Gallery Going, by DAVID COHEN
This article first appeared in The Sun, July 17, 2003
It is particularly instructive to see Alexander Ross's not especially Monet-influenced painting in the company of the almost mocking homage to the master by Will Cotton. These two painters, though respectively abstract and realist, have close affinities with one another in terms of modus operandi (apparently there are complex arrangements involving set-ups and photography) and heightened awareness of artifice.
Will Cotton Giverny
Flan Pond 2003
Mr. Cotton makes big still lifes of melting ice-creams and soft-focus puddings. His 2003 piece here is entitled "Giverny Flan Pond". He creates abstract fields (shimmering haystacks indeed) from absurdly hyperreal observation. Mr. Ross travels in the opposite mimetic direction, but the rich dialogue between these two painters only goes to prove that the journey not the destination is what counts in art. His ambiguous forms defy pictorial interpretation, but the brushstrokes are organized with tight depictive purposiveness. In Mr. Ross, abstraction achieves the condition of representation, whereas in Mr. Cotton it is the opposite that seems attempted.
From the paradise where they were made to the Upper East Side the pictures in this exhibition continue to enjoy a pampered setting. The exquisite Salon 94 is actually the ground floor of the home of financier Nicholas Rohatyn and his wife, the dealer Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn of Artemis Greenberg van Doren. The gallery space looks out onto a garden through a magnificent floor to ceiling bay window that directly recalls in shape and scale if not content the late murals of Monet.
Yeardley Leonard When
the Sun Shines Through 2003
Yeardley Leonard offers a painterly bridge between the cool minimalism of this classy interior and the sumptuous naturalism of Giverny. The touchstones of her dense but serene constructivism are Bridget Riley, Jesus Rafael Soto, and Theo van Doesburg, but in her painting "When the Sun Shines Through" (2003) a compositionally-centered burst of light softens her usually rigorously determined flatness almost, within her own strictly geometric terms, impressionistically.
Jules Olitski Comprehensive
Apropos Monet, there is a timely chance to view classic 1960s spray paintings by Jules Olitski at Ameringer Yohe. Like late Monet, these breakthrough works by the leading color field painter are at once solid and ethereal: color is embodied by paint and yet seemingly seen through it, as if - contrary to the formalist rhetoric that accompanied these pictures into the world - color constitutes an image autonomous of the means of its conveyance.
Mr. Olitski is hard to see. It is not that he isn't visible - there are fairly frequent shows of his work, though more in commercial than public forums - so much as that he comes with baggage. Mention his name and the critic Clement Greenberg comes to mind as surely as Baudelaire's does with that of his protégé Constantin Guys'. But the experience to be had at Ameringer Yohe may prove a revelation to a generation better acquainted with the theory and hype surrounding Mr. Olitski than the work itself.
The artist has recounted elsewhere how, in the mid 1960s, these paintings came to be. The British sculptor Anthony Caro was talking about how he used color to emphasize the density of steel. "Without thinking I said I want the opposite for my painting. If I could just have a spray of paint in the air that would just stay there, not lose its shape." The next day he drove into town and bought a spray gun. Olitski and his peers had been striving for a "post painterly", that's to say anti-gestural color presence. Hitherto staining and pouring had been a preferred mean to take the hand out of painting. Spraying upped the ante; paint moved beyond saturation to become a breathy, whispering presence.
Later, in complete and studied
contrast, Olitski would re-embrace impasto with aplomb, experimenting
with gels and mediums to create bizzare bas reliefs out of paint (anticipated
by "17th Hope" , from the end of the period represented
in this show). In either extreme - flatness or thickness - Mr. Olitski
is a master of unexpected color, risking saccherine sweetness in his pursuit
of feeling. Despite their radically reduced means, these works are miles
away from the minimalism and conceptualism beginning to take hold of the
artworld of the day. They are romantic and naturalistic, almost to the
point of embarrassing the viewer with illusions of cloud formations or
morning mist. If abstraction is implicit in the atmospheric impressionism
of Monet, the opposite holds for Mr. Olitski.
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