William S. Heppenheimer at Guild Hall


William S. Heppenheimer, “Cryptoglyphs, Panel V,” 2015. 30 ½ x 40 ½ x 2 inches. Image courtesy of the artist, photo by Gary Mamay.

W.S. Heppenheimer was the Top Honors recipient of the Guild Hall Museum 76th Annual Artists Members Exhibition in 2014, an award selected by Robert Storr, Dean of the Yale School of Art, which led to the current solo exhibition and my first meeting the artist. Walking into his Sag Harbor studio in Spring of 2016 was like entering another time and space; from floor to ceiling and spread out on his working tables were millions of intricate segments and bursts of color—some already arranged into finished works, others in various stages of production. The unused pieces had fallen to the floor, creating their own haphazard compositions. Mesmerizing and kaleidoscopic, Heppenheimer’s works play with our notions of abstraction and representation. Faces, figures, anthropomorphic creatures, even a Storm-Trooper mask, I thought, began to appear, further questioning perception versus intention.

To describe the work as mosaic would be accurate to an extent, but instead of each tesserae being a solid color, they are made up of a multitude of hues. Heppenheimer’s process is unlike any other. He pours acrylic paint into Pyrex dishes, swirls it to achieve various marbleized effects, a blue mixed with a neon pink or a green with a glow-in-the-dark pigment. Once dried, he cuts small cross sections which he can then arrange into geometric forms and totems. He plays with symmetry and then throws us off course—seesawing between order and chaos—all with a keen sense of humor. Downplaying the visual complexity, Heppenheimer said, “I always liked to put things together, the more the merrier.”

Heppenheimer was born in New York City in 1954 and lived in Paris and London before returning to NYC. He studied at Colorado College, Pratt, and Florida State, where he graduated from in 1980. He spent summers on the East End with his family, before becoming a year-round resident. As an art student, he always had an affinity for the properties of color—he was inspired by Op Art and artists like Victor Vasarely and Bridget Riley—and started out making Hard-edge paintings. Over time, experimenting with painting and sculpture, at times merging the two, his style took shape. He first entered Guild Hall’s Artists Members Exhibition in 2009 and was awarded Best Sculpture. This is his first solo museum exhibition. Heppenheimer lives and works in Sag Harbor, New York.


Stephanie deTroy Miller
Curatorial Assistant/Lewis B. Cullman Associate for Museum Education
Guild Hall Museum
East Hampton, New York


Related press:

Colorful Heppenheimer Show Continues at Guild Hall


New Shows Open at The Parrish and Guild Hall this October

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Charles Ly: Humans and Hides at Guild Hall


Charles Ly, Wild, 2015. Pen and ink on paper, 36 x 24 inches. Image courtesy of the artist.

New work by Charles Ly is on view in the Guild Hall Education Corridor. Selection of paintings and works on paper inspired by design and patterns, including a series of small meticulous, intricately-illustrated narratives and quietly evocative paintings. Large-scale works featuring the fantastical as well as surreal, imaginative compositions focused on natural forms. Ly grew up in East Hampton and studied graphic design and illustration at Laguna College of Art & Design.

On view: September 15 through December 31, 2016 at Guild Hall Museum, East Hampton, New York.

Charles Ly, Hair Study, 2015.

Charles Ly, Hair Study, 2015. Oil and linen on wood, 5 x 7 inches. Image courtesy of the artist.

I first came across Charles Ly’s work at Scott Bluedorn’s former Amagansett gallery, Neoteric Fine Art. On display was a series of small paintings, illustrative but also very imaginative. Moreover, they captured an essence of our generation which is hard to put into words; which is in many ways one of the mysterious functions of art, to express that which can’t be said. Fall of 2016 presented an incredible opportunity at Guild Hall to curate what is now dubbed the Education Corridor. A small space within the Museum, but a space nonetheless, the Corridor’s would function as a place to showcase an emerging, local artist in conjunction with a workshop led or taught by said artist; thus connecting the exhibition to the community through Education and enhancing the overall experience. Ly’s work, intimate in scale, works beautifully in the space, and his workshop on Plant Patterns was an enriching and enjoyable one. Each participant collected leaves, flowers, twigs and stems from a nearby field, rendered them in watercolor and colored pencil, and then they were brought in as digital files to create both individual plant patterns as well as this group one show below.

Charles Ly & Plant Patterns Class, Collaborative Digital Assemblage, 2016.

Charles Ly & Plant Patterns Class, Collaborative Digital Assemblage, 2016.


Reviews, Mentions & More:

Charles Ly’s ‘Humans And Hides’ Hangs At Guild Hall

Charles Ly: Hamptons Best Art Instagram Accounts

New at Guild Hall: Guild Gatherings & An Exhibition Series

Please visit the artist’s website, CharlesLy.com, and GuildHall.org for more.

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William Glackens at the Parrish Art Museum

Glackens, Cape Cod Pier, Parrish Art Museum

William Glackens, Cape Cod Pier, 1908. Courtesy Parrish Art Museum.

Suitable for any time of year, the current William Glackens (1870–1938) exhibition at the Parrish Art Museum seemed especially fitting for August. His lushly vivid beach scenes, many of which were painted in Bellport, Long Island, capture the lighthearted essence of late summer afternoons spent by the sea, with an air of historical nostalgia palpable to those viewing them today, almost exactly a century later.

Ladies in hats and long summer dresses line the shore while bathers and children scampering about make their way out into the water where we become lost in Glackens’ impressionistic skies. In “Beach Side,” 1912-13, a foreground lined with figures facing the water makes its way from a small beach out to a pier. The wind, indicated by waves and a lady holding onto her hat, gives movement to the painting in opposition to the forward-directed composition.

Influenced by both the Impressionists and the Fauves, Glackens’ paintings have, at times, the softness of Monet combined with a more intense palette, perhaps like Derian. His female figures, notably the woman on the porch in “Summer Day, Bellport, Long Island,” 1913, bear likeness to Renoir’s, both in fashion and in painterly style. In “Cape Cod Pier,” 1908, a uniquely composed canvas, two ladies in white dresses holding parasols make their way across a pier. Most striking are the rich oranges and yellows of the dunes—exuding warmth and Fauvist stark contrast to the violets in the pier. There is a sense in these paintings that Glackens enjoyed the world around him.

Glackens’ scenes are busy—even his landscapes are never without figures greeting you at the foreground. “Captains Pier,” 1912-14, especially, depicts a crowd similar to today’s Port Jefferson ferry-goers.. In the middle of the picture, Glackens offers a breath of light blue water and sky bathed in early-morning summer sunlight.

More frenetic than his summer scenes are his paintings of New York City life, where he moved in 1986 from Philadelphia. In 1904, he married Edith Dimock, the daughter of a wealthy family, and they lived together with their two children in a townhouse in Greenwich Village, with a second residence in New Hampshire. Works like “Washington Square,” 1913 and “Christmas Shoppers, Madison Square,” 1912 reveal his talent as a draftsman, which he was until around 1914. In his early career, Glackens worked as a magazine illustrator and was even sent by McClure’s to Cuba to cover the Spanish-American War in 1898. Several of these dramatic illustrations are included in the exhibition.

The show spans the artist’s career, with works from the mid-1890s to the late 1930s. An exquisite portrait of his friend and patron, “Albert C. Barnes,” c.a. 1912, whom he went to high school with in Philadelphia and later whose artwork collection he advised, greets viewers early in the exhibition.

Glackens took encouragement in his career as a painter from his friend Robert Henri, with whom he traveled to Paris, the Netherlands and Belgium during 1895-1896. A member of “The Eight,” so called because of their exhibition in 1908 at MacBeth Galleries in New York, Glackens gained recognition as a painter, along with fellow artists Robert Henri, George Luks, Everett Shinn, and John Sloan, whom he studied with at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. He was the chairman of the American selection of the first Armory Show of 1913. Clearly, Glackens was an important figure of his time and the timing seems right for a new generation to be introduced to his life and work.

William Glackens is the first comprehensive survey of the artist in more than 45 years. It will be on view at the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill through October 13. For more information, visitparrishart.org.

This article was published in Dan’s Papers, print and online, July 31, 2014.


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Montauk Art Scene

"Under Nirvana III" by Farrell Brickhouse, courtesy of Outeast Gallery & Goods

“Under Nirvana III” by Farrell Brickhouse, courtesy of Outeast Gallery & Goods

The Art Barge 

Also known as The Victor D’Amico Institute of Art, the Barge is an art education center for all ages. It was started by Victor D’Amico, founding Director of the Education Department at the Museum of Modern Art from 1937–1970, who brought summer painting classes to Ashawagh Hall in the mid-50s. In 1960 he, with the help of local baymen, turned a retired World War I Navy Barge into the new home for his summer classes. His wife, Mabel D’Amico (1909-1999), and other artists, also taught, as the program continued to expand. Today, under President Christopher Kohan, the Art Barge offers classes and workshops in watercolor, pastel, collage and much more in a setting that thrives on the light and atmosphere of Napeague. The Artist/Speak series will be held in evenings throughout the summer and most recently included a conversation with Keith Sonnier. For classes and the full schedule, visit theartbarge.com. The Art Barge is located at 110 Napeague Meadow Road, Amagansett. Call 631-267-3172 or visit theartbarge.com.

Depot Art Gallery and School 

Located in the original waiting room of the Montauk Railroad Station, the Depot Gallery is run by The Montauk Artists’ Association, a nonprofit organization. Funds raised go towards education (they offer classes and workshops for adults and kids) and towards restoring the building acquired from the MTA. Every spring, a Montauk High School graduate is awarded the Percy Heath Arts Scholarship, in honor of founding member Percy Heath. Coming up is an exhibition of work by Anne Weissmann and others (June 26–July 7) followed by a group show with Catherine B. Silver, JoAnn Zambito and Martha Ferraro (July 10–21). August 15-17 marks their 20th Annual Juried Fine Arts Show on the Green. To see the full summer schedule, visit montaukartistsassociation.org/depotschedule2014.

Outeast Gallery & Goods 

Outeast Gallery is, technically speaking, one of the only true art galleries in Montauk. Owned and directed by Scott Pitches, the gallery puts on shows throughout the year, including a solo show forDan’s Papers cover artist Scott Bluedorn, “Scott Bluedorn: Theo Blue,” this past winter. Currently on view (through July 7th) is FMSR14—an exhibition of work by artists Farrell Brickhouse, Mason Saltarrelli, Sydney Albertini, and Eric (Randy) Johnson. Outeast Gallery is located at 65 Tuthill Road, Montauk.  Call 631-668-2376 or visit outeastmontauk.blogspot.com.

Montauk Brewing Co. 

Not just a great spot for craft beer, the Montauk Brewing Co. Gallery Taproom will be exhibiting two well-known surf photographers this summer. The first, Daniel Russo, will begin on June 27. The next one, Justin Burkle, begins on August 1. Both shows will be on view for the month, with works available for purchase. The Montauk Brewing Co. is located at 62 S. Erie Avenue, Montauk. Call 631-668-8471. Visit montaukbrewingco.com for more events year-round.

The Surf Lodge Gallery 

This summer The Fireplace Project is presenting exhibitions at The Surf Lodge Gallery. The first, “ExSanguiNatio_N,” a solo exhibition for artist Michael Bevilacqua, is on view through July 13. The next show, “Wet Denim Daydream,” a solo exhibition for Jeremy Everett, will be on view from July 18 through August 11, with an opening reception on Saturday, July 19, 6–8 p.m. Stay tuned for August exhibitions. The Surf Lodge Gallery is located at 183 Edgemere Street, Montauk. Visit

A version of this article was published in Dan’s Papers, Print: June 16, Online: July 3.


