541 West 24th Street May 5-June 30, 2012
The Italian painter Francesco Clemente (b. 1952), who spends time in India and Rome as well as New York, is arguably the most mystical artist to emerge from a country that has produced more than its share of mystical artists. Long obsessed with his own image, and the tantric representation of his own body parts, Clemente has been an esthetic yogi who plumbs the cosmic subconscious and serves up its depths to viewers in the form of dreamy painted tableaux.
His new show at Mary Boone, however, marks a departure from such potent themes. The ten large oils on canvas and 18 small, framed gouache and sanguine drawings are moody, atmospheric pastiches in which a broad range of intercultural iconography mingles, from skulls and mummies to gingham tablecloths to classical marble busts and robed, fluttering Netherlandish angels. Clemente is not afraid of the color pink, or of sensual, gossamer textures.
The holistic motif of the circle abounds, appearing as the grainy wooden frame of a picture window or an elaborate rosette of stained glass. Abstract patterns that recall indigenous textiles loom behind shadowy, primitive figures colored in dusty yellows, earthy browns and blues. The paintings, which have epic titles like The Artificial Princess, Teorema and Trungpa, are both folksy, affixed here and there with strands of pearls or colored buttons, and new-agey, incorporating crescent moons, ladders and quilts.
Clemente’s world may not be one you know, but neither is it completely unfamiliar. Paintings are priced in the $250,000-$350,000 range, while small drawings in the back go for $20,000.
523 West 24th Street May 5-June 23, 2012
Goldsmith-educated yBa Gary Hume (b. 1962) has been making large, figurative “new image” paintings with bright household enamel for almost 30 years. So simple that they’re almost air-headed, his subjects have ranged from swinging hospital doors (the kind with round windows, which first brought him notice) to fashion models, portraits and flowers. He has a playful way with color and form, and his compositions are balanced, clean and appealing; his auction record is $389,000.
Hume is slated for a major exhibition at the Tate in 2013, and his new show at Matthew Marks, his first at the gallery since 2007, includes seven new works, all made last year at his New York studio. The artist envisions them as "history paintings" that engage with relevant contemporary issues, like the killing of Osama Bin Laden, but says that they “don’t look like [their subjects] at all.” There he is certainly right, since most of the pictures evidently refer to horseracing, as the show's title.
Horse suggests a drooping equine head in brushy brown and a pink muzzle against a matte gray ground, with a pair of silver orbs hovering above like eyes. Other paintings also imply racetrack scenes, but Angela Merkel is more of a puzzle, with a sort of lemon-shaped form topped by a white snow cap beneath a pale green field. It seems serene, fecund -- could it be Germany under female leadership? Even more esoteric is Yes We Can, a bright blue canvas decorated by one tiny, solitary black circle nestled at the bottom edge, and two conspiring white circles at top. It doesn’t look good for Obama.
525 West 19th Street May 4-June 23, 2012
David Zwirner’s current exhibition of paintings by the great Alice Neel (1900-1984) won’t necessarily tell you more about her than you already know. But that doesn’t matter. The 17 works on view have everything we love about her -- an effortless touch, awkwardly precise rendering, straightforward and bright color, and a lot of human character.
As time passes, the links between Neel’s works and those of her predecessors seem to become more pronounced. She revives Cezanne’s fractured space and disorienting perspectives, and adopts George Grosz’s baggy, rippling contours. Her portrait of Hollywood screenwriter Lester Cole -- one of the Hollywood Ten, who was blacklisted in the 1950s -- his brow furrowed, eyelids slack, might be a living van Gogh sunflower, so energetically does his purple shirt play against the golden wall.
The show includes a well-known 1978 portrait of the mail artists Geoffrey Hendricks and Brian Buczak, and a wonderfully intense 1969 painting of the artist’s son, Richard. Other works in the line-up are her 1964 portrait of Hugh Hurd, the Civil Rights leader, which was shown in “Men in Suits” at Cheim & Read in 1998, and a tall, thin 1967 painting of Punk Rock “culture jammer” Joey Skaggs, who blogged about his run-in with Neel a couple of years ago, here. Paintings range in price from $350,000-$1.5 million.
520 West 20th Street May 2-June 16, 2012
Florid and no little bit demented, the paintings by German artist Jutta Koether (b. 1956) knit together jumbles of fine lines and translucent webs of color into neo-Ab-Ex landscapes, often populated by cartoonish figures with bulging eyes. For her most recent project, on view in the 2012 Whitney Biennial, Koether translated 17th-century French painter Nicolas Poussin’s four-canvas suite “The Four Seasons” into her own colorful series of loopy compositions.
Her first show at Bortolami, “The Fifth Season,” continues that exploration, presenting seven large paintings that offer her signature hybrid of classical imagery elaborated by contemporary pop flourishes -- graffiti, a cat, an image of binoculars. Leaving much of the canvas bare, Koether uses the paintbrush like a pencil, tracing her forms in quick, messy outline and disappearing clear divisions between positive and negative space.
The effect is disorienting, as figure and ground collapse into a shared plane of wild hue and stroke. That collapse is echoed by the gallery’s floor, which has been carpeted in a thick layer of brown gravel that crunches underfoot as you walk. The paintings are priced at $40,000.
537 West 22nd Street May 2-June 16, 2012
Brooklyn-based painter Dana Schutz (b. 1976) is considered by some to be the voice of a new generation of young artists. The bright-eyed levity of her compositions, which represent ostensibly whimsical subjects in vibrant colors, belies what is ultimately an unsettling strangeness about them, a world not quite right. Her inaugural show at Friedrich Petzel takes the idea of malaise more literally, and features a series of large paintings that place human figures in dark, difficult or impossible situations -- such as playing the piano outside in a rainstorm, to pick a relatively innocuous example.
The pictures’ titles describe what takes place within the frame -- Heroin in the Wind shows a young, stout woman as she tries to shoot up amid a swirling gust of newspapers and bottles, and Small Apartment depicts two frowning flatmates hunched over a living room table strewn with tissues, presumably after a break-up. It’s an appealingly simple conceit, but many of the works in the show seem contrived. Schutz generally builds rich layers of texture into her paintings, but here she leaves an abundance of bare canvas or applies thin, shallow pigment, and the effect feels tossed off and incomplete.
With one exception. The massive and chaotic Building the Boat While Sailing, the show’s largest and most expensive painting (10 x 13 feet, going for $250,000), is a tangle of bright abstract patterning, fractured spatial planes and writhing, roiling figures, all collapsed into a loaded composition which parodies Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa (1818). Other works are priced $45,000-$250,000.
EMILY NATHAN is assistant editor of Artnet Magazine. She can be reached at