Legendary earthworks artist and forerunner of the movement Alan Sonfist rarely mounts gallery exhibitions. However, this fall his showing at Shin gallery on the Lower East Side of Manhattan is truly brilliant. It features a brief overview of his thought process since the early 1960s via tangible indoor pieces, most hanging on the walls in a variety of media. Saliently, one large new work (10 by 15 feet) consists of native soil and sand samples adhered to a rectangular flat surface in a map formation of the 48 contiguous United States, plus a bit of Mexico and Canada – demarcated not by borders but by the areas those samples are naturally indigenous to, and looking a bit like a topographical map. Sonfist’s work is essentially an outcropping of minimalism, so therefore one might not expect a lot of sensuality. Yet particularly, this new tour de force is simply lovely to behold with its brown and tan tones smoothly transitioning from passage to passage, or field to plain; mountain to valley. Other pieces include canvases featuring monochromatic native dirt(s) with branches attached. As the artist has often commented, “My work is about the history of the land.” There are photographs such as a diptych that depicts his hand held to resemble the shape of the tree leaf on the corresponding panel, and bronze sand castings of various natural forms. Sonfist is arguably the original progenitor of the ever expanding genre of conceptual land art which becomes increasingly popular each passing decade in tandem with our growing acknowledgement of the damage our species is perpetrating on the environment; and its ultimate purist. It is an unusual pleasure to view his efforts indoors at a Manhattan art gallery as the majority of his efforts are in the field and spread about the planet in monumental projects.
American Earth Landscape at the Shin gallery in New York City, October 26 to December 4, 2021
Bobbie Moline-Kramer’s solo exhibition The Power of One at Lichtundfire Gallery is an installation that spans both time and space using the study of constellations as a touchstone. The artist begins with the unique position of stars relating to various leaders during specific historic moments over a geographical point on earth. These “heroes” are individual subjects selected because of their courage to make a difference in the world. A chart of the heavens upon the birth of Greta Thumberg is the subject of one painting, as well as the moment of death of Ruth Bader Ginsberg is depicted by another.
Dolly Parton’s contribution to the development of a Covid vaccine earned her inclusion and the moment of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination is the subject of a more somber, clouded painting.
Moline-Kramer immortalizes these individual portraits as constellations in their own right, shaped and guided by the astrological forces that brought them into being. Using 16th century glazing and gilding techniques, Moline-Kramer incises these sky charts with the same precision that antique celestial maps were prepared and painted by Italian and Dutch Renaissance masters. The luminosity of Moline-Kramer’s cobalt blue layers recreate the light and depth of the starry night with the shadow of a portrait of the subject hovering among their specific constellations.
However, the artist does not just linger in the past but creates an adjacent installation that employs cutting edge technology to deconstruct each constellation painting into 3-D computer printed layers. Each layer of this installation is suspended from the ceiling and appears as ephemeral, variously hued flakes of sky floating down.
These magical, translucent forms invite the viewer to not only become part of the fabric of the artworks but to feel their own involvement in the unseen forces that guide us all in relationship to one another. This paradoxical synergy combines facts with mysticism, mythology with mathematics, and traditional Renaissance technique with 21st century computer printing technology that renders this exhibition not only about time and space but most importantly, about being.
“Bobbie Moline-Kramer: The Power of One” at Lichtundfire Gallery 175 Rivington Street, New York, New York on View Through October 30, 2021. General Gallery Hours: Tuesday — Saturday, 12 — 6 pm. More info: Priska Juschka at 917.675.7835, email@example.com
Fort Gansevoort, New York City – October 8 – December 18, 2021
by Christopher Hart Chambers
We are animals. We do cruel things to one another. Indeed large galaxies engulf smaller ones. It’s physics. That doesn’t excuse horror: it exists. As an art critic, social justice is not my forte. I write about Winfred Rembert‘s artwork because of its unique graphic sensibility, tactile sensuality, and rhythmic musicality, regardless of its poignant social critique and the obscene hardships the artist endured.
Inarguably this is folk art for the sincere, unschooled naif figuration. These paintings on tooled leather almost fall into the category of bas relief for their meticulous textural quality. Three dimensional modeling is sometimes achieved by pressings into the leather and outlines are burnished into it. The intricately repetitive patterning is reminiscent of surface and textile design. For the most part the colorful dyes are applied in flat, hard edged sections, although here and about a little brushwork remains evident. Formal perspective and color theory are completely ignored; horses, human figures, and other organic elements are the same size regardless of where in space our common sense tells us they must reside. These aspects amount to remarkably charming compositions, full of joy and light despite the awful story of repression and abuse they manifest. The work is original and genuine. In fact, Rembert learned his skills from a fellow inmate while doing time in jail down south during the shameful Jim Crow era of American History.
I never liked the highbrow term, “outsider art.” Insider in this context only means one studied a particular set of directives set forth by an agreed upon body of others. We all use what is at our disposal to the best of our abilities. Winfred Rembert‘s art is not endearing and appealing because of formal schooling or the lack thereof. It is likable and very good because of the artist’s natural talent, unique vision, and persistent hard work.
I have been asked a number of times to write a review of a virtual exhibition, and have never felt quite right about it. In the past, and certainly prior to COVID, I would cover an exhibition that I witnessed in person if it inspired thoughtful contemplation. I never saw that as a possibility in the virtual world, but I never closed the door entirely, as the pandemic seems to be as stubborn as the folks that are choosing to forgo getting vaccinated. So here we are – my first attempt.
Bounty, the current virtual exhibition featured at rhombusspace.com is designed to offer “the fall harvest, the fruits of earlier seeds planted” as it relates to the time spent in the studio these last 18 months. The exhibition wonders, what were artists thinking before and during COVID, what changed or didn’t change, and how did it affect an individual artist’s studio practice. There, I’ve already done something I rarely do, I read the first paragraph (after the artist’s names) of the press release before I started writing. I usually prefer to just go by what I see and not read the press release prior to my writing, unless I have had some sort of forewarning that I really need some background before I view the work.
