The small, boxy and wholly idiosyncratic paintings of Albert York, currently the subject of a 30-year overview at Davis & Langdale Company Inc., have garnered the artist a coterie of admirers so unobtrusive in their fervor as to constitute the most genteel of cults. If “cult” seems too strong (or weird) a word, one might consider the peculiar figure the artist cuts. Reclusive, enigmatic and, one imagines, more than a little stubborn, Mr. York is the furthest thing from a careerist one could imagine: He works slowly and hasn’t, I am told, let a picture out of the studio since 1992. Mr. York’s allure can, in part, be traced to the integrity of his contradictions. He’s as solitary if not as constrained as a folk artist, and as cultured if not as cosmopolitan as, say, Arthur Dove, another Yankee oddball whose ties to the land were deep-seated and tinged with the supernormal.
Haunting and eccentric, Mr. York’s depictions of forests, flowers, damsels and Indian chiefs meld the mythic, the biblical and the densely personal. Putting brush to canvas with a torpid ease, Mr. York infuses every pat, slur and mottle of oil paint with consequence. (This accounts for his high standing among painters.) A somber sfumato envelops the work from the 1960’s, imbuing it with a dire, perhaps even repentant nostalgia. Pictures of a more recent vintage trade the richly atmospheric for the impenetrably symbolic-their sign-like mysteries don’t entrance so much as rebuff.
Nonetheless, Mr. York is, in his own dourly indelible manner, a treasure. Unless he undergoes a temperamental makeover and starts cranking them out like Robert Rauschenberg, the Davis & Langdale show is about as good an opportunity as we’re likely to have any time soon to puzzle over Mr. York’s homely, humble and mesmerizing pictures. Don’t miss it. Albert York: A Loan Exhibition is at Davis & Langdale Company Inc., 231 East 60th Street, until May 5.
Arp-like Sculpture For a Younger Set
Peter Reginato, whose sculpture is currently on display at Adelson Galleries Inc., is an artist in love-in love, that is, with the Biomorphism of Hans Arp and Alexander Calder and the Constructivism of Julio Gonzalez. Whether gallery-goers who love these artists will love Mr. Reginato’s art is up in the air. There’s a lot to like, certainly, in his playful conglomerations of brightly colored thingamajigs. Each one is a wibbly-wobbly cosmos, a circus-like realm wherein myriad blips and blobs, all forged from steel, attain a goofy equilibrium. These characters accumulate into figurative totalities that recall the totemic, the robotic and the bestial.
In its parts, Mr. Reginato’s art is winning: The praying mantis in Thin Golden Style (2000) and the poodle in Mild Steel (2000-01) are delightful inventions deftly given shape. As wholes, however, the work is static, its sculptural checks and balances too checked and balanced to let Mr. Reginato’s flights of fancy take wing. Strolling around his amiable array of individuals, it struck me that the most beneficial environment for them would be a playground. These are sculptures that need children careening around them to fulfill the irrepressible whimsy Mr. Reginato so ardently hopes to achieve. Peter Reginato: Sculpture is at Adelson Galleries Inc., 25 East 77th Street, third floor, until April 28.
Andrew Spence One-Ups Ellsworth Kelly
When the Guggenheim Museum gave Ellsworth Kelly a mega-retrospective a few years back, the Morris-Healy Gallery, if memory serves correctly, gave the painter Andrew Spence a mini one. This simultaneous fêting was fortuitous in that it allowed one to compare Mr. Kelly’s work with that of an artist who is, if not exactly a disciple, then someone who just plain likes Mr. Kelly’s methodology-that methodology being the pictorial distillation of mundane objects (stairwells, say, or subway seats) into flat, emblematic images that toe the line between representation and abstraction. Mr. Kelly gained a world-class reputation for doing just that, yet Mr. Spence-whose recent canvases are at the Edward Thorp Gallery-is the better painter.
The pivotal distinction between the two is that while Mr. Kelly divines the essence of his subjects, Mr. Spence locates the pith of his. He does this, simply and surely, by giving his images body by layering oils with a palette knife. The gratifyingly tangible surfaces of Mr. Spence’s pictures evidence a measured condensation of observed phenomenon. This one-to-one relationship between object and abstraction does, admittedly, risk a one-liner kind of literalness. When the punch line of a picture misses its mark-and they do so here more often than an admirer would like to admit-one wonders why Mr. Spence went to all the trouble. Having said that, he does provide aesthetic rationale for the shaped canvas that holds those drolly deracinated Geese (2001) and makes a tight balletic comedy from a Thin TV (2001), the latter of which is Mr. Spence’s finest effort since 1988’s definitive Ivy Windows. Andrew Spence: Recent Paintings is at Edward Thorp Gallery, 210 Eleventh Avenue, sixth floor, until May 12.
Gnarled Steel That Burlesques the Macho
If one were inclined to practice back-seat psychiatry, it would be easy enough to conclude that Lee Tribe, whose steel sculptures are at Robert Steele Gallery, suffers from a split personality. The two modes of work on exhibit aren’t just dissimilar, they’re diametrically opposed. The majority of pieces are gnarled, knotty masses of machine parts, works that coil with a sweaty and torturous muscularity. The rest, with their spiraling lines and sportive spirit, are comical, open and fastidiously decorative. The latter work is the more ingratiating, and at first one prefers it. Yet its significance is, in the end, less aesthetic than therapeutic: They’re the artist’s outlet for blowing off steam. The pieces are nice enough, but Mr. Tribe is more himself when he’s letting the steam build. It’s in his clusters of rage, as it were, that his tense and all-but-unbearable vision finds its truest expression.
Assembled from bolts, chains, rings and ball bearings, Mr. Tribe’s sculptures are reminiscent of sea-shells, geological formations and, well, guts. Some of them harshly burlesque the macho-the arcing phallus of Of the Oracle (1998-2001) is pathetically frantic, not triumphantly cocksure-but Mr. Tribe is at his best in a batch of diminutive table-top sculptures, pieces that could be grasped within the palm of one’s hand. One measure of their artistic merit, in fact, is that we want to grip these “steel stones,” as if the only way to comprehend them were through touch. Recalling prehistoric artifacts or implements weathered by ritual, these lumpish clumps acquire a vital dignity by accepting the pressures, both internal and external, that have shaped them. They’re among Mr. Tribe’s most recent efforts. Should he continue on in this intriguing tack, his next show ought to be a doozy. Lee Tribe: Sculptures is at Robert Steele Gallery, 547 West 27th Street, third floor, until April 28.