James Little at June Kelly Gallery

This is what you see when you walk in and face the opposite wall. We'll start here for our tour around the gallery


"Gene Davis with points," is how one painter described James Little's new body of work, De-Classified: New Paintings at the June Kelly gallery. He was joking, of course. Davis may be a visual antecedent, along with Barnett Newman and maybe Kenneth Noland, but I'd describe Little's new work as "Geometry with finesse."

Here is an artist who's making hard-edge paintings with a soft material, oil and wax in an encaustic-like mix, and making it work. Over and over again. He has combined lushness of material with preciseness of image. And he's working large. As someone who paints with wax, I can tell you that this combination of hard and soft, in large scale, is no easy achievement.

Continuing around the gallery (I have no info on the first work): Gypsy, 72.5 x 94 inches, and Satchmo's Answer to Truman, 76 x 98 inches; both 2008, oil and wax on canvas

Closer view of both, below

Formally, these resolutely abstract paintings would seem to be about figure and ground, or more precisely about the ambiguity of figure and ground, and thus about the ambiguity of space, and about color and control, flatness and expanse. And certainly about chromatic rhythm. In these paintings, sawtooth elements are placed in side-by-side in discrete segments (occasionally a Davis-like band of stripes changes the visual cadence). As the angles of different colors, sometimes near complementaries, slide into one another, a mirage-like shimmer hovers over the surface. It's in no way Op in the manner of Bridget Riley, but it is retinally invigorating.

Little's paintings are technically virtuosic and visually ravishing . His palette, saturated and opaque, has just a touch of white. It's far from pastel, yet there's an alluring softness to it.

Swoon. .

The show is up at the June Kelly Gallery in SoHo through June 9.

Continuing around from Satchmo's Answer to Truman is Near-Miss, 2008, oil and wax on canvas 72.5 x 94 inches

I was taken by the two framed paintings (not sure of medium) on paper between two larger oil and wax paintings. Beautifully realized, they nevertheless appear to be maquettes or precursors to some of the larger works. I've placed one at the bottom of this post, just under the larger painting it resembles

The Marriage of Western Civilization and the Jungle, with detail below showing the clean lines and luscious surface

We've completed our circuit of the gallery, with the entry at left the the 'V' painting on the right

Below: A small framed painting on paper relates to the large work on the far wall. The large painting is When Aaron Tied Ruth, 2008, oil and wax on canvas, 72.5 x 94 inches

Related reading and looking:
. Ben LaRocco's interview with James in the the current issue of The Brooklyn Rail
. Geoform, an online resource for abstract geometric art.
. Little's own website:
. Updated 7.14.09: James Kalm's video visit to the gallery followed by a studio visit with the artist


Marcia Hafif at Larry Becker, Philadelphia


Installation view of Marcia Hafif's Fresco Paintings at Larry Becker Contemporary Art, Philadelphia
The show is up through this Saturday, May 30

In yoga, it's not all about contorted positions. An essential part of the process is to focus on the breath. As the air fills the lungs, the muscles stretch, the space between the joints expands, your inner chatter quiets; then, even as the air goes out, that openness remains. With each breath the sense of of quiet and openness increases. You end a session more connected to the oneness of everything.

This is what it's like to view paintings by Marcia Hafif. Except it's about color, not breath. Hafif is a monochromist, or at least she was until recently. With, Fresco Paintings, the new series she's showing at Larry Becker Contemporary Art, there are two colors in her paintings. The format varies only slightly from painting to painting. Divided vertically, there's a neutral white field and one with a rich, almost glowing, earth hue like terre verte, raw sienna, or Italian brown pink—transparent fresco colors that give the series its name. The division, which doesn't vary percentually, is about 60 percent color, applied with a flat, maybe filbert, brush so that the strokes give depth and richness to the hue, and 40 percent "white." Looking closer, you realize that the "white" is actually a very pale blue, and that the degree of paleness differs from painting to painting. The slower you look, the more you see.

