A Few Stops in the Blogosphere

Click here for The Artist as Curator, updated with pictures and review

Here’s what I like about art blogs: they cross boundaries freely

Edward Winkleman, owner and director, and Max Carlos Martinez, associate director, behind the desk at Winkleman Gallery, New York

as they dip into art reportage, gallery gossip, personal venting, politics, rampant image appropriation (see below), and shameless self promotion. The best ones pull it off by being well written, and the very best have such unique points of view that someone should swoop down and pay them for their writing.

. Edward_Winkleman: The subtitle for this blog is "art / politics / gossip / tough love," and it lives up to its claims. Some recent posts: "Worst.War.President. Ever" is all about you.know.who. "The Reality of the Collector-Driven Art World," talks about who’s buying and what that means for artists. And "The 50/50 Split" explains from a dealer’s point of view why the sale price of an artwork is divided the way it is. When Winkleman offered advice on how to find a gallery, scores of readers responded. (Yes, I put my two cents in, as I do from time to time.) He raises many interesting questions: What’s a mid-career artist? How does the issue of artist’s age affect the market for that artist’s work? What’s the value of Art Fairs?

Winkleman is a New York gallerist (Winkleman Gallery, on 27th Street in West Chelsea) whose daily posts are well written and thought provoking. His blog has a huge following. Often the responses are as interesting as the posts. The participants, mostly artists, I think, are smart and articulate with points of view that range from radical to occasionally reactionary in tones that are incendiary, conciliatory, measured, considerate, agressively opinionated and monumentally pissed off—all of it spiced with bitterness, bloviation, genuine appreciation, non sequitors, humor, a few puns, and the occasional bad typing. Now that’s an essential daily read.

Last year about this time I wrote about several blogs I liked (still do). The following are some new ones I like. All are listed on the blog roll at right:

. Artist, Emerging: We go from an established dealer’s blog to an emerging artist’s blog. Deanna Wood, from Texas, is the artist. Her blog description: "One artist's struggles and triumphs in starting an art career. Sharing resources and ideas..." Her posts are all over the place: entering juried shows, dealing with rejection, how to hang artwork, her travels. She’s not hemmed in by New York art politics, so her comments are sometimes naïve but always refreshing. In a leap of faith recently, she quit her non-art job and is now making art full time. If you're an art student, this blog gives you a glimpse of what's ahead; if you're an emerging artist, you know you're not alone.

The Intrepid Art Collector: Author of a book the same name, the Montreal-based collector Lisa Hunter describes her blog as "Adventures in the art market -- plus occasional museum and art book reviews." Hunter is a smart thinker and good writer, and she doesn’t pull punches. For instance, a recent entry,"Team Art: A Modest Proposal," starts: "Has anyone noticed that Blog and book: The Intrepid Art Collector (Image from the blog) art coverage has started to sound a lot like the sport pages? It's all about big scores [by collectors] and record-setting [auctions]. Artists are "over the hill" at 35, just like athletes." She goes on to suggest scoring it, a la Grand Prix racing. She also posted a video of a fly larva being made from pearls and gold—disgusting and fascinating, and certainly over the top (which might describe much of the artworld we’re all blogging about these days)

. Two Coats of Paint: The intent of Sharon Butler’s new blog is "Articles, reviews, writing about painting." And that’s what you get. Butler started the blog this spring and has covered a lot of ground. I learned, for instance, that a Frida Kahlo Centennial Exhibition, which opens at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis in the fall (October 27, 2007–January 20, 2008), will come East and then head West: Philadelphia Museum of Art (February 20–May 18, 2008) and then the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (June 14–September 16, 2008). I plan to see it in Philly and, of course, blog about it.

I also love the blog’s title, the second coat being, presumably, journalistic coverage of the painting in question. (Disclaimer: she’s posted two items that relate to me: one, my take on the painterly surfaces of Richard Serra’s Sculpture; the other, Beauty Show in Atlanta, a link to the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s review of "Luxe, Calm et Volupte'," a show I curated this summer for the Marcia Wood Gallery).

. CultureGrrl: This is the name of the blog, and the nom de blog, of Lee Rosenbaum, a veteran cultural journalist (Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Art in America) whose site is full of art news info from all over. Writes Rosenbaum, "Since I always have more opinions and information than the Mainstream Media can use, I've decided to throw some of those juicy tidbits into this blog." Her writing makes you understand that art is not just about the artists; it's about the academics, collectors, corporations, critics, curators, dealers and media outlets (am I leaving anyone out?) who/that have input and opinions about our collective endeavor. Required reading for art professionals.