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Interview with Artist Scott Bluedorn in Dan’s Papers

scott bluedorn, whale

“House of the Whale,” 2013. Courtesy scottbluedorn.com

A version of this interview was published in Dan’s Papers, June 20, 2014 (print).

This week’s cover artist, Scott Bluedorn, was born and raised on the East End of Long Island. After studying art at both Savannah College of Art and Design and of School of Visual Arts, he started an artist collective that later became a gallery, Neoteric Fine Art, in Amagansett. He has been in solo and group shows on the East End and in New York City. Whether crafted from driftwood or found objects on the beach, or drawn with an expertly-skilled hand, his work reflects a deep connection to the sea, with a touch of mysticism and other-worldliness. True to his local roots, he continues to live and work in East Hampton.

Your work, and particularly “House of the Whale,” 2013 (ink on paper) seems very surreal, does some, or any, of your imagery come from dreams?
Surrealism as a genre has greatly influenced me. The work of Salvador Dali and Magritte, in the way their images are immediate and impactful through realism and yet rooted in the upwelling of the subconscious, is something I strive for in my work. I wouldn’t say my images come from actual dreams but they come from dream-feelings. The act of levitation in particular, which is very dream-like, plays a large part in the atmosphere of these drawings.

There’s something nostalgic about “House of the Whale,” as if we’ve been here or seen this. I’m somehow reminded of old postcards from the Whaling Museum in Sag Harbor and the shingled house looks like one of the backyard sheds you might see at Home Sweet Home in East Hampton. To what do you attribute the historical vibe?
“House of the Whale” was initially inspired by old weathered fishing shacks I saw on a trip to Nova Scotia. Old shingled houses, which we have plenty of in East Hampton, are very beautiful to me and have actually spawned a new direction in my work. I’m very interested in our colonial history here and the austere puritan architecture that accompanied the period that has become a symbol of our local heritage.

A lot of people miss your gallery, Neoteric Fine Art, but has this given you perhaps more time to focus on your own artwork?
I see Neoteric as ongoing collaborative project that will pop up from time to time. Indeed it started in 2006 at East Hampton Studios in a gigantic soundstage space for one night, later I had the opportunity to realize it in a more permanent location at the Balasses House on Main Street in Amagansett. It remains to be seen in which form it will pop up again, but the driving force and underlying concept behind it is to show contemporary work by young, local and emerging artists, of which I count myself a part of. Having closed the gallery in its former location, yes I’m getting back to focusing on my own work.

For your recent show at Outeast Gallery in Montauk you went by the name Theo Blue. Is this to differentiate between the various hats you wear, as an artist, writer, illustrator, etc.? How did you come up with it?
“Theo Blue” is an alter ego that I came up with to A) Differentiate the assemblage based abstract sculptural work I started doing out of a pure exploratory need from my more traditional and illustrative based work, and B) To create a “character” that is in a way enigmatic. Theo Blue is a hermit that lives in a little rogue shack built into the cliffs of Montauk, he is a wild man, primitive, noble savage, and outsider artist who collects the flotsam found in the coves and makes idols and effigies from it, much in the way the “cargo cults” of the South Pacific did with the material they found or were given in World War II. It is an updated cross-cultural reference, and a lot of fun.

Based on your Instagram shots, it seems like travel is an important part of your life and that you embrace the local culture of wherever it is you are. What was the most inspiring place you visited this year and why?
Yes, travel is one of my great loves. I started relatively late, but I definitely have the bug. Travel has opened my mind to anthropology, culture, history and geography that goes directly into my work. I find the world infinitely fascinating; especially in the way things can be both banally universal and strikingly different from place to place. Last winter I travelled through Ecuador, a beautiful small country with amazingly diverse landscape and peoples. I surfed some world-class waves, trekked through the Andes, visited the heart of the Amazon, explored Incan ruins and stayed with a local family. I would say Ecuador has it all.

What upcoming projects are you working on? Where can we see your work next?
I’ll be in a big group show put on by the Bonac Tonic collective called “Grand Royale” that is happening at the Amagansett Historical Association on Saturday, June 21st. Then I’ll be in Sag Harbor at Dodds and Eder’s “A Different Kind of Home Show,” curated by Kathy Zeiger, which opens on June 28th with a reception on July 12th, and then I’ll be showing at Art Market in Bridgehampton from July 10th – 13th. Busy summer!

For more on the artist, visit scottbluedorn.com.

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Colin Goldberg: North Fork Artist

Colin Goldberg in his Greenport studio. Photo credit: Donna Meyer Goldberg

Colin Goldberg in his Greenport studio. Photo credit: Donna Meyer Goldberg

Note: This article first appeared in Dan’s Papers. Currently on view at South Street Gallery are Goldberg’s PHOTOCONSTRUCTS.

South Street Gallery is a landmark building, a former horse-drawn firehouse in the downtown area of Greenport. In contrast to the historic building, paintings currently on view there by Greenport-based artist Colin Goldberg are strikingly contemporary.

His show, North Fork Modernism: Paintings by Colin Goldberg was on view through May 26, 2014.

In it, “Kodoku” (2014) is from a new series of works made of acrylic, pigment and resin on birch panels. A triptych, the vertical lines of negative space break up each wood panel, creating a moment of pause in the fast-paced lateral composition. The resin adds a smooth and polished surface to the work, while abstract black lines merge to form inadvertent anthropomorphic creatures that, once noticed, instantly disappear back into abstraction. Several similar works in the exhibition integrate richly saturated hues, forceful-yet-intricate lines and the grain of wood or crosshatching of linen in some instances.

Back at his Greenport studio, where he lives with his pregnant wife Donna, Goldberg spoke about abstraction, current projects and what’s been happening lately with his work. “I never set out to portray anything specific,” Goldberg explained, pointing to three works hanging above his computer, similar to those on view at South Street Gallery, noting that only later did he notice forms that resemble a plane, flower or tentacles.

Goldberg, born in 1971 in the Bronx to parents of Japanese and Jewish ancestry, earned a Bachelor of Arts in Studio Art from Binghamton University in 1994 and went on to get his MFA in Computer Art at Bowling Green State University, Ohio, in 2008. His style combines classic drawing and painting techniques with digital printing and computer graphics. “A constant struggle for me is that there are so many directions I want to go in,” he says.

Goldberg’s early work was largely surrealist, with gestalt figures. One of his undergrad professors, Second Generation New York School Abstract Expressionist Angelo Ippolito, spoke a lot about his art being “about paint”—that the viewer could bring what they wanted to it. At the time, Goldberg was not doing abstract work but began experimenting more with it. In the late ’90s he started working on a tablet, using Adobe Illustrator to make his “Metagraphs,” a series of abstract digital drawings.

Goldberg produced a dozen of these works as singular editions on canvas, which are on view at the Southampton Youth Services Rec Center’s running track. “There’s an irony in it—things that are digital are infinitely reproducible.” Nevertheless, Goldberg often destroys his files after printing.

Present in many of his works, especially his “Shodo” series, are brushstrokes that strongly resemble calligraphy. Never attempting to make actual characters, Goldberg was more interested in the gesture and the materials used. His mother recalls watching her mother (who taught calligraphy in Hawaii after moving there from Japan) at the kitchen table, making gestural marks and crumpling them up, one after the next. “I tried to bring that sensibility to it, to keep going,” Goldberg said of the initial stages of his process. He brings the hand-drawn marks in as a layer and is then able to compose an overprint on the computer.

Though his process varies, Goldberg often starts with a painting, photographs it, brings it into the computer and then prints in back onto the painting. His works from a series he calls “Photoconstructs” bring the photographic image in, layered over a painting. Many of the images are scenes of Peconic Bay, East Marion and Southampton–all part of Goldberg’s East End roots. Other times he starts with the print itself and then adds layers upon layers. “The tricky part is to know when to stop.”

He’s been able to expand as an artist, quite literally, producing larger-scale works, via his large format printer. He was able to purchase it with recent grants from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation and from the New York State Council on the Arts. Leaning against his print racks is a new piece he’s working on—a self-portrait he’s doing for a project called “The Irrational Portrait Gallery,” organized by Fresh Art (an artist collective out of Port Jefferson) and photographer Rick Wenner; it will include self-portraits by 20 different Long Island-based artists.

Goldberg’s work is on view at the South Street Gallery, 18 South Street, Greenport (thesouthstreetgallery.com), Guild Hall (guildhall.org), East End Arts Council (eastendarts.org), and at colingoldberg.com.


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Jennifer Bartlett: History of The Universe at the Parrish Art Museum

Jennifer Bartlett, Parrish Art Museum, Atlantic Ocean

Jennifer Bartlett “Atlantic Ocean,” 1984. Photo by Paul Kim: www.Society-in-Focus.com

“The grid is everywhere,” explains Klaus Ottmann of Jennifer Bartlett’s work, as he stands in the hallway of the Parrish Art Museum among a crowd of eager listeners during his talk and tour on April 27. Ottmann, currently the Director of the Center for the Study of Modern Art and Curator at Large at The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., was the Robert Lehman Curator for the Parrish Art Museum from 2008–2010 and is the curator of the current exhibition, Jennifer Bartlett: History of The Universe, Works 1970-2011.

“The subject of her early work, the grid, gives a sense of place in her later work, embodied in the house,” Ottmann explains, as Parrish Executive Director Terrie Sultan points out the house-like structure of the Museum’s hallway, where exposed wood beams meet at a point—the triangle atop a quadrilateral, forming the iconic house shape. For Bartlett, place became a major theme in her work, while the house became a motif that represented the universe, perfect in all of its imperfections. “It simplifies human existence while being very abstract,” Ottmann remarks.

Bartlett was born in Long Beach, California in 1941. She graduated from Mills College in Oakland. She received an MFA from Yale School of Art and Architecture in 1965, and by 1968 had settled in SoHo, at a time when Minimalism and Conceptualism were gaining recognition. Influenced by both, Bartlett’s grid, which is indeed present throughout the exhibition, demonstrates self-imposed structure. From this rule-based construction, she allows herself an expressionist freedom, and freedom to incorporate both elements of representation and abstraction in such a way that is constrained and yet unquestionably felt. Perhaps this push and pull, a tension between order and chaos, is what makes her work so successful.

Large-scale works in the first room of the exhibition seem to change mood with the shifting light, as clouds pass above the skylights. Bartlett’s diptych “Rose” (2010-11) embodies beauty and gravity, with a somber undertone that comes and goes.

The exhibition’s title, History of the Universe is also the title of Bartlett’s intimate autobiographical novel, published in 1985. Likewise, all the paintings on view share a sense of autobiography. “Five P.M.” (1991-92), on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is part of a series of 24 paintings made during a two-year period — each a 7-foot square, and each including two grid elements. Here, the overlaying grid of 6 x 10 (which makes up 60 minutes in an hour) and the patterned grids within the lily pads create a flatness, while the overhead perspective looks down into a koi pond. The fish seem to swim over and under the grid, as if it were part of the pond itself. There is a clock in the lower righthand corner revealing the time.

“Something is usually wrong,” Ottmann says of both life itself and of elements in Bartlett’s work, noting, “The perfect shape of the house is distorted by what’s happening inside.” This quality is demonstrated quite literally in “Double House” (1987), an example of Bartlett’s innovative mixing of painting—which brushes up with photo-realism—and sculpture. Her repeated use of the diptych could be a metaphor for the binary ways of looking at memories and events.

