Tag Archives: postwar art

“Joan Mitchell: I Carry My Landscapes around with Me”

At David Zwirner, 537 W. 20th St., through July 12, 2019.

Abstract Expressionist  painting (and this is that) is not about reflecting visual reality but making visual reality. And the making of the making, funneled through vision.  That doesn’t mean the results necessarily or not refer to nothing beyond themselves nor that this aspect is incompatible with intuitive, gestural, self-referential or other aspects associated with its aesthetic terrain as historicized.  For example, reading Mark Rothko’s horizontally segmented compositions as landscapes or Clyfford Still’s stalactite forms geological, whatever the artists’ non-objective intentions.  Mitchell skews closer to the edge of nature (as per the artist quote and exhibition title above), encasing atmospheric experience in the picture plane with an economy of drippy, weave-y brushwork and a joie de la coleur that evoke Fauvism—the Matisse reference per se also on point—rather than topographic environment.  Part of that may be absorbed from the prolonged close proximity (literally and figuratively) to the landscapes of Monet, whose own abstract-leaning work hovers between encroaching blindness and close-up vision.  Yet the large-scale multi-panel format (as in Monet’s late work) itself echoes or mirrors spatial expanse despite its ontological flatness.

Anyway, each example in this survey, spanning four decades, is energetically gorgeous–a profusion of signature weedy, ribbon-y brushstrokes with spots of blank canvas spraying light from behind.   The painted strands gather densely in places and in others fray into surface maps and  pathways, while color runs the gamut across seasons and terrain in associative juxtapositions, inadvertently and not.   In some cases, Mitchell got away with very little—a very high complement.  Minnesota (1980), a breezy brilliant discourse on yellow and shadow in the glare of the white backdrop, is a fave from now on.  Elsewhere, she invites us to wallow deeper into layered representation as well as the metaphoric free range of the studio. 

Detail/installation shot: Joan Mitchell, Riviere, 1990 (at David Zwirner, 537 W. 20th St., NYC (6/22/19).

Double Whammy at Zwirner: Ad Reinhardt; Ruth Asawa

At David Zwirner, 537 W. 20th, through October 21:

Ad Reinhardt: Blue Paintings (ground floor)

Ruth Asawa (upstairs)

The only (NYC) gallery show in recent memory to compare in sublimity to this  Reinhardt “blues” display is last winter’s  Rothko at Pace.  Through the oeuvre of both artists, the primary subject, object, and effect is a palpable, pulsating “aura” uncannily emanating from pigment and turpentine.  The proto-Minimalist, monochrome monk, Reinhardt (1913-1967) is best known for his late paintings of barely perceptible black-on-black geometry.  And yet, for decades previously,  he was nothing if not a colorist in the wake of, well, Matisse–if anyone is uniformed or skeptical on that count, this show will dispel that.  Not only does each work present nothing but blues,  but each also, simultaneously, may conjure window, sky, sea, air, iconic spirituality—pace Reinhardt’s committed art-secular, non-objective motives and intentions.  Yet, especially in terms of “spirit,” once viewers engage his results, some (like me) might surmise he had far more in common with Malevich’s precedent Suprematism than he consciously wished to realize.

The wire basketry abstraction of Asawa (1926-1913) is a tensile and delicate dialectical balance of surrealist-like whimsy and danger, mystery and rationality, magic and labor, soft and sharp, shape and line.  Most characteristically, hanging, curving lamp-like objects of macramé-ish woven wire are comprised of a core and an encasement of the same manufacture around it—a bottle-in-a-bottle, double-mesh mirage.  The wire also can read as twig like, nature-bound trompe-l’oeil in several symmetrical wall “mandalas.”  Asawa‘s back-story, as survivor of a WWII-era Japanese internment camp and rise in the art sphere as a serious abstractionist in an era and sphere thoroughly dominated by men, is more than reason enough to pay homage.   But the art itself will make a lasting impression analogous to a gorgeous tattoo that remains haunted by its haptic birthing pain.

“Ruth Asawa” exhibition at Zwirner (10/14/17)