Artists who live in far-flung places around the globe, such as Jerusalem, use every travel opportunity to see what is going on “out there.” Though the internet is now rich with museum sites, personal artist web sites, and Facebook to fill in the gaps between trips, it is only in front of an original art work that one can sense scale, appreciate the technique, observe the surface, stand at a distance as well as get up close and personal, and hope to get that all important “ahhh” reaction.
As I’ve written here, I use this blog not only to share the art that I see in Jerusalem and other locations in Israel, I will occasionally share what I’ve seen abroad.
Manhattan seems to be a never-ending smorgasbord of cultural offerings, and for artists with limited schedules, like dieters at a buffet, also presents a delightfully frustrating dilemma to select well from all the tempting choices. I chose to visit the National Academy’s Annual exhibition. With 113 works from painters of all stripes, sculptors, print makers, and architects, it was like attending a tasting of gallery offerings in NY under one roof. I left visually sated, yet without art fatigue overload.
The National Academy has a long and illustrious history. Unique amongst arts organizations, it is comprised of an art school, an association of artists, and a museum. The building, located on Museum Mile of Fifth Avenue, has undergone an overhaul, reopening in September, 2011, better lit and with less quirky exhibition spaces.
The Annual’s origin dates to 1826 and today remains a showcase of work by serious art practitioners. This exhibition includes not only a selection of peer-elected National Academy members, but also invited guest artists from across a range of fields, resulting in a multi-generational conversation between approaches, styles, schools, and theories. The catalogue is online.
Contemporary representational painters and figurative artists were well represented in this exhibit, which is where I will start. Very much a “something for everyone experience,” I will be touching on a range selected from the large show.
It will be no surprise to painting devotees that amongst the seniors of the group are some of the stars of the exhibit. Forever young Lois Dodd (born 1927), who paints in an ostensibly simple manner, gets to the essence of a nude painted outdoors with great economy of means. When it is said that “less is more,” this spare and engaging painting comes to mind.
Alan Feltus (born 1943) shows a work typical of his mature painting, heavily Influenced by Italian Florentine painters. In “The Young Man and the Flower Lady” a couple is contained within a space dominated by a table, and bears a subdued quiet, a sense of being caught on the verge of a breath being taken. A seated male gazing downwards, the standing half nude woman to the right of the table focusing sideways to the right and out of the format, perhaps indicating a disconnect between the couple. The carefully composed space binds them together. This piece continued to pull me in from afar only to be further entranced by the delicacy of the surface and Feltus’s achievement of translucent skin, pale blue veins whispered in understatement.
As a marvelous foil for this work, “Christian and Ivy” by Mary Beth Mackenzie (born 1946) was hanging almost across from Feltus’s piece. More aggressive in her brushwork, she also shows a couple spanning a table, he slumped on the left, she sitting on the right with her gaze outwards, an industrial view behind them, adding to the quality of urban dis-affectation or modern alienation.
One of the pioneers of contemporary figurative painting, Philip Pearlstein, (1924) has been working with the figure for decades, painting his models and his eclectic assortment of flea market finds in the same way, one of cold scrutiny under artificial light in odd set-ups. In “Model with Ostrich Eagle and Duck,” the model is cropped at her eye level, the three birds are of a feather, but, then again, not – one is a statue, one a weather vane and one a children’s riding toy, with two separate eyes bearing down on the viewer. The weather vane arrow brings us into the scene where it points to the model’s crossed upper thighs. Pearlstein seems to stand on the fence between detached observation and coincidental emotional reaction to ostensible arbitrariness.
Odd in its own right, Francis Cunningham (born 1931), shows “In the Studio,” a grouping of two nude models and a painting of a cloaked reader in profile, surrounding a centrally placed skull. An accomplished painter and observer of the figure, here the earth and skin-tones make for a restrained painting, a fitting echo to the Christian religious overtones. The play of cool tones and warm tones is worth studying. Jerusalem audiences may recall seeing his work locally, which I wrote about here.
For something completely different, veteran Bal’morean, Raoul Middleman (born 1935), is showing “Miss Murphy” a mass of paint swirls and energetic brush strokes. Middleman is well-known for his paintings of the cast of city characters best-described as Baltimore “grunge.” He zeroes in on the unique individuals that form the backdrop of city life, not the well-heeled commuters, but the down and not quite out souls who give the city its heart. The hands alone pulsate with vitality.
As a long observer of the quiet world of still life, Susan Jane Walp (born 1953) turns the mundane into a precious moment of contemplation. In “Doublemint,” her slight shifts of color, delicate green-tinged greys, and carefully considered edges combine to offer the viewer a chance to dwell upon the beauty of the over-looked.
Moving along to works less involved with close observation, David Kapp (born 1953) , shows “Go,” which, like many of his works concentrating on the beat of vehicles streaming through New York’s traffic canyons, puts the viewer right on the street. Here, the strong diagonal pulls the eye straight across the canvas, color and spacing of the cars echoing the punch of city living.
Chie Fueki (born 1973) has a different approach to observation. She combines a grid, conflicting eye levels, floating dress stripes echoing keyboards with flat shapes to create a lively juxtaposition of geometry and color. Nice shocks of red, blue and pink add their own verve to a painting that is otherwise comprised of tones of black, white grey and tan.
In a large wall of abstract studies, Tom Burkhardt (born1964) presents an investigation of simple masses or line in one color against the fixed format of the beige aged book pages, each a unique piece, and exhibited as a single work together. The entire wall zigs and zags from form to form and color to color as the eye takes in all the works at once. Here the sum of the parts is greater than any one piece on its own.
The ceramic “Pink Grid” by Joyce Robins (born 1944) was a refreshing piece to see in this exhibit. Small, on an intimate scale, it seemed to invite one to enjoy the range of color indentations in the ceramic “canvas” as pure pleasure in color. Not a mechanical grid, it bears the inexactitude that speaks of being touched by the human hand and made by an individual. I could not help but relate this work to the recent unleashing of the much -hyped spot paintings by Damien Hirst into the stratosphere of the art world. For me, this modest piece trumped those.
Lack of space prevents me from mentioning all the works which I considered special (not that there were not low points as well). Lovers of printmaking, sculpture and followers of architecture are all sure to find what to admire.
Exhibit continues through April 29, 2012.
All images courtesy of the National Academy