Sunday, June 5, 2011

Chelsea and 57th Street Gallery Roundup

By Charles Kessler

Installation view: Willem de Kooning, The Figure: Movement and Gesture, paintings, sculptures, and drawings, The Pace Gallery.
Willem de Kooning, The Figure: Movement and Gesture, paintings, sculptures, and drawings, The Pace Gallery, 32. E. 57th (at Madison), until July 29th.
This is a museum-quality show, and beautifully installed too, especially the large two-sided drawings that are set into the wall. I don’t have anything to add to the extensive de Kooning literature, but I’m eager to find out what John Elderfield will come up with for his major (more than 200 works) de Kooning retrospective at MoMA this fall.
Pablo Picasso, Femme nue dans un fauteuil rouge (1932) Photo: © Tate, London 2011/Courtesy of Gagosian Gallery
Picasso and Marie-Therese L’Amour Fou at Gagosian Gallery, 522 West 21st Street, until June 25th.
Another museum-quality show -- more than eighty paintings, drawings, prints, photographs and sculptures. It's work inspired by Marie-Therese, Picasso's young lover of the late twenties to 1940. This show, even more than the current Museum of Modern Art exhibition “Picasso: Guitars 1912-1914” (see posts here and here), not only showcases Picasso's preternatural creativity but demonstrates how he milked an invention for all it's worth.
Installation view: Keith Haring, Gladstone Gallery
Keith Haring at Gladstone Gallery, 530 West 21st (down the street from Gagosian’s Picasso show), until July 1st.
This show is a good reminder of how generous and fun Keith Haring was. Haring’s openings were lively parties, often with live music and all kinds of free stuff like posters, stickers and t-shirts. The three large paintings in this show (about 9' x 23' each) were created on stage during a series of Bill T. Jones dance performances in 1982 (the sounds of the mark-making serving as the musical accompaniment). I thought Haring’s sketchbooks (Manhattan Penis Drawings for Ken Hicks, 1978 and Untitled (Cityscapes), 1978), also on display, were even more inventive and funny. The gallery is selling a reproduction of the sketchbooks for only $10.
Donald Judd, Untitled (Menziken 89-6), 1989, anodized aluminum, clear and blue with blue Plexiglas, 39 x 79 x 79 inches (Judd Art copyright Judd Foundation)
Donald Judd at David Zwirner Gallery, 525 and 533 West 19th, until June 25th.
The impersonal fabrication, radical minimalism and the use of non-art materials (anodized aluminum and tinted Plexiglas) are supposed to preclude preciousness, and until a decade or so ago they did. But I think we’re over the shock of this, the way we’re over the rawness of Impressionist paintings. This work no longer has the presence of non-art, so now preciousness becomes an issue. Ultimately I don’t think they are. Maybe they’re so elegant that they pass preciousness to go on to jaw-dropping gorgeousness.
Installation view: Richard Tuttle, "What's the Wind," Pace Gallery
Detail: Richard Tuttle, "What's the Wind," Pace Gallery
Richard Tuttle, What’s the Wind, The Pace Gallery, 510 West 25th , until July 22nd.
Tuttle, like Judd,  can come dangerously close to preciousness, albeit in a way as different from Judd as is conceivable because Tuttle’s work is always experienced as handmade. The fragility (or apparent fragility -- they could in fact be very durable, I suppose) makes them appear delicate; and the careful placement of elements sometimes feels a little arty. But he’s so good at it, and the work is so playful and inventive, that preciousness is avoided here as well. Besides, these are large sculptures, self-contained installations really, unlike most of his other work, and the greater size alone helps give them more power.

Tuttle is hugely influential on younger artists, as any tour of the LES galleries will demonstrate. I don’t know why this show isn’t receiving more attention.
Jasper Johns, Untitled, 2007, Aluminum, 108x83x2 inches
Jasper Johns, New Sculpture and Works on Paper, Matthew Marks Gallery, 522 West 22nd, until July 1st
Johns, at the age of 81, is making some of most sensual work he ever made — something that he’s gotten away from in the last few years. Yet I still find this work as unnecessarily and annoyingly obscure (is he trying to muddy the waters?) as always.
William Kentridge, Drawings for Other Faces, 2011, charcoal and colored pencil on paper, 65x35 inches
William Kentridge: Other Faces at Marian Goodman Gallery, 24 West 57th (between 5th and 6th), until June 18th
Of all the big-time shows currently on view, this was my personal favorite. I’m always surprised at how many people never heard of him even though he’s had shows at major museums. Kentridge is a South African artist who makes animated films by using successive charcoal drawings that he photographs, erases, changes and photographs again — each drawing getting a quarter of a second to two seconds of screen time. As the film evolves, there’s a sense of the passage of time like vestiges of a fading memory. And unlike conventional cel animation, Kentridge emphasizes the hand-drawn quality of the work — one is always aware of the artist’s presence. (Last Tuesday I went to an Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI) presentation and talk by Andrew Lampert, a film and video artist also involved with acknowledging the presence of the artist and with making work that's experienced as handmade. Maybe there’s something in the air. I hope so.)

Kentridge’s choice of subjects is inspired by his childhood in apartheid South Africa and the brutalized society left in its wake. His work is ambiguous, subtle and sometimes contradictory, but, unlike Johns, there’s a reason for it. As Kentridge said when asked (in a very good interview with Lillian Tone) why his work had become more associative and ambiguous: “Things that seemed more certain eight years ago seem less certain now.”

Charles Kessler is an artist and writer, and lives in Jersey City.

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