Bartlett’s trademark steel plates come into play with “Atlantic Ocean” (1984), a massive work measuring 103 x 363 inches, featuring enamel over silkscreen grid on baked enamel steel plates. Similar to “Rhapsody”—the 1976 work that was first shown at Paula Cooper Gallery in New York and has since graced the atrium of the Museum of Modern Art in both 2006 and 2011—the white walls behind the steel plates become the grid. What Roberta Smith wrote in her 2011 review of “Rhapsody” for The New York Times can be applied to “Atlantic Ocean” as well: “The first impression overwhelms, yet the work unfolds intimately, plate by plate, in real time, with novelistic, cinematic and, as its title implies, musical overtones.”

Jennifer Bartlett: History of The Universe, Works 1970-2011, curated by Klaus Ottmann and organized by the Parrish Art Museum, first traveled to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 2013. It is now on view at the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill (279 Montauk Highway) through July 13. Visit parrishart.org or call 631-283-2118 for more information.

This article first appeared in Dan’s Papers, danspapers.com.

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Group Show at The Drawing Room

Adrian Nivola, The Drawing Room, East Hampton

Adrian Nivola, Homage to Victor Tatin (1843-1914), 2013

(Published on DansPapers.com, April 3, 2014)

The current exhibition at The Drawing Room in East Hampton touches that fine area of astute consciousness where subtleties of surface and texture become transfixing. A group show, the selection includes artists working in different media, yet their pieces play well against each other. In the front room alone, the work of Donald Sultan and Diane Mayo demonstrate this exchange.

Sultan’s large (46” x 55”) conté on paper, titled “Mimosa May 28 2008,” is a multi-layered picture. On a white background, black branch-like forms sweep down from above; spotted with blossoms of white circles and touched with a rich, pale blue conté crayon. It’s the blue that arrests the viewer—not just the color, but that strong above-the-surface texture unique to the crayon. It’s just as rich as paint. To its side, Diane Mayo’s sculptures—in abstract yet softly organic forms—are covered in a velvety soft surface, almost like moss or mold—a look achieved merely through the ceramic glaze. “Blue” (2013) echoes Sultan’s blue, or vice-versa, in a sky-found hue.

In the back room, Caio Fonseca’s smooth-surfaced and shiny paintings form an L-shape around a Mel Kendrick concrete sculpture. Fonseca is an intriguing artist—and the tactile quality of the surface seems to play a role in what makes his work uniquely his own. The shapes are distinctly his, too. He paints his white forms, in band-like shapes alternating between straight and curvilinear, over the darker, color layer of paint, so the white is never a pure white, though it reads as such from a distance and in terms of rhythm and pattern. Closer, the white takes on the warmth or coolness of what lies beneath.

Fonseca’s “Pietrasanta” (2010) departs from those works seen previously at the Drawing Room, and at his show at Paul Kasmin in 2012, in that vertical, rhythmic abstractions have given way to what appears to be a smiley face with an extended waving arm, like a cut-out in white, over a background of horizontal bands alternating between blue sky and sunset. There’s even a vantage point in the lower right corner with traces of a green tree in the distance. Upon closer observation, the surface has been punctured with tiny holes and cuts; revealing the layer of paint underneath the white and drawing attention to the surface, lest we wander.

The juxtaposition of Fonseca and Kendrick make for an interesting dialogue—Kendrick’s untitled white sand concrete sculpture (2009) also toys with rhythm, pattern and repetition. One rectangular box, adhering to right angles and flat surfaces, has been hollowed out, partially, and we’ve been given circular window holes to peer inside, also letting light, air and color in from behind the object. Sitting stacked above it is what may or may not be the removed form, the core of the apple, if you will. The circular window-holes from the lower box are repeated above but now they are the positive form. What exists and what doesn’t exist becomes a brain-teaser—one that disappears if you allow it. Up close, it’s all just tiny grains of sand that sparkle when the sunlight catches their quartz.

In the downstairs gallery, exquisite wire sculptures by Adrian Nivola resemble early designs for flight. What’s fascinating about them, aside from expert craftsmanship and incredible attention to detail, is that the wire functions as a line—so the finished three-dimensional object takes on the “design” element of a drawing in pen or pencil. Using wood, wire, tin and copper, each flying contraption comprises wheels, coils and propellers—and they’ve been assigned numbers #4, #2 and #5, as if they were entered in the same race for the clouds.

The group exhibition also includes notable works by Sharon Horvath, Alan Shields, Robert Jakob and Christine Hiebert and will be on view through Sunday, April 6, 2014.

The Drawing Room gallery is located at 66 Newtown Lane, East Hampton. Call 631-324-5016 or visit drawingroom-gallery.com.

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Visceral Integrity at et al projects

Beth Letain, et al projects, brooklyn, bushwick

Beth Letain at et al Projects

One can count on Adam Zucker and Cliff Atkinson’s Bushwick gallery, et al projects, for an interesting show. This January, their artist-(Bret Slater)-curated exhibition Visceral Integrity provided ample food for thought as seemingly straightforward works of art poke at our notions of instinct vs. intellect. Creation from the gut rather from the brain is perhaps the hardest thing to do. Even with writing. How do we stop that cerebral voice? On that note, I leave you with an example by Otis Jones.

Otis Jones

Otis Jones at et al projects

et al projects is located at 56 Bogart Street in Brooklyn.

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Parrish Art Museum | Artists Choose Artists 2013

Mel Kendrick, Parrish Art Museum

Mel Kendrick, Untitled, 2013

What could be more intriguing than a show where artists select artists?

Such a format allows for us not only to see new artists and their work alongside their jurors, but also to see the combined curatorial vision of the museum and the artists. Putting on an artist-selected exhibition seems particularly fitting for the Parrish Art Museum; as the institutional representation of the vast-reaching yet closely-knit artistic hub that makes up the East End.

Conceived in 2009, the Parrish Art Museum’s Artists Choose Artists show began with 300 online submissions and a panel of artist jurors—Laurie Anderson, Judith Hudson, Mel Kendrick, David Salle, Ned Smyth, Keith Sonnier and Robert Wilson. From that initial group of seven, each chose two; thus including: Don Christensen, Christine Sciulli, Elise Ansel, Carol Hayes, Virva Hinnemo, Koichiro Kurita, Rick Liss, Rossa Cole, Brian Gaman, Tucker Marder and Ezra Thompson.

David Salle’s “Syrie (Yellow),” and “Syrie (Pink),” both 2013, are among the first encounters. Painterly and confident, both versions of Syrie demonstrate Salle’s mastery of the figure in a certain coolness that brushes up against Alex Katz but departs stylistically in that Salle’s zoomed-in and high-contrast figures are both more confrontational and the temperature is much warmer.

In an adjoining gallery, thematically organized around “American Home Life,” we enter a world with a mildly disturbing sound coming from Robert Wilson’s video with performance artist William Pope and a little lamb puppet who hauntingly sings “Mary had a little Me” over and over again, with an extended and off-key “meeeeee” in utter contrast to the crib-mobile-like instrumental. Directly across from the screen is Tucker Marder’s “Mantel,” in which two ducks were photographed in that typical blue-backdrop we all endured for yearbook portraits and placed over a creamy-yellow faux-fireplace mantel. From the mantel upward, shelves expand, making a V-shape; each shelf longer than the one below it, and each one fitting more of these framed photographs. Methodic and structured, one duck’s photographs are aligned on the left and the other on the right. Beneath the mantel is a hooked rug, the kind you see near sinks or near doors, with two ducks on it. The installation is simultaneously very kitsch and entirely original.

Entering another space, a photograph by Ned Smyth, “Portrait 5,” 2013, stuns. One of a series of rock “portraits,” the enlarged, highly defined image of a stone inspires as the mundane (a typical, unpolished granite rock), is revealed in its beauty—a topographic landscape made up of grooves and differences in elevation—simply upon closer observation. Natural materials are mirrored in works by Rossa Cole—whereby found materials, like twigs and sticks, are the media for eco-centric designs such as “Roundhouse Half Timber Frame Eco House,” 2010. The dollhouse size allows for self-envisioning in a home that would rely on solar panels. Mel Kendrick’s sculptures echo the organic shapes in Smyth’s photographs, the use of wood in Cole’s and the black and white/grey palette of Elizabeth Dow’s vertical works. Kendrick’s shapes are studies in positive and negative space. In “Untitled,” 2012, curvilinear negative-space shapes are carved out from a wooden square and the inverted positive image is recreated and stacked right above it. In the positive image, the shapes are painted white, further questioning which is positive and which is negative.

Other compelling works in the exhibition include Koichiro Kurita’s, “Dark Cloud (Nagano, Japan series from Chi Suiki),” 1987, whereby hair-like grass rolls over a hill with fluidity, while ominous clouds move in an opposite direction, creating a moment of suspension along the horizon line, an installation of designs painted on wooden benches by Don Christensen and two spectacular examples of recent neon-light works by Keith Sonnier.

Concurrent with the exhibition is a documentary film in the Lichtenstein Theater showing the artists in their studios—a personal glimpse inside their creative process that enhances the experience of viewing their work on museum walls and ties together the overarching appreciation for the continuum of artistic creation on the East End.

Artists Choose Artists will be on view through January 19, 2014. The Parrish Art Museum is located at 279 Montauk Highway in Water Mill. Call 631-283-2118 or visit parrishart.org.

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Thomas Moran at Guild Hall

There must be something innately human that causes that standstill moment of awe upon seeing something astounding in nature. Late autumn sunsets with their pink and violet streaks across the sky and that bright orange ball filtering through tree branch silhouettes evoke powerful, emotional responses. Landscape painters—from the Dutch Jacob van Ruisdale, figurehead of the Golden Age of painting in the Netherlands, to those of our Hudson River School sought to capture this same intensity using oil on canvas. Thomas Moran (1837–1926), is one such artist. A member of the Hudson River School and of the Rocky Mountain School of landscape painters, Moran is currently featured at Guild Hall in an exhibition titled “Tracing Moran’s Romanticism & Symbolism.” Curated by Phyllis Braff, co-editor of the Thomas Moran Catalogue Raisonée, the selected paintings include several painted in East Hampton, where Moran designed and built his studio in 1884.

Depictions of East Hampton date back to 1878, upon his first visit, which inspired many of his etching motifs. One such etching, a magnificent example, is “The Resounding Sea,” 1880, part of Guild Hall’s permanent collection. Small and intricate, the etching gave the image, the stormy sea on one of East Hampton’s beaches, recognition through wide distribution, as explained in text beside the artwork. Next to the etching is a much larger version of the image painted in oil, titled, “The Much Resounding Sea,” dating to 1884 and belonging to the collection of the National Gallery of Art. In dark blues, greens and black, the angry ocean churns, throwing waves this way and that—splashes of white emerge where they crash—making for a distinctly East End beach scene. The exhibition explains that ocean waves symbolized a constantly renewing force; conceivable for anyone who has jumped in and emerged anew or for those who have stood there and witnessed the continuum in amazement. The title comes from a passage from the Iliad, “boiling billows of the much resounding sea, swollen, whitened with foam.”

Other titles also reveal Moran’s interest in literature and poetry. “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came,” a majestic painting from 1859, greets you when you first enter the gallery space. The title comes from Robert Browning’s poem, appropriated from Shakespeare’s King Lear. English Romantic poets, and their American counterparts, play a role in Moran’s subject matter; most of which reveals a deep appreciation for nature and the vastness of Earth. The occasional figure sits small in comparison to the dramatic mountains and valleys before him. In 1872, after acceptance into the Yellowstone Territory with the U.S. Geological Survey Expedition, geologists used Moran’s watercolors to get Congressional approval for Yellowstone as the first National Park.