Getting back to the exhibition – there are eight artists: Enrico Gomez, Rachael Gorchov, Adam Novak, Jean Rim, Corrie Slawson, Karla Wozniak, Holly Wong, and Etty Yaniv. Since I am only familiar with a few of these names, I will limit my commentary to the works in the exhibition, and not speculate on any changes due to COVID unless it is obvious in the work or titles.
Enrico Gomez’s two drawings are from the Redux series. They feature somewhat complex geometric forms that bleed out, as if over-saturated in charcoal pigment and swept, or, are they sucking in errant medium like metal shavings to a magnet? You know, like those Wooly Willy toys with the little metal shavings behind the plastic barrier where you can guide with a little magnet, to add hair and a mustache to Willy’s hairless face. On the other hand, if you look at that directional dust as movement, it gives the work a feeling of weightlessness, while the areas left untouched adds more than a bit of finesse and control in these otherwise, curiously formed compositions. Rachael Gorchov’s two acrylic paintings on panel are comprised of multiple layers of thinly applied washes and bold brush strokes. Again, like Gomez, movement comes to the fore, while here, we see somewhat obscured faces in both, resulting in a sort of crossing out of any representation with forceful non-representational brushes of abstraction. Perhaps this is the change the press release is referring to?
Adam Novak’s two oil paintings, Run1 and Run2 feature the word ‘RUN’ from the title, atop and amongst very loosely suggested bodies that move through the picture plane. The simplicity of the content is complicated by the elusive approach to word and form, while the energetic painting techniques brings excitement to the eye. Jean Rim offers two multi-media works that utilize a variety of techniques including collage and assemblage. I am particularly drawn to August (2021), for its obsessive and meditative approach to the content, while the overall composition, which is in a tondo format, keeps the eye moving and one’s interest piqued.
Corrie Slawson has strong concerns for the state of the world. Using oil and mixed media on plywood, Slawson shows the influence of James Rosenquist, and his signature Pop Art panoramas. Conversely, while Rosenquist focused primarily on popular culture and advertising, Slawson broadens the range adding extinct animals and the sadness that ensues, as with Blue Footed Boobies are endangered; Harlequin Toad, now extinct. Rabbit is distraught (2020). Karla Wozniak’s paintings are more in the Paul Klee and Adolph Gottlieb realm. Patterns, colors, textures and shapes all compete for our attention, as light brings hope in Fire, Shapes, Silverware (2021), and night brings dreams, as in Egg + Shoe (2021).
Holly Wong’s beautiful mixed media works immediately brought to mind Frank Stella’s prints from the early 1990’s that were inspired by the cigar smoke rings he blew, captured, computerized, then turned into 3D renderings. In both instances, with Wong and Stella’s compositions, there is this seemingly endless level of movement and gesture that is clearly amplified by attention-grabbing color and graceful line. Etty Yaniv’s two painterly canvases also have indications of organic forms, only in this instance, the mixes of media and the turbulent techniques are much more mesmerizingly tactile and demanding of our attention. Utilizing a number of curious materials, including the application of bits of plastic, we are witness to a wild ride through the spiritual essence of the natural, as opposed to the literal representations of one’s first impressions.
at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities in Colorado
by D. Dominick Lombardi
Barbara Kruger, Jenny Holzer, Ed Ruscha, and Christopher Wool are just a few of the most renowned artists who have very successfully used words as key elements in their art. After all, visual art is a form of communication, and the addition or focus on text in the creative process can be a very powerful tool. Currently, the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities in Arvada, Colorado is presenting two excellent exhibitions curated by Emily Grace King and Collin Parson that focus on a number of contemporary artists who too address the import and range of text in art.
In the main gallery, on the first floor of this long-standing, unique, multi-purpose arts center is the solo exhibition Roland Bernier: In Other Words, which features many years of compelling text inspired art. What I find most alluring here, is the artist’s focused and unwavering intent, and the variety of materials employed to project humor, optimism, cynicism and social commentary through words and text.
Two of the earliest works in the exhibition, Untitled (Cluf) and Untitled (Sompf), both from 1969, show something of an underground, counter culture feel with hints of Edward Gorey. In Untitled (Sompf), there seems to be a protest going on, one with security forces attempting to squelch the momentum, while both works feature a jumble of legible and illegible demands that add up to the captivating mayhem of these dream-like scenes.
The lion’s share of the exhibition are works from the past 25-30 years, where Bernier’s relentless dedication to the word or letter totally dominates his oeuvre. Visitors may find the more Pop Art suggestive works in this exhibition reveal the real genius of this artist. For instance, GPT (2003), which is dominated by a park-bench green box-like cart, sporting spoked go-kart wheels and a rope, and carrying systematically stacked oversized wooden letters, is noticeably impractical, yet playfully awkward. An excellent commentary on how communication can be burdensome and hyperbolic.
Soap Opera (1997) is composed of 35 to 40 words made of block letter collages covered with colorful laundry soap box cardboard. Brand names such as Cheer, Bold and Tide brilliantly contrast the words they decorate such as ‘indifferent’, ‘silence’ and ‘negative’, suggesting much more than just commentary on the culture of this daytime genre. With work like Chit Chat and Word Works 2, both created in 1997-98, it is easy to see the incredible dedication to quality and craft Bernier brings to the table in this very important exhibition.
Continuing the theme on the upper floor galleries is the group exhibition Word Play, which features the works of 15 contemporary artists. What is most notable here is the curatorial approach taken by King and Parson to offer an expansive variety of approaches to language and text, while the materials used vary from digital to straight up graphite on paper.
The two digital video artists in the exhibition are Jeff Page and Joel Swanson. Page offers us a fast moving video where a pile of coarsely cut out letters move stop-action style, up and down onto a corner created by two adjacent angular walls. The text is nearly impossible to read in situ as it moves too quickly, however, one may decipher some of the phrasing by videoing the projection with a camera phone, then go frame by frame to read the words: “vocal fry,” “kinda dark,” “girly voice” and “2 gay 4 work.” Whether or not anything here indicates conflict or identity concerns, the overall visual presentation before my stop-action analysis reminded me of the 1920, silent horror film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, due to this work’s awkward movements and abrupt angles.
