I hit the Chelsea trifecta on 25th Street -- three great works of contemporary art, all made of dots, all in intriguing exhibitions, and all within yards of each other.
The first was so dazzling, it left my eyes crossed. It out-ops many Op Art paintings, but was produced in the Australian bush. Eat your heart out, Bridget Riley! This scintillating, snaky series of black and white turnings, with what looks like a vertical eye in the center, can be found in a show at the Robert Steele Gallery on West 27th Street in Chelsea.
"Aboriginal Works from Pintupi" contains plenty of interesting artworks, but Florrie Napangati Watson's "dreaming" is the best one on canvas that I've seen. A "dreaming" is the physical embodiment of an Australian aboriginal mindscape, based on the landscape in which the artist lives and ancestral myths of the area.
Since the landmark show at the Asia Society in 1988 -- when this type of art first came to the attention of a broad public here -- there has been a growing appreciation of these seemingly abstract works, based on sacred myths, and produced by several different groups of aboriginal artists in Australia.
Since 1970 more and more aboriginal artists, formerly creating with natural pigments on tree bark, have been using acrylic on canvas. The modern materials are more stable and require the felling of fewer trees. Originally, the designs would have been a little different and also applied to the body, to the ground and elsewhere within the context of ceremonial use.
Watson's painting is riveting in its size, complexity and originality. The artist laid down a layer of white paint, then ochre, then waves of black paint, filling in the seams between the black areas with dots of white paint. The result, priced at $25,000, is a Steele steal for a work of this quality.
I asked the dealer about the artist. The mural-sized piece titled My Land (near Lake McKay) is the first work by Watson that Steele has handled. Watson is about 40 years old and lives in Kintore, approximately 450 miles from Alice Springs in Australia's western desert. More information is sure to be forthcoming on this major talent.
Watson is not alone in creating impressive works; this show is filled with them. Kim Naparula's roughly 6 x 3 ft. Lake McKay, with its concentric arcs of yellow, white and red, would make anyone's eyes dance. It's priced at $3,500. The remainder of the works, all untitled acrylics on canvas, range from $2,000 to $9,000. The exhibition remains on view at Robert Steele Gallery, 511 West 25th Street, through July 12.
Just an elevator ride away is Margaret Thatcher Projects' show "Drawn." Linn Meyers' untitled wall-size drawing of minuscule black dots is absolutely hypnotic. Created with an ink pen on two large sheets of mylar, the artist started dotting, got on a ladder and eventually finished the roughly 10 x 12 ft. piece by letting her hand follow the way the dots leaned and swerved as she worked. You can own it and contemplate its 3D-like bendings for $12,000.
This large piece is one of a series of "point drawings" for which Meyers uses ink dots or pin pricks. Also on view are several examples of her "gravity series," in which vertical strokes are laid down next to each other, but don't touch. In this series, a graphite layer of strokes beneath the top of vertical strokes adds a pleasing dimension of subtle color oscillations. A 12 x 6 in. blue gravity drawing can be had for a modest $1,450.
Stephen Antonson's watercolor of a yard of cars, distinguishable in a white field only by their windows, resembles both rocks and turtles at a distance. His delicate touch contrasts nicely with the solidity of the objects that he draws. An untitled piece from 2003 measures 26 x 43 in. and costs $2,200.
A blue-tape abstract installation piece by Christine Hiebert in one corner of the gallery is another stand-out in this group show. The exhibition was on view at Margaret Thatcher Projects at 511 West 25th Street through July 3.
Only two floors above Linn Meyer's wall of dots is a group show filled with their absence -- "Perforations," one of the cleverest shows this season, at McKenzie Fine Art. Here, 18 artists literally dig in to create the cut-out, the burnt-out and the gouged-out, to examine whatever is not usually opened, captured or explored.
Heide Fasnacht, a well-known sculptor of exploding volcanoes, planes, geysers, fountains and stars clusters, is also a wonderful draughtsman. I have admired her colored pencil fireworks drawings, and she has also drawn a sneeze.
"Perforations" features Fasnacht's Sneeze IV from 2001. This time Fasnacht's drawing of a sneeze -- a bit of upward-turned face and lots of spray -- is on the reverse of the work but the front of the piece is made of small hand-made punctures. With the advent of SARS and other animal-borne viruses in the news, this work resonates louder than it might have done a few months ago. It can be your sneeze, all 60 x 40 inches of it, for $12,500.
Lane Twitchell, the man who brought traditional cut-paper into contemporary art, is represented by Run and Hide (Godseye #2), a 3 x 3 ft. panel with cut paper ($5,500). The ethereal blues and white of the work are dreamy, yet in contrast, the small forms that morph in and out are suburban grids and traffic signs and arrows until you penetrate into the smaller interior and perspectivally more inward squares.
Space is created in various ways in "Perforations," perhaps most ingeniously by Susan Graham. She envelops it. Her .44 Army Six-Shot Single Action Center Fire Revolver (Porcelain) may look like it's made of lace, but the gun is actually made of extruded porcelain. Sitting in its vitrine, it is priced at $3,600.
The burnt holes in waxed paper of Matt Schwede's Ulcerous Tissue and the meticulously exacto-knived Laced Lung II by Aric Obrosey both turn the human body inside out, while Noriko Ambe's pale, elegant sculpture of undulating space, Lands of Emptiness -- Expanding, references landscapes like the Grand Canyon. Her sculpture, so tempting to touch, is composed of 1,200 stacked sheets of housho-shi paper. For $12,000, it can be yours.
Other pieces in the show range in price from $800 to a top of $24,000 for a Lucio Fontana black football-like porcelain with torn holes in the top, made in an edition of 75 in 1968.
The show can be viewed at McKenzie Fine Art, 511 West 25th Street, through Aug. 3.
N. F. KARLINS is a New York art historian and critic.