Alfresco Geometry

Nothing pedestrian about this diagonal swipe of two-tone color. See the grid lines of the sidewalk?

Twentieth Street is a particularly great place for alfresco geometry. A while back I showed you painted trucks from the DPW depot on the corner at 10th. This time it's geometry at my feet--in front of the loading docks on the north side of the street, middle of the block.

This an apt image for the week. I'm pounding the pavement as I dash from the West Chelsea galleries to fairs all over town. Having already seen the Armory Show and Scope and peeked at Art Now, I'm still figuring out out to best cover the fairs. (What, you think I'm going to stop everything to give you another 16-part Miami extravaganza?)

I also want to report on the ADAA panel at MoMA on Saturday morning, Is the Killer Art Market Killing Art and the Art Bloggers panel, The Impact of Bloggers on the Art World, at Red Dot on Sunday morning.

Stay tuned..


Still Painting . . .

Clyford was here?

The blue plywood barrier around the construction site at the corner of 23rd Street and 10th Avenue is usually plastered with poster images of semi-dressed people pushing music, alcohol, underwear and sex. Recently it underwent a makeover--well, a coverup, as all those posters got painted blue. I like this abstract version better. And if I didn't know better, I'd say that Clyford Still had done it.


Deducting the Fair Market Value of Your Art

Please take a moment to send an email in support of The Artist Deduction Bill S. 548 and HR 1524. This Bill would give artists the right to deduct the fair market value of their work when donated to museums and other non-profit organizations.

Click HERE to support this bill. Americans for the Arts has created a user-friendly format for you to contact your representatives. The e-form fills in the appropriate legislators as soon as it knows your zipcode. It will take one minute.


State of Grays

Jasper Johns: Gray
At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, through May 5

Medium-dark at the top of the stairs. The Jasper Johns banner gets prime placement over the main portal.
(Image from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website)

Only in New York, I suppose, could you find running concurrently one big museum show on Color and another on Gray.

I weighed in early on Color Chart at MoMA, but I’m coming late to the party at the Met. The reviews have already been written (see selected links at end of post). Not being a critic, I don’t expect to add anything new in the way of criticism, but I do have observations and a thorough understanding of encaustic, so perhaps I can fill in some of the cracks (literal and figurative) in the reportage.

The concept of this show, organized by the Art Institute of Chicago in cooperation with the Met, is splendid: a career retrospective as seen through the thin slice of one color. Who but Johns could have such a show? He has worked grisaille for his entire career, typically side by side with chromatic compositions, a point made right from the first two paintings of the exhibition, False Start and Jubilee.


Left: False Start, 1959; right: Jubilee, also 1959. Images from The New York Times website; no additional information on medium or size, but I'm pretty sure they were oil on canvas, and at least 60 x 48 inches, maybe larger

From there we leave color behind and enter the shadows. Slipping into this doppenganger oeuvre is strange and kind of wonderful. First of all, like a parallel universe, it's startling that it exists at all. And it's enormous, some 120 works. Here you see richness in ways you might overlook in the chromatic world. There’s the range of materials: graphite, charcoal and ink; Sculpmetal, lead and silver; oil and wax— each holding, releasing, reflecting the light and, more importantly, revealing the effort of the artist’s hand, in its own way. Then there’s the range of texture intrinsic to the materials: the crosshatching of the prints, the velvety lushness of charcoal, the sensuous ooze of dripped wax, the objects embedded and affixed. And, finally, there’s the richness of the repetition. Fifty-plus years of artmaking, fifty-plus years of numbers endlessly traced, of targets limned, of flags painted, incised, cast. Over and over.

To be honest, I find his painted grays leaden, the achromatic version of the Roach Motel—the light goes in but it doesn’t come out. On the other hand, the lead, as rendered in cast flags and numbers, fairly scintillates with light and shadow, warm and cool. That’s one of the surprises of this show. You think you know Johns’s work, and then you get hit with a realization like that.