Swanson’s five part room installation, with its four vertical video monitors and central mobile-like hanging letters titled Merriam Webster, 1995 (2021) and NO/NOT/NOTHING (2021) is much about how language is acquired randomly, then meaningfully. The central hanging black letters, which, depending on the movement of the mobile, will occasionally spell out the words in the title, suggesting how language and the meaning of words can change depending on the angle you take. This could go a long way to explain how information, or disinformation can change so drastically in part, from source to source.
During these past several months of COVID there have been a number of odd and often divisive headlines throughout various media. Donald Fodness takes some of the most bizarre captions, and rolls them into balloon-type lettering creating buoyant fields of endless insanity. In Landscape 2021 with Icons (2021), where we see familiar entertainment icons, Fodness adds a bit of Pop to the spectacle of peculiarities as his subtle and sensitive drawing techniques reveal potent portrayals that inevitably reference a sort of subconscious cynicism that bubbles to the surface.
Jim Johnson’s meticulously drawn words done with charcoal on paper, boast beautifully rendered cursive captions such as Never Say Never, Talk is Cheap and Mumbo Jumbo. At first glance they appear to be as much about a tattoo aesthetic as they are referencing familiar sayings. However, after further consideration, the entire installation, which is presented on a matte black wall, gives the entire design a classic and highly cultivated look leading one to believe there is enlightenment beneath the cliché.
Joe Norman’s Faith/Doubt Model (2019) is the 3D maquette for a much larger outdoor installation in the expansive sculpture field nearby. Using five letters constructed in such a way as to change when walking around the sculpture, visitors will see the word ‘faith’ turn into ‘doubt’ then back to ‘faith’. Some may take away a certain commentary on how religion often conflicts with science. However, Norman turns the conflict-ridden conundrum into a playful and thought provoking transition through insightful simplicity.
Sammy Lee’s two organic looking multi media relief-like works add an abundance of mystery and tactile quality to the exhibition, while Masha Sha’s graphite and black lead on tracing paper drawing titled Homo Homini Lupus(2021) revels an incredible intensity in technique, coupled with references to graffiti and the effects of tag bombing. The distinctive untouched areas in the corners and edges is something of an homage to Clifford Still, while the energy and focused mark-making is mesmerizing.
Trey Duvall’s Repeat That Again (2021) is perhaps the most conceptual work in the exhibition, reminding me of the sort of thing I would occasionally come across in the SoHo galleries of Manhattan back in the 1970’s. Jade Hoyer’s20 Ways of Saying No (2021) is a powerful, albeit delicate balance between humor and sexual harassment, skillfully disguised as benign beauty. Many will be struck by Scott Young’s Human(e) (2021), a neon work that sporadically fluctuates between ‘humane’, with an occasional failing of the letter ‘e’ to ‘human’ – as we all must remember that humanity is both a right and a responsibility. Paula Gasparini-Santos offers a familiar take on street art referencing Jean-Michel Basquiat, adding sweeping text to the wall beneath the paintings, with such lines as: “you dear are not the tide or the rain…” suggesting excerpts from a novel or some such revelatory text, while Tom Mazzullo offer a series of exquisitely rendered Type Improvisations that reflect a dimensional aspect to the old lead or wood block letters once used for type-setting.
Paul Weiner’s Motion for a Certificate to Compel Attendance (2021) riffs off of his smaller redacted text-type piece Jurors Questions for Witness (2021). In the larger painting, the blocked out text becomes a hard edge painting sporting a unique rhythm of dark and light, not so dissimilar from the old computer key punch cards of the early 1970’s. Rounding out the exhibition are Cherish Marquez with an interactive video game that interjects words into an otherworldly environment; and Lares Feliciano, who offers a digital collage presenting the word PALANTE as a magical, tropical paradise.
A Group Exhibition at Clint Roenisch Gallery in Toronto
by Emese Krunák-Hajagos
I was looking for exhibitions to visit when one of the artworks on the Clint Roenisch website caught my eye. At the gallery, Roenisch told me that the exhibition actually started with that image. He had seen it in an auction in New York. It was a photographic work by Willard van Dyke, a famous photographer and documentary filmmaker. He was also the director of the film department at MOMA between 1965 and 1974, where he started two programs for showing the art of avant-garde and documentary filmmakers. The influence of avant-garde is unmistakable in the composition of Performance by the Hanya Holm School of Dance. In addition to being figurative, as both Hanya and the group of dancers are actually photographed and the image was not manipulated in any way – the picture is surrealistic. The shallow indentation of the building makes it a kind of a stage set. The shadow of the building precisely points to Hanya and continues in her own shadow on the ground. She stays there in the bright light in a dance pose as a priestess might in front her acolytes, the group of dancers kneeling and bending their heads. Hanya Holm, a German-American dancer, was also a choreographer and dance educator, and one of the “Big Four” founders of American modern dance. Her technique emphasized the freedom and flowing quality of the torso and back but also involved the emotions of the dancers that led to improvised, rather than choreographed, performances. I expected this to be a very large-scale photograph, so I was really surprised seeing that it was a tiny, 6 x 8.75-inch print – yet so monumental and surprising with its layered composition. It is a mesmerizing piece.
Night at St. Anne’s by Heather Goodchild, depicts the Byzantine revival Anglican church on Gladstone Ave in Toronto, five buildings away from the artist’s house. She looks at it as a portal to another realm. She was thinking about her father, who had recently died and was a Scorpio – so she combined the image of the church and the sign of Scorpio in honor of his memory.
Anna Torma was watching her grandmother working on embroidery and that inspired her to become a textile artist. She comes from a Hungarian background and draws from folklore and children’s stories. Green Saga (2021) is a recollection of childhood tales. As Torma pointed out in conversation about her solo exhibition, Permanent Danger at the Textile Museum of Canada (2020), these stories have a real influence on a human being and it is also important to tell your story with your own method, in your own tune. Her tune is the textile arts. Many motifs in Green Saga go back to bedtime stories, from nice fairytales to Prince Árgyélus, a favourite Hungarian character, as well as to a good king who lets a bird use his crown as a nest but also scarry ghosts, creatures wearing more than one animal features with sharp teeth – not a happy company.
