The Nearly Forgotten Master-A Showman’s Light Has Dimmed

My family and I were visiting Holland when the exhibition Hendrick Goltzius, Dutch Master (1558-1617): Drawing, Prints and Paintings began its tour at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Waiting in line at the museum, I thought briefly of going to see the Goltzius-whose name was faintly familiar and whose work was not familiar at all-and spending less time with the masterpieces of 17th-century Dutch painting that are the cornerstone of the Rijksmuseum collection. Given the constraints of our vacation schedule, I opted for the true rather than the untried, hoping to catch up with Goltzius another day.

That day has come. Having visited Hendrick Goltzius: Dutch Master at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I can pat myself on the back for a decision well made. Goltzius may have enjoyed international renown during his lifetime, but history hasn’t been so kind. He is not, it turns out, a master on the scale of Rembrandt, Hals or Vermeer; nor does he measure up to lesser lights like Pieter de Hooch, Jan Steen or-to mention one of my favorites-the raucous Adriaen Brouwer.

Which isn’t to say that Goltzius isn’t, in his own right, a master. The question is: Of what exactly is he a master? The engravings that brought him celebrity status (at the height of his fame, Goltzius had to travel incognito to avoid his fans) are technical tours de force: The cascading fabric held by The Standard Bearer (1589) is a miracle, at once silky and steely, of cross-contour drawing. Yet Goltzius’ strenuous mannerism-his The Great Hercules (1589) makes the Incredible Hulk look like Olive Oyl-verges on the ridiculous; it doesn’t do much more than pique the curiosity. The paintings, despite a wealth of detail, are uninvolving, though at times appealingly randy.

It’s the drawings that make Goltzius a master. There’s Goltzius’s Right Hand (1588), a depiction of the [artist’s] deformed drawing hand-and a breathtaking act of self-promotion. There are feats of understated bravado like English Oak (c. 1597-99), Four Studies of Hands (c. 1588-89) and Self-Portrait (1590-92). And best of all, there’s Mountain Landscape (1594), wherein the consummate showman, having set out to delineate every last crag of an imagined rocky vista, is transported by his own facility. It’s an awesomely exquisite picture.

Hendrick Goltzius, Dutch Master (1558-1617): Drawings, Prints and Paintings is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street, until Sept. 7.

Comic Recycling

I’ll admit to having a soft spot for the kind of thing that Elaine Grove does (and she does it better than most). Ms. Grove, whose sculpture is the subject of an exhibition at the Salander-O’Reilly Galleries, declares her fealty to the tradition of “Constructivist, welded steel sculpture as exemplified by Gonzales, Picasso, David Smith and Anthony Caro.” Other names should be mentioned as well: Alberto Giacometti, Mark di Suvero, Richard Stankiewic-and Rube Goldberg. The influence of the last two is central to the work, not just because each man recycled materials (think of Stankiewicz’s junkyard totems and Goldberg’s jerry-rigged contraptions), but because the recycling was funny. Wrenches, calipers, rakes, tongs and implements whose function I can’t identify-Ms. Grove puts them all to use and constructs a joyous and sometimes freewheeling comedy. A finicky politesse is offset by the broad and antic, a happy tendency that suits Ms. Grove’s art better than attempts at channeling antiquity’s gravitas. Food Chain (1991), with its grimacing hobgoblins, is the funniest of the bunch; the unnerving and sexy Beast (2000) the most poised.

Elaine Grove: Sculpture is at the Salander O’Reilly Galleries, 20 East 79th Street, until July 25.

Light at the End Of the Tunnel

One of the defining characteristics of the contemporary scene is a narrowness of vision. Looking at what’s displayed in the galleries, you come away with a sense of possibilities so circumscribed they’re indistinguishable from dead ends. It’s as if artists were incapable of thinking outside of the present tense-the future doesn’t extend beyond the next 10 minutes, the past is dead and buried. This deep-seated, intermittently conscious pessimism can be attributed to the influence of Dadaism-and even more, I think, to Minimalism. That movement, after all, goes Dada one better: In its insistence on brute fact over metaphoric capability, Minimalism isn’t merely anti-art-it’s anti-life. Marcel Duchamp’s adolescent high jinks are beginning to look less pernicious, at the beginning of the 21st century, than the bright, shiny nihilism of Donald Judd.

These thoughts came to mind as I was visiting the Franklin Parrasch Gallery, which is now exhibiting the work of Louis Mueller. Mr. Mueller, it should quickly be pointed out, is not a Minimalist, though his art certainly isn’t maximal . Working with oil paint and bronze, he creates simple shapes that achieve an easygoing compromise between painting and sculpture.

The forms-not geometric, not biomorphic, but a whimsical mixture of both-stake their claim, however cautiously, as three-dimensional objects; the understated, almost sneaky physicality accounts for their eye-catching eccentricity. Not above embracing the decorative-Mr. Mueller uses contrasting wall colors to set off the pieces-he only ends up reinforcing their curious, laid-back rigor. The scope isn’t wide, but the work does indeed have scope, which distinguishes it almost immediately from 99 percent of what’s out there. Mr. Mueller knows that what elevates art above narrowness is propulsion and heart. His work has both, in spades.

Louis Mueller is at the Franklin Parrasch Gallery, 20 West 57th Street, until Aug. 8.

The Nearly Forgotten Master-A Showman’s Light Has Dimmed