Michael Steiner’s Steel Forms: Witty, But Not Ha-Ha Funny

The sculpture of Michael Steiner, currently the subject of

an exhibition at Salander-O’Reilly Galleries, is so resolute in its rigor that

one is likely to overlook how funny it is. Not laugh-out-loud funny, but dry

and droll, deeply comical. While loyal to the tradition of Constructivism, as

well as deferential to the blunt certainties of Minimal art, Mr. Steiner’s

steel sculptures locate their wit in juxtapositions of form that owe more to

Constantin Brancusi than to David Smith or Donald Judd. And juxtaposition is

the key: Mr. Steiner’s monumental meditations on contingence and connection

adroitly pit solidity and openness, stasis and animation, repetition and


The artist employs forms that range from imposing grids to

machine-tooled patterning to a recurring shape that is part insect, part

Stradivarius, and not unrelated to the exaggerations of the female form typical

of the sculptor Gaston Lachaise. Stating its case starkly, the work sparks

slowly and ultimately ranges far afield. Bells and Smoke (2001) seems an

exegesis on the mysteries of science; Sleeping Muse III (1999), a provocative

compromise between ritual sacrifice and showroom display. Of the five works on

exhibit, only Bones and Flutes (2000) stumbles, being more standoffish than

outstanding. Does this mean Mr. Steiner hits his mark 80 percent of the time?

Hardly-no artist is that good. But that one should even entertain the thought

goes to indicate the impressive scale of this sculptor’s talent. Michael

Steiner: Sculpture is at Salander-O’Reilly Galleries, 20

East 79th Street, until Oct. 27.

Sincerity That

Seems Dated

Is likening the exhibition Herbert Ferber: Calligraph Emblem

of Motion, currently at Knoedler & Company, to traveling in time a polite

way of stating that the work on view is dated? Certainly, the abstract

paintings and sculptures of the American artist Herbert Ferber (1906-1991) are

conspicuously uncontemporary. With their sweeping gestures and elemental forms,

the pieces recall an era when artists unapologetically pursued the universal

and were solemn in their sincerity. The earthy tones, washy pigments and

pared-down iconography of Ferber’s pictures recall those of Robert Motherwell, Mark

Rothko and Adolph Gottlieb, and his debt to Surrealism-while more apparent in

the sculpture than in the paintings-is thorough and real. But this is an art

without necessity.

Ferber’s forays into action painting came after that battle

had largely been won; their vaulting heroism doesn’t reinvent a trademark style

so much as reiterate it. The sculptures fare better:

Their arcing, pointed wedges lend, balance and counterbalance to decisive

effect. Yet even then, Ferber’s cranky and cursive icons are too sweaty and

self-conscious, too burdened by an overweening ambition. Calligraph Emblem of

Motion showcases a respectable achievement, but Ferber is an artist of his

time, not for the ages. Herbert Ferber: Calligraph Emblem of Motion is at

Knoedler & Company, 19 East 70th Street,

until Nov. 10.

A Painter’s Prints

Trump His Brushstrokes

It is a testament to Paul Resika’s skills as a printmaker

that he’s able to translate the go-for-broke spontaneity of his paintings into

a medium that is, by its very nature, removed from the immediacy of touch.

Coursing through Mr. Resika’s etchings and monotypes, currently the subject of

an exhibition at Lori Bookstein Fine Art, is the

artist’s unmistakable brushstroke brashly delineating his signature motif:

boats on the water. As someone who has long admired Mr. Resika’s paintings, I’m

surprised by how the prints trump them in terms of grit. Has Mr. Resika ever

achieved anything as dolorous as Boats, Stormy

Sea (1998) when putting brush to

canvas? Not that I’ve seen.

Similarly, the tonal variations in the etchings-velvety

grays, distressed blacks, wan silvers-are so varied and rich that one suspects

Mr. Resika the colorist prospers most when limited to black and white. To get

an idea of how masterful the etchings are, one need look

no further than the monotypes, which approximate the paintings and seem a lot

more indulgent for it. (Mr. Resika, to his credit, remains suspicious of the

slippery satisfactions of that medium.) The centerpiece is Still Boats and Moon

(2001), but Boats at the Pier (2001) and Little Boats I (2001) are the

highlights. The former is gutsy, the latter’s a honey, and in between Mr.

Resika works with a freedom and a surety most artists only dream of. Paul

Resika: Etchings and Monotypes, 1998-2001 is at Lori Bookstein Fine Art, 50

East 78th Street, until Nov. 3.

Tender Observations

Of One Tough Cookie

By my count, of the 80 or so drawings on display in

Fairfield Porter: Drawings from the Estate, an exhibition at Hirschl &

Adler Modern, only one is a dud, and it’s the earliest thing here. [Seated

Woman] (1942-48) bungles such niceties as anatomy and pictorial space, only

coming to life in the contours of the shoes on the title figure. Other than

that, this show-filled as it is with the tender observations of one tough

cookie-rivets as much as it charms.

Whether the subject is a sleeping dog, the rush of the

oncoming tide or the attentive arc of a friend’s neck, Porter’s drawings are as

to-the-point as they are casual, as tight as they are tossed-off. Justin

Spring, Porter’s biographer, writes

of the artist’s striving for “a transparent style,” for an art absent of the

self. This is a good conceit, but one that doesn’t do justice to Porter’s

driving impersonality. Still, why piddle about semantics when faced with drawings

as good as these?

One done in red ink of a daughter, a dog, a house and some

flowers is a marvel of brevity and my favorite thing here. But this is an

exhibition packed with favorite things, and ample evidence of Porter’s sharp,

shrewd and relentless eye. Fairfield

Porter: Drawings from the Estate is at Hirschl & Adler Modern, 21

East 70th Street, until Nov. 10. Michael Steiner’s Steel Forms:  Witty, But Not Ha-Ha Funny