Scenes like “Glimpse of the Sea, Near Amagansett, L.I.,” 1909, bring about that same type of longing for land preservation on the East End. A vibrant, orange sun sets over the ocean, in a sky of purple leading into a quintessential late summer sky, pale blue with warm tones from the sun reflecting in the drifting clouds. A tiny, lone figure makes his way down a sandy path through a pastoral field, with tall trees in the dunes to the left. The asymmetrical composition adds intrigue and creates a circle, drawing the viewer in to take part in reflection on this incredible landscape.

Landscape continues at Guild Hall with “Landscape Selections from the Permanent Collection,” featuring works by Jimmy Ernst, Robert Dash, April Gornik, Jeff Muhs, Paul Georges and many other well-known East End artists. Both exhibitions are on view through January 5.

A Gallery Talk will be given on Sunday, November 10, also at 2 p.m., with Christina Massaides Strassfield, museum director and chief curator, on the exhibition “Landscape Selections from the Permanent Collection.”

The Museum at Guild Hall is located at 158 Main Street in East Hampton and is open Friday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. Call 631-324-0806 or visit GuildHall.org.

Published in Dan’s Papers, 11/6/13: http://danspapers.com/2013/11/trace-thomas-morans-romanticism-symbolism-at-guild-hall/

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Robert Dash at The Drawing Room

Robert Dash, The Drawing Room

Robert Dash, “From Blue Hill IV,” 2013. Courtesy of The Drawing Room


Robert Dash (1931–2013), the beloved Sagaponack artist, writer, gardener and creator of Madoo Conservancy, is remembered with an exhibition of his pastels, From Blue Hill, a series based on memories of Blue Hill, Maine, on view at The Drawing Room in East Hampton. Elegantly framed, each work is like a small treasure—subtle at first, the powerful sneaking up gradually, like making your way down a garden path to the crescendo moment of discovering open space.

From the grouping of pastels in the front room of the gallery, Dash demonstrates a keen sense of balance and space. Using a beige-tone antique paper, he leaves vast areas untouched, and in these areas there is room to breath. The antique paper also allows for white to function as color, the way it does in the garden. “So provoking a color is white, I even have brambles I don’t mind and dog roses and mushrooms on the lawn, fraises de bois in constant bloom, and chamomile,” wrote Dash in Notes from Madoo: Making a Garden in the Hamptons, (2000) a collection from his East Hampton Star gardening column.

The negative areas, together with the areas filled with splashes of vibrant, natural color, form compositions that curve in opposite directions from the middle of the page—a mountain slopes from upper-left to mid-right, where it is met by a path leading from mid-right to lower left. Dash plays with variations on the two expansive, sweeping movements. In From Blue Hill II, 2013, a few sweeping blue lines form a mountain, sloping from upper left to mid-right, and hence from there black squiggling lines make their way back to the right, curving slightly downward, like a train coming toward you. The middle area is a lively and spirited collection of quick, undaunted marks of mostly blues and greens. In the foreground, an abstracted plant, in black pastel, completes (or begins) a line that brings us back to the mid-right.

Romantic and poetic, the From Blue Hill series are also as vigorous as the untamed nature they portray. From more definitive, recognizable landscapes like From Blue Hill IV, 2013, in which a rushing river, boulders, trees and plants are all distinctly recognizable, to the more abstracted forms, albeit still nature, in From Blue Hill XV, 2012–13, a sense of the wildness of nature can be felt.

Although the series was based on a Maine landscape, they were made in the artist’s studio at Madoo, which means “My Dove” in an old Scottish dialect, his home and workplace since 1967. “I do not paint in the way that I garden or garden as I would employ the brush,” Dash wrote, “although the process is often the same—both are arts of the wrist, the broadest, largest sort of signature, if you will, highly idiosyncratic, the result of much doing, much stumbling, and highly intuited turns and twists before everything fits and adheres to the scale of one’s intention. A good tree must often be moved to a more reticent spot when it begins to dominate and thus ruin the total orchestrations.” (Notes, p. 4) In this exhibition we can see the artist playing gardener, moving a tree here or there, a mountain this way or that; utilizing both memory and a mastery of composition to create something new.

Robert Dash, From Blue Hill is on view through November 4.  

Also on view at the gallery is an exhibition of drawings and wall architecture by Chuck Holtzman. The Drawing Room is located at 66 Newtown Lane, East Hampton. Call 631-324-5016 or visit drawingroom-gallery.com.

Published in Dan’s Papers, October 18, 2013.


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Moby Dick at Neoteric

Paton Miller, Neoteric, Amagansett

Paton Miller, ”Quequag” 2013. Courtesy of Neoteric Fine Art

The current exhibition at Neoteric Fine Art in Amagansett, Moby-Dick, pays homage to both the area’s rich whaling history and to Herman Melville’s classic novel. The show runs in conjunction with Janet Goleas’ “The Moby Project” at Mulford Farm, an English Colonial farmstead barn built in 1721, now part of The East Hampton Historical Society, where artists were invited to respond to various themes surrounding the book and the ocean.

Neoteric oftentimes presents thematic group shows featuring the work of local artists, many of whom are members of the original artists’ collective from which the gallery was formed. Ecological concerns are frequently voiced through various media, including found objects, demonstrating the deep connection these artists have to their natural surroundings. In one way or another, most of the exhibitions at Neoteric, if not all, extend beyond filling a gallery space with paintings—inviting the community to take part in listening to live music or presentations on new ideas, raising money for local charities and dancing to silent disco beneath projected light installations. This time, with still a clear connection to the culture of the East End, the focus is on history. Yet, in looking to the past, the show offers a fresh and contemporary reinterpretation.

The exhibition is in two rooms. Upon entering, I veered to the left, drawn in perhaps by the enormous multi-color creature hanging from the ceiling, “The Whale” itself. Made by the collaborative effort of the Neoteric Collective, using buoys, spray foam and pool noodles, the whale invites humor to the otherwise bleak tale. Positioned in the center of the room the sculpture also creates an interactive and metaphorical obstacle, causing the viewer to choose a route for their viewing.

Among a strong group, Paton Miller’s “Quequag,” is particularly powerful. Painted on linen that at a closer look almost seems rough like burlap, Quequag sits tall and proud, his body and face covered in scarification and his wrists cuffed in metal. There’s something Modernist and Gauguin-like about the treatment of the hands, the sloping, disappearing shoulder and the diagonal yellow line of the boat, dividing the background of the vast, dark blue unknown and the very brief foreground.

In the same room, Melora Griffis’ “Fishing,” recalls the Figurative Expressionist Jan Müller’s use of white paint and simultaneous allegorical, literary and dreamlike subject matter. Her flattened plane depicts three levels—the top, blue celestial, with a black-veiled female in an embryo-shaped form; the center green earthly, which includes a pregnant woman, hands over her belly; and a lower level of a white sea with a ship, swimmers and sinking bodies. Like a memory from a dream, “Fishing” awaits interpretation.

In the other room, “Scrimshaw” pieces by Dalton Portella, Melissa Mapes, Rory Evenson, Sue Heatley, Charles Ly and Peter Spacek, were uniquely etched in and/or drawn on wood carved to the shape of the bones and teeth of sperm whales, some adhering to the traditional look of scrimshaw, others taking a modern departure. Hanging above them is an exquisite work by Charles Ly, “The Widow.” In watercolor, pen and ink, mounted on distressed gold leaf paper, a woman clasps her hands together as everything below her bust is submerged into the water. There’s a quality of perfectionist illustration to Ly’s work mixed in with an understanding and love for the culture of his generation. The signature use of animal headdresses, sometimes befitting the person beneath them, other times, in sheer irony, not at all, adds an element of curiosity. The submerged woman appears not to be in good faith of the blessings gifted to the wearer of the fox (i.e. cunning, cleverness, wisdom).

Moby-Dick also includes work by Ted Victoria, Sophia Collier, Amanda Church, Emily Noel Lambert, Gregory Montreuil, Scott Bluedorn, Christine Lidrbauch and Burt Van Deusen and will be on view through October 18.

Neoteric Fine Art is located at 208 Main Street in Amagansett. Call 631-828-7518 or visitneotericfineart.com and themobyproject.com for more information on the exhibitions.


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“Water” Overflows With East End Artists At Tripoli Gallery

Billy Sullivan, Tripoli Gallery, Yung Jake, Clifford Ross, Roy Lichtenstein, Willem de Kooning, Matisse Patterson, Ross Bleckner, Keith Sonnier

Billy Sullivan, “Red on the Run,” 2013. Courtesy Tripoli Gallery

The viewer is quickly made aware of the ecological concerns behind the exhibition with a sculpture from neon-light pioneer Keith Sonnier’s “Tidewater Series,” Los La Butte, the first series in which the Louisiana-born artist used found objects in his work. Los La Butte has a yellow curving line of neon that extends the field of energy from within a lattice vortex, containing plastic bottles and debris, with an aluminum base made out of a washing machine tumbler. To the right of the sculpture is Stefan Bondell’s Missed the Mist, 2009; a canvas of blue topography resembling the ocean floor. In 2010, Bondell organized a poetry reading in the downtown New York Marble Cemetery, “Oil Kills Poets Spill,” featured a backdrop of one of his paintings, Currentcy, 20-by-20 feet large, and composed of shredded currency from the Federal Reserve, black and red ink, BP oil and blood, in direct commentary to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.The current show at Tripoli Gallery, “Water,” is themed as such. But what seems almost equally indicative of water, besides the numerous examples of artworks influenced by the element, is the curatorial fluidity; undoubtedly a challenge when the artwork ranges from a gilt-framed 1907 Thomas Moran to a 2013 conceptual work by multi-media artist Yung Jake comprised of three Fiji water bottles on a shelf and given an Emoji Icon title.

Billy Sullivan’s Red on the Run captures the excitement of a dog off the leash at the bay. In a quintessentially Sullivan palette, the intense brightness of the sun is captured in stark whites in the sand and the water behind it. To the right is a crystal sculpture by Maya Lin, designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, where her architectural background can be seen in the precision of the blue waves. Echoing the ripples of Lin’s Blue Wave are two photographs by Clifford Ross, whereby a clear body of softly moving water reflects overhead sunlight, temping us to dive in. Taken as abstractions, the variations in the repeated forms create movement within a fluid grid-like composition. To the right, the rippling water is seen in yet another form: a 1965 screen print and die-cut collage on blue Rowlux, a lenticular plastic that conveys a sense of movement when seen at different angles, entitled Seascape, by Roy Lichtenstein.

Remarkable groupings continue throughout: Darius Yektai’s The Shower, depicting a figure showering beneath a waterfall in a background of lush, tropical greenery is followed by two Ross Bleckner paintings, Black Monet I and Black Monet II, revealing beautiful pinks, yellows and reds of the lily flowers beneath a backdrop of blacks and greys.

Marsden Hartley’s Starfish, c. 1938, hangs adjacent to Willem de Kooning’s abstracted Sting Ray lithograph of 1971. Matisse Patterson’s intricate and curious Cornell-esque boxes include sand and water taken from local beaches, their titles, like Scott “The Cut” Cameron, revealing which one. A quietly peaceful Fairfield Porter, Beach, 1974, is flanked by a bright pink Mary Heilmann diptych and by a James de Pasquale quadtriptch—capturing Heilmann’s pinks and de Pasquale’s blue-greens.

