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    Painter's Journal
by Michael Brennan
 
     
 
Barry Le Va
Diagrammatic Silhouettes: Sculpted Activities (Double Wall/Double Floor)
1988
 
Theresa Chong
P. E. 73, "Elegy 1"
1999
 
Theresa Chong
P. E. #73, Number Series, V.3
1999
 
Richard Tsao
Mars or Jupiter
1999
 
Richard Tsao
Holy Moon
1999
 
Tim Steele
Wake
1999
 
John Tremblay
Open Plan Living
1999
 
Work from the '80s by Barry Le Va, a sculptor who is well known for his late '60s scatter installations at the legendary Bykert Gallery, were recently on view at Danese in the Fuller Building on 57th Street in New York. Le Va's giant collages, which are encased behind glass, look like those supersized circuit boards found on the inside of old transistor radios. They're priced in the $20,000 to $35,000 range.

Le Va's collages are made of painted paper that's cut into silhouettes of the sculptor's familiar cylinder, track and ball vocabulary. These diagrammatic combines are clearly intended to work like paintings about sculpture. Each collage is masterfully composed -- Le Va has an untouchably great graphic sensibility.

The appliqué's tiny pinholes are evidence of his hands-on arrangement. The backgrounds are less discrete and tend to emphasize a kind of chaotic or organic disorder. They look like camouflage, but the elemental bits are shaped like Matisse's cutout palm fronds. Le Va's color is split evenly between the objects and the background so that there is plenty of positive/negative spatial flip-flop.
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Theresa Chong's beautiful new woodcut drawings occupy the project room at Danese. The mood of these works, which have a near-black range of color from slate to charcoal, is both reserved and ecstatic. Gridded images are rendered on multiple overlaid sheets of fibrous rice paper, which gives the drawings an unusual luster and depth of surface.

Chong, who was trained in music, has developed a lexicon of symbols based upon the musical notation of David Popper. These symbols hover in an uncertain and mutable place between language and image, in spite of the rigor of her constructed system. The works are priced from $2,500 to $4,000.

Some of the grids form domino patterns, while others disappear in the opaque weft of the rice paper, which sometimes looks like etched stone. Many of the drawings have the same cascading effect as the green glowing Asiatic characters in last summer's film The Matrix. It is possible that Chong's invented code might even resemble the neural processing language that our brains use -- something that biologists call "mindscript."
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Richard Tsao's second show at Margaret Thatcher Projects on West 20th Street in Chelsea, appropriately titled "Second Chance," revealed many new qualities about his paintings. Tsao's radiant color and lichen-like surfaces are the result of the slow accretion and erosion of pigment that's completely awash in water. Tsao uses repetitive, catastrophic hydration, in which color wash is poured over color wash (lather, rinse, repeat). Price: $3,000 to $5,500.

Water as a medium is quite different from oil; it has almost no dimension at all. You can tell by the way water runs and flows every which way, compared to the more immobile unthinned oil. One would thus expect Tsao's paintings to be bodiless, since he uses such great quantities of water as his medium, but the rich, smoldering color lends these paintings a sense of dimension.

Nearly all of these paintings, judging from image and title (Jupiter, Two Moon, Mars, etc.) are planetary in inspiration, as if images from the Hubble telescope were painted explosively rather than coolly altered with a computer. Tsao's new work is full of nice touches, like the diamond pattern in the background of Holy Moon that appears to have come from a soaked roll of purple Bounty paper towels.
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The opening of Tim Steele's exhibition at Rare on West 14th Street had the misfortune of coinciding with Hurricane Floyd, but then again, the weather helped give his works a sense of even greater visible force. Wake, with its contained color and breakout gestural marks, is a dynamic example of Steele's new panel paintings. Although completely abstract, these works still retain all of the hard lines and cold clarity indicative of the painter's previous hyperrealist style. The level of precision and managed risk in the artist's handling of paint rigidly reflects the finely milled construction of the adjoining square panels. The whole surface, which looks like it was painted in flat uninflected enamel instead of oil, has an overall, almost brutal look.
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John Tremblay's 38-foot-long Open Plan Living dominated the entire east wall of Sandra Gering Gallery. The mural-sized work has a pair of sweeping Eero Saarinen-style shapes in a piercing, optic yellow. The title of the show, "The Entire Movie/Quickest Way to the Airport" sets up Tremblay's "urban unplanning" conceit. The show is limited to two paintings only, which seem to be "actors" in some larger social role-playing drama. The spatial and color drama alone remain highly effective, and the "Tommorrowland" vibe works rather smoothly.

Tremblay's other painting, Escape Route, is more dreamy and diminutive with its bubbly Op art pattern. There is a small sculpture on the floor that the artist calls a "float." It's made up of several stacked transparent take-out food trays that seem printed with a pattern of black wire. The float just sits there as if it were a silent power condenser pumping the wattage into your retina. Tremblay's work has a clever, institutional nonchalance that's both pleasing and familiar.
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Also seen: Shirazeh Houshiary's monochrome paintings that look like transparent radiation. Her work at Lehmann-Maupin is simply glorious. It reminds me of Robert Irwin's late pale paintings; both are the equivalent of staring at the sun.…"Reconciliations" is an attractive group show curated by Jeffrey Hoffeld at D.C. Moore uptown. The show includes a couple of ultralight Juan Usle's, some sploogy burlesque paintings by Elizabeth Cooper and a few strategic post-Lasker type paintings from Stephen Davis. The most interesting contrast in the show is within Fiona Rae's own work. The arid things she showed recently at Luhring Augustine look completely embalmed next to the freewheeling rose-orange colored paintings seen at John Good a few years ago. …"Women and Geometric Abstraction" at the Pratt Manhattan's space in the Puck Building presents many of the city's finest painters. The show includes two studiously aloof paintings by requisite Hall of Famers Harriet Korman and Mary Heilman. Joan Waltemath's number crunching composition was a real standout with its open universe of tiny, yet wild scale relationships. Laura Sue Phillips' painting was both quiet and startling. The natural blonde color of the plywood support was working hard against some lax and separate fields of easy-eye green. A deft and spindly metallic painting by Rebecca Quaytman caught my attention too.


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

 
 
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