Friday, April 30, 2010


Ming Fay, On Orchard Street, 2010, wire, foam, paint, etc.
It seems every time I go to the galleries some subject or other predominates, as if there's a theme for the day or something. The last few times, for example, it was portraits, then landscapes, then slow motion videos, and then small abstract paintings. I know it's just a coincidence, and that seeing patterns is what humans do. Still, it's weird.

The theme for yesterday, a gloriously beautiful day to walk around the Lower East Side, was vegetation. Ming Fay at Lesley Heller (54 Orchard Street, until June 6th) filled the gallery with a playful, colorful jungle of branches, vines, pods and fruits. On the other hand, Martin Schwenk's off-white tree branches, at the tiny Number 35 Gallery (39 Essex Street, until May 28th), were relatively austere. And Dana Levy's mesmerizing and funny videos of ivy overrunning a house in Greenwich Village (Nicelle Beauchene Gallery, 21 Orchard Street, until May 16th) fit the theme perfectly. 
Martin Schwenk, Secret Life of Plants, silicone, plaster or acrylic glass

Not exactly on the theme -- okay, I acknowledge it's a stretch -- was a lively body of work by Katherine Bernhardt at Canada Gallery (55 Chrystie Street, until May 23rd). Bernhardt is known for large, slapdash (in a good way) paintings of models taken from fashion magazines. They were masterful in their painterly simplicity, but I was afraid they were becoming a trademark. Not to fear -- Bernhardt is too much the painter for that. Instead she painted the walls of the gallery, in the exuberant manner of Keith Haring, and filled it with large paintings inspired by a trip to Tombouctou.
Installation view, Katherine Bernhardt, Tombouctou 52 Jours.

The bright color and bravado brushwork is what immediately strikes you, but to pull off work like that you have to be gifted at drawing. The shapes play against one another and the edge of the canvas; nothing is left to hang loosely in space. And every shape is alive with energy and vitality. It's this vitality, this organic sense of growth and movement, more subtle and ambitious in its way than the other more literal work, that I believe ties these paintings to the vegetation theme of the day.

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