Fresco: Violet-Grey NY 09 3 and Fresco: Golden Green NY 09 4, both 2009, oil on canvas, 30 x 30 inches

The works are installed around the gallery so that colored field faces colored field, solid faces solid

Fresco: Italian Brown Pink Lake NY 09 2, 2009, oil on canvas, 30 x 30 inches
Detail below

In the second gallery are paintings from Hafif's Table of Pigments series from 1991. Each painting features one hand-milled hue. I've always liked these paintings, with their chromatic richness coming as much from a surface of impasto-like brush strokes as from the refraction of the pigments themselves. Gallerists Larry Becker and Heidi Nivling have selected six.

In the second gallery: Hafif's Table of Pigments: Cerulean Blue, Pthalocyanine Green, and Cadmium Yellow Deep, all 1991, oil on canvas, 22 x 22 inches

Below: a photograph showing the entire series. That's Nivling's hand in the picture


Marketing Mondays: Gallery Business

Blame it on the economy. Many galleries are turning over a new leaf--changing how they do business, typically because of diminished staff

or funds. It's a good idea to check in with your gallery to see how things are going, to learn of any changes in the way they're operating and--since we're in this together--to see if there's anything you might do to help in the promotion of your work and, by extension, of the gallery itself.

What follows are some examples of the ways those leaves are turning.

1. A small New York gallery has dropped its insurance. "Like most of you, I have had to cut back in many areas to keep my doors open. I can no longer take responsibility for insuring the full retail value of the work I have here on consignment," says this dealer. She gave her artists the option of removing the work or keeping it there. Most wish to remain with the gallery and will take the chance for now. Some may retrieve the larger work and allow the gallery to hold onto a few smaller pieces. (The gallery website can show larger works, which the artist and dealer can arrange to have delivered to the gallery if need be.)

2. A New York-area gallery no longer calls the artists to say a work has been sold. Delivering good news is one of the most pleasurable aspects of a dealer's job, but with staff cutbacks those individual conversations with artists may no longer be possible. While no artist is unhappy with the arrival of a check for artwork sold, one artist posed this question: "If I'm not notified when the work sells, isn't it possible that the money from the sale could be used by the gallery to pay its bills? I could be getting that check months after the fact." Well, yes it's possible. But why assume the worst if your relationship with the gallery has always been good? Communicate! Press for an e-mail notification. (If you can't get at least that, then consider a red flag raised.)

3. Smaller staffs mean more chance for inventory snafus. I keep a visual inventory--a digital contact sheet for each gallery, so that I can see at a glance what the gallery has. At the end of the year, I confirm that the gallery and I have the same information. It happened recently that a painting had been sold during the year but I was never notified or paid. I know the gallery; I've worked with it for years. The dealer paid me as soon as s/he realized that the painting I was asking about had in fact sold. There was no deception intended, but I see more of this kind of thing happening as there are fewer folks to do the administrative work.

4. An out of town gallery is no longer paying to have artists' work shipped to or from the gallery. This is a temporary measure until the economy picks up, I'm told, but what concerns me is the cumulative result all of these changes have on artists. Collectively we're having to assume a greater insurance load or risk, having to pay to ship or deliver, assuming ever greater administrative responsibilities, and operating without knowing if work has sold and thus when we might expect a check. With sales down and foot traffic in the galleries almost non existent, I'm wondering how feasible it is even to show right now.

5. A gallery out west is closing its bricks-and-mortar space and going cyber instead. In a letter to her artists, the director wrote: "The internet will allow us to access a more diverse, global client base throughout the year while dramatically reducing our carbon footprint. Flexibility within our site will permit us to easily introduce new work, present more exhibitions, respond more quickly to the needs of our artists and our clients."

