The last time New Yorkers had the opportunity to see the paintings of William Scharf was a couple of years back when they were included in Painting Report; Plane: The Essential of Painting , an exhibition of four artists seen at the P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center–MoMA. Mr. Scharf didn’t make much of an impression. His large, floating conglomerations of biomorphic blips were pleasantly out of place amid the surrounding clatter typical of the Long Island City institution. The paintings came off as tepid rehashes of the sort of Jungian pictograph produced in Manhattan in the middle of the last century. It seemed obvious that Mr. Scharf had been included in the exhibition as a favor to a friend, as an exercise in curatorial privilege-artistic talent had nothing to do with it.
Or so I supposed. Upon encountering Mr. Scharf’s recent pictures, on display at the Richard York Gallery, I did a whiplash-inducing double take. Was this the same William Scharf? The Surrealist-inspired mood was vaguely familiar, but that was about it. Nothing prepared me for the lurid pull of the paintings, the velvety palette and glowing, spongy light. Each image is a languid collision of contradictory events. Blissful biomorphs and invasive geometry; arid surfaces and livid color; open atmosphere and confined spaces; Symbolist reverie and visceral excess-there’s no getting a hold of these paintings. They keep shifting and transforming right under your gaze. They don’t sit still.
They don’t always sit well, either. Mr. Scharf refuses to square the belligerent elements that populate the paintings. Each canvas clunks along like the hodgepodge it is. Like other artists with a mystical bent-William Blake, say, or Arthur Dove, or William Baziotes-Mr. Scharf is intent on tapping into otherworldly forces; tightening composition is a lesser priority. Mr. Scharf cuts a fascinating figure: He’s unclassifiable, florid, frustrating-and not in need of favors. I recommend the art and, more so, the artist. We should all be so singular and true.
William Scharf: Recent Paintings is at the Richard York Gallery, 21 East 65th Street, until March 20.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Galleries as big as airplane hangars are not suitable for most artists. The majority of painters and sculptors work on a scale that doesn’t set out to challenge the surrounding architecture. Few contemporary artists use scale-I’m talking about big scale-to persuasive aesthetic effect. Artists who truly require a tremendous amount of space (the sculptors Mark di Suvero and Richard Serra come to mind, and the painter Alex Katz) are exceptions to the rule.
And yet, all over Chelsea, artists are woefully attempting to fill up tons of space. Take, for example, the exhibition of paintings, drawings and prints by the Danish artist Leif Kath at DCA Gallery’s sizable main space. An art of small moments doesn’t benefit from the warehouse aesthetic-and Mr. Kath’s art is small. That isn’t necessarily a criticism, though his handsome accumulations of repetitive incident (dots, patterning and gridded lines) aren’t anything we haven’t seen before. The moderate pleasures his work offers have to do with variations in rhythm, touch and material-intimate stuff likely to be overwhelmed by an art barn.
Which is why the folks at DCA have installed the pieces with an eye toward architectural flow, placing them here and there, high and low, as if the pictures were designer tchotchkes. In a sense, they are: Mr. Kath’s aesthetic strategy, it would seem, is to lull the viewer into a state of indifference. Only paintings No. 5 and No. 6 on the gallery checklist (all of them are untitled) are quirky enough to shake us out of our stupor. But they don’t exactly quell our skepticism. I mean, shouldn’t we expect more from art than Minimalist form put forth once more with feeling?
Leif Kath: At the Last Moment is at DCA Gallery, 525 West 22nd Street, until Feb. 21.
That Damn Feather
Do artists in Milwaukee know how to stretch a canvas? If the paintings of Tyson Reeder are any indication, the answer is: barely. A couple of Mr. Reeder’s pictures at the Daniel Reich Gallery arch off the wall due to lax craftsmanship. Warped canvases aren’t a measure of artistic worth, of course, but aesthetic considerations begin in the earliest stages of preparing a surface for paint. The nuts-and-bolts aspect of art-making clearly eludes Mr. Reeder and, for that matter, his dealer; the show feels unprofessional. I wouldn’t make an issue of it if the paintings themselves weren’t promising and, in one case, quite good.
Milwaukee is the title of the exhibition, and the city, apparently, is the inspiration for the paintings. Whether any Wisconsinite would recognize the state’s largest city in them is open to question. Mr. Reeder depicts a fairy-tale realm defined by cartoonish doodles, diaphanous runs of gouache, runaway splotches, grainy textures and oddments of collage. The paintings veer, with an engaging informality, between ornamental abstraction and storybook illustration. Fragments of fantastic scenarios-animals making music, autonomous umbrellas or a beer stein equipped with a microphone-are situated within fields of absorbent blue, yellow, red and green.
Improvisation directs the application of paint, and perhaps the assembly of images, too. The compositions are congested or self-conscious, the drawing hapless, the stenciling worse. When Mr. Reeder pastes stuff onto the surfaces-a feather, say, or pennies-he halts the pictorial flow.
But then there’s Thunderdome (2003), wherein a seamless weave of kaleidoscopic incident-including that damn feather-is brought to wonderful fruition. Rich in color, texture, image and complexity, it’s enough to make you think that Milwaukee might be a magical place after all.
Tyson Reeder: Milwaukee is at the Daniel Reich Gallery, 537-A West 23rd Street, until Feb. 28.