The Good, the Bad, the Big On West 24th Street
Mark di Suvero has done it. With his exhibition of sculpture at the West 24th Street location of Gagosian Gallery, he has taken the Chelsea paradigm-you know, “My gallery’s bigger than your gallery”-and brought it down to size. Or rather, Mr. di Suvero has brought it up to his size, endowing Mr. Gagosian’s hangar-like space with an aesthetic rationale that it has previously (and conspicuously) lacked. Richard Serra, another sculptor who works on a monumental scale, attempted something similar in the same gallery a few years back, but whereas Mr. Serra’s use of scale is invariably overweening and intimidating, Mr. di Suvero’s sizable sculptures are as inevitable, organic and grandly impersonal as, oh, a mountain.
The two pieces on display, Evviva Amore and Ulula (both 2001), were, I am told, preexisting works tailored to their current venue. Tailored, it should be reiterated, and not compromised. If anything, Mr. di Suvero looks like he had a ball adapting his pieces to the space, tacitly acknowledging its physical parameters while not-so-tacitly razzing the notion that anything so mundane as an art gallery should rein him in. As if to underscore that bigness is, for this artist, a necessity and not an option, the gallery has included Rudder (2000), a sculpture that’s more ostentatious than its table-top dimensions might let on. Mr. di Suvero flexes considerably less ego the more monumental he works, proving, in the end, that monumental is where his heart is. Mark di Suvero is at Gagosian Gallery, 555 West 24th Street, until June 16.
Clearly, Ross Bleckner Was Never an Understudy
“What’s my motivation?” is the question actors presumably ask themselves before taking on a role. As a practical query, it’s not an inappropriate one for artists to ask of themselves. Not all artists, of course-no one ever lost sleep worrying whether Fra Angelico was lacking in motivation. Just the typical artist, which is to say the bad, the humdrum and the nonentity. Matters of motivation were brought to mind while I was visiting the exhibition of paintings by Ross Bleckner at the Chelsea branch of Mary Boone Gallery. Mr. Bleckner has, one would guess, never given much thought to his motivation, but given his recent pictures, he should.
Have there ever been works of art as desultory as these? A loaded question, I know, but even Mr. Bleckner’s devotees must be furrowing their brows and scratching their scalps when faced with the artist’s latest. Each canvas is an all-over accumulation of blob-like circles punctuated by that distinctive-i.e., cold and brittle-Blecknerian highlight. Failing to multiply as form, neither do the circles thrive as color or hold as compositions, and why the pictures are as big as they are is a mystery. The only virtue the paintings offer, as far as I can see, is that their surfaces appear to be scrubbable.
Mr. Bleckner is, from the errant evidence on view, an artist who puts brush to canvas not because he has to, but because he can-and that is never enough. Ross Bleckner is at Mary Boone Gallery, 541 West 24th Street, until June 23.
Kelly Calibrates To the Point of Conceit
Reading the press release for Ellsworth Kelly: Relief Paintings, 1954-2001, an exhibition at Matthew Marks Gallery, one notes that Mr. Kelly’s color sense is “perfectly calibrated.” But one wants to chime in that every particular of Mr. Kelly’s art is equally-that is to say, flawlessly-calibrated. This has long been Mr. Kelly’s M.O., and he’s good at it, maybe too good.
Each of the relief paintings is constructed from two monochromatic canvases, one placed on top of the other; these either snuggle, shift or jut, sometimes barely, at other times by a matter of feet. The pieces are weighted-and laudably so-but the effect of the exhibition as a whole is firmly, if politely, dismissive. Mr. Kelly has rendered the environs of Mr. Marks’ gallery so forbiddingly pristine that we’re inhibited from exhaling, lest we dare befoul the excellences on display. Best seen at a distance where they can be read pictorially, the relief paintings, viewed up close as three-dimensional objects, are flatly, indeed shockingly, unconsidered.
“Relief,” as it turns out, is merely a conceit for Mr. Kelly, so the works fail to keep up the bargain-or at least half of the bargain-implicit in their medium. The pieces, it turns out, aren’t so perfect after all-as works of art, anyway. As elaborately scaled objets d’art, however, they’re perfect enough, if only because they don’t ask much from us in the first place. Ellsworth Kelly: Relief Paintings, 1954-2001 is at the Matthew Marks Gallery, 523 West 22nd Street, until June 29.
A 40-Year Reunion Of Four Painters
When the art critic Jules Langsner organized the seminal exhibition Four Abstract Classicists, seen at the Los Angeles County Museum in 1959, he contrasted the “articulated,” “orderly” and “organizational” paintings of John McLaughlin, Frederick Hammersley, Lorser Feitelson and Karl Benjamin against the “helter-skelter of raw existence,” “the buzz of confusion” that is “day-to-day life.” One couldn’t ask for a better updated example of this contrast than that which greets viewers as they enter the new location of Gary Snyder Fine Art. After strolling along a, shall we say, picturesque stretch of 11th Avenue, gallery-goers encounter the crisp colors and clean geometry of Mr. Hammersley’s Couple #7 (1961) in the gallery’s front window. The contrast between the rawness of the former and the articulation of the latter isn’t only abrupt, but it makes for the kind of experience-odd and extreme, unexpected and delightful-that only this city can afford.
Couple #7 serves as the introduction to the exhibition Four Abstract Classicists: Karl Benjamin, Lorser Feitelson, Frederick Hammersley and John McLaughlin, which is less a re-creation of the original show than an homage to it. A truncated homage, that is, and if the Snyder show is frustrating in its brevity-none of the painters is seen in any depth-it is, nonetheless, offbeat enough to pique our interest.
Clarity and flexibility, rather than purity and certitude, are the hallmarks of these four individual, not to say eccentric, painters. Feitelson offers up a slo-mo sensuality, McLaughlin an austerity keyed to the wispiest of baby blues, and Benjamin a fractured mix of Auguste Herbin, Indian Space Painting and the proverbial explosion in the tile factory. Mr. Hammersley is, in his own stark way, the most compelling of the bunch, and a painter whose work is a kissing cousin to that of Mr. Kelly. It would appear, in fact, that Mr. Hammersley’s art kisses better, largely because its inside-out dynamism encourages an open dialogue and not the last word. Four Abstract Classicists: Karl Benjamin, Lorser Feitelson, Frederick Hammersley and John McLaughlin is at Gary Snyder Fine Art, 601 West 29th Street, until Aug. 25.