It should be noted at the outset that the paintings featured in Neil Jenney: The Bad Years 1969-70, an exhibition currently at the uptown branch of Gagosian Gallery, aren’t really bad at least not bad bad. That pejorative adjective, in Mr. Jenney’s case, comes with scare quotes a mile high and connotes an art that combines the dead-end figuration of Pop, the dead-end materiality of Minimalism and a sense of humor that is, if not dead-end, then sharply deadpan. Mr. Jenney painted the pictures during the heyday of Conceptual Art, and if they were, in part, a rebuff to its disembodied verities, they also partook of its intellectual detachment.
Each canvas is a bluntly stated relationship between a pair of objects or people. These are either cause-and-effect post-mortems the drollest of the lot being Sawn and Saw (1969) or numb distillations of psychological tension. Mr. Jenney paints his scenarios with an expedience appropriate to their tight-lipped comedy. His brushstrokes drippy, slippery and thin roil dispassionately, covering each inch of the canvas with a take-it-or-leave-it uniformity. Such stylings are slick, yet not without nuance. Check out the precisely chiseled contours of the title figures in Beasts and Burdens (1969) and try to argue that the artist isn’t, in his own shrewd way, good. When Mr. Jenney makes fun of his own proficiency, as he does in Brushed and Broomed (1969), he’s almost likable.
Still, these aren’t paintings; they’re cartoons. Stylish cartoons and smart, too but artists who make one-dimensionality their forte tend to wear out their welcome quickly. Mr. Jenney does so round about the third or fourth canvas. Neil Jenney: The Bad Years: 1969-70 is at Gagosian Gallery, 980 Madison Avenue, until April 13.
Kate Shepherd’s Allegory of the Grate
Light Shard, Spanish Grille (Window on Left) (2001), an installation by Kate Shepherd on display at Galerie Lelong, isn’t much more than a trick, but it’s an effective trick all the same. Walking into Lelong’s project room, our eye notes a few small framed works on paper, but is drawn to a patch of light on the gallery’s east wall. Streaming in with a clean insistence from the lone window facing 57th Street, it weaves a crisp tracery of arabesques the shadow of the window’s ornate grillwork. One soon realizes, however, that the window at Lelong isn’t ornate. It’s one of those nondescript, purely utilitarian metal casings that any New Yorker whose apartment has undergone window replacement will recognize. The pristine latticework of light, it turns out, is a stenciled wall painting rendered by the artist in two tones of latex paint.
Comparisons of Ms. Shepherd’s illusory feat to Plato’s allegory of the cave will be summarily dismissed, and rightly so. But when the press release bandies about terms like “poetic” and “mysterious,” it does so with a certain slim justification. I made the rounds of the galleries on a drizzly day, so Ms. Shepherd’s ersatz sunshine had more punch than it might have otherwise. Still, if her wall painting is more novelty than art, at least it’s a novelty whose upshot is surprisingly underplayed. Kate Shepherd’s Light Shard, Spanish Grille is at Galerie Lelong, 20 West 57th Street, until April 28.
Minor Works On a Major Scale
Colorfield, the school of painting characterized by huge canvases, thinned pigments and no hands, has been undergoing something of a reconsideration in recent years. Long dismissed (and even reviled) as whooshy, wispy and too, too decorative, it’s been the source of inspiration for not a few contemporary painters. Even so, it’s unlikely to regain the cultural clout it had 30 or 40 years ago. It’s even more unlikely that the Colorfield painter Friedel Dzubas (1915-94), whose canvases are currently on display at Ameringer/Howard, will ever merit more than a fleeting mention in the texts of 20th-century art history.
His big and bright paintings strike an agreeable, if somewhat bland, compromise between the luxe, calme et volupte of Henri Matisse and the Sturm and Drang of Abstract Expressionism. Their pale copper greens, rugged yellows and cool, dense blues are meted out with a brusque anonymity and given dramatic zing by Dzubas’ eye for edge and mass. Notwithstanding the size of the pictures they’re pitched to the reach of the human arm one can’t help but feel that Dzubas was, pictorially speaking, making mountains out of molehills. His sweeps of paint never quite earn their monumental scale; they’re minor-league moments pumped up for major-league show.
The work does have its surprises, not least of which is its narrative quality: Dzubas’ shapes are as much characters as they are containers of color. Anyone who could imbue a drag of green, a blot of blue and some pale washes of orange with the lost-in-the-woods trepidation of a fairy tale was certainly a painter with something going on. Friedel Dzubas: Paintings of the 1960’s is at Ameringer/Howard, 41 East 57th Street, until April 21.
Images Straight Out Of Hustler
Jim Peters, whose “painting in constructions” are on display at CDS Gallery, is bound to raise some hackles with his unapologetic homages to male heterosexual desire. Painted on supports cobbled together from glass panels, weathered planks of wood, photographs and bits of wire, Mr. Peters’ pictures of sexual longing, sexual awakening and sexual exploitation have a diaristic specificity and a voyeuristic unseemliness. So as bittersweet as the pictures can be and even the one that looks like it came straight from the pages of Hustler magazine has an emotional credibility they’re also discomfiting.
Mr. Peters plays the illicit card self-consciously and, at times, sarcastically. One intuits, for instance, that the gross and greedy eyeball peeping at the naked woman in The Stage (Henna in Toulouse) (2000) is none other than the artist himself. The problem with the work isn’t its unappetizing take on sex, but Mr. Peters’ unappetizing idea of sensuality artistic sensuality, that is. His notion of painterliness is to overlay his pictures with a veneer of schmutz, employing what looks like a compound of tar and grease. Less problematic and more lively are his constructions. Looking at the angled panels of wood that make up the surface of Trance (2001), one wishes that Mr. Peters would junk his crabbed, horny reminiscences to try his hand at unadorned assemblage. His talent for combining objects is gratifyingly folky, and while folky is no guarantor of significant art, it’s better than artsy which is where Mr. Peters’ work is at now. Jim Peters: Painting in Constructions From Quercy and the Languedoc is at CDS Gallery, 76 East 79th Street, until May 19.