Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Balm and Spark

Katherine Bradford, Bonfire, 2016, acrylic on canvas, 80 x 68 inches

Last week's impending inauguration left me feeling anxious and angry, so I went to look at art. In a frenzy of viewing I hit DUMBO on Thursday, the Lower East Side and Chelsea on Friday. While some galleries were closed in solidarity with the J20 Art Strike, I appreciated that many were open. You won't find a visual theme here, just a lot of great stuff on exhibition—and it's all still up. (But I will offer a between-the-lines message: Resist. Demonstrate. Fight Back.)

Katherine Bradford at Sperone Westwater, Lower East Side, through February 11

Bradford's ocean liners have left dreamlike scenes and floating figures in their wake. The light and implied heat of the bonfire is mysteriously at odds with the cool, nocturnal stillness of her aqueous imagery. Both beckon.

View from the entrance of the exhibition

Left wall of the main gallery
Below: Shell Seeker, Large Night, 2016, acrylic on canvas 

 Right wall of the main gallery
Below: Detail of Pond Swimmers, 2016, acrylic on canvas


Emil Lukas, also at Sperone Westwater through February 11

The artist's luminous thread paintings are complemented by a fabulous metal sculpture that quite literally builds upon his interest in light.

Through the doorway into a small gallery: Liquid Lens, 2016, aluminum

 Details above and below of Liquid Lens

 Center, 2016, thread over painted wood frame with nails, 36 x 36 x 3.5 inches

 Above and below: Detail and side view

Steven Alexander, Places to Be, at The Curator Gallery, Chelsea, through February 18

Alexander's ongoing explorations of color and proportion have yielded a visually powerful collection of new work. The title refers to the space and interaction between the painting and the viewer. A perambulation of the gallery offers places that feel electrified and others that are extremely still.

View from the entry

 Panorama from the back of the gallery looking forward

 View of the work on the right side of the panorama. From left: Optimo 7, Tracer 10, Reverb 17, and Poet XIV, all 2016, acrylic on canvas

View of the back wall with Poet XV and Voice 4; side wall: Four Winds 11 and Four Winds 10 with a partial view of Tabula 3; all 2016, acrylic on canvas

Ken Weathersby, Time After Time, at Minus Space, DUMBO, through February 25

The insertion of art historical images into his paintings is a new direction for Weathersby, who is known for precise geometric patterning and meticulous, often layered construction. The new work is a challenging mashup of collage and painting, past and present set into timeless tableaux.  

Installation panorama looking toward the back wall of the gallery

258, 2016; acrylic on linen over panel, collage

256 (Girl Swimmer), 2016; acrylic and graphite on linen, collage

Details above and below

261, 2016; acrylic and graphite on linen over panel, collage
Detail below


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Mothers of Invention, Part 3: Agnes Martin

Part 1: Carmen Herrera
Part 2: Hilma af Klint
Part 3: Alma Thomas

Subtle, Serene, Spare: Agnes Martin at the Guggenheim, New York City, October 7, 2016-January 11, 2017

Let me start with some facts about Agnes Martin in a narrative that is as reductive as her work: She was born in Saskatchewan, Canada, in 1912 and grew up in Vancouver. She moved to New York City 1932, where she trained at Columbia University to be a teacher. After a few years of teaching, she moved to New Mexico where she began to paint seriously. 

At the urging of dealer Betty Parsons she moved back to Manhattan in 1957 and found space to live and work on Coenties Slip in what is now the South Street Seaport area in Lower Manhattan. Her friends and neighbors included Robert Indiana, Ellsworth Kelly, James Rosenquist and Lenore Tawney. Her early paintings reflect the abstract expressionism of her time—actually, I think they look rather Miro-like—but over time she distilled her expression into a distinctly minimalist style.

Here’s Tracey Bashkoff, Senior Curator, Collections and Exhibitions, and Tiffany Bell, Guest Curator, on Martin: “One of the few female artists who gained recognition in the male-dominated art world of the 1950s and ‘60s, Martin is a pivotal figure between two of that era’s dominant movements: Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism. Her content—an expression of essential emotions—relates her to the earlier group, the Abstract Expressionists, but her methods—repetition, geometric compositions, and basic means—were adopted by the Minimalists, who came to prominence during the ‘60s. Martin’s work, however, is more than a bridge between the two. It stands apart by never losing sight of the subjective while aspiring toward perfection. ‘I would like my pictures to represent beauty, innocence and happiness,” she said. I would like them all to represent that. Exaltation.’ ”

Martin eventually made her way back to New Mexico, where she would live for the rest of her life.  She died in 2004 at the age of 92.

You can read more about Martin on the Guggenheim website. What I'd like to do here is take you up the ramp to view the exhibition

Untitled, 1955, oil on canvas
(You can glimpse this painting in the view of the ramp, above. I'm including occasional ramp views so that you can get a better sense of the visual flow of the work)

The keyhole space leads to a reading room. In the foreground is the work you see below

Untitled, 1957, oil on canvas

Walking up the ramp we come to the large painting on the left:  This Rain, 1958, oil on canvas, shown larger below:

Walking past This Rain, we see . . .  