Torma collects pieces of textile from the past as representations of history and includes them in her embroidered works. As an immigrant, she went through difficult times and lived in many places. The series Abandoned Details reflects her diasporic experience and fragments of memories from the past she had to leave behind. All the motifs in her compositions are represented equally as the outcome of a very intuitive process.
Two paintings on silk by British artist Emma Talbot, address ecological mourning, the destabilization and instability of our time, in which social systems are breaking down. Talbot quotes Arundhati Roy who describes capitalism as a train wreck and we have to decide to fix it or “look for a better engine”. As Talbot states, “It’s the idea of a portal to a different, more caring, responsible future that seems visionary to me.” She envisions a new, female empowered culture. Faceless female characters occupy her work. They are simultaneously abstract and figurative; body parts sometimes disconnected from their bodies to resurface over ornamental elements.
Brussels-based painter/artist Sarah Cale also addresses the female figure but in a different way. Her works are very eye-catching. They are a mixture of sculptural and painterly motifs. In Buffer, the string hanging in a 3D space could easily be just a paint flow. In Inversion the hands are emphasized with oil paint while jute flows freely representing the hair. There is a sense of humour in these pieces in the way the figures are built up, especially in Buffer where the breasts are empty and remind me of ruined pantyhose juxtaposed against the covered hands. Movement plays a role as well, as the woman holds her hand in a gesture of rejection in Buffer or bends in Inversion. There is a collage aspect in Cale’s work and here the way the jute behaves is dictating the way the figure turns out.
Abdul Sharif Baruwa created seven new paintings for this exhibition. He is a London born artist who lives in Vienna but often spends summers in the Alps tending cows as he did when he was a child. The series record an afternoon spent in a forest outside of Salzburg, but it could be anywhere in Canada. The artist just stapled the pieces to the wall so it is some kind of footage. These pastel drawings are very ephemeral; what is left out of the composition is just as important as the elements actually depicted. For example, in Swimmer the body of the man is hardly visible, the human body and the element of water presented equally. The postures of the figures and the surrounding landscapes are very peaceful and meditative – creating a harmony between man and nature, a rare occurrence in our turbulent times.
The glass bottles in the middle of the room are by Lorna Bauer from Montreal. She had a residency in Rio de Janeiro (2017-18). She was really struck by the amount of plastic water bottles littering the streets or scattered on the beaches. But she was also inspired, slightly more positively, by the way people were growing orchids in them or using them to provide water for stray cats. She took the plastic water bottles as a motif to make these mold-blown glass vessels. She was hoping that they might reflect the shape of the lung that give them existence. Bauer wrote, “The blowing lung that created the vessels themselves is meant to be a visual analogue for the bottles as life form and form of life.” She incorporated stoppers inserted into them loosely based on the botanical illustrations of Margaret Mee.
A Month of Single Frames by Lynne Sachs is a 14 min coloured film made with and for Barbara Hammer (2019). In 1998, filmmaker Barbara Hammer had a one-month artist residency in the C Scape Duneshack in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The shack had no running water or electricity. In her solitude, as she says in the film, she tried in the dark shadow of the shack to project coloured lights on the dunes. She wanted to try a steady image on the sand dunes. Try a moving image, the sea. In 2018, Hammer began her own process of dying by revisiting her personal archive and she gave all of her Duneshack material to filmmaker Lynne Sachs who edited it into this film, on display now at Clint Roenisch.
A Temple Most August brings together international and Canadian artists presenting their ideas in various medias. However eclectic the artwork, they all address similar issues regarding the social and emotional conditions of our human race, whether distressing or harmonious. The artists tell stories about ecological or social disfunctions and their dreams about a better, more caring future. They share their joy of nature and the peace of meditation. I highly recommend a visit to this Temple.
*Exhibition information: A Temple Most August / Group Exhibition showing artwork by Abdul Sharif Baruwa, Anna Torma, Emma Talbot, Heather Goodchild, Jennifer Murphy, Lorna Bauer, Lynne Sachs, Sarah Cale and Willard van Dyke, June 12 – September 11, 2021, Clint Roenisch Gallery, 190 Saint Helens Ave, Toronto. Images are courtesy of Clint Roenisch Gallery.
Thirteen years after her passing, a survey of her work in Buffalo, New York, is shedding new light on the formative years Elizabeth Murray (1940-2007) spent teaching at the University of Buffalo, from 1965 to’67. It also offers a timely opportunity to reassess her legacy in the light of the ongoing discussion on the state of painting.
Borrowing from Murray’s 1999 painting “Back in Town,” the exhibition’s title seems to be taking its cues from Everybody Knows, Kristi Zea’s 2016 documentary film on Murray’s work, the title of which was also lifted from a painting, her last in this case. In a happy juxtaposition, both paintings are included in the exhibition, providing useful markers, beyond those of pure historicity, for a non-linear overview of her work.
I have been a big fan of Elizabeth Murray’s work from day one (which, in my case, was her 1981 show at Paula Cooper Gallery), but stepping into this exhibition, I wondered how well her work had held up over the years, especially regarding her use of large formats, which often seemed bigger than necessary.
In the fifties and sixties, some women artist were said to overcompensate for their lack of recognition from their male counterparts by overdoing macho bravado. Joan Mitchell’s heavy drinking and horsing around, or Louise Bourgeois’ famous emphatic rudeness, have been explained as personas they developed in order to survive as artists in a male world. The question of whether the “size matters” aspect of Elizabeth Murray’s work was a similar symptom, loomed on that horizon.
In order to impose more phenomenological presence on the viewer, Minimalism made systematic use of the Abstract Expressionism’s existential fondness for large formats. In painting, from Robert Motherwell to Frank Stella, to Julian Schnabel, the result of that trend has been an overproduction of oversized works coming up short as convincing paintings. Not too big to fail, but too big for their own good. Could something else be at play here?
