Sunday, October 19, 2014

About Susan Roth And Her Art

by Carl Belz

Authors note: Artist friend Susan Roth invited me to contribute the following essay to the catalog of the comprehensive survey of her work at the Luther Brady Art Gallery, George Washington University, Washington DC, which will open on Wednesday October 22, 2014 and extend to January 30, 2015.
Age of Bronze, 1987, acrylic and canvas on canvas, 88 x 96 inches

O chestnut-tree, great-rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?

W. B. Yeats, Among School Children
Susan Roth would fully appreciate the question Yeats poses to the great-rooted chestnut tree, the question of identity that’s central to her own art and thought--and the question that likewise motivates and defines modern art and thought generally through their entwined history--so she’d likely not hesitate in responding that leaf and blossom and bole are each integral to the tree’s identity, to its existential being that would be radically altered, even diminished, in the absence of any one of them. The image of the artistic self presented in the tree metaphor is in itself many sided and ample and open, while the quintessential expression it seeks, which is also the inspirational urge that drives Susan Roth’s artistic enterprise--and continues to drive much of the art of our time--is deftly limned in the summons to oneness embedded in the poem’s memorable concluding line, the oneness of part and whole, of form and content, of the dancer and the dance.
Texcatapoca, 2012.
Which is not to say the identity of the artistic self is in any way routinely known or secured. On the contrary, in the modern world we inhabit our artists are required to find and nurture and express themselves on their own without institutional guides or sanction, and in response and of necessity – their freedom can be both a curse and a blessing--they’re regularly inspired to discover and invent multiple routes to that end. These may enable the clarification, even the resolution, of already nascent concerns and in some cases can take the form of a breakthrough revealing aspects of the creative self that had been inaccessible to the artist’s preceding work.

A handful of notable examples come to mind:

  • Following a visit to Helen Frankenthaler’s studio, Morris Louis began pouring and staining liquid pigment into raw canvas and seemingly out of nowhere emerged as a colorist without parallel among the first generation of the New York School.
  • After habitually relying on black to remedy problematic areas in his abstract pictures--because it was his least referential option--Frank Stella decided to run with it and so produced an entire series of all-black paintings now regarded as launching Minimalism in the 1960s.
  • Joan Snyder collaged onto her paintings the children’s drawings she saved from classes she taught in order to express more convincingly the vision of innocence she sought to picture.
  • Jules Olitski sprayed clouds of color onto expanses of raw canvas and in a complete reversal of conventional procedure then proceeded to crop and stretch and thereby determine the compositions that would be his newest paintings.
  • Gripped by pique and frustration, Susan Roth impulsively trashed the canvas on the floor of her studio with gobs of paint and sundry detritus she had at hand and returned the next day to find herself face to face with a facet of her artistic self she hadn’t known before.
Coney Island, 2010, acrylic, box top and canvas on canvas, 60 x 26 inches. 
That incident took place in 1980 and within a year led to the gesturally brushed and stained and occasionally collaged raw and unstretched canvases that in the creative process were forcefully pushed about and folded and radically shaped into bas-relief paintings boldly declaring Susan Roth’s first full and fully personal maturity. Fully mature in the scope and sureness of their ambition, and fully personal in the freshness of vision through which they expand and deepen our understanding of painting’s arsenal of resources, above all in what they have to say about the drawing/painting connection.
Heart Murmurings, 1984, acrylic and canvas on canvas, 67 x 107 inches.
While painterly, color-oriented drawing is varied and plentiful throughout the pictures, drawing wrought by arm and hand with brushes or rags or sponges and occasionally even flung in skeins and streams, linear drawing is no less essential to their character. It first and last defines graphically the pictures’ framing edges, which in each case assume a unique configuration in response to the pictorial field they enclose--to what the artist calls their geography--and thus do they assert themselves as integral to each picture’s content. But equally significant is the drawing that accrues to the paintings’ internal fields, to the ridges and grooves and folds and furrows of the wrinkled and crumpled canvases, all of them insistently physical pictorial vectors, all of them humming with movement, yet none of them feeling willed by human agency, none feeling actually drawn with the urge to delight or describe--drawings’ usual jobs--but drawing instead that feels like a force of nature. Sensing its authority and presence, we begin to see for ourselves the artistic identity that drawing is made to reveal in these pictures--specifically, the expressionistic potential the artist recognized and seized upon in her morning epiphany that had been unimaginable the night before.
Yoga Sutra, 2002, acrylic and acrylic skin on canvas, 71 x 55 inches.
Countess of Alba, 2012, 65 x 30 x 5 inches. 
Susan Roth submitted her art to a second radical transformation when she began making painted steel sculptures in 2008, nearly all of them frontal in their address and wall-mounted and as such, like the series as a whole, openly acknowledging their identity as the progeny of the artist’s shaped bas-relief paintings. Alike as the two series presumably might be in issuing from the same artistic self, their visual effect and emotional register are nonetheless significantly--and surprisingly--different. As immediately and insistently physical as the bas-relief canvases are, so are the painted steel sculptures as immediately and insistently pictorial. Everywhere clean and sharp and without incident, as if unblemished by human touch or handling, their powder coated surfaces appear disembodied and weightless, as if purely visual, as if being foremost meant to be seen. Against the bas-reliefs’ expressionist passion and urgency they feel coolly detached and idealized and otherworldly, more classical than romantic, Apollonian rather than Dionysian. Where the bas-reliefs everywhere reveal evidence of the process that brought them into being, the steel paintings appear to have taken shape effortlessly, like the one-shot paintings that painters’ painters--Susan Roth among them--forever dream about.
View of Fuji, 2013, 46 x 57 x 10 inches.
Yet, drawing remains central to their achievement, drawing that’s everywhere crisp and clear in decisively marking edges, describing planes and screens, and generating elegantly curving and sweeping spatial trajectories. In concert with the works’ uninflected color it is likewise instrumental in accounting for our impression of their overall lightness of being and their openness to the spaces within and around them, which they seem not merely to occupy but actively to embrace. If drawing in the shaped bas-reliefs is modern in being meant first of all to articulate the impulse to self-expression, it is here modern in being meant first of all to articulate the realization of autonomy.
Sweet Jane, 2011, powder coated steel, 86 x 56 x 13 inches.
I see the two series comprising Susan Roth’s enterprise as reciprocal, as mirror-like reflections of two aspects of a multifaceted creative identity that may be reversed in orientation but nonetheless remain firmly bound to one another, as if twinned. Like partners in a long term relationship they vitally sustain and complement and enrich one another, share common artistic ground, and sometimes seem even to complete one another’s pictorial sentences. Yet each in the process remains itself and retains its individuality, while the two series in turn become one and render her art whole. But how in that case do we--and they--answer Yeats’s question, how do we know the artist from her art? Based upon my encounter with its bountiful oneness, I want to say that Susan Roth’s art, like the dancer’s dance, tells me all there is to know about her--and all I need to know.

Here are links to Roth's paintings and sculptures.

Carl Belz is Director Emeritus of the Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Greenpoint Open Studios Plus

By Charles Kessler

Last Sunday I went to Greenpoint Open Studios (GOS). It's an annual tour, and this time a whopping 265 artists signed up. In addition, other artists (including some shown below) unofficially left their studios open without committing to the entire two-day event. I got to 25-30 studios and two galleries, and selected ten artists for this post. Links to their websites are provided if you want more information.

I'm embarrassed to say this was my first time in Greenpoint. It's only accessible by the G train, which doesn't go into Manhattan, so getting there is somewhat inconvenient. One would think that would keep the rents affordable, but most of the artists I talked to say it's still expensive. I can understand why. Greenpoint is a diverse, lively area with some beautiful, tree-lined residential neighborhoods,
Shady Greenpoint residential neighborhood near Noble and Lorimer Street.
a large, thriving commercial district, lots of great restaurants (especially Polish restaurants), good bars, and abundant industrial loft-type space suitable for art studios.
276 Greenpoint Avenue.

Here chronologically are my highlights:
Emily Noelle Lambert, 960 Manhattan Avenue.

Ann Chisholm in her studio, 276 Greenpoint Avenue.
Close-up detail of blue and white three-panel painting above by Ann Chisholm, Territory, 2014, mixed media collage, each panel 48 x 12 inches,  276 Greenpoint Avenue.

276 Greenpoint has a gallery for artists in the building (below).
Leonard Reibstein with his work in the art gallery of 276 Greenpoint Avenue.

Warren of small studios in 276 Greenpoint Avenue.