My favorite grouping is of three small flags, each about 12 x 16 inches, installed in a corner. (I wish I could show you installation shots, but a non-photo policy and hyper-zealous guards put the kibosh on that.) The first is a flag painted in Sculpmetal. (Well, let’s be clear: it’s not actually a flag, of course, and it’s not actually sculptured metal.) Catty corner to it is a relief sculpture in lead sheet, an embossing of that first painting. Next to it is a sterling silver cast of the painting. Three nearly identical objects and each, up close, as different as can be in color, surface and material. And these three are each and all quite different from drawings and prints of the flag, as they, in turn, are different from an ashen version in encaustic. The exhibition could have been called Jasper Johns: Obsessions.

Jasper Johns; The Dutch Wives, 1975, encaustic and collage on canvas (two panels); overall 51 3/4 x 71 inches; collection of the artist. Image from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website
I mentioned earlier that I thought Johns’s grays are leaden. There are some wonderful exceptions, and without exception they are paintings in which the unpigmented wax medium acts as a window to the newsprint that lies below the paint. Newsprint being newsprint, it has yellowed over time, so there’s an amber hue—almost a honey color—that warms and lightens the grisaille, illuminating it, really, from within the painting itself. The Dutch Wives—the diptych, above, whose panels hold almost identical crosshatch markings—is the very best example of a collaged newsprint painting that has mellowed this way. .(I wonder what it looked like in 1975 when it was painted.)
Johns is not a guy who lets much out unintentionally, so those little windows into the painting are almost erotic. As for the waxen drips here and elsewhere, well they're metaphoric in their ooziness.
I’ve used the Johns’s images sparingly, as the Met site carries dire non-repro warnings. So go see the show for yourself. And—shameless plug alert—if you want to know more about encaustic, take a look at my book, The Art of Encaustic Painting. There’s even little interview with Jasper in which he talks a bit about his process.

An excerpt:
JM: What is working with encaustic like for you? Is it a struggle or does the wax just flow?
JJ: (Laughs) I wouldn't describe it as either extreme. One proceeds. One watches what happens. Things happen unexpectedly, some that I would be happy to live without. But it has been a pleasure to watch what happens.
I feel pretty much the same way about the show.
Coda: If you're going to visit the show in person or on line, make a detour to the Matthew Marks Gallery on 22nd Street to see Jasper Johns: Drawings 1997-2007. It's up through April 12. There's a greater chromatic range here, since the focus is not on gray but on works on paper. I was allowed to shoot in the gallery, and here's one of my favorite pieces from the back gallery. It's not a drawing at all, but a bronze cast from a number painting. I love how you can see the drips of wax paint. This is the ultimate in wax casting, no? The painting itself is sacrificed to the sculpture.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Recent reviews:. Jasper Johns: Smog Alert by R.C. Baker in the Village Voice
. Jasper Johns Shows his True Colors by Roberta Smith in the New York Times (with slide show)
. The Gray Areas of Jasper Johns by Carol Vogel in the New York Times (also with slide show)
. Shades of Gray by Lance Esplund in The New York Sun
. Two Coats of Paint rounds up the reviews


On the Geometric Trail: Part Seven

On the Geometric Trail, Part Two: SoHo

On the Geometric Trail, Part Three: Isensee

On the Geometric Trail, Part Four: Two of a Kind

On the Geometric Trail, Part Five: McKenzie

On the Geometric Trail, Part Six: Zox and Martin

Harriet Korman at Lennon, Weinberg
Juan Usle at Cheim & Read

Harriet Korman at Lennon, Weinberg: Installation view looking toward the back of the gallery

Harriet Korman’s solo show is no longer up at Lennon, Weinberg, but that doesn’t mean I can’t show you a few pictures. Her painting, with its hard edges, shifting planes and saturated hues, is geometric abstraction in a modernist vein. There’s a bit of the cubist composition in her work, with its loopy intersections and Matissean shapes, but her seemingly straight-from-the-tube color and strong graphic quality give the work a signature that is unmistakably her own: joyous but rigorous.

As an artist who works serially, I like to see how other artists explore or attenuate an idea. Here, two paintings with a similar composition-- and even some similar color passages--allow
you to eavesdrop on their conversation

Is it me, or is there a suggestion of landscape in these paintings?