Starting in the early 70s Thom Nozkowski’s commitment to small formats is perhaps the best example of the rejection of the pervading use of large formats in American painting. For Nozkowski, large formats were ideologically tainted with Cultural Imperialism. If in the discussion of size versus scale, scale can prevail in small paintings, in big paintings scale is irrelevant. Big paintings cannot suggest a scale bigger than their size. So, the question became whether the use of big formats by a female painter brought something else to the table, besides an imperialist scale. A question recently underlined in Julie Mehretu’s survey at the Whitney.
A promising young abstract painter through the 1970s, Murray came into her own at the beginning of the 1980s, with a unique combination of image and fragmented support. At that time, the resurgence of the image was easily attributed to the aesthetics of the times (the Whitney Museum organized a major exhibition titled “New Image Painting” in 1978, the Metro Pictures Gallery opened in 1980), but her treatment of the multiple shaped stretchers did not fit into neat categories.
The origins of the transfer of the figure from the painted space to the literal shapes of the support, her major breakthrough of the early ’80s, can be traced back to her 1972 painting “Madame Cézanne in a Rocking Chair.” This was the first iteration of a “primal scene” (so to speak) —repeated in so many subsequent paintings — of a closed interior space diagonally divided by a beam of light coming through a small window or door opening. In that painting, structured like a comic strip with multiple panels, the rocking chair kicks Madame Cézanne out of the painting, in the final panels. The Figure, here symbolically ejected from the space of representation, will reappear a few years later in the guise of the shaped stretcher.
In the meantime, that primal scene of the closed interior, where the human figure has been evacuated, has turned into a zone of accidents. On a table surrounded by chairs, a coffee cup is inadvertently spilled. Painting after painting, this minor incident is magnified to the epic scale of a cataclysmic event, with such cathartic insistence that it’s reasonable to interpret the metaphor as the overturning of the vessel of male Modernism.
Even though it had been lurking in the background forever, when the painted figure returns circa 1983, it is as a goofy cartoon form straight out of the Chicago Imagist, an ectoplasm lost in a maelstrom of shapes and colors, the ghost of a splintered self, a spirit — or a conscience — haunting the shaped body of the painting.
In his introduction to the survey of her work he organized for MoMA in 2005, Robert Storr made a strong case for Murray’s inclusion in the canon. But for all its good intentions, that text — the reflection of a paternalistic institution obsessed with establishing filiation — only produced a linear narrative, ultimately meant to reinforce its own relevance: Cézanne, Van Gogh, Juan Gris, Philip Guston, The Hairy Who, Claes Oldenburg, Frank Stella, Brice Marden, Ron Gorchov, and so on.
Like any ideological discourses, Storr’s essay operated on two levels, attempting, first, to tame the wild beast of a work that did not fit into any of its standards (and as such threatened the status quo) by “explaining” it, and second, to recuperate its subversive potential by giving it a place and status within the pantheon of white male Modernism. The taming is successful when the institutional narrative is so convincing that it appears as the last possible word on someone’s work, shutting off any future alternative readings.
But, in the spirit of Murray’s own approach to painting, let’s think outside the Formalist box of filiation for a minute. Let’s posit the artist as product of a community of kindred spirits, all working in the same cultural context with different responses. For Murray, this community could be, upstream, on the ascendant side: Zilia Sanchez , Jay DeFeo , Lee Lozano , Deborah Remington , Lee Bontecou , Gladys Nilsson ; All working their way out of Abstract Expressionism without veering into Minimalism. And downstream, on the descendant side, so many artists who have referenced, emulated, or borrowed from her approach one way or another, such as: Amy Sillman, Carrie Moyer, Joanne Greenbaum, for their deliberate mixtures of abstraction and figuration, but also to some extent, Joanna Pousette-Dart, Susan Frecon, Charline von Heyl, Laura Owens, etc…
And to return to the “size matters” issue, let’s usher in Hilma af Klint (1862-1944) and her “Ten Largest” paintings from 1907, exhibited at the Guggenheim Museum in 2018, and look at the issue of size through a different lens. Af Klint, a psychic medium, certainly could not be suspected of rivalry with Ab-Ex male prerogatives when she settled for the size of that series of paintings. Could something else be at play here other than competition? Perhaps Murray’s large formats are instead a measure of her confidence in her enterprise, just as af Klint sized her paintings proportionately to the importance of their message.
Perhaps should we also revisit her connection to Frank Stella and Brice Marden, as laid out by Storr, from a different angle. The unfinished edges of her shaped paintings seem to echo Brice Marden’s early paintings. The deductive structure of Stella’s “Black Paintings,” moving centripetally from the painting’s edge toward its center, establishes the dominance of the outer edge over the internal space of the painting. In the opposite impulse, Murray’s images radiate centrifugally from the center towards the edges. Asserting, with their unfinished character, an independence from the dictates of what Michael Fried called the deductive structure, they call for the image to be considered a separate entity from its support. Turning tables on Modernism, and without falling back on illusionism, Murray developed a pictorial space where painted shapes and shaped support relate to each other as equal partners rather than co-dependents.
What Murray ends up bringing to the table is a transmutation of shapes and identities, from painted figure to shaped support and back. An ever-changing game of give and take between the rhetorical (including size) and the poetical, taking the viewer on a wild ride, from the whirlwind of our visual culture to the whirlpools of the unconscious. A sort of Butterfly Effect approach to painting, where small decisions ripple through paintings to be slowly amplified into major aesthetic choices.
Painting after painting, it seems that Murray’s gamble paid off. She combined it all: Expressionism, Cubism, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, Pop-art, and Formalism, wrapped up in one painting. In a clear departure from reductive Formalist tactics on one side, and from the easy Postmodern ironies of citation and appropriation on the other, she substituted an all-inclusive approach for the formal and conceptual restrictions of both.
In hindsight, what comes through more clearly today is her constant position of independence, and even of dissidence, from post-Minimalism in the early 1970s, from the New Image movement in the late 70s, from Neo-Expressionism in the 80s and post-Modernism in the 90s.
