A Deftly Calibrated Compromise Between Sculpture and Painting

If you like the art of Alex Katz, you’ll like the art of Timothy Woodman. If you don’t like Alex Katz, you’ll like Timothy Woodman anyway. Mr. Woodman, whose work is currently the subject of an exhibition at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery, pursues a streamlined brand of figurative art. Evoking a social milieu defined by athletics, affluence and leisure, Mr. Woodman’s subjects include a ballet dancer, a scuba diver, an equestrian and a young girl expertly brandishing a hula hoop. Delineating these figures with a broad and brisk brush, Mr. Woodman proves himself adept at pictorial abbreviation. His images “pop” at the eye. It’s at this point, however, that the similarities to Alex Katz end. Not only is Mr. Woodman a better painter than Mr. Katz, he’s not even a painter. Mr. Woodman, who constructs his tableaus from cut-out sheets of aluminum, is a sculptor. That is to say, he’s kind of a sculptor. And kind of not.

Technically speaking, Mr. Woodman’s art is painted relief sculpture-his riveted aluminum structures, overlaid with oils, barely leave the wall. Yet the manner in which he bends, twists and ultimately reconciles contradictory types of space is deceiving in that he underplays his audaciousness. Mr. Woodman doesn’t advertise his formal coup, as if it were no big deal. Frankly, I think it’s amazing: Here’s an artist whose deftly calibrated compromise between painting and sculpture is not a compromise at all. Mr. Woodman holds the integrity of each medium in dynamic equilibrium. Don’t be fooled by the work’s folksy gentility: Mr. Woodman’s sculptures are as rigorous as they are congenial-and it’s a delight to be confounded by them. Timothy Woodman is at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery, 724 Fifth Avenue, 12th floor, until June 7.

Kind of Comfy, Certainly Welcome

The landscape paintings of Pam Sheehan, currently on display at Davis & Langdale, will not alter the course of art history. They don’t play into anyone’s idea of “progress” and politely refuse the outré. We’re unlikely, in other words, to see the paintings on display at the Whitney Museum of American Art. We’re more likely to see them in someone’s home-in the den, say, over the mantelpiece. If this makes Ms. Sheehan’s paintings sound comfy, well, they are and they aren’t. The intimate scale and gentle cadences of the work strongly suggest domesticity. The chief virtue of this livable art is the quiet joy Ms. Sheehan takes in putting brush to canvas or, in her case, panel.

Ms. Sheehan’s accomplishment is heartening and sure. The loose precision of her touch looks to the 19th century for inspiration, Corot in particular, but it does nod to influences closer to our time: Edwin Dickinson (I think), Fairfield Porter (probably) and Albert York (for sure). The paintings of and around Nyack, the Tappan Zee Bridge and the Danube are consistent and compelling in their emotional restraint. At times, however, Ms. Sheehan does betray a self-consciousness. By fussing around the edges of her images, she wants us to know that she’s wise to the verities of 20th-century pictorial art, but Ms. Sheehan is more herself the less she gives in to gimcrackery. In pieces like Surf (2001), Nyack Beach Path (2001), Tree, Davies Farm (2001) and Reclining Stergis (2002), she eschews subterfuge for the forthright pleasures of light, place and the buttery malleability of oil paint. Most of the 30 or so pictures are merely agreeable, it’s true-still, this is a painter who doesn’t wear out her welcome. Pam Sheehan is at Davis & Langdale Company Inc., 231 East 60th Street, until June 14.

Forget the Drawings, Check Out Chonk On

Have there ever been drawings as perfunctory as those of Mark di Suvero, examples of which are currently on view at the Paula Cooper Gallery? Let me amend the question: Have there ever been drawings as perfunctory by an artist as consequential as Mr. di Suvero? There’s bound to be an easy retort to both questions-but it won’t spring to mind when you’re actually looking at the things. Done in ink and marker, the artist’s slapdash calligraphies are product, pure and simple. They have to be: Mr. di Suvero knows the difference between hewing to automatist principles and running on empty. Shame on him for trying to pass off the one as the other.

Having said that, let me now turn to the centerpiece of the show, Chonk On (2000), a monumental sculpture constructed from welded steel. Gallerygoers who make the rounds of Chelsea on a regular basis will note how effectively this piece plays in its current environment. Cooper’s main gallery, though capacious, has always felt cramped and isolated; art rarely makes a dent there. Chonk On dents it and then some. Standing almost 20 feet high, this brooding structure is made of careening diagonals, florid counterpoints and an odd, loping curve that’s both its compositional anchor and comic relief. Mr. di Suvero’s piece is perfectly suited to a cavelike space in that it’s a primal drama of epic proportions. It encompasses birth and death, tenderness and rage, purpose and pointlessness. And if all of that sounds a mite rich, I invite you to spend time with Mr. di Suvero’s masterwork. Then see if the world doesn’t feel more consequential when you exit the gallery. Mark di Suvero is at the Paula Cooper Gallery, 534 West 21st Street, through June 30.