Mamma Mia: Cute, Explicit Homages to Childbearing

It’s the rare artist who is

able to transform kitsch into something more than what it is, and Ann Agee is

one of them. Her recent porcelain figurines, currently the subject of an

exhibition at PPOW Gallery, constitute a high-strung tribute to maternity. Taking

inspiration from children’s storybooks, folk art and the half-price sale at the

thrift shop down the street, Ms. Agee has created a pan-ethnic and pan-sexual

world of upwardly mobile urbanites, one in which multiculturalism is less an

ideology than a fact and a blessing.

Her gleaming cast of expectant

parents is rubbery, giddy, goofy and, as such, a hair’s breadth from succumbing

to a fatal case of the cutes. Ms. Agee holds the work together, though, partly

through spirit (jubilant), partly through color (lustrous) and mostly through

pattern (wild). Her explicit portrayals of childbirth and, especially, the

dissections of male and female genitalia seem out of character for Ms. Agee and

are probably a bone thrown to a crowd that favors transgression over

commonality. But her diorama of a Lamaze class, the centerpiece here and a delight, is touching, tender and tacky in just the right

measures. Ann Agee is at PPOW, 476 Broome Street, until Nov. 10.

Flogging The Nude

Most everyone is familiar

with the distinction between “nude” and “naked,” just as most everyone knows

the difference between home fries and hash browns. Yet there hasn’t been a

conceit that’s so shopworn it can’t be put in the service of one “narrative” or

another, and so it is with Naked Since 1950 , an exhibition of paintings, drawings,

sculpture and photographs dedicated to the human form currently at C&M

Arts. That the show favors sex over sensuality is a given, as is its emphasis

on politics, putrefaction and longings that aren’t as taboo as they once might

have been.

So what is there to learn

from such a motley mélange? That Alice Neel and

Lucian Freud deserve each other? That Cindy Sherman should be put on trial for

crimes against Barbie? That Lisa Yuskavage makes

Picasso and de Kooning at their most perfunctory look

like Picasso and de Kooning at their most masterful?

There is some solace to be found here with works by Giacometti,

Dubuffet, Diebenkorn and

Hopper, but the overall effect is demoralizing. Did we really need more

evidence of the poverty of skill, scope and imagination that typifies the art

of our time?

The only artist who escapes

unscathed is John Currin, whose canvas The Pink Tree (1999), while of a piece

with the show’s reigning puerility, is nevertheless sharp enough to stand out

from it. How much this has to do with context, I don’t know, but I suspect that

Mr. Currin is one of those annoying figures we ignore

at our own risk. Naked Since 1950 is

at C&M Arts, 45 East 78th Street, until Dec. 8.

Mandelman’s Minor Masterwork

By the time she left Manhattan for Taos, N.M., in 1944, the painter Beatrice Mandelman (1912-1998), whose oeuvre is the subject of an exhibition at Gary Snyder Fine Art, had

established herself in the New York art scene to a not inconsiderable degree. Having studied at the Arts

Student League, Mandelman went on to work at the

W.P.A., exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art and associate with the likes of John Sloan,

Willem de Kooning, Stuart Davis and Arshile Gorky. Health concerns took Mandelman

out West, but New

York never

left her. Even a later painting like Jazz

II Series #1711 (1987) recalls the clattering rhythms and abrupt

transitions of the city and, in particular, The

City , Fernand Léger’s

masterpiece of 1919. (Mandelman had, for a time,

studied with the French master.)

Mandelman’s kaleidoscopic abstractions

evince a wide range of influences, from stained-glass windows to the School

of Paris, from Native American art

to the New York School.

The terseness of her compositions recalls that of Lee Krasner, and her faith in

the decorative as a legitimate means of artistic pursuit the pictures of Judith

Rothschild. Mandelman wasn’t as large in her

ambitions as the former, nor as luscious a colorist as the latter; like both,

she was a sophisticated and capable painter who never quite made the grade.

Still, if her paintings are unlikely to send anyone scurrying to the

art-history books with a bottle of white-out and a waterproof marker, they are good

to look at. Rift Series Diptych #8 (1001)

(c. 1986) is the best to look at and a minor masterwork. The Triumph of Beatrice Mandelman (1912-1998)

is at Gary Snyder Fine Art, 601 West 29th Street,

until Nov. 24.