An Outsider’s One-Off Masterpiece, Is A Magical Encapsulation of Love

Has anyone from the American Folk Art Museum, the Smithsonian American Art Museum or any other institution devoted to the variousness of American art visited the Ricco/Maresca Gallery recently? If not, they should get themselves down there pronto. Why the rush? Because the gallery’s current exhibition of landscape paintings by the self-taught artist Joseph Garlock (1884-1980) includes his 1952 canvas Untitled (Beach at Coney Island) . With its cluster of ungainly buildings, out-of-scale sun worshippers and Lilliputian swimmers, Garlock’s painting is a magical encapsulation of memory, place and-dare one say it?-love. Untitled (Beach at Coney Island) is, in short, a masterpiece of folk art. Any museum worth its salt would scramble to acquire it for the permanent collection.

Don’t fret if you haven’t heard of Garlock. The oeuvre of this Russian émigré wasn’t discovered until two years ago, when his grandchildren came upon hundreds of canvases in a tool shed on the family’s summer estate in Woodstock, N.Y. Seeing as the métier of the typical folk painter is the happy one-off, there probably aren’t any more stunners like Untitled (Beach at Coney Island) tucked away upstate. Which isn’t to say that the rest of the work doesn’t appeal. Garlock’s love for the American landscape, as exemplified by his depictions of the open road, is plain and affecting. The peculiar bits of incident that accent the landscapes-like the two cheerful women paddling toward us in a rowboat-are delightful. Inevitably, however, we drift back to Untitled (Beach at Coney Island) . There is nothing better to see in Chelsea right now than Garlock’s painting. It’s a gift worth going out of the way for. Joseph Garlock: Landscape is at the Ricco/ Maresca Gallery, 529 West 20th Street, third floor, until June 15.

Oomph-less Ick

Standing in front of one of Arturo Herrera’s collages, currently the subject of an exhibition at the Brent Sikkema gallery, our attention is piqued by its sleek juxtapositions, unseemly intimations and tidy specificity. Leaving that same collage, all we’re left with is a sharp fizzle-an aftertaste. Taking inspiration from Surrealism, childhood and pop culture, the best Mr. Herrera can do with these precedents is to convert them into exquisite nothings. This is work that declines to stick in the memory. For an artist as particular about his source materials as Mr. Herrera, such disposability might seem a fatal flaw. But I’m not so sure that isn’t his modus operandi .

Mr. Herrera’s “palette” is made up of reproductions of botanical drawings, Halloween decorations, postcards of Stuart Davis paintings and, most notably, illustrations from Walt Disney picture books. He cuts out these items with the sharpest of exacto knives and reassembles them into blandly denatured biomorphic events. Often the pictures are overlaid with a painterly flourish-usually something drippy and droopy. The whiff of putrefaction is unmistakable. Still, Mr. Herrera wouldn’t let anything as distracting as bad behavior mar his unerring displays of good taste. Until he learns to put some oomph in his ick, Mr. Herrera is fated to remain a name that rings a bell. Arturo Herrera is at Brent Sikkema, 530 West 22nd Street, until May 25.

Inertia and Evasion

Susan Rothenberg has a major reputation as a major painter, but for the life of me I can’t see why. Her first exhibition in seven years, currently at Sperone Westwater’s new space on West 13th Street, is being heralded as an event. For those who consider Ms. Rothenberg a bridge between Minimalism and what is possible, I suppose it is. Yet how “possible” is her art, really? Perhaps the better question is: How good of a painter is Ms. Rothenberg? Certainly, she uses a lot of paint. Her canvases, with their nubbly surfaces and evenly applied scrabbles of brushwork, betoken authenticity, anxiety and commitment. All they deliver, however, is inertia, evasion and busy work.

I would argue, in fact, that Ms. Rothenberg has yet to advance over that aforementioned stylistic bridge. Her compendiums of disembodied limbs and skittering animals, big noses, green ears and playing cards register not as fictions endowed with vitality, but as demarcated signs. We never believe in Ms. Rothenberg’s cast of characters. (Compare her players to Philip Guston’s motley crew, and divine the difference between symbol and substance.) What the paintings lack is the metaphorical leap of faith, a life through and beyond their means. In the end, Ms. Rothenberg’s existentialist riffs on the game of life-and that’s about as profound as the pictures get-are notable only for their scrubby haste and lumpish irresolution. The real question turns out to be: How much of a painter is Susan Rothenberg? The answer is both too much and not enough. Susan Rothenberg is at Sperone Westwater, 415 West 13th Street, until June 1.

An Outsider’s One-Off Masterpiece, Is A Magical Encapsulation of Love