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    Painter's Journal
by Michael Brennan
 
     
 
Hon'ami Koetsu
Handscroll with Poems of the "Sanjurokkasen" (Thirty-Six Immortal Poets) with Design of Cranes
17th century
(detail)
 
Kamisaka Sekka
Portrait of Hon'ami Koetsu (Inscription by Tomoika Tessai)
1915
 
Terry Winters
Location Plan
2000
at Susan Inglett
 
Terry Winters
Application -- Specific
1999
at Susan Inglett
 
Louise Fishman
That Iron String
2000
at Cheim & Read
 
Joan Waltemath
at Stark Gallery
 
Stefanie Nagorka
Arc
2000
at Debs & Co.
 
Stefanie Nagorka
Hexpaver
2000
at Debs & Co.
 
Harvey Quaytman
The Miller's Delight
1992
at McKee
 
Jules Olitski
Origins: Pearce's Lake
2000
at Ameringer Howard
 
Jules Olitski
On the First Day
2000
at Ameringer Howard
 
Ya-Yuan Tseng
The Character of Woman V
2000
at Gallery 456
 
A new season in a new millennium, and despite the New York art world's present bounty, I keep finding myself leaving town for a sense of true renewal. Twice in one week I've taken Amtrak's new "Acela" train down to Philadelphia in order to see a show of calligraphy paintings by Japanese master collaborators Hon'ami Koetsu and Towaraya Sotatsu. The Philadelphia Museum of Art is hosting this first American survey of these two 17th-century artists (on view through Oct. 29), and it may be the last exhibition of this scope for quite some time. Many of the scrolls are light sensitive and were due to be turned, or retired from the show altogether, by Sept. 18.

"The Arts of Hon'ami Koetsu, Japanese Renaissance Master" is an exhibition of the first order, and includes some of the most rewarding art that I've seen in some time. Like the famed Titian exhibition at the National Gallery, or MoMA's Mondrian show a few years back, this one of those rare events that must be seen for a number of pressing reasons. Even the ever-skeptical Roberta Smith of the New York Times couldn't help but draw comparisons between Koetsu and Leonardo da Vinci.

Koetsu's greatest talent could be in his sensitivity towards the harmonious wedding of image and text, and he does this with seamless poetic force. "The Arts of Hon'ami Koetsu" includes many exquisite examples of poem cards, gold and mica inked handscrolls, printed books, lacquerware and Raku ware teabowls. Although all of Koetsu's work is strenuously elegant, one work in particular, Poem Card with Design of Pines on a Beach, proves how disruptive that kind of beauty can be.

*      *      *
Terry Winters' graphic work is an example of another artist melding all kinds of visual information -- albeit modern, technological and systems oriented -- and tastefully degrading it into new neural mutations. Winters' works on paper are of special interest because they typically address the artist's newest concerns with image before they're more fully explored in paint with its additional burdens of color, surface and scale.

The three works featured at Susan Inglett in SoHo ($500-$5,000) are no exception. Winters' two drawings, Linking Graphics, 1 and Application-Specific, with their fat- and thin-tipped Magic Marker lines, are both splintery structural graphs burning inside out with raw and destabilizing energy.

The screenprinted edition titled Location Plan reads just like a storyboard with its 30 individual yet gridded images. Location Plan reminds me of that famous grouping of film stills for Robert Smithson's The Spiral Jetty that has often been shown as a stand-in for the actual site-specific sculpture.

It's odd, but when artists -- even ones from different eras -- begin to incorporate science, their work tends to acquire general qualities of pattern and form specific to that ever-expanding and yet not so unrelated field. Works included in this show are similar to other drawings that were recently exhibited at Kunsthalle Basel and used in a backdrop for choreographer Trisha Brown and composer Dave Douglas.

*      *      *
About a dozen of Louise Fishman's recent abstract paintings can be seen at Cheim & Read. The work here isn't exactly new. According to the artist herself, many of the paintings were older canvases that had been tucked away, only to be revisited, scraped and worked over at a later date. For me, a definite feeling of resuscitation pervades most of the work in this show. Some of the paintings have been born again hard, while others -- to use the language of television's emergency rooms -- were "lost on the table."

Fishman has always let her intuition lead the way, and that penetrating sense combined with her own physical might -- her strong-arm gesture -- has often provided some surprising results. Her search in the paint is still on, but this group has an unfamiliar air of fatigue about them and many of the compositions seem undirected. Iron String, however, has all of the admirable vitality that I've long admired in Fishman's best work, with its vigorous paint handling and fearless mark making.

*      *      *
Joan Waltemath's new show of abstract paintings at Stark Gallery is entitled "finis vacui" and takes issue with paintings' supposed autonomy by creating an installation that works in conjunction with the gallery's space and walls. The front room is dominated by large horizontal paintings hung higher than usual, while the rear space contains larger square paintings hung closer to the floor. Waltemath's works have mottled surfaces from the hand sanding of layer upon layer of painted fields.