. Color Chunks: This one's totally quirky: Tennessee artist John Tallman posts pictures of colored objects, like a pink tarp or a roll or blue masking tape tape or green soap--sort of like Jessica Stockholder deconstructed and in 2-D. It's a

It has to be hue: John Tallman's blog is, uh, what's the opposite of colorblind? (Image, Color Chunks)

new blog ("dedicated to assertive color," says the tagline) and I’m curious to see how it develops. To be honest, after all the reading I do each day, online and on paper, I like that when I log onto this blog, all I have to do is look.


Serra on the Surface: Looking at the Sculpture with a Painter’s Eye

Click here for The Artist as Curator, updated with pictures and review

In my previous post, Serra and Stella: Big Boys in Big Spaces, I talked about walking around and through the massive works. You can talk about the sculptures in formal terms: the sinuousness of their line opposed to the muscularity of the material; and of the torques, which define the exterior and interior spaces, sometimes simultaneously, with a different shape at the bottom than at the top.
A painterly surface and....color!

Exterior view of Intersection 2, in the MoMA courtyard. To me, the work is as much painting as sculpture

You can also talk about the achievement of the artist in mathematically wresting the material into shape so that the huge machines used in shipbuilding could roll and forge the metal to deliver the work physically.

Another view of Intersection 2 showing three of the four slabs that make up the work, each with a distinct surface
I've already talked about my physical experience, which had me pleasantly disoriented, lightheaded and, to be honest, a little fearful. Gravity is anchoring these bent and twisted slabs; couldn't it also pull them down? But there is no experiencing this work if you don't get past that--so, er, que sera, sera; you take a breath, set aside what may or may not be an irrational fear, and enter the work. My emotional experience of the work was that these muscular slabs of metal were almost maternal in the way they enveloped the body.

And how can you not make the connection between iron oxide and blood? Indeed, in some places the iron has bled onto the marble of the courtyard, so that when the sculptures are removed, a physical trace of their presence will remain permanently. (I hope the museum won’t replace the pavement.) So the work is all very First Chakra and earth centered.

Above: A view from inside Intersection 2. This stretch of slab is particularly topographic, so I composed the detail shots (three shown below) to suggest maps of uncharted territory

In this post I want to talk about the surface. I’ve seen several Serra installations at Gagosian and the permanent installation of the big basin-like shapes at Dia Beacon, but indoor lighting—including the glaring overhead illumination at MoMA—does not prepare you for the experience of seeing his work out of doors in full daylight. The mottled and scratched surface texture, always interesting, reveals itself in daylight to be something more like skin: thick here, thin there, pocked, shiny, flaky, smooth. Or skins, plural: human, animal, mammalian, amphibian. Or planetary: a sandy strand, a lunar crust, a Martian landscape. There are red-orange tracks formed by liquid (rain?), and deep gouges, perhaps wrought in installation. Wherever the treated surface of the metal is rent, there is rust—pits, scars, scabs, craters.
Still inside Intersection 2, above, this stretch of metal is pitted, scabbed, scarred. Two details are below
Then there is color. The vibrant spectrum of rust is richly satisfying, from yellow-orange through coral (!) to ocher and brick red. But the surprise--the shock, really--is in the other hues: lavender, pale pink, gray-blue, even blue-green. I’ve used the parable of the blind men and the elephant before in describing the experience of Basel Miami and its satellite fairs, but it’s more apt here. Depending on where you (visually) touch these mammoths, you will perceive a different creature.

This stretch of Intersection 2 is marked by a dramatic counterpoint of granulated rust and a smooth gray-blue surface where the surface treatment had not been broken. Along the bottom curve of the slab you can see where the rust has bled into the marble pavement.What I found surprising was the particularly lovely coloration--note the light blue, below-- and the delicate scrim traced by the path of bleeding metal. Like watercolors, no? The brick hue and matte surface of Torqued Ellipse IV, the second sculpture in the garden, held a different surprise when you passed through the spiral slot. . . . . . an inner surface whose cascading waterfall of color might have come from the brush of Pat Steir. . .

. . . and calligraphic markings as light as anything you might see on rice paper.

What I haven't read anywhere is how much of this stupefylingly beautiful surface patination is the result of planning. Surely there was a decision to rupture the weatherproof coating. So are we seeing unintended consequences or simply the painterly passage of time? What will the work look like a decade from now? A century from now?


Serra and Stella: Big Boys in Big Spaces

Click here for The Artist as Curator, updated with pictures and review

There’s a unique experience to be had in New York right now. Two big-name sculptors are showing big work in big spaces. Richard Serra is at the Modern; Frank Stella is at the Met. The museums' large indoor galleries are not enough to contain the enormous metal sculptures, so both artists have the primo outdoor space as well.

Serra’s solid steel sculptures (Intersection 2, above) stake a muscular claim on cubic space, yet they’re also about the interior spaces they define. Stella’s sculptures (Memantra, below) are so open, you see their positive and negative spaces as a whole. One’s a bodybuilder, the other a dancer.