This inspired exhibition makes clear that, with her large-format paintings, what Murray seemed to be aiming for, more than “presence,” was a power of persuasion, a kind of unexpected charismatic dimension. Something that Schnabel, for example – or Mehretu, for that matter, can only envy.
July 17 – August 15, 2021, Joyce Goldstein Gallery, Chatham, New York
by Dominique Nahas
Space & Being highlights the current work of painters Francie Lyshak and Francine Tint at the Joyce Goldstein Gallery in Chatham NY. This exhibition, skillfully curated by independent curator Jen Dragon, is a striking example of how effectively a curator can conjoin two utterly dissimilar temperaments, creating a lively visual dynamic of differing yet far-ranging emotive resonances. This overall dynamic at the Goldstein Gallery pushes out energy of la durée, or duration, the term Henri Bergson used to indicate temporality as lived-time. For the viewer this very duration is that of pleasure of being alive, of the very experiential joy of being in-the-moment-to-moment while experiencing complexity and contradiction. The paintings in the exhibition draw you in, as ambient visual aromas and auras circulate in the gallery space with spacious eloquence. Here, two artists parse la durée through two different intonations.
Francie Lyshak and Francine Tint are painters who work non-representationally. They speak two different abstract vernaculars. And the abstractions in Space & Being are slow reads. The mental, associational, and psychical dynamics that pervade are long-lasting. Such dynamics take their time to work on you as they come from different angles or vectors of experience. For example, Francie Lyshak is dedicated to making nuanced monochromatic oil paintings with surface-tension exacerbated through raised and indented surfaces as well as the planting, so to speak, of unanticipated details that delight the eye. The artworks’ strong haptic energies are hidden in plain sight. The working of the paint surfaces is subtle and nearly undetectable at a distance until you move back and forth, inducing the eye to observe the paintings’ surfaces through a raked visual angle. These surfaces are replete with strength, subtlety and nuance. Francie Lyshak’s “adventures of light and color” as she writes in her artist’s notes, takes into considerations experiential and psychical experiences that converge in the mind’s eye as a pre-verbal type of consciousness. Lyshak’s studio practice in Space & Being is embodied through the inclusion of six declarative oil-on-linen paintings.
Her Wings Triptych (2021) consisting of abutted blue, black and white canvases, dominate the wall it sits on with uncompromising presentness. The artist’s largest, most reduced work in the exhibition Wings Triptych seems to preside over the other works with an intense sense of majesty. The remaining five artworks in the exhibition are from Lyshak’s Light Catchers series in which the artist scrapes and digs at the paint with tools that circumvent the exclusive use of brushes. using palette knives and scrapers, to indent and pick-at the pictorial surfaces, almost treating the topical paint layer as epidermis as her mark making impulses serve to suggest ritual scarification impulses that are worlds apart from merely decorative principles or tendencies. Included are two 40” x 24” vertical oil-on-linen works Gathering (2020) and All that Remains (2021), as well as two horizontal works , the oil-on-linen 24” x 40” work Yellow Waves ( 2020) and Reflecting Black (2018) measuring 24” x 24”, an oil-on-linen work with a mesmerizing surface of black roiling shininess. These artworks, with their haptic energies laid bare through their carvings and scratches, have an intense under-the-surface quality that appears to simmer and boil, reflecting uncomfortable states of mind. Tidal Pool (2020), a monochromatic russet red oil-on-linen work measuring 22” x 29” includes whirlpool-like thick skeins of paint that are anything but quiescent. Instead, an underlying sensation of crisis seems to pervade the work, giving this relatively small work an outsized presence.
Francine Tint’s nine acrylic abstractions in Space & Being, by contrast to Lyshak’s, are anything but monochromatic. Indeed, Tint’s sensual, unruly gesturalism with its color-ladened brushstrokes suggest emotional extremes of push and pull, a sturm und drang of the mind. Her paintings are like living entities. The standouts in the show are five tall narrow acrylic on canvas works that serve as sentinels, or as windows or doors to consciousness. These are Sunny Side of the Street (2017) Tower (2021) 56” x 16” 1⁄2”, Angel of Light (2018) 57 1⁄2” x 26 1⁄2” , Secret Bay (2017) 58” x 26” , and It’s Always You (2013) measuring 35” x 14”. The mastery of the artist’s brushwork with her luminous color play possesses a vigor and freshness that speaks to a strong exploratory attitude.
And this auratic power is equally evident in Tint’s much smaller artworks, as in Black Luxury (2021). Whatever the size, what is immediately arresting is the assuredness of Tint’s mark making. Her color-filled, thinly applied, layered acrylic-paint brushstrokes incrementally add sensorial presence and fullness to her pictorial surfaces. The interplay of Tint’s wafting veils, clouds and drizzles of paint form and perform like shifting meteorological patterns, reminding the viewer of the elements: winds and rains, of downpours and side-currents, of furtive and not so subtle emanating forces thrusting, parrying and counter-parrying. The diminutive Black Luxury has an outsized presence in spite of its 9” x 12” size. The two lushly sensual and decisive centralized black-and-white swaths are brushstrokes that intimate thick, slushy currents and swelling sea waves. The top left corner and lower right corner are colorful shards of space and time, inner worlds that serve as ballast to the main event. Tower (2021) is 16 1/2 inches wide and stands at a little under 5 feet. Tint’s thick red brushstroke sits on the top surface of this columnar-like work. Underneath we see a succession of a variety of differently colored receding brushstrokes, like petticoats over petticoats, overlays that accommodate deeper and deeper recesses behind the initial red mark.
Space & Being invites us to indulge in the abstractions of Francie Lyshak and Francine Tint, two dissimilar master-artists. Yet whatever the differences, similarities pervade: each aesthetic vision prioritizes a form and space of openness and availability, and essentializes presence and vitality.
Browsing through Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival’s website Fire and Dust caught my eye at first glance. What strange pictures! Ryan Van Der Hout’s dark, monochromatic photographs create an inescapable mood of death and sadness, but having Amanda Arcuri’s colorful pieces displayed with them gives hope—at least for a short time, until we see what it’s all about. Fire and death – again. After looking at the whole exhibit it is hard to decide whose photographs are more disturbing.
