A Texas Treasure Hunt:
Letscher’s Stunning Chelsea Debut
As if to prove that the most exciting contemporary art is made by the least usual of suspects, here comes Lance Letscher from Austin, Tex. Mr. Letscher, who is having his first solo New York exhibition at the Howard Scott Gallery, is unusual not just in terms of his geography, but also in his aesthetic. Uninterested in fashion, resistant to pomp and constitutionally incapable of the rote or superficial, he’s something we don’t encounter too often: an artist of substance, grit and purpose.
Mr. Letscher makes abstract collages from found objects, yet is particular enough about the objects he finds that that classification is all but beside the point. Favoring materials that have the patina of history and handling, Mr. Letscher shapes his art with old ledgers, discarded diaries, antiquarian books and recipes for Grandma’s Old Fashioned Molasses Nut Squares. While enamored of these items, the artist exhibits no compunction in slicing and dicing them for the greater good-that good being an art permeated with memory, encompassing in outlook and indebted to the land. His pieces bring to mind the notations of an amateur astronomer or the shimmer of the setting sun.
Mr. Letscher stops us in our tracks; once there, we don’t want to leave. As an artist, he’s as nuanced as Anne Ryan, as delicate as Joseph Cornell and as pure-in his own impure way-as Sol Lewitt. But the artist Mr. Letscher resembles most is William Blake: He, too, strives for unquenchable metaphysical sustenance. In the end, however, I prefer Mr. Letscher. His pictures are a lot more pliable than Blake’s-a lot less loony, too. In fact, the sober tone of Mr. Letscher’s reveries may be an indicator of the lonely fate a visionary suffers in an age as tech-happy as our own. Then again, it could just mean that he’s a laconic type from Texas. Whatever the case, this is one stunning debut. Lance Letscher: Someone’s Life/Collages and Drawings is at Howard Scott Gallery, 529 West 20th Street, seventh floor, until April 27.
Meet Mr. Gagosian
An 800-pound gorilla may get our attention, but does that mean it deserves it? Julian Schnabel, who has seven new paintings and one new sculpture on display at the Chelsea branch of Gagosian Gallery, is still doing what he does best-that is, being Julian Schnabel. His recent series of pictures are typical in that they devote a preponderance of bluster to the scrawniest of conceits. Collectively titled Big Girl Paintings , they’re based on a portrait of a woman the artist found in a thrift shop and subsequently defaced. I mention this only as a matter of journalistic duty-I mean, does anyone care what Mr. Schnabel paints? Mr. Schnabel certainly doesn’t; his epic self-regard has long since absolved him from such niceties as color, composition and questioning why these paintings are so goddamned big.
The art historian Robert Rosenblum, writing in the accompanying catalog, begs to differ and compares the pictures to a work by Joan Miró. But the rest of us know better. People don’t go to a Schnabel show for art; they go for the spectacle. That the current spectacle pairs Mr. Schnabel with Mr. Gagosian, the emperor of the contemporary scene, makes for a perversely compelling logic. Between the two of them, they add up to almost a ton of gorilla. Julian Schnabel: Big Girl Paintings is at Gagosian Gallery, 555 West 24th Street, until April 20.
Pouring and Dripping
Her Way Into Our Favor
I almost really like the paintings of Julie Evans, currently the subject of an exhibition at Cheryl Pelavin Fine Art. Ms. Evans’ abstractions depict a billowing realm populated by painterly incident and ornamental flourish. Arriving at her images through a process of pouring and dripping, stippling and staining, Ms. Evans’ art hints at the obsessive and embraces the exotic. With its honeyed palette and gentle, rocking rhythms, the work proposes a cushiony state of grace. To Ms. Evans’ credit, it pretty much gets there: Her layered surfaces have the well-worn tactility of a favorite blanket.
Still, the aim of art-and, for that matter, satori-is to flow like a river, not fuss like a painter. When putting brush to canvas as a means of approximating the chance events that served as a springboard, the artist desires ease but betrays strain; the work can be forced. Yet when Ms. Evans punctuates her pictures with cookie-cutter mandalas of red, pink and yellow, she eschews ease only to achieve it. Then there are the occasions when everything pulls together-in the fleshy yellow sweep of Bo (2002), the satiny generosity of Festoon #3 (2001) and the mute presence that stares out at us from an untitled canvas dating from this year. Did I say I almost really like Ms. Evans’ paintings? Some of them I like quite a bit. Julie Evans: Festoon is at Cheryl Pelavin Fine Art, 13 Jay Street, until April 27.