Following the seascapes’ horizons we next encounter a Roy Lichtenstein print where diminishing dots simultaneously create depth and flatness, as his early-computer-graphic-trees add humor to the littoral scene. Lola Montes Schnabel’s mixed media adds excitement and brings us back to air after our metaphorical dive.  Lastly, it seems worth noting that the oldest work, an 1890s William Merritt Chase, Shinnecock Bay, is side-by-side with the newest work, a 2013 Nathalie Shepherd diptych, Bathing Beauty in the City of New York and Waxed Up.

On view at Tripoli Gallery, 30A Jobs Lane, Southampton, through Sept. 9. Get more info at tripoligallery.com.

Published in Dan’s Papers. August 24, 2013.


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Alexandre Arrechea: Skyscrapers Land in Southampton

Alexandre Arrechea, Keszler Annex

Alexandre Arrechea at Keszler Gallery Annex, Southampton

Taking a space anywhere but on Main Street or Jobs Lane, in Southampton that is, might seem like a risk for an art gallery—but after a visit to the new Keszler Gallery Annex on North Sea Road, just south of Montauk Highway, it was clear why owner Stephan Keszler would choose the location.

The building, a former power plant, offers sky-high ceilings—suitable for large-scale artworks that could not otherwise fit—and massive garage-like doors that allow what’s inside the gallery (like that winking lenticular photograph “I Love You” by Derrick Santini) to be visible from the street. Old brick walls, painted white, and exposed overhead beams give the gallery a certain industrial, edgy rawness while sleek, modern and minimal gallery furniture let you know that Keszler is really all about contemporary art.

Currently on view, and visible from outside (anyone who’s been stuck at that red light on their way to Schmidt’s or Lynch’s will have seen it) are works by Alexandre Arrechea, who represented Cuba during the 54th Venice Biennale in 2011. The 15-foot-high curvilinear steel sculptures set on the grassy hill, “Helmsely,” 2013, and “Empire State,” 2012-2013, are modifications of the New York City skyscrapers, shrunken in size and altered to the extent that their tops are no longer pointing upward—”Empire State” is coiled up like a snail shell while “Helmsely” makes a giant ring. Turned inward, could this be a commentary on the current state of the city? The series, entitled “No Limits,” lends itself to a wealth of interpretations—no limits on the artist’s ambition to create, no limits to the self-handed bonuses within the financial sector.

Both works on view outside of Keszler Annex were part of the Park Avenue Project, presented by Magnan Metz Gallery, in partnership with the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation and the Fund for the Park Avenue Sculpture Committee, where they were seen from March through early June of this year by New Yorkers making their daily commute up and down Park Ave. Featured on the cover of Time Out New York, as part of their “Amazing Outdoor Art” issue (April 25–May 1, 2013), ”Empire State” is photographed as it stood in early spring, on the Park Avenue median surrounded by mathematically planted tulips and taxi cabs. It’s strikingly amusing to note the difference surrounding scale makes in the overall impression of Arrechea’s sculpture.

In Manhattan, surrounded by skyscrapers, ”Empire State” and other works from the No Limits series seem large. Here in Southampton they seem massive inside the Annex, where more examples from No Limits are on view, along with watercolors and works on paper relating to the series, should a collector wish to partake in the series on a smaller scale. An adjoining room features artwork by Keszler mainstay artists—fashion photographer Marco Giaviano’s supermodels, skateboards with designs by Damien Hirst and Murakami, Bert Stern’s Marilyn portraits and Russell Young’s iconic screenprints, to name a few. Impressive and strikingly beautiful works by Zhuang Hong Y—made of rice paper flowers and paint on canvas—make use of the gallery’s high ceilings and wide space as they extend not only upward and outward but also towards the viewer in their sculptural relief. Bansky’s “Wet Dog,” 2007, the original, unique street work, will bid you adieu on your way out; the lasting imprint beckoning a second visit.

The current show at Keszler Annex will be on view through Labor Day. Keszler Gallery is located at 200 North Sea Road, Southampton. For more information, call 212-774-1906 or visit keszlergallery.com.

Published in Dan’s Papers, August 10, 2013


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Street Artist Aakash Nihalani Tapes the Town

Aakash Nihalani, Tripoli Patterson, Parrish Art Museum, Midsummer Party

Aakashi Nihalani, “Drop,” 2013. Parrish Art Museum. Photo courtesy of Tripoli Gallery

We all gripe over our crazy weekends, running here, there and everywhere, but Aakash Nihalani has perhaps outdone us. The Brooklyn-based artist traveled to Southampton mid-week to begin installing at both the Parrish Art Museum and Tripoli Gallery. Driving back and forth between Water Mill and Southampton, always an ordeal, was now an experience in classic Hamptons traffic, on possibly the grandest scale yet, thanks to two major art fairs, the new one-week renters, and the numerous galas taking place on the weekend of July 13. Burning the midnight oil in the midst of this, Aakash successfully pulled off two very impressive site-specific projects.

On the South side of the new Herzog & de Meuron-designed Parrish Art Museum, visible from Montauk Highway, Aakash used white tape to create overlapping rectangular forms, resulting something reminiscent of toppling dominoes, blown over by wind from the East. On the Northern exterior wall, he created low-rise boxes (or, to get technical, a diamond-shape surrounded by two adjoining rectangles on either side)–the forms created by black tape. The box closest to ground level is the largest, and they diminish in size as they make their way up; creating the illusion of depth on the flat surface of the concrete wall. Those who flocked to the Parrish’s annual Midsummer Gala on July 13 had an opportunity to get up close to the work and take part in the altered view.

Aakash is forging his own territory in –isms, but certainly takes part in street art, op art and modular art, with a touch of minimalism in his clean lines and restrictive palette of black, white and fluorescents. As a street artist, he’s taken to sidewalks, walls and patios from New York City to New Delhi, using his tape to distort perspective and/or play around with existing forms. His work extends the dialogue of Frank Stella’s pulsating squares, Sol LeWitt’s self-imposed rules and mathematical precision, and Jasper Johns’ Usukuki print series, in which a linear motif is replicated and rotated.

The longer you look at Aakash’s work the more you see. For his current exhibition at Tripoli Gallery, Aaranged, he created several tape pieces, which adhere directly to the gallery walls, as well as new tile works. The tile works are made up of modules that can be re-arranged (hence the exhibition title)–allowing for endless compositions. Each module in this instance is a square foot tile with magnetic backing and a surface of bright white paint and black silk-screened lines (slightly wider than the tape he uses). As you begin to look for patterns, you realize that your innate drive for rationality is thrown off by a chance rotation of one of the modules; as if the artist is toying with our notions of order and chaos. As a result, none of Aakash’s works are static—rather they are in motion.

Aakash writes, “All my geometric work is based/derived off of a vocabulary of isometric forms represented/ created from squares and parallelograms. I then take these shapes, or modules, and create different compositions, or variations. As Sol LeWitt said, ‘For each work of art that becomes physical, there are many variations that do not.’ The works in the show are about modularity, and the variations and compositions created by arrangement guided by rational and irrational rules.”

No stranger to the East End, in 2012 Aakash Nihalani was awarded a residency at the Willem de Kooning studio in East Hampton. Adhering to his neon colors, tape and modules, he created outdoor works in high-contrast to the trees and grass of the backyard. In situ photographs can be seen at aakashnihalani.com.

On view at Tripoli Gallery, 30A Jobs Lane, Southampton, through August 11. Outdoor works at the Parrish Art Museum, 279 Montauk Highway in Water Mill. Visit tripoligallery.com; parrishart.org.

Published in Dan’s Papers, July 22, 2013.


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Bridgehampton Fine Art

Bridgehampton Fine Art, Ai Wei Wei, Basquiat, de Kooning

Bridgehampton Fine Art

Bridgehampton has long been a crucial part of the East End art scene—from staples like Bobby Van’s, where artists and writers once gathered, to New York’s top art collectors and artists calling it home. Indeed, there is something very special about Bridgehampton: the mix of old and new, of quaint and upscale. Strolling down picturesque Main Street is like a journey through time; from Candy Kitchen, the old-fashioned ice cream parlor, to Bridgehampton Fine Art, a gem of an art gallery that opened in May of this year.

Tucked back from the road, down a flower-lined brick pathway, the gallery holds museum-quality artworks from some of the most well known contemporary and modern masters. You’ll be greeted by awe-inspiring infinity light boxes and a series of horse paintings by one of their popular contemporary artists, Danielle Procaccio, but don’t stop there. Behind the corner are important works by Willem de Kooning, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Sam Francis, Cristo, Louise Bourgeois, Ai Wei Wei and John Chamberlain.

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Darius Yektai: On Country Ground at Tripoli Gallery

Darius Yektai

Darius Yektai, “The Boquet,” (2012), Photo Credit: Gary Mamay. Courtesy of Tripoli Gallery

Darius Yektai’s current exhibition at Tripoli Gallery, “On Country Ground,” kicks off the summer season with a group of six large paintings, bathed in brilliant blues and deep, rich greens. There’s an immediate sense that Southampton-born Yektai is in touch with his natural surroundings. In these six canvases, Yektai has pared down and confronted the essentials of existence. The Boquet, (2012) is a large 96” x 72” painting, with an almost life-size solitary figure emerging from a mass of forceful brushstrokes of green, blue and black paint. It recalls running through one of our many nature preserve trails. The upper right corner and edges of the picture are painted a soft white and recognized as background, like an early-60s Joan Mitchell, while a section of the mid-left of the canvas is covered in a crisp, bright white that confronts the surface, thus interpreted as foreground. The figure sits somewhere between the two “whites,” the old and the new, potentially past and future. Stuck inside the canvas, he runs towards us on a diagonal. There’s a lot going on here, and it’s easy to see that the artist is more than a colorist. He is breaking down the picture plane, playing with depth and surface, and with his inclusion of the figure, he is also able to include movement and a hypothetical narrative.

While purely abstract works can undoubtedly capture movement, they can also leave the viewer with a longing for something more. So often we try to find recognizable images in non-objective works (just listen to the comments people make at MoMA in front of Pollock’s Number 1A). Art historians are trained not to make remarks like, “I think I see a face,” but perhaps it’s only natural to look for mirrors of ourselves; proof of our own reality.

Having studied Art History at the American University in Paris, and born into an artist family (his father is New York School Abstract Expressionist Manoucher Yektai), Darius Yektai is not unaware of the complexities of being a contemporary artist. In an age where boundaries have been broken from all angles, and, at the risk of sounding provincial, a junk pile can make headlines, working in the age-old medium of paint on canvas and embracing subject matter that (gasp!) comes close to landscape is a daring, bold move. While there currently seems to be yet another return to expressionism, figurative too, much of what is presented as art today still grabs our attention by use of disturbing imagery—an artistic cop-out. Here, with no pretense, we can enjoy the paintings and feel our spirits lifted in their presence. If art shall be taken as means of communication, then it would seem that the artist is bringing us closer to his own experience in nature. In From Tree to Sea (2011-2013), a mixed-media work, branches of a tree are made of painted paper that protrudes from the canvas, perhaps in an effort to further reach us. It brings to mind Eva Hesse’s 1966 Hang Up, whereby notions of the pictorial plane are questioned as a steel tube comes out (a few feet) from the rectangular, empty wall frame. In Yektai’s “From Tree to Sea,” a man hangs from the tree by both arms. From a few steps back, the man could also be seen as the tree trunk, supporting the branch above him. Either way, the connection between mankind and nature is literalized, as the figure looks out along the curving, tropical cove in the background.

