The 57th Street gallery scene in Manhattan has a bit of life in it yet, as was on display during the recent Gallery Night on 57th Street, a modest little art fest for which 44 galleries between Lexington and 8th Avenue stayed open till 8 pm.
Hirschl & Adler Galleries showed off its new quarters in the Crown Building at 730 Fifth Avenue, an elegant suite of galleries that it’s taken up after something like two decades in that townhouse on East 70th (now sold by the landlord for $17 million or so).
Among Hirschl & Adler’s multiple offerings was a show of brusque, Outsider Art-styled amateur paintings by millionaire British ad man Richard Lonsdale-Hands (1913-1969), who had once exhibited at the gallery in 1961. His paintings impressed everyone with their “Bad Painting” precocity, and drew a good notice from Roberta Smith in the New York Times. One picture, which looks like an Art Brut cross between a debutante and Popeye -- the model has got to be his wife, Helena, which makes it a fierce inside joke -- is titled Party Girl (1952).
Another new space on the strip is David Findlay Jr Fine Art, which has moved from the Fuller Building, its home for almost 30 years, to larger quarters at 724 Fifth, remodeling slightly the former DC Moore Gallery (now on West 22nd). Findlay’s specialty is mid-20th-century color abstraction, and among the notable works in the inaugural group show are three brushy soft-focus paintings by Herman Cherry (1909-1992). The works on paper are $14,500, and the canvas is $55,000.
In the office at Findlay is a small painting by a new addition to the gallery stable, the 1980s Picture Theory painter Charles Clough, known for stormy multihued compositions made with his custom “big thumb” tool.
Another revelation was to be found at Washburn Gallery, which is presenting “Doug Ohlson: Panel Paintings from the 1960s.” Ohlson (1936-2010), the sublime color geometric abstractionist who showed at Fischbach Gallery in the 1960s and at Susan Caldwell Gallery in the ‘70s. Ohlson made sublime geometric abstractions that balance bars of solid color in a brushy color space (E.C. Goossen wrote about him for this magazine in 1997, thanks to the good offices of painter Michael Brennan).
Ohlson died last year, and since his style of painting had fallen somewhat out of favor, I thought he might be forgotten. But no, he has a vigorous website and had already resurfaced in a group show at Minus Space in Brooklyn and now here. There is life after death, at least in art.
The panel paintings have not been seen for 40 years -- second-generation art dealer Brian Washburn said that Ohlson had walled them up in his studio after they were made -- but they read now as some sort of suave color-as-structure experiment, combining squares, rectangles and the white wall. They have titles like Benn (1969), Civar (1967) and Nord (1968). Large works of four and five panels are $75,000, but smaller paintings can be had for as little as $5,500.
On another floor in the Washburn building (20 West 57th) is Franklin Parrasch Gallery, which boasts as part of a show called “Fight or Flight” an amiable pairing of Craig Kauffman’s vacuum-formed plastic Violet-Yellow (1965) (sold at $45,000), one of those eccentric, suggestive shapes that the late artist would liken to hair-driers, dildoes or other semi-erotic and erotic forms, with Stephen DeStaebler’s post-apocalyptic White Leg with Pink Foot (1996), a 32-inch-tall monolith of clay and plaster.
Parrasch, who first got into the art business when the building he was managing in exchange for a free apartment also had an empty storefront that could serve as an art gallery, half the time seems to run his uptown space like a tony secondary-market showroom. Kauffman’s work could be a touchstone, by the way, for the very contemporary vacuum forms of the younger artist Seth Price, who shows at Friedrich Petzel Gallery.
Despite the grumblings about Pace Gallery that may have appeared in these pages (the frequent ban on photography can be a pain), the gallery’s 57th Street space is always a paragon of art elegance, with the upstairs print gallery, accessible via an ever-more-remarkable spiral staircase, being a reliable source of works by top artists at a lower price range.
On view during Gallery Night was a show of Atom Age abstractions and WPA-era drawings and paintings by Ad Reinhardt, a collection of nearly 100 works from the estate that had been in storage since Reinhardt’s death in 1967. Precise and professional, most of the things burst with animated color and design, elements that Reinhardt would eventually eliminate. The works were fairly expensive, and many were sold.
Across the way in the Fuller Building is Howard Greenberg Gallery, which had a show of photographs from the New Yorker. Whatever pop vitalism made these images appeal to the magazine’s photo editor remains at work here.