I have no affiliation with this gallery so I feel free to say that while the spin is upbeat, I'm not buying. Carbon footprint or no, this trend makes me nervous. If the gallery does art fairs, OK; the artists' work will continue to be shown in a tangible way. But the Internet is no substitute for the experience of viewing art. The gallery also mentioned running profiles of its artists, and linking to other cultural institutions. Hey, I can do that, and I'm no dealer! What would make this cyber gallery any different from, say, a consultant? And will the dealer continue to take 50% on sales? In interesting turn, for sure.

On a more positive note . . .

6. Curate a gallery show. If you have a collegial relationship with your dealer, propose curating a show. You may not--probably won't--get paid much (or at all) to do it, but the curatorial experience is great. You'll think about art and exhibitions in a more encompassing way. You'll have a good reason to give yourself time to make studio visits. The art karma is great. And with you working on the project, the dealer should find a few extra hours to cultivate collectors, research art fairs or other projects that may ultimately benefit you. You'll have a new category for your resume, too.

7. Curate your own "blogallery." It doesn't have to be about sales so much as keeping your work, and that of artists you respect, in the public eye while your dealer and the economy in general catch their breath. I mean if a former b-and-m gallery can go cyber, so can you. (An interesting related project is Minus Space's Viewlist. I did something similar myself with, Cold? Come Stand Next to These in January, and Armory Fair: Salvage Operation in March.)

Not yet with a gallery? If your e-mails and presentation materials are getting no response, and even your visits to the gallery to see the exhibitions result in no personal interaction, it's entirely possible that in this economy the dealer you're interested in isn't thinking beyond the current lease period. Be patient but active. (See the "blogallery" item, above. )

Consider this an open forum for discussion. How is your gallery changing and how are you adapting to your gallery's changes? Don't tell me gallery names; just discuss the situation. And if you feel more comfortable responding anonymously, that's fine.

Image from the website


Paper: Pressed, Stained, Folded, Slashed at MoMA, Part 2

Last Friday Part 1 of this post appeared. I'd thought I was going to get to Part 2 sooner, but time has its own agenda.
To recap: Paper: Pressed, Stained, Folded, Slashed contemplates the witty, sumptuous, violent and playful materiality of paper in work by some of the art world's big guns, who were merely pistols when these works were made, mostly in the 1960s and 1970s.
Above: Robert Rauschenberg, Cardbird VI, 1971
Standing in the anteroom, where Rauschenberg's Cardbird commands the first look, we peek into the large first gallery. I've included this image so that you can imagine entering the gallery and looking to your left. What you'd see is below: a crumpled drawing by Oldenberg--I'm surprised by how much I like it--and another work, in handmade paper (remember when that was the big thing?) by Rauschenberg.

Claes Oldenberg and Robert Rauschenberg, with closeups below

Oldenberg's Flag to Fold in the Pocket, 1961, ink and crayon on paper, 29.5 x 47 inches, above;

Rauschenberg's, Page 4 from the series Pages and Fuses, 1974, two sheets of handmade paper in plexi frames with twine, each 15 x 20 inches

Lucio Fontana, installation view of four of Six Original Etchings, 1964, portfolio of six embossed etchings; one of the works below

If you take the time to access the exhibition website, click onto Fontana's Concetto Spaziale (Spatial Concept), a gold accordion book with a visual narrative of negative space. Fontana's work is almost half a century old now, yet it still bristles with enough energy to make you realize just how daring, even transgressive, it was when it was made.
While you're at it, click onto the navigable view of Lygia Pape's Book of Creation, a collection of gouache-on-paperboard constructions, each 12 x 12 inches. To be honest, the installation suggests a design project, but there are some appealing elements in it, especially the geometry of the detail below:
Lygia Pape, Book of Creation, 1959-60, gouache on paperboard, each 12 x 12 inches
It's not all old school. This work by Nancy Rubins, while still 20th Century (1997), is much more contemporary. I hadn't realized how much it has in common with Rauschenberg until now. Good thing I shot the work and its label; it's not on the MoMA website at all. That's an oversite.

