Richard Tsao, "Round And Buried," and Madeline Weinrib, "Botantical Drawings," June 11-July 18, 1998, at De Chiara/Stewart, 521 West 26th Street, New York, N.Y. 10001.
This double-barreled exhibition of works on paper by Richard Tsao and Madeline Weinrib was a good way to begin New York's long hot summer. Both artists insinuate the forces of nature in their works, which have a beguiling delicacy. Their outright modesty lends a note of concentration and authority to the show.
Inspired by Matisse as well as Art Brut and children's art, Madeline Weinrib makes automatic drawings concerned with the patterns of growth in the plant world. Her "Botanical Drawings" have a vitality and incipient life. Though small, the drawings feel monumental, a sense of outsized scale suggested by judicious cropping and a deft sense of proportion and tonal values.
Henri Focillon claimed that artists could create "poetic transpositions in the tumults of human existence" through the visual recollection of organic forms. Weinrib invests her drawings with a conjoined compression and release, a controlled intuitive spontaneity that seems to jump off the page. This control is marked with a supple grace that informs each mark, drip, stain and paper rip. Weinrib's fibrillating awkwardness, her rambling interruptions and erasures are as intense as those of early Matisse.
Superficially resembling Terry Winter's early leaf-pod forms, Weinrib's calligraphic notations show how small, repeated gestures can echo nature. They also press against the limits of representation through contour drawing. As a result, a careful viewer is immersed in a dynamics of form, structure and gesture. Weinrib's primary claim to authenticity is the effortless, seemingly casual sense of inevitability in each artlessly imperfect yet sublime drawing.
The title of Richard Tsao's show, "Round and Buried," refers to the archeological remains of Bronze Chinese mirrors that were found in 4,500-year-old tombs with members of the imperial family and its retinue. For the first part of his exhibition, Tsao designed an unusual installation of a series of monoprints, each of which consists of a single, brightly colored circle centered on a square of paper. The imprinted sheets hovered away from the wall, suspended on a thin Styrofoam bracket that was attached to the wall behind it. These eleven "mirrors" were exceedingly still presences that create a strange sense of isolation and tranquillity.
Tsao makes the monoprints using incremental layers of red, yellow or blue oil pigments applied to a round Plexiglas plate and then rolled onto paper. From a distance, the works seem to be simple monochromatic studies, but a closer look proves that they are nothing of the kind. Their edges are the giveaway: Small tremors of gesture give a slight feel of spinning in space. Silence and mystery pervade these works, yet they seem both opaque and transparent and have the effect of revealing deep mysteries as well as holding back ineffable truths about self-identity and self-perception.
The "buried" section of the show consists of three ink-on-paper allover abstractions. Brooding and spatially surprising, the range in tonality from dark grey-black to silver-grey. These involuted forms appear to be underwater enlargements of gelled cell-formations seen under strong magnification and lit from behind. I suppose knowing that the artist uses bubble wrap impressions to create these extremely works might spoil the effect for some people. I think otherwise: it shows a nimble playful imagination at work that can create mystery out of the mundane.
You can't beat that as a visual summer tonic.
DOMINIQUE NAHAS is a New York based independent curator and critic. He is co-curator (with Ingrid Schaffner, Harry Philbrick and Richard Klein) of "Pop Surrealism" at the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art in Ridgefield, Conn., June 7-Aug. 30, 1998.