“On Country Ground” provides a fresh example of contemporary art by an East End artist who has simultaneously placed himself in context with his expressionist predecessors and forged his own trail.

“Darius Yektai: On Country Ground” is on view at Tripoli Gallery, 30 Jobs Lane, Southampton, through June 20.

Published in Dan’s Papers: June, 2013. http://danspapers.com/2013/06/darius-yektai-on-country-ground-at-tripoli-2/

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This Week’s Cover Artist: Chuck Close

Chuck Close

Chuck Close
John, 1998, 126-color silkscreen
64 ½ x 54 ½ inches
Parrish Art Museum, Gift of Chuck Close and Leslie Rose Close

Chuck Close (b. 1940, Monroe, WA) and his portraits are instantly recognizable. With his self-portraits hanging in museums nationwide, we have become familiar not only with his face and various pairs of glasses, but with his distinctive technique. His iconic large-scale close-ups, subject matter being the faces of his family, friends, artists, and self, are made up of tiny mosaic-like squares. Employing a gridded photograph and paint, Close blurs the lines between photography and painting, and between Realism and Conceptualism, while keeping his portraits in sharp focus.

Throughout his artistic career, Close has gone back and forth in self-imposed palette limitations. In his 1968 “Self Portrait,” he strictly adhered to black and white. Several years later, the pencil and ink “Robert/104,072” (1973-4) of MOMA’s collection, was made of 104,072 separate color squares.

Other techniques include the use of fingerprint marks, pulp paper, watercolor, tapestries based on Polaroids, and of course printmaking.

The cover of this issue is a reproduction of “John,” 1998, a 126-color silkscreen portrait of the artist John Chamberlain that took two years to complete. In a 2003 interview with Parrish Art Museum Director Terrie Sultan, Close, after expressing his previous concern on using silkscreen, with its connection to Pop, said, “A lot of my misgivings about silkscreen vanished when I saw that silkscreen didn’t have to be flat and opaque, that it was possible to get tremendous watery transparencies, and to make something that had an open, brushy quality where other colors flickered through. I realized a silkscreen could have the spirit and touch of the paintings.” With the Parrish Art Museum as home base, “John” has been around the world, exhibited in 2003 at the Blaffer Art Museum, University of Houston, and currently at the Museum der Moderne in Salzburg, Austria.

While maintaining a studio in New York, Close has lived in Bridgehampton since the ’70s. He has had more than 200 solo exhibitions in more than 20 countries, including major retrospectives at the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid and at the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. In 2000, President Clinton presented him with the prestigious National Medal of Arts. More recently he was appointed by President Obama to serve on The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. This level of recognition during an artist’s lifetime is remarkable. It seems noteworthy to mention that with this degree of achievement, Close still makes  regular appearances at various museum gala after-parties, simultaneously indicating the breadth of his support for the arts and allowing for a fresh generation of faces to become acquainted with his.

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Remembering Lester Johnson

Lester Johnson

Lester Johnson, Photo Credit: John Schiff

Having spent summers growing up in my grandparents’ house in Springs, it was not until much later that I realized what it meant to be an artist there in the ’50s and ’60s. The paint-speckled floor of the second-floor studio was where we camped out, with cots and sleeping bags, and, it being the country, spiders. The ceiling had a massive skylight—ideal for an artist, less ideal during August thunderstorms.

The house had undergone a few changes since Lester and Josephine Johnson first bought the property on Old Stone Highway in 1954. The land was sold to them from the next-door neighbor, Mr. Fields, a bayman who had a massive scallop shell pile back in the woods behind the house. Lester and Jo built the house from the ground up, with the help of Jo’s father and uncle, who helped dig to access well water, which was then brought up with a small hand pump. The house was a ranch at first, and the “studio” was a barrack-like shack in the backyard.

Lester loved the land because of the locust trees, which he captured in many of his watercolors in the ’90s. In the early years in Springs, to support his family, he would go clamming in Accabonac Bay and then sell his findings out of a bucket at the end of the road. People who bought the clams would send a check in the mail.

In the mornings, Lester would bicycle to Daniel T. Miller General Store (now Springs General Store) to pick up food for the day. From time to time, they’d drive to Southampton to go shopping, and to Sag Harbor to see a movie, or to pick something up from Mrs. Epstein’s Dry Goods store in East Hampton.

He spent time painting with ink and a sketchbook at Barnes Landing, Louse Point and Albert’s Landing, and back at the studio with oil and canvas; creating paintings similar to those he was working on in the city—dark, figurative images in heavy impasto.

In March of 1961, ARTNews ran an article by Lawrence Campbell, with photographs by Robert Frank, titled “Lester Johnson Paints A Picture” (a series that began in 1953 with “de Kooning Paints A Picture”). Describing his process and his tendency to destroy and rework a painting, Campbell wrote, “But coming on to it from a night’s sleep, he will see it not as full and rich, but as smaller, weaker, thinner than the night before. This revelation may come as a great shock. It is a call to arms. Suddenly he will feel free to wreck the image with a vengeance. He will replace it with an entirely new one, reworking every inch of the surface and all at high speed.”

Reflecting (and participating in) a certain Ab-Ex freedom, Lester told Campbell, “It is as though I had fought my way out from behind my own personality, and was able at last to expand and express   myself in a completely fresh way. When the painting is finished, I realize I can never repeat it. It came from a moment of absolute freedom. The moment came when I was able to set down a statement in paint which was the sum of the statements that preceded it.”

Taking part in the physicality of “action painting,” as described by critic Harold Rosenberg in 1952, Lester nonetheless set himself apart from his Abstract Expressionist peers by not only including the figure in his work, but making the human figure his vehicle for expression throughout his career.

The East Hampton art scene Lester and Jo took part in consisted of occasional cocktail parties with other artists, visits with neighbors like Rosenberg or Saul Steinberg, a drive once with Robert Frank and Jack Kerouac to Jungle Pete’s down the road, meeting Bill de Kooning and his daughter Lisa at Louse Point, or spending the day with Paul Georges and his wife and kids. On Sundays, the artists would gather at the one of the ocean beaches, usually Georgica or the “Potato Beach.” No parking permit was required and the beaches were empty.

In the mid-’90s, he painted a “Summer Scene” series based on the people he saw sitting at East Hampton Point. Quite different from his all-black paintings from the early ’60s, “Summer Scene #5” (1996) is particularly interesting in that it reveals many of the transitions that were made along the way—the inclusion of wavy-haired women, dramatic angles of arms and legs and intricacy of design within the fabrics, all in the greater pursuit of movement. In typical Johnson fashion, adhering to the “truth” of the canvas, he leaves the feet loosely painted with lots of dripping paint. However, this series, different in its slightly unfinished, watery quality and unusual colors (turquoise, blues, lavenders, and browns) leaves me certain that the water and distinctive light at Three Mile Harbor had its influence.

The South Fork underwent enormous changes during Lester’s lifetime. It’s hard to imagine witnessing the evolution from farmland to “playground for the rich and famous.” Through it all, he continued working on the East End during summers, eventually settling year-round in Southampton Village in 2006, where he spent his remaining years. Lester died on May 30, 2010, at the age of 91. An influence on a generation of younger artists as well as his contemporaries, his legacy as a leading Figurative Expressionist continues, and his work is in the permanent collections of both the Parrish Art Museum and Guild Hall. As a grandfather and as a person, he will be remembered as much for his career as for his sincerity and gentle nature.

Upcoming exhibitions of Lester Johnson’s work include:

Pioneers of Provincetown: The Roots of Figurative Expressionism, Provincetown Art Association and Museum, Provincetown, July 19–September 2, 2013.

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Thanksgiving Collective at Tripoli Gallery in Southampton


Tripoli Gallery, Aakash Nihalani, Nick Weber, Bosco Sodi, Darius Yektai

Image courtesy Tripoli Gallery


Summer in the city is a slow time for the art world. Galleries on the Upper East Side might as well shut down completely. After springtime over-saturation, with what seems like hundreds of art fairs, in the summer the city galleries see their art-sated clientele turning their attention away from art and toward the beach.

The problem with this cycle is that it causes one to miss the summer collectives, the group shows that are an art world summer standby. This type of exhibit gives galleries the chance to experiment with juxtaposing art styles and with innovative installations. The emphasis on the curatorial aspect of exhibitions has been on the rise, especially among younger galleries and “alternative art spaces,” in defiant rejection of more commercial models. Many established galleries reserve these types of shows for the slow summer months and perhaps for an occasional winter month when art-loving snowbirds head south.

So it was delightful to see a top-notch group show in Southampton just this past weekend at Tripoli Gallery. The show’s title, “Thanksgiving Collective 2012: Modern Salon,” refers to the combination of East End artists, both well-known and emerging and promising young talent from outside the area.

“Modern Salon” also refers to the way in which the show was installed. Salon style is curatorial parlance for an exhibit where art is hung from floor-to-ceiling, such as in the historic exhibitions of the Academie des Beaux-Arts in Paris.

The Brucennial, a group show in Greenwich Village this past spring, went the salon route, covering every millimeter of space. Tripoli’s new show is not quite that extreme, but it does utilize clusters of paintings instead of evenly spaced distribution.

Hanging contemporary art in the antiquated salon style has an interesting result: it simultaneously dramatizes the newness of the artwork and connects it with the past.

Ross Bleckner’s smooth-surfaced oil on linen, “Untitled,” 2012, is almost like a zoomed in, blurred, and distorted 18th century Dutch vase of flowers still life, beautiful with a touch of melancholy darkness. Left of this hang a group of pictures vastly bathed in white: Nathalie Shepherd’s ghost-like, female figure whispers on the canvas. It is situated above a de Kooning-esque woman by Felix Bonilla Gerena. Areas of painterly-ness, like Darius Yektai’s abstractions and Nick Weber’s introspective portraits, are punctuated by glittery and pulsatingEric Freeman paintings. Towards the back of the gallery space, Michael Chiarello’s geometric and angular sculpture is juxtaposed with the organic and curvilinear lines of Jameson Ellis’ vibrant painting.

On the opposite wall, Bosco Sodi’s rough surface and rusty hues of “Untitled,” 2011, contrasts with Mary Heilmann’s smooth and artificially pigmented “Acid Splash,” 2012. In the front of the gallery are a series of small heads by Darren Coffield, depicting that startling moment when you see someone from upside down and envision their eyebrows to be their mouth. Each work of art relates in some way to its neighbor, and in some way connects to the past.

In this “Modern Salon,” “modern” takes back its original meaning, before art historians and auction houses, through no fault of their own, disconnected the word from its definition. The 24 artists included in Tripoli’s exhibition created these works within the past decade—many just in the last year. Combining the work of international and local artists emphasizes the creative converging of histories and backgrounds on the East End and adds new meaning to “here
and now.”

Tripoli Gallery, 30a Jobs Lane, Southampton. Exhibition on view through January 24, 2013

Published: http://danspapers.com/2012/12/a-look-inside-southamptons-tripoli-gallery/

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“Amagansett, Armageddon” at Neoteric Fine Art

Neoteric Fine Art, Alexander McCue

“Frank” by Alexander McCue, photo courtesy of Neoteric Fine Art


January 17, 2013

Neoteric Fine Art in Amagansett is bravely and refreshingly idealist. What owner, director, and visual artist Scott Bluedorn set up in 2006 to be an artist collective, representing young, emerging artists from the East End, has transformed into a gallery, as of 2012, and yet retains all of it’s initial mission. The artwork selected for Bluedorn’s latest show, “Armageddon, Amagansett,” reflects and builds upon that vision.

