The sculpture of Michael Steiner, currently the subject of
an exhibition at Salander-O’Reilly Galleries, is so resolute in its rigor that
one is likely to overlook how funny it is. Not laugh-out-loud funny, but dry
and droll, deeply comical. While loyal to the tradition of Constructivism, as
well as deferential to the blunt certainties of Minimal art, Mr. Steiner’s
steel sculptures locate their wit in juxtapositions of form that owe more to
Constantin Brancusi than to David Smith or Donald Judd. And juxtaposition is
the key: Mr. Steiner’s monumental meditations on contingence and connection
adroitly pit solidity and openness, stasis and animation, repetition and
The artist employs forms that range from imposing grids to
machine-tooled patterning to a recurring shape that is part insect, part
Stradivarius, and not unrelated to the exaggerations of the female form typical
of the sculptor Gaston Lachaise. Stating its case starkly, the work sparks
slowly and ultimately ranges far afield. Bells and Smoke (2001) seems an
exegesis on the mysteries of science; Sleeping Muse III (1999), a provocative
compromise between ritual sacrifice and showroom display. Of the five works on
exhibit, only Bones and Flutes (2000) stumbles, being more standoffish than
outstanding. Does this mean Mr. Steiner hits his mark 80 percent of the time?
Hardly-no artist is that good. But that one should even entertain the thought
goes to indicate the impressive scale of this sculptor’s talent. Michael
Steiner: Sculpture is at Salander-O’Reilly Galleries, 20
East 79th Street, until Oct. 27.
Is likening the exhibition Herbert Ferber: Calligraph Emblem
of Motion, currently at Knoedler & Company, to traveling in time a polite
way of stating that the work on view is dated? Certainly, the abstract
paintings and sculptures of the American artist Herbert Ferber (1906-1991) are
conspicuously uncontemporary. With their sweeping gestures and elemental forms,
the pieces recall an era when artists unapologetically pursued the universal
and were solemn in their sincerity. The earthy tones, washy pigments and
pared-down iconography of Ferber’s pictures recall those of Robert Motherwell, Mark
Rothko and Adolph Gottlieb, and his debt to Surrealism-while more apparent in
the sculpture than in the paintings-is thorough and real. But this is an art
Ferber’s forays into action painting came after that battle
had largely been won; their vaulting heroism doesn’t reinvent a trademark style
so much as reiterate it. The sculptures fare better:
Their arcing, pointed wedges lend, balance and counterbalance to decisive
effect. Yet even then, Ferber’s cranky and cursive icons are too sweaty and
self-conscious, too burdened by an overweening ambition. Calligraph Emblem of
Motion showcases a respectable achievement, but Ferber is an artist of his
time, not for the ages. Herbert Ferber: Calligraph Emblem of Motion is at
Knoedler & Company, 19 East 70th Street,
until Nov. 10.
A Painter’s Prints
Trump His Brushstrokes
It is a testament to Paul Resika’s skills as a printmaker
that he’s able to translate the go-for-broke spontaneity of his paintings into
a medium that is, by its very nature, removed from the immediacy of touch.
Coursing through Mr. Resika’s etchings and monotypes, currently the subject of
an exhibition at Lori Bookstein Fine Art, is the
artist’s unmistakable brushstroke brashly delineating his signature motif:
boats on the water. As someone who has long admired Mr. Resika’s paintings, I’m
surprised by how the prints trump them in terms of grit. Has Mr. Resika ever
achieved anything as dolorous as Boats, Stormy
Sea (1998) when putting brush to
canvas? Not that I’ve seen.
Similarly, the tonal variations in the etchings-velvety
grays, distressed blacks, wan silvers-are so varied and rich that one suspects
Mr. Resika the colorist prospers most when limited to black and white. To get
an idea of how masterful the etchings are, one need look
no further than the monotypes, which approximate the paintings and seem a lot
more indulgent for it. (Mr. Resika, to his credit, remains suspicious of the
slippery satisfactions of that medium.) The centerpiece is Still Boats and Moon
(2001), but Boats at the Pier (2001) and Little Boats I (2001) are the
highlights. The former is gutsy, the latter’s a honey, and in between Mr.
Resika works with a freedom and a surety most artists only dream of. Paul
Resika: Etchings and Monotypes, 1998-2001 is at Lori Bookstein Fine Art, 50
East 78th Street, until Nov. 3.
Of One Tough Cookie
By my count, of the 80 or so drawings on display in
Fairfield Porter: Drawings from the Estate, an exhibition at Hirschl &
Adler Modern, only one is a dud, and it’s the earliest thing here. [Seated
Woman] (1942-48) bungles such niceties as anatomy and pictorial space, only
coming to life in the contours of the shoes on the title figure. Other than
that, this show-filled as it is with the tender observations of one tough
cookie-rivets as much as it charms.
Whether the subject is a sleeping dog, the rush of the
oncoming tide or the attentive arc of a friend’s neck, Porter’s drawings are as
to-the-point as they are casual, as tight as they are tossed-off. Justin
Spring, Porter’s biographer, writes
of the artist’s striving for “a transparent style,” for an art absent of the
self. This is a good conceit, but one that doesn’t do justice to Porter’s
driving impersonality. Still, why piddle about semantics when faced with drawings
as good as these?
One done in red ink of a daughter, a dog, a house and some
flowers is a marvel of brevity and my favorite thing here. But this is an
exhibition packed with favorite things, and ample evidence of Porter’s sharp,
shrewd and relentless eye. Fairfield
Porter: Drawings from the Estate is at Hirschl & Adler Modern, 21
East 70th Street, until Nov. 10.
Follow Mario Naves via RSS.