Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Oldies But Goodies in Chelsea

By Charles Kessler

Except for older art, and new art by older artists, I wasn't impressed with anything I saw in Chelsea last week. This is not a reflection on contemporary art in general, or Chelsea in particular, because these are the art and artists that have lasted and are of interest today. As I remember, there was a lot of bad art in the sixties and seventies too.

My favorite show was Edith Schloss, Still Life, Myths and Mountains, A Retrospective at Sundaram Tagore Gallery, 547 W. 27th Street (through March 28th).
Edith Schloss, Mont Amiata, 1965, watercolor on paper, 15 x 19 inches framed. 
Edith Schloss, Isola del Tino, 1966, oil on canvas, 19 3/4 x 23 2/3 inches.

Edith Schloss, Agon, 2000, oil on canvas, 27 1/2 x 23 2/3 inches.
It was curated by my friend Jason Andrew, the dynamic co-founder and director of Norte Maar; but that's not why I liked it so much. I liked it because I got to find out about an excellent artist who was unknown to me and to see a comprehensive selection of her art from her still lifes of the 1950s through to the mythological abstractions she painted until her death in 2011.

Schloss was under-recognized even though she was married to the photographer Rudy Burckhardt and was friends with many artists who played an important role in the post-war art world, including Will Barnet, Willem de Kooning, Rackstraw Downes, Alberto Giacometti, Mimi Gross, Robert Moskowitz, Philip Pearlstein, Robert Rauschenberg, Larry Rivers and Cy Twombly.

Which brings me to another reason why this is such a good show: art by these artists and others from her circle is on display with her work, placing Schloss's paintings in the context of her milieu. Moreover it's humble work by Schloss's friends, the kind given as gifts, traded or bought from the artist – work she might have been surrounded by. And for even further context, there's a glass case of letters, photographs, diaries and other memorabilia. (You can see a selection of Schloss's correspondence with many artists here.)

So why, in spite of doing good work and having important friends in the art world, was she not discovered? I can speculate on several possibilities. She was active at a time women's art was scorned; she made relatively small, delicate paintings when only large, macho paintings were prized; and in 1962 she separated from her husband and moved to Rome, so her work wasn't seen in the United States.

Here are the other OBGs:

Tony Smith at Matthew Marks Gallery, 523 W. 24th Street (until April 18th).
Installation view of three 1960s Tony Smith steel sculptures painted black.
Smith spent most of his career as an architect, and the way these sculptures define architectural space and mass is indicative of how it influenced his sculpture – it as if the work was made for this space.

Duane Michals The Portraitist at D. C. Moore Gallery, 535 W. 22nd Street (through March 21st).
Installation view: Duane Michals, The Portraitist at D. C. Moore Gallery.
Duane Michals, Johnny Cash, c. 1960s/2015, gelatin silver print with hand-applied text, 8 x 12 inches, edition 1/5. The two dates are when they were originally taken (in the 1960s), and when they were first printed (2014 and 2015).  
I remember learning about Michals's photographs in 1982 at my first job when I moved to New York. It was at a tiny store in Soho called Untitled that, like museum stores, sold postcards of art – but they got them from many different sources all over the world. I loved the job because it was a common stop for artists (although I never met Duane Michals), dancers (Pina Bausch was a highlight), and actors (I got to say "nee" to John Cleese – he kindly laughed). They carried a large selection of Michals's postcards, which were popular because they were of famous people in addition to being interesting as photos.

Michals tries to make each photograph unique to the person he's photographing, and that stimulates a great deal of invention in his photography. He also hand-writes his impressions of the person on the photograph (in the photo above he wrote: "Johnny Cash was hotter than a pepper sprout"). That can sometimes get cute, but it can also be profound.

Isamu Noguchi, Variations at PACE Gallery  508-510 W. 25th (through March 21st).
The PACE Gallery's typically poor website (easier to navigate now, but still bad) has only one reproduction, but fortunately I took a couple of decent installation photographs.

Installation view: Isamu Noguchi, left to right, sculpture made in 1958, 1970 and 1968

Installation view: Isamu Noguchi, a selection of his paper lamps. 
PACE produced this exhibition in collaboration with The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum in Long Island City. It's a big exhibition which, in the case of Noguchi, is a good thing since his work looks better in the context of his other works. Seen separately, his sculpture can seem over-refined and empty, but seen in quantity you get an idea of how playful the work is, and how inventive. 

Noguchi's sculptures work best in small rooms (like the one pictured above) where the work can play off of clean white walls. Unfortunately the work in this exhibition is mostly installed in large rooms and tend to get lost.

Nam June Paik at James Cohan Gallery, 533 W. 26th Street (through March 14th).
Nam June Paik, M200/Video Wall, 1991, 118 x 378 x 19 ½ inches (Cha Zoo Yong Photography Copyright POMA / fazi, inc.)
The title of the above video installation, M200/Video Wall, refers to the 200th anniversary of Mozart's death, and the soundtrack includes Mozart's music as well as John Cage's, and some pop tunes. Parts of this video (videos?) were quite moving, especially, not surprisingly, the parts with Mozart's music.

The center monitors often combine to form single images, while the outside monitors play other images. I tried to figure out what was happening on the smaller TV monitors along the outside but finally decided they acted like a decorative frame to the main images with no particular content as far as I could tell. The shear quantity of visual information seems like a chaotic visual attack, which I guess is the point.
Installation view: Nam June Paik, Beuys Voice, 1990 two channel color video on laser discs, antique television cabinets, felt, mixed media sculpture, 104 x 74 x 37 inches. 
This title refers to Paik's friend, the German Fluxus artist Joseph Beuys, and includes Beuys's signature gray fedora.

I saw two other oldies in Chelsea, but I'm not a fan of either of them.

Louise Nevelson is at PACE Gallery, 534 W. 25th, (ended February 28th).
Louise Nevelson, Untitled , 1964. wood painted black, 100 x 132 x 19 inches. 
I find her wood assemblages and reliefs arbitrary and easy – all black, a grid ... can't miss. Compare Nevelson's work with Edith Schloss's, and you can easily predict which of the two would find acceptance in the sixties and seventies.

If you're interested in Nevelson, read Roberta Smith's review in the Times.

Sean Scully at Cheim & Read, 547 W. 25th Street (through April 4th).
Sean Scully, Landline Blue Brown, 2015, oil on aluminum, 98 ⅜ x 78 ¾ inches.
Scully is an oldie – if you count 70 as old. He's been doing basically the same painting for at least thirty years. He takes no chances with color – everything is close in value and usually dark. This work was slightly different in that it was painted with large, luscious, loose brushwork – you have to love it, but it's a shallow, cheap, kind of love. 


Jeffrey said...

Charles' take on Scully makes me think he'd be one of those people to say the same thing about Rothko.

Charles Kessler said...

I admit I'm tempted to say the same thing about Rothko, Jeffrey, but Rothko at least attempted to try new things. I discussed that a bit in my recent post on Rothko's Harvard Murals:

But, yes — I do think Rothko fell into a trademark look. Not as much as Scully though.

Ken Garber said...

Thanks for introducing me to Edith Schloss' work, Charles...I'd never heard of her. Would love to see the work in person, but saw some more on Google images.

Also..."cheap, shallow love"...ouch.

Charles Kessler said...

Time to come out again, Ken. The weather's fine.