At MoMA: View of the Sculpture Garden and Serra's Intersection 2

Serra in the Garden at MoMA

The images in this post are of Serra’s work in the sculpture garden because it’s what I could photograph (no picture taking allowed inside), but my comments are also informed by the installation of the large works on the upper floors.

In the Sculpture Garden, above and below: Views of Intersection 2 from opposite vantage points

With their curved and torqued planes, Serra’s sculptures are physically as well as visually compelling: part cavern, part vessel (as in ship, basin, silo), part funhouse. Each sculpture simultaneously closes in, opens out, sucks you down and lifts you up. I’m not overstating here. I felt a heady mix of vertigo, claustrophobia, levitation, and a kind of stoned giddiness. And mystery. Unless you see the work from an elevated viewpoint, you don’t know how large it is or exactly what its shape and proportions are. Like love, you plunge in and see where it goes, trusting you won’t get lost or crushed in the process.

And speaking of getting crushed, one sculpture on the second floor, Torqued Torus Inversion, resembled the bow of a ship—or the blade of a leviathan knife. To stand between it and the wall, which was maybe ten feet away, gives you a visceral understanding of the overused phrase, "between a rock and a hard place." But maybe that’s the funhouse part of it. It won’t really press forward and mash you into tartare. It won’t, right?

Curvilinear layers, set within the geometry of the museum

There’s also a lot of energy around the work. Maybe it’s all that iron and rust—connections to magnetism and hemoglobin. These are formidably visceral works. Sure physics and brute force were needed to make them, but the thoughts that resonated for me were earth, blood, womb. Hmm. Richard Serra as Earth Mother?Because it was hot the day I went to the museum, I waited until later in the afternoon to enter the garden where Intersection 2 and Torqued Ellipse IV were installed. The works feel just as enormous outdoors as they are indoors. With daylight, the surfaces of the work are more compelling, all scraped and pocked and surprisingly subtle in coloration (more on this, next post). Experiencing the work in MoMA’s courtyard was the physical equivalent of a mystery wrapped in an enigma: you’re surrounded by a large enclosure, which is itself surrounded by a large enclosure.

By the time I entered the sculpture garden, the crowds has thinned and the day had cooled considerably. There was no touching the work, of course. But the sculpture did something unexpected. All the heat that the metal had absorbed during the day was emanating from the surface as I walked around and through the work. So though I couldn’t touch the sculpture, it reached out and touched me.

Unexpected warmth at the end of the day
Images above: views of Intersection 2, 1992-93
Images below: Torqued Ellipse IV, 1998

More info, with pics, captions and comments by the artist:

Stella on the Roof
"The roof" is the Met's al fresco gallery, a glorious space to see art and nature and marvel at both.

Before I made my way there, I stopped into the large first-floor gallery for Painting Into Architecture where a couple dozen of Stella’s paintings, sculptures and architectural maquettes were on exhibition. Two views from Painting Into Architecture, a survey of Stella's work from the Sixties to the present

I was able to shoot the two images above before a guard came over and told me to stop. The larger works were too big for the space—true, too, of Serra’s sculptures in MoMA’s galleries—and all that Stella color and patterning, really did make it feel like a funhouse. I have always been a fan of his more minimal, geometric paintings, so I threaded my way through the crowded installation to see works like Sunapee II.

Frank Stella, Sunapee II, 1966, oil on canvas, 127.5 x 120 x 4 inchesMetropolitan Museum of Art

Frank Stella Severinda, 1995, mixed media on fiberglass, 9' 10" x 27'. 7" x 12' Photo by Steven Sloman, New York © 2007

Then I escaped to the roof.

My response to Stella’s work is more visual, less visceral than to Serra’s. And except for the occasion of these dual shows, I wouldn’t think to write about them in the same piece.

Chinese Pavilion, 2007, carbon epoxy composite; 14' 9.5" x 33' 8.5" x 30' 3.5"

In particular I responded to a large, open black piece, Chinese Pavilion, that seems to have wafted onto supporting pylons. In bits of overheard conversation, I picked up words like, "Darth Vader," "spaceship," and "skeletal grasshopper." To me the piece suggested nothing so much as a large cloud, though "pavilion" in the title suggests a more architectural intent. I like this open sculpture as much for its shadows as for its structure, so I wonder if I would have responded in the same way if I’d seen it indoors without the ephemeral lattice of a positive-negative of the positive-negative. Here, it appeared to float, as if we were at the altitude of, say, Machu Picchu.

