Childhood in Ancient Greece
Rare and Beautiful Glimpses
There’s a wonderful lesson in scale to be learned from Coming of Age in Ancient Greece: Images of Childhood from the Classical Past , an exhibition at the Onassis Cultural Center, and it can be found at the bottom of a cup (or kylix , to use its proper name) dating from around 460 B.C. A spare and lovely picture of a mother and her child, the circular image isn’t much bigger than a 50-cent piece-yet the truths it embodies are large.
The unknown artisan who crafted Baby on Stool with Mother was meticulously observant, adept at concentrating telling gestures and enlivening pictorial space. Note the anxious legs of the pleading child and the “blank” area between the mother’s hand and the hand of the reaching child. (It’s not God and Adam on the ceiling of the Pope’s chapel, but it’s impressive just the same.) That the image exists at all is a surprise-apparently, scenes of parents interacting with children are rare in Greek art.
Coming of Age in Ancient Greece , along with a pendant exhibition, Striving for Excellence: Ancient Greek Childhood and the Olympic Spirit , does magnificent double duty as an essay in anthropology and aesthetics. Though small in size, the scope of the exhibitions is far-ranging, touching upon subjects otherworldly (the birth of Athena), mundane (two girls on a seesaw) and exotic (preparations for a ritual sacrifice).
There’s a terra-cotta pig rattle (400 B.C.)-a toy that begs to be played with-and feeding cups, game pieces, even a sheet of unfinished homework. The remarkable Young Boy (ca. 100 B.C.-A.D. 100), gives us a glimpse of a chubby little kid who’s wise beyond his years. Best of all is the selection of amphoras, some of which are so well-preserved they could have come out of the kiln this morning.
A consummate feat of connoisseurship and presentation, Coming of Age propels the classical world into the here and now with a bracing immediacy.
Coming of Age in Ancient Greece: Images of Childhood from the Classical Past and Striving for Excellence: Ancient Greek Childhood and the Olympic Spirit are at the Onassis Cultural Center, 645 Fifth Avenue, until April 15.
The New York debut of the Swiss artist Marc-Antoine Fehr is the last exhibition to be mounted by the Jan Krugier Gallery, the venerable 57th Street institution. (The gallery will continue to operate as a private art dealership.) What an odd way to go out, you might think. Why not show a typical array of Modernist masterpieces for a bang-up, farewell celebration? Why bother with the moody continental rectitude of a little-known figurative painter?
Mr. Fehr follows the path of a handful of 20th-century Parisian painters who embraced Modernism but rejected its tendency toward distillation and abstraction: Balthus, André Derain and Jean Hélion (particularly the late pictures) and Giacometti. These are artists whose work you could expect to see from time to time at Krugier.
Whether Mr. Fehr deserves to be in their company is another matter. His brushy pictures of women sleeping, or of a sailor on his boat, or of the night sky, have a dour nostalgic tone, a kind of brooding romantic ennui. But that’s not what makes the work feel dated-it’s the undercurrent of self-conscious anxiety. Jean-Paul Sartre could have used them to promote Existentialism.
Mr. Fehr’s most interesting picture is his least coherent: A multi-tiered composition from 1998 of what looks to be either an orgy, a torture chamber, a medical school or (most likely) a hellish conglomeration of the lot. With its illicit goings-on, the painting brings Balthus to mind, though Balthus was never as savage or, for that matter, as disjunctive. Mr. Fehr fractures the picture, giving us a cross-section of various nightmarish scenarios-Goya filtered through a Cubist prism. There are other paintings like it; unfortunately, most of them are only to be seen in the catalog. Will New Yorkers get a chance to catch up with this perverse and willful painter now that Krugier is closing its doors to the public? Don’t bet on it.
Marc-Antione Fehr: Paintings and Works on Paper is at the Jan Krugier Gallery, 41 East 57th Street, sixth floor, until March 10.
The best thing you could say about Drunken Brush , a recent series of black-and-white abstract drawings by Bill Jensen on display at Danese Gallery, is that they’re affordable. I didn’t actually look at the price list; my bankbook doesn’t allow for window-shopping, let alone the real thing. Still, that’s my guess, based on the work’s scale (domestic), the medium (ink on paper) and the approach (cursory).
No one’s going to mistake Mr. Jensen’s drawings for anything other than tasteful variations on a signature style. In recent years, he’s delved deeply into the art of China and Japan, to significant aesthetic effect. Here, he merely rattles off pictographs as if there were no difference between slapdash product and inspired spontaneity. The exception is Drunken Brush #43 (2003), a dancing knot of lines that creates a snappy spatial dynamic. Otherwise, Mr. Jensen skims the surface.
And then there’s Duo Duo , a related series of paintings, done on paper with egg and oil tempera, which is great-just plain great.
If you’d told me 10 years ago that Mr. Jensen would evolve into a colorist-and a colorist of grit and eloquence, to boot-I’d have pegged you for a charlatan or a chump. His palette, back then, seemed composed of the sludge that settles at the bottom of the brush jar.
Now he dazzles with radiant yellows, viscous reddish-browns, blues both somber and electric. Where did the new tones come from? Mr. Jensen is making his own paint nowadays, so maybe the newfound emphasis on strong color comes from a greater investment in craft. Or maybe it’s that his painterly calligraphy is beginning to take on figurative connotations, and he’s enlisting color to suggest mass and character. Whatever the case, Mr. Jensen is on an amazing roll. That he doesn’t know his destination makes the trip all the more exciting.
Bill Jensen: Duo Duo and Drunken Brush Drawings is at Danese Gallery, 41 East 57th Street, until March 13.
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