The Frick’s Franchise On Choice Drawing Shows
The basement galleries of the Frick Collection have, in recent years, been host to some superb traveling exhibitions dedicated to the art of drawing. Master Drawings from the Smith College Museum of Art , now on display, follows on the heels of two hard-to-beat shows, one culled from the collection of Vienna’s Albertina, the other from the National Gallery of Scotland. The current exhibition, which includes almost 70 drawings, doesn’t quite make the cut set by its predecessors. One can get a good indication of why this is by considering the show’s lead-in. We are welcomed at the door not by a master like Michelangelo, as was the case with the Albertina show, but by a gloomy Gus like Charles Burchfield-which is close to no welcome at all.
Yet if the Old Master portion of Master Drawings seems the excellent domain of specialists and the 20th-century section a patchy affair, what comes in between is choice. The highlight is J.A.D. Ingres’ The Architects Achille Leclère and Jean-Louis Provost (1812), an incisive study in character. Leclère is serious, wary and-take a look at the way he puts his hand into his pocket-arrogant. Provost is a languid mix of sensuality and malice, someone to keep your eye on and away from your daughter. As for Ingres, he limns the difference between the two by putting the former in focus and letting the latter fade from sight. One hesitates in assigning a moral import to Ingres’ pictorial stresses, but there’s more to this relentlessly subtle drawing than astonishing verisimilitude and spatial waxing and waning.
Invigorated by Ingres, one returns to the rest of Master Drawings and begins to notice-and, subsequently, to relish-things that one buzzed by beforehand. Among its prizes are a drapery study by Grünewald; Jan Van Goyen’s A Castle by a River (1650); Henri Matisse’s Still Life: Fruit and Flowers (1940); Paul Klee’s surprisingly ribald Singer (1919); and two conte crayon drawings by Georges Seurat, both poised between solidity and the ether and equally piercing in their beauty. Drawings by Adolf von Menzel, Edgar Degas and Maurice Prendergast are top-notch, too. At which point, one concludes that the Smith College collection follows in the Frickian tradition of hard-to-beat, after all. Master Drawings from the Smith College Museum of Art is at the Frick Collection, 1 East 70th Street, until Aug. 12.
A Magazine Guru Manufactures Trinkets
I’ve visited Alexander Liberman: Maquettes for Monuments , an exhibition currently at Ameringer/Howard Fine Art, three times now, and each occasion was as niggling as the others. In the early 1970′s, Liberman (1912-1999), editorial director for Condé Nast publications and an unreconstructed modernist, created a group of abstract sculptures using steel gas pipes. These sculptures aren’t on display at Ameringer/Howard for a reason-their staggering scale would tax the most spacious of Chelsea art barns, let alone the intimate environs of a 57th Street gallery. What is on display are a pair of wall-sized photographic reproductions of the pipe pieces, as well as a sizable section of one of them in all its rusted actuality.
What isn’t so actual are the maquettes themselves. Liberman produced these table-top copies as a hedge against circumstance-the originals had begun to corrode, and the smaller works were his means of preserving them. The gallery claims the maquettes as “unique works of art on their own,” but they aren’t much more than what they are-that is to say, three-dimensional blueprints. Liberman’s sculptural expertise is in evidence, certainly-particularly in how he pits curves against angles, stability against propulsion, edges against intervals-but the evidence is an afterthought and the expertise a sleek recapitulation of more profound talents. Liberman’s gas-pipe pieces, in their rough-and-ready immensity, must be something to see. His maquettes, on the other hand, are something for sale-a distinction that goes straight to this exhibition’s core or, rather, lack of it. Alexander Liberman: Maquettes for Monuments is at Ameringer/Howard Fine Art, 41 East 57th Street, until Aug. 10.
Two Tourists Who Are Very Welcome
The best thing about Turbo and Ferryman (both 2000), two sculptures by the British artist Tony Cragg on display at the Doris C. Freedman Plaza on Fifth Avenue at 60th Street, is how curiously public they are. Both pieces made their debut in the courtyard of the Royal Academy of Arts in London, and one wonders how they fared across the pond. Here amongst bedazzled tourists, frazzled New Yorkers, the Plaza and the pretzel vendor, Mr. Cragg’s sculptures are almost not there. A nearby placard notes the “imposing size” of the works, but this isn’t the case at all. Mr. Cragg’s pieces are without the my-way-or-the-highway sanctimony typical of too much contemporary sculpture. Instead, Turbo and Ferryman get underfoot like toys scattered about the floor of a child’s room. Their informality is their blessing.
Of the two, Turbo is as drably idiosyncratic as most of the other sculptures I’ve seen by Mr. Cragg, but Ferryman -a taut amalgam of sea creature, inflatable toy and standard-issue biomorph-is amiably offbeat, gently perverse. It takes a few moments before one notices the basketball in the piece’s gullet, and less time to appreciate the pressures and counter-pressures that give Ferryman its hard-edged flex. One sees right off the bat, however, that New Yorkers like it, they really like it-pedestrians give Ferryman a playful whack while strolling by or, in the case of one toddler, crawl up its rear end. Context doesn’t completely account for the success of Ferryman , but there’s no doubting that it benefits from a city as peculiarly public as our own. This should give Mr. Cragg pause, even as it brings passersby cheer and a chuckle. Turbo and Ferryman are at Doris C. Freedman Plaza, 60th Street and Fifth Avenue, until Sept. 30.