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    David Ebony's Top Ten

Malcolm Morley at the Art Show
At this year's Art Dealers Association "Art Show" at the 67th Street Armory, Sperone Westwater upstaged many of the other dealers by devoting its entire booth to a solo exhibition of six large and arresting paintings by Malcolm Morley. The London-born New York artist continues his series of fantasy images featuring animals, airplanes and ships. The archaic-looking vehicles and vessels that appear in the works are based on toy models or photographs of old clipper ships, galleons and World War I fighter planes.

In spite of the obvious artificiality of the source material, Morley's brightly colored and lushly painted compositions convey a feeling of adventure and danger, and not only in terms of the historic battlegrounds to which the models refer. In a metaphorical sense, Morley offers viewers a glimpse of the death-defying thrills of a provocative artistic or esthetic undertaking.

One of the most extraordinary pieces on view, and a major work of Morley's long and illustrious career, Wildlife, shows a sinuous leopard surrounded by verdant jungle. In this canvas, the artist's intense brushwork reveals an animal stopped dead in its tracks as if were aware of the enormous bird -- actually a 3-D model of an Osprey attached to the canvas -- that hovers just above its hind quarters. With outstretched wings, the bird of prey appears about to swoop down to attack the big cat.

The work functions successfully on numerous levels. For one, it appears as a tongue-in-cheek update of Rauschenberg's iconic 1959 combine painting Canyon. Morley also suggests in Wildlife a conflict in nature, and, at the same time, an ensuing battle between painting and sculpture.

Throughout his career, the artist has examined the tentative relationship between painting and sculpture. The canvases Spad XIII and Albatross show how, for Morley, painting always gains the upper hand in these conflicts. The Pop art-like compositions, which recall certain Stuart Davis canvases, are images of the paper cutout sheets, complete with block lettering and instructions to make the model airplane and ship.

Furthering Morley's reputation as a consummate craftsman and tactician, this brilliant show affirms painting's preeminent position as a condition of and prerequisite for three-dimensional form.

"Recent Work by Malcolm Morley" appeared at Sperone Westwater's booth in "The Art Show," Feb. 24-28, 2000, at the Park Avenue Armory, 67th Street and Park Avenue, in New York City.