It's July in New York City and boy is it hot outside! Nothing to do for it but dash into some air-conditioned galleries. Despite rumors that the art world shuts down in the summer, more than a few stalwart dealers have mounted special shows this month. The exhibitions range from group shows featuring new talent to in-depth surveys of leading artists.
As for those of you unfortunately trapped at your beach houses, you can still cruise the summer galleries via ArtNet. Presented below is a selection of summer shows on 57th Street, beginning on the east side in the historic Fuller Building at 41 East 57th and walking west. Look for future cybertours that will take you both up Madison Avenue and down through SoHo.
A Critical Reality: Recent Works by Sue Coe & Paul Marcus
41 East 57th Street
June 7-July 18, 1997
ACA's summer show features works by two of the best political artists working today. Sue Coe's expressive drawings are from a series on meat and dairy production, and emanate a rural aura that is here associated with backward logic and tobacco-spitting ignoramuses.
In Paul Marcus' Maze of AIDS, a wood panel is carved in shallow relief to depict an enormous maze populated with scenes of heroin abuse, pregnancy, repugnant vomiting in a dark cell, masked doctors in skewed perspective peering over a patient and, of course, death. The viewing experience reaches its peak of emotional and intellectual revelation when we realize that, unlike the games we played as children, this maze offers no way out.
ACA's Gallery II contains a selection of works by gallery favorites, including Philip Evergood, Joseph Cornell, Georgia O'Keeffe and Charles Demuth. The small room is filled with soothing pastel tones.
Steve Currie, Recent Sculptures
Stephanie Rowden, The Reading Room
41 East 57th Street
Through July 25
Can enough be said about Littlejohn's current exhibition? In the gallery's front room are sculptures by Steve Currie, angular wooden posts supporting plaster forms that recall Dalí. Situated randomly throughout the bright, unadorned gallery, the work is vaguely disturbing but very effective.
In the back gallery is our candidate for the piece de resistance of all of 57th Street. Stephanie Rowden's Reading Room transforms the gallery into an atmospheric, otherworldly library reading room that delivers a total sensory experience. As we opened the cracked plastic covers of the books placed throughout the darkened room -- revealing smooth wood, soft gauze or empty dark holes in the place of pages -- creaks, clops, groans and whirs emerged. Anyone who has ever experienced the universal wanderings of imagination from within the confines of a quiet library will comprehend the magic of Rowden's Reading Room.
41 East 57th Street
A departure from the contemporary art found in so many other galleries along 57th Street, the pieces on view at Frederick Schultz took us back to ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt. As we entered the space, we were greeted by a bronze Apulo-Corinthian parade helmet from the fifth century B.C. Further within the gallery is a marvelously intact black figure stammos from around 510 B.C., a wonderful Greco-Roman marble torso carved in the ideal athlete-warrior form the ancients were so fond of, and a pair of delicate Egyptian bronze plumes and rams horns from an Atef crown.
The summer show is more than a gathering of ancient artifacts, however. It is designed to provide viewers with a sampling from each of the periods the gallery specializes in. Each piece rests on an isolated podium or within a recessed display case, and each is set off from the dim room with warm overhead lighting, creating a reverent glow. The unfinished Egyptian Dorite statue of a man in a Persian costume offering a shrine from the 4th or 5th century BC, for example, takes on a stature worthy of worship when bathed in Schultz' light.
Amidst the pulsating modernity of Manhattan, Schultz presents a mind-boggling time-capsule of seemingly flawless art that graced the earth thousands of years ago.
41 East 57th Street
Masayuki Nagare's brilliant sculpture -- abstract yet anthropomorphic works in stone and bronze -- coaxed us through the show piece by delicious piece. Centerpiece of the exhibition is Sakimori (1992), a 25-inch-tall bronze work with a hollow torso on a precariously, yet elegantly thin base. The stunning black marble Muku Muku implicitly personifies a dancer's grace, magnificently suggestive. Love of Regret (1991) demonstrates a more playful Nagare; an oddly golden bronze, it appears as if a Solid Gold disco ball fused with Stonehenge.
Nagare's awe-inspiring show at McCoy suffices as enticement for gallery-goers to return -- surely the added incentive of fresh faces and works will keep them pouring into the new group show.
