Is Orange the Next Blue? Ridley Howard’s Figurative Conceit

Love at first sight: That was my initial response to Orange #1 (2005), a painting by Ridley Howard in his exhibition at the Zach Feuer Gallery in Chelsea. The innocuous title, indicative of the painting’s predominant hue, won’t help in locating its appeal. Mr. Howard’s canvas is a portrait of a young woman with a close-cropped head of silky hair. Seen during a fleeting state of mind, she looks askance and holds in her right hand four momentarily forgotten French fries.

The woman wears a butterfly broach and, under a dark blue sweater, a white shirt with blue and red stripes. Poking its lip up from the bottom of the canvas is an open bottle of beer. Each of the objects is beautifully painted-the broach, in particular, is a sterling example of meticulous craft. They’re painted so well that you begin to notice Mr. Howard’s less developed handling of flesh. The “orange” lady’s hand is notably lacking in bones. Her face is stiffly delineated in a manner more akin to folk art than the sublime portrayals of the human form found in the paintings of Piero della Francesca or Fra Angelico.

Those names weren’t picked out of a hat. Mr. Howard claims the Italian masters as pivotal influences. More power to him: It’s good to see a young painter whose sense of history predates Andy Warhol and I Dream of Jeannie. Indeed, the detached calm enveloping Mr. Howard’s downtown cutie-pie betokens more than a passing familiarity with the art of Renaissance Italy. Other artists cited as influences are Edward Hopper (not bad) and Alex Katz (uh-oh).

My initial infatuation with Orange #1 turned to dispassion due to the nagging sense that Mr. Howard might be putting one over on us. Sure enough, bonelessness isn’t his sole failing. The other paintings-rubbery dreamscapes depicting erotic disappointment, urban anomie, swampland intimacy and the tribulations of the affluent-proclaim a hard-won shallowness as if it were a badge of honor. A diverting mishmash of unceasing cleverness and uncertain promise, the paintings leave you pining for a figurative art shorn of disaffection and purged of irony. Mr. Howard is neither as smart as he thinks he is nor as dumb as he aims to be. Orange #1-or, at least, most of it-will make you keep an eye out for him anyway.

Ridley Howard is at the Zach Feuer Gallery, 530 West 24th Street, until May 7.

Fulsome Fruits

Connoisseurs of photography will be familiar with the technique of dye transfer, a process employed to mesmerizing effect by Evelyn Hofer, whose art is the subject of an exhibition at Peter Blum in Soho. In eight color photographs of still-life set-ups-a dish of lemons, a wicker basket, a pewter mug-she elicits from the all-but-obsolete process a tactility so even and lush that it makes you question the veracity of her photographs. The objects in them radiate a soft, clarified light; their textures are sharply articulated, their solidity unnervingly fulsome.

The photos beg comparison with painterly precedents, bringing to mind the art of Zurbarán and any number of “little masters” of 17th-century Dutch still-life painting. Maybe they beg too much: As someone who isn’t a connoisseur of what goes on in the darkroom, I worry that the dye-transfer process is less an integral part of Ms. Hofer’s vision than an august gloss on what might otherwise be pedestrian pictures-the fate of her efforts in black-and-white. The charms of the color photos don’t altogether obviate skepticism. Of course, there are worse reasons to look at a picture than their technique; better we should be puzzled than apathetic. In that regard, Ms. Hofer is one step ahead of most of the competition.

Evelyn Hofer: Still Lifes is at Peter Blum, 99 Wooster Street, until May 14.

Lemons Make Lemonade at P.S.1

“You just don’t get it dad, so fuck off.” That comment comes courtesy of Gardar Eide Einarsson, one of over 150 artists featured in Greater New York 2005, an exhibition at P.S.1 in Long Island City. Mr. Einarsson’s maxim, rendered in faux graffiti on a stairway wall, could be the motto for this showcase of “new artistic directions” organized by curators from the Museum of Modern Art and its outer-borough affiliate. By pairing it with another of Mr. Einarsson’s artworks-“Total Revolution”, it reads-you’ll have an idea of the delusions under which the exhibition operates.

If stories of avaricious dealers on the prowl for young artists are true (they must be: I read about it in The New York Times), then Greater New York is less a showcase than a showroom. Mr. Einarsson and his friends at MoMA and P.S.1 might not like to hear it, but the fact is that “dad” does get it, and he’s buying it by the truckload. “Total Revolution” and “fuck off” aren’t declarations of political or artistic intent. They’re bearers of a supremely marketable pose geared toward an audience who believes that art is all about antagonism and the artist, a rebel above reproach. The main complaint about Greater New York has, in fact, been its unapologetic courting of filthy lucre. When making a buck becomes the lone incentive for creating art, you know the artist has relinquished the better part of his soul.

All you can really say about Greater New York is that it’s typical of the museum-as-funhouse aesthetic: temporarily exasperating and quickly forgotten. Four talented artists do warrant notice: the draftsman Benjamin Degen, the painter Ann Pibal, the sculptor Tobias Putrih and Rico Gatson, whose video Go Play makes something sexy, spooky and funny from the kaleidoscopic distortion of an old Pam Grier flick. Each of them deserves more respect than they receive from the not-so-hallowed halls of P.S.1.

Greater New York 2005 is at P.S.1, 22-25 Jackson Avenue, Long Island, until Sept. 22.

Is Orange the Next Blue? Ridley Howard’s Figurative Conceit