Tag Archives: art about art

Museum as Muse: Three intimate views

Museum as Muse: Leigh Behnke, Joe Fig, Peter Hristoff

SVA Flatiron Gallery Project Space, 133 W. 21st St. (hours: M-Sun, 9-6), through March 8, 2020.

The School of Visual Arts has expanded apace with other art schools with Manhattan-based campuses over the past few decades (if without the new grandiose buildings of, prominently, Cooper Union and Parsons). Once concentrated around its flagship on East 23rd, additions across town include a movie theater, more classroom-studios, and some exhibition venues, like this modest, street-level gallery on the north side of 21st, currently featuring a quietly engaging show of three SVA faculty curated by Leigh Behnke vis-a-vis recent explorations in her own work and noted overlaps with colleagues Joe Fig and Peter Hristoff.

Through the post-war era, the museum theme has been associated mainly with large-scale rapprochements, irreverence and even ressentiment when it comes to the canonical Western masterpiece-museum complex—from Marcel Broodthaer’s faux Musee d’Art Moderne (late 1960s) to The Whitney’s landmark “Art about Art” exhibition (1978) to Thomas Struth’s gigantic photographic museum tableaux and Fred Wilson’s institutional interventions (1980s-1990s) to MoMA’s major survey exhibition of the same title (1999), for starters. Here it’s much more intimate. Fig’s small-scale naturalistic meta-paintings—viewers viewing art by widely known artists in traditional art-viewing setting—appear most literal. For example, an earnest rendition of Hilma af Klint’s abstract paintings as recently displayed in the Guggenheim’s High Gallery, viewed from a ramp; which also calls up Normal Rockwell’s painting of a Jackson Pollock in his well-known painting, The Connoisseur (1961). Fig’s figures have a rounded solidity that aligns with several mid-century American realists as well as his background in sculpture.

A painting by Joe Fig, on view at the SVA Flatiron Project Space (as above).

Behnke has long been perfecting her mimetic, glaze-layered oil painting technique, most often trained on interior and landscape subjects. Typically unpopulated, fragmented, segmented and reorganized, her results can take on a surrealist veneer. In each of three paintings here the shuffling of observed elements are blended into a kind of dissonant unity. A tour de force, the largest work in the show at about 40 x 30 inches, has a ghostly allegorical “fury” tumbling into a dark gallery, possibly appropriated from the cropped Baroque-ish paintings represented that book end the composition. Together with a raging fire beyond a central window, the stabilizing, arrangement of pristine, nearly tactile velvet settees seems somehow vulnerable. As one pauses and parses, Magritte motifs may come to mind, and (for me, after a chat with the artist when I visited) also the topsy-turvy terrors of climate change.

Paintings by Leigh Behnke at the SVA Flatiron Gallery Project Space (as above)

Hristoff’s works on paper—collaged, inked, printed—allude to hallowed classical sculpture through abbreviated contours and silhouettes, further obscured through palimpsest-like pastel hues and fluid, floating patterns. They suggest dreams or memories, while Fig conveys an empirical present, and Behnke portends a nostalgic, distopian future. As represented here, the artists share not only content but respective understated, refined sensibilities.

A work on paper by Peter Hristoff at the SVA Flatiron Gallery Project Space (as above)

Post-Industrial Pop Pottery at Sperone Westwater

“Bertozzi & Casoni: Selected Works,” through July 24 at Sperone Westwater (Bowery).

Warhol’s afterlife never ends–what else could possibly come to mind upon entering a gallery full of seemingly worn Brillo boxes filled with the detritus of repeated re-use; culminating in a installational mound of them, upon which a dog looks for a spot to . . . whatever.  The rich visual and art-metaphoric semiotics already orbiting around these ostensibly “found” sculptural arrangements (and others in the show) are compounded upon realization of the ceramic–yes, trompe l’oeil ceramic–medium (all elements in most).

Bertozzi & Casoni; installation at Sperone Westwater, 6/27/17
Bertozzi & Casoni; installation detail; Sperone Westwater, 6/27/17

If it’s mimetic, it’s Renaissance illusionism, which is to say, Italian, which is to say, Giampaolo Bertozzi and Stefano dal Monte Casoni, the pair behind this dazzling display of faux-foraged debris, also partly indebted to postwar arte povera.  That shows especially in the construction-qua-paintings, such as a splashy, psychedelic, Rube Goldberg plumbing parts wall piece–except that it’s really ceramic–and another featuring gridded first-aid tins (yes, ceramic approximations), opened and filled with time-capsule, Surrealist-like artifacts.CAM00700

Bertozzi & Casoni, at Sperone Westwater, 6/27/15
Bertozzi & Casoni; installation detail; Sperone Westwater, 6/27/15

The art historical evocations are multitudinous, from Giorgio Di Chirico and Joseph Cornell to the white-washed stacked wooden-crate abstractions of Louise Nevelson to Robert  Rauschenberg’s 3-D graffito recycling and a Beuysian sense of mutable materiality; not to mention (less so) Damien Hirst’s sanitized art-medicine cabinet works also created in the late first decade of the new millennium.  The mode and modality of simulacra here recalls the realist sculptural fabrications of Robert Gober; and the Cuban art collaborative (now duo), Los Carpinteros, who similarly conceptualize and execute workshop-style craftsmanship to complicate spatial, optical, and conceptual expectations for art.

There’s a very cool Alberto Burri / Takashi Murakami / beehive- environmental mash-up skull “painting,” again, remarkably, of ceramic manufacture.  You may get the idea, but, really, you have to be there.