Victoria Duffee, 276 Greenpoint Avenue.

Auxiliary Projects, one of my favorite galleries, recently moved from a tiny second-floor space in Bushwick to this somewhat larger former garage in a residential area of Greenpoint. Jennifer Dalton (who along with Jennifer McCoy founded and run the gallery – two excellent multidisciplinary artists) told me they are getting more people visiting the gallery then they did in Bushwick, probably because they are on the ground floor.

Auxiliary Projects is unique in that they work with artists to help them create small, hand-made works that can be sold for under $300. Their goals are to: "facilitate wider distribution for artists’ work we admire and to enlarge the community of people who can collect art." It's a lot of work for these two very busy people, but they appear to be succeeding – at  the very minimum, aesthetically.
Installation view, Adam Brent, Good Hill Drift, Auxiliary Projects, 212 Norman Avenue, until November 23rd.
Adam Brent, The Pumpkin and the Oriole, 2014, PLA plastic, ceramic. 8 x 7 ½ x 8 inches, Auxiliary Projects, 212 Norman Avenue.
The plastic parts of Brent's sculptures (PLA plastic) are made with a 3D printer.

Joshua Johnson, 67 West Street.

Hein Koh, 67 West Street.

Heather Guertin in her studio, 67 West Street.
Heather Guertin's art is on view at the Brennan & Griffin Gallery on the Lower East Side until October 12th.

Stephen Eakin, 67 West Street.

Stacy Fisher, 61 Greenpoint Avenue.

Wednesday I visited Catherine Cullen's studio on Staten Island. I'm really excited by how poetic and inventive this work is, and so (deceptively) simple. Cullen is an artist to watch.
Catherine Cullen, Staten Island.
Catherine Cullen, Staten Island

Obligatory photo from the Staten Island Ferry (Jersey City is on the left, I don't know what city is on the right). 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Lower East Side & Chelsea Round-up

By Charles Kessler

Here are some photos of, and very brief comments about, 23 exhibitions I selected from about 70 galleries I visited over the last week in the Lower East Side and Chelsea. Links to the individual galleries and exhibitions are provided in the captions.

Lower East Side:

There are some powerful paintings in this show, in spite of their small size. You can see some good reproductions here and here.
Installation view of  Second Family2 Rivington Street, curated by Julie Torres (no ending date reported).

Update: Julie Torres emailed me that the show closed. 

I recently mentioned Nichole Cherubini as one of the ceramic artists I admire working in the tradition of Peter Voulkos
Foreground: Nichole Cherubini, Verdent Empress, 2014, earthenware, glaze and birch plywood, 66 x 16 x 12 inches (Fitzroy Gallery, 195 Christie Street, until October 26th).

Do Ho Suh's main installation (you can see it here) is boring and old hat, but I loved the fragile delicacy of his rubbings of three-dimensional objects (a fire sprinkler in the photo below). They're especially captivating in contrast to the coarse sources of the rubbings.
Detail, Do Ho Suh, Rubbing/Loving Project, Corridor, 348 W. 22nd St., colored pencil on vellum, 57 x 104 x 5 ½ inches framed (Lehmann Maupin Gallery, 201 Chrystie Street, until October 25th).

There seems to be some buzz about Jane Corrigan's paintings, and I can see why. The bravura of her simple flowing brushwork is impressive. Unfortunately, they all started to look alike.
Jane Corrigan, Milk, 2014, oil on linen, 28 ½ x 39 inches (Kerry Schuss Gallery, 34 Orchard Street, until October 26th).

Andra Ursuta's Tongue Mops are gross but affecting!
Installation view of Andra Ursuta's Tongue Mops (Ramiken Crucible Gallery, 389 Grand Street, no ending date reported).

Below is an example of the type of thing missing in Chelsea. Walking around the LES or Bushwick, or even Midtown, is interesting in itself. There so much to see, and so much going on besides the art. If the art is of no interest in Chelsea (and that happens sometimes), there's not much else to keep you going, especially since the auto repair garages and taxi depots have been pushed out. 
Bicycle polo, Roosevelt Park.


Unfortunately, Allan McCollum's show will be over by the time this post is published. I knew him when I lived in Los Angeles and I always liked him and his art. Lately his work has become richer and more existentially deep – and downright beautiful. 