Harry Benson’s portrait of the doomed Amy Winehouse, taken in London in 2007, poses the already grungy singer on some clean white hotel linens ($5,000, for a large 22 x 17 in. pigment print, signed, titled, dated and numbered, in an edition of 35). Duane Michals’ portrait of Yayoi Kusama from 1988 is an endearingly comic image that pinpoints the artist’s appeal ($5,000 for a gelatin silver print in an edition of 25, courtesy Pace/MacGill).
Down the block at the hyper-photo-realist Bernarducci Meisel Gallery at 37 West 57th Street, Frank Bernarducci has assembled “The New York Project,” a survey of images of the Big Apple by Paul Caranicas, Richard Estes, Ron Kleemann and a dozen other gallery artists. Charles Jarboe’s painting of a neoclassical dome viewed down a narrow thoroughfare evokes Rome, though Looking South to Broome Street (2011) turns out to be a view of the Police Building in Little Italy.
Upstairs at Edward Tyler Nahem was a solo show of new paintings by 37-year-old Brooklyn artist Erik Benson, a veteran of the late, lamented Roebling Hall gallery. Masterful but with a light touch, Benson gives us views of the city as a mesh of transparent patterns, sinuous tree branches intertwined with cyclone fencing and grids of high-rise girders.
Across the way is Francis Naumann Fine Art, which devoted its opening show for the fall season to the impish, loveable, long-lived Dada potter Beatrice Wood (1893-1998). The legendary “Dada Mama” served as the model for both the Jeanne Moreau character in the tale behind Francois Truffaut’s 1962 Jules and Jim (the two men were the story’s author, Henri-Pierre Roche, and Marcel Duchamp) and inspiration for the elderly Rose in James Cameron’s Titanic (1997), where footage of her can be spied behind the opening credits.
Ceramists love her funky yet lucent lusterware, but she also made erotic drawings as well as comic figurines that are kin to Wallace & Gromit. One earthenware tableau, called Men with their Wives (1996), at first seems to be simply a row of couples on a bench, until you realize that the central female -- Wood, presumably -- is flanked by her two husbands ($35,000). More such anecdotes were available during tours of the show given to lucky visitors by the spirited scholar and dealer Francis Naumann, who knew Wood well.
Naumann’s exhibition coincides with “Beatrice Wood,” Sept. 10, 2011-Mar. 3, 2012, organized by Elsa Longhauser and Lisa Melandri at the Santa Monica Museum of Art. Half of the stylish catalogue is devoted to Wood’s diaries, annotated by Naumann and Marie T. Keller, as the artist had asked before her death.
In the same building -- 24 West 57th -- is the inimitable Marian Goodman Gallery, which boasted not one but two new bodies of work by the popular Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco (b. 1962). Following his triumphant 2010 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, the public reception of Orozco’s work may well be suffering from the kind of post-partum depression that Linda Yablonsky recently described in The Midcareer Question.
What is the artist supposed to do about it? He clearly hasn’t stopped experimenting, presenting in the south gallery some small (ca. 35 x 45 in.), new pixilated paintings of rather generic images, looking a bit like a contemporary cross between needlepoint and Pointillism (an observationoffered by artist Mark Kostabi). The works are made by dotting the canvas in close and even rows, like the rasters of a television screen (or the rods in the eye), using Q-tips (which were then collected on paper plates, and displayed in the gallery hallway).
These days, as the artist and Pace U art professor Jane Dickson was just telling me, artists are more interested in referencing other art than pretending to be original, and indeed, Orozco’s new pictures have titles like Cezanne’s Bridge (2011) and Courbet’s Oak Tree (2011), when they’re not called Bahia Harbor Postcard or Broken Bicycle on a Railing.
In the north gallery was an equally perplexing display of large door-sized drawings, done over the last few years in gouache, acrylic graphite, charcoal and photo collage on sheets the artist would fold and carry around with him and work on intermittently. With titles like Wilde’s Socialism, Body Extension, Dark Dragon and Blue Leaves, the things are framed in heavy-duty glass and fixed to the wall by hinges down one side, so that they can be swung out like a door, or “opened.”
A viewer can then look out from the back into the room through a pair of almond-shaped eyeholes, becoming part of the picture, I suppose. The drawings seemed whimsical, random, slight -- but also free, animated, heaven-looking. They have the kind of assurance that Orozco is known for. As “paintings,” they don’t doubt themselves for a moment. I liked the one with a photo of a drain, which steadied the otherwise flickering imagery of celestial agitation.
The works are priced as high as $350,000-$400,000, which is luxurious territory. “Buy one and it comes with a small plane,” deadpanned Henry Alcalay, the writer. Indeed, if you look on eBay for a Cessna, you can get one for $35,000 or so.
WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.