Detail views of Chinese Pavilion, above and below

Chinese Pavilion demands 360-degree inspection, unlike the the other large works, Memantra and Adjoeman, which seem more oriented in one direction. Of these latter two, I preferred Memantra, which has a large fabric-like square that makes it appear poised to fly off the roof; indeed the square's torque suggests that it has begun to catch the wind. The sculpture's weight obviates any possibility of takeoff, of course, but the tension between rootedness and skywardness is exquisite. And I love how the pattern of Stella's early black paintings reasserts here as a spiralic mandala in low relief.

Memantra, 2005, stainless steel and carbon fiber; 14' x 20' 7" x15'4". Photograph above: The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Anna Marie Kellen. My photo is below.

If you follow my blog, you know I like word connections, so indulge me here for a moment: Both sculptors are Italian Americans (first-generation, I’m guessing) and their names are particularly suited to their work at the moment. Serra means greenhouse, an architecturally closed-in space that nonetheless offers views into and beyond its walls. Stella means star, and the artist’s work is right up there under a celestial canopy.

Next post: Serra on the Surface: Looking at the Sculpture with a Painter's Eye


Getting Shot

Click here for The Artist as Curator, updated with pictures and review

There are few things I dislike more than being photographed. No matter how gentle the photographer, getting shot is always painful. For one thing there’s that Cyclopean presence. Click, click, click. Pause. Click. I get ridiculously selfconscious—the total opposite of how I function the world. Then there are the results. Who is that chunky middle-aged women in the picture, anyway? She’s certainly not the image I have of myself, which is six feet tall, muscular, lean and about 35. (If you haven’t met me in person, hold on to that image, won't you?)

But I needed a current photograph for my website update (which is in the works and should be ready by September) and for when I need to send a printed or pixilated imaged of myself out in the world. Claudia Saimbert, a talented young photographer, came over to my loft one Sunday morning and took about 250 pictures. She said she’d have a CD for me later in the day.

"Give me only the best pictures," I said. Later that day Claudia dropped off a CD with 28 images. I take this to be a reflection not of the quality of her photography skills but of the photogenic quality of her sitter. Anyway, of those 28, I picked out a handful.

And out of the handful, I picked this one:

Standing in front of Quadrate 5, resisting the urge to say cheese


An Offer I CAN Refuse

Click here for The Artist as Curator, updated with pictures and review

So it's not enough that I get unsolicited e-mails for Viagra and penis enlargements. Now it's one for career enlargement. Talk about getting dick.

Here's the opening line from Galerie Gora ( "We have viewed your work and would like to offer you an opportunity for an exhibition of your work in Montreal, for the year 2007/2008."

Umm, hmm. An unsolicited offer from a gallery that I've never had anything to do with? From a gallery that trolls for artists in the classified ads of the art magazines? Let's look at their "opportunity" on the Con-O-Meter, shall we? I've excerpted some of their "Terms and Conditions" in red.

. They want money to show your work. . . . (The fee for a solo exhibition is US $2,400.00 to cover gallery expenses. The fee to take part in a group exhibition is $250.00 for first work and $150.00 for each additional work...Please send to the gallery: Completed and signed application, International bank/postal money order or bank transfer. You will then receive a confirmation, an exhibition date and other related information....The balance of the fee is payable 5 weeks prior to the exhibition date. )
And how many "solo shows" will they install at one time?
. . . .needle skipping over Legitimate and jumping straight to Con

. They expect you ship it to them at your expense. . . (Artists are responsible for all shipping fees and procedures to and from the gallery door.)
After they've taken over two grand from you?
. . . needle heading from Con to Rip Off

. They expect a commission if the work sells. . . (The gallery takes a 10% commission during the 3 week exhibition.)
Sounds like a nice low commission, but where's the incentive for them to actually sell anything if they've gotten their money up front from you? Ten percent of nothing is, um, let me calculate: Nothing.
. . . . needle heading from Rip Off to You Can't Be Serious??

. You need to retrieve the work within 10 days after the show ends. . . (If the work is not retained for representation, it must be picked up from the gallery within 10 working days following the end of the exhibition.)
And why should they retain it for "representation" when they can bring in a new batch of paying artists?
. . . needle heading from You Can't Be Serious?? to You're Effing Kidding Me!

. They assume no responsibility for the work. Ever. . . . (Gallery Gora will take every possible care for the safety of all work; however, Gallery Gora or its staff is not responsible for any loss or damage of any work, during shipping, storage, on exhibit, at art fairs or at associate galleries.)
They take take no responsibility for the work even after you pay to ship it and show it?! Out of the money they take from you--which they say is to cover gallery expenses--they can't provide insurance? Insurance is a gallery expense.
. . . Con-O-Meter needle heading straight to Ninth Circle of Hell

Wait, there's more! (Gallery Gora also offers: Custom framing, Publication of artist catalogues and posters. For a price quote or for more information, please contact the gallery.)