New for me is the painting, above, in which patches of color are painted with roughly equidistant parallel lines. I like this rectilinear order. I want to say that I’ve seen this composition, or something like it, while flying over the country’s midsection at 30,000 feet, but that’s not quite right, for while I perceive something of a landscape in this work—in both paintings shown above, in fact—I’m not at all sure it was intended. I don't think Korman is making paintings that are about anything but painting.

Despite their almost playful color and composition, these paintings establish boundaries between themselves and the viewer. Maybe it's their mid-range size or relatively uninflected color. Or maybe it's that intellectual rigor. You step back to see these painting, and each painting seems to say, "You stand there." That's fine. I can dig them from a few feet away.

Juan Usle at Cheim & Read

Juan Usle at Cheim & Read: Installation view taken from the gallery's website

Juan Usle’s paintings, on the other hand seem to whisper, "Come closer, mi amor." Maybe it’s their small size—his show, "Brezales," at Cheim & Read consists of fewer than a dozen small canvases (and two large ones)—but they exude something that just pulls you in. While there’s a new fluid line in some of the paintings, I’m fonder of the rectilinear compositions, patchworks of color and visual texture that are marvels of painterliness. The gallery’s press release describes the work as "organic geometry." That’s a good term, because the grid has been constructed block by block within the composition rather than imposed onto it; moreover, the color is fluid and the mark of the brush very much in evidence. (Usle uses pigment in a vinyl dispersion medium to get the streaked, almost textile-like surfaces of his color, and from the looks of the linearity of the application, I'd say he uses something like a squeegee as well as a brush. )

Juan Usle: La Camara Oculta, 2007, vinyl, dispersion and dry pigment on canvas, 18 x 12 inches.

Above: installation view of the small front gallery, from the gallery's website

Below: Miron, 2006-07, vinyl, dispersion and dry pigment on canvas, 12 x 18 inches.The gallery press release calls his work "organic geometry," and you can really see that here--the way the artist has dragged and pushed his pigment, creating lines that waver and vibrate

Juan Usle: Installation view of Cada Vez Mas Cerca, 2006-07, 24 x 18 inches, left; and Sone Que Revelabas (Tigris), 2007, 108 x 80 inches; both vinyl, dispersion and dry pigment on canvas. Installation shot from the gallery's website

"Brezales" is up through this weekend. If you’re reading this blog before March 15 and you’re in New York, log off and go see it.


On the Geometric Trail: Part Six

Larry Zox at the Stephen Haller Gallery

I promised a post on the geometry behind the wall against which these containers were stacked. Here it is: Larry Zox at the Stephen Haller Gallery. See the painting in the lower left corner of the picture below? We're entering the doorway there.

Geometry on both sides of the wall. We're entering the gallery at the lower left corner of the picture

Below, as you enter: Esso Lexington, 1968, acrylic, epoxy on canvas, 79 x 64 inches. This is a composition that Zox mined over and over in different combinations of hues


To be honest, I hadn’t known about Larry Zox until a conversation with Stephen, about a year before he mounted his first show of Zox’s work in 2005 . This was at the end of a relatively long career for Zox, one that had seen his work in numerous museums, even a retrospective at the Whitney. By the time that first show at Haller went up, Zox’s heyday was over. The show was stellar—a combination of his hard-edge geometry from the Sixties and Seventies, along with newer, softer compositions that introduced a looping, nicely lyrical line.

A second show followed in 2006, and then—I’m not sure of the exact chronology—Zox died. Wherever the lyrical color fields might have gone, we won’t know. Both bodies of work are in the current show. I’m partial to the Seventies geometries with tinted color, a nice hard/soft combination in which the edge is mollified by the gentler palette.

Looking into the main gallery: No information on the gallery website for this large horizontal painting, but it ranks among my favorites. The paint is rendered with an almost suede-looking surface that's at odds with the hard-edge shapes. I love that!

