Olivier Mosset, the accomplished Swiss-born monochrome painter and longtime fixture of New York cool (Wild Bill Hickok looks, a penchant for motorcycles), decamped to Tucson not too long ago for a new life with his new wife, dealer Elizabeth Cherry. This month he returned to New York to open an exhibition of muscular new work at Spencer Brownstone, Sept. 9-Oct. 23, 1999, in SoHo (run by the nephew of Mosset's Paris dealer, Gilbert Brownstone).
Mosset has lost none of the tough attitude that makes his work great. Two very large multipanel white works face each other on the gallery's long, hallway-like walls. Both are 14 feet tall and as much as 35 feet wide (one has stacked horizontal panels, the other abutting vertical panels). They're thinly painted in uninflected acrylic on expanses of white cotton duck. Because the paintings reiterate the gallery's own dimensions, at first they are nearly invisible, becoming structural and visceral only upon prolonged viewing. The gallery didn't make slides of the work for this very reason.
With time, the paintings seem to enclose the viewer. This is the paradox that gives Mosset's work its macho bravura -- it comes across as light and heavyweight at the same time. Smaller L-shaped canvases on view in the back gallery are $15,000; larger works can cost up to $90,000.
If Mosset could be called the white knight of a utopian monochrome tradition, Steven Parrino is its black sheep. Since he started showing in 1984, at Nature Morte in the East Village, Parrino has continually transformed the icon of the monochrome painting into nihilistic pop sculptural objects. His mean and ruthless show, Aug. 31-Oct. 2, 1999, in Team's cramped basement space, consists of four pieces that dwell on sex, death and destruction -- all realized in shiny black enamel and priced between $4,000 and $20,000.
Zodiac (1999) has been stretched with excess canvas, then unstretched, crumpled and re-mounted to make a kind of violent drapery. Stockade: Existential Trap for Speed Freaks (1988-91) is a taut rectangular canvas with five circular holes cut in it to expose the wall behind. (This willful "fuck you" to the idealistic geometric abstraction of the 1960s makes you expect to see the pickled head of critic Clement Greenberg emerge through one of the holes of the "stockade.")
Dancing on Graves (1999) consists of three sheets of scuffed honeycomb aluminum resting on the floor. The panels were first painted, then sawed apart, then re-glued together at fractured angles before being danced upon by a female go-go dancer in a black leather thong (the performance is documented by a video on a wall-mounted television.) Parrino and Mosset are long-time professional colleagues, by the way. They had adjoining studios in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and Parrino showed at Elizabeth Cherry Gallery in Arizona this past year.
Offering a more traditional art historical view of the use of canvas as a support structure in abstraction was "Primed & Un-Primed: Paintings from the '60s and '70s," Sept. 9-Oct. 2, 1999, at Lawrence Rubin Greenberg Van Doren Fine Art on 57th Street. Singular masterworks by the likes of Morris Louis, Ellsworth Kelly and Philip Guston show off this gallery's snazzy, skylighted-scrim exhibition space to maximum effect. Guston's Stranger (1964) ($185,000) reveals the artist's late hand at its most aggressive, with violent cross-hatches of gray and black obliterating a pink wash and primed canvas background. Kelly's intimate Dark Blue/White (1960) (NFS), with its near-symmetrical inward curves, is a reminder of how this artist shared a design-sense esthetic with both the paintings of Myron Stout and the furniture of Charles and Ray Eames. Louis' Beta Omicron (1960-61) ($450,000) commands the end wall with its brilliant chromatic tendrils of soaked acrylic against a great open expanse of canvas. It's in fantastic condition, with a fresh-out-of the-box vitality.
Also seen: Recent Texas émigré Giles Lyon, Sept. 9-Oct. 16, 1999, at Feigen Contemporary uses process-specific canvas-staining techniques as an automatist template upon which to build up dense webs of biomorphic cartoonigraphic figuration ($7,000-$16,000). For all their seeming restless hilarity, his paintings are surprisingly inert
Swiss artist Francesca Gabbiani's "Unpaintings," Sept. 11-Oct. 9, 1999, at I-20 employ adhesive vinyl-on-aluminum panel as a means to achieve beautiful, seamless flat color in genre landscapes (a starlit azure night sky is gorgeous). Yes, they're anal retentive, but surprisingly effective ($4,500-$6,500).
Fans of psychedelia hopefully checked out Joseph Helman Gallery's snappy season-opening group show, "Another Place," Sept. 1-18, 1999, with Andrew Radcliffe's large-scale allover marbleized abstractions in which the decorative slyly shifts into the figurative ($7,500) and Steve di Benedetto's medium-scaled views of carnival tents and Ferris wheels that melt into atmospheric phantasmagoria (a good buy at $3,000-$6,000).
JOHN ZINSSER is a New York painter and writer.
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