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|Abstract New York
by Robert G. Edelman
|November finds several shows in New York featuring paintings by established abstract artists. Beyond the seductive, visual appeal of this work lies the opportunity for a viewer to contrast and compare, look for affinities, linkage or dialogue among them. If such correspondences don't exist, well, maybe we can invent some.
Sol LeWitt at Paula Cooper
Sol LeWitt has commandeered a large open space above a taxi garage on West 21st Street in Chelsea, formerly home to Paolo Baldacci Gallery but more recently taken over by Paula Cooper. LeWitt has made -- or rather, had made by assistants according to his instructions -- four intensely hued wall drawings (looking more than ever like paintings) that battle for dominance.
Titled only with inventory numbers like SL/N-121 and SL/N-122, these works assault the eye with a full 360 degrees of effulgent color in playful geometric configurations. In its ambitious scale and density, the total effect is comparable to Frank Stella's profusely ornate collage paintings (talk about horror vacui). In fact, the evolution of LeWitt's increasingly complex wall drawings parallels Stella's work in its irreverence for their mutual, Minimalist roots.
Also on display are a series of paintings on paper. Organic, maze-like linear patterns on colored grounds evoke the delicacy of Indian miniatures or Islamic tiles. No two alike, yet clearly related, they are tacked to the wall with pushpins to preserve (unlike the wall works) the immediacy of LeWitt's luxuriant handling of paint. The wall drawings (that took a crew of four a month to execute) are $75,000 to $100,000, and the paper works are $20,000 to $25,000.
Jonathan Lasker at Sperone Westwater
The new paintings by Jonathan Lasker at Sperone Westwater in SoHo once again showed this artist's highly colloquial vocabulary in its stripped-down, bare essentials. The cumulative effect of Lasker's juxtaposition of quixotic shapes, uninflected color areas and cake-frosting textures is a kind of harmonic incongruity.
Lasker's paintings achieve a tentative balance between the time-honored rudiments of abstract painting and his own encoded ideography, offering what Hans-Michael Herzog has described as "a multi-layered ambiguity." All of the distinct pictorial elements seem to have a function and contribute to an elusive narrative content.
Lasker's paintings could be cheerleaders for the new abstraction; they're serious, but they don't make your head hurt when you look at them. The paintings ranged in price from $60,000 to $110,000 (the small ones around $10,000) -- before they were all sold.
David Row at Von Lintel & Nusser
Another painter who has investigated the vicissitudes of geometry, but with a more combustible intent, is David Row, whose new paintings at Von Lintel & Nusser -- a German gallery that has just opened in West Chelsea -- are full of structural and chromatic tension. Row has for years explored the potential of the oval or ellipse inside and, by extension, outside the rectangle. Lately, however, his ovals have evolved (or rather disassembled themselves) into looping strands that traverse and overlap the rectangular sections of the painting. Color is intentionally kept to a minimum, albeit intense in hue and contrast, so that the emphasis remains on the frozen gesture; a circuitous roadway that might itself be a stand-in for the vestiges of the hand.
Row has made paintings that are both an homage to gestural painting and a formal and spirited investigation of its legacy. The paintings go for between $7,000 and $50,000. His vibrant works on paper are $2,500.
Francisca Sutil at Grant Selwyn and Nohra Haime
The hand is all but invisible and yet ultimately essential to the recent work of Francisca Sutil. In her concurrent shows of paintings on linen at Nohra Haime and works on paper at Grant Selwyn, Sutil uses thin washes to make vertical stripes, overlapping at their edges. The overall effect is one of diaphanous walls of color that seem to quietly aspirate.
Unlike Lewitt, Lasker and Row (and even her own earlier work), Sutil establishes a surface that is devoid of gestural, textural or compositional device, supplanted by the nuances of a meticulous application of color and tonality. In the paintings, Sutil uses the linen support to establish a warm ground. In the works on paper, the surface energizes and activates the painted field as a reflector of light that causes her thin washes to glow literally. This aspect is perhaps her work's most appealing quality, containing both a structural rigor and a transporting spirituality. Sutil's paintings on linen are priced at $15,000 to $30,000, her works on paper $4,000 to $5,000.
Robin Rose at Howard Scott/M-13
The Washington, D.C.-based artist Robin Rose's new encaustic paintings at Howard Scott/M-13 in SoHo are also luminous evocations, created as they are with layers of pigment, wax and varnish, which are then scraped or literally carved down (with razors and dental tools) to reveal "past lives." Rose achieves a surprising variety of effects of light, translucency and texture. His intimate paintings, done on aluminum panel (which provides an exceptionally stable surface for the wax and paint mixture), appear as if they were fragments or documents of natural phenomena.
At the same time, the issues of painting are addressed, and Rose's play with Minimalist principles and pattern painting gives his work that deja vu feeling. Like Sutil's work, Rose's paintings maintain a quiet dignity while thoroughly seducing the eye. The smaller works go for $2,200, and the larger paintings are $16,500.
Sol LeWitt, Sept. 15-Dec. 31, 1999, at Paula Cooper, 521 West 21st Street, New York, N.Y. 10010.
Jonathan Lasker, Oct. 7-Nov. 6, 1999, at Sperone Westwater, 142 Greene Street, New York, N.Y. 10012.
David Row, "New Works," Oct. 12-Nov. 27, 1999, at Von Lintel & Nusser, 555 West 25th Street, New York, N.Y. 10001.
Francisca Sutil, Oct. 5-Nov. 6, 1999, at Nora Haime Gallery, 41 East 57th Street, New York, N.Y. 10022, and Grant Selwyn Fine Art, 37 West 57th Street, New York, N.Y. 10019.
Robin Rose, Oct. 7-Oct. 30, 1999, at Howard Scott/M-13 Gallery, 72 Greene Street, New York, N.Y. 10012.
ROBERT G. EDELMAN is an artist who writes on art.