There is nothing like being seriously ill to make one question one's values and assumptions, so a recent trip to the hospital followed by a forced march to the old trundle bed brought the mind to a kinder, gentler time in New York art-world history, the early 1970s.
Pop had shot its wad with the Warhol shooting, and Minimalism and Conceptualism, which loom so large in retrospect, were merely cul-de-sacs.
No, in the early '70s, Color Field reigned supreme (with a very small "s"), 57th Street was the art boulevard, and a visit to the Andre Emmerich Gallery was Lourdes for artists.
Here the newest work from a veteran like Jack Bush, or Larry Poons' polliwoggly eggs, or a new dip into the late, sainted Morris Louis were all that satisfaction required. Clem was still in style, Barbara Rose curatrix in excelsis, and the only art that one really cared about was the art of one's friends. Success had died 20 years before in the Cedar Tavern.
Thirty-five years on from the nave '70s, many people in the art world still fervently worship its mors -- those of a nonjudgmental, quiet brotherhood.
Art in America magazine, for example, publishes comprehensive reviews, surveying every show imaginable, even months after they close, with nary a discouraging word. Half of the artists reviewed are personal friends of the indefatigable Betsy Baker.
Jed Perl, critic for the New Republic, only reviews shows at non-profit, collective galleries such as Bowery, or First Street, or Prince Street Gallery, so redolent of that '70s zeitgeist.
Mario Naves, critic for the New York Observer, sees every work of art as an extension of a Color Field stretching back into the Nixon era, shunning the radical, the kinky and the original.
So like them, for one column at least, we're turning to our friends old and new in search of a review. In the mail are invites from Mary O'Brien Spurrier at 55 Mercer Gallery and Kit White at André Zarre. We hope to get out soon and see these shows.
Then there's George Negroponte, a pal since 1959, who, after spending the '70s at John Good Gallery lapsed into a comfortable 57th Street coupling with Jason McCoy's space. Negroponte's decades of single mindedness would challenge even his old hero Olitski or his old professor Josef Albers.
In brief, like those '70s denizens, he is in love with making the mark, an act of devotion he's often compared to skating in Madison Square Garden during his days as a high school hockey star.
This painterly onanism has often made the viewer seem irrelevant to Negroponte's work, and his more subconsciously rendered drawings more vital than his worked-to-death paintings (it's no accident that he's also chairman of the Drawing Center). Yet, because the show includes 25 drawings, this is Negroponte at his best. If marks are your mtier, go to McCoy.
Negroponte's Yale classmate Deborah Brown returns to Cheryl Pelavin with a new round of the homeless dog paintings that we so loved in 2001. The field of color remains Ms. Brown's springboard, and the dual portraits of individual dogs are as strong as previous paintings in this series.
Somehow the portraits of dogs with their handlers seem weaker to this eye, but their sociological significance redeems them -- Deborah has recently been celebrated in the popular press for rescuing lovable pound strays from extinction -- long may she wave, and if you love dogs as much as we do, go down to Cheryl Pelavin and buy a piece. You won't regret it.
One more friend, Angelina Nasso, a strong painter, recently opened at Stux. Ms. Nasso has by far the most impressive resume of any artist we know: she was Miss Australia in the 1985 Miss World pageant, then spent a long sojourn in mainland China learning drawing from a group of monks, followed by a graduate stint at the School of Visual Arts studying with the estimable sage Lucio Pozzi.
Previously, Angelina's paintings of black rippling waves resembled Vija Celmins' work -- now, a step up, her current work, globular color constellations, recall the paintings of Stephen Mueller. They are exceptionally rendered and weirdly bring to mind the last thoughts of doomed astronauts, which in the last relapse we all are. Definitely worth a look and perhaps a purchase.
So with the cat declawed, the bear defanged, and the dog that ceased to bark, we celebrate our friends and affinities, just like in the good old early '70s.
Hopefully, we'll get better soon.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).
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