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    Drawing Notebook
by N. F. Karlins
 
     
 
Greg Chann
Vienna Series IV
2000
at Margaret Thatcher Projects
 
Greg Chann
Vienna Series IX
2000
at Margaret Thatcher Projects
 
Louis Monza
The Ogre #1
1956
at Luise Ross
 
Louis Monza
The Big Mouth
1978
 
Edward Lear
View of the City of Rethymnon, Crete
1864
at the Foundation of Hellenic Culture
 
Edward Lear
View of Delphi
1849
 
Gilbert & George
London
1980
at the Queens Museum
 
Nam Jun Paik
Video Flag Y
1985
 
Sam Francis
Untitled
1959
 
Chuck Close
Phil/Fingerprint
1980
at the Queens Museum
 
Jean-Michel Basquiat
Six Icons
1982
 
Agnes Martin
Desert
1966
at the Americas Society
 
What are these large (about 3 by 3 feet), gorgeous, shape-shifting puddles? Their irregular edges seem to imply motion. Nebulae? Amoebae? Bodily cells of some type? Greg Chann, their creator, isn't talking.

Chann's first solo show, which was on view at Margaret Thatcher Projects on West 20th Street in Manhattan last month, consisted of about a dozen graphite clouds on vellum. Works in this "Vienna Series," inspired by the artist's listening to Viennese music, are really part drawing, part collage. The artist describes them as the result of experiments in chance combined with artistic deliberation.

Chann pours powdered graphite suspended in alcohol over sheets of vellum. As the alcohol dries, it leaves a residue, like at a pond's edge in summer. Due to assorted grindings of graphite, the colors vary from deepest black to charcoal to a blue gray. Some even sparkle.

The artist then cuts the vellum into rectangular strips, overlapping them into grids that reassemble the splashes of graphite into roughly globular forms. He gently secures the pieces, so that the multiple layers seem to float. Elegantly ordered yet organic, Chann's drawings are fresh and visually beguiling.

Larger pieces are $3,00 to $3,400 framed, with the smaller, 18 by 18 inch works going for $1,200 framed.

*      *      *
The Italian-born, self-taught artist Louis Monza (1897-1984) is best known for his powerful anti-war oils from the 1940s. While his passionate pacifist, anti-clerical and Socialist views have been noted before, the more surreal and sexual aspects of Monza's immense oeuvre have not gotten as much attention. A broad range of themes appears in "Mythologies," his current show of drawings at Luise Ross at 568 Broadway in SoHo.

"Mythologies" begins with the eye-opening crayon drawing from 1956, The Ogre ($4,500). In his gaping jaws stands a nude woman that he is in the act of swallowing! The other works, all smaller and in ink-and-colored pencil rather than crayon, share the same vivid pastel palette -- predominately bright pink, yellow, orange, aqua, purple and lime.

In Monza's Man Holding Torch ($4,000) from 1978, there are several strange male figures with torches for heads, one of whom seems to be lighting the top of another, while Monument of Life ($1,450) and the small (7 by 7 inch) drawing, Embryo ($700), are self-explanatory.

Social commentaries include Three Mile Island ($2,200) with its evil-looking birds above nuclear plant towers and the anti-press The Big Mouth ($4,000) from 1978 with another convincing monster.

Considering Monza's 46-year long career and his prolific output of paintings, prints, sculpture and ceramics as well as drawings, he deserves many more shows or, better still, perhaps some museum will pull together a retrospective. The show at Ross is on view through July 21.

*      *      *
He called himself "The Painter of Poetical Topography," but the world knows this superb draughtsman better as the inventor of the limerick. He was the Englishman Edward Lear (1812-1888).

With little education, Lear managed to earn his living as an artist from around the age of 15. His love for the natural world helped him to evolve into a landscape artist, who traveled and lived abroad for much of his life. Between 1848 and 1864, Lear spent much of his time in what is now Greece. About 30 drawings of his drawings of Greece, all borrowed from the Gennadius Library of the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, are now at the Foundation for Hellenic Culture at 7 West 57th Street (through Sept. 7).