41 East 57th Street
July 17-July 31, 1997
The group show at Nora Haime is the ideal summer diversion. A juxtaposition of fun, serious and provocative works, it stimulates enough to reward close looking, but is not so somber that the experience feels like work.
Adam Straus' Still Life: Gladiolas and Bullet, a lead-framed painting depicting a barely perceptible bullet suspended en route to a brightly colored vase of gladiolas, provides intriguing intellectual fodder. If the flowers, conventional representatives of life and growth, have managed to halt the lead bullet's destructive course, then it seems Straus' comments upon the triumph of life and nature over death and destruction. What to make then, of the lead casing? Made of the same substance as the bullet, it contains and confines the flowers. Perhaps the bullet then prevails after all.
Much less paradoxical, much more fun, is Nikki de Saint Phalle's Le Banc, a colorful resin and plastic sculpture of a bow-tied, buttoned man reading a paper with his dog while lounging on a mirror-encrusted bench. The piece dominates the room with its busy composition befitting a Mardi Gras celebration or a paper mache sculpture painted-by-numbers. Despite his gaudy attire and contemporary appeal, the man reads Greek scrawled haphazardly across his paper suggesting an intersection between nouveau culture and the classic, the necessity of tradition to allow transition.
This stellar group of artists, including Silvio Merlino, Keith Milow, Malcolm Morley, and Hugo Bastidas, provide a richly diverse show worth the visit.
Aerial Perspectives: Imagination, Reality and Abstraction
DC Moore Gallery
724 Fifth Avenue
July 16-Aug 14, 1997
A shy-gazer's delight, this show includes over 20 artists, ensuring at least one favorite piece for each member of even the most ecclectic group of gallery goers. Its title, quite a literal description, refers to works that encompass aerial views, be they city blueprints or neon postcards.
Robert Yarber's Ride, 1993, captures the colorful view of a brightly lit rollercoaster at night quite appropriate to the current season. John Pfahl's striking photograph, A Jagged Verge, 1996 -- from the series "Niagra Sublime" -- certainly draws instant comparison to another famous sublime, that of Clyfford Still; the skewed camera angle and cropping give the painted image the feeling of over-whelming nature.
Robert Deese's drawing,Untitled VI, Study for a Swimmer, 1988, presents the extreme aerial view -- one from beyond our atmosphere. The carefully constructed composition and glossy photo finish -- imagine glimpsing the Earth through a starship's closing hatch -- belie the circular graphite strokes apparent upon closer inspection.
Among the other artists in the show are Robert Bordo, Vija Celmins, Yvonne Jaquette, and Richard Misrach.
Joan T. Washburn
20 West 57th Street
Through Aug 31
Washburn's summer group show caters to lovers of Abstract Expressionism. Ray Parker's work provides a color juxtaposition of three vertical swaths. Jack Youngerman's Black and White is a smooth, clean black-and-white composition. James Brooks' Acanda is a paradoxical smattering of patchy earthen tones whose colors soothe as its strokes excite. The overall effect is an intricately balanced field of color.
A highlight of the exhibition, David Smith's Untitled, is one of the only canvases to approach representation. Best known as the pioneer of post-war U.S. sculpture in the 1940s, Smith creates a work correlating more with early Surrealism than his later infatuation with anthropomorphic geometry. Metallic blue, biomorphic shapes waltz across a flesh colored background like the contorted playthings from Toy Story.
We also appreciated the chairs arrayed in the center of the gallery, which invite the viewer to sit, absorb and reflect.
Victor Vasarely: A Retrospective of Paintings and Works on Paper
Associated American Artists
20 West 57th Street
June 18-Aug 1, 1997
The father of Op-Art, Vasarely plays with geometric and abstract figures to create dizzying optical illusions. In Tettye (1974-76), for instance, row after row of red circles and ellipses on a black background create the a perfect sphere that appears to bulge and pulsate. Other works are figurative, like Zebres-B (1937), in which what initially seems to be a series of nondescript flat black squiggles emerge to become a pair of zebras, fighting -- or is it mating?
