Courtier to King Charles VIII Takes a Crack at Christ

A display label included in Jean Poyet: Artist to the Court of Renaissance France, an exhibition currently at the Morgan Library, informs us that Poyet’s Four Seasons (late 1480′s), an illumination about the size of a baseball card, was “quickly and broadly painted for a young king [Charles VIII] who was not known as a great connoisseur.” Quick and broad? Most of us, I think, would find Four Seasons rather exacting in its painterly execution. Yet by underlining what it sees as the deficiencies of a “minor” work, the Morgan invites us to take a hard look at Poyet’s other paintings and, in doing so, treats us with more respect than the artist did King Charles.

Artist to the Court of Renaissance France places Poyet (active circa 1483-1503) in the context of his predecessors, contemporaries, rivals and what the curators call “Pseudo-Poyets.” Before long, we realize just how un-quick and un-broad his talents were. The contemporary eye will acknowledge the devotional character of the work, but be drawn to the clean precision of its crafting and the hypnotic rationality of Poyet’s pictorial space. Even more striking is his palette. Its colors are simultaneously luxuriant and steely, although they can be more the former than the latter one can hardly see Joab Killing Abner (or Amasa) (circa 1483-91) for its saturated blues, reds and yellows. Which isn’t to say that Poyet was, as a colorist, incapable of striking the (literal) grace note. In King Charles VIII Presented by Mary Magdalene to the Risen Christ (circa 1494-95), he paints Christ’s raiment a light, chalky and otherworldly purple, a tone whose improbable authority transforms a meticulous curiosity into an unnerving evocation of the divine. Jean Poyet: Artist to the Court of Renaissance France is at the Morgan Library, 29 East 36th Street, until May 6.

Sculpture Marketed As an Installation

Press releases are easy to take pot shots at, but when the people at Salander-O’Reilly Galleries state that the sculpture of Jilaine Jones, currently the subject of an exhibition at that venue, “should remind one of an installation rather than a free-standing entity,” they’re not just off-base they’re out of the ball park. That some of Ms. Jones’ pieces are scaled to the environmental doesn’t mean that they partake of the totalitarian aesthetic of installation art. That particular school aims to, in the words of one of its practitioners, “control” the viewer and, with this goal in mind, monopolizes space and a lot of it. Ms. Jones, in contrast, couldn’t care less about control, arm-twisting or monopolization. Her sculpture concerns itself with what one might call the “presentness” of space.

Utilizing steel rods, wood, rope and plaster, Ms. Jones works in the tradition of Constructivist sculpture and gives it a ruminative intimacy. The tension in the work is generated by the correspondences (and discrepancies) between its architecture, the parcels of space that architecture creates and those parcels that have been made disconcertingly concrete or in Ms. Jones’ case, plaster. (The latter material is the artist’s sculptural ace in the hole.) In her homage to childhood, the monumental Swingset (1999), Ms. Jones sets up movements, counter-movements, rhythms and velocities only to still them. The effect is magnetic, melancholic and eerily tender. Rarely has play felt like such a grave endeavor. Jilaine Jones: Sculpture is at Salander-O’Reilly Galleries, 20 East 79th Street, until April 28.

In an Odd Coupling, Correggio Wins Out

The better part of Correggio and Parmigianino: Master Draftsmen of the Renaissance, an exhibition currently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is given over to Parmigianino with over 100 drawings on view, he outnumbers Correggio three to one. Yet it’s Correggio New Yorkers will remember long after this sterling show has folded its tent. Parmigianino (1503-40) is no slouch, certainly the fluency of his drawings is, just as the title says, masterly. But it’s a fluency that the curators haven’t put into focus. Notwithstanding standouts like Virgin and Child (circa 1524-25), A Rearing Horse, Seen From Behind (circa 1524) or Head of a Girl (circa 1524-25), wherein each jot of white is tantamount to a peck, Parmigianino gets lost in the mix.

Not so Correggio (circa 1489-1534). Even at his most refined, he comes across as a force of nature, one whose sense of artistic mission was robust, resolute and not a little fierce. The pieces range from the tangled The Madonna and Child with Saints (circa 1523) to the pearlescent The Adoration of the Shepherds (circa 1522) to the plush voyeurism of Venus Asleep (circa 1523). The most beautiful of them all may be Eve and Other Figures (circa 1523-25), a drawing so fine and gentle that it’s (to filch a phrase from Vasari) “almost impossible that a man could have conceived such a work as this, and more impossible still, that he should have done it with human hands.” A truer tribute to this particular set of human hands one could not imagine. Correggio and Parmigianino: Master Draftsman of the Renaissance is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue, until May 6.

The Most Objective Portraitist in New York

Philip Pearlstein’s paintings, currently on exhibit at the Robert Miller Gallery, are the damnedest things. They shouldn’t work: Their brushwork is functional, their colors drab and their compositions wrenched by incongruities in space. Mr. Pearlstein is, for an artist who has spent decades depicting the figure, surprisingly clumsy in his anatomical proportions. Add to this the stingiest of aesthetics, and Mr. Pearlstein emerges not only as a conundrum, but the least likable of conundrums. He’s also, I would argue, a greater painter than we might realize. Anyone who’s come across one of his pictures in the past will know what they’re in for here: cropped compositions, askew vantage points, a prop or two, and the most unsensual of nude bodies usually women but sometimes men bathed in an even, nondescript light.

If the parameters of Mr. Pearlstein’s aesthetic turf are constricted, they’re also ruthlessly scoured. The cold, dry intensity of this pursuit approaches obsession, but the paintings locate their stringent power in something scarier the closest thing to an objective eye we’re ever likely to see. Mr. Pearlstein does divulge, if just barely, a sense of humor, particularly in the strategic placement of vintage toys and (especially) Navajo blankets. Otherwise, he’s the most pokered of poker faces, a master of unyielding blankness. Two Models with Fan in Front (2000) is the sole masterpiece. The rest of the paintings are merely riveting. Philip Pearlstein: Recent Paintings is at Robert Miller Gallery, 524 West 26th Street, until April 21.