With an apocalyptic and prophetic theme, centered on the ancient Mayan end of the world date of December 21st, 2012, artists took various approaches to the given framework. There was an evident dissatisfaction and discontent, particularly from an environmental perspective, at the affects of greed, particularly in works by artist Rossa Williams Cole, such as “Credit Card Shanty Town” and “Deep Water Horizon,” a sculpture made of wood and bamboo.

Living so close to the ocean, it’s hard to imagine not feeling the impact of the elements and perhaps this generates an innate connectedness and appreciation. With the ever-changing winds and tides, we are truly at the mercy of this flux. One also bears witness to massive waves of people coming and going, often times with little regard to the impact they have on the fragile ecological balance. It is not rare to see artists at Neoteric, in this exhibition and in past shows, using natural and found materials, such as driftwood and clam shells, adding meaning to “the medium is the message.”

Other artists adhered to two-dimensional modes of expression; paint on canvas and graphic works. Alexander McCue’s “Frank,” is a powerful image of Donnie Darko’s malevolent rabbit. The garishly bright colors mixed with splashes and drips of black paint hark back to German Expressionist paintings, particularly Nolde’s “Still Life with Masks,” (1911). The Die Bruke movement (“bruke” meaning “bridge,” metaphorically between the past and the future of art) of which Nolde was a member, was interested in expressing extreme emotion through high-keyed color. McCue’s painting bridges a centuries-old medium with a subject matter very specific to his generation. Said subject matter (the creepy bunny) time-traveled back to the present from the future, providing one possible link to the prophetic/apocalyptic theme. Upon relating “Frank” to “Still Life with Masks,” it seemed particularly relevant that in the movie, Donnie asks Frank “Why are you wearing that stupid bunny suit?” to which Frank replies, “Why are you wearing that stupid man suit?” Is it our masks that lead us to ruin?

It’s not all gloom and doom. Bluedorn’s own work “New Atlantis,” is a vision of a future utopia. Made with Xerox transfer and watercolor on paper, hundreds of intricate details reminiscent of illustrations from Albertus Sebas’ 18th century “Cabinet of Curiosities,” have been combined, overlapped, and arranged to create an hourglass-like shape whereby the darker base, perhaps the decaying sea floor, is filtered through a rotating midsection, and gives way to a lighter and airier top, abundant with flora, sea creatures, a new pantheon, and a magnificent underwater city.

Maybe it’s because Bluedorn is an artist himself that the gallery lacks the jadedness of many commercial models. It’s clear from the openings that Neoteric not only promotes local artists, but also provides a venue for creative people in the community to congregate and participate in an exchange of ideas. The gallery has hosted book signings, poetry readings, multimedia experiments, “Amagansett AudioVisual Festival,” “First Friday’s Acoustic,” and numerous DJ sets, all presented by young, local talent. Onlookers and contributors alike have an opportunity to take an active role in an artistic dialogue, thus broadening their experience and adding to the cultural richness of the East End.

On January 25th, the “Neoteric Symposium,” will take a more structured approach to this discourse, inviting local artists, curators, ecologists, brewers, and other individuals to present in the “PechaKucha” format, as made popular to the area by the Parish Art Museum. What began as a discussion between architects in Japan has now expanded to over 500 cities globally and includes not only architects but also really anyone who creates anything (wine, fashion, music, gardens, you name it).  After the symposium, local singer/songwriter San Joaquin will perform from his newly released album “Zerosims.” The combined event is also a fundraiser, with a suggested $10 donation, to further help Hurricane Sandy charities. It’s easy to see that Neoteric is strongly connected to its environment from both a humanist and naturalist standpoint.

“Amagansett, Armageddon” is on view until the end of January, 2013.

“Neoteric Symposium” and “Zeroisms” performance will be on 1/25, 7-11 p.m.

Neoteric Fine Art

208 Main Street, Amagansett



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Raja Ram Sharma at the Drawing Room in East Hampton

Initially lured into The Drawing Room, a gallery on Newtown Lane in East Hampton, by their Jennifer Bartlett exhibition signage, I was surprised to find myself more intrigued by what was downstairs: a jewel-like show of miniature paintings by Contemporary Rajashtani artist Raja Ram Sharma. The above painting is one example of a room full of exquisite pictures created with single-strand brushes using a 17th century technique which Sharma was trained in and adapted within his own artistic expression. As relayed in the gallery’s press release, the artist is currently living in Udaipur and also works as a painter of pichwai, the “cloth paintings hung as offerings behind the image of the deity in Hindu temples.”

What is striking about this group of paintings is that while the process would be, to me, painstaking to say the least, there is an air of lightness to them, as if the artist himself was truly enjoying each little microscopic application of paint. There is a softness that subtly evokes a spiritual state of being without any overt narrative. The perspective, flat with the impression of everything falling towards you or towards the bottom edge, somewhat calls to mind the late 15th century illuminated manuscript Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, which depicts the month of June and is quite familiar to us Medieval criticism bookish types (get a ticket and stand on line!) as being the cover of Umberto Eco’s Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages.

Book of Hours

Similarly to this Book of Hours example, Raja Ram Sharma’s Study III, 2012, utilizes line and color to create simultaneous movement and balance. As the river curves down to the lower edge of the pictorial plane we are stopped by two bright red boats, their oars pointed diagonally back upward to the temple above whereby we can begin to make our way back down the river, thus going around and around in a circle for as long as one pleases, stopping and starting at any point. Along the way, the eye is tempted to slow down and observe the little brushstrokes, if one can use the word so freely. My Post-postmodernist art history professors would be cringing at my description of the eye’s actions but in this instance it seems appropriate and accurate, as there seems to be a devotional quality to the work; a person might be brought into it only through a slowing down of the eye and through the aforementioned circular movement.

The show is up until October 29, 2012.

Raja Ram Sharma image courtesy of: www.drawing-room.gallery.com



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Akram Zaatari on Jean-Luc Moulene

Dia:Chelsea, Akram Zaatari on Jean-Luc Moulène

Akran Zaatari, “Nabih Awada. Book of letters from family and friends,” 2007

Leaving Dia:Chelsea’s fifth floor space on West 22nd Street, after a talk given by Akram Zaatari on Jean-Luc Moulène, as part of their “Artists on Artists” lecture series, I felt a sense of calmness. It could have been the mildly damp air and grayish blue sky, or the stillness of Chelsea on a Monday, or possibly still the purity and sterility of the room in which the lecture took place. Unlike the warmly decorated auditoriums of the Met and the Frick, with their wood podiums, velvety seats, and red curtains, (or in the case of the Frick, pinkish-taupe wallpaper with flecks of gold), the space at Dia:Chelsea, adjoining the Electronic Arts Intermix space (which, on a side note is a fantastic place to sit and watch any number of films by Gordon Matta-Clark, Vito Acconci, and others) has the same minimalist feeling as a Mac store. It was well suited for the lecture that followed, which had its basis in photography and ideas, which is really a clean art form when compared to painting. Akram, dressed in black, delivered an eloquent talk on his own work and Jean-Luc’s direct influence on him. He began with showing three Youtube videos: how to fold a tee shirt, how to make a paper that flies, and how to get a cork out of a bottle. I actually was able to find the exact one he showed for the last one:


His point was that there are so many of these videos out there showing how to do this or that; many of them useless or arbitrary. What the videos have in common are their attention to detail and use of gestures that involve geometry. They are simple and calculated, much like his and Jean-Luc’s projects. When he says simple, I don’t think he means that they lack depth and meaning, but rather that they are organized and neat, and are not elaborate in their final form.

Born in Lebanon, Akram intended on becoming a filmmaker, but upon finishing high school in 1983, because of the Israeli occupation of Lebanon, his parents didn’t want him and his brother to leave the country, and since Lebanon didn’t have any film schools, he ended up going studying architecture. With no interest in becoming an architect for the Lebanese state, he returned to his interest in making films. (This background was not the crux of the lecture, but rather an answer to a question at the end.) The talk focused instead on the themes of “paths,” paths described as “taking from and giving back” in photography. Akram is especially interested in switching up the paths we take from one thing to another, and testing out the reverse. For example, in Jean-Luc’s current exhibition at Dia:Beacon, Opus  + One he has reversed the path of photography by presenting us with the object that would be photographed rather than the photograph of the object. This idea certainly echoes Duchamp’s Readymades, 1914-20, Magritte’s The Treachery of Images, 1928-29, and Kosuth’s One in Three Chairs, 1965.

His interest in paths carries through to a project he did that was based on an idea he had while in France. He noticed that during strikes, which are a part of French culture, the workers oftentimes do not stop working altogether but instead shift their work to creating subversive or not useful objects. Some of these objects speak directly as propaganda through their use of symbols, while others are silent. Similarly, he explained, that with the globalization of the economy, the items exported from Palestine, since it is not recognized as a country, are often not allowed to be imported/exported (because of Certificate of Origin regulations) unless they use a different name. So often times a bottle of olive oil would say from Gaza or some other city rather than “from Palestine.” The bottles become “tellers of a complex situation” and “charged silence.”

In another project, Akram has put his own former photographs into a “time capsule,” an idea he based on the Lebanese National Museum’s concealing and pouring concrete over their ancient sculpture during the bombing in Beirut. He and Jean-Luc are both interested in dismantling photography, or rather reversing the paths. Akram talked about trying to escape being dogmatic in his process, and ended his lecture by showing one of his works in progress. It was a film choreographed for two parts played by three different men. Titled “Adulthood to Childhood,” it began showing two men embracing, and gradually we saw their motions as being childlike, as one became vulnerable or demanding. It began with Act II and then went on to Act I, in true path-reversal form.

Perhaps my feeling of serenity upon leaving the lecture was based on this very notion; that we have the option to see things differently, and in switching up the paths there is a certain expansion that happens. In that expansion there is a freedom that occurs, opening up the mind and the eye.

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Naifeh and Smith’s Vincent van Gogh lecture at the Met

Letters to Theo, Vincent Van Gogh

Metropolitan Museum of Art – The Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium
2011-2012 Season

Vincent van Gogh
Presented by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith

Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2011

Attending the lecture, Vincent van Gogh, presented by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, in conjunction with the recent publication of their daunting and controversial biography on the artist (Vincent van Gogh: A Life), was an awesome experience. And I do mean awesome in the true sense of the word, as it was both impressive and daunting. I was in the final stages of my 70-page Masters thesis, pitying my labors, when Naifeh and Smith took the stage at announced the completion of their ten year long project and over one thousand page long book, with 600 plus pages of notes. Goodbye, violins.

In the graciously lit auditorium of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the authors, following an introduction by the unbelievably eloquent Susan Alyson Stein (Curator of the Department of Nineteenth-Century, Contemporary, and Modern Art at the Met), spoke sincerely and humbly. They were not standing behind a podium, but seated in two comfortable chairs that turned slightly inward to each other, with a coffee table in front of them on which they could rest a glass of water and their notes. Behind them, the massive screen illustrated various van Gogh artworks and ephemera. It created more of a round-table discussion vibe rather than a lecture. They began with mentioning their nervousness at speaking in front of a room full of the world’s van Gogh scholars and furthermore having this lecture be the first of their tour (which went on to various smaller institutions across the country). They got a chuckle out of the flattered audience. Another chuckle arose when they told us they met at Harvard, where they were both studying law, and realized that neither one of them wanted to become a lawyer. Thus they set out to pursue what they loved: art and writing.