And more! (Advertising options are available at extra cost. )

I'll pass on the extras and the options. In fact, I'll pass on the whole offer.
Comments welcome!


The Artist as Curator: Luxe, Calme et Volupté

..Review by Debra Wolf, Atlanta Journal Constitution:
"Order and beauty form the organizing principle in an engaging new exhibition at Marcia Wood Gallery....Using Baudelaire and Matisse as a springboard for contemporary expression, Mattera's premise is both clever and effective. Fastidious process (order) is essential to aesthetic outcome (beauty). Mattera's selections are smart and pleasing in a show that combines control and creativity, visual and tactile harmony, and individual refrains of luxe, calme et volupte....Verdict: Intelligent and pleasurable."


I love everything about curating: conceiving a theme, making studio visits, selecting the work, challenging my left brain to write an essay about how everything fits together. And then working with the installer to make everything fit together. I'm not wild about the paperwork--and let me say right here that I have renewed appreciation for the administrative slalom a dealer needs to negotiate each month. But seeing an idea manifest on the walls of a gallery is thrilling.

This post is about my experience curating a show, Luxe, Calme et Volupté, for the Marcia Wood Gallery, Atlanta. The show is up June 7 through August 25th.

Installation view for the Front Gallery looking toward entry: Tim McFarlane, All That Could Be; Rainer Gross, Espinal Twins; Robert Sagerman, 11,257. On floor: Venske & Spanle, Smurf

Installation view of the North Gallery from entry. From left: Julie Gross painting, Two One Punch; Chris Ashley installation, Jukebox 1-28; Maureen Mullarkey collages. On floor: a Venske & Spanle Smurf

North gallery looking toward Marcia's office (with Frances Barth's red/gr over desk). From left: Julie Gross, Two One Punch and Scooter; Julie Karabenick, Composition 65 and Composition 64; Chris Ashley, Jukebox 1-28 with digital presentation of 365 HTML Drawings. On Floor: Venske & Spanle Smurf

Marcia Wood, my good friend and longtime dealer in Atlanta, gave me her blessing--and her gallery --to pursue my idea, which at its core is a meditation on visual pleasure. After a decade of pornified bimbettes, video loops of window washers and the recently repickled shark (it's a big, interesting art world out there), I was craving a taste of the sublime. So I started making a list. Of course my idea of beauty is different from yours, that's the beauty of it, but I did want to refer to formal ideas of harmony—order, pattern, shape, texture and color--put together in ways that evoke feelings of pleasure, maybe feelings of the spiritual as well.

The words of my friend Stephen Rosenberg, a principal of Rosenberg + Kaufman Fine Art in New York, buzzed in my head as I considered this artist or that work: "The problem with artists who curate is that they always put too much in." He wasn't telling me this specifically, but when I heard it, it stuck. So I pared. Then added. Pared then added. Marcia's gallery is big--there are three separate gallery spaces with a total of about 2,500 square feet--so my list didn't have to be sliced to the quick, but with Stephen's words resonating, I was mindful of not overstuffing the idea.

Front Gallery looking toward Terrace Gallery. From left: Robert Sagerman, 11,257; Frances Barth, Heat Glance; Tim McFarlane, All That Could Be. In distance: paintings by Timothy McDowell and Heather Hutchison

My preference is for abstraction. In curating this show, I followed my own response to the harmony of elements, and to the transcendent nature of light—its intensity, translucence, luminosity and iridescence. I selected paintings, along with collages and sculptures, from artists whose work makes me become conscious of my own breath, which is to say that I connect with it so physically that the act of seeing, feeling and breathing are one. It’s a cliché to say "time stops," so let me just report that there does seem to be a temporal slowing down as I stand before a work that engages me fully. Or maybe it’s simply that I have stopped long enough to let the chemistry of the experience wash through me, to let it change me ever so slightly from the person I was before I experienced the particular piece of beauty.

I ended up selecting 15 artists, 13 individual artists and an artmaking duo, and what emerged was Luxe, Calme et Volupté--luxury, tranquility and pleasure, after the refrain in Baudelaire's "L'Invitation au Voyage." For the most part these are artists with whom I have shown, or with whom there is a gallery affiliation, or simply artists who found their way onto my visual radar in one exhibition or another and whose work I’ve followed avidly since. In every instance their work resonates for me personally as well as with this theme.

The artists in the show are David Ambrose, Chris Ashley, Frances Barth, Julie Gross, Rainer Gross, Heather Hutchison, Julie Karabenick, Timothy McDowell, Tim McFarlane, Maureen Mullarkey, Rose Olson, Robert Sagerman, Donna Sharrett, and Venske & Spanle.

My essay for the exhibition can be found at the end of this post.