Nancy Rubins, Untitled, 1997, pencil on paper
Detail below


My favorite is the small work in the second gallery by Howardena Pindell. It's shown below. Hung in an installation with other small works, Untitled (#7) is a sculptural pastiche of the dots from hole-punched paper, thread, and other materials. It's a reconstruction of a deconstruction, a small sculptural plot of process and materiality preserved from the early 1970s. I love it.

Howardena Pindell, Untitled (#7), 1973, ink on punched and pasted paper, talcum powder, and thread on paper; 10 1/8 x 8 3/8 inches
Wall installation, below, with Pindell's work at the middle right



Marketing Mondays: The Vanity Gallery

[Update 3.17.10:
After consulting with an attorney, I have decided to reinstate the name of the venue, Ico Gallery, now located in Chelsea.]

I recently got a cease-and-desist e-letter from a pay-to-show venue in Tribeca threatening me with a lawsuit for slander. It reads in part:

You know nothing of the gallery business. What you teach your students and have posted online is fantasy. It is slander, and if you do not remove our information immediately, we will contact the university and the server of your blog and initiate a lawsuit.

It is unfortunate that so many people are subject to the delusions and propaganda concerning the gallery business, vilifying the very people who are making a difference in the art world today. Do your homework rather than spewing lies. Do you claim to know how prominent gallery's are doing business? You are guessing; shame on you!

Why the letter? Because I posted, on a blog I created for my students, a caveat about vanity galleries, including their letter soliciting business.

Here's how I responded to the gallery: It's not slander if it's true.

In the interest of journalism, let me share with you some of my teaching-blog post along with the essence of their offer. I have removed their name from the letter, which means they cannot actually claim it as their own, which means I have violated no "confidentiality." I have posted a short list of vanity galleries at the end of this post without commentary.

As we discussed in class, a "vanity gallery"— so called because you pay to show—typically solicits the artist. There is always a financial charge to the artist, typically to be paid up front to the gallery. This financial arrangement distinguishes the vanity gallery from a commercial gallery, which does not charge the artist to show. Below is an example of a vanity gallery's offering to an artist. It was sent unsolicited to a friend of mine.

I have never heard of this gallery, nor ever received an e-mail from them (and as an art blogger I get A LOT of e-mails from galleries). Their "press" page consists of images of the gallery's advertising in various publications. Normally "press" constitutes reviews of the exhibitions. Note particularly the items in red.

Dear ______,

We recently reviewed your work online and would like to consider you for an upcoming group exhibition at X Gallery. In exchange for your assistance in paying some of your promotional costs, we will feature you in a show here at X Gallery as well as promote your work in print and online for up to 1 year. If you are interested in discussing this opportunity further, I can put you in touch with the gallery Director or the head curator. Details regarding specific exhibitions and marketing plans should be discussed directly with them. Also, we are not negotiable regarding marketing expense or our commission.

Opportunities for solo or small group shows can also be discussed with the director on an individual basis. This letter is not an opportunity to exhibit; it is to express our general interest in working with you.

Gallery Compensation: 50% commission on all sales
Gallery Advertising cost due up front: $2,500

There's more, but you get the picture. No wonder they were concerned that I was commenting on their practices. I'm guessing they don't want to lose their clientele. And they're not alone; there are other galleries with similar arrangements. New York artists know that pay-to-show galleries have no credibility here. Get, say, 20 artists in for a group each month, and there's 50 large to pay the bills, the staff, the gallery expenses. Why bother to sell anything? The money's been made. The galleries are then free to spend their time and effort soliciting the next batch of artists for group--or "solo"--shows.

Legitimate commercial galleries assume the cost of showing an artist's work. They do not solicit for artists; they receive plenty of submission packages.

