Tag Archives: Leigh Behnke

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)

Painting the Visible World: American Women Realists

Group exhibition at Bernarducci Meisel Gallery, 37 W. 57th St.; through July 22, 2017:

Painting the Visible World

Ritual Realism: The Immaculate Paintings of Don Eddy

Don Eddy at Nancy Hoffman Gallery (Chelsea); through Dec. 10.

Like most artists on record, Eddy (b. 1944) has eschewed simplistic stylistic associations of his work–though he hasn’t taken pains to distance himself from  (in his case) Photorealism, as seems has been a trend in recent decades.  Why has mimesis, arguably the technical root of “modern” art (diverging from its symbolistic beginnings) widely been considered a retrograde aesthetic exercise  among the cognoscenti in the postwar era?  Okay, there have been some convincing and some less convincing reasons–over time, its wide popularity among the laity probably one of the later; but, by now, trivialized carte blanche?  Really?  The latest slough-off is notable in press on Marilyn’s Minter’s spectacularly slick paintings currently on view at the Brooklyn Museum–precisely, her recent work underscores the clairvoyant aspects of Photorealism vis-a-vis the Photoshop/image transfer universe arguably pervasive in post-millennial art.  But I digress.   Eddy was there at the start and has stayed the course, early on foregoing paintbrush for airbrush exclusively, which helps integrate (conceptually) his hands-off self-shot photographic sources.

From post-Pop beginnings, Eddy became well known by the early 1980s for representational compositions featuring highly reflective imagery that crosses optical ground with pixil-type-patterned abstraction; also, dreamy mash-ups of objects and landscape to achieve a collage-like compositioning notable in an array of postmodern painting styles.  Among Eddy’s distinctions has been a fetishistic finish–whereby his surfaces emit glints of photographic-print undertones sealed by a semi-matte veneer.  At least a decade ago, he moved to segmented formats (possibly influenced by the long-preferred painting format of Leigh Behnke, his wife).  The triptychs and polyptychs here echo the spiritual connotations of his progressively precise, detailed technique and immaculate picture plane.

A number of the works juxtapose panels of sparkling, splashy water with brilliant, dewy flowers, fields, fruits, and forests, and an array of architectural glimpses–peeling facades, dizzying medieval vaulting, close-up Baroque interiors, cropped modern cityscapes.  Others go full-out on the latter, mixing Kodak-billboard-defying panoramas of New York and razor-sharp renderings of steely mass transit gateways, girders, and stairways, rivaling, in their hyper-realistic geometry, Mondrian’s scaffolded Broadway Boogie Woogie-altogether a complex visual and metaphysical experience conjoining natural and human monumentality.

The excruciating craft in Eddy’s enterprise is part and parcel of the content of his results–nothing short of ritualistic in totality, not unlike that communicated in medieval Celtic “carpet pages” or intricately-patterned Qu’ran illuminations.  The careful deliberation and specificity replete in this oeuvre compels viewers to slow down and mediate (just about) on the production per se, and then address the semiotic puzzles of the panel arrangements–more and less accessible and gently didactic (e.g., nature/culture; earthiness/transcendence; old/new; form/content) .  Little painting today demands as resolutely as Eddy’s very close looking while also generously giving to all comers.  To paraphrase Eddy’s artistic ancestor, Jan van Eyck from his famous self-portrait inscription, “all the artist can” — in every work.