Burke Paterson, Director of United Contemporary curated this show and pinpointed its connection to our current situation with COVID, as a period of great upheaval. He starts the gallery’s introduction to the exhibition with a question, “What happens to the artifacts of the civilized world when they no longer serve a purpose? Are they burned to the ground or left to collect dust?” This question goes back centuries and is not an easy one to answer. However, in their exhibition, Arcuri and Van Der Hout give a “unique yet complementary interpretation of destruction as a form of creation”.
The two Toronto based artists met through their education and as Van Der Hout said recently on United Contemporary’s Instagram, they were brought together by similar subject matter: the darkness, the lightness and destruction. Their processes are related and Van Der Hout was interested in how their work would show together.
Fire in the title of the show stands for Amanda Arcuri’s work as each piece depicts flowers on fire. All the images are beautiful in their vivid colors but looking at them still gives me mixed feelings. Fire is an ambiguous symbol. Humans have always been amazed by it. We give the flames the status of a god, and admire it more than fear it. But fire is a two-faced god, giving life on one hand, but also taking it. It also has a cleansing power; in some places people burn the undergrowth and unwanted vegetation each year so it will enrich the soil for next year’s crops. Fire is also a metaphor for death and rebirth. One of the best examples of it is the phoenix, a mythological bird that dies in flames and then is reborn from its own ashes.
A major part of Arcuri’s exhibited work is the series A Shot in the Dark, that won her the Best Photography and Digital Media Award at the Toronto Outdoor Show in 2019. This work began in 2018 when she was still able to collaborate with a lab. Arcuri said that this series she worked “through failed hopes and rituals of letting go or bringing new life”. When some of the flowers she received as birthday gifts withered, she wrote on Instagram that sometimes you just need to let some things die. The tulips (A Shot in the Dark 07) and irises (A Shot in the Dark 15) are still beautiful even as they decline. They seem to be dying with such grace. In another photograph (A Shot in the Dark 02), the leaves of a plant and the fire consuming it create a rather attractive, imaginary flower.
In A Shot in the Dark series dead floral bouquets or plants are ignited by flame in darkness and then lit through a stained-glass window to contemplate transcendence. Arcuri only makes two shots of each on large format film. She said about her subject matter that “there is something about the texture of dried or dying plants that gets me every-time.” Her place is filled with flowers waiting to be photographed and she finds herself attached to them—she just can’t let them go. When asked if she arranges the flowers for the shots, she said, that she never touches them but leaves them in the same position they were when they died. She admires the hand of nature in their wilting and thinks it “shows more emotion and heaviness” than she could impose on them.
Each flower is unique and they react to fire in different ways. For example, dried roses burn at the tips of their petals and leaves and water droplets hidden in them explode in little stars. She also finds it very interesting how flowers move slightly from the first burn to the second, creating a real vs. not real, sometimes even surrealistic look. A Shot in the Dark 11 is a wonderful example of this. The dried-out bouquet is a beautiful arrangement of roses, wild flowers and decorative plants—very life-like with their vibrant colors. However, the flames burn brighter than any of the colors, since it has a different, living quality. This particular photograph captures movements in the flames of the fire and the fall of some flowers, caused by the burning.
The Remix series was created during the COVID lockdown, so Arcuri had to invent a different method. It is a continuation of the work in A Shot in the Dark series, but re-worked as the title suggests. “Remixing” two negatives of her older shots created colors that mimicked oil paintings, and, as she said, almost look infected. Comparing the images of A Shot in the Dark 11 and Remix 01, we can see the differences clearly. The colors of flowers in the earlier piece look real, even when touched by the fire, while in the second they are metallic, almost ice-like colors, even though the fire is consuming them. They are further from real, almost to the point of being abstract. In Arcuri’s work, as Burke Paterson commented in the Artist Talk (June 29, 2021), fire is disturbing the peace but the light brings it back.
Van Der Hout works are philosophical questions of life and death, focusing on the afterlife. Does it exist at all? What happens after falling into the abyss? His images depict objects that are already dead and covered with black dust. Death is unmistakable and final here. As the gallery introduction states, they remind us of the relics of Pompeii. The artists explains that he was six years old when his parents went to Pompeii and brought back “photos of a society encapsulated in rock and dust”. Those dramatic depictions stayed with him and influenced his latest series Collecting dust where he tries to “imagine what art looks like after us, what is time after time” and what future generations will see in his work. This series was created during the COVID lockdown and that explains their dark vision.
Van Der Hout’s work indeed reminds us of Pompeii’s remains. These images are manifestations of how everything perishes and enters the afterlife (if there is one) or remains dusty and overlooked, considered as memento moris. They are nothing like a classical still-life, but more like, as the gallery states, ”natures morte”. They tell a story about the passage from past and present to the future, and we are looking at these images as though we are part of the future. Beyond their aesthetic appearance, we still keep wondering about their hidden narrative.
Van Der Hout’s compositions are reminiscent of Dutch vanitas paintings as they are very layered and heavy with symbolism. Feast (2021) is one of his most still-life-looking images, including many meaningful symbols. The skull represents death and mortality, as we all die, but without death life would be meaningless. Grapes are for fertility, so life will go on. Roses are more complex symbols as they combine death and renewal, while butterflies promise rebirth. All covered with black dust they are, without any doubt, dead, but some hide a hint of hope.
Three Graces (2021) is different from the other photographs since it is centralized around a sculpture of the three graces. Talking about his composing method in the Artist Talk, Van Der Hout said that handling an art object (even a copy) is very important for him, not just because of what it embodies but also the feelings it evokes in him. In this photograph the bust on the left side and the three graces represent beauty and show how art is timeless. There is a book for knowledge, as printed words survive the ages, grapes for fertility and a pitcher and glass bottle for drinks in good times.
As the artist mentioned, his works are all about transformation and, often, destruction. However, while the objects in his photographs are transformed from life to death, from light to dark, they are still not destroyed as they forever encapsulate their meanings and beauty.