There is an attorney-esque aspect to their work, though, as they choose to take somewhat of an investigative approach. Not mentioned in this lecture, their (Pulitzer-prize winning) 1989 Jackson Pollack biography (Jackson Pollack: An American Saga) was based on more than 2,000 interviews with 850 people. With a similar strategy, they read each and every (and there are over 900) van Gogh letter. Their new biography has been revolutionary in that is suggests and argues for an alternate ending to van Gogh’s death as we know it. Since, scholars have come forward, agreeing with Naifeh and Smith that the story as it has been accepted for so many years, doesn’t quite add up.

Not dwelling on this, or giving away their ending, the authors instead focus their lecture on what led them to write about van Gogh. It is a valid point, as there has been so much written already, and so many (as I was not aware until this lecture) who have spent their lives dedicated to “van Gogh studies.” They spoke about the world’s fascination with van Gogh, and our astonishing appreciation of his paintings. He is beloved unlike any other artist. What is it that we are drawn to, the myth? The insanity? The death? What they seemed sure of is that van Gogh was able to express something of what it is like to be human. Coming out of a near-death surgery, one of the authors mentioned this moment, which happened to be just before they had finished the book, where he just opened his eyes and saw everything before him in such an intensity, as if it could be the last time he would see it. He thought that van Gogh captured this feeling; how in something as simple as a branch from an almond tree there is such an emotional response. Vincent, they said, had a strong belief that what you see on the canvas is what is in the artist’s head. Thus, to study van Gogh, one must read the letters.

They had the help of someone who created a database of their 100,000+ notecards on the letters, and with this digital program, were able to do in ten years what would have otherwise taken thirty. This database, or at least a similar one is now available via the van Gogh Museum’s website. They are broken down meticulously, by period, by place, by correspondent, and by those including sketches. (http://vangoghletters.org/vg/letters/let001/letter.html) (There is a complicated searching method for which the museum has created a tutorial, but in my opinion if you just click on any one of them you will be blown away if not moved to tears by the artist’s outpours to his brother Theo.)

Naifeh and Smith argue, and make a valid point, that our letters to our family members are not always truthful and should not be read as journal entries. (Think, being in college, spending money on god-knows-what and asking mom and dad for more, assuring them that you are doing well and have joined campus community outreach club.) Theo was much like a father figure to Vincent, and he was overly dependant on him. The authors touched on van Gogh’s viscosity, his need to get extremely and smotheringly close to people, and the resulting alienation, which made it hard for him to be a part of an artistic movement, but also made him the great painter he was. They talked about his temporal lobe epilepsy, which during an episode rendered the artist unable to paint. And just as the audience was hooked and wanting the rest of the story, and their conclusions on his suicide/murder, the lecture came to an end with an announcement about autographed copies being available.  Thus we shall all have to read the book!

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On the eve of the Maurizio Cattelan opening at the Guggenheim, this seemed relevant:

Maurizio Cattelan, Hollywood,

Maurizio Cattelan, Hollywood, 2001

May, 2006, essay for my Conceptual Art class at SUNY Purchase:
Maurizio Cattelan’s “Hollywood”: Continuing the Dialogue When it Might Not Even Matter?

In 2001, for the 49th Venice Biennale, the artist Maurizio Cattalan created, or rather recreated the Hollywood sign and placed it on a hilltop just outside of Palermo.  For the opening ceremony, the Sandretto Re Rebaudengo Foundation of Turin, provided a flight from Venice to Sicily for certain privileged collectors and critics to see the massive nine letters sprawled out across the rocky, arid landscape that bears a notable resemblance to Mt. Lee in L.A.  The sign is 23 meters high and 170 meters long; an exact replica of the original.  The hill that it occupied for six months is Bellolampo, a landfill that is being used by Asja Ambiente Italia, a biogas energy conversion plant, that subsequently illuminates the sign with its “green energy”.  Although this fact is not highlighted by Cattelan’s New York galleries, Marian Goodman and Gagosian, Asja is a partner of the Sandretto Re Rebaudengo Foundation, and the foundation’s principal mission is to promote contemporary art to the community at large.)

Cattelan earns himself the title “prankster”, from press releases to interviews with the BBC.  That is slightly misleading.  A prank is a mischievous trick, and to see “Hollywood” or any of his work for that matter, in that way is to really miss the point.  “Oh how clever! He put the Hollywood sign in Sicily.”  More recently, for the 4th Berlin Biennial (now we are up to two hundred biennials world-wide), which Cattelan curated along with his Wrong Gallery colleagues, he installed a “Gagosian Gallery” on a quiet Berlin street.  “By using the Gagosian Gallery’s international brand name in a humble space and highly local context, Mr. Gioni said, the curators sought to ‘create a kind of tension between the global and the local’.”

By misplacing signs, Hollywood and Gagosian (which are strangely similar in a weird way), Cattelan seems to be calling attention to their new sites, and to their newly prescribed meaning within these locations.  The recreating of the Hollywood sign is highly conceptual.  What is means to have this sign in a place where it is not plays with our notions of truth and reality.  The letters that spell Hollywood have no meaning individually, but when we see the word we automatically come up with associations, the film industry, the physical place on the map, the image of the sign on Mt. Lee, the glorified movie stars, et cetera.

One of the sign’s functions is to mark a specific location.  What would it mean to take the sign that says “Welcome to Connecticut” on I-95 and move it to New Jersey?  It would be deceiving for an outsider.  This also brings up the fact that we take text to mean truth.  If something is written, it is trusted.  Compare this with art, which is not to be trusted.  Art, which is part of the word “artifice” and “artificial”, implies that it is not real.  It is a copy of the real thing.  A medieval concern in art was not to make anything that would appear close to reality because it would be deceitful.  When Magritte made “Ceci n’est pas une pipe,” (1929), among other things, he illustrated not only the differences between images and text but also between real objects and pictures.  When Cattelan puts the Hollywood sign in Palermo, he seems to be saying that we shouldn’t trust words either.

In Ferdinand de Saussure’s “Course in General Linguistics” he makes the distinction between the “sound-image” and the “concept” using the example of a tree and the Latin word for tree, arbor,
“One tends to forget that arbor is called a sign only because it carries the concept “tree”, with the result that the idea of the sensory part implies the idea of the whole.  Ambiguity would disappear if the three notions involved here were designated by three names, each suggesting and opposing the others.  I propose to retain the word sign [signe] to designate the whole and to replace concept and sound-image respectively by signified [signifié] and signifier [significant]; and the last two terms have the advantage of indicating the opposition that separates them from each other and from the whole of which they are parts.”
The complexities of text and image were explored by Joseph Kosuth in “One in Three Chairs” in 1965, an installation of a fold up wooden chair, a photo of that chair, and a silk-screened dictionary definition of the word “chair”.  Kosuth makes de Saussure’s semiotics physically visible, and expands on it with two elements: our notion of the photographic image, and the printed text-definition.    It is an image of a chair, no less believable than the actual chair, because we understand the photographic reproduction to be true.  (More true than a chair painted on canvas).  Secondly, the dictionary definition, silk-screened, plays with our concept of “fact” vs. “idea”.  The installation itself looks simple, but the ideas are incredibly challenging.  Kosuth, and other conceptual artists, were aware of these complexities, and their knowledge is reflected in their writing.

In “Art after Philosophy”, Kosuth writes, “The ‘value’ of particular artists after Duchamp can be weighed according to how much they questioned the nature of art; which is another way of saying ‘what they added to the conception of art’ or what wasn’t there before they started.”  Knowingly or not, Cattelan is adding to the discussion.  By recreating the Hollywood sign, he is sort of doing what Warhol did with his Brillo Box in 1964.  When the sign is in Hollywood, it is just a sign.  But if the same exact sign in recreated for the Venice Biennale, does it become art?  The conception or idea is what, arguably, gives it its status as an art-object.  Maurizio Cattelan must be aware that what he is doing has been pioneered by Duchamp’s “Fountain” in 1917, Magritte’s “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” in 1928, Warhol’s “Brillo Box” in 1964, Kosuth’s “One in Three Chairs” in 1965, and even Sherrie Levine’s  re-photographing of Walker Evan’s photographs (questioning authorship), but his statements do not reflect a clear understanding.  Maybe an artist today does not need to articulate their ideas as much as they did when the world was still opposed to revolutionary ideas of art.  Perhaps the trails have been blazed and our notions of what is art have been expanded to such an extent that it doesn’t matter.  Or perhaps Cattelan does know what he is doing is not totally original, but assigns the role of explaining to the critic.

“Installing a reproduction of the Hollywood sign on the hill of Bellolampo is a dream constructed by cutting and pasting, where the images are productions of our desires and two different worlds overlap.  Hollywood is a work that tells us about the limits of our beliefs,” claims Cattelan.  This says little of semiotics or “art-objects” vs. “real objects”, which I think is at the basis of the work.  However, bassed on the artist’s conviction, we are reminded that a complete understanding of the work does not exist solely on the letters, but also on the space that it occupies.  Bellolampo is as much a part of “Hollywood” as the Guggenheim was a part of Daniel Buren’s “Peinture-Sculpture” in 1971.  Eventually rejected for the Sixth Guggenheim International Exhibition, the gigantic banner hung in the center of the museum, involving the circular space that it occupied as a crucial part of its viewing.

Placing “Hollywood” in Sicily, specifically above a landfill, can be interpreted in a number of different ways.  One perspective involves an understanding of Sicily.  Until rather recently, the Mafia had been the island’s protector against the poisons of the outside world.  While other parts of Europe have become Americanized (think McDonald’s in Paris), Sicily has held tenaciously to its own culture- a self sustaining economy that would rather be poor and enjoy la dolce vita then have to sacrifice their love of life for a booming capitalistic society.  Talk of a bridge connection Sicily to mainland Italy is a heated debate currently, as both older and younger generations worry about increased traffic, tourism, and ultimately the destruction of a beautiful country.

So, to get back to Hollywood, by putting this sign there, it is making a statement about the universality of the industry.  Hollywood is everywhere.  It doesn’t matter anymore that where the sign is placed, because Hollywood is actually inside homes, on TV’s, and at local movie theaters.  It is on magazine stands, on the cover of magazines like US Weekly, where thousands of Americans grab copies to see Brad and Angelina’s baby.

Throughout Sicily, ancient Greek temples remain standing.  Their placement is specific to the landscape, the sea, and to how the sun would illuminate them, at sunrise or sunset.  As people once walked uphill to lay an offering to the god or goddess of the temple, we have photographs of people going to see Cattelan’s “Hollywood”.  In procession, these people become part of the whole scene, and ironically climb the hill to Hollywood.  Are our exalted actors and actresses the gods and goddesses of today?  And then is Hollywood a recreation of the temple?

Maurizio Callelan’s “Hollywood” holds endless possible interpretations, but it is hard to give him much credit for total originality.  He basically reworked earlier ideas without coming out and nodding to those who forged his trail.  I am not sure if an artist is required to do this, or if the critic takes that role.  In any case, while his work is without question conceptual, it also lacks the “attack of the system” aggressiveness of his 1970’s predecessors.   An online biography of Cattalan describes him as “a knowing and sophisticated artist who teases the art world without ever falling into the naïve trap of thinking he can subvert a system of which he is part.”  In this way, he differs from Buren, Levine, Kosuth, and others who, albeit naïve, strove to break down institutional power and remove economic value.  Photographs of Cattelan’s installations sell at a huge price.  Under the name of the “Wrong Gallery”, Cattelan participates in a weak version of institutional critique.  Anyone who believes that Gagosian didn’t know they were making a mini-replica gallery for the Berlin Biennial is falling for the biggest prank of all.

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