In the back gallery is a group of older works that are based on chess, the ultimate symbol of logic and order. Echiquier (1945) is divided into four large chess-board-like squares. A neat rectangle in the lower right hand corner of the canvas contains the outline of every chess piece in a perfect game-setup. Meanwhile, the forefront of the canvas is filled with a jumble of giant, chess pieces that seem to tumble chaotically in the space of the picture. The chessmen are rendered with simple, clean lines on a checkerboard that's colored a lively pink and green.
In this well-orchestrated contrast between logic and irrationality, you can almost hear the artist arguing with himself.
Snyder Fine Art
20 West 57th Street
May 30-Aug 15, 1997
Anyone interested in geometric abstraction will certainly find something worth their while in this summer show, a robust survey cutting across several decades. Despite the constraints of the form, the works vary widely in color and tone. Some are cool and orderly, others frantic with energy.
John Goodyear's kinetic piece, Monet's Garden, almost hidden behind the reception desk, is for us the highlight of the show. Three slatted squares of Lucite, each painted with colorful enamel stripes, swing on parallel planes; the shifting colors merge and separate to create an entrancing visual sensation. Other artists of note are John McLaughlin, Richard Anuszkiewicz, Nassos Daphnis, Ted Stamm and John Obuck.
From small wooden or wax sculptures to large oils, Geometric Abstraction makes a convincing argument that logic can prevail, despite the insanity of the Manhattan street below.
24 West 57th Street
In this show, German photographer Thomas Struth presents several photographs from Japan -- a large picture of a Japanese temple, portraits of a Japanese family, and some images of the country.
His landscape Aoyama Cemetary II depicts vertical gravestones that echo the crowded Tokyo skyline in the background and draws a parallel between death and urban civilization. As with all Struth's work, it subtly marries elements of the traditional and the modern.
Though this show has ended, Struth's photographs may still be viewed during Goodman's summer group show, which includes a dozen artists ranging from Richard Artschwager to Niele Toroni.
Four Trillion Artists
40 West 57th Street
Through July 20
Sculpture blesses this playfully titled show with a true comic air -- especially Tom Otterness' cartoon-like bronzes. In his Escaping Computer and Paper Flyer, a smiling computer runs alongside a similarly cheerful sheet of paper, in a contemporary version of "the dish ran away with the spoon." The innocent expression on the face of Otterness' Cat is humorously betrayed by the lone canary feather he has neglected to wipe from his mouth.
Out on Marlborough's sculpture terrace, we entered a marvelous fantasy world commanded by Fernando Botero's enormous bronzes. Courtly and portly, each twice-life-size figure is comically disproportionate, with elephant-sized feet and legs tapering into stubby arms and pin heads.
Regardless of what your eye fancies, you will find it at Marlborough's group show. Everything from Richard Estes' Photo Realist Broadway Bus at Liberty Street to Red Grooms' kitschy The Sword Swallower (perfect for summer in New York as it evokes Coney Island attractions of old) is represented here. And with such a varied showing (additional artists include Manolo Valdes, Thomas Sanchez, Jacques Lipchitz, Raymond Mason, Vincent Desiderio, and Frank Auerbach, among others) the highlights are many.
A Show of Hands
George Adams Gallery
41 West 57th Street
June 19-Aug 6, 1997
This exhibition focuses on representations of hands -- a legendary technical frustration to artists -- and the labyrinth of folklore and iconology inspired by them; the show's effect is as powerful as its namesake.
Lesley Dill's elongated arms in Bonze Hands droop down the entire length of the wall with the eerie languor of a burlesque dancer's misplaced silk gloves. Bryan McFarlane's Invisible Hand -- straight form the pages of Poe -- conceals the work's eponymous structure in the foreground, a clever barely-there outline of an open palm.
Perhaps the show's highlight, Joseph Stashkevetch's Malfucci Syndrome (Enchondromatosis) depicts a hand grotesquely deformed into a series of cauliflower-shaped keloids. The artist's watercolor captures the grainy quality of an enlarged photograph. One may immediately recognize the disfigured feature as a hand, yet it could easily be mistaken for a rock formation in the Grand Canyon.
The entire show is a good chance to view several artists in one fell swoop. Fortunately for the public, it will remain intact for the summer, a handsome attraction indeed.