Castaway cubes that range in color from diminutive to flare punctuate the paintings' seemingly infinite space. The size and placement of the cubes is mathematically determined, as witnessed by the pencil-marked notations left on the paintings' bare canvas edges. Sometimes the cubes appear to be free-floating singularities that have broken away from the grid, and other times they appear entirely locked down.

The interior of Waltemath's paintings is a microcosm of how her paintings are placed and act in the world at large. More simply put, what happens on the inside of the paintings is also happening on the outside.

*      *      *
Although it's clearly not painting, Stefanie Nagorka's recent sculptures on view at Debs & Co. ($10,000-15,000) have much in common with her wax-laden works on paper which she has shown in years past. Nagorka's long-term interest in beeswax has found new and appropriate form in her honeycomb hexagonal floor construction made from individually cast Concrete Masonry Units. The CMU is more mundanely used as a standardized paving material and is found all over New York City. In her piece Hexpaver, Nagorka has managed to transform the CMU through recombinant structures that knowingly nod to the floor-bound Minimal poetics of Carl Andre and Tony Smith.

Arc and Pyramidal Arc are composed of cinderblocks, and -- again like Nagorka's works on paper -- their interiors are filled with dead bugs trapped in cobwebs and other detritus found in the real world. None of this really distracts the viewer from overall beauty of the pieces. In fact they seem more real. After a recent flood of installations in which all matter of debris is suspended mid-way between floor and ceiling, it's nice to see some sculpture of substantial weight so firmly grounded in space.

*      *      *
Also seen:
Harvey Quaytman at McKee Gallery
This exhibition is a mixed survey of square and shaped paintings from 1996 to '98 ($6,000-$45,000). Quaytman is a master of materials. His predilection for painting powder-dry surfaces of rust is well known, as is his eccentric taste for propeller-shaped canvasses, outrigger-type geometric form, and slung-back ultralight constructions.

Quaytman is also famous for suggesting to Brice Marden in them '60s that he try adding wax to his paint for a matte finish. The Miller's Delight is a fine example of how much space Quaytman can tweak with just a few choice colors and some carefully struck lines. Although the Neo-Geo movement briefly glommed onto Quaytman in the late '80s, he has always had a much deeper sense of the interplay between composition and space than nearly every other geometric painter around. Skater, for example, holds the wall and glides across it in an anti-static manner simultaneously.

Jules Olitski at Ameringer Howard
The world is now occupied by entire generations of viewers who are either wholly ignorant of Greenbergian Formalism or have been effectively deprogrammed over the years. Therefore, it is possible once again to view the work of Olitski with fresh and unclouded eyes. Anything Olitski, or any other painter, gained through association with Clement Greenberg has been paid back in threefold misery by now. Greenberg considered Olitski America's most underrated painter until the end. I'm quite certain America's most underrated painter is not known by name, unlike Olitski, and by definition never will be.

Now nearly 80, Olitski has nevertheless managed to make enough entirely new paintings to occupy two floors of the Fuller Building. It is the artist's first New York show in five years, and I think his strongest in at least ten. As per usual, many of the paintings included in this show are startling in their sheer beauty and fulsome use of paint. Blistered and transparent gluey surfaces come alive with a glittery incandescence from canvas to canvas. The images appear vaguely volcanic in origin, and drier surfaces seem to give way to wetter surfaces underneath, not unlike rolling lava that is crusty on top but fluid and molten on bottom.

Many paintings, such as Origins: Pearce's Lake, contain Olitski's stock-in-trade moves, such as drawing a line around the edge, which somehow seem more spirited now and less obsessive than they did in the past.

Olitski's new paintings remind me of Albert Pinkham Ryder's famous painting The Lorelei, where for some unknown chemical or technical reason Ryder's painted image of Lorelei has vanished and the viewer is left only with the implied doom of a tempestuous sea and impending rocks. I love Olitski's paintings because they remind of Los Angeles, a place where pleasure and the apocalypse freely mix.

Micha Klein at Mary Boone
Flashy, panoramic photographs that mark the return of the Sigue Sigue Sputnik (a band), Starlight Express (a Broadway musical) Class of 1984 (a film), puffed-up techno-glitter sensibility. Although they shriek "big fun," they feel like a staged party in a Hollywood movie where everyone is having such a great time. They're pure artifice, glamorous and venal.

Ya-Yuan Tseng at Gallery 456
This young Taiwanese painter had her debut show in New York a short time ago. Her work explores the feminine qualities of Chinese characters in the semiotic gap between language and image. The question at hand is whether these paintings are more or less meaningful to a Western audience unable to interpret the Chinese language? Is reading a work of art more important than simply looking?


MICHAEL BRENNAN is a New York painter who writes on art.