If you love painting, 25th Street in Chelsea is the place to go. In one block between 10th and 11th there are four shows of sensual, masterful paintings. No Post Modern irony here — these are real painters' paintings.
Joan Mitchell, Lennon Weinberg Gallery, 514 W. 25th Street (until April 18th).
|Joan Mitchell, Untitled, c. 1959-1960, oil on canvas, 69 x 65 inches|
It’s fitting that Mitchell is the first show on the block because she and her fellow Abstract Expressionists in many ways advanced this type of painting. The paintings in this show are from the fifties, her first mature work, and they demonstrate what a true master of the gestural brush and lush color she was from the beginning. It’s hard to believe that this work, a visual delight today (to the degree that some even consider it suspiciously decorative), looked so raw and ugly when they were made.
Elizabeth Murray, Painting in the Seventies, Pace Galley, 534 W. 25th Street (until April 30th).
|Elizabeth Murray, Parting and Together, 1978, oil on canvas, 111 x 39 in.|
Juan Usle, Cheim & Read, 547 W. 25th (until May 7th).
|Juan Usle, SOLARIS (VACIO), 2010, Vinyl, dispersion and dry pigment on canvas, 18 x 24 inches|
John Lees, Betty Cuningham Gallery, 541 W. 25th Street (until May 14th).
|John Lees, COURTYARD (OVAL), 1989-2010, Oil on canvas, 32 x 40 inches|
The more you look at one of his paintings, the more detail you see. Things become more three-dimensional and rounded; colors glow and become brighter. And because he works on a painting for years (Bathtub is dated 1972-2010!), the surface is built up so thick that strange things happen with space. The built-up paint sometimes acts like bas relief reinforcing the spacial illusion; other times it plays against the illusion (see detail of Courtyard, for example).
|Detail, upper left, COURTYARD (OVAL)|
James Siena in Pace's other 25th Street space, 510 W 25th Street, doesn't quite fit here because, IMO, his work is more conceptual and minimal than what I understand to be painterly painting. Some will disagree. Decide for yourselves — it’s on the same block.
Charles Kessler is an artist and writer, and lives in Jersey City.