Saturday, December 9, 2017

Autumn in New York, Part 5: Blanc et Noir

Grouping work under the rubric of black and white is taking a curatorial easy way out—all of the works by the artists in this post could have fit into different thematic grouping already posted or about to be—but I think they look great together here. Plus I get to show you a nice number of images per artist.

RUTH ASAWA at David Zwirner Gallery, Chelsea, September 13-October 21
Most of these untitled looped wire sculptures were made in the 1950s and 60s

Above and below: Installation views looking from the entry of the main second-floor gallery toward the back. Upon entering I though the show was overhung, but walking around the space, I appreciated the interaction of these transparent forms

View from the back toward the front

Panoramic view of the small gallery

RUTH ASAWA, Untitled work, 1988, wall mounted
Detail below

If you find yourself at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Upper Manhattan, about halfway down the left aisle you'll see a work from this series displayed as part of the Cathedral's collection

Ruth Asawa, probably in the early 1950s

Ruth Asawa may be a new name on the East Coast, but in the Bay Area—and among fiber aficionadas everywhere—she is revered. Asawa was born in 1926 in suburban Los Angeles to immigrant Japanese parents. Interned briefly during WWII with her mother and five siblings, she spent her time, according to the website maintained by her estate, drawing with other interned artists—the only pleasure in an otherwise grim detention. Shortly thereafter she and her family were shipped by train to a relocation center in Arkansas, where she graduated from high school.

She was awarded a Quaker scholarship to Milwaukee State Teacher’s College, but was denied the opportunity to do her student teaching. Instead she studied at Black Mountain College.

How does a Japanese American woman in the 1940s find the courage to become an artist? Clearly a fierce inner strength, but her community at Black Mountain was supportive and she remained there for three years. As early as 1956 Asawa was making her sculptural wire forms. Exhibitions followed, and by 1960 she had shown at the San Francisco Museum of Art and the DeYoung, and in New York City at the Whitney, and MoMA. She taught public school in San Francisco, took on commissions, never stopped working. She died in her sleep in August 2013 at the age of 87. Though she experienced significant regional success during her lifetime, it is only now that she is becoming more widely known.

Biographical highlights gleaned from here within a website maintained by her estate
Installation at the De Young Museum in 2006

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PAMELA BLUM, Like and Unlike at John Davis Gallery, Hudson, New York (November 11-December 3)
An installation view of  the exhibition

Based in the Hudson Valley,  Pamela Blum creates vaguely unsettling sculptures that reference artifacts and body parts. With their scarred surfaces, they look as if they might been unearthed from a prehistoric era and cleaned up for display, or perhaps removed from an organic life form. I don't think my assessment is too far off from the artist's intention. Blum writes, "I see these works as comical, lyrical, abject, and satirical references to human foibles, misused tools, misunderstood words, and looming environmental catastrophe."

You take one step forward, two steps back, reapproach, hesitate, and ultimately let them win you over.

PAMELA BLUM, side view of Dress-up, 2010; encaustic on papier mache, plaster gauze, and aluminum mesh; 34 x 9.75 x 9 inches

Installation view looking toward the front of the gallery

PAMELA BLUM, foreground: Plump Form, encaustic and oil on papier mache, plaster gauze, and aluminum mesh; 7.5 x 7 x 4 inches

If you have not visited the John Davis Gallery, which is two hours up the Thruway from New York City, you should put it on your list. (Just know that it's closed  for December.) There are several other galleries on Warren Street--Jeff Bailey, Gallery Gris, Carrie Haddad, September--so you can make it a destination.

. . . . .

         BARBARA CHASE-RIBOUD, Malcolm X at 
Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, Chelsea (September 9-November 4)

Partial installation view of the artist's bronze and fiber sculptures

BARBARA CHASE-RIBOUD, sculpture from the Malcolm X series
Detail below

Chase-Riboud is an American-born artist who has lived in Paris since 1960. She began the Malcolm X  series in 1969, only returning to it in 2003. By 2008 she had completed 20 works in bronze and fiber, 14 of which were in this exhibition. She has said this about the work and their title:

"There was a combustion of interaction between the cast, polished or black bronze and the soft, implied motion of the skirt, which took on the characteristics of the bronze, solidifying into a column of graphic line and mass that seemed to support the metal, while the bronze melted into a soft mass of interacting light in motion. The materials had come to some kind of unplanned peace treaty on their own and fused into one entity. Alchemy or chance? As this happened in case after case (but not always), I figured it was luck but not happenstance. I had my steles. I decided to dedicate them to the assassinated civil rights leader Malcolm X.”

