A Collection of Oddities: Nadelman’s Quirky Kin

What a lovely show Cynthia Nadelman has curated for the June Kelly Gallery. In fact, it’s too bad According with Nadelman: Contemporary Affinities is appearing during the sluggish summer months. It honors what the rest of the gallery season has kept itself busy denouncing: the inspiring reach of tradition. Mounted to coincide with the Elie Nadelman retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, According with Nadelman testifies to the continuing influence of a singular American sculptor, contrasting his work with 13 contemporary sculptors. Frankly, it’s surprising the influence exists at all: Elie Nadelman’s absorption, thorough and astonishing, of disparate artistic sources is antithetical to the cut-and-paste verities of our post-everything mindset.

A cynic might argue that the impetus for According with Nadelman has less to do with “contemporary affinities” than with Ms. Nadelman’s stake, familial and otherwise, in her grandfather’s continuing artistic relevance. But the show, level-headed and unassuming, puts to rest such doubts. “A selection of artists whose work I feel accords in some way with his”-that’s how Ms. Nadelman describes the show, the key phrase being “in some way.” The link between Elie Nadelman and the rest at Kelly isn’t his deeply felt engagement with classical sculpture (only Elizabeth Catlett and Brandt Junceau share that) so much as eccentricity. It’s a collection of oddities: Martin Puryear and his immaculately fashioned absurdism, Judy Glantzman’s itchy meditations on childhood, Arlene Shechet’s Patchwork Buddha (1998) and Mr. Junceau’s erotic hellfire are all, in their own quiet way, defiantly individual.

Nadelman’s humor finds an echo in Susan Mastrangelo’s orderly array of pinched and lumpish Head Shots (2001-3) and Miriam Bloom’s Sea Theory (1999), a squat, pinkish biomorph that’s kin to the Venus of Willendorf . The only sour note is struck by Kiki Smith-I seem to be immune to her creepy and creaky allure. As for Elie Nadelman himself, his Ideal Head (undated) steals the show, which is exactly as it should be.

According with Nadelman: Contemporary Affinities is at the June Kelly Gallery, 591 Broadway, until Aug. 1.

Pleasing Pastels

The devil perched upon my shoulder-a malevolent imp with a lifetime subscription to Artforum and a propensity to pepper everyday conversation with phrases like “paradigm shift”-is chiding me for liking the landscape drawings of Louis Finkelstein (1923-2000) at Lori Bookstein Fine Art. The imp is trying to convince me that Finkelstein’s pastels are old-fashioned, hopelessly oblivious to the imperatives of technology, theory and pop culture. Who was Finkelstein kidding, he asks me? How could a painter working during the 1990’s (the artistic apex of civilization’s long march-until, that is, right now ) believe that the School of Paris has anything left to tell us? And everyone knows that an unironic engagement with nature-you know, like trees and bushes-isn’t doable anymore. Mediation is the name of the game. Then there’s Finkelstein’s sincerity. Don’t get me started! Surely the art world, with its population of highly evolved beings, has risen above this kind of thing.

I’ll give the devil his due: When putting oil to canvas, Finkelstein was shackled to tradition. Instead of providing momentum, the School of Paris induced in him nostalgia. And his canvases have too much paint on them. His fondness for exuberant clutter mars the pastels, too, but not fatally. What redeems them is their lack of consequence. Wielding a pastel stick, liberated from the shadow of the museum and the physicality of oil paint, Finkelstein was a changed artist-though still recognizable. His happy willingness to fall flat on his face defines these drawings; he has endowed them with a brusque and at times fleeting lyricism. Anyone who doesn’t swoon when looking at the cascading purples, grays and greens of Vermont (1990) should check himself into the morgue. As for the hasty scribbles in Bridge and Trees, Sharp’s Creek (1992) and Hanover Center (1999): Cy Twombly should be so rough and ready, so purposeful and raw.

Louis Finkelstein: The Late Pastels, 1989-99 is at Lori Bookstein Fine Art, 50 East 78th Street, No. 2A, until July 25.

Up for a Tussle

“A dialog [sic] between photography and painting … ” may not sound like the freshest idea in town, but the rest of the sentence explains in part why Read Baldwin’s landscape paintings, on display at the Blue Mountain Gallery, are a cut above: ” … in which painting becomes more and more ebullient in response to photography’s challenge.” Part of the challenge, one presumes, is photography’s ubiquity-so we know Mr. Baldwin is up for a tussle. How good a fighter is he? Not too scrappy, but optimistic. With his attempt to reclaim nature from the prettifying gloss of the picture postcard, Mr. Baldwin lets us know he’s a painter who believes in possibilities. Trouble is, he also believes in experimenting with format, tricking up his compositions so that painting becomes an adjunct to the extra-aesthetic rather than its own reward. Mr. Baldwin is at his best when painting “straight,” keeping it small and sticking to wan, middle-range tonalities. The keepers are Tuckerman’s (2003), Dundee (2003) and Empty Beach (2003), with its irresistible slurs of creamy white.

Read Baldwin/36 Views of Mt. Washington is at the Blue Mountain Gallery, 530 West 25th Street, until July 26.