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
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
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.
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