In the main gallery: No info on the gallery site for this painting, either, but I can tell you that it's part of the Diagonal series from the Sixties

Looking into the center gallery, far wall: Change of shape--and century. Hayward, 2003, acrylic on canvas, 42 x 57 inches

In the center gallery: No info on this large horizontal, but it resembles other work on the gallery's website from the Seventies



Chris Martin at Mitchell-Innes and Nash

A few doors down at Mitchell-Innes and Nash, Chris Martin delivers his geometry with eye-searing color and collaged surfaces—glitter, newsprint, sponges (?)— that inform his shapes with a slight depth and dimensionality. While Zox’s painting seems to have come from his brain, Martin’s comes from straight from the gut. It’s raucus. It rocks.

Chris Martin: Untitled, 2007, oil, gel medium, collage on canvas, 64 x 59 inches

Chris Martin installation view at Mitchell-Innes and Nash: Seven Pointed Star, left, and Untitled, both shown below

In conversation with Craig Olson in a recent issue of The Brooklyn Rail, Martin said this about his process:

"These forms come from a long process of unconscious drawing. Then there is this desire to see it in paint—a kind of compulsive curiosity that drives me to choose colors, mix up buckets of paint, and prepare a surface. The actual performing of a painting involves giving oneself over to a series of actions and trusting in the body and what the body knows. And when I step back to look at this thing, I’m still trying to figure it out just like everybody else."

Chris Martin: Seven Pointed Star, 2007, oil and collage on canvas with gel medium, 54 x 45 inches

Below: Untitled, 2007, oil and collage on canvas, 54 x 49 inches

Next posts: Harriet Korman and Juan Usle


Color with a Y Chromosome at MoMA

In the lobby, above, Jim Lambie's wildly striped and angled color.

In the sixth floor atrium, below, a Donald Judd sculpture dominates. My photography ends here, as the no-photos policy kicks into place.


I was going to make another stop on the Geometric Trail, but we're taking a quick detour up to 53rd Street for Color Chart: Reinventing Color, 1950 to Today at the Museum of Modern Art, organized by Ann Temkin. The exhibition is all about hue, whether right out of the tube, off the chart, or based on color systems devised by the artists or left to chance. There's oil paint and mototcycle enamel, car lacquer and Color Aid, Pantone and the Macintosh palette. In other words, it's a big show with broad parameters.

So, first the good news: This wide-ranging survey covers more than half a century of chromatic work with the usual suspects well represented: Dan Flavin, Damien Hirst, Ellsworth Kelly, Yves Klein, Frank Stella and others. You've probably seen most of this work in museums over the past few decades, but it's thrilling to see it all together.

The exhibition starts dramatically in the lobby with Jim Lambie's striped floor, all sharp lines and acute angles, continues into the sixth-floor lobby where a Donald Judd painted aluminum sculpture dominates, and opens into the special exhibitions gallery, where you are greeted by a horizontal painting, installed up high, by Marcel Duchamp. In the first gallery alone there's work by Frank Stella, Ellsworth Kelly, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol.

Now, the bad news: If you've followed the names I've dropped so far, it should be obvious that this show's color comes with a Y chromosome. Of the 44 artists in the show, 38 are men and six are women. This is the curator's privilege, of course, but I wonder how such broad parameters could be so exclusionary.

You should see Color Chart. It's a visually powerful show, but to my mind it's half a show. Spend some time with the two large Jennifer Bartlett pieces--each an installation of enameled squares in her signature dots and grids (alas, no pictures available from the MoMa website)--and Angela Bulloch's lightbox that flashes the colors of the Macintosh 0S9 operating system (ditto). While those colors are flashing, imagine the reductive color fields of Marcia Hafif, the macro-pointillist compositions of Alma Thomas, the undulating geometries of Bridget Riley, the dyed floor sculptures of Polly Apfelbaum--and make your own list while you're at it.

The show is up through May 12.

Feel free to add names to the Comments, below.


Impromptu Geometry

Rounding the corner from 11th Avenue to 26th Street I came upon this
splendid composition of containers in colors that paired perfectly with
the wall of the building next door. Next post we're back on the
Geometric Trail with visits to a show of vintage Larry Zox at the
Stephen Haller Gallery (on the other side of that oxide red wall) and
up-to-the-moment Chris Martin just down the Street at Mitchell Innes
and Nash.

Voyage to mars (red and orange) on 26th Street