Lear made precise pencil studies on the spot during the day, scribbling notes on further particulars when it became too hot to continue. At night, he added a few, spare watercolor washes and highlights in Chinese white. Lear didn't think much of these lively drawings. To him they were simply guides for the more finished watercolors and oils he made for paying clients, for whom he was not opposed to churning out potboilers if the price was right.

But these pencil-and-watercolor sketches capture Lear's love of the land, his thrill at being among the Greeks. His depiction of the Greek landscape, previously romanticized by visiting artists, concentrates on balancing masses and getting the details absolutely right.

In Lear's View of the City of Rethymnon, Crete (1864), he is careful to show the town's mix of western and eastern architecture in the distance and to note that the road is made of "white chalk." Many kinds of costumes are delineated in his View of Delphi (1849). Some works are peppered with the names of specific plants. One shouts "Tortoises!" Another, with a shepherd, contains the seeds of the limerick that became:

There was a Young Person of Crete,
Whose toilette was far from complete:
She dressed in a sack, spickle-speckled with black,
That ombliferous person of Crete.
*      *      *
Off to Shea or the Arthur Ashe Tennis Arena this summer? If so, save some time to stop in at the Queens Museum of Art. You know, just behind the Unisphere. Until October, the museum is featuring "Art at Work: Forty Years of the Chase Manhattan Collection," an impressive survey, including some large-scale pieces, dating from around mid-century to the present. Culled from the bank's 17,000 works in offices around the globe, many of them have not been seen in the United States before, like Gilbert & George's 1980 homage to their hometown, London, composed of their usual grid of hand-colored photos.

The most important collection of corporate art, both in size and influence, the Chase Manhattan Bank's art collection is the brainchild of David Rockefeller. Under his leadership, a panel of art experts and bank personnel began to buy art in 1959 in preparation for the opening of the bank's new headquarters near Wall Street, a slab skyscraper by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. Art was placed in public and non-public spaces, and large sculpture installations were commissioned, like Isamu Noguchi's 1963 Sunken Garden for the new building's plaza. The public responded, and other Chase branches clamored for art, too. Soon a slew of other corporations were following Chase's example.

The works in Queens are challenging, first-rate examples of post-war art, while not being aggressively political or sexual in content. A huge show -- it includes more than 100 works -- it's hugely enjoyable as well (bring the kids). Nam June Paik's flashing Video Flag Y (1985) and Sam Francis's 1959 sunny abstract mural almost 40 feet long (and not likely to be seen too often because of its size) are sure to please.

Media, themes, and styles are encyclopedic. Drawings, for example, range from Chuck Close's 1980 Phil/Fingerprint in stamp pad ink on paper to a series of three sweet drawings of Roses (1991) by Jim Hodges to Jean-Michel Basquiat's crude and energetic Six Icons in oil paintstick on paper from 1982.

The art historian Robert Rosenblum, whose exhibition "1900" is currently on view at the Guggenheim Museum, and Chase's current art program director, Manuel E. González, chose the pieces for the show. While you're at the museum, you can also visit its centerpiece, The Panorama of the City of New York, left over from the 1964 World's Fair. Updated in 1992, the model (at a scale of 1 to 100) literally puts all of New York at your feet.

If you can't make it to Queens -- or even if you can -- another chunk of the bank's contemporary collection, smaller in number and dimensions, is displayed at the Americas Society until the end of July. "Art of the Americas from the Chase Manhattan Collection: Icon + Grid + Void" contains pieces by artists from North, South, and Central America. Americas Society curator Joseph R. Wolin has juxtaposed Agnes Martin's cool grid ink drawing Desert (1966) with Marta Pérez Garcia's hot woodcut Hasta Cuando... (1992) along with 22 other works.

"Art at Work: Forty Years of the Chase Manhattan Bank Collection" is on view at the Queens Museum of Art in Flushing Meadows Corona Park through Oct. 1. For "Art from the Americas from the Chase Manhattan Bank Collection: Icon + Grid + Void," visit the Americas Society at 680 Park Avenue (at 68th Street) through July 30.


N. F. KARLINS is a New York writer and art historian.

 
 
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