McCollum created a system that allows for the production of a single, unique shape for every person in the world. You can read more about what he's attempting here, but it's possible to enjoy the work on a purely visual level. 
Installation view of Allan McCollum, The Shape Project - Perfect Couples (Petzel Gallery, 456 18th Street, until October 4th). 

It occurs to me that some Chelsea galleries are more like DIA Beacon or Mass MoCA than art galleries; and that's not necessarily a bad thing. This mammoth sculpture has to do with abstracting, bending and collapsing Mies van der Rohe’s Lake Shore Drive Apartments, in Chicago.
Installation view of Monika Sosnowska's Tower, about 110 feet long (Hauser & Wirth, 511 W. 18th Street, until October 25th).

This was pretty lame stuff for Mona Hatoum whose work is usually quite poignant. She has better work in the back room. 
Mona Hatoum, Twelve Windows (Alexander and Bonin Gallery, 132 Tenth Avenue, until October 18th).

Tomma Abts's paintings get lost in this space. 
Installation view, Tomma Abts  (Zwirner Gallery, 519 W. 19th Street, until October 25th).
Tomma Abts, Oke, 2013, acrylic and oil on canvas, 19 x 15 inches (Zwirner Gallery, 519 W. 19th Street, until October 25th).
Why would Zwirner do that? It's not like they don't have more appropriate spaces to show intimate paintings (see below).
Installation view, James Bishop (Zwirner Gallery, 537 W. 20th Street, until October 25th).

In 2006 Jason Rhoades died of a combination of a drug overdose and heart disease. In spite of the chaotic way it looks, Rhoades provided precise instructions about the installation of this work.
Installation view, Jason Rhoades, PeaRoeFoam, first presented in 2002 (Zwirner Gallery, 537 W. 20th Street, until October 18th).
This is supposed to be the factory that makes "PeaRoeFoam," the white pebbles scattered about made out of "whole green peas, fish-bait style salmon eggs, and white virgin-beaded foam." Among other things in this typically whacky installation are replicas of the infamous Ivory Soap box with a picture of the porn star Marilyn Chambers (Beyond the Green Door) holding a baby. 
Installation view, Jason Rhoades, PeaRoeFoam, first presented in 2002 (Zwirner Gallery, 537 W. 20th Street, until October 18th).

Nick Caves's exhibitions at both of Shainman's Chelsea galleries are heavy-handed and repetitive – a loose cage, mainly gold colored, with stuff in it about race. 
Installation view of Nick Cave, Rescue, (Jack Shainman Gallery, 524 W. 24th Street, until October 11th).
But he nailed it with this relief about the oppression of African American servitude.

Nick Cave, Untitled, 2014, bronze and hand towels, 41 x 22 x 15 ½ inches (Jack Shainman Gallery, 513 W. 20th Street, until October 11th).

Jonathan Monk's show (below) is a lot of art about art, but I was disappointed to learn that the one piece that got to me is really two separate works. The little Santa (Paul McCarthy Dressed as in Tokyo Santa with Young Head of Paul McCartney Standing – don't ask) seems enthralled looking at souvenir scarves hung on the wall (From One State to Another, Sewn Together to Make a Whole). It was quite disorienting and, dare I say, poetic.  Too bad.
Installation view, Jonathan Monk (Casey Kaplan Gallery, 525 W. 21st Street, until October 18th).

Jackie Winsor boxed herself in, as it where, making the same basic sculpture for decades. But this particular early work is helped immensely by the room's prefect proportions and colors. 
Jackie Winsor, Pink and Blue Piece, 1985, mirror, wood, paint, cheesecloth, 31 x 31 x 31 inches (Paula Cooper Gallery, 534 W. 21st Street, until October 18th).

Mark di Suvero at Paula Cooper, along with David Hockney at Pace, are my favorite shows now in Chelsea. Di Suvero's sculpture is thrilling without being an overpowering and theatrical spectacle (like Monika Sosnowska's Tower at Hauser & Wirth is, above).
Mark di Suvero, Luney Breakout, 2013, steel, 22'3" x 22'6" x 12'6" (Paula Cooper Gallery, 534 W. 21st Street, until October 22nd).
And who knew he's been painting all these years? And very well too. Most sculptors, even David Smith, tend to center an image when they make a painting, avoiding dealing with the edge. Not di Suvero. He plays off of and at times crashes right through it. 
Mark di Suvero, Untitled, 2014, acrylic paint on linen, 82 x 132 inches (Paula Cooper Gallery, 534 W. 21st Street, until October 22nd).
Mark di Suvero, Untitled, c.1995, acrylic on canvas, 112 x 130 inches (Paula Cooper Gallery, 534 W. 21st Street, until October 22nd).

