A Sensation (Minus the Buzz):
The Intimate, Acutely Observed
If you navigate the art scene by buzz alone, you’ll wind up in predictable places. Ask an insider what there is to see at the galleries right now, and you’re sure to be pointed in the direction of the Richard Serra show at the Chelsea branch of Gagosian Gallery. Little wonder: When Mr. Serra rolls into town, New Yorkers are guaranteed a sensational feat of engineering. You’ll also be sent to the Matthew Marks Gallery on 24th Street to see the ceramic sculptures of Ken Price. And why not? Mr. Price’s postmortem on biomorphic abstraction is certainly fetching. For reasons I couldn’t fathom, an exhibition of sculptures by Donald Lipski, which just closed at Galerie Lelong, has also sparked a fair amount of chatter.
And how much buzz will be generated by the paintings of Kyle Staver at Denise Bibro Fine Art? Not much: The gallery doesn’t have the kind of blue-chip cachet that guarantees significant foot traffic, and frankly, the art displayed there has been poky-until now, that is. Ms. Staver has exhibited before in New York, but this is the first time I’ve seen her work. I was lured by a reproduction of a painting titled September Morning (2002), which I glimpsed in the margins of the October issue of Gallery Guide . A bucolic scene of a man and a woman at the beach, the painting looked promising, with its abrupt flattening of space, an undercurrent of emotional confrontation and a trio of in-your-face seagulls. How true could a two-by-three-inch advertisement be to the painting itself?
True, it turns out, and then some. Ms. Staver’s art offers greater aesthetic pleasure than Mr. Serra, Mr. Price and Mr. Lipski put together. Fans of spectacle, nihilism and extremity-or some unholy melange of the three-will pooh-pooh Ms. Staver’s paintings and call them old-fashioned. In a sense, they’re right: Her pictures of men and women, usually in a state of undress, look to Matisse: The painterly approach is brusque, hard-won, yet ultimately easygoing. The domestic tension and erotic unease bring to mind the cloistered vignettes of Vuillard. Add to the mix the monolithic figures of David Park, the quirky stiffness of folk art and the rampant patterning of Howard Hodgkin, and you have an intriguing stew of precedent.
Many artists believe in the vitality of tradition; few manage to make it live in their work. Ms. Staver’s paintings are miracles of continuity: Her link to Modernism is as strong as her footing in the here and now. This achievement is not unlike that of the generation of American artists who sought to merge the painterly freedom of Abstract Expressionism with an emphasis on the figure-painters like Fairfield Porter, Leland Bell, Robert De Niro and Paul Resika. Ms. Staver can’t touch Porter’s tense probity-who could?-but she’s suppler than Bell, more multifaceted than De Niro and less enamored of her own gift than Mr. Resika. Note how decisively the woman in Peter and Katherine (2002) puts on her gloves; marvel at the golden light that envelops Ginger Cat (2002); watch as the psychological façade put up by the two men featured in Piano Teacher (2001) is respectfully deconstructed-bravura performances all, and not the only ones, either. Ms. Staver’s brand of intimism, acutely observed and gracefully set forth, goes the distance. This surprise of a show makes the heart beat faster.
Kyle Staver: Recent Works is at Denise Bibro Fine Art, Inc., 529 West 20th Street, fourth floor, until Nov. 8.
Paging Dr. Atkins
Remember the old line about how inside every fat person, there’s a thin person wanting to get out? Something like that’s going on with Joanne Greenbaum’s oversized paintings: Inside each of them is a smaller, better painting waiting to flex its muscles. Ms. Greenbaum, whose recent work is on display at D’Amelio Terras, creates kaleidoscopic abstractions from overlapping, linear motifs: architectural structures, geometric shapes, diagrammatic patterns, even those black paper corners that Mom and Dad use to mount snapshots in the family album. The elements are plunked one on top of another, and the resulting arrangement sits inside the perimeter of the support. Actually, “floats” is more like it: Ms. Greenbaum doesn’t establish pictorial space, she takes it for granted, letting the gessoed canvas-that parched, pre-packaged white-be the unhelpful receptacle for her painterly emblems. “Painterly” isn’t right, either: Ms. Greenbaum’s brush fudges along gracelessly,amateurish where it wants to be informal. It’s too bad: The pictures hint at a clunky, pseudo-technological charm. If the canvases were smaller in size, Ms. Greenbaum’s doodles might not seem so overblown; maybe then they would project a more enticing disorder. As it is, there’s no compelling aesthetic reason for the pictures to be big-or for you to look at them for more than a second or two.
Joanne Greenbaum: New Paintings is at D’Amelio Terras, 525 West 22nd Street, until Nov. 1.