In addition to her work as an artist, Chase-Riboud is a poet and author, notably a novel about Sally Hemings.  Long interview with the artist here; shorter one here that tours her solo at the Rosenfeld Gallery.
. . . . .

JULIA BLAND, Things to Say at Night at Miller Contemporary,
Lower East Side (September 10-October 29)

Installation view 

JULIA BLAND, Undertow, 2017; burnt canvas, linen threads, oil paint

What this tiny gallery lacks in size, it has made up for in presentation. It has posted some excellent installation shots--better and more extensive than what I have here. Take a look.

Below: An image from the site
From left: Triptych consisting of Spine, Wicked Listen, The Kettle Black, 2017; burnt canvas, linen threads, denim, ink, oil paint; 25 x 60 x 3 inches, framed

I had been unfamilliar with artist until I saw her work in the gallery window and wandered it. I'm interested in work in fiber that's not identified as "fiber art" but rather finds a place for itself within the established (and non-adjectival) genres of painting, sculpture, or drawing. With their linear character, these works feel very much like drawing, and a visit to the artist's website would seem to bear this out.

. . . . .

RICHARD SERRA, Sculpture and Drawings at David Zwirner, Chelsea, through December 16 

I can't find the checklist on the gallery website, but I can tell you that this work on paper is on the second floor of the 20th Street location, upstairs from an installation of steel sculptures. I know I'm supposed to be more impressed by the sculptures, but these works are what resonate for me. Without a checklist, I can't give you titles. The medium appears to be oil stick on heavy, perhaps handmade, paper, which is how Serra has approached his work on paper in the past. Some of the works may have etching ink and silica. I love the linearity of these and their relatively small scale.

Two closer views from the installation shown just above this grouping

Another installation. The spareness of these compositions and, dare I day it, the relative delicacy of
 Serra's line here, is in contrast to earlier work in which the entire surface is covered in black oil or ink

Closer view of center work below

The smallest gallery on the second floor held these darker, more allover-worked drawings
Detail below, of the work at left, gives you a sense of the surface

I realize I've been showing a lot of art from Zwirner--Reinhardt and Frecon in previous posts, Asawa here along with Serra--but the fact is that the gallery consistently mounts museum-quality exhibitions, often several at a time. It's always on my go-to list. (Navigating the website is another story. There's plenty of information in it, but you can't always find what you're looking for.)
. . . . .

JEFFREY CORTLAND JONES, Echoes: A Group Show of Works That Are a Manifestation of Loss at Kathryn  Markel Fine Art, Chelsea, through December 23

The exhibition inbludes the work of Peter Hoffer, Sarah Irvin, Ryan Sarah Murphy, and Dana Oldfather, but I've selected Cortland Jones for this post because it so fits with the achromatic theme.

In the past the artist has taken subtlety to an extreme, so much so that his work was just about impossible to photograph, but in this new work there's a little contrast. Cortland Jones paints in enamel on both sides of his clear plexi substrate/ground, so there's physical depth and shadow in the work. You have to see them in person to really appreciate them. Take that as a suggestion to see for yourself.

Above: Lined (Bathroom Selfie); Fragments (Bootblacks)
Below:   Upright (Zeal);  Forgiveness (Discovering the Waterfront)

                      All 2017, enamel on acrylic panel, 14 x 11 inches                                

Next up: Eccentric Domesticity


  1. Wonderful work. Both Ruth Azawa and Pamela Blum are personal favorites. So nice to be able to peek at the shows. Thanks for taking the time to post!

  2. Love all the work that you have posted about but Jeffery‘s work as you suggest, absolutely must be seen in person since it has a kind of inner glow of light that gets lost without being in front of it.

  3. Without color grabbing my eye, the pure essence of black and white is a pleasure. Ruth’s texture, Pamela’s forms and Richard’ s lines are compelling.