I found Adam Putnam's 2x4 sculptures strangely moving, perhaps because they're barely held together, about ready to collapse. They will be part of a future performance. Check P.P.O.W's website for when. 
Installation view, Adam Putnam, foreground is Contraption 1, 2014, rope, wood, steel photograph, dimensions variable  (P.P.O.W Gallery, 235 W. 22nd Sreet, until November 1st).

Roxy Paine's current show is a tour de force of trompe l'oeil. (I always wanted to write that!) But what he chooses to make out of wood is what gives the work its haunting, sometimes poetic, quality. It occurred to me that the work is a reverse Thomas Demand.
Installation view, Roxy Paine, Checkpoint, 2014, maple, aluminum, fluorescent light bulbs, about 14 x 27 X 18 ½ feet (Marianne Boesky Gallery, 509 West 24th Street, until October 18th).

Rebecca Warren's sculptures look like ceramic, but they're painted bronze and probably have more to do with Giacometti than Peter Voulkos. 
Installation view, Rebecca Warren, Why Do Birds Suddenly Appear? (Matthew Marks Gallery, 523 W. 24th Street, until October 24th).

I've been interested in Matthew Richie's art since I first saw an installation at Artist's Space in the early 1990s. It's good to see that he keeps pushing it. 
Installation view, Matthew Richie, Ten Possible Links (Andrea Rosen Gallery, 525 W. 24th Street, until October 22nd).

It might be mildly interesting that Roger Hiorns's installation is made of an atomized aircraft engine and graphite and not ordinary sand, but ultimately it's just another Zen rock garden, and not a very good one at that. 
Installation view of Roger Hiorns, Untitled, 2014, atomized aircraft engine and graphite (Luhring Augustine Gallery, 531 W. 24th Street, until October 18th).
His sculptures in the small back gallery are more interesting (why is that so common lately?), partly because they ooze a soapy foam giving them a creepy kind of life. 
 Roger Hiorns's work in the back gallery (Luhring Augustine Gallery, 531 W. 24th Street, until October 18th).

Jacob Hashimoto's installation is breathtaking when you first enter, but ultimately it's empty decoration. 
Installation view from the front, Jacob Hashimoto, Skyfoam Fortress (Mary Boone Gallery, 541 W. 24th Street, until October 25th).
What I found unusual is that there's a clear front and back to the work – odd for an installation presumably meant to be seen from all angles. 
Installation view from the back, Jacob Hashimoto, Skyfoam Fortress (Mary Boone Gallery, 541 W. 24th Street, until October 25th).

This is a small, beautifully proportioned space that Andrea Rosen has across the street from her main space. They've been effectively using it to compare and contrast the work of two or more artists – in this case the painted reliefs of Matt Keegan, and one of Anne Truitt's columns. Both artists deal with painting vs. sculpture, and sensual surfaces and color. 
Installation view, Matt Keegan (on the walls) and Anne Truitt (foreground), (Andrea Rosen Gallery, 544 W. 24th Street, until October 22nd). 

Most of the work in this exhilarating show was drawn on an iPad, enlarged, and printed on paper. And can this guy ever draw! 
Installation view of David Hockney, The Arrival of Spring (Pace Gallery, 508 W. 25th Street,  until November 1st).
If you can't get to Hockney's exhibition, the paintings work quite well online. You can see them on Pace's rather clunky website
David Hockney, Woldgate, East Yorkshire, 2011, iPad drawing printed on paper, 55 x 41 ½ inches (edition of 25).

Chelsea does have one great point of interest beside the art galleries – the High Line. The new addition has opened, and it's spectacular. 
New addition to the High Line.
My only fear is that future development will wall off the view of the city; it's already happened to some parts.

The High Line just before it turns the corner to the new addition.
It doesn't look good for the views as the nearby Hudson Yards is developed. I hope this doesn't become another tragic example of what Jane Jacobs called "catastrophic success." 
Proposal for the future Hudson Yards.