There are artists we hate to love and artists we love to hate. Most artists don’t make a dent; nonentities rarely do. Then there are artists in need of a spanking: painters and sculptors of talent, skill and vision incapable of resisting their worst impulses. Chief on the list for corporal punishment is Andrew Masullo, whose recent paintings are at Joan T. Washburn Gallery.
Mr. Masullo partakes of a distinctly American brand of abstraction, a tradition that mines high modernist style for individualistic-that is to say, independent and eccentric-purposes. The pictures are lovingly delineated and kitsch-inflected amalgamations of organic shape and geometric pattern. Taking inspiration from the paintings of Alice Trumbull Mason, Myron Stout and Thomas Nozkowski, Mr. Masullo is as singular, rigorous and uncompromising as his predecessors. He can nip and tuck a composition with the best of them. That doesn’t prevent him from indulging in groan-inducing cutesy-pie tactics.
In one canvas, he appends cartoony hands and arms onto an array of floating rectangles; in another, an iconic black circle, Malevich-like in its portent, is transformed into a Christmas ornament. All the while, his oversweetened palette makes our teeth ache. Mr. Masullo is clearly capable of standing outside of style in order to ridicule it, yet his mockery is amiable, even at times a bit dreamy. The sensibility is acidic, not malevolent-Mr. Masullo only hurts the ones he loves. Sacrificing gravity for cheap caprice, his aesthetic is rooted in the quirks of personality. Nihilism has nothing to do with it.
How willing you are to forgive Mr. Masullo the kiddie biomorphism and insouciance depends on one’s taste. Me, I enjoy his sharp wit, applaud his pictorial steadfastness and consider the excess of paintings-over 30!-a token of generosity. Not that we should be grateful for everything that runneth out of Mr. Masullo’s cup; too many of the pictures are flighty or hermetic. When he does pull one off-as in 4067 , with its spic-and-span array of stripes, or the cut-rate psychedelia of 4066 (both 2003)-you realize Mr. Masullo is a precocious nuisance you’re willing to put up with.
Andrew Masullo is at the Joan T. Washburn Gallery, 20 West 57th Street, until July 23.
A Little Bit Country
The drawings of Eunice Agar, the subject of an exhibition at Denise Bibro Fine Art, won’t jump off the wall at you. Her depictions of farmhouses, rocky shores, shaded woody paths, cornstalks and waterfalls are unassuming, plainly stated and, in the bigger pieces, folksy in tone. They’re also sweet, antiquated and innocuous-the stuff of county fairs, not the sleek environs of the New York art scene. That was the first impression, anyway-until I slowly got caught up in Ms. Agar’s Yankee diligence, her heady, stoic wonder as she takes in nature’s panorama. Whether transcribing with a scribble the placid depths of a pond or articulating every pebble on a beach with an array of doodles, Ms. Agar makes palpable the bottomless joy in putting pencil or charcoal to paper. None of the drawings will rock your world, but each provides a sense of ease and measure that supercharged New Yorkers would be foolhardy to dismiss.
Eunice Agar: A Drawing Survey is at Denise Bibro Fine Art until July 17.
The three huge steel sculptures by Mark di Suvero ensconced in Madison Square Park expose “public art” for the misnomer it is-because these pieces are the exception to the rule. Artwork that may be found outside the galleries, the museums, your home or mine doesn’t mean it partakes of the public sphere; temporary installations of public art, especially, are little more than pedestrian obstacles offered in the name of philanthropic outreach. Mr. di Suvero’s towering steel structures aren’t plunked down willy-nilly for our edification; they participate in the leisure-time activities occurring nearby.
Double Tetrahedron (2004) towers over the midriff-baring citizens lunching nearby, a heroic and very orange substitute for the water not spouting from the fountain it’s in. Beyond (2004), a Picasso-ish snarl of straight lines, sharp curves and tensing musculature, partakes equally of the playground, the dog run and New Yorkers stretching before a jog. The least at home is Aesope’s Fable (1990). Did the artist take it out of storage because he couldn’t come up with enough new sculptures to fill the park? Perhaps, but that’s a quibble given how winningly Mr. Di Suvero has insinuated himself into the life of the city.
Mark di Suvero is at Madison Square Park, 23rd Street and Fifth Avenue, until Oct. 31.