Tag Archives: geometric abstraction

The Hyde Collection art museum and historic house

Warren Street, Glens Falls, New York.

Run-through of the permanent collection and a print exhibition of Picasso, Braque and Leger (through January 5):

When traveling through the New England hinterlands, check into historic house museums that dot region, e.g., the Hyde complex in Warren County.  The core experience is a kind of mini-Frick (initiated by local paper mill magnate couple, Louis and Charlotte Hyde), from the 1912 faux-palazzo façade and indoor central courtyard of the main building to the substantial focus on 14th to 17th century Italian painting and a few corresponding sculptural works, e.g., a ceramic Della Robbia shop Madonna and Child relief. 

Look carefully for a tiny Tinteretto “True Cross” scene (there’s also a larger portrait by the prolific Venetian) and a velvety Veronese of the biblical Rebecca, as the lighting is very low and indirect in spots not only due to conservation considerations but salon-type placements throughout the mainly small domestic spaces including alcoves and stairwells. In one of the larger “reception” rooms, you won’t miss a bust-height, glassy-eyed portrait attributed to Raphael–worthy even if workshop or follower, and excellent “International Gothic” French-produced tapestries with charmingly conventional allegorical themes (faith; eternity). Lowlands Renaissance and Baroque painting is also amply represented, not least by a sensitive Rembrandt of a long-maned Christ and a lively unfinished Rubens portrait of an African male model. 

Mainstream pre-WWII American tastes for French Impressionists, especially Renoir and Degas, are evident, among the most interesting examples a pre-Pointillist Seurat landscape comprised of steadily dabbed pure colors suggesting his dizzying optics to come; and check the subtle, possible plein air precedent by Gustave Courbet featuring his signature rocky topography. Top-tier American Realists and Impressionists also have a strong collective presence. Among several Thomas Eakins paintings is an important portrait of his acclaimed student Henry Ossawa Tanner; also seaside and garden scenes by Winslow Homer, Childe Hassam, William Merritt Chase, and a moonlit cricked-impasto Albert Pinkham Ryder.  A narrow vertical Blue-to-Rose Period Picasso of a lithe youth surprises in Madame’s bedroom, although acquired after her death (1968), as both the collection and exhibition space has continued to expand.   

The current print show of illustrative suites based on literature by Picasso, Georges Braque and Fernand Leger is lovely.  Starting with, Picasso (of course, and this spread is a good argument for why), the monochrome coverage extends to nearly the full iconographic range of his oeuvre, from the Blue Period, through shattered Cubist still life, through Surrealist-styled figures including auto-portrait minotaurs, to scathing cartoons of Franco, and classically-tinged lover-muses like a profile head of Marie Therese “carved” out with chiaroscuro.  Fortuitously, one can appreciate his facility with classical contouring (when he wanted to employ it) through comparison with a painted portrait head by Ingres in the house library, along with two others by the sultan of slickly appealing academic painting.  The latest Picasso images here, from the 1960s, are incredibly reduced caricatures that bring a semiotic mixing of the most minimal markings to life. The overriding technique is etching, with some technical variation (most by specialty print houses but a few early ones his own pulls).

Picasso’s early Cubist art-brother Braque is seen in this display veering into frenemy Matisse’s territory with softer organic forms, specific nature imagery and some color; and Leger’s contributions combine strongly contoured, bold figuration a la his constructivist-like direction, with flat, abstract color blocks characteristic of his post-WWI paintings.     

A new gallery (opened 2017) highlights continuing acquisitions of post-WWII works with the current installation focusing (not exclusively) on geometric abstraction via Jean Arp, Joseph Albers, Frank Stella, and Al Held, among others. Veering off, but wonderful, a characteristically conceptual Tim Rollins and K.O.S. wherein pages from a text of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream are pasted as a picture plane and embellished with colorful floating abstract “blots”–the perceptual apparition not wholly unlike the effect of the scaffold-stablized shapes of in Leger’s prints (as above).

It’s a pleasantly scaled excursion in which all can be taken in leisurely, and special programming, judging from this visit, is thoughtful and erudite within the context and means of the institution as a whole. 

