Artists Who Are NOT Jeff Koons

Despite my Jeff Koons hyperbole, there are a lot of other good artists to see in the Chelsea galleries.  On a recent trip I caught Richard Serra’s early work at David Zwirner (537 West 20th,  With 60,000 square feet in three buildings, and a new space in London, I believe that Zwirner is now the Pac-Man of New York galleries.  If I had a small gallery, especially a rented one, I would be worried about that chomping I heard behind me.

Strike: To Roberta and Rudy 97 x 288 x 1.5 inches

Strike: To Roberta and Rudy
97 x 288 x 1.5 inches


We’re used to the monumentality of Serra’s work – the way he uses size and height to block and reveal vistas, and especially how he directs foot traffic with his enormous sculptures.  In this Zwirner show, featuring art from 1966 to 1971, we can see the origins of that work in smaller pieces.  His hot-rolled steel plate, Strike: To Roberta and Rudy (1969-1971) is clearly an early step on his path to Tilted Arc, the 120-foot-long wall that he installed in Federal Plaza, NY and eventually had to destroy because the local workers got tired of walking around it.

Tilted Arc

Tilted Arc

I was attracted to his two neon pieces and especially his four-foot-square lead-plate boxes.  Just a little bigger than human scale, and obviously (and literally) weighing a ton, I kept a safe distance but couldn’t help walking around and around to marvel at how they were made by leaning the plates on one another instead of attaching them.  It is the fragility of the pieces contrasting with their ability to kill you if you knock into them that resonates with me.  Isn’t that an apt metaphor for life?

Installation View, Richard Serra, including One Ton Prop (House of Cards) 1969

Richard Serra Installation View at David Zwirner,
including One Ton Prop (House of Cards) 1969

I also recommend stopping at Ricco/Maresca Gallery (529 West 20th, to see the current show: Marcos Bontempo’s Dancing in the Void.  His abstract figures look effortless, as if he threw a little paint over his shoulder as he was walking away and accidentally created dynamic work that sits on the edge between abstraction and figuration.  I would love to know what his process is, and I bet you my recent lottery winnings that it includes struggle and doubt.  But you can’t see that in the paintings.

Marcos Bontempo Untitled, at Ricco/Maresca

Marcos Bontempo
Untitled, at Ricco/Maresca

And finally, don’t miss the odd and engaging Paolo Ventura’s The Infinite City at Hasted Kraeutler (537 West 24th,  He draws and paints and builds small structures that hold tiny lives and miniature conflicts, and ugliness and pain and beauty.  His repetition of the forms makes them grow in our brains until a 4″ painting (one of hundreds?) contains the universe.  The Lilliputian village of crafted buildings is no more than two feet tall.  Sitting on the floor as it does makes us gross and Brobdingnagian.  Like Alice after she ate one side of the mushroom, we are too big to bend over and look through the doors.  What is happening inside?  Is it meant to be about us, or is it part of another world where we don’t belong?  I got the definite and slightly creepy sense that I was just a crass voyeur in Ventura’s universe.

Paolo Ventura Installation View at Hasted Kraeutler

Paolo Ventura Installation View at Hasted Kraeutler




What is the Opposite of Angry Art?

I was attending a Critical Theory discussion group moderated by art critic Charles Marshall Schultz when we got on the subject of angry art.  Or more specifically, the opposite of angry art.

Tricia ClineThe Search for Mouse, 2012
Tricia Cline
The Search for Mouse, 2012

Is there hopeful art?  Grateful art?  Has any iconography taken over this position since Madonna and Child, in all its variations, fell out of favor after the Renaissance?  Is there hopeful or grateful art that is not religiously based?

Tricia Cline and Toc Fetch
Installation View
Ricco/Maresca Gallery

Angry art is easy to make and recognize.  So is serene or peaceful art.  Even joyous art.  But hopeful and grateful imply more complexity.  A history of pain that has been eased, perhaps.  A life that has been improved.  A change of attitude toward the future.

Toc FetchThe Exile Returns When Needed
Toc Fetch
The Exile Returns When Needed, 2012

I have maintained for years that I could not picture grateful art, and then I walked into Ricco/Maresca Gallery (529 W 20th) on Saturday and found it surrounding me. The show is called Mythology, in which sculptor Tricia Cline and painter Toc Fetch have created a world of pilgrimage and self-realization that leads to self-awareness.  The viewer taking the pilgrimage may not feel gratitude himself, but surely he sees it in the sculpted and painted protagonists of the artwork.

Tricia ClineUrsula and Her Kid
Tricia Cline
Ursula and Her Kid, 2011

The small porcelain sculptures by Tricia Cline are beautifully realized, but odd enough that they never invoke the kitsch that your grandmother collected.  Almost subversively, the shadows cast by the sculptures give them the grandeur of life size.  And Toc Fetch’s paintings, especially The Exile Returns When Needed, deal with light masterfully.  That otherworldly glow helps create the feeling of hope, at the same time that it points to the possibility of hope within all of us.

My special thanks to the Gallery, which is warm and welcoming to visitors and has surprised me twice now (last month: Henry Darger!) with quiet, meaningful, emotionally rewarding exhibitions.  This one runs through March 16th.