A Sophisticated Folk Artist Makes the Most of Anecdote

The Philadelphia-based painter Sarah McEneaney, whose recent canvases are the subject of an exhibition at Gallery Schlesinger, has been compared to Florine Stettheimer, one of the great eccentrics of 20th-century American art. The comparison holds in that Ms. McEneaney is a strong individualist whose art is a form of autobiography. Painting what she knows best, Ms. McEneaney finds inspiration in her cats, her home, her neighborhood, her friends and-it should go without saying-herself. Confronted in one self-portrait by a vulnerable character with a formidable gaze, we realize that putting brush to canvas is, for this artist, an ongoing and often pitiless means of self-definition. Yet to liken each picture to a diary entry would, I think, be simplistic. There’s a severity to these paintings that rescues them from the unseemly or narcissistic. Ms. McEneaney impresses in that she translates the anecdotal into something at once far-reaching and intimate.

Ms. McEneaney can best be thought of as a cultivated folk artist. In this respect she again resembles Stettheimer, although the sophistication inherent in Ms. McEneaney’s paintings is harder to pin down. It’s perhaps most evident in her emphasis on the particular. When fine-tuning a picture, she does so out of fidelity to the objects depicted rather than a compulsive need to fill the surface of the canvas. Admittedly, Ms. McEneaney’s particulars are often stilted: Her awkwardness with the human form, especially, is painful to behold. Still, the paintings do connect, often through sheer persistence. In the best of them, we see the artist traveling to Manhattan on the New Jersey Transit, looking out the window at Ground Zero in the distance. It’s a poignant image, not least because its blend of curiosity, anxiety and incomprehension is so sharply underplayed. Sept. 11 has occasioned a lot of so-called “art”; Ms. McEneaney’s picture actually merits the name. Sarah Mc-Eneaney: Flattery Among Others is at Gallery Schlesinger, 24 East 73rd Street, until June 22.

An Architect’s Hungry Eye

What I know about architecture could fit on the head of a pin. But I do know that the selection of drawings, paintings and watercolors by Louis I. Kahn (1901-1974), now at the Salander-O’Reilly Galleries, is a summer surprise. Kahn is the influential American architect whose best-known building is probably the Kimbell Museum in Fort Worth, Tex. But don’t head up to East 79th Street expecting to see architectural renderings. While architecture does figure in the Salander-O’Reilly show-most notably in Kahn’s depictions of the houses, basilicas and convents of Italy-the pieces on view aren’t work-related. They’re the engaging dabblings of an inspired amateur.

Writing in the catalog, Sue-Ann Kahn states that her father “was never not drawing.” His hungry and appreciative eye is in evidence in each piece on view. Whether capturing the withering light of the American landscape or the civilized environs of the Borghese Gardens, Kahn was never less than enthralled with what was before him. The pictures veer from harsh realism to angular expressionism; there are bucolic landscapes that look like they came out of a vintage picture book, and there’s even a nifty abstract painting. Kahn’s art shakes the earth more than one might initially think. Louis I. Kahn: Drawings, Paintings & Watercolors is at the Salander-O’Reilly Galleries, 20 East 79th Street, until June 28.

Flavorless Product

I’d rather be seduced than suckered, which is why I’ve always held the paintings of David Reed at arm’s length. Mr. Reed’s pictures, currently on display at the Max Protetch Gallery, are eye-popping dissertations on the art of painting. His cool and flashy canvases contain snaking brushstrokes, fractured spaces and colors as luminous as they are brittle. Anyone familiar with the properties of oil paint will realize that the cinematic effects Mr. Reed coaxes from that medium require not only time, know-how and patience, but the most systematic of approaches. His fabulously manipulated pictures evince a methodology akin to that of an assembly line-which is, as one might suspect, the problem. Less inspired than efficient, Mr. Reed is a painting machine, one whose expertise guarantees a product as unfailing and flavorless as a Big Mac.

The recent pictures offer more of the same-with one exception. If I’m not mistaken (and after three trips to Protetch, I don’t think I am): Painting #483 (2001-2) is his masterpiece. It certainly nags at the eye in a way that the rest of the paintings don’t. It hasn’t been finessed to death; it reveals its pictorial evolution forthrightly. As a consequence, #483 gains in punchy rhythms, spatial fullness and a metaphoric malleability. For the first time in his career, Mr. Reed’s slathered brushstrokes are actors given individuality, sensuality and weight. For an artist who trades in pictorial cliché, that’s some achievement. Whether #483 is a happy accident or a harbinger of things to come remains to be seen. With a painter as controlling as Mr. Reed, we should probably content ourselves with the former and cut our losses. David Reed: New Paintings is at Max Protetch, 511 West 22nd Street, until June 15.

A Sophisticated Folk Artist Makes the Most of Anecdote