You’ve got to hand it to Zeuxis, the self-styled “association of still-life painters.” They’re a tenacious lot-not least because their ambitions are markedly out of fashion. In naming themselves after a painter who worked in Greece between the fourth and fifth centuries B.C., the group declares its fealty to values that reach beyond the contemporary. Sharing an abiding commitment to “a perceptual response to nature” and “a search for aesthetic value,” Zeuxis takes a stand for art that is independent of both history and taste. The group radiates a can-do optimism.
Since forming 10 years ago, Zeuxis has mounted over two dozen shows that have traveled to a variety of venues, from commercial galleries to universities to small museums. Along the way, it has accumulated admirers, among them established painters invited-and, one imagines, happy to participate-in the group’s exhibitions. Zeuxis’ latest show, Table Top Arenas , on view at Lori Bookstein Fine Art, is its most convincing yet, though the standard complaint still applies-a musty academicism skitters around the edges of the proceedings. The collective does itself no favors by hewing to tradition without casting upon it a critical eye. Having said that, Tabletop Arenas gets by on more than good will and collective enthusiasm: The show is filled with pictures, solid and sure.
Where to start on the good stuff? Eve Mansdorf’s depiction of glasses, jugs and seashells is as good a place as any: Flinty yet lush, the painting’s asceticism is offset by a sneaking, full-bodied romanticism. Ken Kewley, channeling the American modernist painter Patrick Henry Bruce, transforms abutting planes of flat color into sumptuous volumetric form. Ruth Miller is, as ever, tough and vulnerable; her rough-hewn brush delineates form with a surprising specificity. Richard La Presti brings crisp, bopping rhythms and clear, juicy tones when painting the abundance of stuff piled up in his studio.
Margaret McCann employs tourist tchotchkes as a means of traveling to Paris, Cairo and the Milky Way within the confines of a single, smallish canvas. After adding mood lighting by way of Giorgio de Chirico and pictorial structure by Leland Bell, infuses the picture with militant underpinnings-or so its title, Fight the Power , leads me to believe. Few of Ms. McCann’s colleagues approach her in terms of eccentricity or plastic distinction. But that doesn’t mean they’re not tough as nails (Nancy Flanagan), poetic (Sandra Stone), to the point (Stanley Friedman), or bluntly lyrical (Susannah Phillips). As for the rest of Zeuxis, they keep things buoyant, and that’s not bad at all.
Zeuxis: Tabletop Arenas is at Lori Bookstein Fine Art, 37 West 57th Street, until July 29.
Before learning that Terrorvision is a “multidisciplinary arts project that examines how definitions of terror are shaped by individual and collective visions,” you know the exhibition concerns itself with big, big themes. The sounds reverberating through Exit Art’s cavernous space in Hell’s Kitchen set an immediate, ominous tone. Upon entering, the viewer hears muffled martial rhythms, an ambient drone, a hectoring voice and evenly paced footsteps. The lighting is dim, probably to accommodate a handful of video projections, most likely to set a serious mood. If exhibitions of art were judged on atmosphere alone, Terrorvision might be considered a persuasive embodiment of post-9/11 angst, a marker of, as the artist Peter Kruper has it, “a world that grows more Kafkaesque with each passing day.” Papo Colo, the show’s “cultural producer,” hits a Kafkaesque note when he writes in the accompanying brochure of “transnational languages in transitional countries with permanent gods.”
Or maybe he just writes badly. The anxiety that New Yorkers have been living with since 9/11 is real and shouldn’t be treated lightly. Yet when Mr. Colo states that “after death what you become is art” or “we are at war again, and we don’t even feel it,” he downgrades honest confusion and pervasive apprehension into nonsense. The artists included in Terrorvision rely on words just as desperately, which should alert you to where their priorities lay: in the rarefied realm of the conceptual.
Objects are secondary to the explanatory wall labels; visitors to Terrorvision spend more time reading than looking. In doing so, they learn that the artists are so busy “referencing,” “re-contextualizing” and “commenting” on political situations that they’ve failed to make objects with an inherently compelling logic. What you get is standard art-world boilerplate: an American flag constructed from Molotov cocktails; a sink filled with blood and a bust of Hitler with his mustache bitten off. One piece invites the viewer to pick up a gun and shoot the artist. It’s the only thing you’ll remember-if only because it sets up a punch line no reasonable person could hope to resist.
Terrorvision is at Exit Art, 475 Tenth Avenue at 36th Street, until July 31.
How much you like Woodwork , a group exhibition of 22 artists at Anthony Grant, Inc., depends on how much you like wood. Material matters here; craft less so-this is a show that concerns itself with the what of art more than with the why or how .
The results are what you might expect: Any show that includes works like Sherrie Levine’s dull, theory-driven constructions, Ann Truitt’s elegiac concentrations of form and Leonardo Drew’s maudlin accumulations of detritus is, by definition, a mixed bag. Still, wood does the trick as a unifying conceit, making for odd or funny juxtapositions of temperament and style.
The sculptor Michael Beatty creates an elegant, if somewhat predictable, tension by contrasting the organic (wood) and the industrial (steel) with Untitled (Double Loop) (2003). An early landscape by Claes Oldenburg, assembled from oddments of discarded furniture, is dry, droll and picturesque. Richard Artschwager’s “confessional-shaped” crate is a nicely underplayed Dadaist joke, as is, to a lesser extent, George Stoll’s yellow car sponge. Ellsworth Kelly lets the grain of an immaculate plinth cut from oak express the sensuality he’s ever intent on suppressing.
Watering Hole (2002), a kid-friendly biomorphic sculpture by Bruce Brosnan, is the most winning piece in the show. By making a work that sticks out from the wall, the perpetually promising Mr. Brosnan begins to admit that sculpture, before it does anything else, must acknowledge and engage actual space. An obvious lesson for a sculptor, but consider it one small step for humankind, one important step for this young artist.
Woodwork is at Anthony Grant, Inc., 37 West 57th Street, until Aug. 27.