MoMA’s re-do and inaugural shows

Notable among an increased number of special exhibitions and displays at the Museum of Modern Art, re-opened to the public today (after a renovation and major collection re-organization):

Betye Saar: The Legends of Black Girls Window, through January 4, 2020

Taking a Thread for a Walk, through Spring 2020

Sur Moderno: Journeys of Abstraction: The Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Gift, through March 24, 2020

member: Pope. L, 1978-2001, through February 1, 2001

Two interior design changes noted that I like: the mini-chic-modernist living room seating spaces now on each floor, especially the one featuring Hiroshi Sugimoto’s blurred photographs of an earlier incarnation of the sculpture garden viewed below out the windows; and the black strips of wall, sans art, on the elevator landing corridors to rest the eyes between galleries.  Thank goodness for the continued enshrinement of the original building’s Bauhaus stairway, which relieves what has become an elegant but corporate-like art headquarters with large-scale partitioned warrens.

Standing out in the inaugural re-installations of the permanent collection, which the museum has publicized will change more frequently than in the past (great): the full scope of MoMA’s Migration series panel paintings by Jacob Lawrence, which have, by now, infiltrated so many spheres of American arts and culture; a window-lit Brancusi spread; the juxtaposition of heavy-handed abstract sculpture by Melvin Edwards, Barbara Chase-Riboud, Lynda Benglis, and Jackie Windsor; a small section on early experimental photography and film integrated into the turn-of-the-century painting and sculpture galleries; an ode to the quirky art of Manhattanite Florine Stetheimer (1871-1944) with a room of her own; a giant female nude (1978) by Joan Semmel, indicating the popularity of figurative painting at the time often ignored by high-profile venues focusing on “cutting edge” developments, especially in relation to feminist content — also helping to redress the MoMA’s infamous renown for “hot mamas” painted by modernist men (elucidated in a now classic study by art historian Carol Duncan, 1989).  I didn’t like the placement of a gorgeous, vermilion and cobalt abstraction by Alma Thomas at the edge of a Matisse room, where it is inevitably mitigated; or the implied juxtaposition (on different walls) of Faith Ringgold’s “race riot” (from her seminal “American People” series, late 1960s) with Picasso’s ubiquitous Demoiselles. I can see where each has an intensity perhaps overshadowing peer works, and curatorial sensitivity in suggesting a powerful painterly aggression equally shared, but I think it encourages ultimately superficial comparison especially with the rest of the large room also filled with Picasso.

Special exhibition highlights: the quietly engaging Betye Saar show, which explores the early print-making of this indefatigable nonagenarian and her break into assemblage, exemplified by MoMa’s Black Girl’s Window (1969).  Overall etching-based (not exclusively and with broad technical variation), her blending of alternately scratchy and sinuous contours with washy, earth-toned, passages and layered grounds are absorbing formally and fairy-tale-like in their representational mix of pensive and dreamy females in webbed forests or isolated interiors flecked intermittently with floating symbols to evoke innocence, wonder, terror, and intellectual, sensual, and spiritual curiosity.  Others that elide into the mixed materials works retrieve the diagrammatic subject of pseudo-scientific phrenology to deconstruct the roots of entrenched racists and sexist psychosis.  The featured “window” and others suggest both inward soul-gazing and exterior cosmological views of the world, mashing mystery, politics, veiled personal emotion, and much more into make-shift pictorial fenestration.  

Then the engaging, “Thread” show, which features the similarly visionary aesthetics–in a non-objective overall framework–of the remarkable Anni Albers (1899-1994), with a large selection of her on-the-board and canvas abstractions, weavings, and commercially-produced textile designs; as well as work by direct and indirect progeny and kindred spirits, including a thickly braided-rope “phantom” by Mrinalini Mukherjee (d. 2015), introduced to many with her recent retrospective at the Guggenheim and a thick rainbow-bow colored yarn waterfall by contemporary artists, Sheila Hicks.

“Sur Moderno” adds lots of South American artists to MoMA’s seminal “story” of geometric abstraction long confined to Europe; and as such enriches its purview by endless subtle variation–in this display, augmented by furniture and other related design work. I did not like the confining of Mondrian’s brilliant late painting, Broadway Boogie Woogie to a lost corner of the show in perhaps an admirable attempt to dethrone his preeminence in this sphere somewhat.

Finally, a performance retrospective for wild-and-crazy Pope L. X-rated in parts, unremittingly absurdist and confrontational, the artist’s career has been committed to calling out injustice satirically and back-handedly, especially racism, in works that demands some investment in unraveling.  One broader issue that comes to the fore here: a new-ish trend in turning performance props and residue into ostensible sculpture.  Most compelling in this presentation: make-shift structures that can remind of David Hammons’ inventive, folks-y architectural constructions, here complete with instructions and other trappings that reference (perhaps), more esoteric conceptual modes without the pointed, people-centered missives of this art preacher-provocateur. 

