Currently Hanging

The Mutability of Space:

Sculpting a Room, a Temple

Room (2000), the centerpiece of Willard Boepple’s exhibition of recent sculpture at the Salander-O’Reilly Galleries, is a curious piece of work. It makes no bones about its architectural reference-and not just because of the title. Scale is a factor: Room is almost as big as a room, and viewers are welcome to enter it.

Made from aluminum, its abraded surfaces sparkling with reflected light, the sculpture is reminiscent of two-by-fours complete with “windows.” The squarish structure is topped off by diagonal struts, like a roof. ( Room could well be based on a child’s drawing of a house; in my notes, I kept referring to it as Home .) Inside are shelves of varying thickness and size, deftly calibrated to create jutting, propulsive relationships. Imagine an homage to Mondrian by a less puritanical Donald Judd and you’ll have an idea of the peculiar nature of Mr. Boepple’s achievement.

Anyone with a keen interest in sculpture should make a priority of seeing Room . Having said that, I found the three tabletop pieces surrounding it (all titled Temple ) more intriguing and certainly more approachable. Constructed from thick planks of poplar and painted black, green and reddish-brown, respectively, they offer a less literal allusion to architecture. At first glance, each of the blunt, box-like constructions seems impenetrable; narrow, shifting apertures allow the eye partial access to their interiors. Peering in, we get a sense of their intricacies but never a firm grip of the whole: The mystery of the Temple remains intact. The mutability of space, Mr. Boepple’s subject, is here endowed with a solemn, though not unplayful, demeanor. When not working with the museum in mind-which is, I think the case with the Temple pieces-Mr. Boepple is liberated by ambition rather than confined by it. So honor Room as the masterwork, but relish the rest as evidence of this sculptor’s enigmatic, eccentric and undeniable gift.

He is one of the most enigmatic-and best-artists around.

Willard Boepple is at the Salander-O’Reilly Galleries, 20 East 79th Street, until July 30.

Wishy-Washy?

Is it possible to dislike watercolor? The charms of a good watercolor picture-its transparency of tack, its effortlessness and poise-are irresistible, not least because we recognize how inherently difficult this most unforgiving of mediums is. When an artist pulls it off, it’s as spontaneous as breathing. You could say the same about any work of art, of course-a painting or sculpture should pulse with an uncanny sense of life. Yet the weightlessness of watercolor, its delicate absence of body, creates the fetching illusion of images snatched from the ether. “Watercolor is tricky stuff, an amateur’s but really a virtuoso’s medium,” wrote the critic Robert Hughes. Few mediums can humble an artist more decisively, or as quickly, as watercolor.

Watercurrents , an exhibition at Kouros Gallery, is an informal overview of 12 contemporary artists working in watercolor. Make that too informal: I know it’s summertime, but some consideration could have been devoted to the installation. The show feels as if it were slapped together at the last minute. Attention to the niceties of presentation is lacking-that pieces by significant painters like Andrew Forge and Ruth Miller are displayed in student-grade frames is a scandal. Still, you can’t fault the selection of artists. To name three: Carolyn Harris, who establishes forthright, fluid and staccato rhythms in Yellow Lily in the Spoon (1992); Garth Evans, whose snuggling and needy biomorphs absorb the eye with rich, bottomless colors; and Phyllis Floyd, whose depictions of plant life, crisp and sure, only divulge their vulnerabilities at the edges of form. The other painters-Wilbur Niewald, especially-eloquently state the case for watercolor, even if the organizers of the exhibition haven’t seen fit to do the same.

Watercurrents: 12 Artists Working in Watercolor is at the Kouros Gallery, 23 East 73rd Street, until Aug. 13.

Slow-Burning Medium

Back to Paint , the title of C&M Arts’ “exploration of issues in recent contemporary painting,” begs the question: From where are we coming back to paint? Ostensibly, from an art scene that privileges everything but the venerable art form itself-installations, videos, conceptual art, performances, any object that smacks of the outré. Contemporary painting is marginal, it’s true. With a few exceptions-notably, John Currin-painting has been out of the limelight, and for good reason: The medium’s hard-won, slow-burning pleasures are anathema to a go-go art scene, intent on becoming an appendage to mass media.

Yet the notion that painting has been away-or that it has “re-emerged”-is silly. To pretend otherwise is to willfully blind oneself to the reality of thousands of artists continually daubing away in their studios. Not that all of them are good; precious few know what makes a painting tick. None of the artists featured at C&M Arts know. They push paint around, sure, but the materials an artist employs should be an extension of vision, not its accessory. Try divining a sense of pictorial necessity-or personality-at C&M, and you’ll come up wanting. Instead, you’ll be subjected to “heterotopian mutations,” “oblique social subject matter” and “splintered reality”-anything but a painting that provides its own rationale. The exhibition only goes to underscore our pluralist predicament: a culture of individuals content to paint themselves into their own little, lonely corner. Which is to say that Back to Paint isn’t back from anywhere.

Back to Paint is at C&M Arts, 45 East 78th Street, until Sept. 11.å