. . . a small study for the painting (1958, oil on canvas) and then Heather, 1958, oil on canvas,
shown larger below:

You are here, walking past This Rain and Heather

Continuing up the ramp: Untitled works from 1958 and 1959, oil on canvas

Untitled, 1959, oil and ink on canvas

Untitled, 1959, oil and graphite on canvas

In a niche off the ramp, a selection  of sculptures from 1958-1963

Below: The Wave, 1963, plexiglass, wood, and beads. This work was intended to be kinetic. When handled, beads within the box would create the ebb-and-flow sound of the ocean

Back on the ramp: a selection of works on paper. These were difficult to photograph, not only because of the glass but because of the lighting. (Indeed, the entire exhibition was lit in a way that tended to stymie my iPhone: daylight on one side, gallery lighting on the other, and that oppressively low, dark ceiling)

I think this untitled drawing is ink on paper from 1960. The triangles will reappear in her very late work

Continuing up the ramp. I loved the juxtaposition of large and small works. Both require up-close viewing, but while the large paintings envelope you as you look, the smaller ones are enveloped by your gaze

White Flower, 1960, oil on canvas

Untitled, 1960, oil on canvas

Martin's Coenties Slip neighbor was the weaver and sculptor Lenore Tawney. The textile sensibility in this painting is strong, as it is in several others you see in this post. I won't speculate on their cross-influences, but I'd guess there were some 

The Islands, 1961, oil and graphite on canvas

Detail below, with a fringe of pencil lines

A splendid selection of small paintings from 1961 and 1962 that seem more like drawings.  Those at each end are shown below

Blue Flower, 1962; oil, glue, nails and canvas on canvas and wood

Islands No. 4, ca. 1961, oil on canvas

Falling Blue, left, and Friendship, 1963, gold leaf and gesso on canvas

Friendship detail below

Falling Blue

An alcove of small grids on paper. From the nearby wall text: "When I first made a grid I happened to be thinking of the innocence of trees," Martin wrote. The farthest work on the wall is shown below

Summer, 1964; watercolor, ink, and gouache on paper

Walking up the ramp, I particularly liked the quiet  conversations between the small framed drawings and the larger paintings. A similar light red work is shown below

Untitled IX, 1982, acrylic and graphite on canvas

On a Clear Day, 1973, portfolio of 30 screenprints, printer's proof
The glazing made this installation difficult to photograph, but I did manage a detail below

A view of the ramp where On a Clear Day is installed

Untitled #3, 1974, acrylic and graphite on canvas

As we walk higher up the ramp, the architecture changes. Each bay is illuminated, which makes photographing a bit easier--but the work we encounter is so chromatically subtle that the camera has a hard time capturing the color. There are two other big changes here: We're seeing canvases of the same size, six feet square, and Martin has begun to use acrylic. This is the first work produced after Martin took a break from painting

Untitled #37, left, and Untitled #8, both 1974, acrylic and graphite on canvas

Below: View from the other direction

You are exactly where that gentleman is standing. As we continue up the ramp, these chromatically subtle paintings will give way to gray (and then to color again)

Untitled #12, 1984, and Untitled #3, 1983; both acrylic and graphite on canvas

With a few breathtaking exceptions, the work here and to the top of the ramp is primarily gray. Brushwork is light and loose. The wall text puts it this way: "The effort and intensity previously compressed into a single canvas now unfolds as a sequential experience with infinitely varied potential."

Closer view of Untitled #3
Detail below

I'm missing the information here, but both paintings are from about 1984, acrylic and graphite on canvas

Detail below of the painting on the left

Continuing up the ramp . . .

. . .  to Untitled #8 and Untitled #3, both 1989, acrylic and graphite on canvas

Untitled #5, 1998; Untitled #4, 1995; Untitled #6, 1994; all acrylic and graphite on canvas

Quoting from the wall text: "In 1992 Martin moved to a retirement home in Taos, New Mexico, where she lived the rest of her life. She obtained a studio and worked there consistently until a few months before she died in 2004. In 1993, at the age of 80, she reduced her format to 60 inches square, having found it difficult to handle the larger canvases she had long used on her own. In the last ten years of her career, she also reintroduced color and loosened her reliance on serially organized compositions, while still working within her unmistakable idiom."

Below, you can see the change in size

Untitled #16, 1997, and I Love the Whole World, 2000, both acrylic and graphite on canvas

I Love the Whole World

Untitled #16

Loving Love, 1999; Gratitude, 2001; and Blessings, 2000
All acrylic on canvas 

Gratitude, 2001

Almost at the top of the ramp. Geometric shapes are reincarnated from early work. We'll look more closely as the three paintings in this bay

Untitled #4, 2002, acrylic and graphite on canvas
The brushwork in these late paintings is loose and light, almost like watercolor

I don't have the titles for these paintings, but they are among the very last of her work

The curators describe the last geometric paintings as Martin's way of bringing her oeuvre full circle. Perhaps they are simply ideas she wanted to realize before her time was finished. (And perhaps we are saying the same thing)

These penultimate works seem so out of place in the timeline, don't they? I don't have the information about them, but they would have been painted between 2002 and 2004

This one recalls Martin's 1960 drawing which appears earlier in the post, a detail of which is below:

I was pondering this outlier when I reached the top of the ramp and saw the painting below, ensconced in its own bay. It is the last one Martin painted. It's impossible not to contemplate that the very last of her creative force went into this work. It is light, celestial, as if the heavens were achromatic and geometric

A closer look below:

Agnes Martin
Image from the internet