Chic Set: Cornwall Artists at James Barron
Cornwall Bohemia at James Barron Art
July 4 to August 2, 2015
4 Fulling Lane
Kent, CT, 917 270 8044
Everyone loves an art movement, and many may feel the lack of any major recent one. But the next best thing is a group of disparate artists all working in the same place — ideally bucolic or exotic. And just in time to quench our thirst for such geographical groupings, and to welcome the upstate summer, comes the exhibition “Cornwall Bohemia,” at James Barron in Kent, Connecticut. This is the first group show at the gleaming new space belonging to Mr. Barron, an infamously modish figure who shuttles between here and Rome, his international profile matching the storied elegance of many of these local artists.
This is a crew, a scene, of truly heady social stuff, whether the ultra-cosmopolitan Philip Taaffe; the reigning royalty of TriBeCa, Laurie Simmons and Carroll Dunham; not to mention leading glossy magazine photographer Todd Eberle; Downtown superstar James Nares; and Duncan Hannah, dandy draughtsman supreme. But quite aside from any such cosmopolitan grandeur these are all artists of true importance, of global caliber, who also happen to have houses and studios in Cornwall, a group of quaint unspoiled villages in Litchfield County, where they spend some of their creative time and energy. No, of course there is no thematic coherence or identifiable shared method,but yes they all make for a damn rich group show, artists of world renown here operating on a smaller, more communal scale. The perfectly proportioned main gallery is not only ideally light and airy, but also deliciously cool — blasting AC always being an accurate socio-demographic clue to a dealer’s status. And the whole space is simply ablaze with local color, from Greg Goldberg’s zingy modernist motifs to Eberle’s outrageously bold mirrored flowers from his Cosmos series, or Speed of Heat (2012) a smooth trademark bright swoosh from Nares. The show seems to move across from a joyously breezy abstraction, including the kick-ass, mica-rich Portrait (Regal) (2015) by Jackie Saccoccio. There’s a sort of refined outlined figuration in Dunham’s comic biomorphic blobs and Brendan O’Connell’s tasty, melting supermarket products, juxtaposed with ideogrammatic Canal Zone cityscapes of Judith Belzer. As if coming into focus, the image itself then solidifies into the recognizable contours of Simmons’s perfect, solitary and spotlit photograph Brothers/Aerial View (1979) and Hannah’s two highly stylized and desirable untitled paintings of cars and buildings brimming with Brutalist chic.
In all this, Taaffe provides a sort of central fulcrum to the movement from abstraction to realism, with his Strata Nephrodium (2014), a thicket of primal pattern, whose fern shapes and bold brightness could be read as an homage to Dylan Thomas’s “Fern Hill”: “And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves/ Trail with daisies and barley/ Down the rivers of the windfall light.”
Kent is known for its widespread public sculpture – not least thanks to the notorious neighboring Morrison Gallery. But Barron has wisely included only one example, Nozedone (2013) — a sinister yet sensual work by Carl D’Alvia, a sort of Maltese Falcon built from cast resin licorice curlicues, looming in a back perch.
The Cornwall area has a long tradition of artist residents, including Alexander Calder, James Thurber, Marc Simont and Alexander Lieberman; and this exhibition is a welcome addition to such proud regional history and, ideally, perhaps an annual tradition. As Barron notes, “Cornwall has always enjoyed a rich intellectual and artistic heritage, which is especially remarkable given the town’s tiny population.” In fact, so creatively rich is this county that one could easily pitch a Litchfield Biennale, though this is no place to play the “why not so-and-so” game.
If there do seem some obvious omissions from this exhibition — such as watercolorist Adam Van Doren or sculptor Tim Prentice — clearly not everyone could be included without losing that generous, big, calm hanging that so distinguishes this show. The only two Cornwall artists one might have liked to seen together here are Seth Price and Emily Buchanan, a perfect pairing, ideal demonstration, of the town’s wide artistic diversity: a celebrated conceptualist and a renowned traditional landscape painter who recently created the White House Christmas card.
For any British critic, or indeed follower of European Modernism, there is the added irony that the original Cornwall, in England, was site of one of the St. Ives School, one of best known of the 20th century. This was a genuine movement. more than causal geographic coincidence, bringing together Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth as well as several subsequent generations of artists, such as Peter Lanyon and Roger Hilton, who all shared a distinct aesthetic approach to depicting their common landscape. Likewise, one does suspect that some of these artists in the “other” Cornwall up in Connecticut, should get together to work in a similar aesthetic vein, sharing studios, ideas and materials. Then at last we could have an actual new, live art movement. It only takes three to make one, as well as a welcome weekend country set. Perhaps they just need a name: the “Cornwall Oddballs” or the “Litchfield Color Field Crowd.” Something suitably snazzy can surely be found.