Great and Small (and great) in Chelsea

Tom Wesselmann: Standing Still Lifes; through Feb. 24, at Gagosian, 555 W. 24th St.

Marti Cormand: Formalizing their Concept: After Levine, After Evans; through March 3, at Josee Bienvenu, 529 W. 20th St.

Bright, billboard-ish, photorealist-light paintings stacked into surface-defined tableaux, in the contextual swell of Mad Men advertising, latent feminism, and white-privilege American consumer consciousness.  This Wesselmann series, c. 1967-1981, really nails that postwar Polaroid, plastics, and early mass media sensibility in sleek (but not slick) renditions of mainly generic personal objects, blown up in scale like Claes Oldenburg’s related Pop sculptures.  Each “set” suggests a snippet of domestic life, while hedging the allegorical orbit of still life memento mori.  Straightforward, well executed, clever and amusing, Wesselmann’s method and flattened modality here prefigure the digital layering of Photoshop.  Beyond the arranged canvas works are several related gems on paper, part and parcel of a succinct, illuminating archival display on the development of the series.

One does not have to engage the title of Marti Cormand‘s show to find his small-scale, minutely marked, mimetic pencil drawings of rural American landscapes and run-down architecture compelling. Upon approach they can appear to be black and white photographs before gradually revealing their graphite identities.  However, beyond the pictorial pleasures and paradoxes of the pointillistic trompe l’oeil rendering, the backstory of the series title  complicates this labor-intensive exercise by explicating Cormand’s source material:  Sherrie Levine’s infamous photographs (1981) of Depression-era photographs by Walker Evans (as reproduced in a book).  Cormand has run the now iconic images, mechanics, and messages of these predecessors through his own artistic mill, sieving a near-century of gender-inflected discourse on art craft, content, and visual aesthetics into his collective result.

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