The Spiderwoman Of Rockefeller Center
New York, it has often been remarked, is a city of juxtapositions-typically extreme, at times delightful and too often appalling. One of the more eye-catching juxtapositions is currently on view at Rockefeller Center, where a trio of giant spiders are towering over not only the usual spate of tourists, but Prometheus himself in all his inescapable goldness. The three steel spiders, the tallest of which measures 30 feet high, are the work of Louise Bourgeois and presented courtesy of Rockefeller Center and the Public Art Fund.
One wonders whose bright idea it was to suggest Ms. Bourgeois, a sculptor whose vision is as private as it is disquieting, as a candidate for this renowned crossroads of media, commerce and capital. Surely this was to be the most ill-advised of matches? As it turns out, the idea was brighter than anyone could have imagined. Ms. Bourgeois’ flair for the theatrical suits a city that prides itself on street theater, and her spiders, with their gnarled yet delicate appendages, tread in front of 30 Rockefeller Plaza as if it were their natural habitat. The work does, in this highly trafficked locale, suffer a misplacement of emphasis: The associations it sparks are less Freudian than Godzillian. Ms. Bourgeois’ spiders do, nonetheless, provide a prime photo op for families with kids. My kid would probably love them. Think I’ll take him. Louise Bourgeois: Spiders at Rockefeller Center can be seen until Sept. 4.
Paintings Meant As Panoramas
The paintings of Lockwood De Forest (1850-1932), currently the subject of the exhibition Lockwood De Forest: Plein Air Oil Sketches at Richard York Gallery, are best seen from a distance, which makes a kind of sense since he was a painter of distances. Whether depicting California’s Mount Shasta, the Nile River Valley, the Acropolis or the Himalayas, De Forest brought to his canvases the ardor of an inexhaustible traveler and a knack for light reminiscent of the Hudson River School. (De Forest was, in fact, the grand-nephew of Hudson River School painter Frederick Edwin Church.) His paintings extol the panoramic without making a production of it and are, at their best, gently discordant in coloration and atmosphere. Especially fine are the purples and creamy oranges surrounding De Forest’s Cuernavacan skyline and the obliterating yet oddly soothing light of his California sun.
Seen up close, however, De Forest’s paintings are flatly disappointing. His brush is applied forthrightly, but is never quite at ease with itself. There’s a fussiness to De Forest’s spontaneity. When he attempts details close at hand-geological formations in the Grand Canyon, for instance, or a patch of shrubbery-the results are awkward, so much paste spread upon the canvas. Even so, De Forest is an unpretentious and affable figure. You won’t be sorry having spent an afternoon with his paintings. But neither will you seek them out again. Lockwood De Forest: Plein Air Oil Sketches is at Richard York Gallery, 21 East 65th Street, until July 27.
More Trinkets Than Works of Art
July and August are the months when galleries, working on the supposition that anybody who is anyone has long since vacated Manhattan, concoct exhibitions by either airing out their storage racks or taking a not-so-big chance on showing young or unestablished artists. The latter is the case with Abstract, an exhibition at Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery. Only the most needy devotee of the art form is likely to have their socks knocked off by the work of the six featured artists. Dabs of paint all caked up with no place to go, designer action painting, designer action painting redux, alien sperm and biomorphism lite-this is dime-a-dozen stuff, too smart for its own good and too contrived to fly.
Only Shoshana Dentz, whose canvases pit persnickety patterning against clunky forms, merits attention. While Ms. Dentz has yet to achieve a distinctive sense of color-a preponderance of yellow does not a palette make-she does have a blunt feel for surface, and the work beams with a fresh-faced optimism. (One canvas is titled The Rest of My Life Is Not Long Enough.) Almost True (1996-2000) is the loveliest of her pieces, although its diminutive size (12 inches by 12 inches) indulges the artist’s squirrelly side to the detriment of her art; it’s more a trinket than a painting. The bigger Liar (2000) is less supple but truer to its forms-Ms. Dentz’s pinched shapes prosper given a lot of surface area to bump around in. Who knows? If she were to combine the nudgy tenderness of Almost True with the nudgy reach of Liar, Ms. Dentz might just find herself transformed into a bona fide in-season, sock-knocking painter. Abstract is at Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery, 526 West 26th Street, until Aug. 10.
What Makes A Graves a Graves?
Entering the exhibition Morris Graves: Still Life, currently on view at Schmidt Bingham Gallery, one sees the following quote from Graves highlighted on the wall: “Beauty alone has no opposite.” To which one responds: Say what? Graves, who died last May at the age of 90, is known as much for being a “sociable recluse” as he is for the pensive and poetic paintings of birds that put him on the cultural map-or, to be precise, on the margins of that map. Situated outside the modernist mainstream and its American hub, New York City, Graves will forever be associated with the Pacific Northwest-an environment that served as inspiration and oftentimes home-as well as a Zen-influenced mysticism.
Like a lot of mystics who pick up a brush, Graves didn’t always differentiate between a holistic spirituality and a cultivated vagueness. Most of the pieces featured in Still Life fall in the latter category: They’re as wispy and fugitive as the aforementioned proverb about beauty. Of course, this show isn’t the final word on his accomplishment. Graves stated, with a droll clarity, that of his prodigious output, only five or six pictures were any good-“and they painted themselves. The rest were by Morris Graves.” Of the pictures at Schmidt Bingham, only Evening Grosbeak with Acorn Squash (1979) and Jardinaire (1949) find a compelling material form for the artist’s immaterial yearnings. Neither are of such quality as to earn them a permanent place in Graves’ top six. But neither are they, to use the artist’s own logic, the doing of Morris Graves. Morris Graves: Still Life is at Schmidt Bingham Gallery, 41 East 57th Street, until Aug. 17.