Imagine Henry Moore Gone Minimalist

A few weeks back, I buzzed through the exhibition of Tony Cragg’s new sculpture at Marian Goodman Gallery and found it worthy of not much more than that. Yet, after reading favorable notices of the show and receiving counsel-albeit qualified-from sculptor friends, I returned to Goodman and found myself genuinely perplexed by the work. Mr. Cragg’s art is an immaculate stew of precedent: Imagine Henry Moore run through a minimalist processing plant and then polished off with an impermeable veneer of Dada, and one gets a pretty good notion of what the work is like.

The pieces suggest funny things: One massive work constructed from kertu wood looks like a totem of marshmallows; another appears to be an oversize and petrified piece of popcorn. Mr. Cragg’s art, however, isn’t funny. It’s sterile and inert-slick rather than shaped. Not one of the pieces has anything to say to another. Each, in fact, creates its own vacuum-packed space, effectively sealing us off from experiencing it. This has the curious consequence of making the gallery seem, if not vacant, then more vacant than it should be. Never before have I been so aware of an art gallery being a showroom. Of course, all galleries are showrooms of a type, but Mr. Cragg’s work transforms Ms. Goodman’s space into an art-world Ikea, with merchandise that is studiously designed, cleanly manufactured, probably not economically priced, but perfect for putting a plant next to. Most of what is proffered as major art nowadays asks the viewer for little more than laudatory neglect. Here’s some more of it. Tony Cragg: New Work is at the Marian Goodman Gallery, 24 West 57th Street, until Dec. 30.

A Palette Rooted In Its Subject

As with almost all types of art, the painterly domestic realism practiced by Catherine Drabkin is a dime a dozen-until, that is, someone comes along to remind you of how compelling it can be. How does Ms. Drabkin distinguish herself in this cozy-some might say mild-mannered-genre? Through color and what can only be called a graciousness of vision. Ms. Drabkin, whose paintings in oil and gouache are on display at Kraushaar Galleries, knows color, handles it well, but sometimes misgauges its pitch and function, particularly in the works on canvas. In them, color is less an integral component of her landscapes, still-lifes and interiors than an imposition. When she delineates a plastic bottle of dish soap with electric greens, purples and blues, she does so adroitly, but we’re not quite sure why she bothered.

Although Ms. Drabkin’s colors aren’t appreciably different in the gouaches, it is within them that her palette is rooted in the subject and, one feels, more itself. Perhaps the dry opacity of gouache tempers the artist’s facility for a jewel-like tincture and endows it with patience and body. Certainly, the fluidity of the medium allows her images to expand with color, giving these works on paper an inviting fullness. Whatever the case, the gouaches honor the modest comforts and everyday intimacies of a settled life-an arrangement of flowers by the window, having the time to paint, things like that. The artist’s scenarios aren’t completely devoid of hubbub: The presence of children is evidenced, most memorably, by a toy lizard that pops up in several pictures like an honorary member of the family. Ms. Drabkin’s paintings underline one of the puzzlements of parenthood: The ability of a child’s plaything to travel of its own accord. Catherine Drabkin is at the Kraushaar Galleries Inc., at 724 Fifth Avenue, until Dec. 22.

Cool Cars and Commonwealth Avenue

The painter George Nick, whose recent work is the subject of an exhibition at Fischbach Gallery, has three great passions in life. Two of them are pictured in his paintings: vintage automobiles and the city of Boston. The third, and not the least of them, is the art of painting, a medium in which he acquits himself, in the estimation of his admirer John Updike, with “good conscience and simple truthfulness.”

Mr. Nick works with a loaded brush, and his jots, jabs and slathers of oil paint, while a mite too pleased with themselves, advance with a magnanimous bravado. The artist is at his best when painting out-of-doors. When Mr. Nick holes himself up inside the Boston statehouse or in a showroom adjacent to his beloved Bugattis and Bentleys, his touch becomes sludgy and his knack for light deserts him.

When he hits the streets, and especially the streets of Boston, Mr. Nick is at home-in more ways than one. In the painting Commonwealth Avenue in July (1999), he depicts a block-long cluster of row houses towered over, physically if not pictorially, by a lone skyscraper in the distance. Mr. Nick extols the brick-by-brick character of the row houses by suffusing them with dignity and camaraderie. Everything in the canvas-from its accordion-like composition, to the astonishing resonance of Mr. Nick’s reddish tones, to the single, almost surrealist blip of a cloud-is on target. Commonwealth Avenue in July is a paean, deeply felt and not a little rueful, to urban gentility. It’s a great painting. George Nick: Paintings is at the Fischbach Gallery, 24 West 57th Street, until Dec. 23.