There are situations in which artists may legitimately pay to show their work—such as the entry fee for a juried show, or membership dues to a co-op gallery—and these options come with some benefits.
. A good juried show (I'm thinking of the annual NYU Small Works show, for instance) attracts a good juror, tpically a New York dealer, critic or curator, and the possibility for networking at the opening. Some artists have found representation, or inclusion in gallery exhibitions, as a result of the exposure.
. The co-op gallery, which typically requires a membership fee, dues, and time requirements, is as the name implies, cooperatively owned and run. You don't give your money to an owner; you are a part owner. Co-op membership comes with a built-in community of artists and an opportunity to present work that doesn't have to be commercially viable. Both can be good opportunities for an emerging artist. Many artists have moved from co-ops to commercial galleries (this is true of gallery directors as well).

Another gallery I know of that solicits artists in a pay-to-show arrangement: Agora Gallery.

Others advertise regularly in the classifieds of the monthly art magazines. The websites of these galleries may not post the financial arrangements, but you you can confirm for yourself the financial nature of the arrangement by letting them know you are "interested" in showing with them. They will lay out their terms.

And check out my blog post, An Offer I CAN Refuse, about a solicitation I received from Gallery Gora in Montreal.

While we're on the topic, who else has received the "invitation to exhibit" at the Bienniale Internationals Dell'Arte Contemporanea in Florence, Italy? Gilbert & George, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, David Hockney and Richard Anuskiewicz have received honors in previous editions of the fair, and Marina Abramovic will be honored this year. The hoi polloi, the not-so-famous artists may participate for the fee of E2700, or something over $3000. Hundreds, I mean hundreds--of artists participated in 2007. An average of 500 artists at 2700 euros is, let me see: one million three-hundred-fifty thousand euros. Nice take. Image from

Am I being cynical and suspicious? Has anyone participated in this? Please share your experience. Any encouragement or caveats for this blog's readers?

And in general, I encourage you to share what you know for this post. Has anyone ever found themselves in a pay-to-show situation? What was it like? Who has been solicited by a pay-to-show gallery? Do you know of other pay-to-show galleries here or in other cities? Feel free to post anonymously if you're uncomfortable with the topic but have something to say.


Stayin' Alive: The Auction at Metaphor

The installation clockwise from the front door. Here there are works by Stephanie Brody Lederman, Tim McDowell, Mary Judge, Cecile Chong, Julie Gross and others

The pictures you see here are from the Stayin' Alive auction at Metaphor Contemporary Art in Brooklyn. The auction, which benefits the exhibition program at the gallery during these hardscrabble economic times, features the work of many artists who have been involved with the gallery.

First, a disclaimer: I've donated work to the show.
(While I'm not generally a fan of donating art--too many artists get tapped far too often--I am a believer in supporting a few events and causes. This is one of them.)

Second, a comment: I want them all!
OK, so that's not going to happen, but I have been bidding, and so have others. As I understand it--and the auction site will explain it better than I, after the online bidding closes, there will be a live auction on Tuesday night, at which time--I think--work will be taken home by the lucky winning bidders.

I talked about this project a month ago in the context of other galleries that have come up with interesting, and often interactive, ways to keep their doors open. The installation pictures you see here are shown clockwise from the front door, starting from the image above that opens the post.

Tell me: is this not a fabulous installation? Artists are identified on the auction website. Here there are works by Loren Munk, Matthew Deleget, Julian Jackson (a co-owner of the gallery, with Rene Lynch), and Gabriele Evertz. Can you find my small square red painting in the picture above?
As we swing around visually, the wall with the blue and green work, below, faces you as you walk in. Here there are works by Rene Lynch, Ward Jackson, Margaret Neill and Gabe Brown

Continuing around, we come to the black and white wall with works by, among others, Kate Beck and Marietta Hoferer. OK, so I'm noting all the artists whose work I want

Two views of the Project Space up on the mezzanine. Above, tooking toward the front of the gallery. Below, looking in the opposite direction



Paper: Pressed, Stained, Slashed, Folded at MoMA, Part 1

The works-on-paper gallery on the second floor of the Museum of Modern Art is one of the museum's best-kept secrets. Not that it's hidden or that people don't go into it, but compared to the hordes that visit the higher-profile spaces, this is a quiet oasis in which to contemplate work that is typically quieter and smaller than elsewhere in the building.