MoMA, Fifth floor

Steven Salzman’s Funhouse Formalism

“Steven Salzman: Luminous Paintings”; at Bernarducci Gallery, 525 West 25th Street, through October 27, 2018.

Is there any joy in art-Mudville (aka Chelsea) anymore, or is it all ego-heavy political didacticism , endless appropriation,  and novel media meant to over- or underwhelm rather than engage viewers at eve-level (literally and figuratively speaking)?

Salzman’s paintings are a reminder that good old (ironically) abstraction still can deliver art magic when done well–i.e., when it manages to  funnel the gaze to perceptual foundations, tuning out everything else.  Recycling and splicing components of Futurism, Op Art, and Minimalism, Salzman spins his own Neo-Geo with razor-sharp compositional showmanship to render vision as physical experience. Typically comprised of shapes and lines precisely delineated and bounded and then stretched and pulled in varied directions, these compositions can induce squinting, blinking, and even weight-shifting to maintain equilibrium while panning their seamless shifting surfaces.   An interest in gradated, shimmering palettes—either a pearly spectrum or riotous, saturated hues—adds to the pleasure of pattern-seeking in the vertiginous rays, horizontalizing strips, and occasional wavy ripples and Barnett Newman-ish zips that Salzman seems to formulate by a combo of intuition and algorithm.  His closest art peer is probably Odili Donald Odita, and in that comparison Salzman is suddenly intimate, delivering a more tempered, slightly veiled razzle dazzle.  Anyone up for some satisfying art-for-art’s-sake will much appreciate Salzman’s nearly breathing fun-house formalism.

Steven Salzman, Beam-Drop (2015, 84×60 in.; image: bernarduccigallery.com)

 

Geometric Variations: Odita; Rhode; Johnson

Odili Donald Odita: Third Sun; through Feb. 10 at Jack Shainman, 513 W. 20th St. (Chelsea)

Robin Rhode: The Geometry of Color; through Feb. 24 at Lehman Maupin, 536 W. 22nd St. (Chelsea).

Kelley Johnson: Slow Hum; through Feb. 4  at Freight & Volume, 97 Allen St. (LES)

A key theme in the group of recent abstract paintings at Shainman by Odili Donald Odita is celebration (according to the press release).  Yes.  Odita’s sharply juxtaposed, color spectrum-spanning, slices and shards pop back, forth and across these flat pictures as viewers approach and recede.  Odita has already mastered this post-Minimalist terrain, climactic in his public murals; he continues here to mine its infinite potential when it comes to visceral variation–especially with nuanced chromatics.  With each work momentarily mesmerizing, collective dynamics include: tension between perceived patterns and their disruption: illusionistic spatial shifts, algorithmic autonomous patterning, and attention to color theory; plus, not least extra-formalist design inspiration (e.g., textiles; architecture).  Above all, the presiding staggered-dagger motif sets the body, as well as the eyes, abuzz.

Robin Rhodes also creates outdoor murals with geometric foundations; however, in socially subversive contexts.  Namely, on city walls in Johannesburg (S.A.)—a la authentic graffiti, with which he then interacts in performances.   At Lehman Maupin, these projects are completed (as it were) as art photographs. The painted backdrops recall, variously, point-to-line-to-plane Kandinsky, Sol Lewitt’s systematic faux-frescos, and, occasionally, simplified archetypal symbols as embedded in local traditions of façade decoration in the region.  The superimposition of Rhodes’s own silhouette in various poses conjures Banksy and Bauhaus mashed into absurdist street ballet.  Collectively, the framed up rhythmic arrangements bind together, bounce, and juggle such myriad associations.

Flip side to Odita’s crisp-cut partitioning by trading on related geometric coin are the recent airy works of Kelley Johnson at Freight & Volume.  Johnson has left tape strips and over-stepped masking edges intermittently and strategically around his striped and scaffolded compositions, through which white space peaks in, often in sectional, horizontal bands.  To use the sonic metaphor of Kelley’s exhibition title: a distillation of Odita’s big  band to a low (as well as slow) hum.   Leavening classic Minimalist monochrome with pop-neon color and, in a few sculptures, more fragile structure for which kites were Kelley’s inspiration, the hand-tinged element tempers his neo-geo modality with somewhat ironic, off-beat charm.