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by John Zinsser
|For painting fans, a trek through upper Madison Avenue and 57th Street can make for a fresh break from the sameness of the contemporary Chelsea scene. Uptown, you always stumble across the unexpected.
For the inaugural show of its new space at 1018 Madison Avenue, Skarstedt Fine Art is presenting a series of Christopher Wool works on paper from 1989 (Jan. 29-Mar. 25, 2000). Offered as a single piece, the sequence of enamel-on-paper word drawings lines the gallery walls. Each sheet divides a nine-letter word into three three-letter lines, i.e., "HYP/OCR/ITE," "HYP/NOT/IST," "MER/CEN/ARY," "AUT/HOR/ITY."
The drawings were originally made for Wool's "Black Book" edition, co-published by New York art advisor Thea Westreich and Cologne gallerist Gisela Capitain. Wool's signature large-scale word paintings read as single iconic images. To see this material smaller, presented serially on paper, plays up its narrative quality. It feels like reading from a futuristic form of the novel.
Next door at Mitchell-Innes & Nash, second-generation Abstract Expressionist Jack Tworkov (1900-1982), whose estate the gallery now represents, was recently the subject of an enlightening survey (Jan. 12-Feb. 26, 2000). In the 1940s and 1950s, Tworkov is seen working heavily under the influence of de Kooning -- his sweeping curvilinear gestures and use of cadmium red seem right out of the Dutchman's recipe book. By the 1960s, Tworkov's language becomes much more his own, as he narrows in on dense, frenetic cross-hatched lines. Compared with the fanciful calligraphic loopiness found in works that Cy Twombly was making during the same period, Tworkov's strokes seem gritty and urbane, evoking the grids and shadows of the New York cityscape (works on paper: $8,000-$25,000; paintings: $25,000-$50,000).
Another striking art historical survey -- collages and paintings by surrealist Max Ernst (1891-1976) -- was offered at Lawrence Rubin Greenberg Van Doren (Feb. 1-Feb. 26, 2000). Culled from the holdings of a European collector who acquired Ernst's work during the artist's lifetime, most of the 20 pieces on view had never before been exhibited for the public.
The early collages consist of period genre engravings cut-up and reassembled into wildly improbable tableaus. The paintings reach beyond this sense of visual pun; for Ernst, the palette knife was the ultimate automatist tool, able to depict unconscious figuration with its broad sweeps of undulating paint. In these process-driven works, Ernst anticipates Pollock's use of the sheer physicality of paint to establish iconic imagery ($27,500-$185,000).
At Marlborough, the works of Martin Kline (Jan. 18-Feb. 19, 2000) demonstrated how today's young painters are still driven by the issue of pushing process and materiality to extremes. The artist, who is based in Rhinebeck, N.Y., uses encaustic; dripping, flinging and spinning hot colored wax onto unassuming plywood supports. The resulting geometric matrixes of tactile nodules have the same kitschy appeal as the stalactites of Carlsbad Caverns. Willfully knowing, Kline follows the lineage of Yves Klein, Lucio Fontana and Lynda Benglis ($2,000-$8,000).
Speaking of progeny, could there be any greater patriarchal influence on an artist than that of his own father? That seemed the subtext of the show of Lee Mullican (1919-1997) -- father of the perhaps better-known Postmodernist emblem-artist Matt Mullican -- at Grant Selwyn Fine Art (Feb. 8 -Mar. 19, 2000).
Lee's paintings and drawings from the 1940s and 1950s mix the decorative with the primordial. Like Baziotes' Jungian-inspired pictographs of the same period, Mullican's works combine flatly applied color with antic geometries of tiny brushstrokes. Historically, Mullican was a member of "The Dynaton," a group of California painters including Wolfgang Paalen and Gordon Onslow Ford who explored the bridge between European Surrealism and American Abstract Expressionism. (His last major New York show was at Willard Gallery in 1967.) Seen within a contemporary context, Mullican's west coast color sense and freewheeling graphic sensibility anticipate Lari Pittman and other current L.A. hipsters. His works were priced at $2,000-$40,000.
Another painter, Janet Fish, whose recent crop of facile outdoor still-lifes were featured at D.C. Moore (Jan. 9-Mar. 5, 2000), should be put in the context of her generation -- members of Yale's influential graduate painting program of the 1970s, which included Chuck Close, who lionized her in one of his portraits. Like Close, Fish has retained a coldly analytical eye, even in depicting such recent scenes as a child's summer birthday party on a rolling hill.
As with her famous early series of empty liquor bottles, Fish remains fixated on translucent objects -- a glass punch bowl, Chinese vegetables in clear plastic shopping bags, colored party balloons -- captured in shimmering light. From New York, the show travels to the Columbus (Ga.) Museum. Priced at $13,500 to $39,500, about half of the works were sold by the day of the opening.
A younger realist, Andrew Lenaghan also showed how the casting of an objective eye can lend beauty to the everyday. On view at George Adams, Jan. 4-Feb. 5, 2000, his views of vistas in such gritty local urban areas as Red Hook and Gowanus in Brooklyn and Asbury Park, N.J., cast an evocative mood. The show travels to the Greenville County Museum of Art, Greenville, S.C.
Christopher Wool at Skarstedt Fine Art, 1018 Madison Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10021.
Jack Tworkov at Mitchell-Innes & Nash, 1018 Madison Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10021.
Max Ernst at Lawrence Rubin Greenberg Van Doren, 730 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10019.
Martin Kline at Marlborough, 40 West 57th Street, New York, N.Y. 10019.
Lee Mullican at Grant Selwyn Fine Art, 37 West 57th Street, New York, N.Y. 10019.
Janet Fish at DC Moore, 724 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10019.
Andrew Lenaghan at George Adams, 41 West 57th Street, New York, N.Y. 10019.
JOHN ZINSSER is a New York painter and writer.