Thursday, October 27, 2022

Color: Form and Shape

Four exhibitions up right now in New York City--three on the Upper East Side, one in Chelsea--provide a range of chromatic experiences. Let me show you.

At the Met: Chroma: Ancient Sculpture in Color through March 26, 2023; at John Molloy Gallery: Technic/Color with Naomi Cohn, Stephen Maine, and Melissa Staiger, through November 12; at Jennifer Bahhng Gallery: Sharon Butler: Next Moves, through November 15

At the Met: Chroma: Ancient Sculpture in Color

So used are we to Greek and Roman sculptures in white marble that it is hard to imagine they were once polychromed.  "Paint, gilding, and inlaid materials animated and enlivened marble, bronze, and terracotta figures," we read in the wall text that opens a surprising show in the museum's Greek and Roman galleries. This traveling exhibition was conceived and executed by Vinzenz Brinkman, head of the Department of Antiquity at the Liebieghaus Sculpture Collection in Frankfurt, and his partner, Ulrike Koch-Brinkman, an art historian and archeologist. Based on their photographic and spectrographic study, they reimagined what the sculptures would have looked like.

Reconstruction of the marble funerary statue of Phrasikleia, 2010-2019, marble stucco on polymethyl methacrylate, natural pigments in egg temperea, gold foil, gemstones

Viewing the exhibition is a bit like going on a scavenger hunt. While this sculpture stands at the entrance to the galleries, other works are placed in a number of the rooms set amid the museum's sculptures. If you have the time, it's a delightful experience to seek and find. 

Marble capital and finial in the form of a Sphinx, ca. 530 B.C. in the collection of the Met is paired with a Reconstruction envisioned by the Brinkmans. We're told that the color on the original is "unusually well preserved," though it's visible only through ultraviolet and infrared light. The copy, a 3-D print in polymethyl methacrylate, is painted in egg tempera and gilded copper

In the screenshot below, from a video that accompanies the exhibition, Ulrike Brinkman is shown painting the Sphinx

Reconstruction of a marble statue of a woman wrapping herself in a mantle (so-called Small Herculaneum Woman) 2019, marble stucco on plaster cast with natural pigments in egg tempera and gold foil

Back view below

Detail of the robe
Let me quote from the accompanying text: "The reconstruction is based on studies of the extensive color preserved on a replica found in Delos." The patterning  may not be exact to the original but it is based on "art historical analysis of ancient imagery and pictorial elements as they appear, for instance, in painting."

Reconstruction of a marble archer in the costume of a horseman in the neighboring people of the north and east of Greece, from the west pediment of Temple of Aphaia, Variant C, 2019, marble stucco on polymethyl methacrylate, natural pigments in egg tempers, time, wood, gold leaf

Detail below
The patterns, we are told, "are visible in ultraviolet-induced luminescence and raking light on the original marble sculpture."  Further, this figure "may represent the Trojan prince, Paris, who abducted Helen and thus caused the Trojan War."

Terracotta krater from the Met's collection , Greek, Southern Italy, 360-350 B.C.

While Ulrike Brinkman used egg tempera to paint the reconstructed sculptures, it is known that many of the original sculptures were painted with encaustic. This krater is the only known vessel showing the painting of a marble sculpture with wax. Here Herakles (Hercules to the Romans), down from Mt. Olympus, is depicted watching a painter polychroms a sculpture of himself. The painter is shown applying encaustic paint to the figure. We know it is encaustic because the assistant at left is tending a brazier for tools that would have been used to melt and apply the wax 

One other thing about the polychromed sculptures: They depict an ancient world that was not just white, something we maynot see when viewing all that white marble. (A look at the diversity of faces in the Fayum Portraits, painted during the era of Graeco Roman Egypt, makes this immediately apparent.) For more on the subject, there's this New Yorker article.

More on the Met website:  Chroma: Ancient Sculpture in Color, through March 26, 2023

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At the John Molloy Gallery: Technic/Color

A few blocks and about 2500 years away is a beautifully conceived and installed exhibition that embraces color and form in an entirely different way. Painters Stephen Maine and Melissa Staiger and sculptor Naomi Cohn engage in lively chromatic badinage in which color zips and jumps between two and three dimensions.

