Art consultant to the stars Kim Heirston whizzed by me on 72nd Street on the first day of spring as I stopped by Jacobson Howard Gallery to examine the show, "After Image: Op Art of the 1960s." Time was, say for few months in 1968, when every gallery on Madison Avenue boasted a Victor Vasarely. Now we get our opulent optical opportunities from art world glammies like Heirston.
The athletic Loretta Howard tried unsuccessfully to turn on one boxed Op piece for us, but the bulb had burned out, so we were left with a tight scholarly show of long-forgotten work timed to coincide with Op shows at the Columbus Museum, the Albany Museum, Pratt Institute and Tralfamador, famed planetary origin of Kilgore Trout. For Op Art is a long-past momentary confection, like one’s youthful fascination with the fantasies of Kurt Vonnegut. Or is it?
The Jacobson Howard selection is controlled, scholarly and not particularly psychedelic. The show includes some static chevrons by Bridget Riley, a gorgeous blue-in-green Gene Davis stripe painting, a lemony Albers homage, Julian Stanczak’s orangeade beads that feel like Agnes Martin through a straw, and a concave-convex Vasarely which resembles a robotic brassiere. All very sedate, with explanatory wall labels, which would hardly threaten Duchamp’s rotoreliefs, much less Terence "the Mummy" Koh.
Op Art, looking backwards, resembles nothing more or less than Color Field painting put through a thresher.
Silver machine manques by Fletcher Benton and Leroy Lamis are positively cuddly. No threat to the retina here in a beautifully sedate show. For sheer optical force, journey up Mad Ave to Cook Fine Art’s Helmut Newton exhibition. Though much is familiar there, a suite of three Newton pictures of four naked bush-pubed Amazons really, really strips the eyes with primitive force. These women are ready to make war with rays of lust, and I defy you to look away from their luscious gaze.
Around the corner, at M. Sutherland Fine Arts on East 80th Street, another young Chinese hotshot, one Yang Mian, proffers some milky beauties, pastel paintings based on Asian cosmetics ads. The work borrows a lot from Richard Phillips, though each painting is marked with a Julian Schnabel-style horizontal slash, although the Chinese artist diaspora rarely acknowledges magpieing Western contemporary art. They’ve just been doing the same stuff in an alternative universe, apparently.
Yang turned out to be a jolly fellow with a glint of stardom in his eyes. Perhaps Chinese pop will magically displace the Warhols and the Rosenquists in a mass "carass," to use the term from Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle. In the art world’s version of tulip mania, no one would notice the difference!
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).