Terrace Gallery. From left: Rose Olson, Soft as Memory, Seven Reds, Orange Electric, Pulse, New Green, Balancing Earth and Water, and Diffusion Rising; Timothy McDowell, Nectar; Heather Hutchison, When This Dust Falls; Donna Sharrett, Ramble On, Your Song and Turn the Page

Terrace Gallery looking toward North Gallery. From left: Donna Sharrett; Heather Hutchison, Divided (warm); David Ambrose, Elevated Rose With Braided Chain and Southeastern Elevation; Rose Olson

Some acknowledgments: An artist cannot curate a good gallery show without the blessing, wisdom, support and expertise of the dealer. (Thanks, Marcia.) An online catalog doesn't materialize without the expertise, patience and fabulous design sense of the gallery associate (Thanks, Errol Crane). And the artwork doesn't happen without immensely talented artists willing to trust a curator's concept and let her take their work for two and a half months. Julie Karabenick sent her newest painting, even though she's preparing for a solo show of her own in September. Rainer Gross let me put dibs on a piece that he'd just finished. Robert Sagerman and Julie Gross made paintings especially for the show. I saw a maquette and a gouache sketch, respectively, so that trust goes both ways. And I'm thrilled with the paintings they made.

. . . . . . . .

Essay: Luxe, Calme et Volupté: A Meditation on Visual Pleasure

Earlier this year, after a day of studio visits and an evening of gallery openings in Chelsea, I took a short taxi ride up Eighth Avenue with Marcia Wood and the editor of a New York-based art magazine. The back-seat conversation was, of course, about art. Marcia mentioned that I was curating a summer show for her gallery, and because we were nearing our destination, I described it simply as “a meditation on visual pleasure.” 

“Ah, beauty,” responded the editor. “Isn’t it nice that we can talk about it again?” 

Choosing Beauty

Indeed, it’s hard not to gush. There’s a renewed desire in contemporary art for the elements that comprise formal ideas of beauty—harmony of order, pattern, shape, texture and color—put together in ways that evoke feelings of pleasure, maybe feelings of the spiritual as well. This may be an old-fashioned notion, but it’s back. Beauty is the new beauty.

The work in Luxe, Calme et Volupté is unabashedly beautiful. Appropriately for a show in this season, it is a summer idyll, a visual bonheur. Each of the 15 artists here—13 individual artists and an artmaking duo—have created works which, while formally rigorous, are sensually complex, richly simple or simply luscious. Consider the sumptuousness of David Ambrose’s textured paintings on paper, opulent on their surface and, deeper, in the wholeness of devotion they convey; the serene horizontals, rising and repeating, of Rose Olson’s luminous paintings, metaphorical oceans or skies distilled to their essence; or the polished marble sculptures of Venske & Spanle, cool and white, as innocently personable as they are slyly provocative.

Borrowing from Baudelaire

“Luxe, calme et volupté”—luxury, tranquility and pleasure—is the refrain in Charles Baudelaire’s 1857 poem,  "L'Invitation au Voyage."  In a celebration of life’s splendor, the poet invites his beloved to travel with him to an imagined place where the light is golden and the air perfumed, the language is soft and secret, a place of order and beauty where all desires are met, a world of luxury, tranquility and pleasure. It seemed the perfect title for this show.

I am not the first person to borrow from Baudelaire. Matisse’s 1904-05  Luxe, Calme et Volupté, in Fauvist colors and post-Pointillist brushstrokes, depicts a different idyll, an afternoon of bathing and sunning at the water’s edge in Saint-Tropez.  Monsieur Matisse’s paean to pleasure is intimate and seductive.

Matisse, Luxe, Calme et Volupt

Much to my surprise, Luxe, Calme et Volupté, the exhibition, has much in common with Luxe, Calme et Volupté, the painting. Both share a radiance of palette, a fullness of forms and a lushness of surface. Then, too, there is the repetition of elements that generates a larger whole. Matisse created his composition from the staccato swipe of a paint-laden brush, repeated again and again.  In this exhibition, the repetitions are in circles, in squares, in pins amassed and ordered, in paper pierced repeatedly, in pixels arranged, in paper layered and collaged and, yes, in the swipe of a paint-laden brush, repeated again and again.

Looking at Luxe, Calme et Volupté 
One of the pleasures of being an artist is engaging with art on a level that goes beyond mere looking. One of the pleasures of being a curator is bringing art into the fold of a theme that amplifies and supports the individual work, which in turn deepens and broadens the theme so that it expands beyond a curator’s vision.


While all of the work in this exhibition resonates on all three notes of the theme, I have singled out artist and work in an area where the note sounds most fully.