Above: Entrance to the exhibition

The exhibitions, often organized by Starr Figura, a curator in the Prints and Drawings department, are always good. (A while back I did a four-part report on Geo/Metric, another impressive exhibition curated by Figura, with Kathleen Curry, and which included the Dorothea Rockburne folded prints that are in this show. ) Because all the work is in the museum's collection, photography is allowed.
This time the exhibition looks at the materiality of paper. The title spells out the curatorial parameters: Paper: Pressed, Stained, Slashed, Folded. Well, that's not exactly true; it's also ripped, pinned, crumpled, punched, printed, stitched, embedded and handmade. But you get the picture. There are papier mache cylinders by Eva Hesse, a mid-size graphite assemblage by Nancy Rubins that's pushpinned to the wall, the surprise of a crumpled sheet of ink-stained paper by Claes Oldenburg, and a whole lot more. Much of the work is from the 1960s and 70s, so I suppose it officially qualifies as "art history."

The exhibition is up until June 22, so you have time to see it if you're so inclined. If you can't, an
interactive flash site shows you more work than I can show you here, often with closeups but without the installation shots. (By the way, am I the only person who hates MoMA's new website? I find it to have entirely too much Flash--too many bells, whistles, graphics, and boxes, changing images, drop-downs and pop-ups.)

Let's start in the anteroom with Robert Rauschenberg, then peek into the large first gallery. After we've made a tour of the room, we'll return to the anteroom to see wortk by Tapies and LeWitt.

In the anteroom: Robert Rauschenberg, Cardbird Series, 1971, photolithograph and screenprint on corrugated cardboard with tape additions, app. 26 x 27 inches

Far wall, from left: Richard Smith, image and info below; Dorothea Rockburne, Locus, 1972, series of six relief etching and aquatints on folded paper, each app. 40 x 30 inches.

On platform, above: Eva Hesse, Repetition Nineteen 1, 1967, paint and papier-mache on aluminum screening, each app. 9 to 10.5 high and 6 to 9 inches diameter

Below: Richard Smith, Diary, 1975, screenprint on seven sheets with punched-hole additions and string, each app. 20 x 21 inches

Another view of Rockburne's Locus and Hesse's Repetition Nineteen 1 . . .

. . . and details of each

Moving around the gallery, to the right of the Rockburnes is Giuseppe Penone, Fingernail Scratches (Unghiate), 1986, plaster on four sheets of torn paper, 55 x 79 inches total, with the work isolated below

As you face this work by Penone, on the wall past your right shoulder is the work below:

Sol LeWitt, Untitled, 1974, folded paper with pencil, 14 x 14 inches plus frame

Back in the anteroom just to the right of the Rauschenberg, is Anular, an illustrated book with 23 etchings, by the Catalan painter Antoni Tapies

Details are below and below that

In Part 2, which I'll post soon, we'll look into the smaller galleries. I have a lot more to show you, including my favorite work in the show--by Howardena Pindell. .


Batter Up

I'm not big on waffles, but I brake for grids, so this solo show by Martha Friedman at Wall Space Gallery on West 27th Street stopped me short. Called The Organization of Batter, it features gridded forms in cast paper (from actual waffle irons, I think) , cast rubber and carved marble. Aunt Jemima on steroids. Mmmm. Pass that conceptual syrup. The show is up through this Saturday, May 19.


Cast paper, individual work above, from the installation below (Sorry, I can't give you more about each work. I didn't take notes, and the gallery's website doesn't have info.)

The large works are cast rubber. I love how the grid emerges out of virtual nothingness. It's almost religious (and I say this as a waffle atheist).
The smaller, more fully dimensional forms are carved marble. Better shot below:

. .