In United Contemporary’s exhibition, Arcuri’s and Van Der Hout’s images hang side by side, mixed together instead of separated by artists. Arcuri’s brilliant colors pop out when paired with Van Der Hout’s monochromatic compositions. Together they generate a dynamic opposition, that both unites and highlights their themes.
Our outlook on life has been rather dark throughout the last year and a few months. COVID has caused more harm to the mental health of people than in its death toll. Fear is difficult enough, but being locked down, kept away from our loved ones and not being able to live our lives to the fullest has been even more dreadful. The quality of our lives has been reduced. Our cultural entertainment became virtual like an online exhibition. Arcuri’s and Van Der Hout’s work resonate with our state of mind—depression, repression and confusion—wonderfully well. Their photographs engage our minds and shake us to the core – and will stay with us for a long time.
Intercessions, a two-personexhibition at the Joyce Goldstein Gallery, curated by Jen Dragon, is a tidily concise, intensely combustible, portrait exhibition. Included in the exhibit are twenty oils by James Singelis, all wall works, ranging in size from 36” x 24” to 10” x 8”, and Bobbie Moline-Kramer’s twenty-one oil and mixed-media wall panels ranging in size from 10” x 10” to 6” x 6” (and three table-top constructions). Highlights within Singelis’s artworks would include “Later Self” a black-and-white self-portrait made of charcoal, graphite, and tape, “Glass Eye” a work incorporating collage elements and oil paint, and the oil-on-board work “Little Boy.” Standouts among Moline-Kramer’s contributions to the exhibition include “All that Remains” (2010) a metaphoric family- tree wall installation of 11 incised and painted 10” x 10” wood panels. These breathtakingly exquisite painted wood panels replete with avian-and-tree-branches imagery used throughout pertains to Moline-Kramer’s family members remembered and dis-remembered. Also visually arresting are “Words” (2019), “Untitled 1” (2021), and “Wowza” (2018).
The press release of this exhibition claims that “Intercessions…is an exhibition of spiritual portraits that act as a conduit between inner and outer worlds.” The intimation that the artwork and the artists in this exhibition serve as mediators, or conduits, to and from an ineffable essence that is yet also grounded in the reality of the human visage strikes me as a fruitful way for me as a critic to begin making remarks describing the artworks in the exhibition itself and the experiential takeaway of the show. Intercessions, in using a term such as “spiritual portraits”in its press releaseoffers a gallery experience that suggests that the visitor will be struck with the power of the auratic presence of the artworks themselves as well with the impact of the artists’ incarnating of this aura through their pictorial activities. Towards that end, Bobbie Moline-Kramer and James Singelis approach the act of image-making as a mediatory device in different ways. Moline-Kramer’s artistic activity at its core serves to inculcate the activity of calling forth, an evocation, of ineffable and mysterious essences. These inmost substances conjured up through her activity of art-making points to the needs of human attachments and detachments to and from things as friendships, memories, and longstanding if painful personal family histories. James Singelis’s art, by contrast to Moline-Kramer’s, functions as a mediatory device or structure of the imagination through invocation whose purpose is to engage in a calling-in, a summoning of feelings that are triggered by each portrait as it emerges from his hand and soul. To this very point, Singelis writes in his artist’s notes “…I see each painting …not [as an] illustration or snapshot of an emotional moment, but rather a history of the interior cross-currents that occur while I paint.”
Singelis’s aesthetic practice has an uplifting, almost early-Matisse freshness to it as he works expressionistically and intuitively using unusual color combinations. A hazily vaporous glow clings to his work giving it a dreamlike, even tender, evanescent quality that is captivating in ways that are unique to him. Outside of the self-portraits he produces, Singelis makes up the portraits as he goes along. He’s challenged by creating an optical zone of recognizability that coalesces into what one would call a human “face” whose features slowly emerge from myriad marks and lines and colored brush marks that end up as participating in the codes of representation, one might say, by default. His free-falling or free-floating into and through the codes of representation are evidentiary indications that Singelis’s tendencies lead him to the habit of an eternal return, a perpetual attempt to break free from historic models of image-making again and again. He reverts to a state of mind that attempts to build a human visage from point zero, a starting point of the imaginary that entirely precludes a one-on-one relationship with a sitter. James Singelis’s picture-making has a lingering unfinished look, a de facto memento-mori aspect, a pathos intimating his mission as an artist of properly recording or memorializing the facial characteristics of the human entity emerging from the center of his mind’s eye could never be adequately completed.
Moline-Kramer’s precise naturalism, on the other hand, while engaging with the codes of mimetic fidelity and fealty towards exactitude that is pushed to the limits attends to spontaneity, somehow, in unexpected surgical-strike ways. As a result, her works resonate with haptic and sensorial impact as she flecks and spikes her otherwise meticulously planned pictorial surfaces to give rise to under-the-radar variegated visual intrusions that tickle the eye and keep it moving. Moline-Kramer’s art career began decades ago as a medical illustrator and her rigorous observational training in depicting the body (inside and out) with intense verisimilitude has stayed with her as a residual part of her aesthetic modus-operandi. Moline-Kramer makes a point of only engaging in portraying individuals she has observed intimately. Even if she does refer to photographic studies of her subjects in the completion of her artwork, she takes these photos herself. When she is in the presence of her subject for future use, in-studio purposes, she takes careful forensic notes using colored pencils to make sure that the skin tones on paper are precise matches with the living entity. The upshot of this process is that Moline-Kramer’s art involves a precise form of meticulously planned naturalism, a type of verisimilitude with affinities to trompe l’oeil. Yet there are additional abstract free-standing mark-making elements that are superimposed onto this pictorial precision that paradoxically alludes to a notion of identity that is fluid and not fixed; a shape-shifting sense of self that is at its core at variance with itself.
Intercessions showcases the inner worlds of Bobbie Moline-Kramer and James Singelis, artists whose works diverge in terms of painterly application and approach to the subject matter of the face. Yet these vitalistic differences joined in the same viewing circumstances at the Joyce Goldstein Gallery create a visual momentum, a psychical vivacity that left this viewer in a deeply satisfying state of exalted, enlightened mystification.