David Ambrose invests the simplest of materials, watercolor and paper, with unexpected richness. Drawing from ornamental designs in stonework and lace, and from such sources as the resplendent rose windows found in cathedrals throughout Europe, Ambrose pierces his paper in a  filigree of pattern before putting paint to it. As in the large-scale Southeastern Elevation, the result is a densely worked surface, a harmonic brocade of color and texture with intertwined threads of historic, spiritual and personal reference.

David Ambrose, Southeastern Elevation, 2006, watercolor on perforated paper, 59 x 44 inches

Drawing from history, but on an intimate scale, Maureen Mullarkey creates collages from the pages of old books and diaries. Each layered composition, sometimes composed with legible words or almost decipherable phrases, is a small reservoir of cultural memory. “Gutenberg Elegies,” she calls them. We may not recognize the specific circumstances they represent, but we understand them. Without wanting to ascribe more than the artist intended, I would venture that the strong horizontals in Mullarkey’s work, such as On the Sound,  give them a topographic character as well. Never mind that many of these works are barely larger than the size of your hand, they suggest abundant fields or rolling hills to be traversed and explored with the mind, much as the original volumes might have.

The large, often monumental paintings of Rainer Gross typically come two by two.  Gross is the creator of a unique process in which two separate surfaces—one layered with dried pigment, the other with icing-thick oil paint—are pressed together and, after a time, pulled apart. The paintings that result, such as Hutton Twins (the artist pulls the names at random from the Manhattan phone book), are more-or-less mirror twins, both original, for neither could exist without the other. While the process is intriguing, it is the fulsome color—heavily pigmented, saturated, with velvety flakes that bring the surface almost into relief—that intoxicates.

Rainer Gross, Hutton Twins, 2006, oil and acrylic on canvas, 24 x 20 inches each

Tim McFarlane’s luxe is in his layers. Each of his paintings is a dense net of lattices that fall loosely over one another. In All That Could Be, a large rectangle of luscious tangles that could heat a room by hue alone, the eye works hard to peer around and through the layers. Speaking formally about his work, McFarlane says he’s exploring “aspects of aggregation and negation through color, line, mark-making and brushwork.” Speaking informally, I would say that the endless pleasure I have experienced in this work comes from allowing myself to become, and to remain, visually enmeshed.

Tim McFarlane, All That Could Be, 2006, oil on canvas, 60 x 84 inches

“Order and beauty” is the other half of Baudelaire’s refrain. And in the work of Chris Ashley, Frances Barth, Heather Hutchison, Rose Olson and Donna Sharratt those elements prevail.

In truth, Donna Sharratt ‘s work is as luxe as it is calme, each object a mandala of pearls and flower petals and other delicate objects set into a wax-covered wooden box.  But the overriding element in her work is order. “Mirroring the Buddhist mandala form, the circular shape enveloped by the square …characterizes the infinite within the finite,” says the artist. “The geometric schemes of Gothic cathedral windows and the numeric configurations of prayer beads inform the mathematical arrangements of the work.” Your Song, a memorial piece to her musician brother who died too soon,  exemplifies Sharrett’s engagement with repetition, ritual and remembrance.

Donna Sharrett, Your Song, 2003-05, mixed media with pearls, pressed flower petals, thread, 18 x 18 x 1.25 inches 

Julie Karabenick‘s paintings mine the infinte richness of a single rectilinear form.  There is nothing meditative about the work—indeed, Karabenick consciously subverts the symmetry of her geometric endeavor—but each composition holds itself in easy equipoise. With its limited palette and uninflected color, Karabenick’s Composition 64 strikes me as a centered conversation, one that is spirited, inquisitive, but always returns to the main topic. Because her painting is process intensive and precise—“resolutely geometric” the artist describes it—the work goes slowly, but each successive painting in the series, with its new combination of asymmetry and complexity, expands the expression of Karabenick’s resoluteness.

Julie Karabenick, Composition 64, 2006, acrylic on panel, 30 x 30 inches 

The horizontal is a predominant element in Frances Barth’s paintings, which might be described as abstract landscapes with narrative timeline, a theme she began investigating early in her career and which she has continued to pursue. In this exhibition we show two works painted roughly a decade apart. The 1995 Red-Gr, simultaneously flat and deeply spatial, is vast enough to visually fall into—all the better to contemplate its contradictory dimensionality. In Barth’s newest work, such as the boldly horizontal Heat Glance, which she describes as “both object and panorama, “ you contemplate its light and space as if peering through a slot. It’s a tantalizing slice of imagined landscape and—this is a good thing—it leaves you wanting more.

