Fascinating things are frequently found in funny places. Such is the case with paintings by 20th-century women from the Loeb Collection at Vassar College, on view through Nov. 2, 2007, at the gallery at the Park Avenue Bank.
You have to wait on the teller’s line until a security guard ushers you into a space the size of a walk-in closet, an apt metaphor for the status of postwar women painters versus the macho museum of Pollock, de Kooning, Serra and Close. A beautiful brooding Georgia O’Keeffe rendering of the East River, very much influenced by John Marin and Milton Avery, abuts an extraordinary Buddha-like scroll portrait of Barnett Newman by Hedda Sterne. There’s a particularly strong Florine Stettheimer fandango of figures featuring a society babe being massaged by a black woman.
Grace Hartigan’s take on a Rubens is a fleshy satisfaction. For paint handling, color control and a thoughtful theme, she surpasses Joan Mitchell (there’s a bad scratchy Joan in this show), Lee Krasner, Giorgio Cavallon and Adolph Gottlieb, among second-tier Ab-Exers. The burnt orange Helen Frankenthaler stain in this show is not half bad, but also no Hartigan.
Nancy Graves has a spastic-colored cartoon sculpture that is awful, but Anne Truitt’s Summer Sorcerer is intriguing, a departure from her usual light-enabling palette. An oblong box absorbs dark reds and browns into a well of deep disturbance.
Irene Rice Pereira’s pink and orange rectangles and an ungainly bunch of colored strokes by Elaine de Kooning round out this tiny show, which might inspire a curator or two to think larger thoughts somewhere with the same group of artists.
“Twentieth-Century American Women Artists from the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College,” Sept. 17-Nov. 2, 2007, at the Gallery at the Park Avenue Bank, 350 Park Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10022
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).