"The Gesture," Sept. 17-Oct. 19, 2002, at the Neuhoff Gallery, 41 East 57th Street, New York, N.Y. 10022
Curator Robert C. Morgan and art dealer Heidi Neuhoff came up with a powerhouse concept to launch their new season -- a review of 1950s critic Harold Rosenberg's notion of "Action Painting." The group exhibition, dubbed "The Gesture," features a range of depictions of movement, whether that be the single brushstrokes of James Nares and Path Soong and the reductive sculpture of Bernar Venet and Stacey Neff to the extreme physicality of Frank Stella, Franz Kline, Joan Mitchell and Michael Goldberg.
The works in the installation work wonderfully together. Path Soong's "empty is full" large paintings in black and white and gray and white are in sympathetic dialogue with the colorful and bold Tachiste strokes of Jean Miotte's canvases. Ab-Ex avatar Robert Motherwell's large vertical painted collage shares a dramatic moment with Joan Mitchell's small yet intense pastel on paper.
The show pairs works from East and West, with strong results. Paintings by the mid-career Chinese-born painter Fung Ming-Chip and the 40-year-old Korean-American artist Grace Rim complement the large Cy Twombly drawing and an oil on paper work by the Brazilian-born Gabriela Machado. The sculpture by Mark di Suvero, which mixes steel and stainless steel, makes an intriguing comparison to Wenda Gu's large dramatic ink on paper piece.
Action Painting is generally understood to involve notions of an existential theater, in which the solitary artist enacts his raw passions and humanity on the stage of the canvas. In Post-Minimalism, the gesture took on a more nuanced phenomenology of the body, and even a measure of the abject. In the Post-Modernist era, the calligraphic mark suggests a disjunction between sign and meaning. Or it can be a bagatelle, a simple decoration.
In the end, however, the overwhelming impression from this show is one of a thriving humanity, full of pianissimos and crescendos that help forge a common bond. It is easy to make a gesture, but to make one that expresses diversity and freedom, that is actually worth something.