Frances Barth, Heat Glance, 2006, acrylic on canvas, 10 x 96 inches

Minus the e, the French word for luxury becomes the Latin lux, which means both luxury and light. Linguistically I’m stretching, but conceptually you can see where I’m going when I say that the work of the next three artists is all about illumination.  Heather Hutchison has been working with translucence for two decades. She is one of the few artists who paints with beeswax on plexiglass. Working with a shadow box that holds a top surface and the space within,  Hutchison is free to explore translucent on transparent and the ways light passes through the surface or is reflected from it. You see this clearly in Divided Warm, where gradations of translucence converse intimately with one another. The artist refers to her work as “post-Minimal,” which I take to mean that it embodies what Minimal is, a reductive presence, as well as what it is not, a surface that revels in its materiality.

Heather Hutchison, Divided (warm), 2006, acrylic on plexiglass with wood frame

For Rose Olson refractive pigments painted stripe on stripe, layer upon layer, create veils of iridescent color that change as the light hits them this way and that. Walk one way, you see one color; move slightly, and you see another. Olson calls this mutability “a quiet dialog of shifting color, shifting space.” Her substrate and ground are one and the same, maple plywood, which is visible, sometimes faintly, sometimes more so. In Diffusion Rising, as in the rest of her elegant oeuvre, Olson’s color shimmers over the surface as light as a breeze. Hexagram 20 of the I Ching is as good a description as any of her work: “Kuan/Contemplation. The wind above, the earth below."

Rose Olson, Diffusion Rising, 2006, acrylic on birch, 24 x 15 x 4 inches; with angle view

Chris Ashley’s HTML drawings are nothing without light, for they exist in their primary incarnation as ordered pixels on a screen. Ashley’s daily practice is to create a drawing a day on his blog using nothing but computer code, which then appears on the screen as a luminous geometric composition. This is Etch-a-Sketch for the 21st Century, though Ashley is clearly thinking outside the box: “I want to make images that encourage associations to nature, the body, place, thought, sound, language, social relations and history.” For this exhibition, Ashley has printed out a month’s worth of drawings—February 2007’s, called Jukebox 1-28—and arranged them in calendar format, while a year’s worth of HTML drawings flashes on a nearby screen.

Chris Ashley, Jukebox (detail 9 of 28), unique digital prints, 11 x 8.5 inches

Volupte translates as pleasure, which includes sensory as well as sensual arousal: smell, touch and libido.

Timothy McDowell’s world is a fantasy of nature: part still life and part garden, with succulent fruit and bursting blossoms afloat in an inviting if undefined landscape. From its earth-toned palette to its languorous imagery, everything about McDowell’s painting appeals to the senses. Witness the golden Nectar, its images fairly dripping with ripeness. The scent of honey that hovers is not in your imagination. McDowell suspends his earth pigments in sweet-smelling beeswax, which is applied when it is molten. In selecting his medium and materials, the artist has wittingly or not created an olfactory idyll in the studio. “I have grown dependent on the faint smell of honey, earth and wood while I work,” he says.

Timothy McDowell, Nectar, 2006, oil and wax on panel

A master at color and composition, Julie Gross pushes contrary elements into a tense dynamic of throb and pulse.  Are her circles actually moving or does it just seem so? Consider Two One Punch. While Gross’s color is flat, the zaftig forms—all squeezy and flowing— seem to want to erupt out of two dimensions and into a third. And each, it seems, wants to get there first. Gross describes the movement as “a kind of dance.”  Yes, a bump and grind. These are not just circles. They are juicy orbs whose formal harmony is ripe with a suggestion of sensory pleasure. 

Julie Gross, Two One Punch, 2003, oil on canvas, 32 x 32 inches

If Gross’s forms seem poised to burst into three dimensions,  Julia Venske and Gregor Spanle’s carved marble sculptures have actually done so. With their oozy undulations, each Gumphot or Smurf appears to continue to metamorphose before you. Consciously playful, each with a distinct “personality,”  Venske & Spanle’s work is nevertheless sensuous—each piece a smooth, cool body that you can’t help but stroke and touch.

Venske & Spanle, Smurf 38, 2003, marble, 10 x 18 x 18 inches

Robert Sagerman’s nearly sculptural abstractions balance stringency and sensuousness in equal measure. To the viewer’s eye they tip firmly to the side of unbridled sensuousness: abstract fields of lavishly applied paint that radiate, whether from the intensity of the color, such as 11,257, or from the visual vibration of hues in proximity and relation to one another. Sagerman, who is pursuing a doctorate in medieval Jewish meditational practices, has a different agenda, however. "My work activity in its purest form centers ultimately…around the counting of each stroke for each color that comprises each painting," he says. "For me, the numbers themselves are the most direct expression of my work." Thus the balance tips again; for the artist, who is repeating and tracking his strokes, the painting is a meditation.

Sagerman’s exquisite duality reminds us that visual pleasure can resonate on many levels, whether physical, mental or spiritual—or all at once. We need only to open the door to the experience. I hope you will find that Luxe, Calme et Volupte offers you such a portal.