into early thoughts, in terms either of career or a body of work.  From the German publishers, Snoeck, a gorgeously printed set of working drawings by David Reed exposes the meticulous planning of his slick, photo-like and complicatedly layered abstract paintings.  Actually, the drawings could better be said to chronicle than to plan: each page, on graph paper, deconstructs the evolution of the image almost diaristically, with adjacent color studies or compositional diagrams.  There is an interview with the artist conducted by collectors Dorothy and Herbert Vogel and by independent curator Dean Daderko.  Nonagenarian artist Will Barnet’s sketchbook from 1932-34, from Braziller, make Depression-era Central Park the young artist’s life room, as Robert Morgan recounts in his warm-hearted introduction.  The drawings are robust, tender, insightful and shot through with humor.  Though the title of Chuck Bowdish’s artist book relates to childhood, the drawings, in a classical-naïve pen and ink, arepresentation works juxtaposed with indicative and inspirational texts, in the artist’s childish block letters, from the era of Eisenhower-Kennedy, evoking a tension and distress contrastively absent from Barnet’s Depression-era idyll.

MONOGRAPHS

Alan Gussow: A Painter’s Nature, by Martica Sawin, preface by John Driscoll and recollection by James Kiberd.  Hudson Hills Press, 2009, ISBN 978I555953089, 378 pages, color plates- $70.00

Terry Setch, by Martin Holman, with contributions by Michael Sandle and Paul Greenhalgh, Lund Humphries in association withBroken Glass, 2009, ISBN 9781848221232, 160 pages, color plates

Graham Crowley, by Martin Holman Lund Humphries in association with Broken Glass, 2009, ISBN 9781848220249, 123 pages, color plates

Graham Crowley Red Reflection 2005. Oil on canvas, 152.5 x 178 cm. The Artist.

Graham Crowley, Red Reflection 2005. Oil on canvas, 152.5 x 178 cm. The Artist.

If you own this mammoth, no holds barred book on Alan Gussow and you organize your monographs alphabetically and by nationality it will probably end up next to a smaller, more modest tome on Philip Guston (nothing as grand on Guston is in print) and that will make you wonder whether the invisible hand of the book market is doing its job properly in apportioning effort and resources to the subjects who deserve them. A bias towards Gussow’s later work bears the heavy-handed hallmark of estate/gallery sponsorship.  That said, Martica Sawin does a thorough, indeed loving job of research into the artist’s life, passions and devlelopment, drawing extensively on his archives (he died in 1997.) Her text is truly fascinating when describing Gussow’s environment activism. His style evolved (or devolved, if viewed art historically) from hard-edged abstraction via abstract expressionism to a familiar American fusion of the abstract and the perceptual, with strong shades of Milton Avery and Charles Burchfield and occasional hints of Louis Finkelstein.  Wherever the influences and affinities lie, the art never feels like it achieves modernist rigor: rich, resolved, sincere, always, but somehow more a product than an inquiry.

Two perceptive, thorough monographs on mid-career British artists Terry Setch and Graham Crowley from author Martin Holman are published by Lund Humphries in association with Broken Glass, a firm that specializes in books put together by their artist subjects. Both artists have substantial reputations in Britain and elsewhere in Europe though they will likely not be known to American readers.  Crowley, until recently Professor of Painting at London’s Royal College of Art, one of the most prestigious academic positions in the UK, has been stylistically eclectic, varying from fantasy realism via a transavanguardia classicism to, in the newest work, an intriguing pop landscape idiom.  What is consistent, however, is a gritty, urban toughness to his images, even when at the same time there is an almost Blakean visionary quality to them.  Setch has a sensibility arguably both more experiment and more romantic than Crowley’s.  His work has been “out there” in scale and materials, working for instance with detritus to create poignant landscapes almost polemically imbued with environmental foreboding.


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