Maine has perfected a painterly version of printing directly onto canvas. His palette is limited to a couple or three hues per canvas, but he packs a retinal punch, wresting plenty of gesture, nuance and surface from his materials and technique. Cohn matches him in color and gesture. Her ceramic forms are bold, their color via glaze. Cohn's forms are echoed in the geometry of Melissa Staiger's compositions while her deeply built-up surfaces engage with Maine's.

Dare I call this a chromatic menage à trois?

Foreground: Naomi Cohn, Untitled (deep blue/deep purple/ vertical), Untitled (deep red/purple/double vertical, and Untitled (deep yellow w/ shelf), all 2022, glazed ceramic; back wall: Stephen Maine, P22-0405 and P22-0406, both 2022, acrylic on canvas

Over mantel: Stephen Maine, P22-0318, 2022, acrylic on canvas; Naomi Cohn, Unbtitled (red/white/blue) 2022, glazed ceramic; Melissa Staiger, Wave No. 22, acrylic on panel

Continuing around the gallery
Left: Melissa Staiger, Multi-Color Yellow, 2022, acrylic on panel; on pedestal at window: Naomi Cohn, Untitled (notched/orange/red), 2022, ceramic, glaze, oil paint

Exhibition up through November 12

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At the Jennifer Baahng Gallery: Sharon Butler: Next Moves

Sharon Butler has long worked with a geometry that suggests open structures, like towers, closed structures like circuits, or systems like maps. She also spent four years, from 2016 to 2020, posting a digital drawing a day on Instagram, using a phone app to make and post the drawings. In her new work at the Jennifer Baahng Gallery on Madison Avenue, aptly titled Next Moves, Butler has produced a new body of work that appears to draw from her earlier efforts.

The structure in her paintings--off-balance elements that are stacked, often teetering or suggestive of falling--are of a piece with the construction of the paintings themselves. Stacked and pieced, often askew, they contain a visual mishmash, sometimes flat, sometimes deeply spatial, that comes together just right. I'm not on Instagram, but I'm told that the pixelated grid that appears throughout the new work relates to the pixels in those small drawings. Those little squares provide a stabilizing element that is paradoxically jumpy and off kilter.

So if I'm reading these paintings correctly, Butler's next moves are to work larger and to keep the viewer a bit tipsy without falling. It's a heady sensation.

Installation view with, left: Bedfrence (July 6, 2019),I 2022, oil on linen

Installation view, with Stacked 2 (July 16 and 17, 2019), 2022, oil on linen; right: Brighter than Grass

Installation view with, from left: First Last Drawing (March 1), 2021, oil on canvas; title unknown; Ghost (January 9), 2021, oil on canvas; Butler_Twelve Days in July (July 17), 2019, oil  on canvas

Addenda (February 10, 2019), 2022, oil on linen

July 22, 2018.02, 2022, oil on canvas, 12 x 12 inches

More info at the Jenifer Baahng Gallery website
Exhibition up through November 15

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At the Paula Cooper Gallery, Chelsea: Sol Lewitt: Wall Drawings

This was the first show in Cooper's  newly renovated 21st Street gallery, and it's a beauty. Enter and you find yourself surrounded by radiance, a deep red orange that seems to warm the room by a few degrees. Flat triangular shapes that suggest dimensional pyramids are punctuated by modular white floor sculptures that echo the wall drawings, but achromatically and in three dimensions.  

Wall Drawing #495

Additional views below

The exhibition has closed but you can see a video walk through


  1. What a gorgeous group of shows with such treats for the eyes! Thanks for visiting these shows and writing about them, Joanne. You are doing community service for those of us not visiting in person.

  2. Thank you for visiting our show Technic/Color at John Molloy Gallery. Your thoughts and attention are much appreciated!

  3. What a wonderful travel in time. thank you Joanne. I like Stephen Maine’s work with colors. Vincent D.