Who could resist a show entitled "500 Works on Paper 1922-2002"?
The staff at Gary Snyder Fine Art over in West Chelsea in Manhattan has covered the gallery walls with about 250 drawings. A DSL-equipped iMac enables visitors to rapidly access the remaining drawings 250 drawings in its wide-ranging show.
If you can't get to the exhibition, it will come to you via the gallery's website, www.ModernAmericanArt.com. You can download images of all the pieces and get more info on any of the artists in the show.
The gallery specializes in post-WWII abstraction from America, and there are plenty of first-rate pieces. But representational works, like Thomas Hart Benton's Landscape with Train and Car ($9,500) and an early Adolph Gottlieb watercolor of Horses ($7,500) are here, too.
One of the highlights of the show, though a little difficult to appreciate in the salon-style hanging, is a small Ralston Crawford gouache, S. S. De Grasse (1952). This Precisionist gem's pared down lights and porthole evoke a whole ship. It's Crawford at his best. The gallery must have known this; the work's price tag is $15,000.
Many fine artists have names not nearly as familiar, offering an excellent opportunity to pick up an appealing piece of art for under, often well under, $10,000. Ralph Rosenborg's hypnotic Portrait Study: Blue Eyes from 1975, for example, is only $3,000. Rosenborg's works, rarely totally abstract, are more often based on landscape or, as here, the figure. The texture of this watercolor on handmade paper is especially appealing.
John Kanelous's gouache American Landscape #1 (1932), another standout, is a Cubist tabletop composition with cards, dice and dominoes that's reminiscent of Gerald Murphy's paintings. It's already been snatched up.
For a happy, upbeat totally abstract work, it would be hard to beat Robert Richenburg's gouache, A New Day (1956). His verticals give the piece an exuberant lift. And this one is still available for $2,000.
One of my favorite abstract artists is Herman Cherry. He draws in color with tremendous sensitivity. There are seven of his works from the late 1950s and '60s on display. His early Untitled from 1957 is made of vigorous strokes of black and grayed enamel with oil on rag paper. It shares a wall with works in black and white that is an impressive look at different approaches to Abstract Expressionism. Cherry's pieces, in color or neutrals, range in price from $3,500 to $5,500.
A real hoot is Justin McCarthy's Untitled Collage 2, several mixed-medium drawings of movie stars and scenes from movies pasted onto craft paper. It's about as hot as Cherry is cool. A cavorting Jimmy Durante, a glam Maria Montez, Jennifer Jones and Alice Faye, plus scenes from a couple of movies are drawn with an edgy expressionistic line.
While the info from the gallery says McCarthy is self-taught and painted from the 1920s to '50s, that's only partly true. I met McCarthy many times and wrote my doctoral dissertation on him. He's one of the great artists of the mid-20th century, self-taught or not, and painted until shortly before his death in the '70s. Some of his greatest oils date from the 1960s when he achieved what little fame he got in his lifetime. At only $2,000, this drawing is a steal. You can see a painting and another drawing by him in the current exhibition at the American Folk Art Museum, "American Anthem: Masterpieces from the Collection of the American Folk Art Museum."
The German-born artist Dorke Poelz covers photographs with mixed media, conjuring up abstract images of organic life. Suggestive of everything from enlargements of lab slides to satellite photos, all four of her works date from this year and cost a mere $700 each.
I admired the bold black-and-gold contrasts in William Thielen's mandala-like Untitled No. 156 (Mixed Messages) (2001) and was fortunate to meet him in the gallery. The personable Thielen, who can usually be found in his studio in Carbondale, Ill., proved to be passionate about abstract art. He was justifiably proud of having his mixed-media piece ($1,800) included in such a first-rate and invigorating selection of work. Here's hoping he'll be having a one-man show the next time we meet.
The show is on view through Aug. 23, 2002, at Gary Snyder Fine Art, 601 West 29th Street at 11th Avenue in Manhattan.
N. F. KARLINS is a New York art historian and critic.